‘Culture war’ in New Zealand – revolution or evolution?

Do we have a growing culture war in New Zealand? Or have we had one and it is as good as over? Or is most of New Zealand, beyond the political activist bubble, chugging along in quiet evolution?

Bryce Edwards looks at Our new culture wars at Newsroom, and shows that in some ways there has been a spike in the use of some terms over the past five years.

Occurence of the words in an online database of newspapers and magazines in New Zealand.
Source Bryce Edwards

The last five years have seen a distinct increase in what might be called “cultural politics” or “culture wars” in New Zealand. The simplest way to understand this is to think of “cultural politics” as being about “non-economic politics” – debates over issues that aren’t directly about economics or materialism, but are more about issues of identity and discrimination. Political scientists also refer to such issues as being post-materialist.

Debates about issues relating to ethnicity, gender, sexuality, human rights, discrimination, disabilities, and so forth have become much more prominent over recent years. And divisive topics such as abortion, euthanasia and drug law reform, will continue to be extremely difficult for politicians to navigate.

The “culture wars” are particularly associated with political and social issues relating to ethnicity and gender. And some key words go with these issues – such as “feminism”, “racism”, and the more modern buzzword “diversity”. All of these terms have had an explosion of usage in New Zealand over the last five years.

But how divided is the general population, as opposed to the political media and social media bubble?

Most of the country largely ignores most politics between elections, and is more interested in the All Blacks, Shortland Street and the latest repackaging of a burger or some chicken, plus the usual chips of course.

Racism, feminism, and diversity aren’t the only words representing the new culture wars. The rise of more socially-liberal causes and debates have led to a new way of talking about politics.

By the minority who talk to any extent about politics and political issues.

Racism, feminism, and diversity aren’t the only words representing the new culture wars. The rise of more socially-liberal causes and debates have led to a new way of talking about politics. The slang term “woke” is an example of this.

I follow politics more than most but hadn’t noticed the term ‘woke’ being used. I have noticed that even All Black coaches use the term ‘learnings’ though.

Similarly, the term that has been used for woke political activists is “social justice warriors”. However, although once used to self-describe as a term of pride, it’s now increasingly seen as pejorative (in the same way that “politically correct” was once embraced by liberals and then became a term of disparagement).

I have noticed the increasing use of “social justice warriors”, but only in political social media.

The phrase “check your privilege” refers to “privilege theory” – which is a central concept of the culture wars – that one’s identity (ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc) represents certain structural advantages in society.

“Privilege theory”is new to me, and sounds like academic-speak.

Here, “identity politics” kicks in, with one’s membership of different social categories being an important indicator of one’s value to the debate. For example, the term “middle-aged white men” (or variations on this) is a trifecta of disparagement and critique about the dominant group in New Zealand politics.

I have certainly seen growing attacks on “middle-aged white men” (and variations) and attempts to shut people up who are identified by others as such.

Is it even “the dominant group in New Zealand politics”? Look at the current party leaders.

Jacinda Ardern is not middle aged nor male. Simon Bridges is not middle aged nor ‘white’. Winston Peters is old, and Maori when it suits him. David Seymour is relatively young. Marama Davidson is not white, male nor middle aged. Ironically perhaps only James Shaw could fit the demon category, and he is hardly dominant.

Arguments about political representation of groups who are traditionally under-represented, are central to cultural wars. We can therefore expect to see more debates about dedicated Maori wards in local government elections, and ways to achieve better representation of the whole of society in other political vehicles, and in structures such as company boards.

Other concepts are also now more important: post-colonialism, decolonialism, CIS-gendered, cultural appropriation, hate speech, and free-speech.

I’m not sure these things will be being discussed much in the cafes, bars and suburbs of New Zealand, let alone fought over.

Has the culture war actually already been won?

The keenness of the Establishment to embrace liberalism can be seen in the number of businesses that are becoming more concerned than ever with issues of diversity and cultural sensitivity. This indicates that some parts of the culture wars have largely been won.

Looking at the leadership mix above, perhaps it has been ‘won’. But I think this has been an evolution rather than a revolution, changes that were started in the sixties  which was a cultural revolution – that’s now fifty years ago – and has gradually changed as young idealists have got older and had more influence in power over several generations.

