When it is time to move on from anger

It’s been a month for H’s in hot water. First Rodney Hide for perk-bingeing actions not fitting perk-busting principles. Then the man with two H’s, Hone Harawira.

Harawira got into hot water, initially, for making cultural use of a trip to Europe: a day in Paris connecting with his heritage.

Paris is Europe. New Zealand is an offshoot of Europe, as Aotearoa is of Polynesia. Both cultures are the heritage of all of us and those two heritages reach back beyond our ancestors’ arrivals.

Harawira is best known for his vigorous assertion of his Polynesian (Maori) heritage and his anger at British injustice. His mother, Titewhai Harawira, on radio on Tuesday saw continuing injustice in the disproportionate numbers of Maori in low socioeconomic deciles.

There is plenty for both to be angry about. Iwi signed up to the Treaty of Waitangi in the expectation of new technology and better living. But once the settlers got control and had the numbers, they stripped iwi of their asset bases and denigrated the culture.

There was also much in that invasion that was good and useful and modernising and sooner or later Maori were, like it or not, British or no British, going to join a world that was rapidly globalising in the nineteenth century.

But stripping an asset base and denigrating a culture does terrible damage. Only in the past 20 years have Maori really begun to come out the other side of that. The Treaty settlements — tokens rather than true compensation but nonetheless delivering real assets — and the rise of a new Maori professional middle class are potent modernising forces.

These represent a transition, a divide between grievance-and-victimhood and opportunity-and-development. Harawira’s political awkwardness is to park himself too often, at least in his rhetoric (as evidenced in his emails and his call for Phil Goff to be shot), on the grievance side of that transition.

Anger can energise and in that sense is more useful than apathy and resignation. But for that energy to be constructive, optimism and vision have to supersede the anger. The United States’ angry right’s vituperation of President Barack Obama does not build a confident, modern nation.

It is this transition that the Maori party has to make. It was a party born of anger. Its opportunity is to employ that energy to find ways to spring Maori from the underclass that pains Harawira’s mother.

There are signs the party is feeling its way into that role. Pita Sharples (too often still too angry) is working with Simon Power on the “drivers of crime”, which, if addressed effectively in the neighbourhood, family and pre-schools, offers hope instead of entrapment. Tariana Turia’s whanau ora programme offers the possibility of the self-help which builds individuals and communities. And here’s Harawira himself in a recent column: “Our neighbour’s children are our children and we owe them the same love and protection as our own kids deserve.”

The risk of too much of the angry Harawira is that public trust in Sharples and Turia and their party is undermined and that instead of undoing injustice, the anger invites injustice back. It has already given spurious legitimacy to anger of the anti-Obama sort, which National under John Key had deligitimised.

The crux is flexibility of ideas. The celebration this week of the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 is a telling reminder of what can happen when ideas freeze. The wall was built because rulers who were icebound in frozen ideas could not reflect their people’s aspirations. Marx’s noble ideal of the dictatorship of the proletariat had been degraded into an oppressive, and in places and at times brutal, personal dictatorship of power, privilege and ideology.

An ideology prevalent in the “west” in 1989 imputed an historical inevitability to the wall’s fall and the dissolution of the Soviet empire: that it was the result of one-sided competition with superior “western” civic and economic freedom. Some divined in the collapse the triumph of the Enlightenment and even the “end of history”.

Some recent analysis suggests the Soviet empire could have lasted a while longer and that it was a series of unpredictable events and actions which caused the collapse at the time it did. Interviews I did with American and German authorities in Berlin in mid-1988 left me convinced they both did not expect the wall to fall soon and were unenthusiastic that it should.

In turn the theories which dominated “western” thinking at that time have themselves been increasingly challenged by different thinking. They still have a powerful logic but not in their pure 1989 form.

And now the Chinese empire is resurgent. To accommodate that we will need to be firmly rooted in our heritages and for those heritages to have become joint heritages.

That is Harawira’s bigger mission, should he choose it. And his party’s. And the mission of the rest of us. The alternative is disintegration. That is the destiny rigid thinking signposts.