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Rights as weapons for right-wing

Opinion Piece

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.

Tanith Te Waitohioterangi

  1. Peter Jones says:

    You can stick with your lefts and I will keep fighting for my rights.
    When you find yourself left right out by the ruling power please don’t blame the far right, because the left is in power in case you’ve forgotten.

    1. Maree Conaglen says:

      I think you already know the saying “left and right are both wings on the same bird.” In other words the bird is representative of the Westminster political system. A system that was supposed to be established to control unruly Europeans but has assumed control over both Māori and non Māori.
      Te Tiriti guaranteed sovereignty to Māori. A promise has never been kept.
      The question now is which political leaning party/parties is most committed to truly honouring the partnership that was agreed upon at the signing of Te Tiriti.
      If you look closely at the policies and people of the political parties in this country, you will find that it is the left leaning parties that are more closely aligned to working towards a treaty based Aotearoa. One that is committed to a genuine relationship of power sharing. Its really no different to any other good relationship, and the sooner it happens the better. Because when it does come to fruition it’s a win/ win for all.

      1. Peter Jones says:

        He Whakaputanga guaranteed sovereignty to Māori. A promise that has never been kept. Te Tiriti is an attempt by the monarch who replaced King William to claw back colonial dominance after the horse had already bolted with its own official flag and all. If all New Zealanders sign over to He Whakaputanga we can cut our ties with the UN and the swamp and go back to self government, instead of this illegal foreign-owned corporation that currently poses as government.

        1. Maree Conaglen says:

          Well, that’s an interesting perspective. I haven’t really heard anyone say that. He Whakaputanga is very important but so to is Te Tiriti. I think it is important for all people in this country to have an understanding of these two agreements. Matike Mai is a report that includes both He Whakaputanga (1835) and Te Tiriti (1840) Matike Mai is about constitutional transformation… so it is important that we have these types of conversations to examine ways that we can move forward as a nation with a co governance model that respects each other’s differences. Unity through respect of diversity is the way forward.
          Being part of the United Nations is, in my opinion, very important because we live in a world where we need to interact with other countries as well as work together for the good of all and the planet. There is no planet B after all, so although it’s not perfect, we need to still be part of the United Nations.

  2. Ken Ovenden says:

    Hi Tanith, your comment that iwi never ceded water rights suggests you need to grow and learn more, because you cannot claim or cede rights to something that you never had in the first place.

    1. Maree Conaglen says:

      I think it is you who needs to grow and learn more. How on earth can you claim that Māori never had rights to water. Every hapu and iwi had full control over their resources. At no time has the sovereignty of these resources ever been ceded. To think that they would have been ceded to the crown is preposterous.
      Please don’t say they were handed over at the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. By now every person in this country should know that that’s a lie. Te Tiriti was supposed to guarantee sovereignty for Māori over their resources… but we all know that didn’t happen. Well, most of us who have learnt the very basics of history know that.

      1. Ken Ovenden says:

        Hi Maree, grow and learn yourself would be more advantageous to everyone. No one, no one owns water, not the Crown, not Maori – and the same applies to air and the sea and its resources. These are there for all people on this earth to use and enjoy, and the sooner that basic principle of life is realised by all there will remain false claimants who think they own it all.

        1. Maree Conaglen says:

          It’s easy to say that no one owns water or the air and sea and its resources… but it is a bit more complicated than that. For starters if I were to drive onto a farm and start filling up a water tank on the back of my (hypothetical) ute, there is no doubt I could be charged.. most likely with trespass. So the ownership of water is tied in with land ownership.
          Te Tiriti was supposed to guarantee Māori sovereignty over resources but when we look at history this is not what happened. How water resources ended up being controlled by the state (in the current form of local government control) requires an understanding of history.
          Moana Jackson says everything has a whakapapa. This is true in relation to how water has become alienated from Māori as the indigenous people of this country. The root cause of this dispossession in this country (and other countries) is the “Doctrine of Discovery.” According to Tina Ngata this is an international legal concept that is borne out if a number of Catholic laws called “papal bulls,” issued by the Vatican in the 15th and 16th century.
          These laws have never been rescinded and have been built on and expanded.
          The NZ Government is in breach if Te Tiriti o Waitangi because it has subverted tino rangatiratanga and has historically failed to secure Māori representation. So the NZ Government is NOT operating under Te Tiriti but under the provisions of the Doctrine of Discovery.
          This is beginning to change with the introduction of a model of co governance with 3 waters, and in the recognition of indigenous rights through the release of He Puapua.

  3. Ron Taylor says:

    I was lying in bed the other morning, in that delightful state of torpor halfway been asleep and awake. For some unknown reason I thought that it was ages since we had seen a column from Tanith.
    I enjoy his columns for his obvious love of metaphor and his somewhat convoluted use of the English language. As a senior citizen, I am advised to exercise my mind, as best I can, to stave off mental decline and I find Tanith’s columns a marvellous and testing exercise in comprehension and analysis.

  4. Aimee Milne says:

    Excellent column Tanith. A pleasure to read.

  5. Lara says:

    Well put Tanith. I liked your examples too.

  6. Tony says:

    Thanks Tanith. Very thoughtful.