Rights as weapons for right-wing
These are my rights, there are many like them, but these rights are mine. Without me my rights are nothing, without my rights I am nothing . . . Rights are one of the most dominant forces within modern society. Rights can be used to liberate, oppress, or seize power. Around the world, at this very moment right-wing movements are attempting to use all available means to sabotage and to block progressive governments and, like Caligula, are deploying their legions to stop the tides of change.
Rhetoric we're hearing right now such as racism, sexism, transphobia and all other forms of fear peddled to consolidate white power should not be viewed in isolation, nor should they be taken solely at rhetorical face value. We are witnessing in real-time one of the most complex political campaigns to subtly undermine government integrity in New Zealand history.
Rights possess shapeshifting and often weaponlike utility. They can take the form of a pilum to overturn laws, as a call to unite people, camouflage to conceal underlying goals, wedges to topple opposition, blockades to impede progress and explosive devices to target and shatter communities.
Rights can be used by the most wealthy and powerful within a society to maintain and galvanise their power and control over the working class and minority groups. By championing and projecting their rights as universal they may claim that a right is human, that it is applicable always and everywhere, even if it may not be distributed or accessed equally in practice.
The dominant group can use rights as shields to block or impede the rights of others by transforming themselves into blameless victims, claiming they are oppressed because a disadvantaged or vulnerable group can access rights that have always been enjoyed by the dominant group. Rights may in this manner be characterised like fish and chips in which consumption is rivalrous, and rights are gained at the expense of another. But rights are not fish and chips, and if they were, the dominant group enjoyed the greatest share whilst everybody else looked on with an empty plate.
Three waters provides an example of rights as pilums and wedges. The Act party argues that water rights are being stolen from ratepayers. Despite John Key's political genius expounding that nobody owns water (until the point it is forced through a reticulation system or sold), both positions gloss over the fact that iwi never ceded water rights.
Although councils have mismanaged water and, in some cases, granted farmers the right to pollute or draw excessive water in contravention of the RMA, characterising the issue as theft from local councils works to engage two psychological phenomena.
First, the endowment effect as people place a higher value on local mismanagement because they think the resource is theirs or they are losing control, and second, the phenomenon of loss aversion by which people would prefer to avoid its loss despite equivalent or greater gains under a single regulatory body. Although a single issue, it plays into a wider narrative.
The far-right possesses a diverse range of movements that push for the expansion of their members' rights which sound reasonable to the average New Zealander but are couched within an appeal to majoritarian domination. Equality means equal rights but not equal outcomes, and unity mean being together but conforming to their rules and ways of life. Anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists provide the “freedom of choice” excuse as a blockade, the counter-argument of which is that freedom of choice is subject to the harm principle and that these sincere acts of ignorance ignore how these actions can impact others or expose them to risk.