Tuesday, September 21, 2004


The Dominion-Post has been running a series of feature articles (sadly not online) on the theme of "are we in a moral wasteland?" The first article looks at the the changes in New Zealand society over the past thirty years and suggests that our recognition of personal freedom has resulted in a less moral society. I vehmently disagree. We live in a far more moral society than we did in 1971, and it is precisely because we have recognised individual rights and freedom and substantially eliminated discrimination.

To see just how crazy this idea of a "moral decline" is, let's look at what we've "declined" from. In the New Zealand of 1971:

  • it wasn't just legal to pay a woman less than a man for the same work - it was mandatory under most national awards
  • it was legal for shopkeepers to refuse to serve Maori or Catholics - and many did
  • beating your wife and kids was socially acceptable, and police would simply walk away from a "domestic"
  • there was "spousal immunity" for rape
  • homsexuality wasn't just illegal; juries would refuse to convict those who murdered gays (plus ca change...)

Compare this to New Zealand today: we don't allow discrimination, we protect women and children from abuse, "no" means "no", and the state does not care what happens in the bedrooms of consenting adults. That's not a "decline" - it's real moral progress. Those who do see it as a decline are either viewing the past though very thick rose-tinted glasses, or have a twisted sense of morality.

The second article in the series looks at the role of Parliament in bringing about that moral progress - and in particular at the 1986 homosexual law reform. Along the way there's the following interesting snippet:

If there was ever a moral dimension to the argument about gay sex, it was over what kind of society New Zealand would become if the Homosexual Law Reform Bill had failed, [Fran] Wilde says.

"It became increasingly clear we had to get it through because this hostility had been unleashed, this dark side of society, that, in fact, if they had triumphed would have been a huge setback for New Zealand. In the end it didn't end up being a debate about homosexuality being legalised, it was a debate about the sort of society we wanted in New Zealand. Did we want tolerance and acceptance of diversity. Or did we want an intolerant, legislative regime that reflected the bigotry of religious zealots?"

It draws the obvious parallel - we are facing exactly that sort of choice again today: between an open, tolerant and inclusive New Zealand, or one dominated by bigoted theocrats. Which New Zealand would you rather live in?