Friday, 20 April 2018

Trans Warfare II: Victim framing and the dogmas of sacrifice




Four years ago I started up a blog called ‘100 years of trenches’, partly as a response to the hyped up Anzac and WW1 centenary period (2014 – 2018). A big focus of the blog was to understand and also counter the de-politicised version of ‘remembrance’ pushed on the public by state authorities. The key themes of my analysis include:

  • Remembrance media and ceremonies tend to promote a ‘micro focus’ on dead soldiers and trenches. Military historians tend to provide the framing, with the details of battles, and the image of the ‘Fallen soldier’ being central. This image summons up emotive notions of suffering, death, heroism and sacrifice.

  • The idea of sacrifice which is embedded in this image is very important, but the highly solemn and emotive framing makes it almost impossible to question or even explore. There is a form of romanticism involved here, in which the idea of sacrifice draws on both religious and secular traditions. To suggest that these brave young men didn’t die for a ‘greater and noble cause’ is to violate the moral imperative which is hidden inside the Fallen Soldier image.

  • The micro-focus also makes it harder to look at and think about the years outside the period 1914 – 1918. Questions about the political and economic factors which led to the war are marginalised. Connections between the imperialist state system of 1914 and the imperialist state system of the 21st century are not part of the mainstream media narrative. It is no accident that we place such huge emphasis on Gallipoli; the narrative here is palatable and poses no challenge to the legitimacy of the current military state apparatus.

  • The micro-focus makes it harder to look at and think about the impact of WW1 on other groups of people: the women who lost fathers, sons and brothers, or had to deal with traumatised husbands returning from the war; the people of the Middle East who are still dealing with the consequences of the imperialist carve up of their homelands.

  • Alongside the ‘micro focus’ there are historical meta - narratives. The older versions of these tended to cast the Germans as the vicious aggressors, battling against a much more noble and just British Empire. The more recent and powerful versions involve appeals to the idea of ‘national identity’. Here the idea that New Zealand truly ‘became a nation’ through the experiences of Gallipoli and the Somme effectively frame the meaning of those deaths. The ‘sacrifice’ no longer serves the interest of a greater imperial power we owe allegiance to, but rather a nebulous and untouchable set of National Values: mateship, egalitarianism, courage and honour. The grim and shameful political truth that these deaths served the interests of a brutal imperial state are swept under the carpet of red poppies, Anzac biscuits and solemn ceremonies.


  • The Really Big Things we should remember if we want to truly live up to the demands of the ‘Lest We Forget’ slogan are the structural features of our society which lead to war: capitalism, militarism, imperialism.

  • The micro-focus, alongside the falsifying historical meta narratives, prevent this sort of critical remembrance, and tend to effectively frame war as a sort of natural event, akin to things like volcanoes and hurricanes. Military conflict is naturalised and depoliticised.


Over the past year I have devoted a lot of my energy into understanding and writing about a completely different topic, the theory and politics of transgenderism. Yet I have repeatedly found myself pondering over some of the strangely common rhetorical strategies employed by both fervent conservative nationalists and transactivists. In the comments section under my first blog piece (where I examined the logic behind the vilification of radical feminists who questioned the notion of gender identity) is this wee gem of insight and wisdom:




In just about any exchange between transactivists and critics, you will find people highlighting the central importance of the oppression of trans people. The most frequently cited victims are trans identified males (always referred to as transwomen), and particularly ‘transwomen of colour’. There are countless articles and stories about the murder of transwomen, and the Transgender Day of Remembrance which is held every year internationally on November 20th specifically commemorates the deaths of trans people through violence or suicide. After reading a few of these articles, I came away feeling quite dissatisfied. The causes of the murders are invariably ascribed very simply to ‘transphobia’, without much elaboration or insight. The most interesting thing I came upon was this graph of murders by region in a Pink News article:





Why are there so many more murders of trans identifying people in Central and South America? The article makes no attempt to answer this question, so you are left wondering. In online debates I have frequently observed radical feminists point to the fact that a very large number of these deaths are caused by violent punters. The context of sexual violence within the practice of prostitution probably has a large bearing on this issue, but these sorts of interpretations do not seem to be popular. As Julie Bindel has highlighted recently, transactivists tend to side with people who endorse a ‘sex work is work’ framing of prostitution. Criticising prostitution in any way is off limits in the same way as questioning gender identity is.

