Time to cut through the fear and find the best of us
11 October 2023
Opinion: We need to be ‘tough on poverty’ not crime, and to care for people who commit crimes, not cage them, says Dylan Asafo
Last Friday, a study was released finding that 94.5 percent of the National Party’s Facebook posts from September 11 to September 24 had been negative.
The academic leading the study, Victoria University’s Dr Mona Krewel, said this finding was “not unexpected, given Labour is the incumbent and National is wanting to change the government”.
To many of us, this finding was also unsurprising because it reflected the intense fear that’s been driving its campaign and the campaigns of Act and NZ First.
We’ve heard politicians from these parties talk about how and why we should fear many things threatening New Zealanders, like “out-of-control” youth and gangs, “separatist” co-governance arrangements with Māori and beneficiaries “persistently” avoiding employment.
We’ve also had many experts explain that their fear-driven claims aren’t based on good evidence and their proposed solutions will cause a lot of harm and make our problems worse.
Of course, fear-driven campaigns aren’t new in New Zealand. They are a classic part of colonial politics. To many politicians, gaining power in colonial states like New Zealand means becoming the worst of us capable of bringing out the worst in us.
So when politicians tell us that we should be scared of ‘out of control’ youth and gangs to justify their ‘tough-on-crime’ policies, they’re not doing so out of genuine concern for victims of crime and the safety of all communities. They’re trying to bring out the worst parts of us to secure power.
Instead of drawing on their humanity to offer a vision of a more compassionate society for all, they detach themselves from their humanity to uphold the inhumane foundations of the colonial state they want to lead – that is, a state founded on land theft and genocidal violence. At the same time, they try to convince us to do the same, the illusion being that if we also detach ourselves from our humanity, we can be powerful and in control too.
So when politicians tell us that we should be scared of ‘out of control’ youth and gangs to justify their ‘tough-on-crime’ policies, they’re not doing so out of genuine concern for victims of crime and the safety of all communities. They’re trying to bring out the worst parts of us to secure power. This includes the coldest parts of us that believe justice demands vengeance, even when it’s been proven time and time again that being ‘tough’ on people who commit crimes only allows crime in our communities to continue.
These politicians also try to appeal to the worst parts of us when they claim we should be afraid of people receiving benefits who are supposedly avoiding going to work. These include the narcissistic parts of us that think that everything we have is the result of our hard work, even when it’s clear that people receiving benefits don’t have the same options as us and that providing people with proper benefits won’t make life harder for anyone else.
In the same breath, these politicians are also trying to reach the worst parts of us (especially the “squeezed middle”) when they tell us to fear higher taxes for the wealthiest in the country.
These include the selfish parts of us that want to be wealthy too, especially in this cost-of-living crisis, even when that means so many others have to struggle and live in poverty. Of course, it’s no coincidence the same politicians trying to cut and restrict benefits also oppose wealth and capital gains taxes. As the worst of us, they need to find a way to convince the worst parts of us that poor people are to blame for the country’s economic problems, not their own narcissism and greed.
The worst parts of us are also targeted when these politicians urge us (especially those who aren’t Māori) to be afraid of co-governance arrangements with Māori. These are the racist parts of us that have been taught to see Māori as inferior savages unworthy of governing the lands and waters the Crown stole from them. These racist parts of us can also make us hypocrites who suddenly aren’t ‘tough on crime’ when it comes to the Crown’s crimes of genocidal violence and theft.
So, as this fear-driven politics ramps up in the lead-up to election night, the question for many of us is: are we willing to let the worst of us succeed in bringing out the worst in us? Or are we willing to cut through the fear and find the best of us, trying to bring out the best in us?
It might not seem like it all the time, but the best of us are all around us. They’re the people who are encouraging us to be ‘tough on poverty’, not on crime, to bring out the kind parts of us that understand that if we want to reduce harm, we must care for people who commit crimes, not cage them.
They’re also the ones wanting to remove dehumanising sanctions for people receiving benefits to strengthen the humble parts of us that appreciate that financial security in this world is not determined by work ethic but by systemic advantage.
We can also find them proposing an evidence-based wealth tax to reach the selfless parts of us capable of imagining that the deceptive joy of wealth won’t compare with the true joys of being a part of a community that shares so that everyone has enough.
If we really try to cut through the fear, we can find them calling on the best parts of us with their visions of a new Aotearoa that honours te Tiriti o Waitangi. With these visions, they’re trying to awaken the bravest parts of us to give us the courage to confront the foundational injustices in this country and build a society where we can become the compassionate human beings we were all born to be.
Dylan Asafo is a senior lecturer at Auckland Law School, researching the areas of racial justice and Pacific legal issues.
This article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland.
This article was first published on Newsroom, A chance to cut through the fear and find the best of us, 11 October, 2023
Margo White I Research communications editor
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