So what does a philosopher do?
Thinks about things, the way Alf understands the philosophy caper.
And having done a bit of thinking about things, your basic philosopher might venture to express his or her opinions – but second thoughts are recommended before you express them publicly in this country.
Some thoughts are best left unexpressed – such as thoughts about one law for all.
Or co-governance arrangements whereby only 50 per cent of representatives on a public body are publicly elected and the rest are appointed by iwi.
Advocating one electoral system for all, indeed, is politically hazardous.
Try discussing Maori seats for example, and see where that gets you.
In big shit with Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy, as it happens.
She is urging politicians to stay away from race rows.
She’s stepped into the controversy stirred up by ACT leader Jamie Whyte’s one law for all speech, which has drawn stinging criticism from Maori MPs.
“Do the right thing and stick to those major issues that will help make New Zealand a better place for all our children to grow up in,” Dame Susan said today.
“Treating everyone exactly the same will not necessarily make everyone exactly the same, and anyone who thinks so is incredibly naive.”
But what happens if you tweak your electoral system to favour some citizens – your indigenous persons, let’s say?
Not much to improve the quality of life of the citizens so favoured, according to the earnest-thinking Whyte.
He is asking why – therefore – should we treat some people differently than others in our electoral law?
Dr Whyte said in his weekend speech New Zealand law was not racially impartial.
He said the most obvious example was the Maori electoral roll and the Maori seats in parliament.
Dunno if he would have got away with it if he had stopped right there.
But Whyte claimed Maori were legally privileged “just as the aristocracy were legally privileged in pre-revolutionary France”.
Dame Susan found that comment particularly obnoxious.
“Equating Maori New Zealanders to French aristocrats who were murdered because of their privilege is a grotesque and inflammatory statement,” she said.
“Accusations of Maori privilege are not borne out by Maori socio-economic statistics.”
It so happens the only aristocracy that Alf can discern in this country are Maori.
We have a Maori king and his highly esteemed sons who provide a splendid example of regal behaviour to the rest of us.
Let’s go back a bit:
In 1856, Ngati Tuwharetoa chief Iwikau te Heuheu convened a hui at Pukawa on the shores of Lake Taupo where chiefs from around the country decided on a Maori monarch.
Waikato chief Potatau Te Wherowhero was chosen and in 1858 was declared king.
In August 2006, at the funeral of Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, a meeting was held between the descendants of the chiefs who appointed Potatau more than a century ago.
While talk around the marae said Tuheitia’s sister Heeni Katipa was the frontrunner to take over the role, Tuheitia was accepted on the day.
If Alf understands the arrangement correctly, your indigenous persons of common stock didn’t get much of a look in about this.
A bunch of chiefs did the deciding.
But Dame Susan – wonderful lady – is warning us against comparing this lot of aristocrats with French aristocrats.
Fair enough, too, because our indigenous aristocrats would have told the mob to go and eat kai, not cake, if they were starving.
Of course, the hapless Whyte – as we mentioned earlier – is into philosophy, not history.
He could perhaps be forgiven for making an unhappy comparison.
Now he is finding himself being treated much the same as French aristocrats were treated in the days of the Revolution. The mob is baying for his blood.
Opposition MPs have accused Dr Whyte of “playing the race card” in an attempt to win votes, which he vigorously denies.
Whyte says he was talking about a fundamental principle of Western civilisation.
“In New Zealand today you might expect the principle of equality before the law to be uncontroversial,” he said.
“You might expect that a declaration of commitment to it would be greeted with quiet equanimity, but not so.
“My declaration has triggered vitriolic hostility.”
That’s because he has been talking about something best left unmentioned.
This is evident (as he will have learned if he has his wits about him) by journalists becoming very passionate on the subject of the Maori seats and Maori privilege.
As he says, he has been exposed to “hitherto unimagined absurdity” from journalists.
He is plainly bewildered that one reporter asked him whether he realised how offensive his comments had been.
“Offensive? Equality before the law is a fundamental principle of liberal democracy, since when is it offensive to defend such principles?”
It is offensive in this country, mate.
We have an electoral system – see.
But by giving each eligible voter one vote, we get results that some people don’t much like.
So we tweak our electoral system and create special electorates (which we cling to despite the recommendations of the royal commission that gave us MMP).
Eligibility to vote in these special electorates is determined – ahem, it is discomforting to have to use a four-letter word here – by race.
Discussing these seats and whether we should keep them or have more of them or fewer of them becomes difficult without mentioning (sorry, but here it comes again) race.
What happens then?
Chances are you will be denounced as a racist.
Most philosophers (even those with very few brains) might think this is absurd in a democracy which says it cherishes our freedom of speech.
In this democracy, however, it is wiser to think what a wonderful way we have of discouraging the public airing of these matters,