We can look at how things are now compared to how they were and think ‘wow, that’s a big step forward’, but it hasn’t happened suddenly, nor has it reached a conclusion.

Te reo Maori, for example, is now entirely accepted as an important part of the nation. It’s also no longer unusual to see the Tino rangatiratanga flag fly in many public places, often on Government buildings. And the concept of gender equality is now universally accepted in politics.

I wouldn’t say universally accepted, but certainly largely accepted (with the exception of small pockets of past-dwellers).

But not all of this is this is a pull of the political elite.

On drug law reform, especially cannabis reform, the public has been well ahead of our ruling class, pushing our reluctant politicians to deal with a political and legal failure.

And this is more of social rather than a political pressure, the ‘war on drugs’ was obviously lost a long time ago but our politicians have been too cautious (or gutless) to step up and make long called for changes. This is only slowly happening now – in fairness to Ardern and Shaw this is probably being held back by an elderly Maori gentleman.

It seems that the more socially-liberal elements in most of these conflicts are in the ascendancy.

This has been a several generation evolution.

Labelling it as a cultural war does not do it justice. Wars tend to end up with winners and losers (or perhaps that should be losers and loser-losers).

Overall New Zealand culture has changed markedly in the last half century, relatively quickly as many things have changed rapidly in the modern world. But it is more due to growing awareness and understanding of the majority of people, who are mostly oblivious the warring factions on the political fringes.

This hasn’t been a war of attrition. In the main we can all benefit.



  1. sorethumb

     /  June 29, 2018

    Given Jordan Petterson/YouTube I think it is backlash time?
    Underlying it all though (I think) is marxism and the blank slate versus evolutionary psychology. The evidence is with evolutionary psychology.

    • Patzcuaro

       /  June 29, 2018

      Could you translate into everyday English?

      • Corky

         /  June 29, 2018

        I fear Thumbs has succumbed to ” Parti Speak.”

        • PartisanZ

           /  June 29, 2018

          Thumb’s certainly succumbed to something to say “the evidence is with evolutionary psychology” … I think so anyhow … I don’t immediately see any indication of ‘Lobster Brain’ …

          Mmmm, there’s an ‘out’ in “evolutionary” though, isn’t there?

          Marxism does not equal Blank Slate … and anyone who goes along with Blank Slate has a Lobster Brain anyway …

          There may have been a Blank Slate once – like Big Bang – Adam & Eve perhaps, or just Eve – but however it came into Being, Psychology has since been evolving … like it’s Human carriers …

          • Corky

             /  June 29, 2018

            ”Marxism does not equal Blank Slate … and anyone who goes along with Blank Slate has a Lobster Brain anyway …”

            Oh, really? I saw a couple of Youngin’s on TV. They were asked a simple question: What is a baby goat called? Back came the answer: A baby lamb!!

            If that doesn’t qualify for a Marxist educated prodigy..I don’t know what does.

            You are being disingenuous, Parti. Marxism is anathema to evolution. It’s devolution. Taking us back to collectives of cavemen; devoid of individuality. No better than ants in a colony.

            • PartisanZ

               /  June 29, 2018

              Take a long-shot look at a clogged rush-hour motorway or freeway sometime Corky … and get back to me about “ants in a colony” …

    • sorethumb

       /  June 29, 2018

      The intellectual battlefields today are on college campuses, where students’ deep convictions about race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation and their social justice antipathy toward capitalism, imperialism, racism, white privilege, misogyny and “cissexist heteropatriarchy” have bumped up against the reality of contradictory facts and opposing views, leading to campus chaos and even violence. Students at the University of California, Berkeley, and outside agitators, for example, rioted at the mere mention that conservative firebrands Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter had been invited to speak (in the end, they never did). Demonstrators at Middlebury College physically attacked libertarian author Charles Murray and his liberal host, professor Allison Stanger, pulling her hair, twisting her neck and sending her to the ER.*

      Students are being taught by these postmodern professors that there is no truth, that science and empirical facts are tools of oppression by the white patriarchy, and that nearly everyone in America is racist and bigoted, including their own professors, most of whom are liberals or progressives devoted to fighting these social ills. Of the 58 Evergreen faculty members who signed a statement “in solidarity with students” calling for disciplinary action against Weinstein for “endangering” the community by granting interviews in the national media, I tallied only seven from the sciences. Most specialize in English, literature, the arts, humanities, cultural studies, women’s studies, media studies, and “quotidian imperialisms, intermetropolitan geography [and] detournement.” A course called “Fantastic Resistances” was described as a “training dojo for aspiring ‘social justice warriors’” that focuses on “power asymmetries.”

      • PartisanZ

         /  June 29, 2018

        Neat … What does it mean?

        And like … What’s the problem?

        Is it “power asymmetries” or the identification of power asymmetries?

  2. Corky

     /  June 29, 2018

    Damn fine post, Pete. This sums it up for me.

    ”Or is most of New Zealand, beyond the political activist bubble, chugging along in quiet evolution?”

    And for a chuckle I liked this:

    ”Winston Peters is old, and Maori when it suits him. ”

    One upward trending word not mentioned is ”bs” Plenty of that around now, so it’s hard to be wrong when it’s used..

  3. PartisanZ

     /  June 29, 2018

    Oh FFS … Who stands to gain the most from our socio-cultural evolution becoming ‘culture wars’?

    Edwards is trying to be first* to carve himself a Media Niche Market … or EMiNeM.

    The media would dearly love the natural rejuvenation and growth of indigenous, ethnic [which could easily include European/Pakeha**] and chosen identity to become a WAR … and, lo-and-behold, here they are attempting to make it so!

    How many Word Hand Grenades got lobbed at your gated community overnight?

    If “socially-liberal elements”*** are in the ascendancy, it can only mean that a prevalence of socially-conservative elements spells the death of socio-culture, which has always done literally nothing except evolve … Life, including cultural life, struggles firstly to survive, then to thrive …

    *Rather than be first, Edwards is handing “mainstream acceptance” fuel to the dying fires of the Right Brigade. Why a supposedly intelligent journalist would play to this crowd is beyond comprehension? He can’t complain about Winston or The Conservatives if he does this. He’s effectively joining far worse groups and organisations … who’s names I won’t mention in deference to Gezza.

    **Instead of Pakeha celebrating their own identity, Pakeha culture is becoming increasingly identified with complaining about, whinging, whining and resisting change in the socio-cultural identity arena or, in other words, suppressing other people’s cultural identity if it’s perceived as ‘different’ … or perceived as a threat to Pakeha hegemony. (Oh God, and I could write a thesis about that!)

    *** Note the word “element”, which sorta criminalizes socially-liberal people.

    The socially-liberal rabble, that Lefty Mob, were out in front of our gated community last night lobbing Word Hand Grenades … The “Diversity” ones are the worst … Very percussive … Our community is impervious to “Rascist” Word Grenades now … A single Phrase-using-‘Racist’ Rocket was fired too …

    Oh Fuck … this post is worth hours of humour … Thanks Pete.

    • PartisanZ

       /  June 29, 2018

      Did someone mention Jordan Peterson … the current ‘Poster Boy’ Salesman of this ultimately dangerous Snake Oil Bullshit … who’s recently completed his five minutes of fame …

      Time he franchised it maybe … and let others share the ill-gotten gains?

      • Gezza

         /  June 29, 2018

        He had some valid points to make a while back but he’s pretty much made them & nowadays I think he’s just in love with the sound of his own voice and become a quasi-intellectual poseur & a crashing bore. Probably still has some value to lost 30-40 year old boys still living with mum n dad & wondering why women won’t go out with them.

        But YouTube’s insidious AI Spy Logarithm suggested I might want to watch this last night after some entirely unrelated video clip, & this is a good example of when he does have a good point to make. His cringeworthy opponent is sadly a kiwi.

        • PartisanZ

           /  June 29, 2018

          He has a number of good points to make … and so does Dr. Peat (?) …

          The split-screen says it all … It must be a WIN/LOSE situation … another WAR …

          Contrived by the media …

          Whose the aggressor?

          • Gezza

             /  June 29, 2018

            Peat & the state legislation & any gendernut twerp insisting on the use of any of a whole whole ridiculous range of idiotic pronouns to refer to any person not wanting to be identified as a male or female who won’t accept ‘it’. Which is really all there is. Fuck off, idiot! is really the most appropriate response to that sort of git.

