The “Siege of Napier” : It’s just anthropology.

15 May 2009

 return to republican homepage

Young males roam in packs.   Older males settle down and become territorial.    Successful societies develop effective ways of sublimating or containing these instinctual behaviours, but in dysfunctional societies they become a source of violence and social instability.

Jan Molenaar was one of the young men whom the New Zealand state enlisted into its military forces and  trained to use firearms.   So far so good.   But some decades later Molenaar becomes  one of those older men whom New Zealand society has marginalised and alienated.    When the older Molenaar’s territory was “invaded” by a group of younger men in the service of the state he responded with lethal force.

The consequences are there for all to see, but will the lessons be learnt?   That seems unlikely.    The events in Napier have become the occasion for public eulogies and public denunciations, but not much in the way of reflection or serious analysis.   No one within the regime has the wit or courage to draw the connections.

Such as the manslaughter of tagger Pihema Cameron by middle aged businessman Bruce Emery.   There was considerable public sympathy for Emery, yet on an anthropological level his case is not dissimilar to that of Jan Molenaar.    Both cases involved older males reacting violently to a seemingly insignificant territorial infringement by younger males.   The obvious difference between the cases is that Cameron and his colleague were, on the available evidence, offending against the law, while Snee and his colleagues were, again on the available evidence, enforcing the law.    That in itself is sufficient to give rise to public sympathy for Emery on the one hand, and public outrage against Molenaar on the other.    But wisdom requires that we go beyond those immediate emotional reactions to find the common factors in what are essentially two very similar cases of homicide.

There are a couple of relevant  issues that demand attention.    The first is the role of military training.    Jan Molenaar, like Terence Thompson, who shot police officer Bruce McKibben, was  trained in the regime’s military forces.   Because the principal purpose of the New Zealand military is to fight in imperial wars which are devoid of any moral justification, there is little  place for profound moral judgement within the New Zealand military.   Their emphasis is on   “professionalism” - that is, the ability to kill efficiently and effectively regardless of the moral context.   That, on the face of it, is exactly how Molenaar and Thompson played out the last days of their lives.

The second issue is the alienation of a significant number of older males in New Zealand society.  In many cases they become solitary actors on the fringes of society, retaining and protecting as far as they are able their own small patch of supposedly exclusive territory, and that is the end of the matter.   But when that sense of marginalisation and territoriality are accompanied by access to weapons as in cases of Molenaar and Thompson, there can be  calamitous consequences.

This series of homicides by older men should cause New Zealanders to pause and take stock of what is happening within their society, where older, marginalised and intensely territorial males are daily confronted by groups of  younger males organised in gangs, corporations, or the institutions of state.  It is evident that New Zealand society  has no  constructive means for avoiding or resolving such basic sources of human conflict.   It is an invidious situation with the constant potential for tragic outcomes.