At the beginning of last month I took quite an interest in John Ansell’s “Treatygate” campaign. Wrote about it, talked about on the radio; you know, the usual thing. I also spent quite some time in the blogosphere trenches, talking with Ansell and his allies about the kinds of arguments they were using and trying to point out where such arguments went wrong.
It was not a pleasant experience. Names were called, reputations were questioned and history was, largely, rewritten. If there was something I did learn, it was the Ansell, like many other holders of radical and marginalised views, lives in an echo chamber. When you live in an echo chamber, the rules of evidence and evidential weighting work in accordance to an agenda, with those who oppose you being guilty of twisting the evidence whilst those who support you being misunderstood geniuses who will, like Galileo, be recognised for their intelligence in the not too distant future. It’s a lot like the Academy, really, except the Academy has a series of checks-and-balances to ensure that the process is largely veristic rather than polemical. In the Academy, calling something a “Trot” or a “socialist” is not a winning move (unless you are playing some version of “Bingo!”) but in Ansell’s world, it’s a world-class closing statement.
I pulled away from such “conversations” for various reasons. I was, I will admit, growing sick of the tenor of the kind of condemnations Ansell and his allies frequently resorted to, and I found the lack of actual arguments quite frustrating to deal with: if someone just keeps restating the same point again and again, despite arguments to the contrary, you can’t help but feel that you have chosen to live in a novel by Albert Camus (or Franz Kafka).
But mostly, I was spending time working on my post-doctoral proposal (aka “the most rewritten piece of work I have ever put to paper”), which, because it had to fit into a quite strict 1200 word limit, took weeks and weeks to hone into shape. I’ve learnt things about the English language over the last month which should serve me “going forward” (and guarantee that my papers will be short, snappy and precise)1.
But now the post-doc is in (and by “in” I mean “I’ve submitted it not just to the fellowship competition I really want to get into but also lots of other places too”) and so I thought I might rejoin the fray over at Ansell’s place. I was quite excited to see that he would be taking the stage at the Remuera Bowling Club, giving a presentation/campaign launch for “Colourblind New Zealand” on Monday night. “What a great way to get my stress levels to an all new high?” I thought to myself, idly thinking of also buying a hessian robe and putting on a crown of thorns.
But it is not to be, because Remuera has gone just a little way to redeem itself (in my books; Remuera and Mt. Eden are my least favourite suburbs in Auckland, barely beating out Devonport in the “Middle-class Horror” stakes).
Scott Hamilton has the breakdown of this little state of affairs over at his erudite blog, so I won’t reiterate what has been (more capably) written elsewhere. What I will say is this:
Ansell seems to think his being denied access to the Remuera Bowling Club as a venue to launch his “Colourblind New Zealand” campaign is all part of a conspiracy against him by various parties such as National, Māori, the Left in general, et al. I think he’s just playing to his intended audience when he says that (he is, after all, someone who made his fortune in advertising and is prone to hyperbole) as it’s just not that likely there is a large-scale conspiracy going on to stop people like Ansell getting noticed. If there was, why hasn’t someone done something about, say, Michael Laws? Why does Rodney Hide get to write his atrocious articles in the Herald? No, a fair more likely explanation is that Ansell, whose rhetoric in these matters is both inelegant and deliberately inflammatory to anyone who disagrees with even a part of what he says, has alienated vast parts of the base he is trying to connect with. Ansell’s campaign is an all-or-nothing affair: you are either in with him or part of the problem. The fact that his campaign is founded on inconsistent principles and swathes of fictions masquerading as facts means that some potential fellow travellers (like Peter Cresswell) are going “Hmm, no… Don’t think so.” The Remuera Rotary Club is probably thinking “Oh, do we really want to be associated with this? Probably not.”2
Still, I’m somewhat saddened by this turn of events. I really am interested in just how much support Ansell has and just what the opposition to his views looks like. A public meeting is an awfully good way to ascertain this kind of thing, even in the giddy heights of Remuera, which Ansell calls “the premier suburb” of Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu (New Zealand). Indeed, I would argue that seeing what the locals of Remuera make of Ansell’s campaign might be a good indicator of Ansell’s general support amongst wealthy Pākehā (of the non-Louis Crimp variety).
Also, imagine if no one went, or the people who did come were only there to oppose him? I was perfectly willing to go and hear him speak (I might as well extend to Ansell the same courtesy I extended to Richard Gage and David Icke), but there is a good case for not going at all. Images of crowds don’t really convey particularly well just why the individuals present arethere, so an empty room makes a better impression than a room full of protestors (when it comes to media spectacle). You can’t really spin a small number of attendees as being indicative of mainstream support, whilst a picture of a crowded room, even a hostile one, can be spun a number of different ways.
Ansell hopes to find another venue for Monday night); maybe my Monday night won’t be spent watching “Homeland” but, rather, living something like it3.