The Dim-Post

January 29, 2015

Back to two-track

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 1:25 pm

There are lots of good pieces on the Eleanor Catton contretemps – Morgan Godfrey, Brian Easton, Gordon Campbell, Andrew Geddis, Simon Wilson – all focusing on issues around intellectuals and criticism and New Zealand attitudes towards same, which are all valid points. But what’s also meaningful, I think, is that this is a reprise of National’s two-track communications strategy we spent so much time talking about last year. Sean Plunket isn’t just a talk-radio dofus: he’s very close to the National government and, just like his mate Cameron Slater, Plunket is there to smear and bully and intimidate anyone who speaks out against John Key or National, so that National themselves don’t have to.

If – like most of the country – you haven’t heard anything from Plunket since he left Morning Report a few years back then his attack on Catton probably seemed very strange. But if you listened to him during the 2014 election campaign, most of which he spent in a state of flat-out hysteria ranting about terrorists and traitors, culminating in Plunket phoning Paddy Gower live on air and accusing him of being involved in a conspiracy against the government because he was reporting on Dirty Politics, it’s easier to see that abusing critics of the National Party – real or imaginary – is pretty much just his day to day role.

39 Comments »

  1. Sean Plunket was a decent investigative journo once, as were a number of his compatriots such as Bill Ralston. I suspect they all realised further down the track that appealing to anti-intellectualism, in this day and age of media deregulation, was a licence to print money.

    Comment by Kumara Republic (@kumararepublic) — January 29, 2015 @ 1:32 pm

  2. If I had to do a quick summary of the contributions you name – I am avoiding paying work – it would be,

    “Sean Plunket is a dork and only really equals NZ society on alternative Sundays but John Key is really, really mean and a shape shifting reptilian who controls everything and this reflects badly on all of us but particularly the National Party who are led by a shape shifting re…… who keeps being voted back in because of a conspiracy orchestrated by John Key and Sean Plunket is a key player in this conspiracy and this means we are a terrible place and should feel ashamed……”

    Brian Easton’s one is a particularly bad example and typifies the disdain of an earlier generation of thinkers for those of their fellow citizens who either disagree with them or are indifferent to their contributions to public debate. The late Bruce Jesson was the last prominent writer who wrote this sort of thing as a matter of course. It was beginning to die out as a staple of public debate and I had hopes that we had grown up a little but here comes Eleanor thundering down the path at Jaipur with her collection of cliches from the first 75 years of the 20th century and its all on again. As Simon Wilson notes, The Luminaries sold more than a 100,000 copies, hardly a sign of a nation of Philistines dominated by money grubbing neoliberals. In any event I am not so sure that it is particularly healthy when a nation’s politicians of any political hue take too much of an interest in culture. Artists invariably want only applause from politicians but frankly that is not why most politicians would take an interest in it. Healthy is the nation in which the politicians take no interest in culture whatsoever.

    Comment by Tinakori — January 29, 2015 @ 2:51 pm

  3. The best thing has been the way the usual indignant righties like Tinakori just there exemplify exactly what Catton was talking about. What a small-minded nation of numpties.

    Comment by Sacha — January 29, 2015 @ 3:14 pm

  4. Artists invariably want only applause from politicians

    Nonsense. Grants, paid positions on boards and honors all come way before applause.

    Comment by danylmc — January 29, 2015 @ 3:15 pm

  5. I doubt Key has any desire to bully or intimate people like Catton.

    Every time some like her criticises National its votes for him.

    More likely Plunket just considers himself to be a maverick.

    Comment by NeilM — January 29, 2015 @ 3:16 pm

  6. “Nonsense. Grants, paid positions on boards and honors all come way before applause.”

    You are right I should have said “…applause or its even more valuable proxies – grants, honours, boards etc – from politicians…….”

    Sacha, If you enter public debate it is inherently two sided, not a monologue. If take a public point of view it is hardly surprising when someone engages with your arguments.

    Comment by Tinakori — January 29, 2015 @ 3:56 pm

  7. Tinakori, seeing you find the OP’s links, and LW writers in general, so tiresome I was wondering if you could point me to the interesting and non-cliche ridden RW takes on this, or any other subject.

