Satire by Dave Witherow, who was a long time columnist with the Otago Daily Times, emigrated to New Zealand from Northern Ireland in 1971. He’s an author, script writer, and worked as a scientist for Fish and Game.
Diversity, as all right-thinking people are now agreed, is a fine thing – our touchstone for a happy future. In all its rich variety – racial, cultural, sartorial, grammatical, even culinary – diversity is intrinsically good, enhancing our lives, enlarging them, imbuing them with colour, with significance, and, most crucially, with VIBRANCY.
Public opposition to this is considered unacceptable, and possibly racist, and indeed may soon be deemed a criminal offence, since who among us does not wish to be tolerantly vibrant?
Even the Green Party has seen the light, abandoning its previous fixation with the fate of the environment in favour of flat-out immigration from as many different lands as possible. No more, say the Greens, of the sad monochrome past. Onward instead, in a broad rainbow tide, to the nirvana of untrammelled diversity.
Yet even now there are a few who demur – who continue to maintain that the insistence on diversity is simplistic, maybe even moronic. That it can be good or bad or neutral, and that an open-ended endorsement of diversity, no matter how well-intentioned, is no great sign of a functioning brain. Could there possibly be some small grain of truth in such troublesome reservations?
No known society has ever consisted of an identikit population. Differences arise automatically and, through the vagaries of sexual reproduction, there will always be considerable variations between the component individuals of any functioning community – in size and skin-colour, mental and bodily health, muscle-power, intelligence, fortitude, altruism, and so forth. Some are winners in this genetic lottery, but all – including the infirm, the insane, the feeble-minded and the criminally-inclined – contribute in their own unique ways to the grand sweep of human diversity. Yet, as our immigration policies attest, some diversities are preferable to others, and there seems to be little enthusiasm for importing a genuinely representative selection of the people who might like to come here.
Similar considerations apply to culture. Some cultures chop people’s hands off for petty theft, and their heads off for more serious matters such as blasphemy or using drugs. Some tolerate slavery and infanticide, while others treat women as chattels to be owned by men, with no choice of whom they will marry, and no options even as to how they will dress. Young women in these societies may be subject to genital mutilation and put to death for infidelity. Should we welcome immigrants from such cultures in the equitable furtherance of humanity’s endless diversity?
These are not just theoretical considerations. Wars, massacres, and assorted other crimes have regularly been caused by manifestations of diversity – and this continues to happen. Palestinians and Israelis, sharing one patch of earth, clearly add to their region’s rich racial mix, yet on neither side of the racial divide is this extensively celebrated. And the same can be seen in Ireland, in Bosnia, Myanmar, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, China – in fact almost anywhere you care to look.
Consensus on this vexed topic is hard to find, even in liberal New Zealand, and a recent poll indicated a surprising 71% in opposition to more immigration, irrespective of from where. Unlimited vibrancy, it seems, is not to everyone’s taste, and if amity and goodwill are to prevail over prejudice and xenophobia we shall have to suppress any misgivings aroused by a preoccupation with the historical record. The road to diversity has always been challenging, but there is no alternative. We must press on, re-educating the ignorant and encouraging the enlightened, confident in the better angels of our nature. We must, in short, reconstruct every aspect of our blinkered and insular nation.
The ramifications are very far-reaching, and a full transition may well take decades. Our civic institutions – relics of a sad and brutal colonial past – are no longer fit for purpose, and our hidebound adherence to the failed dogma of democracy betrays a residual unease towards the vibrant future now so tantalisingly imminent. (Although it must be said that the present government, in concert with the Waitangi Tribunal, has been making useful progress on that frontier at least).
Much more, however, is needed – beginning, perhaps, with the legal system, now badly in need of an overhaul. The current inflexible arrangements fall very far short of what is required of this challenging, turbulent century. Indeed, as our Maori partners so often point out, the imposition of a colour-blind and monolithic legal blueprint has never adequately reflected their venerable concepts of tribal justice.
Change must occur. We need a new system of justice, elastic enough to accommodate the disparate expectations of all our people – whatever their racial and cultural backgrounds. Ethnic preference underlies everything – as the Waitangi Tribunal has so brilliantly perceived, and a proper administration of the law must begin and end with a full recognition of this illuminating basic precept.
The first step – before any constructive reform can be properly set in motion – must be the compilation of a complete and detailed national register of every citizen’s racial pedigree. This long-overdue inventory is vital to our existence as a free and vibrant society. Once it is complete, and all categories have been determined, each of us can be assigned to the judicial code most appropriate to their individual situation (Those of intermediate or indecipherable ancestry being given the choice as to which faction they prefer). This done, all shades will be fairly catered for, and everyone will finally be in line to receive their just deserts.
It would be impossible to exaggerate the incomparable benefits of such a judicial reform. Race would henceforth live in harmony with race, and tribe with tribe, each secure in its own dispensations.
New immigrants would feel at ease from the start. Thus, for example, those gracing our shores from the Middle East, caught shoplifting, would merely lose a hand or an arm, as is their custom, rather than suffer the alien indignities of conventional Kiwi justice.
Likewise, for Saudis and Iraquis, the prospect of a public beheading should, culturally-speaking, be infinitely more acceptable than a hefty fine or a six-months suspended sentence. Irishmen caught dealing in drugs would be shot through the knees, or head, while Malaysians and Thais in similar straits would be hanged, in accordance with their native traditions. To each his own, and let us not be deterred by the squawking sure to arise from lawyers mired in the monolithic past and incapable of moving with the times.
For Maori, long ill-served by the bureaucratic rigidities of the colonist legacy, a return to the concept of utu must surely be considered. Centuries ahead of its time, this colourful and robust tradition might easily be integrated with the normal working of our existing courts. Cases could continue to be heard as at present, but once a conviction had been entered, the victim – and not the unwieldy apparatus of the state – would administer the appropriate sentence.
A graduated scale of remedial chastisement would soon evolve, based on tribal practice, and the courts could issue lengths of four-by-two of a standard weight and heft, to facilitate the process.
This is only the most cursory outline of what must, sooner or later, be our path to an enlightened, vibrant, and truly multicultural future. Already, in our social media and in the wise counsel of our leaders we glimpse the first glimmerings of a fresh ethnic sensitivity which, in the coming years, will create in New Zealand a paradise of racial tolerance, a new Arcadia – the envy of the civilised world.