Inspired by comments on the Standard, I checked out the Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament here. I was particularly interested in Gerry Brownlee’s* four** properties in his (and my) stomping ground of northwest Christchurch.
In ensuing Facebook discussion, a few questions quickly presented themselves:
- How much passive income does Brownlee get for his* properties, and how much has it gone up since 2010 and him subsequently “letting the market sort out” the housing crisis?
- How is someone whose decisions have such a massive impact on the Christchurch housing ‘market’ allowed to own potentially millions dollars’ worth* of properties here?
- Is it even ok to be both landlord and local MP for several houses’ worth of people?
- Is he a ‘good landlord?’ Are his properties part of the 44% of NZ’s rental housing assessed as in poor condition?
- Who’d like to become one of his tenants? (there are ways of finding out the addresses.)
* It’s possible that Brownlee only has a small pecuniary interest in the listed properties. The Register doesn’t declare other owners, if any.
** As at 31/01/2013. Apparently it’s become five since then.
Fabian Mika’s lawyer is appealing Mika’s manslaughter sentence, suggesting his cultural background and upbringing should have be taken into account as a mitigating factor in sentencing.
It looks like this is being met with the predictable outrage when anyone notes there’s still ethnic inequality in NZ, coupled with the usual panic whenever someone suggests people’s lives are more complicated than just personal choice.
The judges are no doubt right to point out the logistical difficulties of the lawyer’s idea. Nonetheless, the lawyer’s argument touches on a serious problem with punishment/the ‘justice’ system in general: it only responds to individuals for their individual choices. But no individual choice happens in a vacuum.
The justice system doesn’t deal with the wider social determinants of individual choices. In many ways, it can’t: it falls outside of the justice system’s purview to deal with (for example) economic inequality, the chief cause of high violent crime rates.
But the ‘justice’ system should at least acknowledge that these social determinants are very much unequal from one person or group to another.
You can accurately predict from someone’s class, ethnicity, or family situation that they’re a lot more likely to end up in jail than I am. (Or more likely to have a partner or parent in prison). That’s not fair, and it’s not chosen.
Yes, convicted criminals have made choices, I’m not denying that. But the social determinants of crime and punishment are true too, and too often we deny that.
One of the first lessons you learn studying criminology is that if you’re disadvantaged in society in general, you’re also disadvantaged at every stage of the crime and punishment process:
– examples of crime vs. other examples
– opportunities for crime vs. other opportunities
– likelihood of being in extreme need
– laws and definitions of crimes
– types of crimes you’re likely to commit
– likelihood of being suspected/pursued by police
– likelihood of being caught
– access to good legal help
– likelihood of being convicted
– harshness of sentencing for your crime
– your specific sentencing
– how you’re treated by society after your punishment
So I definitely think someone’s experiences and social position should be considered among the mitigating/aggravating factors in sentencing. But that only deals with the tip of the iceberg of the problem: socio-economic inequality leading to manifold inequalities in crime and punishment.
Men haven’t been very good to women in NZ lately.
The list of men who have used and abused Bevan Chuang in the course of the Brown-Chuang-Wewege-Cook-Slater-Palino affair is long and getting longer. Some were apparently motivated by mid-life crises and delusions of grandeur, others by attempts at pharisaical political smear campaigns… but they’ve all used a person’s life for their own ends (and apparently they’ve all lied about it). I don’t think I trust any of these men with high political office or media profile. Chuang herself doesn’t seem to have acted particularly well, but nobody deserves what she’s been through.
Meanwhile, Labour’s decision to phase in a rule ensuring 50% female MPs was met with the predictable panic that men are losing some of their privilege. This was typified by Patrick Gower, TV3’s gutter-journalist political editor who feigned alarm about demotions of male MPs (note this excellent critique he pretty much ignored). His numbers actually only show that IF Labour’s party vote is as low in 2017 as it was in 2008, and IF no male MPs other than Ross Robertson retire before then, TWO male MPs may have to leave Parliament so Labour can achieve gender equality (if any male MPs would object to that, good riddance).