    Where would I look? I see some academics and wannabes writing at NZCPR, but if you think the left is stuck in the past then I’m pretty sure that’s not the go. So where? I saw DPF’s rugby analogy, which was as fresh as it was relevant. And Key’s txt mate has no doubt thrown something up on his blog. But really, where does the right write these days?

    Do they, even?

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — January 29, 2015 @ 4:11 pm

  8. …the interesting and non-cliche ridden RW takes on this, or any other subject.

    There would be very few but there’s the same vacuum right across the political spectrum.

    Personally, there’s extremely few writers, – world wide – on politics I come away from reading thinking I’ve learnt something or been impressed by their insight.

    Mostly it’s all very predictable partisan stuff.

    Comment by NeilM — January 29, 2015 @ 4:34 pm

  9. “Mostly it’s all very predictable partisan stuff.”

    Could you expand on this please? I think most political writing is partisan in one way or another, or else it is pointless. Certainly there are bad types of partisanship, and people shouldn’t support political positions in the way they do a sports team. But just because there are disagreements about politics doesn’t mean that most people who take political positions are like sports fans.

    I find much supposedly ‘non-partisan’ writing to be shallow crap that falls into the same hole it tries to escape. It responds to all positions in the way the worst types of partisans do to their opponents. It ends up, nowhere. An accusation that something is poor because it is partisan, is exactly the same as saying it is poor because it supports Labour/National/Libertarianism/etc.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — January 29, 2015 @ 4:55 pm

  10. I think people do support political positions much like sports teams.

    It’s a bleak view. I’m surprised we manage any sort of liberal democracy.

    Comment by NeilM — January 29, 2015 @ 5:05 pm

  11. “Tinakori, seeing you find the OP’s links, and LW writers in general, so tiresome I was wondering if you could point me to the interesting and non-cliche ridden RW takes on this, or any other subject”

    That’s not entirely true. I enjoy disagreeing and occasionally agreeing with Danyl because his writing is fresh and he is mostly aware of his own assumptions and is not particularly defensive about discussing them or having them challenged. NZ Books has some good articles that touch on NZ identity and Metro magazine in the days of Warwick Roger – a long time ago now – was prepared to get into the identity debate in a way that created a different and less self-conscious discussion about being self-conscious. But generally, I think NZ should be past the identity debate that Eleanor’s contributions typify. It’s all a bit self pitying I’m afraid and while there may have been excuses for this in the latter part of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century relating to our isolation that excuse is well and truly no longer valid. The rest of it is all about living in a small intimate relatively thinly spread (intellectually) society and has a comparable impact on a wide variety of people irrespective of their political or any other persuasion. At the bottom of it all is the fact that a small place will never be a large place. To modify Foreskin’s Lament, Get over it.

    Comment by Tinakori — January 29, 2015 @ 5:49 pm

  12. Thanks. Identity is weird though. Is any country ‘over it’? Isn’t being over debating identity every bit as frightful as having a nation in which politicians take an interest in culture?

    The US constantly debates it’s self-assuredness. As does France and the UK. Australia, not so much, but they still do in literature.

    But RW voices on this? Any?

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — January 29, 2015 @ 6:15 pm

  13. A lot of the debates about identity in NZ seem to believe that there is some kind of “endpoint” – that New Zealand can somehow reach a point where we are all securely invested in a collective identity that excludes nobody and has purely positive cultural and intellectual ramifications. Seems incredibly utopian to me.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — January 29, 2015 @ 6:25 pm

  14. If we genuinely want an informed populace, a better democratic debate, then how can we object to John Key being called out on his modus operandi? How is it wrong to describe what is? Are we supposed to pretend we cannot see behind the curtain?

    The caricature that Tinakori offers (comment 2) is a typical example of not addressing the point. Key’s critics are not (distraction alert!) screaming “Shapeshifting reptile!” etc. Well some are, but idiots are everywhere. The real criticism – the one Key’s supporters can’t rebut, hence the diversion into irrelevant caricature – is that Key is following a well-trodden – and well-documented – path. It’s not hyperbole or fiction, simply a basic grasp of standard political/PR tactics, of history. Start in the USA, and then go global. It’s everywhere, and has been since Nixon at least.

    We’re well past the “benefit of the doubt” here. People who attack Key’s critics (the phrase “Key Derangement Syndrome” is never far away) have either never read a book about political operations (and there were hundreds before Hager’s) or – far more likely – are just playing the game themselves.

    Tinakori says: “I had hopes that we had grown up a little” – yes, agreed. So how has Key’s attack machine helped this? Serious answer welcome, because I can’t see anything except immaturity being fed and watered, from the highest office in the land. And it’s getting worse.

    I’d suggest the Prime Minister’s megaphone is a lot more powerful than Gordon Campbell’s. Or even the Dim-Post’s.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — January 29, 2015 @ 6:57 pm

  15. “I’d suggest the Prime Minister’s megaphone is a lot more powerful than Gordon Campbell’s. Or even the Dim-Post’s”

    Because he’s a lizard eh? I see what you did there you cliche riddled pinky scum.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — January 29, 2015 @ 8:11 pm

  16. Pascal’s Bookie – there are two answers to your question about right wing voices, The first is that liberals and right wingers tend not to operate with a self-conscious political ideology. Instead, they do stuff. There’s a bit of overlap at the centre with left wing liberals but fundamentally it is not about big ideas but about small ideas and problem solving within some very, very vague general guidelines about business doing business better than government and the government shouldn’t get too big unless it really, really has to (the GFC and the Chch earthquakes). Nor is it very self-conscious, so there’s not a hell of a lot of demand for political soul searching of the kind that makes stimulating reading. This is a gross exaggeration and caricature of course but based on being around politicians and business people I think a lot it is still broadly true. There are some voices but they not collected in a single place. Current voices would include David Farrar and Eric Crampton. Their predecessors might include Roger Kerr formerly of the Roundtable, Warwick Roger of Metro and Colin James when he edited a very, very different National Business Review and, of course, Bob Jones. In popularising business as an interesting and lucrative way to make a living and introducing liberal economics to a wide audience, both extremely radical ideas in the 70s and early 80s, Jones had I think the largest impact of any public intellectual in NZ in the last 30 or so years.Tom Scott the current Dom Post cartoonist was once a wickedly funny political writer who made laughing at politicians and not taking them seriously an enormously entertaining experience – and not being taken seriously is much more debilitating to political authoritarians – mostly residing on the left in the last 20 years – than it is to liberal politicians like John Key who are far too easygoing to realistically portray as devils. One common thread in these very different people is that they knew how to find and build an audience and they engaged with that audience rather than condescended to them. Finally, liberals also tend not to see themselves as a movement (or even as liberals!) and do not seek all encompassing labels like the hilariously try hard “Progressive”. which simply signals someone who is not very confident in the soundness of their specific ideas but is trying to communicate that their heart is in the right place. None of this edifice is permanent and ideas change all the time. There are lots of left wing voices trying hard to change the consensus but they lack really good top class writers with interesting ideas – here and elsewhere – to be the standard bearers of the faith. One hint might be to pay more attention to reality and not try to argue NZ is going through a manufacturing crisis when it palpably is not. Another might be to avoid picking up ideas from Europe (and lefties seem to be slaves to what happens in Europe) and assume – like the Greens with quantitative easing – that it can simply be transplanted into an economy in an entirely different state.

    Comment by Tinakori — January 29, 2015 @ 9:06 pm

  17. Well gee, I’m SOOO glad you took the time to give us that history lesson Tinakori. Not that anyone will read it.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 29, 2015 @ 9:32 pm

  18. …liberals and right wingers tend not to operate with a self-conscious political ideology.

    Are they imbeciles, or simply lacking in self-awareness? If a person writes without considering the extent to which they’re influenced by their own political outlook, they’d be better off just sitting watching TV and not wasting everyone else’s time.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — January 29, 2015 @ 9:51 pm

  19. Well that was along and condescending way of saying ‘No, I can’t think of any either; and anyway, ideas, meh’.
    David Farrar. Gosh.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — January 29, 2015 @ 10:32 pm

  20. Mostly they do just that, psycho, then between times, they vote in elections And tend to elect self-interested neoliberals, as instructed to by Key’s henchmen in the mediasphere.

    It’s that scourge of thinkng people everywhere – the tyranny of democracy.

    Comment by Lee Clark — January 29, 2015 @ 10:33 pm

  21. “Well gee, I’m SOOO glad you took the time to give us that history lesson Tinakori. Not that anyone will read it.”

