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Dave Witherow

Could You Say That Again Please – In English?

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New Zealanders were once recognised as democratic, intelligent people, pragmatic and self-reliant, with a well-developed sense of social justice – the “fair go”, as it used to be known. There are still, of course, plenty of Kiwis who merit that description, but their proportion in the population is shrinking.

There are a number of related reasons for this: we are, thanks in great part to the Lange/Douglas government, part of a “global” community now, dedicated to material enrichment (or greed, to put it baldly), and with a greatly-diminished sense of responsibility for those afflicted by misfortune, or simply less-adept in the rat-race.

We have also, in consequence of Geoffrey Palmer’s incredible naivety (amply augmented by subsequent governments), become a racist society, and no longer a fully-functioning democracy.

It has become impossible to explain this to many people, especially younger people. The ill-educated product of several decades of indoctrination, our younger generations fail to grasp that different rights for different races is the classic definition of racism.

The extent of the rot that now afflicts us was brought home to me following the publication of a brief article of mine, prompted by what I considered the excessive intrusion of Maori speech on RNZ’s National broadcasting. It was inappropriate and disrespectful, I argued, that an audience of potentially millions should be subjected to ever-increasing quantum of an incomprehensible language, and my objection would have been exactly the same if the language been Urdu, Inuit, or Uzbek. This gross bad manners, I believe, is made even more inexcusable by the fact that everyone concerned is quite capable of speaking English.

There was considerable uproar in response to this opinion-piece – most of it from people who completely failed to comprehend the simple point I was making. I was anti-Maori, claimed my critics. I was anti te reo. And of course I was a racist. The race relations conciliator jumped into the act, beefing up her indignation with a laughable and totally-erroneous interpretation of Irish history.

I had included in my piece a description of an interview I had heard on Morning Report, where Katharine Ryan (or maybe it was Wallace Chapman), listened with endless sympathy and commiseration while two young Maori moaned on and on about the terrible tragedy they were suffering from pakehas getting their names wrong. I described these moaners as “snowflakes” – a modern usage meaning someone who melts under the least pressure or imagined slight. I think this fits the case exactly.

But once again there was knee-jerk outrage. Criticism of individuals – but only if they are Maori – is now impermissible in New Zealand, and this racist censorship is fully endorsed by the Race Relations commissar, as well as most of the media.

Te reo, we now learn, may be made compulsory by 2025, or maybe by 2030, and, such is our pathetic fear of being suspected of racism, this futile imposition may well be imposed on the coming generation.

The difficulty, however, is that te reo is a fossil language, and increasingly artificial. It does not grow, as living languages do, by self-renewal, invention, and the creative assimilation of words and phrases from a multiplicity of sources. Te reo has to be kept on life-support. When new nouns and verbs appear – and there has been an avalanche of them in recent years with the explosive expansion of technology – te reo equivalents must be cooked up de novo. Many of these coinages are hilarious, and bear little relation to what they are supposed to be aping.

The sad truth is that there is no long-term future for the Maori language. It will be subsidised, ever more extravagantly, impressed in the schools, and applauded by the right-thinking people. But in the end it will share the fate of the Gaelic language in Ireland, which, after a full century of funding and patriotic propaganda, remains an unspoken remnant, verging on extinction. The Irish, no fools, understand their linguistic good-fortune in inheriting a universal language, an incomparable written literature, and a passport to the unlocking of the world. They have embraced English, embellished its poetry and literature, and the proposition that they might revert to Gaelic has no connection with reality.

I will, of course, be misunderstood here, and accused, once again, of hating te reo. I do not. Why should I? I simply have no interest in te reo, but am fully in favour of supporting the language for anyone who might wish to learn it. There may well be, for Maori people, a pride and comfort in the preservation of their old native tongue, and its denigration or precipitate abandonment would be entirely unwarranted. But it should not be forced on everyone.

Languages expire – more than four hundred of them in the last century alone. It is part of an inevitable process that began with the great oceanic explorations of the sixteenth century, and continues to the present day. Globalisation has merely accelerated this evolution (or perhaps devolution), but in the end we shall have a handful of hegemonic languages. The rest, overwhelmed and deprived of the oxygen of currency, will die.

The 1930’s, Auden once observed, was “a low, dishonest decade”, and the same is true of our present era. For thirty years now we have been parasitised by a class of arrogant, half-educated dullards, secure in their unconscious racist ignorance, and quite immune from any possibility of intellectual recovery. They have been augmented by the Waitangi Tribunal – an openly racist entity dedicated to the manufacture of imagined slights, and to fomenting of injustice forever.

Then we have the so-called universities, now bloated beyond all recognition and burdened by an army of “students” who are intellectually incapable of very much, and who are mostly wasting their time. The bell-curve of intelligence can only be evaded by a constant lowering of standards, and it is common, now, to encounter young people with advanced degrees who are illiterate, innumerate, and utterly ignorant of history. Few of them read anything unrelated to their personal advancement, and, most lamentable of all, they have been shielded from all contrary opinion, and have never been taught to think.

None of this can be turned round very quickly. Another decade at least will be required, and by then we shall be facing real existential challenges. It is hard to be optimistic.

Welcome to the land of voluntary brain-fade. The land of the smug white clown.