I started 2018 with an unmistakable sense of optimism – after years of procrastinating and avoiding the evidence, the Government was going to hold a referendum on legalising cannabis by 2020. Could this be the beginning of an exciting new era of drug policy and drug law reform? Where policy was evidence based, where the harms from drug use could be effectively addressed, and where the damage from criminalisation could be stopped?
Imagine my despondency at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement that she will not yet commit to legalising cannabis, even if the public vote for it in the referendum. I feel cheated. I am also concerned that the referendum is going to be brought forward to next year, to avoid it affecting the election campaign in 2020, with no hint of the necessary public information campaign to properly support the referendum.
My biggest fear is that the whole thing will end up being a rushed, misinformed, ill-thought-through debacle, and we will have missed a really important chance to make a difference; to respond to drug use and drug users differently and more effectively; to stop the harms related to underground markets and criminalisation. Prohibition of drugs has not stopped people using or having problems with them.
This commentary deals with two recent issues that arose in relation to the New Zealand Police (NZ Police): the first is the recent ‘confession’ of the Police Commissioner that some members of the NZ Police suffered from ‘unconscious bias’, and the second is the decision by officials at NZ Police National Headquarters to designate researcher and criminologist Jarrod Gilbert as ‘unsuitable’ for carrying out research because of his gang associations.
The New Zealand Police, Bias, Racism and Bullshit
Humbug: deceptive misrepresentation, short of lying, especially by pretentious word or deed, of somebody’s own thoughts, feelings, or attitudes.
Max Black (1982)
According to the American philosopher Harry Frankfurt (2005: 1) “[o]ne of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted”. I agree entirely with Professor Frankfurt’s summation of just how much bullshit is spread around, except to add the caveat that some of us contribute a whole lot more bullshit to the pile that invariably washes over the social context. Continue reading Unconscious Bias, NZ Police and Bullshit→
Last week, I was honoured to represent Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP at the launch of Thursdays in Black Aotearoa’s report, In Our Own Words. Thursdays in Black is an international student-led movement focused on building a world without rape and violence.
In September and October 2016, Thursdays in Black Aotearoa undertook a nationwide online survey of 1400 tertiary students, asking about their experiences of sexual violence both prior to and during tertiary study; their experiences of sexuality education during secondary study, their access to sexual violence support services at tertiary level, and so much more.
A Review of Brian Massumi’s Ontopower: War, Powers and the State of Perception (Duke University Press, 2015). 306pp. Paperback $24.95.
The preface to Massumi’s book invites the reader to consider starting at the end. It is a fitting exhortation in a book that examines a temporal twist coined ‘ontopower’. Temporal tautologies are used as headings throughout the book including ‘futures past’ (190), ‘fast forward on rewind’ (197) and, my favourite, ‘smoke of future fires’ (202). I am particularly partial to the latter because it points to Massumi’s ‘unabashedly metaphysical’ approach (205). Massumi situates ontopower “in a field of action with other regimes of power”, arguing that “it is necessary to adopt an ecological approach to threat’s environmental power” (200).
The newly consolidated mode of power that is ontopower pivots on the ‘singular time signature’ (200) of preemption, which “denotes acting on the time before: before it has emerged as a clear and present danger” (vii). The first chapter begins with former US President George W. Bush’s oft quoted rationale for the invasion of Iraq: “[i]f we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge” (3). Massumi maintains, however, that “although the exemplary events through which this operative logic [of preemption] is evaluated in the book are, for the most part, historically moored in the Bush administration, the power curve they express exceeds it” (221). He argues that preemption “is an operative logic of power defining a political epoch in as infinitely space-filling and insidiously infiltrating way as the logic of the ‘deterrence’ defined as the Cold War era” (5).
From the outset the vast scope and challenge of Massumi’s project are clear. The first hint at how we might understand the operative logic of this new entrant into the ecology of powers is the word ‘ontopower’ itself. ‘Onto’ means being. Preemption is productive. It brings the future into being as it “trace[s] itself out as a self-propelling tendency” (5). Continue reading Ontopower→
The Open Letter to Prime Minister Bill English, calling for an independent inquiry to deal with abuse of children under state care, has been steadfastly downplayed by the government. ‘E Kore Ano, Never Again!’ is the rallying call from the Human Rights Commission and its supporters. ‘Nah’ came the reply. Elizabeth Stanley tackles the government’s reasons for refusal. Continue reading E Kore Ano, Never Again!→
In October 2016, the NZ government announced plans to spend a billion dollars on more prison beds. They say it’s needed to cope with forecast rises in the prison muster – as if increases were a force of nature, like a storm or earthquake. As Finance Minister Bill English put it: “this is something that has to be done. We have to provide the capacity. We’d certainly prefer to be in a position where this wasn’t happening…”
But there is nothing inevitable about building more prisons. We have already opened five in a decade and doubled the number of beds, and the system is filled to overflowing.
On the 4th October UK Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, delivered her speech Prisons: places of safety and reform to the 2016 Conservative Party Conference. For Truss the UK ‘justice system’ is “incorruptible” and “the best in the world”. If we follow the principles of meritocracy, it will become a “justice system of all talents” that “works for everyone” providing “justice for all”. Although Truss digresses away from prisons (to talk about the courts and a new Bill of British Rights) her central arguments focus on how the Conservative government is “going to make prisons work”. Sadly her speech is nothing but the same old story, harking back to the “making prisons work” rhetoric employed by Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw in 1997, as well as regurgitating an idea with a 200 year record of abject failure. Continue reading Prisons: Places of Harm and Dehabilitation→