Rather than acquiring critical understanding of the causes and nature of “transphobic” violence, the image of the murdered transwoman is typically foregrounded as a rhetorical strategy to prevent debate about broader issues. Here are a couple of examples from ‘socialist’ (socialist identified?) supporters of trans identity ideology:

In the early hours of Tuesday 22 August Kiwi Herring, a 30 year old trans woman and mother of three, was shot dead by police in St Louis, US. Police had been called after Kiwi had allegedly stabbed her neighbour. After an altercation during which one police officer received a “minor injury”, the police opened fire.
The following day around 100 supporters held a vigil in her honour and marched into the road, blocking a junction. A man drove into the protest, knocking over three people — though none was seriously hurt. One witness reported that he was giving them the finger as he accelerated through the crowd.
Kiwi is the 18th known trans person killed this year. Like her, the majority are black women. Kiwi’s family report that her neighbour was transphobic and had been harassing her for some time.
I start here because in any discussion about trans rights it is crucial to begin with a recognition of the reality of trans oppression. The events described above tell a story of structural racism and transphobia, experienced at the hands of the state and of bigoted individuals.

The article goes on to argue women in the UK have nothing at all to fear from the proposed legal changes of the Gender Recognition Act, and concludes a series of shoddy arguments with the claim that “there is no evidence that trans rights will harm women, and there is every evidence that lack of trans rights does harm trans people”. There is plentiful evidence that gender identity - based access laws such as the proposed GRA will harm women, but the article does not engage with these arguments in good faith. By foregrounding the image of the murdered transwomen, and suggesting (indirectly in this case, but the implication is clear) that opponents to the proposed legislation are somehow complicit with this violence, the author does not even need to try very hard to make her case. The manipulative and emotive appeal to a uniquely vulnerable and oppressed group does most of the work. Leftists are suckers for that sort of jazz. Fighting oppression is what they (supposedly) do.

A second example, unfortunately more typical in its heated and frenzied tone, is the text of a petition for the removal of an article from the UK based site Socialist Resistance. I don’t know that much about the site or the organisation, but this article (Feminism and transgender - why is there is a debate?) was considered so blasphemous that even Marxist luminaries such as Richard Seymour signed the petition for its removal. I also don’t know what it said, because it was in fact removed. But we can glean some idea of how evil the article was by reading the petition text , which opens with the familiar Image of the Oppressed Transwoman:

‘I’ve been to prison and I’ve been raped by men — straight men!’ In these words at her speech to the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally, Sylvia Rivera outlined the conditions still faced by trans women today. Trans women suffer primarily at the hands of men, yet much of the feminist movement passes over this patriarchal violence in silence. A fixated minority within the movement is uncontent even with this, and actively contributes to the villainization of their trans sisters.

The petition concludes with the claim that although it is men who are responsible for transphobic violence, women who question in any way the broader issues of transgenderism are also complicit in the rape and murder of transwomen:

Trans women’s lives are not a matter to be deliberated. Their existence is not an ‘issue’ that it is helpful for leftist sects to publicly discuss and to take ‘positions’ on. Without support from those with more social weight, the rape and murder of trans women simply trying to walk the streets, and subsist by the limited means available to them, will continue.

Another variant of the image is that of trans identified children, who commit suicide because they are prevented from accessing ‘life saving’ puberty blockers and/or synthetic hormones. Again the emotive and victim focused framing which acts as a prohibition against critical perspectives, although in this case the evidence that children have actually committed suicide for these reasons is sketchy.

