You commit the “no true Kiwi” fallacy by insisting that bigotry isn’t the real Kiwi way. Doing so isn’t just flawed reasoning, it ignores those for whom bigotry is a very real part of their lives. Instead: listen, re-examine, aspire, and be a helper.

The “no true Scotsman” fallacy

“No true Scotsman” is an informal logical fallacy – an error in reasoning. Typically, it comes up when one person puts forward a generalization that someone else is trying to refute. The example in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy goes like this:

Smith: All Scotsmen are loyal and brave.

Jones: But McDougal over there is a Scotsman, and he was arrested by his commanding officer for running from the enemy.

Smith: Well, if that's right, it just shows that McDougal wasn't a TRUE Scotsman.

The issue, of course, is that by making the “no true Scotsman” claim, Smith is modifying their claim rather than justifying it.

The “no true Kiwi” fallacy

For some of us, it’s tempting after the awful events of last Friday, to adopt a similar pattern of reasoning, something like:

  • No true Kiwi would have done something like that; or
  • That’s not the sort of thing that happens in the real New Zealand.

It’s made all the easier when it turns out that there’s one suspect, and he’s an Australian. So not even a Kiwi in the first place. But, as the discussion turns to some of the things that Kiwis have said and done that contribute to a climate of bigotry and islamophobia, it’s tempting to fall back on the no true Kiwi fallacy, and say that they weren’t expressions of true Kiwi values. This is flawed reasoning in the same way that the “no true Scotsman” fallacy is.

The “no true Kiwi” fallacy ignores people’s actual experiences of New Zealand

But, there’s something more insidious about committing the “no true Kiwi” fallacy: it ignores the experiences of people who never got to live in the wonderful inclusive “true” New Zealand. That is, the desire for some to believe that we live in a place where an islamophobic terrorist attack like the one that actually happened would never have happened is so strong that it overrides their perception of reality.

And, that’s one of the factors that led to the attack happening. Anjum Rahman of the Islamic Women’s Council of NZ reports that Muslim representatives have been raising the issue of a rising alt-right threat with officials for years, and former Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy similarly stated that “The warning signs for [the] atrocity were everywhere, if only we’d looked”. The current Race Relations Commissioner doesn’t have anything to say, because we don’t have one – the position has been empty for nine months(for reasons including a legal challenge to the appointments process). Yesterday, two Muslim women were subjected to xenophobic abuse.

So, how do you avoid the “no true Kiwi” fallacy?

I guess the target audience for this piece is people who are at risk of committing the “no true Kiwi” fallacy. That would include me, a relatively well-off white New Zealander. That New Zealand can really be quite racist is not news to lots of people. If you’re not at risk of falling into “no true Kiwi” reasoning, this post isn’t here to tell you what to do. 

Here are some of the things I’m going to try and do:

Listen

Listen more, and listen better, than we have been, and keep listening. Listen to people who don’t have the privilege of everyday experiences that are consistent with a wonderful inclusive New Zealand, and listen to what they say you can do about it. Listen to people who have been telling us that something is off.

And yes, I realise that there’s a kind of irony in me using speech to advocate for listening, instead of just listening. Yes, there’s a risk that in putting my voice out there that other, more important voices, get listened to less – but I think that risk is pretty low. Perhaps this post is some sort of indulgence of little interest to anyone other than me, as I struggle to articulate what I’m thinking after last week’s awful events, and I’m not claiming to be saying anything especially new or different. But, if it’s of use to me, perhaps it’s of use to someone else.

Re-examine

In light of the listening, re-examine some of the things that you might have taken for granted, like whether it’s OK to have a rugby team called “The Crusaders”, and what freedom of speech should mean in our society. Re-examine how we think and talk about immigration. That doesn’t necessarily mean change your views, but do re-examine them. Keep re-examining as you keep listening.

Aspire

I’m not saying that you should never say things like “this is not who we are”, for example, but make them as statements of aspiration, not fact. Think about how we can achieve the aspiration. Treat other people’s statements that are clearly aspirational as aspirational but, if the moment is right, test them on what they're doing to achieve that aspiration. If you think someone is making a claim about how New Zealand is in fact that doesn’t match what things are really like, think about how you can challenge them. 

Don’t just look for the helpers, be the helpers

Beloved USA Childrens’ entertainer Fred Rogers, whose thinking many New Zealand parents (including me) have recently encountered via Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhoodwrote:

I was spared from any great disasters when I was little, but there was plenty of news of them in newspapers and on the radio, and there were graphic images of them in newsreels.

For me, as for all children, the world could have come to seem a scary place to live. But I felt secure with my parents, and they let me know that we were safely together whenever I showed concern about accounts of alarming events in the world.

There was something else my mother did that I’ve always remembered: “Always look for the helpers,” she’d tell me. “There’s always someone who is trying to help.” I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.

“Look for the helpers” is a message of comfort for grown-ups to tell children. And, I’m proud to say, there’s plenty of evidence of helpers in the aftermath of the Christchurch white supremacist terror attack. But, again, “look for the helpers” is a message of comfort for grown-ups to children, even thought it can be comforting for grown-ups too. For grown-ups, our responsibility to find a way to be, and help, the helpers. That’s not so comforting, but avoiding the “no true Kiwi" fallacy is not about comfort.

Conclusion

Those of us in the privileged position of having an everyday New Zealand experience free from bigotry must resist the temptation of feeling that our experiences represent the true New Zealand, and the recent terror attacks in Christchurch somehow happened not here. Listen, re-examine, aspire, and be a helper.

Comments (8)

by Lee Churchman on March 20, 2019
Lee Churchman

Why do you imagine that everyone doesn't already know this? How many New Zealanders, even counting those who hold bigoted views, condone murdering people on the grounds of their race or religion?

by Simon Connell on March 20, 2019
Simon Connell

I'm not quite what sure what the "this" is in "Why do you imagine that everyone doesn't already know this?"

re: How many New Zealanders condone mudering people on the grounds of their race or religion?

I don't know - not many, but not none, I guess?

by Lee Churchman on March 20, 2019
Lee Churchman

That many people in Zealand have bigoted views or sentiments. That's obvious to pretty much any NZ adult. Even the people who have them tend to be aware that they are socially disapproved of.

I don't know - not many, but not none, I guess?

Do you know the difference between hard and soft generalisations? When someone says that New Zealanders abhor murdering people on grounds of race or religion, they are making a soft generalisation. The 'No True Scotsman' thing doesn't work on soft generalisations. 

Do you think it is unreasonable to make a soft generalisation that New Zealanders (whatever their level of personal bigotry) abhor killing defenceless people because of their religion? So when people say that this crime does not reflect NZ values, they are correct, are they not?

by Rex Ahdar on March 20, 2019
Rex Ahdar

The fact is the shooter is an Australian. The fact is he was not a New Zealander. He is not one of us....fact.

It is a matter of opinion whether a New Zealander could have commited such a heinous terrorist atrocity. I dare say one could (God forbid). But so far, none has.

I reject the guilt by association or societal milieu innuendo. 

Some New Zealanders have bigoted and hateful attitudes to people of a different religion, race, creed, nationality and so on. Some say obnoxious things to recent immigrants, some act like complete numpties. But to say, as Dame Susan Devoy says in the linked article, that we "have helped normalise hatred in our country" is incorrect in my opinion. You may concur with her opinion; I do not. The Toby Morris piece is similarly tendentious. "NZ is a country built on racist colonial violence", he says. Some truth in that, but only a half (or quarter) truth.

What the New South Welshman did rests with him and him alone.

May I refer you to an excellent blog article written by Chris Trotter, entitled, "What Happened Here?" (Bowalley Road, 17 March 2019)

http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.com/2019/03/what-happened-here.html

What he writes expresses my view, albeit far more eloquently.

by Simon Connell on March 20, 2019
Simon Connell

@Lee I think it's possible to accept that some/many New Zealanders have bigoted views, but underestimate the extent to which bigotry is prevalent in New Zealand. And people can be aware of bigoted views but unaware of how, or how often, they are expressed.

When someone says that New Zealanders abhor murdering people on grounds of race or religion, they are making a soft generalisation.

In what I've been reading about recent events, I don't think I've seen anything much like "sure, we're really pretty racist in New Zealand, but at least we don't go around killing people for it". Robyn Malcolm, for example, tweeted:

NZ is a open loving welcoming diverse country. This is not us.

That is, the "this is not us" sentiment is directed at not being bigoted as well as not killing people because of bigotry. I don't think it's helpful to focus on the latter, especially when it seems like there's a productive conversation happening about the former.

So when people say that this crime does not reflect NZ values, they are correct, are they not?

If by NZ values you mean something like "the values that many kiwis aspire to hold, even admitting that many people have bigoted views" then the statement is probably correct. But, why should that be the standpoint for determining what "NZ values" are? If the reference point is something "the values that are evident from how Muslims are actually treated in New Zealand", then the answer might be different.

So yes, it's possible to make a soft generalisation like "New Zealanders abhor murdering people on grounds of race or religion" which, as a soft generalisation, is not wrong just because there may be one or more New Zealanders who are supportive of murdering people on the grounds of race or religion. But - what's the point of making that claim? 

by Lee Churchman on March 20, 2019
Lee Churchman

In what I've been reading about recent events, I don't think I've seen anything much like "sure, we're really pretty racist in New Zealand, but at least we don't go around killing people for it".

Well, you suggested that the racist views of many New Zealanders create a climate which leads people to think that killing people over their religion is warranted. But almost all New Zealanders, even most of the racist ones, think it is horribly wrong to do this. You can't just cherry pick one value and ignore others. Therefore, it's just as valid to say that the views of almost all New Zealanders create a social climate where people think that it is never warranted to kill people over their religion (and that is in fact the case, because that's what people think). 

That's essentially the point: this crime is so far beyond the pale that even the model citizens of the Mongrel Mob are utterly appalled. 

I don't think it's helpful to focus on the latter, especially when it seems like there's a productive conversation happening about the former.

That's a separate point. I agree, it is good that this event is forcing New Zealanders to confront everyday racism (and there are many reasons to do that). I just don't buy the argument you gave in your piece. 

by Simon Connell on March 22, 2019
Simon Connell

@Lee I'm not sure if we are really in substantial disagreement - it seems to me you're responding to an argument I wasn't trying to make. What this piece is trying to respond to is this:

  • Christchurch terror attacks occur;
  • Person A's response is that the events are so horrible that they're alien to the New Zealand they live in and didn't happen in the "true" New Zealand;
  • Person B says something like - hold on, from personal experience there's actually quite a bit of bigotry in New Zealand society and it's not actually that unimaginable to me that this could have happened here;
  • If Person A is more interested in reformulating their claim about "true" New Zealand to make it "correct" in some sense than listening to what Person B has to say about their experiences of living in New Zealand, then they're going down the "no true Kiwi' path.

Karl du Frense's recent column "Some would paint us as a nation of hateful racists - that's not the real NZ" is pretty much exactly what I'm talking about here. Du Frense objects to the following position, which he says has emerged:

[W]e are a hateful nation of racists, white supremacists and Islamophobes.

Not only that, but the massacre was no surprise. A sudden outburst of violent race hatred was bound to happen. Rather like the cataclysmic earthquake we are constantly warned to be prepared for, it was not a question of if, but when.

Maybe some people are arguing that, but what I've been seeing is more like this:

  • Not that New Zealand is a "hateful nation of racists", but bigotry is more widespread than some people like to think; and
  • Not that an event like the Christchurch shooting was "inevitable" but that it was not as inconvieveable that something like that could happen here as some people seem to think.
by Lee Churchman on March 22, 2019
Lee Churchman

Not that New Zealand is a "hateful nation of racists", but bigotry is more widespread than some people like to think;

That's true. DuFresne (of whom I am not an admirer) is also correct when he says that some people (the usual suspects) are attempting to portray New Zealand as a white supremacist country, conflating the various meanings and intensities of that phrase. They're also trying to blame the attacks on our "culture of bigotry", which for reasons stated above I think is a poor argument (and in addition the shooter was radicalised overseas, which makes most of these arguments pointless, because the idea that NZers would do this is still speculation). 

Personally, I think the crime was pretty inconceviable for practical reasons. It's not that we don't have a few racists in NZ who would quite like to do it (Paul Spoonley estimates that there are less than a thousand). 

  • NZ's far right tend to be Walter Mitty types and just aren't organised or competent enough to pull off such an attack. I still think this is true.
  • New Zealand doesn't allow military-style firearms without an E endorsement. As far as I knew, and I think my view would have been a common one, the post-Aramoana law changes were supposed to guarantee this. I had no idea it was so easy to get around (and I spent quite a while reading up on firearms law a while back, but I don't own guns or go to gun stores). 
  • The firearm owning community would notice oddballs and report them (this apparently happened in this case, but the cops didn't do anything).  

I guess like most people I had no idea that a foreign citizen would choose NZ to mount an Islamaphobic attack and be able to get the weapons and pull it off. I'm still wondering whether this person had arms training overseas (again if this happened in NZ, it would have been noticed).  

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