Archives for December 2022 | Josie Pagani



Cultural divide

Today, diversity in our formal cultural outlets, from gallery and libraries to publicly funded arts, is measured by identity much more than by social or economic class, lived experience or diversity of values.

Working people are seen in crises and crimes. Formal culture is about working class people more than it is of or for them. Those of us eating the wrong food, driving the wrong car, or having the wrong views apparently need to be corrected and educated.
We are a culturally divided country. Trust in the media is dropping, particularly among people with more conservative views. You might not worry if your views are left, but it does matter in our democracy if a chunk of citizens don't feel represented.

Today, 55% of New Zealanders regard the media as a “dividing force” in society, against 23% who saw it as ‘’unifying’’.

Intellectual conformity in our elite cultural institutions is leading to division in New Zealand.

Josie's Stuff column is here.


Treasury released an update to its Wellbeing Framework. Josie wrote about it in Stuff.

‘’Wellbeing’’ is the descent of politics into diplomacy and bureaucratic blancmange. Who could disagree with ‘’wellbeing’’?

Well, me. ‘’Wellbeing’’ does public policy by replacing choices and priorities at the heart of politics with fog. Instead of looking around us and seeing obvious problems to fix, we get: Depends what you mean by ‘’disadvantaged’’.

I expect policy advice to highlight the costs and benefits of alternatives, to strip bare tradeoffs, and present practical menus of options. I expect sophisticated evaluation of whether policies are achieving what they are meant to. When advice instead hides choices behind wellbeing mush, no political constituency is ever built for underlying ideas. If no-one can disagree with ‘’wellbeing’’ then no-one can ever win an argument for it either.

The idea of ‘’wellbeing’’ as a political project has emerged from the takeover of our social institutions by an educated middle class that thinks it's being progressive. Instead it signals its elite status. All of our major economic, social and cultural institutions are dominated by this class – political parties, publicly funded posts and media (yes, including me). It has led to the celebritisation of politics and the exclusion of meaningful ideology (in the sense of a coherent system of ideas). Everyday working people are invisible.

Ironic when we've come to appreciate the importance of diversity in our institutions, of gender and ethnicity, but not class, lived experience or political ideology. The promise of merit is that the Pasifika daughter of a minimum-wage worker should have the same life opportunity as the Pākehā son of a banker. But what these Wellbeing papers reveal is a special club of merit, where members know the secret handshakes. If you're not fluent in the cultural preferences of the educated class, you don't belong.

The second, deeper, problem is that by definition not all of us are meritorious. Most of us are average. We are just going about our lives. Those of us who are not winners need to be seen too.

How Team Putin will be brought to justice

The Ukraine government and experts from the International Criminal Court are on the ground now collecting evidence of war crimes. But they must establish a legal connection between specific crimes on the battlefield and instructions from the Kremlin, so it’s difficult to prove the direct guilt of Putin and Russia’s political leaders.

Since Russia doesn’t recognise the jurisdiction of the court, the fear is that the international system will only ever deliver low-grade army officials to court, while the leadership who started this war goes free.

Ukraine is calling for a Special Tribunal for the Crime of Aggression to be set up now. The act of aggression is called the mother of all crimes because leaders should be culpable for crimes committed in the field even without a direct link; their decision to invade another country illegally is the fundamental crime from which stems all other war crimes.

A Special Tribunal can be established straightaway so the world can see that, soon, justice will be done.

Once it starts to prepare indictments and issue arrest warrants, it will prove that international law has muscle. It will help to end the war sooner when Team Putin begins to realise it can’t evade consequences forever. Russia-friendly countries will think twice before shaking the blood-soaked hands of international criminals.

Josie's Stuff column is here.

The Government's response to crime

Josie's Stuff column covered the Government's response to crime fears.

In the 1990s, former UK prime minister Tony Blair promised to be ‘’tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’’. Like all good clichés, his formula is well-worn because it is obvious. ‘’The public – contrary to conventional wisdom – does not ignore the social content of crime. But, rightly, they will only listen to people who show understanding of their own plight as potential victims,’’ he wrote.

It should not be controversial for a government to both protect us from being attacked and having our stuff stolen, while also championing a justice system that doesn't just punish and deter, but also rehabilitates and reintegrates for the good of society (not just the individual).

The Government's inability to be clear about justice and crime has the same cause as many of its familiar flaws: It never did enough deep thinking in opposition. In contrast, UK Labour did, which is how it came up with a fresh approach to crime that neutralised its critics.

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