Saturday, March 21, 2009

Roasting A Dead Corpse...

Analogous to beating a dead horse...

Rather than bury my response to some comments in the comments section of the post on Getting A Taste For It, I decided to post an entry in response.

Paul Moon is a critic in his book This Horrid Practice of what he sees as the political correctness of contemporary NZ historians and some in Maoridom that seek to ignore or deny Maori cannibalism. I guess Canterbury Heritage's point is that Moon didn't go far enough.

An early blog entry I wrote here assesses Dr. Moon's claim that modern NZ historians have ignored Maori cannibalism. They have not. To which I would only add further evidence to support the claim that Dr. Moon has done nothing but knock down a straw man. Trevor Bentley's Pakeha Maori, for example treats cannibalism extensively in the context of pakeha who lived as maori in the early days of contact. In the earlier post, I noted Michael King in Moriori pulls no punches in recording the brutality of the Te Ati Awa genocide against Moriori on Rekohu/the Chathams and the associated cannibalism. See too my summary here of Anne Salmond's work in The Trial of the Cannibal Dog on cultural conflict over cannibalism on Cook's voyages.

I'm at a bit of a loss in trying to understand Canterbury Heritage's comment that Dr. Moon suffers from Imposters Syndrome. Perhaps I'm too slow to pick up the joke. Dr. Moon hardly seems one troubled by insufficient self-confidence. I would simply drop the word "syndrome" from the appellation.

If anything Dr Moon seems to suffer from a persecution complex, overreacting equally to both ill-informed and learned criticisms of his scholarship or lack thereof. It is OTT, as the young people say or rather text, to equate, as Dr. Moon does in a New Zealand Herald August 2008 interview, the critical response to his work with the Nazi book burning of the 1930s. Such hyperbole I would expect more from shock-jocks who need to fuel controversy in order to do the next round of talk shows, TV appearances etc to flog a few more copies of their book. The US is replete with such examples. Perhaps the lesson has been successfully transmitted to academic-lite institutions in New Zealand, I cannot judge.

As for Dr. Moon's claim that the New Zealand academy is academic-lite, in the Herald interview he confuses academic freedom with freedom of speech in his admiration for US protection of speech, conflating the two as somehow protected absolutely by the US constitution. New Zealand, apparently, has "no such absolute security of freedom of speech". Well, there is news for Dr. Moon: the US constitution does not provide "absolute" freedom of speech, moreover, freedom of speech only applies to the relationship between the state and the individual, private actors may - and do, all the time - restrict the exercise of speech. My private employer, for example, may restrict what I say on work time. A publisher can decline to publish my work because she does not like what I have to say. Academic freedom is a loose concept applicable only somewhat in the academy and not much beyond it. Certainly it receives no constitutional protection unless in some way the state is involved in suppressing the act of academic speech.

But there are those of us who saw the Bud-lite nature of much of the New Zealand academy a few decades back and who departed for the "home of the brave, land of the free", etc. etc. to enjoy greater academic freedom and free speech. But I'm sure the research I completed and published in 1994-96 analyzing the inherent instability of the financial derivatives markets and the consequential likelihood of an global economic collapse absent an international lender of last resort would have equally fallen on (ideologically) deaf ears in the "free market of ideas" whether it was published in the US or New Zealand.

Yes, dear readers, kuaka is an imposter: no small, trans-Pacific migratory bird at all, but a mere academic. But, do not worry for me, for I do not struggle to accept my dizzying professional success - for there has not been much of it! And, mercifully, there is so much more to life than being a mere academic.


Jayne said...

It's hard for me to comment, properly, as here in Oz the treatment of Aboriginal history has been a dogs breakfast for centuries with not one Indigenous author writing any history other than a biography or autobiography.
Most so-called academically trained historians have edited Aussie history to reflect the current fashion of the day - ignore the Aborigines completely/paint them as idiot children/portray them as the noble savage/portray them as drunks and druggies/dismiss their myths and legends/publish their myths and legends for entertainment value, etc.
The contrast between the treatment, attitudes and history of the two indigenous peoples of Maoris and Aborigines is so far apart as to be mind-numbing in their complexities.

Jayne said...

And I wasn't having a dig about academics or academically-trained historians - they just seem to flout this label to claim more credibility for their publications when some were no more than failed gardeners or language teachers with some training in areas totally unrelated to history or indigenous cultures.

kuaka said...

Fair comment(s).

And have all the digs at academics, amateur historians etc you might wish to. They're all fair game.

Canterbury Heritage said...

Paul Moon's misfortune could appear to be that he's probably aware that academics within his chosen field have few opportunities beyond this remote vanguard in the decline and fall of intellectualism. So, megaphone man succeeds with sustaining a high media profile in an obscure milieu by his ongoing flirtation with controversy.

His claim that the New Zealand academy is academic-lite might seem to be no more than a reasonably polite affirmation of Karl Popper's somewhat less than charitable opinion upon his sojourn here.

But, like most things, our mind-numbing provincialism is a two edged sword: Christchurch has become the world's least expensive place to acquire rare books of more than local interest.