Worse than Gower’s shoddy maths is his implication that political parties are male-dominated because of ‘merit’ rather than structural injustice. And his suggestion that 50% women in Labour is a problem but 75% men in National presumably isn’t. And his leaping to the defence of poor, persecuted privileged male MPs instead of highlighting the systemic gender inequity Labour’s quotas are designed to address.
But the worst, of course, is the Roast Busters rape club.
The existence of such a group is abhorrent. As is their ability to publicly boast about it.
As is police traumatising, blaming and ultimately ignoring complainants. As is their inaction after 2 years, 4 complaints, and ample opportunities for evidence. (Compare this to their shoot-first-sort-out-legality-later approach to shutting down people criticising them). As is the way they lied and blamed their inaction on victims not being “brave enough” to lodge proper complaints. As is the fact that their only accountability is an “independent” group of ex-cops who inevitably understand and sympathise with police. As is the fact that we’ve known for years the police have a rape problem and they’ve repeatedly failed to address it.
As is their school’s inaction.
Worst of all is our ubiquitous rape culture that allows all this to happen. It’s part of the same patriarchy that leads to Len Brown and Cameron Slater et al using Bevan Chuang, and Patrick Gower complaining that men are losing their privilege. We can’t just blame the direct protagonists. All of us, especially middle-class educated white Western heterosexual cisgender Christian men like me, have to accept responsibility for the ways we’ve contributed to a kyriarchal culture that dominates, discriminates, dehumanises and, ultimately, rapes.
The only positive to come out of all of this is are the small signs of hope that rape culture may be starting to change. This could be a vital tipping point in awareness that we have a problem. But the work of addressing it is just beginning.
Even Christian Right radio have reported this.
So why are Stuff ignoring it?
Instead they’ve only reported their own poll the next day. The results showed a more modest leftward shift (National down 1.1%, Labour down 0.3%, Greens up 1.1%, NZ First down 0.4%). But the reporting emphasises Labour’s failure to increase its support, and National’s resilience to maintain its support! They also speculate about future woes for Labour, heap praise on the Conservative party and don’t mention the Greens’ rise.
Why does poll reporting matter? In 2011 we had the lowest election turn-out since the 1880s after the media told us constantly for 3 years that John Key was wildly popular and the election was a no-contest.
It’s been obvious for a while that Stuff loves John Key as much as Cut Your Hair
hates fundamentally disagrees with him. But you could have attributed that to an uncritical, stupid, lowest-common-denominator corporate ‘political’ media caring more for cults of personality than politics.
(PS: Even with their bias, Stuff seem quite critical of the GCSB bill, and their poll shows three-quarters of us are worried about it.
PPS: With one-seat majorities for such important legislation, the election definitely wasn’t a no-contest.)
Three reasons slippery slope arguments are stupid:
1. Slippery slope arguments make you look like you can’t articulate a proper argument against what’s actually being discussed. “Why is this bad? Because it could lead to something bad happening.”
2. You can use them to say pretty much whatever you want:
If we allow straight people to marry, what next? Gay people wanting to marry too?
If we allow blacks and whites to marry, what next? Gay people wanting to marry too?
If we ban gay marriage, what next? Banning straight marriage?
If we let gay people raise kids, what next? Letting single parents raise kids?
If we make alcohol legal, what next? P?
If taxes on cigarettes go up, what next? Taxes on rich people going up? (I wish!)
If we change the time-honoured tradition of modern Western marriage, what next? Changing the time-honoured traditions of drink-driving and domestic violence?
If we eliminate gender restrictions on marriage, what next? Elimination of gender inequality in straight marriages?
If gay people are allowed to marry, what next? Elimination of alienation, victimisation and mental health issues among gay youth?
If gay people are allowed to marry, what next? I might have to buy them a wedding present?
3. Slippery slope arguments understand a change through a constructed narrative, rather than looking at the specific phenomenon and the actual history of change.