Going back to consider and compare the trans issue with my analysis of remembrance ideology, it is notable that my ‘100 years of trenches’ blog generated very little debate within the leftist circles who read it. No one faulted me for not placing the suffering and death of thousands of soldiers at the centre of my account. No one had any problem distinguishing between the people caught up in the cogs of imperialist aggression and the political and economic structures governing that same aggression. No one pointed out that as somebody who has never fought in a real battle and witnessed the terrible human cost of war, I had no right to question or explore the idea of sacrifice.

The conclusion from these observations is that ‘trans oppression’ functions the same way that the concept of ‘sacrifice’ does in sanitising war narratives: both tactics foreground pain, suffering and death and insist upon a very particular type of compassion. This is a compassion that must not doubt or question, a compassion which dare not examine the holy necessity of the Cause served by the victim.

Trans murder is a case in point: it is not at all clear that ‘transphobia’ is a helpful way of framing our understanding of the phenomenon, and there is clear and compelling empirical evidence that trans people are no more likely  to be murdered than other people in the general population. I make this point not to dismiss or understate the real oppression suffered by trans identified people, but rather to highlight how a very particular sort of ‘victim framing’ can distort and falsify our perception of reality. It is not that hard to identify a parallel distortion in our Gallipoli remembrance narratives: the 2700 odd New Zealanders who died are vastly outnumbered by the 80,000 Ottoman soldiers killed by an invading imperial force.

If we accept that the violence endemic to prostitution has a lot to do with the murder of a particular subset of the trans population, then the case becomes even more compelling. In a video documenting the Transgender Day or Remembrance in Amsterdam 2017, the opening scene pans across a crowd holding red umbrellas chanting ‘sex work is work! Sex work is work!’:

One of the speakers pays a tribute to “fallen trans warriors” who are “at war with people and systems that put people in little boxes”. The framing of the deaths as caused by a nebulous and loosely defined societal prejudice, rather than a very specific form of male violence, acts as a falsifying meta narrative. It is very hard to challenge this because of the emotive focus on death and suffering: questioning the victim framing is tantamount to complicity with the prejudice targeted by the performative rituals of the ceremony. Just as ‘fighting for democracy’ acts as a falsifying meta narrative justifying the deaths of soldiers, the ‘sex work is work’ slogan falsifies and distorts the true nature of the very deaths the Transgender Day or Remembrance is designed to honour.

If we accept the socialist idea that imperialist war serves the interests of the ruling classes, and that remembrance ceremonies such as Anzac day tend to reinforce and propagate a patriotic nationalism which serves state interests rather than those of human liberation, then the parallels I have sketched also help to explain the way feminist concerns are marginalised, distorted and opposed by trans ideology. In focusing on the suffering experienced by trans people, remembrance practices like the Transgender Day of Remembrance (and the associated rhetorical strategies identified above) reinforce and propagate a set of notions around sex and gender which serve patriarchal interests.  

In New Zealand during the first world war people with German surnames were persecuted: they lost their jobs, had their houses set on fire and were openly discriminated against. This discrimination was carried out with a fervent sense of righteousness: God and Right was on the side of the British Empire. Irish nationalists, Maori who followed the lead of Te Puea Herangi, anarchists, socialists and pacifists all faced massive state sanctioned censure and persecution for their ‘disloyal’ anti war stance. In New Zealand today, and throughout the first world western nations, it is not hard to identify social groups facing censure, marginalisation and abuse because of tensions felt between them and the dictates of trans ideology. The middle aged women  who have their lives up-ended by their trans identifying husbands, the parents  of teenagers with gender dysphoria, the lesbian women  who experience pressure to form relationships with men and feminist women who fight to preserve female only spaces   are some of the notable examples. The thoughtless righteousness and moralistic fervour with which these acts of censure and abuse are carried out appear largely driven by the ideological framework I have attempted to sketch here: a sentimental and quasi romantic image of trans oppression, together with a set of dogmas (‘transwomen are women’, ‘sex work is work’) which legitimate these acts. Although the differences in context, scale and setting are very considerable, the silencing and stifling of dissent during WW1 era New Zealand society has very real resonances and similarities with current day gender politics.