            • PartisanZ

               /  June 29, 2018

              What you and I think many people don’t realize is just how sensitive some human beings are …

              The world can only benefit from more of them.

            • Gezza

               /  June 29, 2018

              Yes I do realise how sensitive some people are, I’m one of them. That is why I’m a musician, singer. poet, songwriter, cartoonist, animal lover – that’s the sensitive, empathetic side of me where all my creative & emotional & hurty bits reside.

              One of the things you don’t realise is that you don’t get to decide who is sensitive or what sensitive means.

              And there are people who are so over-sensitive & up themselves they’re actually aggressive. When they get told fuck off idiot some of them cry. Others just get more aggressive.

            • PartisanZ

               /  June 29, 2018

              The world can only benefit from more like you then Gezza …

            • Gezza

               /  June 29, 2018

              The world tried to kill me twice mate. That’s how I’m made. I’ve had to learn to live with it for the sake of someone else.

  4. Gezza

     /  June 29, 2018

    On the whole I think NZ is muddling along reasonably well compared to many other countries. Extremists with a good point to make usually end up achieving what the moderates couldn’t.

    • Gezza

       /  June 29, 2018

      *usually end up achieving what the moderates wanted to but couldn’t.

  5. alloytoo

     /  June 29, 2018

    So, if the extremists are getting more airplay in the MSM and the MSM readership/Viewership is plummeting, it would suggest that the bulk of the population don’t care for the coolaid?

    • PartisanZ

       /  June 29, 2018

      Since by “extremists” you mean progressives, what it indicates is that the majority of consumers of MSM are conservatives …

  6. High Flying Duck

     /  June 29, 2018

    Karl Du Fresne covers off the mindless diversity freaks very well:

    It [neo-Marxism] grows out of the assumption that Western civilisation, and all that goes with it, is fundamentally rotten and therefore must be dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up.

    In the cockeyed illogic of the neo-Marxists, we should feel guilt and shame at having inherited a civilisation that has lifted untold millions of people out of poverty and introduced them to democratic government.

    You can see Marx’s influence in neo-Marxism’s hostility to capitalism, its contempt for supposed bourgeois values – the family, for instance – and its emphasis on class and division.

    It marches arm-in-arm with identity politics, seeing society not as a cohesive whole, sharing common interests and aspirations, but as a seething mass of oppressed minorities struggling for liberation – hence the ever-increasing number of aggrieved groups clamouring for special recognition. The result is polarisation and fragmentation.

    Neo-Marxism also sets out to create a sense of continuing economic and social crisis, using this as justification for ever more intrusive state intervention and control. And it seeks to undermine our most basic understanding of human nature and society. How we see and interpret the world is dismissed by neo-Marxists as a social and political construct, a product of our conditioning.

    Nothing is fixed, not even the sex we are born with, and nothing has any objective value.


    • PartisanZ

       /  June 29, 2018

      Well .. ummmmm … No.

      In the cockeyed illogic of the neo-Traditionalists, we should NOT feel guilt and shame at having forfeited critical, principled consideration of a civilisation into which we are compulsorily acculturated, that has lifted untold millions of people out of subsistence sufficiency into economic poverty – of various sorts and degrees – and introduced them to democratic government managed by corporate-capitalist-political elites.

      “Neo-Marxism also sets out to create a sense of continuing economic and social crisis, using this as justification for ever more intrusive state intervention and control.”

      Neo-Marxism and the Old-New-Alt-Far-Right neoliberalism must be the same thing then …

  7. Alan Wilkinson

     /  June 29, 2018

    Most of it is fatuous posturing which makes zero or negative contributions to doing more things better. Hence stagnant wages and burgeoning costs. Hence election of Donald Trump and others.

    • Gezza

       /  June 29, 2018

      Trump got elected by threatening Businesses for maximising their profits for owners executives and shareholders at the expense of jobs American workers by simply being competive & using international markets for labour & production. So he introduced protectionist policies which ordinarily you are against, indicating your principles are fluid & depend on whether you like a politician and hate his opponents.

  1. ‘Culture war’ in New Zealand – revolution or evolution? — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition