Peace Week 2021

Peace Week 2021

Philip McKibbin

Kia ora!

The theme for Peace Week 2021 is ‘inner peace for outward action’.

All of us want to make the world a better place. We talk a lot about how we can help others – it’s so important! But something we don’t talk about very much is how to look after ourselves.

This is a bit strange when you think about it, because how well we care for others is connected to how well we take care of ourselves.

Some people think love is only about other people, but have you noticed how much that leaves out? We can also love animals, the land, the natural environment, and – of course – ourselves.

All of the visionary thinkers on love emphasise the importance of self-love. Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde believed that it is impossible to give and receive love without first loving ourselves. Similarly, Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh writes, ‘Caring for yourself, reestablishing peace in yourself, is the basic condition for helping someone else.’

When we show ourselves love, we nurture inner peace. This helps to ensure that we are happy and healthy. It also means we’re much better able to take care of others. All of us have to deal with difficult experiences. As humans, we sometimes experience embarrassment, insecurity, and guilt. When we love ourselves – by showing ourselves care, understanding, and forgiveness – we develop loving skills that we can then bring to our relationships with others.

What does self-love look like for you? It might involve karakia, meditation, spending time in nature – or something else entirely! For me, it means taking time to read, talking about my feelings with people I trust, and having lots of cuddles with my cat Minnie. This Peace Week, I hope you will discover more strategies for taking care of yourself. Your inner peace is important for all of us.

Me te aroha,

Philip (Piripi) McKibbin

This appeared as the foreword for the NZ Peace Foundation’s Youth Peace Week 2021 toolkit.

Philip McKibbin is a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand, of Pākehā (NZ European) and Māori (Ngāi Tahu) descent. His book Love Notes: for a Politics of Love is published by Lantern. He co-organised ‘The Politics of Love: A Conference’ at All Souls College, Oxford. www.philip-mckibbin.com


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Interview: Stacy Russo

Stacy Russo

interview with Philip McKibbin

Stacy Russo is a writer, artist, and librarian living in California. She has written and edited numerous books, including Love Activism (Litwin Books, 2018). stacy-russo.com

Stacy Russo

What is ‘love activism’?

I thought that I would actually read a little bit from the book.

Love activism presents a new way to think of activism and the life of an activist. It is about working toward political and social change, as activism is often defined, but it is also about reimagining ideas and ways of activism. This is accomplished by valuing the profound nature of everyday activism and all of the components of the daily life of an activist, including even small actions and decisions. Love activism is a form of activism that is not composed of isolated actions or single issues. It is a way of life. The easiest definition is that love activism is a daily radical and holistic activism of kindness.

And I guess I would just add that love activism is concerned with all forms of oppression – and I kind of touched on that when I was reading that section right now. But it’s definitely a way to look at the interconnections between all forms of injustice. So, it’s not only focused on one type of injustice.

When I use the word ‘holistic’ what I mean by that is, it’s also a way of life, but it’s concerned with the individual, the community, the world, and all living beings on the Earth. And I know it can sound overwhelming at first, perhaps, to some people, but I feel that that’s the real essence and the magic of it, is that it does try to look at all the problems, and how we can live our life hopefully, working against them.


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How would you define ‘love’ in the context of activism?

Defining love is incredibly important, and in my thinking on love activism, it deepened, of course, and developed, over about a decade. So, initially, I had little cards I made, and then a pamphlet, and then ultimately the book – so it developed, and when I got to writing the book, I thought, ‘Okay, I need to really be able to define love.’ (laughs) ‘That’s the key piece here.’ It’s not an easy thing to do, because there are so many different definitions of love; it’s very complex. But within the context of activism, I like to think of love as ‘no harm’, and when I think of love in that respect of no harm, then I can think about, ‘What are things that I love?’ If it’s community, if it’s animals, the Earth, a city – you know, whatever it is – if we love something, we don’t want harm to come to it, we don’t want oppression to come to it, we want what we love to be free and to prosper. So, thinking of it in that context applies directly to activism work, because we can’t be perfect, but everything we do in our life, we can think, ‘How can I do this without causing harm?’ ‘Is there a way I can live my life that isn’t going to harm a person, or a community, or an animal, or whatever it might be?’ and try to make changes.

I think when people hear the word ‘love’, just from talking with people, they will often go, right away, to romantic love. And I understand, that’s an important type of love. (laughs) After that, they might go to love of family, and of course that’s important as well. I think that the idea of ‘no harm’, though, even applies to those types of love, because once things are happening that are, perhaps, abuse, or restricting or hurting somebody, then it’s really not love at that point, it’s something else. So I think that idea of ‘no harm’ can be a large umbrella for all forms of love.

Who has nurtured your understanding of love?

Definitely, I’m very fortunate that my immediate family provided me non-conditional love. That is very important to mention, and I understand a lot of people don’t, maybe, have that, which is very sad. But that is definitely my first feeling of love, within that context, with my parents and my brother. 

My understanding of love expanded over the last six years, actually, from a dog I adopted. (laughs) I adopted a senior dog, Joni. She passed away almost a year ago, now. When I adopted her, she hadn’t been treated well before. I don’t really know everything that happened to her, but that was clear. So it took her a long time to even trust me, and I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to keep her, because it was so difficult, but I hung in there with her. I had all of these ideas about adopting a dog and things that we would do together and how she would be, and I had to let go of a lot of that, and I had to meet her where she was, and she profoundly taught me – although I thought I knew a lot about love, I already had my love activism pamphlet (laughs), all my things – but really, I realised I had expectations and things, and she really taught me a lot about loving people where they are and not looking for people to be perfect or to always do the right thing. So she was a great teacher for me, and she actually appears in the book, Love Activism.

Stacy and Joni
Stacy and Joni

I’ve also been greatly influenced by bell hooks. I love pretty much all of her work, in its different contexts – even as an educator, her books on teaching, everything. She’s one of the most amazing writers on the topic of love, and her book All About Love is my favourite. That book shows love in a lot of different contexts, and that’s what makes me really appreciate that work – because love activism is also in a lot of different contexts.

Also, June Jordan, who has passed away, was a phenomenal teacher and poet and activist, and many other things, and I was fortunate to be her student when I was very young. She taught me and others in her classroom, and other people out in the world who’ve discovered her, about aligning yourself with whoever’s oppressed, and that was something that I hadn’t really witnessed before. 

June Jordan was a Black woman, and during even that short time I was her student, I saw her advocating for oppressed people at times, including sometimes white people, and I had just never seen that before, a life being lived like that. Her understanding had broadened so much that she was able to do that. She also spoke about truth and, as a poet, that truth is essential to being a poet, and I was blown away by that. I see truth as part of love, right? Because love, I feel, requires an honesty. So she also taught me about this essence of truth as something in your work if you are a writer or an artist, that that should be a part of it, and I thought that was really profound, too.

How would you respond to someone who said that love is too gentle for politics, that the world’s most challenging problems – racism, gender oppression, violence toward animals, the climate crisis, et cetera – need stronger responses than love allows?

I think that goes back to having a definition of love and thinking about what that means, because as I mentioned, when people think of love they often go to romantic love or something like that. It might have a connotation of something fluffy, ‘Oh, Isn’t that cute?’ when you hear the word ‘love’. You don’t have to embrace my idea of love as ‘no harm’, but if you embrace something like that, that’s a very profound thing. That’s a challenging way that takes dedication in your life, to live that way. So if you think of love in that context, it’s a very powerful, intense force, and I think love has often been a part of activism, even if it wasn’t clearly stated all the time. 

So I’m not too concerned about that. Whenever I’ve encountered that, I just go back to that definition, and then I think when people hear that, they think, ‘Oh, okay, that’s how you’re defining love,’ and it is powerful, then, in that context.

What does love activism look like for you personally, in your day-to-day life?

I just want to mention, again, that when we think about activism, we often think about really large things. And that’s important, of course. But there’s also part of me that- It could be my age, as well. I first became aware of issues that were forms of injustice as a teenager. I’m 51 now. At the time when I first became an activist, I really did think, ‘Oh, we can change the world by going out into the street and doing this protest.’ And sometimes you can change things with that, so I’m not saying you can’t. But we just ended four years of a Trump presidency – and that’s just one example of something over your lifetime, and you start to see cycles of these terrible things, and you can become burned out, or really jaded about things and feel like what you do doesn’t matter if you’re not able to completely dismantle a large system or structure. An example of that would be as a vegan, someone concerned about animal rights, how would I be able to dismantle that entire structure, right? I mean that’s a dream, but there are realities in the world, and those systems of injustice and violence and cruelty are very well funded and very well established. 

So one reason for writing the book about love activism was to provide ideas and ways that you can change the world in small ways, maybe, but they’re still important in your daily life, because – just an example – if I go out to a large protest, whatever it might be, and let’s say it’s an anti-racist protest, and then I find out that a company I’m supporting is racist but I love their products so much that I’m not gonna make that change, I’m really not in line, overall, with my views, then. So, with things I buy, with how I treat people, with what I do with my writing and my art, my approach to being a librarian and a professor at the college where I work and how I interact with the students, with what I choose to eat – all of these things are forms of activism. 

So in my daily life, like, I have my coffee cup right here. It’s organic, fair-trade coffee. I can afford that, so I’m gonna buy that, even if I see something cheaper, you know? (laughs) When somebody comes up to get help from me as a librarian, I’m gonna try my best to be present and kind to them, and try my best to be aware of that. So it’s really about all those small things I can do during the day. I’ll still go out to the large protests, but I’m gonna also try to live my life like that all the time, and that’s really what love activism is about.

How do self-love and radical self-care fit into love activism?

As I mentioned, love activism is concerned not just with the world and the community, but also with the individual. Another reason I wrote the book was to hopefully help other people who either want to be activists or are concerned about issues, who may be burned out. And that’s why taking care of ourselves, I feel, first, can be examples for other people, and that can help other people when they see that, but it also helps us be more resilient.
I’ve seen so many people get burned out and quit – just give up – in a lot of different contexts, and one, of course, is activism. That’s why I think taking good care of myself, as much as I can, allows me to then do more out in the world.

How does creativity connect to your loving practice?

So creativity is another element of love activism. There are a lot of ways to define creativity. For me, in my life, it’s my writing and my art, and possibly gardening. Creativity can be brought into self-care and self-love, of course, and also art can be therapeutic, and anybody can be an artist, obviously. I feel like we’re all born with creativity, so we can all do that. 

It can be a form of self-care, self-growth, to engage in creative practices such as art or writing. But also, creativity is so amazing in terms of community-building, and an important part of being creative, I feel, is sharing what you create with others, teaching others, creating things that hopefully make the world better when people see them, that can inspire them, and there are so many examples of creativity or art in activism being combined together.

One form of creativity that I write about in the book is making zines, which are small self-published pamphlets or booklets. It’s obviously a very accessible form of art, writing, creativity, that anyone can do, and the zine can be about activism, or whatever. There’s a large zine community – they’re all over the world – but here in the Southern California / Los Angeles area, there are many festivals around zines. Through the zine community, there’s so much of a sense of belonging and shared experience, and I feel that these are all forms of making the world better, they’re all forms of activism. 

So that’s why I include creativity as an important part of practising love activism.

(Interviewed on 8 July, 2021.)


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What is love? (And what does art have to say about it?)

What is love? (And what does art have to say about it?)

Philip McKibbin

What is love? Chances are you’ve given this question some thought. In all likelihood, it’s something you’ve dwelt on a lot. Love occupies a central place in most of our lives – even if we wouldn’t admit it to others, and even when we don’t admit it to ourselves.

Around the world, calls are being made for politics to be more loving. Over the past few years, in the United States of America especially, these voices have intensified. Politicians have used the word ‘love’ to describe their platforms – most compellingly, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Social initiatives have arisen, such as Valarie Kaur’s Revolutionary Love Project, which ‘champions the ethic of love in movements for justice’. And books have been written, among these Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Revolutionary Love: A Political Manifesto to Heal and Transform the World, which offers a plan for change.

Already, this ‘return to love’ is being taken advantage of by demagogues. Donald Trump professed his love for Mexico in the lead-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, while demonising Mexicans and campaigning to build a wall to keep them out. And in 2019, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, in an effort to deflect criticism from his destructive politics, declared his love and respect for the Amazon rainforest as it was burning. These are both clear instances of the language of love being misused for political gain.

The word ‘love’ presents a serious challenge – and the problem isn’t only that certain people are less-than-sincere when they use it. ‘Love’ is used to refer to very different things: even when we aren’t being manipulative, we talk about love in very diverse ways, some of which bear little relation, if any, to each other. How we think about love is informed by culture, language, everything. What connection is there between the idea of love as, say, divine grace and the notion of ‘falling in love’, what Slavoj Žižek defends as a ‘totally contingent encounter’ that changes your entire life – or my love of [vegan] hamburgers? When we enquire, it quickly becomes obvious that saying what ‘love’ is might be as difficult as defining art…

Those of us who wish to defend loving politics, as I do, need to be able to say how it might work. This involves offering an account of political love and giving examples of what loving politics looks like in practice. If we don’t do these things, we risk putting forward a vision of politics that can be easily dismissed as nonsense, adding to the perception that a politics of love is necessarily insubstantial. That is, we risk doing far more harm than good.

I suspect artists have a role to play here. As a writer, I think first of literature. Like Kurt Vonnegut, ‘I agree with Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini that the writer should serve his society. I differ with dictators as to how writers should serve.’ (He goes on: ‘Mainly I think they should be – and biologically have to be – agents of change. For the better, we hope.’) Artists imagine new possibilities, and inspire others with their work. Love is often the subject of art: New Zealand artist Shane Hansen explores aroha (love), kotahitanga (togetherness), and whakapapa (relatedness) through painting and sculpture, attending to our relationships with our histories, each other, and the natural world we inhabit. And sometimes art inspires love: Chinese painter Qi Baishi’s works prompt us to reflect lovingly on the non-human animals who are here on this planet with us. Of course, I am not the first person to comment on the apparent relationship between love and art. Many people turn to artists to express our love.

If we want to realise the Politics of Love, we need to determine what love is. This is extremely difficult. Part of the problem is that it isn’t at all clear where we should begin. We might ask philosophers about it – but, as Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins note, philosophising on love is perilous ‘even for the most cautious thinker’:

‘What seems at first to be an obvious point about sexual desire turns out to be an embarrassing confession of eccentricity; what is argued to be a general feature of love turns out to be no more than a prominent feature of the author’s last failed marriage.’

(Or, as Stendhal writes, ‘I am continually beset by the fear that I may have expressed only a sigh when I thought I was stating a truth.’) So, philosophy might muddle us more.

Perhaps we should ask the artists…

Poets! Poets are supposed to know about love – aren’t they? Well, it probably isn’t what Philip Larkin was referring to in the opening line to his famous poem: ‘Love again: wanking at ten past three.’ Surely it’s more like Shakespeare’s ‘star to every wand’ring bark / Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.’ (Whatever that means.) Or even Jack Gilbert’s ‘romantic love with its bounty and half-life / of two years.’ Surely. But do these mean anything at all for politics?

Iris Murdoch – who has the distinction of being both a philosopher and an artist, specifically, a novelist – holds that art and morals are one and the same, and that through art we learn how to love. In her essay ‘The Sublime and the Good,’ she writes,

‘Love is the perception of individuals. Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality. What stuns us into a realisation of our supersensible destiny is not, as Kant imagined, the formlessness of nature, but rather its unutterable particularity; and most particular and individual of all natural things is the mind of man…’

The value of art, she argues, consists in enriching our understanding of the world and the people who share it. Murdoch thinks that love – ‘the non-violent apprehension of difference’ – is extended by art. But this ‘is not to say, is nothing to do with saying, that art is didactic or educational,’ she writes. That art improves us is incidental. ‘The level at which that love works […] is deeper than the level at which we deliberate concerning improvement.’

One of the less controversial things that can be said about love is that it is relational – but love, as I understand it, does not have as its first focus our obsessions, our attentions, or even our wants, which is how we tend to talk about the concept. Instead, it concerns itself with how we relate to ourselves, to others, and to the world we share. Love for others is most often experienced in our friendships and romantic/sexual partnerships. But we must not make the mistake of thinking only in terms of people: other animals, and the rest of the non-human world, should also figure in our politics. Our task, then, if we wish to realise the Politics of Love, is to discover – and, if we are artists, do our best to articulate – what loving relationship looks like. We must be both open-hearted and open-minded, for there is much to learn.

Of course, not everyone agrees that politics should be loving. Some people argue that love is not tough enough for the hard world of politics, while others insist that, as people, we are not ‘good’ enough to realise love. Some even question its importance. Cultural critic Laura Kipnis, in Against Love: A Polemic, savages the concept – before conceding: ‘To be against means to be opposed: resistant or defiant. It also means next to: beside or near.’ (Although how near her work really is to love is unclear…) But the importance of this project is hardly in doubt: here, at the very edge of climate catastrophe, only a few of us have realised that the lyricists were right all along – that, to quote New Zealand singer-songwriter Shona Laing, who treats environmental themes, ‘love’s the only way to save the day.’

Some thinkers have entertained the idea that love does not need elaborating, that its meaning is self-evident. In one of his notebooks, Nobel Prize-winning writer Albert Camus suggests that love is of such importance that we should simply defer to it:

‘If I had to write a book on morality, it would have a hundred pages and ninety-nine would be blank. On the last page I should write: “I recognize only one duty, and that is to love.”’

(At the time of his death, however, Camus was planning a cycle of works on love, including a play merging the Faust and Don Juan legends. He clearly had more to say.)

Personally, I am drawn to the related, but slightly different, idea that love is irreducible: that all of our attempts to explain it, while hinting at what love really is, ultimately misrepresent it. I look to two historical figures: Te Whiti o Rongomai, the prophet of Parihaka who led the passive resistance movement against the unjust confiscation of Māori land, and Martin Luther King, Jr, the Baptist minister and civil rights leader. These men used spiritual language, and in so doing gave political expression to the ineffable – to that which words cannot but misrepresent (however slightly; and however much they also manage to convey). Where they truly succeeded in expressing the spiritual was in the actions they inspired. If we determine to understand the spiritual not as gods or as God but as love, we may be closer not only to appreciating it, but also to understanding why it has confounded so many.

We in the so-called ‘Western world’ continue to return to the Ancient Greeks – to privilege them as we do the rest of our culture. This is especially true when it comes to love. For many of us, turning to concepts such as agápē (universal love), érōs (sexual love), philía (friendship), and storgē (familial love) satisfies a need for deeper meaning. Well, why not give consideration to these perspectives? There might be some insight there. At the very least, such an excursion is necessary, because it will help us to appreciate why we think the way we do now. Imagining how these understandings led us to this point may let us notice some of the avenues we missed along the way. Appreciating how we came to think as we do will free us: it will allow us to explore more of the world’s thoughts and create new possibilities…

We will, for example, give greater attention to the world’s Indigenous knowledges, and ask what they have to teach us. I think, first, of the Māori cultures of my native Aotearoa. This is natural, because on my mother’s side, I whakapapa (relate) to Kāi Tahu, the largest iwi (tribe) of Te Waipounamu (the South Island of New Zealand). We might find inspiration in whakataukī (sayings), such as, ‘Ehara te aroha i te kiri moko, engari koia tērā e pupū ake ana i te whatumanawa.’ (‘Love is not tattooed skin, but it is that which swells up from the depths of one’s being.’) And waiata (songs) could help to elucidate the concept – such as ‘Tai Aroha’, which was conceived by tohunga whakairo (master carver) Kereti Rautangata (Tainui, Te Arawa) and translated by mātanga reo (language expert) Wharehuia Milroy (Ngāi Tūhoe), and which begins, ‘Ko te aroha anō he wai…’ (‘Love is like water…’). Why continue to insist that one cultural tradition holds more insight than any other? Why limit our understanding?

We must not rely on received wisdom, though. It is extremely important that we think critically, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of all ideas, lest we act on (or continue to act on) harmful ones. And we should try to imagine newer, better ideas, too!

I choose to understand love as an orientation or ‘attitude’ – not a disposition as such (because love is something we choose), and certainly not a character trait, but rather a way of relating, as individuals and communities, which is consciously affirmed.

The Politics of Love rejects the notion that feeling and thought must be separated. Many people think of love as an emotion – but importantly, it is intellectual, too. Love can even be rational. It might make use of rationality as the poet Audre Lorde describes it in her interview with Adrienne Rich:

‘Rationality […] serves the chaos of knowledge. It serves feeling. It serves to get from this place to that place. But if we don’t honor those places, then the road is meaningless. Too often, that’s what happens with the worship of rationality and that circular, academic, analytic thinking. But ultimately, I don’t see feel/think as a dichotomy. I see them as a choice of ways and combinations.’

(Indeed, we will not dismantle the system of oppressions – racism, sexism, etc. – that prevents us from fully realising love without rationality.)

And it re-imagines our relationships. Self-love is foundational, as all the visionary thinkers on love affirm: by loving ourselves (‘and no one said only’ – Lorde, again) we are able to fully extend our love to others, including other people, non-human animals, and the rest of the natural world – the planet, its systems, and all that they contain…

The Politics of Love, as I envision it, is a values-based politics: it operates through loving values – such as compassion, responsibility, and trust – which are able to guide decision-making and inform policy. It also upholds what we might think of as ‘critical commitments’ – to equality; to non-violence; to, perhaps, consistent anti-oppression… – which are integral to its creative potential, and also offer means by which systems can be challenged. What love offers us is not simply freedom; it extends so much more!

In the collection What’s Love (or Care, Intimacy, Warmth, Affection) Got to Do with It? Hu Fang, for his science fiction exploration ‘Dear Navigator’, writes:

‘What makes humans human is precisely that, as the part of nature that is full of sympathy, they mutually complete the other things that exist in this world.’

The thought is certainly incomplete: so much of non-human nature is sympathetic (many other animals experience emotions analogous to ours) – and so much of human nature isn’t! Still, it captures, I think, something of what our love might aspire to. What if we imagined love as that which ‘mutually completes’ the world that all of us share? We might design a politics that realises integrated relationships not only with and amongst ourselves, but also with the rest of the world – which, of course, we participate in, and are, anyway, constituted by.

The Politics of Love, then, gives structured expression to the affirmation that we are important – that all of us are important – that the world, and everything in it, has value. Our love brings into focus everyone who has been marginalised and everything that has been relegated to the periphery. It holds all of us in sight: it sees all of us, including, especially, those of us who have not been seen. In doing so, it reveals us in our entirety: it sees the ‘we’ in other animals, in ecosystems, in the biosphere… in rain, and in the soil it nourishes…

The question, ‘What is love?’ is also, ‘How should we understand love?’, and for those of us who care – for those who take this world upon ourselves, however humble our aspirations, however grand our hopes – it translates as: ‘What responsibility do I have to help extend our understanding of love?’ I believe art has a purpose, which is to inspire love. But where love will lead us, and whether or not it will save us – I don’t yet know.

Philip McKibbin is a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand, of Pākehā (NZ European) and Māori (Ngāi Tahu) descent. His book Love Notes: for a Politics of Love is published by Lantern. He co-organised ‘The Politics of Love: A Conference’ at All Souls College, Oxford. www.philip-mckibbin.com


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Interview: Golriz Ghahraman

Golriz Ghahraman

Golriz Ghahraman

interview with Philip McKibbin

Golriz Ghahraman is an Iranian-born New Zealand politician and human rights lawyer. She was a child asylum seeker, and became Aotearoa’s first refugee Member of Parliament as a member of the Green Party. She previously worked at the United Nations.

Golriz Ghahraman

In your maiden speech to parliament in 2017, you addressed the resistance you had received as an Iranian refugee and Green Party candidate. You said, ‘I love this country. But a love of this country – patriotism – means expecting the very best for her. It means fighting for the country we know is possible.’ Then, alluding to Cornel West, you said, ‘So I criticise leaders who fall short, I protest, I fight for equality and justice, because that is what love looks like in public.’ Could you say more about what political love means to you?

Yeah. I guess the idea that I was expressing there was that I felt like my valid participation in democracy – which is a form of equality – in public life, in our broader community, was seen as a threat. I’m being very kind in describing it as a ‘threat’! (laughs) People were opposed to someone like me having that level of equality, as to be able to stand as a candidate in a general election and participate fully in democracy. They hated that, and what I got was hate. And one of the things that was weaponised against me was this idea of patriotism as an unconditional love for not only New Zealand, but that it should manifest in support of whatever our leadership was doing, and that criticism, even in the context of a democratic election by an opposition political party candidate, was seen as hateful. I was seen as being hateful, and that wasn’t a criticism that was directed toward the policies that I was supporting or representing; it wasn’t about anything in particular that I’d said. It was about who I am as a person being the one to say those things.

So it was a really deep, deep, sort of an attack, I think, to anyone who was receiving it, cos it was about whether or not you are grateful and love the country that has saved your life as a refugee, and it was about you as a human person and your origin, your birth nation and the fact that you’ve had to flee, being what defines what you’re allowed to say and do in public life. And so, I think the one thing I knew when I knew what a maiden speech even was and that I was going to do it was that I had to say something about this. There was absolutely no reason for me to even be in politics, or in parliament doing a maiden speech, if I wasn’t gonna address this idea of equality and democracy meaning that we can criticise, that we all can criticise leadership, and that that, in fact, that manifestation of what it means to be equal was what love looks like in public.

So I felt like the attack was so fundamental that if I didn’t redefine what love is – for a country, a nation, a community – which includes protest, then the fact that I’d been in public life at all and had worn that criticism would actually mean that my presence is detrimental, cos there’d be people out there who are from my background consuming those attacks that I was getting and there wasn’t enough of a platform before then for me to respond.


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You have spoken and written about the importance of lived experience to your politics – as examples, you have mentioned your experience as a child refugee, a woman of colour, and someone living with multiple sclerosis. How have your own experiences of love informed your politics?

Just to bring it back to public life, I certainly see it as an expression of collective love to say that the Refugee Convention, for example – which is a very widely-ratified, accepted piece of international law that New Zealand accedes to – that that protection was granted to my family. So that was an act of love that I’ve received, and I feel very emotional about that moment of being accepted and saved from harm. Even though that feels like a policy-level, public expression of love, I think it was very, very personal to us, and I think it is very personal to every refugee once they’re resettled in a country and in a community and they have that status granted to them. And even the word is very, ‘refuge’ – like, to be granted refuge, especially when you’ve experienced harm, is very personal. So it’s like being loved and accepted by the global community, and by this particular community, where you can now live and grow and put down roots and have a family. That’s what the idea is, that you won’t be harmed again. I do hold that as a real moment of affection.

Iranian culture is a very loving culture in terms of an extended family version of what love looks like. And it’s very, very expressive – emotions are expressed, grief is expressed, and love is expressed. With every casual interaction you call someone ‘darling’, and your parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles would very readily say that they would die for you, constantly, cos it’s a colloquial thing that people say. So it’s very expressive! (laughs) I’m much less-so than that, so I feel like I was saved a little bit by stoic Kiwi culture.

But I also experienced love very early on in a time of great, great turmoil. I was born in the year that Islamic law was introduced to Iran and the war with Iraq started. So women and minorities – and men who were political, as well – were targeted very viciously. I think it might have been the following year that the massacre of the communist-identifying dissidents happened. So that set the tone for how dissidency would be received, how criticism of the Iranian government would be received. Which is ironic, cos that was the thing I wasn’t meant to do here either, apparently! And of course, women were suddenly outsiders, and I was a girl child, and my mother, who was my primary caregiver at the time, was suddenly in a state of grief for her lost humanity and deep anger – such deep anger – that I don’t think has ever died within her. And my dad was very political and had been photographed in protests, and so he was very fearful, and his friends and family were very political, and they kept disappearing, either to prison or they would become refugees, and you wouldn’t hear about them. So I was loved by these people who were really angry and really sad and uncertain.

I guess for me the model is that you engage with public life as much as you do with private life, and that’s what love looks like. I don’t remember a time when our private home life, for me as a child, was dominant over the conversations over what we needed to do for the country, and other people. People were dying, and amputees were coming back from the war, and children were being conscripted, and women were being lashed, so it was constantly about what we could do about those things, and what even I could do about those things, and everything was political. Like, what are you gonna buy your mum for mother’s day? Well, you need to buy it from somewhere that it’s a handmade thing that was made by a minority. (laughs) It was, every little thing had to be thought about. So maybe I’ve got a little bit of a warped view of what that looks like. (laughs) I’ll cry much more easily about something that’s happened out in the world than like, you know, having MS.

Are there political figures who inspire and sustain your political love?

I am endlessly really inspired by Iranian women lawyers who have stayed. Iranian opposition is everywhere, and it’s like in L.A., and there’s all these men who have radio stations and T.V. programmes on YouTube, and they’re forever formulating the next government – but there’s these women, like Nasrin Sotoudeh, who’s in prison now, and Shirin Ebadi, who has had to go into exile, who was the Nobel laureate. They are there – there’s teams and teams of them – constantly working out how to get an inch – an inch – for the people that are left there: for women who are losing their kids because the justice system is stacked against them; for political prisoners, at the risk of themselves becoming political prisoners; for the Baháʼí community, who are one of the most oppressed religious minorities – that’s a religion that’s indigenous to Iran, they’re not even allowed to participate in higher education, it’s harrowing. They just keep bringing these actions, keep becoming more and more and more well-versed in this Iranian constitution to keep using it against the regime, and pushing in a very real way.

Nothing I could ever do would be as difficult as that, or as meaningful, because there’s 70 million people or whatever trapped in Iran, and it’s really easy to talk about human rights here.

Golriz Ghahraman

As a human rights lawyer and Member of Parliament, you work within imperfect political systems. The criminal justice system, for example, is deeply flawed – it could be argued that a truly loving society would have a thoroughly transformed justice system (which even, perhaps, transcends the notion of ‘criminality’). How do you nurture your moral and intellectual integrity in your work within these systems?

I’m not saying I’ve perfected anything per se, but I think it’s really, really important to keep remembering who you’re accountable to and whose criticism you should be really fearful of, and I think it has to be the people who have the least platform or voice, in terms of political life. Like, if you look at the Israel and Palestine situation – just because that’s front of mind for me right now, I guess, and that happened over the last week – it’s sort of, ‘Why do we keep talking about Palestine? Why are we continuously as outraged as we are about that when there’s other conflicts happening as well?’ And I think it’s the disparity in might. I think it’s about the fact that it’s literally the world’s second most powerful military against this trapped civilian population. But when I talk about Palestine – I mean, it’s Green Party kaupapa, but I’m not accountable in my own mind so much to the Green Party or, say, parliamentary staff, or to opposition leaders, or the Labour Party, or the Israel Institute, as I am to the community of Palestinians here. So I think you have to continuously check in with the people that are most affected, that have the least voice, and if you’re doing what they want you to do, or if they feel you haven’t done what they needed you to do, then I think that’s where the measure should lie. I’ve tried to continue to do that, but I think it’s really easy in the political world to become disconnected from that.

It does help, I think, if you’ve gone through a sector. I worked outside of parliament for 10, 15 years, or whatever it was, so I think I feel the watchful eyes of the child rights sector, or the actual people in the Human Rights Commission and the Criminal Bar Association. If you’ve only had politics and you’ve only ever consulted with sectors and never been at the front lines, I think it’s easier to let go, and you end up going along with the louder voices. They just are louder, they’re more present, you don’t have to constantly access them; whereas with others, you actually have to, like, find out their phone number and call them, and be like, ‘What do you want? How can I do that thing?’ and then call the next person, and the next person. (laughs)

I think that helps, and I do think criminal defence practice is the purest form of human rights law in our system, domestically. It’s every single day that you’re dealing with a prejudiced system, and it’s you advocating for this person who’s stuck in that system, and dealing with police powers and unlawful detention and search and undue process, and it’s every single day the Bill of Rights Act, and I don’t think there is any other area in New Zealand, where you walk into a district court and that’s what’s happening on a mass scale. There’s hundreds of cases going through. Every time someone stands up, they’re applying the Bill of Rights Act, and they’re standing between the mighty force of the state and this individual person who’s already, probably, triply marginalised for various reasons.

Most of the clients that I served who were in custody couldn’t read or write – like, no one could read or write. It was just so normal. You couldn’t give them a piece of paper and be like, ‘This is your police charge sheet.’ You have to adapt to that, and you have to deal with it really respectfully and uphold their humanity while you’re doing that. You can’t lose their trust. They can’t see you as looking down on them – that would be an absolute breach of your responsibility to them. So how do you read that to them without being weird about it? Or, everyone’s come up and it’s been the worst day of their life, and the complainant’s their family member. Every time you felt like you should have got a psych report for someone, it would have been a removed child. It was so common. If you had a little bit of an inkling that you should get a psych report for someone, 80% of the time you’d get it and they’d gone through the foster care system cos they were a Māori child that was removed.

It’s so much cheaper just to support those mums, way back. So much cheaper just not to be racist, than these billion-dollar prisons!

As well as working for legal change, you have called for cultural change. In your view, what sort of cultural changes do we need to realise the Politics of Love?

So many levels.

So, obviously, the things that massively stand out are things like misogyny, and racism, and ableism, and whatever, and we just need to get rid of those. But that’s a very weird and oversimplified thing to say. And then we often also say, well, we just need to acknowledge our privilege.

I was talking to Judy Bailey about my book before, and it was so funny. She was like, ‘Do you think that New Zealand is inherently racist?’ and I was like, ‘Well, no, no one’s inherently good or bad or inherently anything, but we are racist, and so we need to be open to learning.’ But I think if you just relate it back to the experience that I’ve had, and you go, ‘Okay, what can we do to make public life safe for a woman who’s from a refugee background; who is brown; who is from the Middle East, so perceived to be Muslim?’ So if you just take that, one of the things that I often get screamed at about is identity politics. So, ‘you’re using identity politics’. And there’s that idea where it’s only identity politics if it’s a minority identity, or a marginalised identity. So we’ve never realised that majorities, or the status quo, also carry those same identities and they have benefitted vastly from those identities. Everything is identity politics. The size of that door, and the fact that a wheelchair can or maybe can’t get through it is identity politics. You know, someone has decided what is ‘standard’ to suit them, and violently attacked the rainbow community for years and years through its laws and whatever else – that’s identity politics. So it’s not a gay man standing up and saying, ‘We’ve got to reform homosexuality laws.’ It’s the guy who put in place the homosexuality laws – that was identity politics. And if we start to look at it that way, what love looks like is dismantling those systems and going, ‘We are actually willing to start over.’

Like, this police force was implemented by people playing identity politics. It’s not the critique of the police force that alone is identity politics. We have to accept that there’s these dominant identities built into, woven into, every single institution, and we have to be willing to undo that, and say, ‘It’s unfair. What does it look like if everyone’s identity is duly noted?’ And ‘duly’ means, if it affects you most then it should reflect your needs most, and otherwise let’s just be equal about it. I don’t think we’re anywhere near that. I think that as far as we’ve come is to go, ‘Well, maybe we should listen to marginalised communities or voices and try and do them a favour.’ We’ve never recognised that, actually, we actively took away from them, as dominant identity holders.

I don’t know if we’ll get there, but I think we can try. (laughs)

You have a broad portfolio, and it includes human rights, foreign affairs, and trade – things which most New Zealanders understand as having relevance to us – as well as refugee policy and ethnic communities – which are often labelled ‘minority issues’. Are these really ‘minority issues’, though? How would love treat them?

Yeah, I find it really conflicting. I mean, refugee policy, I get, cos it’s like immigration policy. It’s not policy about immigrants per se, it’s just immigration policy – so, just the visa system. It’s literally immigration policy. But then once immigrants are here, then the whole range of policies obviously affect them. And refugee policy’s the same: it’s just about, ‘How do we run our quota system?’ or whatever. So I’m okay with that. (laughs)

But ethnic communities, or women, or whatever, starts to be conflicted for me, in terms of whether they should be freestanding. There’s benefits to them being freestanding policies, cos then you have someone that’s solely responsible, and maybe there needs to be that point of contact and watchful eye, if they’re empowered in that way – which they’re not necessarily in political parties that don’t value those issues. But then it also means that you’ve ghettoised the input or interests of those communities. So you’ve potentially exercised a ‘tick-box’ approach. Whereas, obviously, those communities are actually really internally diverse. Ethnic communities also have disabled people in them; they have a queer segment; they have women and men. So, what is an ethnic issue? And then you go, well, we also use roads, and we use the justice system, and we use healthcare, and we go to school – so is it actually education? Is it justice?

I think the starting point of what love may look like in terms of the way politics treats those community-based portfolios – so, they’re not issues-based, they’re community-based – is to recognise our humanity, and the fact that we are internally diverse, so that there isn’t one sort of blanket tick for the interests of ethnic communities; and that even within our communities, there are power structures, there are loud voices, there’s conservative religious voices, there’s progressive feminists – that they’re all authentic and real to our communities. You know, when we look at how someone interacts with the justice system, we don’t ever think that women and men will come through the same, but for some reason we think ethnic communities might? But actually internal to that is a queer, brown, recent migrant is going to have a different experience to a third-generation, straight woman. We have humanity, and that makes us diverse. So if we come to those portfolios in that way, I think that would be quite loving – but I don’t think we have, as far as I’ve seen. 

In your book, Know Your Place, you talk about the responsibility you have felt to your country of origin, Iran, which lost ‘generations of human resource, innovation and activism’. You write, ‘For me, the state-sponsored atrocity that shaped my life was ongoing. Helping build accountability for state crimes was part of the reparation I felt I owed for escaping.’ I find it fascinating that you used the term ‘reparation’ here – and it made me think about the privileges that all of us enjoy as New Zealanders. In what ways do these privileges shape our responsibilities to people living in other places?

There’s that great quote: ‘Activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.’ I thought for a long time – because my parents were activists, and they paid the ultimate price for their activism, and they did lose pretty much everything, and as they live on as refugees here, I think it becomes more and more stark to me how much they’ve lost. You know, as they’ve become retired, and their family members passed away, and so it just builds and builds. It’s immeasurable what they have lost. And yet, others have stayed, and they’ve never had their freedom. I mean, anyone who’s my age – and there’s that bit about Behrouz Boochani, and what he lost is vastly different and far worse than anything I could ever say I lost. And actually, our conversation was really interesting about race. (laughs)

So, maybe I used the wrong word to say ‘reparations’, cos I hate for people to feel- It’s a very personal feeling that I have, and it’s a bit- You know, it’s that thing we have much more compassion sometimes for our friends and people in the community than we have for ourselves. So I do feel guilty – like, a type of survivor’s guilt – and I do feel like I have to pay some type of reparation, not just to Iranians, but to communities that have had it harder than I have. But I don’t want every refugee to feel that way. (laughs) You actually don’t owe anything for being free from torture, or persecution, or war. Those are fundamental human rights. You don’t have to be grateful, even, because as you note, some of us are born into that, and that’s great.

In fact, I think it’s the idea of feeling guilty for privilege that’s maybe hindered the kind of race equity and gender equity movements the most. (laughs) We’re not trying to get anyone to feel guilty for having the level of freedom and access that any human being should have. We just want those people to acknowledge that they may be benefitting from somebody else being marginalised and help undo the marginalisation. So maybe it’s not so much a feeling of needing to give reparations so much as that responsibility to help bring others up.

Yeah, I mean, having said that, I said this to my dad the other day, cos he’s retired and he was feeling like he wasn’t doing enough for the world, and I said, ‘Well, everything that we do in human rights – everything we do in human rights and law-making and everything else, but especially in that kind of atrocity crimes-type law – is to make sure that most of society doesn’t have to be engaged in those things; like, most of society can do their gardening, and walk their kids to school, and dance and drink and all of those things.’ (laughs) It’s not to say that there should be any guilt for enjoying the freedom that human rights and justice institutions like at the UN are supposed to afford us.

(Interviewed on 26 May, 2021.)


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Possums Deserve Love, Too – Philip McKibbin

Maurice the possum

Possums Deserve Love, Too

Philip McKibbin

Possums are persecuted in Aotearoa, but I believe they deserve love just like humans do.

I know this is a controversial position. In New Zealand, we are brought up believing possums are bad, and we are constantly told we need to get rid of them.

Maurice
Maurice, a rescue possum living in Canterbury

Possums are widely blamed for environmental destruction, but much of what Kiwis think they know about these animals is incorrect. For example, most New Zealanders believe possums habitually prey on native birds and their eggs – but there is little evidence of this, and plenty to suggest that they don’t. The Handbook of New Zealand Mammals says these introduced animals are ‘opportunistic herbivores, feeding mainly on leaves’. 

Possums have been linked – more convincingly – to defoliation and die-back, as well as bovine tuberculosis, but it is unclear how big an impact they have. One thing is certain: the effect they have on the environment is minor compared to the harm we do.

Despite this, possums are targeted with traps and poison, which are inherently cruel. These so-called ‘pests’, along with stoats and rats, are now victims of the ‘Predator Free 2050’ campaign, which aims to kill them all off by the middle of this century. 

(Just as the term ‘predator’ is an inaccurate descriptor for possums, ‘predator-free’ is a perverse vision for the future of this country. Aotearoa never was predator free, and hopefully it never will be – unless the Department of Conservation is also planning to eradicate kārearea, and the countless other native species that prey on animals.)

Maurice
Maurice, at home

Possums are often denounced as ‘invasives’, but this label is misleading. Possums did not invade New Zealand; they were brought here, by humans, to be exploited for their fur. Now, we blame them for problems we have created.

Rather than reckoning with our own destructive behaviours, we are wasting money on a spiteful campaign that will inevitably fail. Instead of looking critically at the most serious causes of environmental degradation – like animal agriculture, which is responsible for deforestation, pollution of our land and waterways, and greenhouse gas emissions – and working to end our harmful practices, we are scapegoating possums. As humans, we blame them so we can feel better about the devastation we cause.

Of course, some people argue that because humans introduced possums, we have a responsibility to get rid of them. But I believe the notion of ‘responsibility’ leads us in a different direction – namely, toward relationality. We brought possums to Aotearoa, so persecuting them is extremely unfair. Instead of cruelty, we should show them aroha – which means treating them with compassion, kindness, and empathy.

But what about biodiversity? We can promote this without eradicating possums. We will do it by changing what we consume, divesting from animal agriculture and diversifying our economy, returning land to native forests, and reinvigorating traditional Māori gardening practices. If we continue to establish wildlife sanctuaries like those at Tiritiri Matangi and Tāwharanui, we will not lose our native species. (We can do this non-violently, by trapping and neutering so-called ‘pests’, then releasing them away from sanctuaries.)

The reason we are not yet doing those things is not because they are impossible, or because they would be ineffective. It is because they require us to change. As well as making changes to our lifestyles, we will have to make changes to our economy and re-think how we do conservation.

Still, we must change, because animal rights abuses are unacceptable. As UK-based activist Kim Stallwood points out, Predator Free 2050 is a state-sponsored, taxpayer-funded torture and killing programme. It is morally atrocious.

Ultimately, we need to learn to live with possums. Just as it would be absurd to suggest that humans should be exterminated because of the harm we do, it is wrong to torture and kill other animals because of the – much smaller – impact they have.

We should show possums love.

Philip McKibbin is a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand, of Pākehā (NZ European) and Māori (Ngāi Tahu) descent. His book Love Notes: for a Politics of Love is published by Lantern. He co-organised ‘The Politics of Love: A Conference’ at All Souls College, Oxford. www.philip-mckibbin.com


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Review: ‘Revolutionary Love’ by Michael Lerner

Revolutionary Love

Reflections on Michael Lerner’s Revolutionary Love

Philip McKibbin

An earlier version of this review was published on Tikkun.org

When Rabbi Michael Lerner generously invited me to write an article for Tikkun exploring the similarities and differences between our conceptions of loving politics, the first thing that occurred to me is that there are far more similarities than differences.

I came across Lerner’s book, Revolutionary Love: A Political Manifesto to Heal and Transform the World, last year at Epsom Library in Auckland, where I live. Our government here in New Zealand – led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – is sometimes held up as an example of caring leadership, but I dearly wish that it would embrace love.

Although Ardern’s government is certainly more caring than the Trump administration was, there are many ways in which it is failing – especially on urgent issues such as child poverty, the climate crisis, and our abuse of non-human animals. When Ardern became Prime Minister in 2017, I was glad, but also wary: it would have been naïve to believe we would achieve a loving society simply by voting in a centre-left government!

Over the last few years, I have been sketching the Politics of Love, a radical vision of politics which reimagines all of our relationships. I understand love as an ‘orientation’. It is a way of relating: to ourselves, each other, non-human animals, and the natural environment. As well as guiding our interpersonal relationships, I believe love can govern the other ways we relate. The Politics of Love is a values-based politics: it mobilises loving values such as compassion, responsibility, and trust, which can guide action and inform policy. It also carries with it commitments to mutuality, anti-exclusive inclusion, non-violence, etc.

Reading Lerner’s book, I felt an affinity between his proposed plan and the vision I have for our world. His ‘manifesto’, which is written for an American audience and is aimed at liberals and progressives in particular, sets out a programme of revolutionary love, imagining how it might be brought about in the United States of America.

Lerner understands that loving politics must be grounded in, and directed toward, action. One of the many things I admire about Revolutionary Love is that it is filled with practical ideas for creating a more caring society – like, for instance, decoupling work from basic survival needs, so that we have more freedom to direct our lives. This proposal – inspired by several months’ work on a kibbutz in Israel – will not simply alleviate poverty, it ‘will also allow workers to stay with jobs that feel meaningful and valuable for their community, even if the firms they work for can no longer afford to pay them.’

Indeed, there are many similarities between the Politics of Love and the ideas Lerner expresses. For example, I agree with his suggestion that transforming our social and economic institutions will not, in itself, be enough to realise loving community. He believes that spirituality is necessary, too – and I think something very similar: if we wish to transform our societies, we should let our highest values lead us. However, I prefer to talk about the importance of cultural change. There are people who, at the first mention of spirituality, will dismiss the notion of loving politics outright – and not without their reasons. I believe it is possible to present the Politics of Love in words that speak clearly to everyone.

Perhaps my favourite part of Lerner’s book is his treatment of human weakness. He says that we should extend our love to those we disagree with, and that this must include those who do very bad things. In my writing, I have argued that we need to have love for ourselves, too, and acknowledge those parts of ourselves that are most difficult to hold. In exploring self-blame, Lerner shares his work at the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, explaining the importance of recontextualising our perceived shortcomings:

‘Always, our goal is to steer toward the question “Is it reasonable to say you created this reality?” and some variation of the answer “No. Although we make our own choices, we do so in the midst of social arrangements that we did not choose and which constrained our ability to imagine alternatives.”’

If there is wisdom in his book – and there surely is – it is here that it reveals itself most clearly.

Nonetheless, there are things I would challenge in Lerner’s account of revolutionary love. First, I think releasing a ‘manifesto’ is problematic in the context of loving politics. The word itself is controversial: it is strongly associated with communism, which will make many Americans suspicious of it. However, that is not the thing that concerns me most. If we are successful in realising a loving world, it will be because we create it together – not simply by following a plan, but by co-determining our future. It is very important that the contributions each of us make to loving politics are offered in a spirit of genuine humility. We do not need manifestos written by individuals so much as we need everyone contributing – and it is imperative that the offerings we make inspire collaboration in the truest sense.

(It is worth noting that Lerner is not the only American to have written a ‘manifesto’ for revolutionary love. Sikh activist Valarie Kaur’s book, which was published a few months later, is titled See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love.)

The second thing I want to challenge in Lerner’s account is his insistence that we abandon the language of privilege. He believes that we have become preoccupied with ‘political correctness’, and that the way we talk about politics no longer resonates with Americans. The problem, he writes, is ‘identity politics’:

‘[W]hen identity politics are uplifted but the needs of most white working class people, and particularly white working class men, are dismissed as “white privilege or male privilege,” don’t be surprised if many of them turn to the Right, which acknowledges their pain (while blaming it on the liberals and progressives who instead seek to privilege “the most oppressed”). The Right gives expression to the resentment many people feel at the lack of respect they get in their lives and work with the misplaced nectar that blames various groups of historically demeaned Others.’

I agree that the term ‘privilege’ sometimes operates to alienate people who would otherwise see us as supporters, and that some conservatives have taken advantage of this. However, the experiences of people who are disadvantaged cannot be explained exclusively, or even – I would argue – primarily, in terms of class. (I believe the idea that the world’s problems more or less reduce to capitalism and class is misconceived, and that with the same tools – selective logic and clever word-play, we could perform a similar intellectual trick using sex, for example, or species-membership – and possibly much more convincingly!)

Sexism and racism operate in ways that impact people’s lives. It isn’t the case that they simply harm some of us; they also create benefits for others. The correlation between harms and benefits is not always direct, but that does not mean privilege is not real. (A ‘white’ man may not benefit directly from a Black woman being shot and killed by police, but such atrocities result from a system that oppresses Black women in order that ‘white’ men will benefit – with, for example, better experiences in education, more desirable work opportunities, and easier access to healthcare. Even ‘white’ working-class men benefit from white male privilege – by, for example, being shown greater trust by neighbours, shopkeepers, and the police; and by seeing white men being positively represented in the media.) Pretending that privileges do not exist – which is what we do when we refuse to acknowledge them – means that the injustices they arise from, and which they work to uphold, go unaddressed. A solution might be to ensure that when we talk of ‘white privilege’ and ‘male privilege’, we acknowledge that the causes of disadvantage are complex, and that it is possible to experience brutal class oppression, which in itself is extremely difficult, without also experiencing the compounding negative effects of sexism and racism.

We can work to uplift the working class while at the same time acknowledging the reality of white privilege and male privilege. I follow African-American theorist bell hooks, whose writing on love – especially her book The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love – embraces men, including white men, while challenging us to engage critically with our privilege and work to dismantle what she calls ‘imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy’.

The third challenge I would make with respect to Lerner’s account of revolutionary love involves its strong focus on nationalism, and its appeals to American nationalism in particular. Of course, loving politics is – by its very nature – focused on community, and it is important that we work with the communities in front of us. However, our love becomes distorted when it is conceived only, or predominantly, in terms of a specific community. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned against this when he spoke of ‘the barbaric consequences of any tribal-centered, national-centered, or racial-centered ethic’. When communities are conceived of in exclusive terms, love is undermined. (It is impossible to affirm nationalism without affirming some form of exclusion: national communities are defined as much by who they exclude – foreigners; those who choose, or are forced, to renounce their citizenship; ‘illegal’ immigrants – as who they include.) Any vision of loving politics that arises within the United States must critically interrogate the notion of American exceptionalism – the idea that the United States is superior to other nations – because as a nation it has been, and continues to be, a harmful force in international politics, with severe consequences for people living in other places.

(It is important to remember that Lerner has subtitled his book ‘A Political Manifesto to Heal and Transform the World’. It should surprise readers, then, that the book is written primarily for Americans – as if Americans alone will heal and transform the world!)

I am wary of offending Americans with this analysis – and of course, that is not my intention. In fact, the Politics of Love owes a tremendous debt to American thinking. Much of the literature on love and politics has been written within the United States, and without the works of thinkers like Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, bell hooks, and angel Kyodo williams, I would not have been able to sketch the Politics of Love. Nā reira, kei te mihi, kei te mihi, kei te mihi…

It is only fair to point out that Lerner is generally critical of nationalism, even though he sometimes affirms its legitimacy – as when he writes, ‘Nationalist celebrations can be positive if they are done in ways that affirm the particularity of a given people while also affirming and fostering appreciation of all other people on the planet.’ Toward the end of his book, imagining the future in 2140, he suggests that open borders will become the norm and that the very notion of national borders will eventually disappear. This is pragmatic: any talk of dissolving national borders must acknowledge that it will only be accomplished in the long-term.

Still, his treatment of nationalism is problematic. For example, he writes that rather than celebrating Independence Day, Americans could dedicate the fourth of July to ‘Global Interdependence Day’ – ‘a day that balances celebration of what is good in our country with critical reflection on the oppressive practices in our past and present’. Although he outlines some of the ‘horrific acts of violence, theft, and domination’ that were committed in creating the United States of America, including the genocide of Indigenous peoples, he stops short of explicitly addressing the ways in which American nationalism upholds American exceptionalism. The two notions are closely – if not inextricably – connected. It is for this reason that, without a strong critique of American exceptionalism, his proposal that Americans take the fourth of July, a nationalistic holiday, to acknowledge and reflect on our global interconnectedness inadvertently perpetuates that supremacist myth.

Lerner is not the only thinker to make this mistake. In her book A Politics of Love: A Handbook for a New American Revolution, Marianne Williamson attempts to summon American nationalism in the service of love. However, without a sufficiently critical analysis of American exceptionalism, and the ways in which it is bound up with American nationalism, her efforts to mobilise nationalist sentiment for revolutionary change undermine love.

The Politics of Love is committed to anti-exclusive inclusion, and as such it works to replace nationalism with a strong sense of global community. This does not mean that it denies our differences, or erases human diversity. Rather, it insists that this diversity can contribute to creating a community in which all of us are equal and each of us has a place. I often describe the Politics of Love as a ‘space’: a round space, within which all of us gather, with our diverse knowledges and histories, to debate and deliberate – and from which we act.

Although I disagree with Lerner on certain points, there are far more on which we agree, and I am grateful for Revolutionary Love.

Perhaps where our views most align is on what Lerner refers to as ‘meaning needs’. In discussing leftist movements of the past, he writes:

‘Historically, socialist and communist movements […] focused almost exclusively on the external realities of life, the economic and political arrangements, ignoring the inner realities, the need to place love, empathy, and genuine caring for each other, for all of humanity, and for the planet at the top of their agenda. They did not recognize the importance of what I call “meaning needs” – being connected to higher values for one’s life than simply satisfying material wants and needs. They did not ask themselves how to shape an economy and political system that embodied and promoted that kind of caring…’

Where Lerner emphasises ‘meaning needs’, I emphasise values – such as humility, respect, and understanding. With different words, we are both exploring ways of ensuring a connection between the lives we live and the things that really matter. By affirming the importance of love and working to give expression to our highest values, we will bring about a better world for everyone, together.

Philip McKibbin is a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand, of Pākehā (NZ European) and Māori (Ngāi Tahu) descent. His book Love Notes: for a Politics of Love is published by Lantern. He co-organised ‘The Politics of Love: A Conference’ at All Souls College, Oxford. www.philip-mckibbin.com


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We Need a New Model of Emotionally Intelligent Justice – David Patton

Justice, Power, Love

We Need a New Model of Emotionally Intelligent Justice

David Patton

Justice Power Love

My name is Dr. David Patton and I work as a Criminologist in England. I would like to suggest in this article that the current models of justice that dominate the Criminal Justice System (CJS) in England are promoting more harms than goods and perpetuate further violence and inequality. I believe that a new paradigm of justice is needed. Throughout history we have witnessed periods where justice has been reimagined and reinvented. My observation is that we are at another hinge point in history. We are witnessing the collapse of the ‘old’ structures, systems and institutions and so within this context there is also the opportunity to reinvent justice. One that is based on a love ethic to create an ‘emotionally intelligent’ model of criminal justice.

It is very tempting to focus on criticising the current CJS in England and Wales and its dominant approaches. To evidence that it does not work. For example, in 2021 the Ministry of Justice statistics show that the proven reoffending rate for adult offenders released from custody is 44%, increasing to 60% for those sentenced to less than 12 months in prison. Further, 60% of juveniles released from custody also reoffend within a year of release. The average annual cost per prisoner being housed in prison is £28,974 – £38, 991. The average number of reoffences committed per person is 4 known offences. The ongoing collateral harms to victims as a result of the crimes committed against them can not be adequately measured. Further, the ongoing negative ripple effect to those convicted of a crime continue years after their sentence has been completed. It is easier to critique than to offer an alternative. It is always a creative and vulnerable endeavour to articulate something new. However, I have decided to be vulnerable and share some of my early thoughts on ‘what’ an alternative may look like.

In addition to being a Criminologist, I also work as a Life coach. One of the key messages that I give to clients when setting a new goal or vision, is to focus at least initially on the ‘what’ rather than the ‘how’. If you look at the ‘how’ too soon, you will almost certainly never come up with the very thing that needs to be done. So, this article will look predominantly at the ‘what’. It is hoped that some of your input in the comments to this post may help point to some of the ‘how’, as well as helping me refine my thoughts further in relation to the ‘what’.

As I write this post, looking at the gap between where things currently stand and where I believe things can and could be, is intimidating and scary but, I am determined that it should not deter me from suggesting it. My intention is that this post can hold space for the realisation that we are off track, that change is desperately needed and possible. Therefore, new definitions and models of justice are needed.

Where are we now?

The CJS is dominated by negative responses and reactions to crime and criminality that are focused on retributive punishment, exclusion, labelling and shame. Justice is administered in an adversarial court system in England, which is premised on conflict, opposition and the presumption of guilt. The dominant models of criminal justice, namely the models of Crime Control, Status Passage and Power promote further violence and exclusion, and cannot succeed in attaining the much-needed results of a new form of justice. The Crime Control model is defined by its social function of punishment and its creation of high conviction rates due to its disregard for legal controls, support of the police and implicit presumption of guilt as well as the desire to highlight the unpleasantness of the experience for the offender. The Status Passage model is defined by its social function of denunciation and degradation along with its focus on public shaming and asserting the agent’s control over the process. The Power model is defined by its social function of maintenance of class domination thereby promoting the labelling, stigmatisation, alienation and punishment of large classes of people.

The political and public discourses, social constructs, and moral panic that need to be created and maintained in order to justify the continuance of the above models are based on fear, hate, condemnation, labelling and stigmatisation. They foster a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mindset, highlighting ‘risks’ to the majority, which in turn typically evoke negative emotions and responses from the general public towards the ‘other’/criminal, and also, importantly can only evoke negative emotions and responses from those on the receiving end of the punishment provided by each of the above models. When the models are administered in an adversarial system this only serves to entrench the patterns of negativity and violence.

A call to action

Therefore, there have been repeated calls by many to redesign justice and to move away from retributive justice and punitive justice so that criminal justice is positive, unitive, peace-making, transformative, emotionally intelligent, intuitively intelligent, and community based. Further, many of the civil rights and social justice movements that have advanced notions of justice have been based on an ethic of love and a non-violent approach.

It has become clear as Albert Einstein stated, ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’ We need a different approach. Fundamentally, in order for a new paradigm of justice to happen, love needs to expand beyond the confines of personal relationships, to become a collective force, framework and strategy for social and political change to help formulate new models of justice. It is not a sentimental emotion. I believe the ingredients for this new paradigm and model of justice are encapsulated in the words of Martin Luther King when he said: ‘Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.’

A triad of love, power and justice needs to be reconstituted to create a new paradigm of criminal justice. We are currently witnessing a demise of the old definitions of power, as ‘power over’ and domination, and of justice that only serves the interests of the privileged, and so across the globe we are witnessing events that are redefining notions of power and justice with for example, the MeToo movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, climate change, etc. The model of emotionally intelligent justice would seek to dismantle the negative and corrupting effects of a ‘white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy’ as stated by bell hooks.

Inputs

In order to understand why the system is creating such negative outcomes (at least for some in society) we need to explore the types of inputs into the CJS. Garland has observed that different modes of penal power act as inputs in to the CJS that produce different outcomes. He believes that negative penal power is incapacitating, whilst positive penal power is capacity building:

‘Penal power takes different forms and may be oriented toward different ends. The power to kill, the power to incarcerate, the power to supervise, the power to levy fines, the power to transform individual conduct, and the power to transform families or communities are distinct forms, and they each may be deployed as means to different ends.’

When reviewing official government data, the following outputs are created as a direct result of its inputs: the CJS is clearly oriented towards punishing the poor, males, those with low educational attainment and special educational learning needs and disabilities, and those with mental health issues. There is also an over-representation of Black and Asian males in the system who are also more likely to be sent to prison and serve longer prison sentences. Such outputs creates the question, ‘what inputs (modes of penal power) create such outcomes? There are constant calls for the CJS to be reformed but, the CJS isn’t broken, rather it was crafted and systematically and structurally engineered to produce such results. The results produced are not just current trends but are also historical. The different forms of penal power create accompanying discourses and hegemonic narratives as justifications for its actions. Within such narratives, justice is equated with retribution and punishment, power is equated to the state exerting punitive and incapacitatory powers over socially constructed deviants, and notions of love are mocked or more accurately absent.

Inputs are are first conceived with the ideational philosophies that relate to key questions such as ‘who is a criminal?’ and ‘what is a crime?’ Philosophies, ideologies and paradigms built upon subcultural understandings or a criminal type or deviant who is significantly different to the majority promote a deficit model that pathologises people with specific characteristics which then legitimises the legislative framework that permits them to be policed and punished. This leads onto the creation of a web of actors, agencies and institutions with a series of related practices that are in alignment with the subcultural, pathologizing and punitive philosophy/ideology.

Means inherent in the ends

At present we have structures, systems and institutions that are dominated by negative inputs. Yet, somehow, an expectation is promoted within this context that says that after a duly punished person who has journeyed through the ‘negative’ penal system, that they should come out at the other end, as a well-adjusted and reformed person. One who is ready to make a positive contribution to society, participate fully within it and not commit any further crimes or cause harms in society. This makes no sense!

The observation by Ghandi that ‘An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind’ highlights the fact that a negative act, responded to in a negative way can only produce a further negative result. This is in part what we are witnessing at present with the CJS. Martin Luther King noted ‘For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth.’ What is needed is an input/response of a different kind, he said ‘Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’ If we want to see a different result in relation to crime, recidivism and more specifically justice, then a different input, approach and response is needed from the State, the CJS, and society. In addition, if we want to see a different result, one that is positive, then it is advocated here that the input needs to be positive in nature to ensure that the means are inherent in the ends in order to provide the much needed congruency and alignment with the desired positive outcome.

Metrics

If we accept that the means are inherent in the ends, then we need to redefine the ends (the metrics) of justice and of the CJS. At present the CJS almost exclusively focuses on recidivism as a prime metric to measure the success of a criminal sanction. A paradigm change is needed in relation to the metrics of the CJS so that we judge the CJS not by the the harms the system prevents but rather by the goods that it creates. The suggestion here is not that recidivism should be removed as a metric but, rather become one of a larger range of metrics of justice. The range of new metrics would focus not on the cessation of the negative but, the creation of the positive, (and therefore also indirectly achieving a reduction in recidivism). This shift will require fundamental shifts in perceptions, understandings and paradigms of justice, power and love.

If the patterns of fear, control, ‘power over’ and punishment continue to be repeated, this will do little to alleviate the negative cycle of violence perpetuated by the CJS or foster the creation of new metrics of justice. It is advocated here that a new paradigm is needed to allow for model(s) of emotionally intelligent justice that will allow for the creation of an emotionally intelligent CJS. New theories, paradigms and approaches need to be created and developed further, and existing ones brought to the fore to support the creation of such emotionally intelligent models of justice.

Suggesting an alternative

I recently conducted a research project exploring the hopes and pains of desistance. The written diaries of 43 male prisoners were analysed to explore how they viewed their future self and future lifestyle post release. In the research it was argued that their diaries were a form of utopian literature due to their expressed desires for a better way of living and of being. The hopes expressed within their diaries revealed a vision that was not just personal but inherently political and transformative in nature due to the envisioned future that they sought to experience at the personal and societal levels. The respondents were not just hoping to stop offending, to find employment, or a place to live, find a life partner, or to study or settle down, etc, but rather, also pointed to something deeper, something beyond themselves and something radical. Their inherent goal in desistance was not just to ‘go straight’ but to ‘go somewhere new’.The society they envisioned was one of acceptance, inclusion, transformation, reconciliation and restoration, of second chances, reparation, generativity, achievement, contribution and participation. In contrast, the pains of desistance identified in their diary entries were of shame, stigma, rejection, exclusion, surveillance, goal frustration, disappointment, self-isolation, goal failure, and hopelessness. Such pains provide a harsh commentary, reveal a significant critique and condemnation of where we currently are, and identify what is lacking in our structures, systems, institutions, policies, practices, perceptions and relations.

The type of society the respondents hope for and one that can accommodate the realisation of their personal hopes is radical. The new vision of society that we envisioned based upon their diaries is not for a perfect or Hollywood-ised mode of living. It acknowledges that people make mistakes, cause harms, can behave in self-destructive ways, have estranged and negative relationships and so on. However, such a radical society can accommodate those who are engaged in a negative and downward spiral of behaviours and importantly have within it, structures, paradigms and pathways for re-entry, full participation and for human flourishing to be regained. They envision a more inclusive, emotionally intelligent and fairer society. Reform is inadequate in the face of such a radical vision which rejects some of the fundamental principles that govern our societal structures to create something new. Such a radical agenda requires changes at the penal, political, and public and not just personal levels. The respondents’ hopes embody both an individualistic and personal utopian vision for themselves, and in order for this to be realised they inadvertently provide a collective vision of the communities and society or world that is yet to become.

Table 1

The new model of emotionally intelligent justice that I am in the early stages of thinking about and am proposing in the right-hand column in Table 1, is built upon a foundation of a love ethic to inform paradigms, policies and practices. The model is intelligent and as such does not seek revenge, to harm or diminish but to repair, restore and transform. It acknowledges the harms created as a result of negative behaviours and holds the person accountable for them. It is non-violent in its approach and is focused on inclusion and integration at the micro, meso and macro levels. It seeks to put an end to the patterns and forces of division, separation, exclusion, excessive punishment, shaming and humiliation etc. currently dominating notions of justice. It recognises that these are some of the very forces and mechanisms that have contributed to the problems in the first place. Instead, it utilises positive encounters and forces in offering a transformative experience. The model also seeks to raise the emotional intelligence and awareness of its staff of the therapeutic or anti-therapeutic effect of their words, actions, decisions and working practices/systems/structures. It is informed by all of the voices of those affected by crime and criminality to deliver justice for all. Further, it has a congruence between its aims, means, theories, values and the principles upon which it is based and the positive outcomes it aspires to produce.

A few examples of existing practices that encapsulate some of the features of the above model would be Therapeutic Jurisprudence courts whereby staff are sensitive to the therapeutic or anti-therapeutic consequences that their actions and decisions can foster, strengths-based models of practice, e.g. the Good Lives Model that seeks to enhance key strengths and talents and promote goal attainment; self-help, recovery groups and the 12 steps which provide accepting and empowering spaces and relationships through positive pro-social modelling to support one another; restorative justice and victim and offender mediation schemes which seek to repair the harms caused by increasing awareness and promoting responsibility for actions taken whilst leading to social integration. The list is not exhaustive, and clearly new agents and agencies would need to be created to help operationalise the emotionally intelligent model of justice. Ultimately, this would also require the creation of a web or networked agencies working in alignment with the method and values of the new model of justice.

Thoughts

In order for the above model to be adopted by the criminal justice system it would require a radical shift in its approach, requiring seismic shifts in its philosophy, aims, values, policies and practices. I am aware that some would say it is naïve to think that such a model will ever be adopted. I am at a point where the evidence demonstrating that the current system is not working is so overwhelming that it is naïve to think that the system can keep doing what it has been doing, reproducing the same negative cycle of results and promoting continual cycles of structural violence. I don’t know how such a change will occur but, I think people are beginning to wake up to the reality that justice is not delivering what is desired. I am keen to hear your thoughts on the above model. What features or perspectives need to be added or considered to the proposed model of justice? What are the particularities of criminal justice in your own community? How are they similar/different to the system we have in England? I would welcome your thoughts, reflections and comments and so I invite you to drop me an email at d.patton@derby.ac.uk so that we can keep exploring the notion I propose here of emotionally intelligent justice.

David Patton is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Derby in the United Kingdom.


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Interview: Moana Jackson

Moana Jackson

interview with Philip McKibbin

Moana Jackson (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou) is a Māori lawyer, specialising in the Treaty of Waitangi and constitutional transformation. He was involved in drafting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and served as a judge on the International Tribunal of Indigenous Rights.

What meaning does ‘aroha’ have for you?

When I saw your questions, I thought, ‘You’re starting with the hardest one.’

I always think it’s difficult and problematic to try and pin down our words or concepts with a simple translation into English. I often talk about a – probably apocryphal – story, but John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath was translated into a number of languages, including Japanese; and then at some stage, for some unknown reason, the Japanese was translated back into English, and the title didn’t end up as Grapes of Wrath, but Lost Raisins. And that’s what I call a linguistic double bind. So I’m always somewhat hesitant about trying to give a simple meaning to what are often really complex ideas.

So the way I like to talk about ‘aroha’ is in the context of ‘aroha mai, aroha atu’, that it’s a reciprocity of obligations, a reciprocity of relational balance that includes the idea of ‘love’ – but it’s much more, of course, than the simplistic Valentine’s Day notion of love. So for me, it’s a loving relationship based on reciprocity, and to me the key is the reciprocity, really. And there are risks if one just defines it as ‘love’, in simplifying, as I said before, what is really a complex idea. I don’t think any of the words that get thrown around too easily – like ‘aroha’, ‘manaaki’, ‘kaitiakitanga’, and so on – there’s a risk that in simplifying them in English; you not only diminish their complexity, but you make them subject to redefinition to serve interests that aren’t necessarily ours.

So I struggled a bit with that question when I saw it the first time, but I hope that makes sense.


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How has your understanding of aroha informed your political engagement?

Well, I think that the very idea of, say, mana motuhake, or what in international law is called ‘self-determination’, to be effective has to be an aroha-based construct. That is, you can’t work to improve the well-being of our people, to ensure that our mokopuna are protected and safe and so on, unless the political framework within which you operate is relational and based on aroha in its broadest sense, which is why I think the Westminster system of government that was imposed here after 1840 is so problematic: because it has no place for aroha, it has no place for a relationship of balance, because it depends upon an adversarial construct. The very idea of an opposition party is adversarial; it’s to reposition an argument in ways that can be destructive, that can be diminishing of the mana of others, rather than encouraging the growth of mana, the protection of good relationships, and so on. And when I talk – as I often do – about constitutional transformation, for me that’s not just about changing the constructs of a system; it’s changing the values of a system.

They say ‘politics is the art of the possible’; but politics should also be the vision of what some see as the impossible, and that necessarily involves an aroha-based perception that all relationships are worthy, that all relationships have a context. So, the relationship between humans is part of a wider relationship with Papatūānuku, and so on. So bearing in mind the complexities of aroha, I think it’s important that politics, in the sense of the ability to be self-determining, to make values-based laws, and so on, to govern how people should live with each other, is necessarily aroha-based.

And when one discusses that, particularly in the context in this country, based on the Westminster system – and you’ve probably encountered this, I’m sure – the notion of a politics of love, or whatever, tends to get rubbished or scoffed at as unrealistic, but that to me just illustrates the cultural chasm – the perceptual chasm, really – between sovereignty as defined in the post-Westphalian period in Western European history, and not just Māori but I think the general Indigenous notions of how the relationships between people should be governed.

And so when I first heard of the work that you were doing and I read your book, and read Max’s book, and so on, it was like, ‘Man, I’ve been waiting for people to say this for so long.’ So it’s been very reassuring for me, as well, but I don’t underestimate the difficulty of shifting that political paradigm.

But in a way, the Treaty relationship gives us a starting-point in this country that does not exist in other places. I wonder if I can tell a story, is that okay?

Please do!

A few years ago, when I was quite young and impatient, we had hui at home, and it was just after the John Rangihau report, ‘Pūao-te-ata-tū’, had been released, and we had contributed to that report. And some people from what was then the Department of Social Welfare did a little hīkoi to different places to talk about the report, and it became quite clear that they wanted to sideline and silence the report – that is, discussions of institutional racism and so on were unacceptable and dangerous and so on – and I was sitting there next to my mother, and waiting for some of the old people to criticise or respond to these Department of Social Welfare people, but they sat there and sort of politely nodded, and I was sure that they disagreed, but they didn’t say anything. And I just remember getting really frustrated, not just with the Social Welfare people, but with our people, and my mother must have sensed that, as she often did, and she reached out and patted my hand (laughs) and said, ‘Don’t you ever forget what brought our people to this place.’

And what brought our people to that place was the realisation that the centuries that we had in developing something quite unique – not perfect, because it was a human construct – but something quite unique and based on values like aroha, manaakitanga, and reciprocity, and so on, that had been simply dismissed by the colonisers, and that my old people had lived through parts of that process that I could only imagine, how people like my koroua and so on had had to struggle simply to survive, let alone keep alive the values that they thought were important. And I’ve never forgotten that day, and I’ve never forgotten mum’s reprimand, really, to never forget how our people have got to where we are.

And so, if there are difficulties now talking about politics of aroha or something, and those difficulties are sometimes expressed by our people who would say that’s being unrealistic or parrot similar Pākehā responses, then I try very hard to remember how we got to the place we’re at, and that rebuilding that traditional sense of being actually means un-building, or deconstructing, what’s been created to damage it. And that to me is the big problem; the problem is not how that is, it’s how we deconstruct a system based on quite different values.

You have spoken about values. What is the relationship between values and love or aroha?

I think aroha is one of the seminal values in our intellectual tradition – and I use that term deliberately, because a lot of people still don’t think we have an intellectual tradition. And I don’t like, as I said at the start, simplifying complex ideas. Which is why I understand and respect the idea that Mason Durie talked about many years ago, tapa whā, but it has been taken by others and misused to become a gross simplification, where the tapa whā, if you like, are the sum total of that intellectual tradition, when of course they’re not – they’re part of a much more complicated and vibrant tradition, and aroha is fundamental to that.

Again, that idea, ‘aroha mai, aroha atu,’ that reciprocity is fundamental to the exercise of political and constitutional power as much as anything. I remember around about the time that he wrote ‘Pūao-te-ata-tū’, John Rangihau said that rangatiratanga is people-bestowed; that is, it only exists as long as people understand and bestow it upon those they trust to exercise leadership. And that’s part of the ‘aroha mai, aroha atu’, I think, that they give the structures of politics, what I call the sites of power, to the imprimatur, or the sanction for that power to be exercised; but if it’s not exercised in a way that is consistent with respect and aroha, then the people can withdraw their bestowal of that authority.

And that’s, again, that giving and taking that is so important.

If we succeed in realising the Politics of Love, it will look different in different places, and for distinct peoples. This is because we have diverse cultures, knowledges, and histories. What might loving political community look like here in Aotearoa New Zealand?

I’ve often said over the years that the Treaty of Waitangi was the first immigration act that allowed people from other places to find a home in this country, and to shape that home according to their aspirations and so on. But immigrating to this country to me has always been like going onto the marae. So you are bound by the kawa of the marae that you are visiting. And that kawa might be quite different to yours, whether it’s the order of speaking where all the hau kāinga speak first and then hand it over to the manuhiri, or tū atu, tū mai, where the speakers alternate, and so on. The kawa is always different, but for me, the base, the papa, of the kawa remains sourced in the reciprocity of relationships.

And I can remember when, as quite a young person, I first started working with other iwi, and I always used to feel humbled, really, that during the mihi, they would never say, ‘Haere mai, Moana,’ ‘Haere mai, lawyer,’ or whatever; they would always say, ‘Haere mai, Kahungunu,’ ‘Haere mai, Ngāti Porou.’ And that was that statement of relationships, and once that relationship is established, then you’re able to move ahead in the kōrero, to either raise challenges, or raise questions, or share ideas. But once the relationship is named, then it lays the groundwork of the reciprocity that’s essential for good relationships.

So, for me, the constitutional kawa, if you like, of this country would reflect the constitutional kawa of the marae. And so manuhiri go onto the marae acknowledging the authority of the hau kāinga, but acknowledging, too, the relationships which exist; and it’s the existence of those relationships which mean that although they abide by the jurisdiction of the kawa of the marae that they are visiting, that does not mean jettisoning their own mana, their own authority. It’s an expression of what I call interdependent relationships that recognise the independence of the parties. And if you’re going to recognise a relationship of interdependence and independence, then necessarily something like aroha becomes fundamental to that recognition, it seems to me, because if you don’t have aroha for the relationships, then you don’t have the capacity to respect the interdepence upon which, in the end, all good decisions are made.

Throughout your life, you have been actively involved in promoting tino rangatiratanga and securing legal recognition for Indigenous rights internationally. One concept you have written about is ‘restoration’ – that is, restoring our relationships with each other and the natural world through political processes. How does the notion of restoration fit with the need to imagine new ways of being together?

If you are going to work towards what I call constitutional transformation, then that actually, in this country, is not building something new; it’s restoring something that has almost been totally destroyed, but not entirely. So restoration, for me, is finding a way of ensuring interdependence that is based on the reciprocity of relationships, that is based on what I always call the stories in this land.

The Westminster system of government comes from stories in the land in Europe. The notion of sovereignty itself is developed in France, originally, and then adapted in England and Germany and other countries. But it’s a unique – and I think deeply-flawed – political construct that came from the land and the histories of those people. While we have similar concepts of power that come from this land, the ineffable hopes and whakapapa, the persistent obligations to look after Papatūānuku; and if we restore those values, if we are clear about what they mean, then, it seems to me, that the model of constitutionalism, the model of decision-making, if you like, will arise from those values. What happens too often is we come up with different governance models and then try to squeeze tikanga into it, whereas I think if we can restore the values – both as philosophical concepts and as ways of living – then the actual models of governance will arise from that. So if you accept that aroha is one of those founding ideals, then a model of governance that arises from that will necessarily not be adversarial. There will be differences, because aroha relationships, being human relationships, will give rise to difference, but it does not presuppose that difference, that conflict, is the basis upon which decisions must be made.

So, the practice, if you like, of politics, and the models through which it’s practiced, will arise when we understand and restore the primacy of those values. And I never underestimate the difficulty of that, because the conflictual ideas of Western democracy and so on are so deeply entrenched that that sort of change will not be easy. But it’s possible to achieve it, and I think the shift that has occurred in this country in the last 20-30 years, particularly among a lot of younger people, indicates some sort of desire for that kind of change. And so I have hope that that change will come, and that the human capacity to cause harm, the human capacity to damage the Earth, and so on, can and will eventually be mediated through the restoration of something quite different. And if you go back long enough in human history, even in European history, there were notions of reciprocity, notions of the Earth being the mother, and so on, and they got submerged by the imposition of largely Christian-based hierarchy and so on. But I think it’s a very human desire to have a different way of building relationships, and making decisions, and so on.

All political systems are flawed – as you said earlier, they’re human constructs. You have written, for example, about the shortcomings inherent in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is nonetheless an extremely important document. Going forward, how can we mitigate the risks inherent in processes which seek to codify rights which have long existed outside of such codification?

All of the years I was involved in the drafting of the Declaration, that was one of the issues we grappled with on a number of levels, because the whole construct of human rights as currently understood is individuated. The notion that we advocated in the drafting of the Declaration that there were rights invested in collectives was opposed by just about every state that took part in the discussions, and the CANZUS states – Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States – seemed to take turns at being the most vociferous opponent of collective rights. And then that fed into their opposition to the right of self-determination, which of all the human rights is the most deeply sourced in collectivity, because it’s not a right that vests in individuals. In all of the human rights conventions it talks about, ‘all peoples have the right of self-determination’. And so we took that article from all the other human rights conventions and just transplanted it into the Declaration, really, and added the word ‘Indigenous’ so that Article Three reads, ‘all Indigenous peoples have the right of self-determination’.

So if we accept that the most basic right, if you like – and I have difficulties with the word ‘right’, but that’s another discussion – if the base right of self-determination is sourced in the group, then it’s quite easy, I think, to construct a dialectic of rights which is collective rather than individual, that recognises the place of an individual within a collective. Then from that, you develop the institutions, if you like, which will give effect to that collectivity. And one of the hopes that I know lots of Indigenous peoples had with the Declaration was not that it would become some rigid, binding document, but a declarative statement of what ought to be. And although it was constantly limited by states, redefined by states, I think that Indigenous starting-point managed to survive attempts by states to remove it. And certainly all of the Indigenous peoples that I got to know as friends and colleagues during that long drafting process felt at the end of it that although it was not able to contain as much as what we wanted, it nevertheless contained the essence, simply because in spite of the objections of many states, including New Zealand, the collectivity of self-determination was retained. That, I think, is the main value, really, of the Declaration; it managed to hold onto that idea.

I remember a good friend of mine, Glenn Morris, who’s a Shawnee jurist, often attended the drafting sessions at the UN, and would often quote John Donne, the English metaphysical poet, that, ‘no man is an island, entire of himself’. And that – although he was a rabid Right-wing fundamentalist Christian (laughs) – that notion that no one is an island was very important to Indigenous peoples drafting the Declaration, I think. And that’s, as I’ve said, reflected in self-determination. It’s also reflected in the fact that it’s important to always read the Declaration in conjunction with the other human rights conventions. It doesn’t stand alone. It’s part of a tradition of trying to frame the aspirations of humans in rights terms. And so I never talk about the self-determination in the Declaration without referring to other conventions that refer to self-determination as well, because they’re all interlinked, and when you see them as a whole, then even allowing for the individuation of the whole human rights discourse, I think they provide a framework that the Declaration both drew from, and which the Declaration also informs, since it was eventually passed by the General Assembly.

When you think about constitutional transformation and the legal recognition of Indigenous rights here in Aotearoa, what are the implications of our getting it right here for those living in other places?

Ani Mikaere often talks about tikanga as being the first law of this land, and it’s still the best succinct definition of tikanga that I know. But other people have brought other tikanga, if you like, with them, other ways of seeing the world, other ways of understanding human relationships, some of which are contrary to tikanga, but they are part, if you like, of the cultural baggage which they bring. And the challenge in any process of constitutional transformation – but a challenge which, I think, is easily surmountable if we use Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the base – is how to allow space for the differences that people bring within a shared notion of what it means to be of this land, what responsibilities and relationships should be required if you’re going to live in this land. Constitutions as documents or sets of conventions aren’t the repository of answers to everything; but it seems to me if they are based on values that can be generally recognised, no matter where people come from, then they provide a framework, not only in which governance decisions and all of those things can be made, but more importantly they provide a stated base upon which people can shape their relationships.

So constitutional transformation, for me, has always been more than, ‘How do we find a way of governing this land?’ It’s more, ‘How do we find a way of living together in this land?’ And I think the current constitutional system doesn’t allow that aspirational option, because it’s fossilised in conflict, it’s fossilised in hierarchy, it’s fossilised in ideas that haven’t come from this land. I don’t watch Parliament very often, because I hate the adversarial nature, and the presumption that you can score points off someone is more important than making joint decisions that might benefit people, where if a political party, after considerations, decides to change a particular policy, that’s never seen as a considered option, but a sign of political backtracking, and weakness, and so on. And those sort of petty things are embedded in that system, but they need not be part of a constitutional order.

There’s always more than one way of making decisions. There’s more than one way of working out how people can live together, and the legalism, the constitutionalism, that colonisation always imposes, is directly contrary to that relation of a shared aspirational wish for interdependence. Which is why when people talk about decolonisation, I tend to talk more, again, about restoration. Successful restoration of a better and more human notion of relationships is in itself a decolonising act. Also, in that sense, constitutional transformation becomes a means to a decolonising end, becomes an aroha-infused means, if you like, of finding a different way to live with one another. And if the Treaty offered anything to people who came here, it was a way to live one with the other, accepting the kawa, if you like, of this country, sourced in the land of this country, and accepting the courage needed to imagine something different.

You might be aware, I did a report with some others in the 1980s on Māori and the criminal justice system, and a few years ago Ngāti Kahungunu asked if we’d do an update on that report, which I’ve been working on with two pretty amazing young women – Anne Waapu and Ngawai McGregor – and we’d hoped to get it finished about this time last year, then I got sick, so it’s sort of been delayed. But in that report, we talk about deconstructing the current criminal justice system, deconstructing what is, in effect, a carceral state, and replacing it with a constitutional, social, political, and economic system in which the understanding of harm, why people cause harm, and what can be done for those who’ve caused harm, and those who have been harmed, can begin at a different place, and although we don’t use the word ‘aroha’ very often, it is, for me, an aroha place, so that we restore what at home we call a state of ea, a state of calm, a state of balance; and if you have a political-social system that aims to establish and maintain a state of ea, then you have a just society, then you have a society where harm may still be done, but it may be done less often, and there are different ways of dealing with it. And that, sort of, singular justice focus, if you like, is for me part of that wider conversation we’ve been talking about today. And so, the Politics of Love, or whatever term one wishes to use, is relevant not just as a means of trying to work out how people can live together, but it’s relevant in quite specific ways, about how we might minimise harm, keep people safe, and so on.

(Interviewed on 2 June, 2021.)


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Animal Matters Podcast: Kōrero with Philip McKibbin

Animal Matters

Animal Matters Podcast

Kōrero with Philip McKibbin, on the Politics of Love

In this interview with Will Appelbe for SAFE’s ‘Animal Matters’ podcast, Philip McKibbin discusses the Politics of Love and its implications for non-human animals. Listen below, or follow this link: https://share.transistor.fm/s/bccafbc2

Philip McKibbin is a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand, of Pākehā (NZ European) and Māori (Ngāi Tahu) descent. His book Love Notes: for a Politics of Love is published by Lantern. He co-organised ‘The Politics of Love: A Conference’ at All Souls College, Oxford. www.philip-mckibbin.com


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