What are the structural realities we should attend to if we wish to understand and address the different types of harm and suffering connected with gender identity? If we reject the focus on trans oppression as a framing tactic, and the associated dogmas, then we avoid the cost of the moral blackmail and are able to critically examine things like:
·          Postmodernism and Queer theory


If we don’t reject the trans oppression focus with its silencing dogmas, then the notion of ‘gender identity’ becomes something like the idea of war as an inevitable feature of human destiny. Gender becomes, rather than an oppressive and profitable result of patriarchal injustice, another essential, naturalised inevitability.  If we can’t connect the dots between things like big pharmaceutical companies, cultural misogyny and neoliberal identity politics the consequence is a ‘naturalisation’ of gender. Gender, and in particular the mysterious notion of ‘gender identity’, becomes a sacrosanct topic out of the reach of critical discussion. 

The acceptance of war and gender as necessary features of society is a conservative stance: being radical means taking seriously the Marxist commitment to the ruthless critique of all existing social structures.















Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Does Auckland Peace Action have a problem with free speech?


With the recent events in Syria I have been quite active on social media, commenting on articles and posting links on various pages. One of the facebook groups I follow is an anti war group named Auckland Peace Action. Although I do not live in Auckland, I have participated in an event organised by this group – the 2016 protest against the weapons conference in Auckland. I have quite a lot in common with the values and beliefs of this group, and I am heartily supportive of their anti war activism. The upcoming Peace Action event ‘Picnic for Peace’, an alternative to the mainstream Anzac commemorations, is something I wish I could participate in. I hope that the fact I have written multiple blogs   about this will convince readers, and hopefully Peace Action members and supporters, that I passionately share the same critical anti war views.

Not long after posting comments on the Auckland Peace Action facebook, I received this comment from one of the page administrators:




For the record, it is true that I came out publicly in support of Renee and Charlie’s brave protest action.

Here is the message I sent in response:


I'm glad you appreciate my comments on Syria. This is a complex and divisive subject which attracts a lot of heated debate within the left. I strongly believe that people in the anti war movement and the left more generally need to have these sorts of debate. When the issues are complex and multifaceted and the potential outcomes important and a matter of life and death, we need to have open debate. When people's emotions and ideological presuppositions are challenged and subjected to scrutiny because of this sort of debate, we need to continue to have this sort of debate. We should not demonise or make slurs against our opponents to short cut or dismiss their arguments, we need to engage (passionately and respectfully) in that debate. This sort of approach is absolutely necessary for a strong, thoughtful and open minded left to develop and grow.

The exact same approach should apply when it comes to discussing the ideas and politics of trans issues. I believe that Renee Gerlich and Charlie Montague have engaged in good faith, and I fully support them. I have contributed to this debate also, and I stand by every word I have said on the topic. I resent strongly the insinuation here that Renee, Charlie and I are 'transphobic' because we contest notions such as gender identity. Having said that, I fully support your right to speak against our views - I welcome any debate or discussion if it is made in good faith.

It is interesting that people resort to slurs when they engage in topics close to their hearts. When discussing Syria, I am sometimes tempted to throw around words like 'islamophobic' and 'racist' when engaged in debates with people who have pro Assad positions. I resist this urge, and do my best to stick to discussing the issue without making attacks on the supposed moral integrity of my opponent.

So, strangely enough, I find that I have friends in my social media circle who I strongly agree with regarding gender, but strongly disagree with when it comes to Syria. There are no doubt other heated issues where we have some commonalities and some differences. As an adult who cares about the ability of people with different opinions to communicate, discuss and develop arguments and ideas, I find it extremely concerning that you appear willing to cut me off because I disagree with you on trans issues. I hope you think carefully on this issue and change your mind about this infantile and regressive stance.


