Monday, June 30, 2014

Interfering with each other

The Tonga Festival of Democracy facebook page has invited us all to respond to a question from Tevita Motulalo, who is a former editor of the conservative newspapers the Tonga Chronicle and Talaki.

Tevita is enjoying the kava served up at the Festival of Democracy, but he is suspicious about the d-word and its proponents. Tevita and I have been having a protracted and bewilderingly rambling series of arguments - the meaning of democracy, the alleged failings of Tonga's Democratic Party, the extent of human sacrifice in pre-Christian Tonga, and the relative fighting abilities of New Zealand's and Tonga's armed forces are a few of the topics we've manage to disagree about - on facebook. This is my favourite passage from our debate:

Scott: I hope you don't drive as randomly as you argue, Tevita, or the traffic on Taufa'ahau Road might be at risk. I have visions of you jumping from first to third gear, doing sudden u turns, spinning your wheels in a cloud of smoke...

Tevita: I am not going to dignify your personal rancour that I may be a helter-skelter driver.

Here is the question from Tevita Motulalo that the Festival of Democracy facebook page has asked its visitors to answer:

What is the difference between pro-democracy advocacy and social engineering?

And here's the response I offered Tevita:

The poser of the question appears to think that 'social engineering' is a bad thing, and seems to believe that it would be damaging for advocates of democracy to be involved in social engineering. But in Tongan Ark, the acclaimed feature length documentary film by Paul Janman about Futa Helu and the 'Atenisi Institute, Helu uses an interview to say "The essence of democracy is interfering with other people'.

Helu was pointing out that anybody who makes an argument in favour of changing some political, economic, or cultural institution is, in a sense, 'interfering' with their fellow citizens, and trying to 'engineer' a different society. And, of course, anybody who argues against changing those same institutions is also 'interfering' and 'engineering'. Just as an ordinary engineer seeks to build objects - bridges, roads, buildings, and so on - that help us live us more effectively, so a social engineer seeks to build and rebuild institutions - parliaments, schools, and so on - that will also serve our needs. And just as different engineers will have different ideas about how to build a bridge, so different people will have different notions about how to create the best parliament, or how to run an education system effectively.

The great thing about democracy, and the reason why it has become such a powerful force over the last couple of centuries, is that it is based on the idea that we should all, as citizens of a society, be able to engage in social engineering. We should all, in other words, have the right to debate and vote on the ways our society should be structured and run. The alternative to democracy is not an absence of social engineering - it is social engineering by a powerful minority, on behalf of the majority. A dictator or absolute monarch engineers all of the institutions of the society in which his subjects are forced to live. I vote for democracy over dictatorship!

Note: the photograph at the top of this post shows 'Ite 'Uhila performing at the opening of the Festival of Democracy art exhibition last Thursday. Although he relocated from West Auckland to the Friendly Islands late last year, 'Ite has deservedly made the 2014 shortlist for the Walters Award, New Zealand's top art prize. I blogged last September about 'Ite's Stowaway, a performance dedicated to the Tongans who travelled to New Zealand in the holds of container ships in the 1970s and '80s. The festival's art show features paintings by both Niu Sila-based Tongans like Tui Emma Gillies and Tongatapuans like Tevita Latu and other members of his legendary Selaka Club.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're not Tongan. White NZers interfering in the pacific is a different matter. Guess you gave up on trying trotskyist entryism on NZ Polynesians try to find some other natives to force yourself on but nobody is going to make you their leader.

12:44 pm  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

I didn't notice anywhere that the writer wants to be a Pacific leader. He just wants everyone to have the right to be heard. Palangis are here too and many of them are prepared to spend their privilege for the sake of all people. Wouldn't it be convenient for the elite class of Tonga if palangis like Scott and I just stuck to our own middle class white ghettos. No one would have recorded the last six years in the life of Tonga's greatest teacher and very few would know about the great blossoming of avant-garde art that is happening right now in Tonga. Yes, we should probably just shut up and have a coffee in Ponsonby.

2:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

palangi atheists seek to corrupt tongan youth...democracy is a tool of atheists and drawin-lovers...

3:24 pm  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

Gosh, you really didn't know Futa Helu did you...

3:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i know setani.

8:27 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Here's a part of my debate with Tevita which relates to the question of whether Tongans and palangi New Zealanders should 'interfere' with each other.