    I have clearly failed, Sanctuary. I was sure you would have seen it as act of homage to your free form rants

    Comment by Tinakori — January 29, 2015 @ 10:38 pm

  22. …where we are all securely invested in a collective identity that excludes nobody and has purely positive cultural and intellectual ramifications. Seems incredibly utopian to me.

    And appears very hard if not impossible to achieve. And when achieved it’s pretty fragile – Rwanda, Yugoslavia and now Ukraine.

    I think it all goes back to the in-group out-group dynamics which our species owes its, most likely, temporary success to.

    Comment by NeilM — January 29, 2015 @ 11:01 pm

  23. “…I have clearly failed…”

    Now if only Herr Hitler had been so timely.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 30, 2015 @ 7:22 am

  24. You are over reaching, Danyl. So Sean Plunket criticises an apparently ungrateful writer and it is some kind of conspiracy? Individuals can criticise other individuals without a conspiracy existing. I mean, Caton’s comments were presumably her own and not some Green Party conspiracy, or maybe I’m wrong.

    Comment by ross — January 30, 2015 @ 8:25 am

  25. You know, I just worked out what has so bugged me about this whole Catton business, apart from Plunkett the plonker and his perverse perfidity. And that is how desperate the defenders of intellectuals have been to please, to reach across to idiots like Plunkett and take them seriously. Where is the intellectual froideur born of confidence, the local Stephen Fry to make a scything put down of an overweight, wheezing moron of a talking head? Of course, anti-intellectualism and a retreat to laddism is rife in the English speaking world, dominated as it is by the hectoring bullies and fake populists of our Murdoch style yellow press. In the recent terror attacks in France, it was astonishing to hear a French commentator remark that the attacks would spark debates amongst the nation’s intellectuals about the nature of terror and the French state – debates that would presumably be reported on in the newspapers. There is none of that namby-pamby intellectual stuff for the stern Anglo-Saxons, we just want the maps to find a target for our retaliatory cruise missiles. But in a parochial backwater like NZ no one is even ALLOWED to be proud to be clever, quite the contrary – you are expected to not talk about complicated stuff lest some dreary person takes fright at the sound of polysyllabic banter. That is the “tall poppyism” Catton speaks of – the cultural and social barriers we as a society have erected to stifle those who would dare to be proud of being clever. We live in a straight jacketed society of stifling, proud anti-intellectualism – hell, just look at John Key, the everyman of the Philistines.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 30, 2015 @ 8:38 am

  26. i remember when Sean Plunket won “current affairs radio journalist of the year”. A month later he was nominated for “overall radio presenter of the year”, he missed out on the award and just went crackers. He made a statement saying that jealousy of his previous success was making those lesser lights try to “clip his wings”.
    Of course, by being such a petulant child he was shitting all over the very worthy winner of the award.

    At least Catton wouldn’t do that.

    Comment by King Kong — January 30, 2015 @ 9:30 am

  27. I do not envy your existence Sanctuary. The epitome of frustration must be having all this phenomenal intellectual thought pouring out and having no one clever enough to understand it.

    Comment by King Kong — January 30, 2015 @ 9:40 am

  28. “Not that anyone will read it.”

    That’s a bit rich coming from Dimposts resident TL;DR wizard.

    Comment by Exclamation Mark — January 30, 2015 @ 9:44 am

  29. Well that was along and condescending way of saying ‘No, I can’t think of any either; and anyway, ideas, meh’.

    @PB – I think Tinakori did make a sound point though that the RW in NZ doesn’t feel the need to debate identity because there isn’t the demand for “political soul searching” from their constituency.

    In one sense, it’s far easier to stick to an ideological / identity narrative of ‘Grow the pie / you deserve more pies’ than ‘Share the pie’ because it’s pretty straightforward to appeal to people’s personal interest rather than the more abstract notions of inequality. This has played out over the last few decades with the formerly widely held notion of ‘egalitarianism’ which pervaded the entire political spectrum being now almost non-existent.

    In another sense, the lack of identity discussion is probably also a factor of political incumbency (setting aside the broader idea of the ideological incumbency of liberal economic doctrine). If National had been 3 terms out of the driving seat, you can bet there’d be lots of column inches devoted to a RW ‘identity crisis’ and the ‘failure to connect with middle NZ’.

    Comment by Gregor W — January 30, 2015 @ 9:52 am

  30. 14. Sammy 3.0.

