A royal commission into racism?

Al Gillespie, professor of law at Waikato University, suggests we need a royal commission type inquiry into ‘racism’. I have no idea how that might work let alone what it could achieve.

Stuff:  We need a royal commission on racism

To my mind, to ask the bigger questions is necessary because hate laws would not have stopped the murderer doing his heinous acts  in Christchurch. By the time he started killing, he was already fully radicalised and putrid with racial hatred. This means that if the goal is to stop the emergence of such evil in future, it is necessary to see if there was a swamp that nurtured him from which he emerged, or whether he was just an aberration.

Even within New Zealand few would argue that a new law on hate crimes should not be created.

I think that a lot of us would like to see a robust debate on this before any hate law is created.

However, many will argue about how to define “hate”. While most would agree that physically threatening and obscenely abusive language based around racism should be prohibited, any consensus will fall apart when debating whether simply offensive and/or insulting speech linked to different ethnic groups should also be considered “hate” and therefore prohibited.

If the country is about to descend into the debate foreshadowed in the above paragraph, and that discussion will replace a wider examination about racism and discrimination in New Zealand, then a serious mistake is about to occur.

This is a time to place the needs for hate-crime legislation within a much larger basket of issues and responses that are needed to improve this country on the particular consideration of racism overall, of which new laws on hate-speech, despite being important, are only one part of the puzzle.

For that to occur, I believe a public inquiry, or royal commission, on racism in New Zealand is necessary.

The truth of the matter is that neither side really knows definitively if there is a problem, and if so, its scale.

The only way to find answers to this is to have a public inquiry on racism. This needs to take stock of where we have come from, where we are, and where we are going. It needs to cover racism and discrimination, wherever it is found – or not – in the past, and in the present  (from the street, to the workplace to the internet) –for any New Zealand citizen.

 Any such inquiry then needs to show how these problems are avoided or created.  Successes need to be showcased, as much as failures. If failures are found, then the direct and indirect consequences of them need to be shown.

Finally, and most importantly, if more work is required to defeat the scourge of racism, exactly how this should be done, such as via targets and indicators which could be incorporated directly into law and policy, needs to be clearly set out.

This sounds more academic than realism.

How do you change deep seated prejudices in people via “targets and indicators”?

Racism, sexism, politics and religion are all very complex and personal, based on beliefs acquired over lifetimes. I don’t know how it would be possible to legislate to change any of them.

Leading by example would be a better place to start. What about a royal commission looking at the motives and behaviours of our politicians?


  1. NOEL

     /  23rd April 2019

    Cost benefit? Average cost of a Royal Commission across the ditch 28 million.
    To achieve what?

    • Pink David

       /  23rd April 2019

      Millions of dollars for professors of law?

  2. NOEL

     /  23rd April 2019

    I forgot. Then their is the question of TOR.
    The current one is forbidden to look at the possibility that had all the recommendations of the fire arms 2017 review been adopted would the attack have been possible?

  3. It would be very interesting to see what definition of racism would be used. I’m guessing lots of academics would demand a definition that would declare racism to be solely a white, straight, christian phenomenon. Bring on the popcorn. Let’s do this.

    • Corky

       /  23rd April 2019

      Yep, Arty. Straight barrel, chap wearing, tobacco chewing hombres like you would be designated ”racist” before you even had the chance to petition against Chinese manufactured ”irons.”

  4. Pink David

     /  23rd April 2019

    ‘However, many will argue about how to define “hate”. ”

    This is a huge conceit. You cannot define hate. The critical question is who gets to define it, and what is their agenda.

    “While most would agree that physically threatening and obscenely abusive language based around racism should be prohibited, .”

    Physically threatening and ‘obscenely abusive’ language is already prohibited to a large degree, why the need to add the ‘racism’ tag?

    “any consensus will fall apart when debating whether simply offensive and/or insulting speech linked to different ethnic groups should also be considered “hate” and therefore prohibited”

    Which is of course the goal of those promoting this ‘hate’ idea.

  5. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  23rd April 2019

    it is necessary to see if there was a swamp that nurtured him from which he emerged,

    Might pay for Aussie to run the Royal Commission, then.
    They could check out their “White Australia” agenda and how it fed into on Brenton Tarrant’s swamp diet.

