Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Karl du Fresne: Making pests of themselves for our own good

Update: As of 8am this morning (Wednesday), Restore Passenger Rail fanatics were blocking Wellington-bound lanes on the Transmission Gully expressway. Stuff reported that motorists were leaving their vehicles to abuse the protesters. It would be no surprise if drivers' frustration escalated into something more serious than abuse - and who could blame them?

I can think of few more effective ways to show contempt for the rights of your fellow citizens than by preventing them from going about their lawful business in order to draw attention to a cause so precious (to you, if to no one else) that any inconvenience to others is assumed to be morally justified.

Neither can I think of a more surefire means of alienating people and ensuring hostility toward whatever objective you’re trying to promote. All it does is stoke fury and resentment.

But such thoughts apparently never enter the heads of the obnoxious protesters who keep blocking roads into Wellington because they think we should all be made to travel by train. Their minds are so tightly packed with sanctimony that there’s no room for any competing ideas. God forbid that they should ever entertain a nanosecond of doubt about the absolute righteousness of their cause, still less dwell on the morality of interfering with other people’s right to go about their daily lives without let or hindrance (to use a delicious old legal phrase).

The protesters were at it again in Wellington this morning, this time causing the police to close the Mt Victoria Tunnel after two of them scaled the Hataitai side of the tunnel and erected a “Restore Passenger Rail” banner. Previously they had forced the closure of the Terrace Tunnel, blocked State Highway 2 at Melling and climbed onto a gantry over Wellington’s urban motorway.

It's a marvel that no motorists, outraged at being prevented from keeping a vital appointment or catching a plane, have taken matters into their own hands – at least so far, despite ample provocation. One grabbed a protest banner and threw it away, but stopped short of directly taking out his frustration on the people blocking his path. I sometimes think New Zealanders are too damned passive and law-abiding. After all, the protesters show no respect for the law. Why should the people they obstruct play by the rules?

Similarly, when a protester squeals that he can't be removed by force because he’s glued himself to the tarseal, there’s a good case for the cops to reply “Tough, mate, you should have thought of that before” and pull him off regardless, rather than solicitously inquiring – as one officer did last week – whether anyone happened to have any nail polish remover. Leaving a bit of skin on the road would serve as a reminder that there are consequences for inconveniencing hundreds of motorists.

For me, the right to protest stops short of conferring permission to obstruct others. (I’ve commented before on this blog that I’d make a useless revolutionary.) But there’s a certain type of activist whose belief in their cause translates into an overweening sense of entitlement.

In this case, an obsessed and infinitesimally tiny minority is demanding that other New Zealanders defer to its will. This is profoundly anti-democratic, since the protesters have no mandate, nor any evidence of public support. But hey, why should that be a problem? It’s sufficient for them that they have right on their side – or so they’ve convinced themselves – and are therefore justified in interfering with the lives of others.

In fact it’s not just anti-democratic. It’s elitist too, if one accepts the classical definition of elitism as the belief that a supposedly enlightened few are entitled to impose their views on everyone else.

Ideological zealotry is often an expression of elitism. The devoutly Christian peace activists who cost taxpayers $1.2 million when they sabotaged the Waihopai electronic listening post in 2010 probably never thought of themselves as elitist; in fact they made a show of their humility. But elitist they were. They persuaded themselves they knew better than – indeed were morally superior to – the democratically elected governments that had decided it was in New Zealand’s interests for Waihopai to exist.

It’s also possible to detect, in the posturing of the newly emerged group that calls itself Restore Passenger Rail, the authoritarian tendencies that are characteristic of the woke Left. On the extremely shaky premise that getting us all out of cars and onto trains would prevent catastrophic climate change, Restore Passenger Rail is demanding that the government reinstate the passenger rail network that existed in 2000. (Why 2000? That isn’t explained. Neither is there any reference to the massive capital cost of providing trains and other infrastructure, the lack of any public demand for mass long-distance rail travel or the inconvenient reality that few countries are as topographically ill-suited to passenger trains as New Zealand.)

Unstated but implicit in Restore Passenger Rail’s agenda is the element of compulsion. New Zealanders love cars for the very good reason that they enable people to travel to a place of their choosing at a time of their choosing in comfort, at speed and in relative safety.

Such freedom is anathema to those on the woke Left, who dream of a tightly regulated society in which human behaviour is controlled wherever possible by a beneficent state – all for the common good, of course. In their ideal world, a compliant and grateful citizenry would travel everywhere by public transport, with destinations and timing determined by state planners. The primacy of state control over individual choice remains a fetish among many on the Left.

All of which helps explain why the Restore Passenger Rail activists targeted motorists in the first place. They are, after all, the enemy. Since they have no right to be in cars, there can be no reasonable objection to the disruption of their morning commute. And the protesters will go on making pests of themselves until we accept it’s for our own good.

Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at


Terry Morrissey said...

“The Restore Passenger Rail group said a dozen people aged from 22 to 81 were involved and some had glued their hands to the tarmac.” These protesters are claiming to want passenger rail services restored to year-2000 levels. They must have very good memories as most of them weren’t even born in 2000.
The police have removed the protesters from the road and handcuffed them to the barrier. The police should leave them there for the rest of the week so that the protesters can get their message across to the motoring public.

Anonymous said...

Hey youse! We need more trains!

Robert Arthur said...

There seems to be a body of persons always on the lookout for something to protest about, and not too troubled by any logic (as at Parliament grounds). The current strike seems to be primarily about climate change. They might do better to protest the importation of giant utes, or the scrapping of thousands of useable cars each year to incur huge CO2 generation for the replacements. Or landfilling with hundreds of existing houses requiring vast CO2 creation to replace.
I hope Karl will condone extreme measures when myself and others protest the un democratic maori takeover of NZ.

Hone said...

Maybe the protestors should read this, so they are better informed:

Anonymous said...

Is it not interesting, that here in NZ, being devoid of real news from our regular MSM, that for the "recent spate of protesting/protestors", that they must have been watching You Tube or reading English Newspapers, because via both mediums, have shown what protestors in the UK have been doing, "gluing hands to roads surfaces". Same with hanging banners from high places. Thus comes the "copy cat protestors". It is not new, we have had "noted NZ people", follow International protests, by "copy catting" the same methods, to which they have placed people at risk trying to end the protest, or trying to (Lawfully) get to their place of work.
Yet when our Farmers protest, with tractors, oh "the outrage", how dare they interfere with other peoples travel plans.