    If we genuinely want an informed populace, a better democratic debate, then how can we object to John Key being called out on his modus operandi? How is it wrong to describe what is? Are we supposed to pretend we cannot see behind the curtain?

    When a two year old with a toy fire engine shows you the lights and the bell and where the man goes on the ladder. All this great stuff he knows and he is doing a wonderful job of explaining it all. You applaud and congratulate him, because he is a child expanding his knowledge.

    When a fully grown political activist shows you a toy fire engine, you tell him to shove off.

    The practical arts of politics have been known for centuries. Better authors were read and their titles forgotten before Hager was born.

    Comment by unaha-closp — January 30, 2015 @ 1:48 pm

  31. Sorry, what is the toy fire engine here?

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — January 30, 2015 @ 1:52 pm

  32. “…because there isn’t the demand for “political soul searching” from their constituency….”

    This presumes right wingers are in possession of a soul to search, something many leading theologians dispute.

    Anyway, the right long ago hitched it’s wagon to the star of the global hegemons du jour and trans-national corporations. What is the battle between left and right theese days if it isn’t a battle between those who see a country primarily as the place they live and those who see it primarily as a place to make a profit?

    The left has always fretted about national identity since the days of early socialism, when socialism was seen as a trans-national movement (“workers of the world unite”) and the chauvinism of nationalism was thought to be an impediment to that. Personally, I am influenced by Bruce Jesson and his idea that fostering a sense of popular patriotism offers an important tool for the left to use as a bulwark against the rapacious global elites.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 30, 2015 @ 2:05 pm

  33. Well, I support anything that can successfully counter rapacious culture. . .

    Comment by Lee C — January 30, 2015 @ 3:09 pm

  34. We have all seen a fire engine before. We have all seen politics before, Machiavelli wrote a book about it. Centrists and the apolitical can afford to be indulgent in this sort of thing, however any political movement should shut up about it.

    Since the darker side of politics is so well known, the left need to portray NZ as being far beyond the norm of politics and can come across as deranged.

    Also with the left now spending so much time and effort explaining how dirty politics works, showing that the left is well versed in the techniques, the public has to wonder are the left carrying out these same techniques? The answer from the left is invariably “No”.

    Talking about dirty politics might well be great for shoring up support inside of the left, but in the wider electorate it has very few positives.

    Comment by unaha-closp — January 30, 2015 @ 5:05 pm

  35. Sanc is confident that his long spiels about What’s Wrong With The World (TM) find an appreciative, but for some reason always silent, audience

    Comment by kalvarnsen — January 30, 2015 @ 6:24 pm

  36. I see the “Taxpayers Union” arm of the spin machine has chipped in now. Jordan Williams pretending to be stupider than he actually is in order to frame Catton’s crticism of the government’s attitude towards arts funding so that a casual observer would think she had moaned about not receiving enough money personally.

    One can only assume he would prefer New Zealand to be a country where “taxpayer funded” individuals are prevented from criticising the government.

    AFAIK Catton’s comments were only reported in the New Zealand media on the 26th of January, that was a quick OIA turnaround on those figures.

    Comment by Rob — January 30, 2015 @ 7:31 pm

  37. “…but for some reason always silent…”

    You’d be surprised at the amount of positive feedback I get.

    Anyway, a big rousing cheer for Ms. Catton. http://eleanor-catton.com/statement/

    The lady isn’t, yet, for turning. In fact, she is sticking up for herself in the face of the white male establishment. Indeed, in her comment:

    “…In future interviews with foreign media, I will of course discuss the inflammatory, vicious, and patronising things that have been broadcast and published in New Zealand this week. I will of course discuss the frightening swiftness with which the powerful Right move to discredit and silence those who question them, and the culture of fear and hysteria that prevails…”

    I (hopefully) do detect exactly the sort of intellectual froideur that I lamented was missing from our intellectuals. You go for the doctor MS. Catton, by Jesus this country needs it.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 30, 2015 @ 11:11 pm

  38. @Sanc: Really? In what context are you getting this feedback? Because it isn’t here.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — January 31, 2015 @ 3:17 am

  39. Catton exercised free speech. Why are so many people upset by that?

    Why adress the messenger rather than themessage?

    Comment by peterlepaysan — February 2, 2015 @ 12:01 am


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