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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.