Tevita wrote:

As for foreign intervention by New Zealand or sub-state entities of New Zealand, that is not only seditious, it is illegal! Should Tongans agitate for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Aotearoa to self-government? Why is New Zealand still a realm of the British Monarch, when Tonga has demonstrated for almost a century and a half that indigenous government is completely doable for a Pacific island state? I hope you're not to also suggest the help New Zealand military gave the Samoans by killing their pro-independence leaders.

And I replied:

There is nothing at all unethical or illegal about a political party or non-governmental organisation in one country commenting on events in another country. It happens continually right across the world, and it happens every day in both Tonga and New Zealand.

As I pointed out earlier, Tonga's trade unionists, journalists and Democratic Party have long enjoyed connections with their sister groups in New Zealand and many other nations.

Tonga's unions are members of the International Labor Organisation, alongside New Zealand's union movement. The ILO holds Pacific-region conferences at which Tongan and Kiwi trade unionists sit down and discuss all sorts of issues, including the political situation in Tonga and ways of furthering the political interests of the members of Tonga's trade unions. In the same way, Tongan human rights activists like Betty Blake have extensive connections with their peers in New Zealand and other nations, and Kiwi human rights activists assist Blake and other Tongans when they write reports. Journalists like Kalafi Moala have famously called upon and received support from their New Zealand peers like David Robie and Michael Field when they have come into conflict with Tongan governments.

You claim that Tongans would never think of interfering in New Zealand affairs by taking a political stance on issues here - by supporting indigenous people, for example, in conflicts with the government - but Tongans do this all the time, and have been doing it for many decades. There's a marae down the road from my childhood home with a plaque in it commemorating a visit by Queen Salote to the lands of the Kingitanga in the 1920s. In the '20s the Kingitanga was still struggling against New Zealand governments to recover the lands stolen after the 1863-63 Waikato War - and Queen Salote offered them important support. She also invited Princess Te Puea, a legendary leader of the Kingitanga and a friend of New Zealand's trade union movement, to visit Tonga (there are some amusing photos from this visit floating around the internet, which show a grumpy-looking Te Puea being shown a large turtle in the grounds of the royal palace).

In the twenty-first century Tongan politicians and non-governmental organisations lobby New Zealand governments on an almost continual basis. Tongan-language schoolbooks and a preservation of the legal status of kava have been two recent issues that have seen enthusiastic lobbying.

The sort of cross-border contacts and cross-border polemic I've been talking about is an essential feature of a globalised world. When you proclaim it 'illegal' and 'seditious' you make yourself look a little quixotic.


8:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Out of curiosity, did you receive Tevita's permission to use the quotes? If so, great, because according to the American Anthropological Association ethics board, when it comes to taking other people's Facebook quotes and using them in your own work:

http://ethics.aaanet.org/the-ethics-of-research-on-facebook/

"A proactive way to confront these issues is to figure out a way to convey the message that users are researchers as well as participants in the social media forum. For example, the researcher might identify herself as a researcher on her own Facebook page, state that she is using quotes from the lists she belongs to and name those lists, and include a link to a pdf of her research design.

"Other ethical issues arise when publishing quotes or imagery from such research. Given global access to “Google” and other search engines and software, it is far too easy to identify the original author of any Facebook or other social media post. Pseudonyms are inadequate. Best practice here would be to ask research subjects for permission to use direct quotes and imagery, indicating the context in which the material would be used, and giving subjects the opportunity to opt-out of direct quotation (in which case the researcher can always summarize or paraphrase)."

12:39 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

'did you receive Tevita's permission to use the quotes?'

My understanding is that the FOD facebook page has been set up as a publicly accessible forum for debate. Anyone who clicks on the link I offered - and I offered it twice - can find their way to the page and read the various discussions there.

It does seem to me that the anonymouses commenting on this thread are keen to talk about anything - anything at all, even such arcane subjects as Trotskyism and Satanism and the theory of evolution - rather than the topic at hand, which is whether democracy is a good or a bad idea.

My guess is that they want to crate distractions because they're a little reluctant to line up beside Tevita's argument that democracy is un-Tongan, that the Democratic Party is an elitist organisation out of touch with the masses, and that nobles are friends of the people. I can understand their reluctance.

12:56 pm  

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