  6. Alan Wilkinson

     /  23rd April 2019

    The sort of drivelling Lefty idiocy you expect from U Waikato academics. Please ignore.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  23rd April 2019

      Not all of them, unless it’s changed greatly since I was there.

      This sort of wonderclout is found everywhere and probably always has been. So is this sort of woolly-pully academic.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  23rd April 2019

        A long time ago I used to know some IT people there who were entirely sensible but everyone else associated with it seem to have been far Left nutters.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  23rd April 2019

          The English and History ones were all right. Nothing like as many eccentrics among them as there were at Vic, which was a bit of a shame.

      • Maggy Wassilieff

         /  23rd April 2019

        nice word….but missing from my dictionaries.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  23rd April 2019

          Something showy but worthless.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  23rd April 2019

          I like woolly-pullies for the sort of beardy academic who wears pullovers all the time.

    • alloytoo

       /  23rd April 2019

      We should be woke to academics who have never had to live in the real world.

  7. harryk

     /  23rd April 2019

    ‘What about a royal commission looking at the motives and behaviours of our politicians?’

    Good suggestion. Begin with the NZ politicians who support OPM terrorism in West Papua and circulate graphic and doctored images along with racism toward Indonesians on social media. When I see such sites taken down then I’ll believe NZ is serious.

    • alloytoo

       /  23rd April 2019

      What about NZ politicians who support terrorism in the middle east?

  8. sorethumb

     /  23rd April 2019

    Ethnocentrism is a winning evolutionary strategy:

    Young women of Latin and Turkish origin living in Melbourne find it hard to see any Australian culture. Some see a vacuum; others see a bland milieu populated with ‘average-looking’ people. In contrast, they feel that their own migrant cultures are strong. They ‘get through more’. If there is any Australian culture it is, in their opinion, losing ground to migrant cultures.


    • Kimbo

       /  23rd April 2019

      Sounds like one of the theme’s of Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic rendition of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather:

      “I love America…”

    • harryk

       /  23rd April 2019

      ‘Young women of Latin and Turkish origin living in Melbourne find it hard to see any Australian culture’

      Must be willfully blind. Melbourne’s the home of AFL football culture which dominates most of the nation during the winter months. So It’s not high culture, but it’s culture and it’s inclusive, and if those young ladies can’t see the aesthetic of a high marking footballer, like a praying mantis in the eye of a cyclone, launching himself into the universe to reach for a revolving red leather ball, then serves them right if they grow obese pigging out on Turkish Delight and Nachos. If it’s culture they want perhaps they shouldn’t be living down south, plenty of indigenous culture in the north where I come from. I skimmed your link and didn’t see a single reference to our indigenous cultures.

      • Kimbo

         /  23rd April 2019

        Is, “Hey, hey. It’s Saturday” still on? 😀

  9. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  23rd April 2019

    Winning evolutionary strategies involve breeding outcomes… not mathematical models of strategies that have nothing to do with raising kiddywinkles into reproductive adults.

  10. sorethumb

     /  24th April 2019

    Robert Sapolsky of Stanford.
    We humans are animals—mammals, Old World primates, apes; in other words, we are nothing more or less than biological organisms, and everything we do must be viewed in the context of our biology. This is a truism to anyone in the life sciences, but often seems to border on hegemony to those in the social sciences. This latter view is due to too narrow of a read of what “biology” means in the context of human behavior (a narrowness, it should be noted, propagated by many a life scientist). Little will be understood about humans if scientists proclaim the identification of the brain region, or the gene, or the hormone or neurotransmitter that supposedly explains everything. Instead, in order to understand why a human social behavior has occurred, one must factor in neurobiological events 1 s before, but also endocrine events from days before, neuroplasticity from weeks before, epigenetic events in childhood, fetal environment, the genome in a fertilized egg, culture, ecology, and evolution. We cannot understand human behavior outside this broad context of biology; at the same time, that very broadness means that such biology is intimately and symmetrically intertwined with the traditional domains of social science.
    These pro-social effects prompt easy speculations about the benefits of administering oxytocin to humans. Which is where this hormone’s double-edged sword emerges. Excellent recent work has shown that oxytocin does indeed promote pro-social behavior, but crucially, only toward in-group members. In contrast, when dealing with out-group members or strangers, oxytocin’s effects are the opposite. In such settings, the hormone decreases trust, and enhances envy and gloating for the successes and failures, respectively, of the out-group member. Moreover, the hormone makes people more pre-emptively aggressive to out-group members, and enhances unconscious biases toward them (De Dreu et al., 2011a,b; De Dreu, 2012). In other words, a hormone touted for its capacity to enhance pro-sociality does no such thing. Instead, what it does is worsen Us/Them dichotomies, enhancing in-group parochialism as well as out-group xenophobia. This is certainly not the hormone to cure our ills.
    [Virtue signalling]