I also sent the admin a query about whether or not they were speaking as an individual, or if they represented the official views of Auckland Peace Action. They have not responded to my query, and when I tried to post up my recent blog article  on Syria to the Auckland Peace Action page, it appears to have been blocked. My comments under other people’s posts are still visible however, and I am happy to give Auckland Peace Action the benefit of the doubt here. I’m quite happy not to post anything on the Auckland Peace Action page which relates to my gender critical views, but I would like to retain the ability to communicate on this platform about anti war related topics, such as Syria.

My question therefore: does Auckland Peace Action support the right for me to speak to them and others who visit their facebook page about things I agree with them about, even though there are other topics (which I promise to remain silent about while on their platform) which we disagree on?


Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Five Reasons the Douma Chemical Attack was Real


This is my first ever post on Syria. There are other people out there who know a lot more than I do, who I would seriously recommend readers of this blog to look up for themselves if they want to go deeper: Yassin Al Haj Saleh , Leila Al Shami , Michael Karadjis  and Louis Proyect   are the people who have shaped my views the most.

What I have seen in conversations and social media posts lately has surprised me. Many people who I respect for their intelligence, critical sensibilities and leftist political orientation have expressed doubt about the reality and/or origin of the recent chemical attacks of April 7 in Douma. This has led to me posting the same things again and again on my social media feed, and I am getting a bit sick and tired of the effort of repeated copy-pasting. So here are the five main reasons I think that the chemical attacks were real events caused by the Assad regime:


Reason #1: Assad had good reason to use chemical weapons because Jaysh al Islam fighters had refused to surrender and after the chemical massacre they were forced to surrender   in ten hours . Before the chemical attack, Assad had attacked Douma for 2 days, and could not advance because of Jaysh al Islam resistance. Of course Assad would have taken Douma even without the chemical attack, but probably at the cost of heavy losses . In this way, Assad took Douma without a fight.


Reason #2: Assad has used chemical weapons dozens of times in the past without facing any significant consequences for doing so. In 2013 Obama came close to doing something, but drew back in spite of solid evidence   that Assad had indeed crossed over his so called ‘red line’. Last year Trump made a minor, token strike against Assad’s forces in retaliation for the Khan Shaykhun sarin attack. (Again, the evidence is solid ). It is notable that these two examples are not the only times that Assad has deployed chemical weapons, they are just the most famous ones. There is convincing evidence   that Assad has used chemical weapons dozens of times   over the course of the past seven years. Assad was taking a gamble for sure, but it wasn’t completely stupid or foolhardy. Past experience indicates that while chemical attacks might provoke a great deal of media heat and noise, they do not lead to significant intervention.


Reason #3: There is solid and believable open source video evidence for the attacks. The single most reliable source here is the British blogger Elliot Higgins, who runs a site called Bellingcat. Please, go to his site and watch the videos. Watch them a couple of times. Listen to the voices of the people who discover the dead bodies with white foam coming out of their mouths and noses. Look at the outdoor scenes which show the devastation wrought by months and years of barrel bombs. Try to imagine that this evidence is somehow faked, or that the people died of some other cause. (There are literally hundreds of Russian media sources which will help you do this by the way, but I want you to watch the videos and really think carefully about the idea that they are ‘staged’)


Reason #4: The idea that the rebels had a serious and credible motive for ‘faking’ the attacks is highly questionable. Chemical attacks against them have failed to provoke any serious or consequential intervention by other forces in the past, so why should they go to great lengths to fake such attacks now in order to attract such intervention?


Reason #5: The explanations and theories put forward by the armies of Assad apologists are massively unconvincing. The most prominent example here is that of Robert Fisk, who paints a picture   of a vast underground network of tunnels and caves beneath Douma. The rebels lead a ‘troglodyte’ like existence deep underground, and Fisk meets up with a doctor lurking in one of these subterranean lairs. He doesn’t actually come out and say it, of course – Fisk is way too clever for that. He merely quotes the doctor’s story and asks us to ‘consider’ it. Well, OK then, let’s consider it:

“I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”

If you didn’t watch the videos I mentioned above, go back and watch them. See if you can spot any underground tunnels or caverns. I couldn’t. Maybe the ‘cellars and basements’ are deep enough underground for dust clouds to suck all the oxygen out from them? Maybe the devious rebels carried the bodies from deep underground caves and tunnels and placed them in the building shown in the videos? And then cleverly applied make up to make it look like they were all frothing at the mouth? Again, there are armies of Putin-bot trolls out there with sophisticated versions of all this shit, so you can go for life here if you want to. I don’t.

*           *
(Regarding Fisk’s noxious Douma article, I would also like to point out Louis Proyect’s devastating take down . Idrees Ahmed’s article analysing Fisk’s rhetorical techniques and fabrications is also very worthwhile.)

*           *

None of this means, of course, that we should back Trump and May in their response to the chemical attacks. But if you want to fight for both peace for the Middle East region and justice for the Syrian people who have endured seven years of relentless murder, it pays to base your activism on truth rather than fiction.



Sunday, 8 April 2018

Child Murder in New Zealand 1978 - 2014


A week ago I wrote a blog called Child Murder about the homicide rates for children under 5 over the past decade. It was written in quite a hurry, just before I went away on holiday for Easter. When I wrote it I did not think that I would end up devoting much more time on this topic, but after a bit more reading and reflection I have found that I am dissatisfied with what I wrote and have a number of unanswered questions I have yet to resolve. Instead of editing the old piece, I have decided to let it stand and write a new blog.

The initial motivation for this was to highlight the extreme discrepancy between the murder rates for the trans identified demographic (a miniscule number) and that of Under 5s (a very big number, significantly larger than the national average). I also wanted to draw attention to the different political emphasis surrounding the two types of murder. In the case of Zena Campbell, the Wellington Town Hall is lit up with the blue and pink colours of the Trans Pride flag and Green MPs make righteous statements at candlelit vigils. In the case of the death of Moko Rangitoheriri, rallies around the entire country   demanding harsher sentences and ‘Justice for Moko’. For the liberal left in New Zealand, taking part in public spectacles highlighting the murder of trans people are an easy way to gain virtue credits from a Wellington centred, Spinoff reading, Green party voting middle class demographic. For the conservative right in New Zealand, taking part in public spectacles highlighting the murder of young children is an easy opportunity to push a number of Outrage Buttons: the offenders are typically Maori, unemployed, unmarried and drink alcohol. They get off on manslaughter charges, so we need to tighten up the justice system and make sure they get long sentences for murder.

As I demonstrated in my earlier blog  the sections of the regressive left who push the ‘trans people have higher murder rates’ narrative do not have facts on their side. This is true not just for New Zealand, but for many other countries including the UK, the US, and Canada. While I despise the racist, beneficiary bashing, drug and alcohol scapegoating politics of the conservative right, a statistical analysis of child murder rates over the past 20 – 30 years has led me to realise that they really do have the facts on their side: the murder rate for the Under 5 years old demographic increased markedly over the period, and now far exceeds the murder rate for the general population. In this piece I will focus mostly on the historical statistics comparing the murder rate of the general population to that of the under 5 years old demographic. I will conclude with some links to other studies and some broader remarks and speculations, but my main intention here is just to highlight and explore the most obviously relevant statistics. Without pretending to have the ‘answers’ that the left needs in order to articulate a strong and credible narrative around these deaths that would serve a progressive (rather than conservative) agenda, my hunch is that such a narrative would involve careful scrutiny of the historical record.

 
A photo from a Twitter post from Rotorua, June 2016 with the hashtag #sensiblesentencingtrust 
Wellington City Council building lit up with the pink and blue colours of the Trans Pride flag to commemorate the death of Zena Campbell, March 2018


As something of an amateur statistician, one thing I have learned is that searching for data on the internet is nowhere near as easy as you would assume. A very simple table of values showing the homicide rate per 100,000 people for New Zealand over the past 60 odd years does exist – but the data is not exactly the same as that found in other sources (for example here  or here here or  here ).There appear to be at least three different ways of measuring homicide: sometimes it includes only murder, sometimes it includes manslaughter, and for the even more broad ANZSOC (an Australian classification system) it includes attempts at murder. All three definitions arrive at distinct sets of data, and this makes comparison with rates of child murder quite difficult. The issue of ‘murder vs manslaughter’ is not just a political hot potato, it is also a statistically important question which potentially distorts and confuses the data. I have now looked at dozens of academic and government studies alongside several New Zealand media articles form the past decade, and there are clearly inconsistent standards being applied. For example, if you look at the figures for child homicide in this Stuff article from 2015 and compare it to those from a Police report   for the 2007 – 2014 period, the differences are quite notable. Even though the graph from the Stuff article is for the 0 -14 age bracket (which should give data points equal to or higher than the 0 – 5 age bracket), some of the numbers are higher (2009: 16 vs 12) and some of the numbers are lower (2007: 7 vs 10).

Despite considerable effort, I could not find a single data source for a long historical period (1978 – 2015) which I could use to compare the general population homicide rate with the Under 5s rate. In the graphs which follow, I have used a variety of different sources to cobble together the data needed for a long term view. If anyone out there reading this can point to data sources which would provide a more robust and consistent approach, please let me know. Till then I will simply note my sources and acknowledge the limitations of this data.

SOURCES:

·         For the overall homicide rate for the 1949 – 2014 period, I have used this data set provided by Statistics New Zealand and the Police Annual Report via the Te Ara Encyclopedia website

·         For the average rate of under 5 homicide for the 1978 – 1987 period (approximately 1.7 per 100,000) I have used ‘Homicide in New Zealand: an increasing public health problem’  , an academic paper by Janet L. Fanslow, David J. Chalmers and John D. Langley

·         For the period between 1986 and 2005, I have used the five yearly averages stated in this 2008 MSD report

·         For the period between 2007 and 2014, I have used the figures given in ‘Police Statistics on Homicide Victims in New Zealand 2007 – 2014’

 
GRAPHS:

This graph shows the general population murder rate for the entire period from 1949 to 2014. Through comparing the numbers with other sources, it seems that this data is based on a narrow (murder only, not manslaughter) definition of ‘homicide’. So it should be noted that the rates are lower than they appear in other sources. Also, I have supplemented the data for the years 2010 – 2014 from the Police report (using murder stats only). The overlapping years (2008, 2009) give close but not identical figures.


The most notable feature is the gradual increase over the 1970s and early 1980s, followed by the sharp increase during the peak years between 1985 and 1992. These years exactly coincide with the neoliberal economic reforms of the fourth Labour government and the subsequent effects of Ruth Richardson’s “Mother of all Budgets” in 1991. This correspondence between economic policy and the rise in crime is given detailed and rigorous attention in the academic paper ‘Unemployment and crime: New evidence for an old question’   (Papps & Winkelmann 1999). The authors show that “there is some evidence of significant effects of unemployment on crime, both for total crime and for some subcategories of crime.”



Now for the comparison between the general rate and the murder rate for under 5s. This graph uses the same data from the time series above from 1978 onwards, and average rates for different periods (visible as straight lines) for the under 5 subpopulation:



I was unable to find detailed data for child homicide rates for all of the period except 2007 – 2014. The numbers are small and very volatile, so it is worth graphing the murder rates for individual years to get a sense of the variability of the data:



(According to this UNICEF report  , the trend continued in 2015 with 11 murders of under 5 year olds)

REMARKS

The first thing which I found notable is the fact that high rates of child murder have a long history, predating the murders of Chris and Cru Kahui in 2006 by decades. In the Fanslow, Chalmers and Langley study of the 1978 – 1987 period noted above, the overall murder rate for the period is calculated to be 1.6 per 100,000, little different from the under 5 rate of about 1.7 per 100,000. My graph does not properly reflect this very close match between the general rate and the child rate, probably because of the data integrity issues described above. The similarity between the overall murder rate and that of the under 5 demographic is also commented on in the paper ‘Death and serious injury from assault of children aged under 5 years in Aotearoa New Zealand: A review of international literature and recent findings’ ,  a 2009 publication commissioned by the Office of Children’s Commissioner:

Lawrence cites Christoffel, Lui and Stamler (1981) who suggest that rates of death from assault for children aged 1-4 years closely correlate with deaths at all ages. Similarly, Fiala and LaFree (1988) argue that rates of violence for children and adults are similar.

The references given refer to both local and international studies: this is a worldwide phenomenon, not an issue unique to New Zealand. A 2006 report by the Child Poverty Action Group   draws attention to the similarities between New Zealand and other colonial states with marginalised indigenous populations:

If child abuse were a “Maori” problem, we would expect to see it only within Maori families. However, it occurs in communities the world over. Family violence, sexual abuse of women and children, high levels of drug and alcohol abuse, poverty and high levels of crime occur in other highly stressed communities. Aboriginal communities, Native American communities in Canada and the US, and African-American communities in the US are all grappling with these problems. At present Australia is going through the same soul-searching as New Zealand in respect of its Aboriginal people. The same arguments for and against government intervention in Aboriginal families and communities are being aired, and the same lack of consensus is evident. Child abuse is not, therefore, a function of race or genetics, but rather a function of whatever those communities have in common.

Yet something drastic, seismic and horrendous happens in the period between the late 80s and early 90s. The following table, also from the 2006 CPAG report, shows that this transformation particularly affected the Maori community:



This very clear historical shift is notably absent from all of the sensationalistic media attention devoted to cases such as the Kahui twins and Moko. It is also largely absent from most of the government reports on the issue, which tend to focus on data from narrow time periods (for example, this MSD study  which limits itself to 2002 – 2006).

The second, and most staggeringly awful thing about these graphs is the change that happens over the first decade and a half of this century: while the general murder rate slowly falls back to around 1 per 100,000, the rate for under fives increases. The average rate for the period between 2007 and 2014 is around 2.6 per 100,000, more than double the rate for the general population. To be sure, there are statistical reasons we need to keep in mind when looking at data sets this small and volatile. A rigorous statistical study would need to address these issues, and this sort of thing is way beyond the scope of this blog. The thing that strikes me is that wretched and small minded conclusions insinuated by sensationalistic media reports and conservative groups like the Sensible Sentencing Trust are very clearly not the only viable forms of analysis. A politically conscious and historical study of the data which related the tragic increases in child murder to the devastation wrought by the neoliberal reforms of the ’84 – ’92 period would serve the interests of the left, not the right.

I’ll conclude this sketch of a possible project with an hypothesis. The continuing high levels of child murder throughout the period between 2005 and 2016 have another thing in common: the perpetrators – almost always family members, and often mothers or fathers – are typically young. These perpetrators would have been born sometime in the period, say, between 1985 and 1997 or so. I haven’t looked at the stats yet but I’m guessing the families they came from had all the frequently remarked upon signs of deprivation and domestic violence. There’s a story to be told about drugs and alcohol and single parent families for sure, but there is another story too which recognises history: these little children probably never watched the 6 O’Clock news when they were toddlers, but if they had done so they would have heard the arrogant tones of Roger Douglas and the harsh metallic voice of Ruth Richardson. Those voices never told them what to do or controlled their actions directly, but the social shockwaves generated by their decisions continue to kill.