Monday, October 31, 2022

Karl du Fresne: Why the culture wars are being lost by default

We have a moral problem in this country. Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s a cowardice problem.

One of the reasons the other side is winning the culture wars – and no one should be in any doubt that they are – is that too few conservatives and genuine liberals (as opposed to authoritarian neo-Marxists who have hijacked the term) have the guts to stand up and declare themselves.

Look at the comments on this blog and others such as Bassett, Brash and Hide or Muriel Newman’s Breaking Views.

The people who comment know what’s going on. They realise that liberal democracy and capitalism are under unprecedented attack. They are thoughtful and perceptive in identifying the threats posed by the cult of identity politics and they know what’s necessary to counter it.

They understand that we are in an ideological war to protect and preserve the values of the free, tolerant society we grew up in. So why do so few of them identify themselves?

The people driving the culture wars have no such qualms. Confident in the knowledge that their world view is shared by the institutions of power and influence – government, the bureaucracy, academia, schools, the media, the arts, even the corporate sector – they promulgate their divisive, corrosive messages without fear.

They are winning by default because too many people on the other side - that is to say, our side - keep their heads down and their identity secret. People whose political instincts are essentially conservative may not be outnumbered, but they are certainly outgunned.

It’s a given that conservatism often equates with passivity and apathy. The vast mass of people who are broadly happy with the status quo will never compete with the ideological zeal of the social justice warriors, and it would be idle to expect them to. But I’m not talking here about the masses who are primarily concerned with raising a family, paying the mortgage and watching rugby; I’m talking about those who are deeply worried about the radical re-invention of New Zealand society and who recognise the need to oppose it. They’re the people who need to raise their heads above the parapet.

They could take their cue from commentators like Chris Trotter and Martyn Bradbury – old-school lefties who have the courage to take on the identity politics cultists, even at the risk of alienating many of their former political allies (and who, perhaps even more uncomfortably from their point of view, now find themselves aligned with conservatives in defence of the core democratic value of free speech). Don Franks, an occasional commenter on this blog, is another Marxist free speech champion who finds himself vigorously at odds with the new generation of middle-class, university-educated social justice warriors.

In fact the Left in New Zealand has historically been far more fearless than conservatives about expressing unpopular, non-conformist opinions. When I was in charge of letters to the editor at The Evening Post during the 1990s, hardly a week would pass when we didn’t publish provocative missives from diehard socialists such as Rene (R.O.) Hare, Arthur (A.P.) Quinn and the Reverend Don Borrie. It didn’t worry them that they were out of step with the mainstream. We could learn from their conviction even if we didn’t agree with their ideology.

The anonymity issue was epitomised for me by someone who hides behind the pseudonym of Redbaiter, formerly an occasional commenter on this blog with whom I recently had an increasingly impolite email exchange (now terminated). His online nom-de-guerre suggests a fearless crusader for freedom, but he’s too timid even to identify himself in private emails.

He justified his anonymity to me by citing threats and abuse he supposedly received when he previously used his real name. (I don’t think I’m betraying any confidence in revealing this, since no one, to my knowledge, knows who Redbaiter is. I certainly don’t.)

Other anonymous commenters on this blog have used similar arguments. But threats and abuse, as unpleasant as they are, are surely a price worth paying for the free and open exercise of free speech. The neo-Marxists must derive great satisfaction from the fact that many of their opponents so lack the courage of their convictions that they keep their names secret, as if there's something shameful about their opinions. Perversely, it enables the other side to feel morally superior.

Another argument often heard in defence of anonymity is that jobs and careers can be jeopardised by the expression of politically incorrect opinions, which in itself indicates how seriously democratic values have been subverted in the prevailing climate of intolerance.

Some followers of this blog don’t hesitate to point out to me that I’m in the privileged position of not being dependent on income from a job, which is true. But I’m sure many people who comment on blogs like this have, like me, moved past the point where careers might be at risk. What’s stopping them from naming themselves?

It’s worth mentioning here that the Free Speech Union, which is officially registered as a trade union, has corresponding legal rights to protect freedom of speech against interference by employers, and has successfully done so. Speaking of which, the union will be having its first annual conference in Auckland next weekend and can look back on a remarkable year of achievements (mostly ignored by the mainstream media, which should be at the forefront of the free speech movement) in the fight against the insidious phenomenon known as cancel culture.

The emergence of the FSU is a heartening sign that resistance to authoritarian censorship is slowly gaining momentum, but there’s a long way to go. In the meantime, it would help if more people demonstrated their support for free speech by openly and unapologetically exercising it. The more who step forward, the more they give courage to others. It’s called critical mass.

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


Robert Arthur said...

I think the power of cancellation is grossly underestimated. Any schoolteacher, in or out of history lesson, who rationally laboured the relative comparison of progress of racial groups from the stone age, would find their career progress halted, or employment discontinued. The original soundings about maori Council wards showed many Councillors opposed. But when it became obvious their views would be subject to individual publicity and hence cancellation, near all acquiesced. The artful maori campaign, combining the best of maori and inherited Euro cunning, has been superbly successful. No one in teaching, nursing, public service, business, most employments now dares to question. The deranged nutters evident at Waitangi and in the grounds of Parliament, plus the close maori association with lawless gangs, a significant added deterrent to critics. Despite his surrender to maori, John Key did not maintain his vast security staff for companionship. Only retired persons with no apparent business interest now dare question. The newspapers have been totally captured. With the PIJFund, formally so. Whilst the Herald publishes many trite puerile letters, anything faintly critical of the govt, maori, maori politics, or the msm is binned. Although it is easy to link with real names, use of on here would gaurantee no Letters to Editor ever being published. Constructive democracy was largely dependent on a critical press.

Anonymous said...

Maybe those anonymous people speaking out are doctors who know that if they fail to obey the Medical Council's Statement on Cultural Safety they will be deregistered.
This "statement" "provides doctors and healthcare organisations with the Council's EXPECTATIONS of culturally safe practice" and it states as a key point that "Council REQUIRES doctors to meet the cultural safety standards outlined..."
They emphasise that Cultural COMPETENCE is no longer enough because "evidence" shows it will not deliver improvements in "health equity".
Cultural Safety requires that doctors "examine themselves, acknowledge and address their own biases, attitudes and assumptions, stereotypes, prejudices, structures and characteristics".
doctors are informed that Cultural Safety encompasses a "critical consciousness where healthcare professionals... engage in ongoing self reflection and self awareness and hold themselves accountable for providing culturally safe care, AS DEFINED BY THE PATIENT AND THEIR COMMUNITIES" (my caps).
You MUST also "[challenge] the cultural bias of individual colleagues" or else you yourself WILL be in breach of the Cultural Safety requirements of the Medical Council.
Read this statement yourself and weep. Doctors are already prisoners of the system. ANY statement they make which ANYONE in their "communities" deems unsafe is, by definition, UNSAFE, and you, the doctor, have NO comeback.
Did anyone out there realise that doctors are now REQUIRED to denounce their colleagues if they express an opinion that ANYONE may consider culturally unsafe?
In New Zealand today, merely to declare yourself a supporter of political party ACT means you are breaching the requirements of the NZMC.
How did we come to this? For 30 years my parents wrote to newspapers about New Zealand's takeover by stealth by Maori separatists. They saw it for what it was. They challenged the state sanctioned commentary at "Treaty to You" propaganda sessions. They actually looked up and wrote about the references used by the separatists to forward their agenda. They were laughed at, shunned and ridiculed by those around them, but THEY were the heroes.
I recall times when they sat in despair, having had yet another letter declined to be published saying - we're not doing this for us, we'll be dead. We do it for you children and for your future.
The entire set up with the Medical Council holding doctors hostage to the views of Critical Race Theory; destroying even our right to freedom of political belief, is stark and the evidence is there for ANYONE who wishes to get up and fight for our rights.
It is past time to berate the prisoner for failing to break out of the prison.

DeeM said...

I don't blame people for commenting Anonymously or using an online pseudonym, as I do. The latter is better because comments can be attributed directly to that person. Better they comment than not. And what's your chance of knowing them personally...very small, so what does it really matter if they use their own name? It doesn't affect the view they express.

It would be nice if everyone felt comfortable about using their real names but Karl, as you often write eruditely about, we now live in a rabid cancel-culture society and have a government actively planning to outlaw free speech, based on their own narrow definition of what constitutes offence and mis/disinformation.
Disagree with ANY mainstream issue and get ready to be called a racist, white supremacist or worse.
That's pretty scary for most and careers most definitely are threatened if the "wrong" views are expressed. There are plenty of examples of that.

Cut everyone some slack and be glad that they can still express their views on websites like this. We, and you, could be on borrowed time.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

The marxofascists are totalitarians and do not tolerate dissent within their ranks, hence they present a largely united front. We right-wingers believe in freedom of opinion and speech and so we tend to disagree quite a lot among ourselves, hence no united front. So they win.

Geoff Clasby Muriwai Beach said...

Happy to Karl. Im a sensible logical thinking liberal conservative. Formerly identified on this site as the mudbayripper. I stand in complete opposition to everything the twisted postmodern, Marxist left are using to try and destroy our democracy and am happy to say so.
My name is Geoff Clasby, im 69 years old and I live at Muriwai beach Auckland.

Fred said...

This is what happens when this Communist government takes control of, and centralises, medical services. Toe the "Communist party speak" or you are fired. I can see civil unrest in the not too distant future. Even New Zealanders will say "enough is enough" and throw this government and the "elitists" under the proverbial bus.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately Karl, cowardice has nothing to do with why people are loathe to write using their names. in my instance, it does however have everything to do with commonsense, and personal safety, not to mention the mental anguish. I know the effects of being the recipient of death threats and damage to personal property due to a Maori occupation, and wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. That the police and politicians weren’t prepared to give some form of protection just another real concern, and all because of false expectations given to radicals via the Treaty Settlement process.

Anonymous said...

Hi Karl.
Thank you for your erudite and clear thinking and the balls to be publicly identified.
I stay as anonymous as possible , as I am concerned that I will end up on a Stasi type list, and that one day there is a knock on the door late at night.
Far fetched ?
No, given how far NZ has moved towards that State control under Comrade Ardern's Government.

KP said...

Ah, maybe now there are more people wishing they had voted for Libertarianz back at the turn of the century.

We would have stopped all this PC nonsense in its tracks and made sure 'everyone is equal and no-one is more equal than others', then taken any reference to Maoris out of all laws in the country.

I see 'We are one people' has been removed from the culture completely.

Well, Australia is still open and the racism here is a good 20 or 30years behind NZ, so take the opportunity while you can!

Don said...

Having once been a prolific critic of obvious trends towards stupidity as evidenced by the "woke" brigade I have ceased since my once published opinions are now never printed. My daughter, a public servant, pleas with me to stay silent lest her employers link my comments to her and jeopardise her job. Similarly the media avoids printing anything that might affect their "bribe" from the Public Service Information Fund. Others I know speak of being
"Black Listed." As a former teacher I would now be expected to promote blatant lies about the Treaty, teach fake history and not mention the truth about monsters like Te Rauparaha. Telling the truth would cost me my job.
That is why so many of us remain silent.

Anonymous said...

It saddens me to read the comments in this forum. We all should be free to live our lives safely but obviously that is not the case when one stands up to the Marxist government we now have.

Helen Weston said...

Yes Karl, It would be wonderful if everyone could put their name to their comments - BUT we know what that may do to their jobs, lives, etc. I very rarely comment here, but always sign my name. There again I am over 80 so no job security to worry about. I do write letters to editors in our local paper and sometimes get them published. My fervent wish is for more ordinary New Zealanders to have a voice and make known that 'enough is enough!'