    Therefore, testosterone amplifies, rather than causes aggression. Recent work has revealed an even subtler, more interesting view of the hormone. As originally proposed as the “challenge hypothesis,” testosterone does not even amplify pre-existing social tendencies toward aggression. Instead, it amplifies pre-existing social tendencies toward whatever behaviors are needed to maintain status when it is being challenged (Wingfield et al., 1990). For most social mammals, this distinction is irrelevant, in that aggression is the means by which a male maintains high status when challenged. In humans, however, there are many ways to maintain status. For example, consider auctions for a charitable cause, as bidders compete for alpha status of conspicuous largesse.

    This picture of chimpanzee males shows the benefits of male familiarity and cooperation. Naturally, there is a double-edged sword, in that chimpanzee males are capable of something that no baboon males in a troop could ever organize. Specifically, the male chimpanzees in a group carry out organized and coordinated “border-patrols,” and will attack and even kill any male encountered from a neighboring group (Wrangham and Peterson, 1996). As documented more than once, such killings can extend to the point of eradicating all the males in the adjacent group. A group of males getting along well can be a very frightening thing for the neighbors.

    The phenomenon of related male chimpanzees cooperating raises an implicit double-edged sword about human cooperation. A cornerstone of thinking about the evolution of behavior is the importance of relatedness. Enhancing the number of copies of one’s genes passed into the next generation is not only accomplished with individual selection and reproduction, but also “kin selection,” the aiding of relatives in doing the same. The extent of such cooperation should vary as a function of the degree of relatedness, summarized in the famous quip, “I’ll gladly lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins.”

    [This would explain why ethnocentrism isn’t ubiquitous – people fragment into subgroups but still maintain an identity and status ]

    A key prerequisite for kin selection is, of course, being able to recognize how related someone is to you. Among most mammals, this is accomplished through olfaction, where individuals carry pheromonal signatures that resemble those in other individuals as a function of the degree of relatedness. A rodent, for example, can distinguish between full-, half-siblings, cousins and strangers based on pheromones. In contrast, the human capacity for kin recognition through pheromones, or through any innate mechanism, is minimal, at best. Instead, humans have to think through who is a relative, relying on memory and reasoning. Herein lies one of the most defining things about human sociality, namely that we can feel more related to someone than we actually are. This capacity for “pseudo-kinship” is at the root of metaphors for aspects of human sociality without animal precedent—Christian brotherhoods, college sororities, father figures, and so on. But more importantly, it helps explain levels of human cooperation far higher than would be expected by primate standards, when people are tied together by the pseudo-kinship of everything from shared nationality or religion to shared intense partisanship for a sports team.

    While the capacity to help a stranger based on an implicit sense of connectedness (the essence of pseudo-kinship) can make for a more benevolent world, it obviously can prompt something far from that as well. This is the militaristic world of “bands of brothers,” and considering everything from Masai warrior-class rituals to the basic training of the most technologically advanced armies, militaries excel at generating pseudo-kinship among their soldiers. This can produce circumstances that would be impossible among chimpanzees doing border patrols, namely a human combatant who shares more genes with his enemy than with the fellow fighter beside him (for example, a German-American fighting Nazis during World War II, alongside an Italian-American buddy).

    The double-edge sword of pseudo-kinship is obvious in its potential to fuel co-operativity in groups of humans intent on killing other humans. But in addition, virtually of necessity, pseudo-kinship is accompanied by the human capacity to feel less related to someone than they really are, distancing an out-group individual to the point where they implicitly hardly feel human—pseudo-speciation (Berreby, 2008). History has no shortage of examples of the propagandistic pseudo-speciation that turns neighbors of a different religion into “a cancer growing in our culture,” that allows slaves to be classified as sub-human, or that leads to the characterization of undocumented people as an “infestation” (as has been done by an American president amid the current immigration debate). Pseudo-speciation is one domain that seems solely a single-edged sword.

  1. A royal commission into racism? — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition