Monday, December 31, 2012

Arthur answers

Last week, I opened up this blog to reader questions. Technically, this isn’t new, of course, because I’ve answered questions both on this blog and, especially, on my podcast. Still, I haven’t used a post to directly ask for questions, so it was new in that sense.

I received two questions, which pleasantly surprised me. In this post, I answer them. The first question comes from jianfei shao:
"We see societies all over the world evolving constantly. Do you have an image of an ideal society? What is it like? (just a short general idea I guess). From your experiences, is New Zealand anywhere closer to that ideal than US as a country? If so by how much?"
Thanks! That’s actually a question I’ve written about only in parts, so it’s nice to have a chance to kind of link it all together.

My image of an ideal society is one that adheres to the principles contained in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNUDHR), and all true democracies do, at least to some extent. But that doesn’t go far enough for me.

Chief among the things I think must be there for an ideal society is that LGBT people are treated as full and equal citizens. That means, among other things, that they have the same rights and legal protections as all other citizens, including the right to marry, and they don’t face official or cultural oppression or violence because of who they are.

Also, I don’t think Article 19 of the UNUDHR goes far enough because freedom from religion is every bit as important as freedom of religion: No person—including the non-religious—should ever be oppressed by a religion they do not share, or forced to comply with religious edicts. Secularism is the only acceptable religious stance for a government: Government should not interfere in religion and religion should not interfere in Government.

One final thing my ideal society should have is proportional representation. This is the best and fairest way to achieve truly representative democratic government. Non-proportional systems inevitably lead to the least popular parties ruling government at least some of the time.

So, because of those three additions, New Zealand is closer to my ideal than is the USA, and here’s why:

LGBT issues – New Zealand forbids discrimination against LGBT people nationally, the US doesn’t; NZ recognises same-gender partners for immigration, the US doesn’t; NZ is poised to enact marriage equality nationwide, and has civil unions at the moment, the US doesn’t.

Religious issues – New Zealand is a mostly secular state, even though a clear majority call themselves Christian. Still, more than a third say they have no religion, which is a much higher percentage than in the US. While New Zealanders are relaxed about religion generally, they do not like religious people interfering in politics, while in the US, far right religionists (Christians in particular) control the Republican Party and the conservative “movement” generally, placing their particular religious dogma at the centre of conservative politics. That’s simply not possible in New Zealand.

Finally, Proportional representation – New Zealand has the MMP electoral system, which, though certainly not perfect, is far fairer than the US system. For example, our current Parliament pretty closely matches the results of our last election, but in the US, Democrats running for the US House of Representatives last month received over a million votes more than the Republicans, and Democrats should be in control of the US House. The reason they aren’t is a combination of a bad electoral system and gerrymandering, which is a topic on its own.

I should add that based on all this, while New Zealand is closer to my ideal than any other country I’m aware of, Canada is second (its electoral system lets it down, and it has far too many religious conservatives interfering in politics). Australia is about the same as the US because of its strong rightwing religious political interference and its lack of marriage equality or even civil unions, and also because its electoral system isn't as proportional as New Zealand's. The UK is in that same grouping, too, because of the lack of full marriage equality and its unrepresentative electoral system.

There you have it: Human rights and human dignity are at the core of my perception of an ideal society, and New Zealand is closer to that ideal than any other country I’m aware of.

Next up, Roger Green asked:
"Tell of a time when you were working very hard on preparing for a project/event, but which, at the last minute, you were unable to finish because you got sick, or lost, at the last minute. (It's happened to me.)"
Fascinating question, Roger—and one I really had to think about!

Just this month, I was nearly unable to complete a work project for the first time ever because of some things in my personal life, but I pulled it out at the last minute. When I first thought about the question, that was what popped into my head. But it was an “almost” thing.

The truth is, I can’t think of anything that matches your question precisely. To be sure, some projects have been somewhat similar—chiefly podcast episodes that didn’t happen, our trip to Pride 48 in Las Vegas last year that we had to cancel, even a video project I abandoned—but none of them quite match your question.

Closer is this: Back in 1987, while I was still an activist, I was part of a team planning a statewide conference for our fellow activists, following on from a successful similar one the year before. We spent months in planning meetings, securing a venue, booking guest speakers, organising workshops and publicising it. At very near the last minute, we had to cancel it due to lack of registrations. It was profoundly disappointing and demoralising. But the fault was in our stars, not ourselves.

The only time that I got sick and couldn’t do something was when I got an inner ear infection and was too sick to fill out my ballot papers for the local government elections (they’re done by post), so I missed the deadline and didn’t vote (the only time in my life that I knowingly didn’t vote).

So, I don’t have anything that precisely matches the question, which means I’ve been very, very lucky!

Thanks, both of you, for the questions. Feel free to ask follow-up questions if you want to—that goes for anyone, actually.

I may even do this again some time!


Roger Owen Green said...


Arthur Schenck said...

Now that I've done one of these sorts of posts, I can see that it's actually interesting for me, and kind of a variation in blogging topics. I can certainly see why you still do them!

jianfei shao said...

Thanks for giving my question a detailed answer. looking back at my question, I noticed its kind of the type that fish for an expected answer. ^_^
Anyway, the LGBT rights and freedom from religion I expected and of course fully agree.
It's also interesting to see how democracy works so differently.

jianfei shao said...

I was wondering about that same sex marriage bill in New Zealand. I read about it the other day.
Is it almost guaranteed to pass given the massive lead for the "for" side, or will it face more trouble? When do you think they'll hold the final voting?

Arthur Schenck said...

Yeah, I find the differences in the way democracy works to be very interesting! But, that's probably kind of obvious, I guess.

The marriage equality bill is almost certain to pass—it's been leading in the polls for over a year. There will be some trouble from the far right religious people, but they're not much of a threat, really—the New Zealand public doesn't agree with them.

The Select Committee reports back to Parliament on February 28, then the second reading is scheduled for March 20. The third and final reading is expected by May.