This opinion piece was originally published on Karl du Fresne's blog on 28th February 2022. It is republished here with permission.
OPINION: It’s been fascinating over the past couple of weeks to observe the intellectual contortions of people who forcefully uphold the right to protest, just as long as those ghastly lowlifes on the other side don’t do it.
Veteran old-school leftist Don Franks deftly skewered the hypocrites in a poem published on this blog, but it hasn’t deterred them from continuing to recoil in disgust at the sight of the “rabble” (a word suddenly much favoured by the illiberal Left, as opposed to those like Franks who believe in free speech) on the lawns outside Parliament.
Preferably, you’ll postpone.
If you really really must protest,
make sure to do it silently,
There’s an unmistakeable note of panic in the posturing of the woke Left. They suddenly realise they no longer control the public debate and are wildly lashing out at the scruffy mob that usurped their right to make a nuisance of themselves. How dare they!
Over the past few days we’ve seen a stream of desperate attempts to argue that the Freedom Convoy has no legitimacy; that the only "proper" protests are those endorsed by the leftist elite. By definition, no other protest can have any validity, least of all one mounted by a loose coalition of mostly working-class, provincial people driving utes and house trucks.
Camp Freedom is something new and threatening. In the eyes of its critics, it can only be explained by seeing it as an imported phenomenon – an ideological virus, smuggled in by the global far-Right, to which stupid and gullible New Zealanders have allowed themselves to be exposed.
The level of condescension and intellectual snobbery on display from people who think of themselves as liberal has been breathtaking. The tone has alternated between sneering at this supposedly feral underclass and alarm at their sudden, forceful presence on the national stage – a stage the wokeists are accustomed to hogging for themselves.
Mandy Hager – president of the Society of Authors, sister of Nicky and a fully paid-up member of the leftist cabal that normally dominates the public conversation – revealed the Left’s anxiety, hypocrisy and intellectual confusion in an opinion piece for Stuff last weekend.
As the author of a book entitled Protest! Shaping Aotearoa, Hager evidently regards herself as an authority – perhaps the authority – on New Zealand protest movements. But it was clear from her article that her definition of protest is a narrow and self-serving one which excludes any group that could be classified as conservative or right-wing.
She applauded historic protests in support of homosexual law reform, women’s suffrage, MMP and New Zealand’s anti-nuclear stance. Their end goals, she wrote, were “designed to strengthen our existing political frameworks, social cohesion and civil rights”. They were based on the values of the “greater good”.
Peaceful resistance and civil disobedience is fine in Hager’s eyes if it’s against the 1981 Springbok Tour or climate change, but she isn’t at all happy with what’s happening in Molesworth St. That’s different.
“For a start, there are many factions, and no one concrete outcome articulated” … “a disparate group awash with grievances, much of it stoked by insidious overseas interference” … “dubious scientific backing only from the fringes”. In other words the Molesworth St protesters aren’t playing by the usual rules. And who sets the rules? Apparently, people like Hager.
She concludes: “This protest works against the overall needs and values of a healthy, cohesive, inclusive society.” Apparently that’s not allowed. And who decides what a healthy, cohesive, inclusive society looks like? Why, people like Hager, that’s who. As I said in a letter to The Dominion Post: “[Hager’s] article confirms the impression that the Left claims the right to protest exclusively for itself and its own favoured causes.”
(Bizarrely, Hager also dived down a blind alley with the assertion: “Of course we’ve also seen the ugly side of protest here, a pick and mix of racist, anti-Maori/migrant/LGBTQIA+/Muslim/Jew/Asian/women and other prejudices given air.” Really? Apart from thankfully very rare offensive gestures against Jewry, which are presumably the work of a tiny, attention-seeking lunatic fringe, I can’t recall protests against any of these groups and suspect they are figments of Hager’s febrile imagination. Or perhaps she includes late-night talkback calls from angry old men in her definition of “protest”.)
On Tuesday morning it was the turn of someone named Byron C Clark, supposedly a “disinformation and conspiracy researcher” on Morning Report. The theme was that stupid people had allowed themselves to be indoctrinated. Ergo the protesters have been misled and their grievances should be disregarded.
Obligingly fed a series of soft, leading questions by the Usual Suspect, aka Susie Ferguson, Clark sounded the alarm about the Freedom Campers being radicalised by sinister alien forces and global disinformation networks. Oddly enough, we never hear experts on Morning Report expressing alarm about people being radicalised by the extreme Left, although it’s been happening for decades and has succeeded in transforming New Zealand into a country that some of us barely recognise.
Similarly, we should conclude that ideological manipulation is a problem only if it’s practised on an ignorant lumpenproletariat, but not when it happens to gullible middle-class students in university lecture theatres, where it flourishes unchallenged.
Clark talked of nefarious far-right conspiracies and distrust of the government (you're kidding me) and media (no, surely not). It didn’t seem to have occurred to him that if New Zealanders have been driven into the arms of dodgy alternative news sources such as Counterspin, it might be because they have learned not to trust the mainstream media. (As it happens, I don't either.)
Asked by Ferguson who might be bankrolling the protest, Clark mentioned the name of Steve Bannon. Donald Trump was also mentioned. You can see the irony here: a man who professes to investigate conspiracy theories was indulging in them himself.
Prior to this, I’d never heard of Clark, who described himself as an amateur, freelance conspiracy researcher. Despite his flimsy credentials, the interview was allowed to run for nearly 8 minutes – slightly more time than the woman who runs the country got on the same morning. Say no more.
The ubiquitous Morgan Godfery, whose column mugshot suggests an overweening self-regard, also chimed in again yesterday and made no attempt to conceal his contempt for the protesters, ridiculing them while at the same time acknowledging that “constructing an ‘us versus them’ situation isolates the protesters further, plunging them deeper into their personal paranoias and collective conspiracies”. So he recognises the danger of marginalising the protesters but goes ahead and does it anyway.
What we can infer from this barrage of anti-Camp Freedom propaganda is that the woke Left is terrified of losing the initiative in the culture wars. It’s desperate to reclaim its sole right to lecture the rest of us and wants to do so without the distraction of an unruly mob that has the effrontery to adopt the Left’s own tactics.
The irony here is that having spent most of their lives kicking against the establishment, the wokeists are the establishment. They have won the big ideological wars and are on the same side as all the institutions of power and influence: the government, the bureaucracy, the media, academia, the arts and even the craven business sector.
The dissenters, disrupters and challengers of the status quo – in other words the people protesting outside Parliament – are the new radicals. This requires the moralisers of the left to recalibrate their political thinking, and I get the impression it’s more than some of them can cope with.
Footnote: For the record, I neither wholeheartedly support nor oppose the Molesworth St protesters. This may sound like a copout, but it’s hard to take a position because their causes are too disparate and there are too many rogue elements among them. What gets my back up is people who have long claimed the right to protest for themselves seeking to deny it to others for no better reason than that they don’t like what they’re saying.