Swift recourse to slippery slope arguments implies that the only lens through which you can understand something is in part of a broad category of “changes to ‘traditional’ marriage” or “strange new developments” or “things my pastor told me God doesn’t like.”
This is actually a serious moral deficiency insofar as it displays a lack of ability to analyse the specific significance of something and how it affects people and society. So gay people in loving, mutual relationships are equated with sex addicts, paedophiles and men who have sex with dolphins.
Worse, proponents of slippery slope arguments project their own failures of moral imagination onto their opponents. Instead of listening and responding to the actual arguments of those who are arguing for (e.g.) gay marriage, they caricature their opponents’ moral logic into a simple reverse of their own: I want to preserve ‘traditional’ marriage. Therefore, You want to change ‘traditional’ marriage.
But “changing ‘traditional’ marriage” probably isn’t the best way of explaining the history of gay rights, and there’s certainly no alliance of polygamists and cousin-marriers plotting with gay people on what their next blow against ‘traditional’ marriage will be. If there’s any plotting, it will be about how to further increase the rights and respect of LGBTI people (see second-to-last statement in #2 above).
Of course, the increasing focusing of morality around individual freedoms, developing throughout (post-)modernity, may have something to do with the increasing support for LGBTI rights. (Or with why the marriage rights of individuals is a more important moral issue to most NZers than our ballooning economic inequality.) But individualism/liberalism can’t account for the entirety of the motivations and arguments for gay marriage. Moreover, the recent law change is the removal of a gender restriction, not a liberalisation of relationships.
Anyway, the trend towards individualism/liberalism doesn’t just mean “changes to ‘traditional’ marriage.” It’s just as much ‘to blame’ for the rise of the nuclear family, freedom of religion, and freedom to publish verbal diarrhoea about slippery slopes on the internet. Where were the slippery slope arguments then?
Two occasions where modified versions of slippery slope arguments might be OK:
1. Pointing out the logical implications of people’s assertions. This isn’t really a slippery slope argument so much as an examination of the wider scope of someone’s moral logic.
For example, if someone says “I think everyone should be allowed to marry whoever they want, so long as they consent” you can respond “So a brother and sister should be allowed to marry?” or “So one woman should be allowed to marry three men and a consenting goose?”
In which case the response is either, “Yes, I suppose you’re right, I’m happy to let people do what they want” or (more likely) “Hmmm, no, I’ll rephrase. I mean everyone should be allowed to marry whoever they want, so long as they consent and so long as it doesn’t harm them or others.”
And then – and here’s the important part – you get into a more constructive debate about which relationships we should see as inherently harmful, and why… and each case can be examined separately.
Of course this requires actually listening to what someone is saying and analysing their moral logic. For example, If someone’s moral logic is “I believe most people should be encouraged to enter healthy, lifelong, supportive marriages with people they love, and I don’t believe any particular gender roles are necessary components of a healthy marriage” the implications are going to be quite different to the liberal-permissive logic often assumed by slippery-slope proponents.
2. When there is an actual connection between what’s happening now and what might be the logical next step… and where the current step would actually make it easier for the next step to happen.
This is particularly useful if what is happening now is generally seen as harmless, but what might happen in the future is not. In this case, a slippery slope argument could form part of a range of considerations, showing that the consequences of what is happening now may be wider than people may think.
A good example might be expanding the powers of the GCSB. Even if you support some functions of the GCSB, we all know that all-encompassing Big Brother-esque powers is going too far, and it’s difficult to know where to draw the line. Since we can observe an international process of increasing powers of surveillance agencies and reducing human liberties and privacy, particularly since 9/11, it makes sense to call place the current GCSB bill in this context and let possible future developments enter into our considerations. (In fact, maybe we should have thought more about these ‘slippery slopes’ when the GCSB first opened, or when the Terrorism Suppression Act was passed, etc.)
Obviously, this is very different to gay marriage / polygamy etc. The connections are a lot closer, and the various ‘steps’ are a lot more gradual and difficult to examine/evaluate separately. Moreover, since the laws are complex the process is a lot easier to understand than the individual developments – again unlike gay marriage.