Indigenous electrical wiring in New Zealand

February 10, 2022 • 10:30 am

There are apparently a lot of Kiwis who agree with my view that Mātauranga Māori (“MM”), or Maori “ways of knowing”, should not be given coequal status with modern science in science classes. (It should be taught mostly as anthropology or history, with the bits of “practical knowledge” perhaps interpolated in science class.)  This is a losing battle, I know, as are most battles against forms of wokeness, but as a scientist I want to at least make my views known and try to keep science teaching on the rails. Forcing MM—a mixture of legend, theology, morality, mythology, and practical knowledge—into science class constitutes a form of “valorizing the oppressed” by giving them certain rights that make no sense in today’s world. Teaching Māori legends and myths (including creationism) as real science in biology or physics class is one of those “rights” that needs to be ditched.

Nearly every day I get emails from upset Kiwis, some with Māori heritage, who agree with me. After all, no sensible person wants to see science education in their country be watered down this way. But almost all of these people are afraid to speak up publicly or use their names. That’s because questioning the scientific nature of MM is considered a big no-no in New Zealand, and you can lose your job for it. The Royal Society of New Zealand, for instance, is still investigating two of its members for taking the stand I described above.  The disaffected Kiwis write me because I can give voice to their concerns without getting them in trouble.

Another Kiwi sent me the figure below, along with an email. I have permission to quote so long as names aren’t used. Note that this person is a lover of his country and an admirer of the Māori.

From the email:

This week I was doing some electrical updates, and thought I should first check the NZ regulations for wiring (colors, etc). All very straightforward, and the project was a success. Nonetheless, in light of some of your (absolutely correct) commentary on NZ recently, I thought you might be interested in the attached page from the regulations.  All I can say is ….. wha ????

Having lived overseas for a while, I really cannot comment very knowledgeably on New Zealand’s directions. The day to day celebration of Māori culture, and the things that make NZ so unique, are great, and even my own family use many Māori words in everyday speech that I would not have recognized in my childhood.
But the extension into other areas, such as your observations about science education, and this document I shared, add zero value and smack of opportunistic woke-ism. I simply don’t believe that a young Māori looking to become an electrician would find that path easier by thinking of electrical ground as the realm of some mythological entity.
I put a red box around the relevant bit from the New Zealand Electrical Code of Practice :

Note that there is nothing helpful or practical in this addition; what it does is analogize the practical instructions for wiring with certain terms from MM. No serious harm is done with this, but I think it shows the fealty to MM that permeates nearly every aspect of NZ life—including wiring. It is in fact kind of funny, but also sad, because it valorizes mythology by adding it to advice for electricians.

I have to add, though, that the person who sent me this stuff has good things to say about his country’s government, and I agree. Not only did they do fantastically well against Covid, but they’re doing a really good job trying to conserve their beleaguered wildlife using modern (not MM) conservation techniques. It’s a beautiful country with lovely people, and I hope to return before too long.

The last bit of the email I got:

Jacinda Arden’s leadership in the early years of her Prime Minstership have been exemplary in terms of standing against COVID and terrorist actions, with a consistency of message and direction sorely lacking in the US and UK.  And for COVID, the result is undeniable:  NZ’s total deaths over 2 years are comparable to a single day in Massachusetts with its similar population. But the challenge for her now is the transition to a re-opened country, and coping with an increasingly frustrated, impatient populace. And it is sorely costing her the polls.

27 thoughts on “Indigenous electrical wiring in New Zealand

  1. What a sad waste of time, treasure, and talent if the “compromise” reached is to publish a parallel Māori version of everything alongside what’s real. Imagine what a manual of general surgery would look like, for example.

  2. This MM insertion into NZ’s electrical code reminds me of a great science fiction book, “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Walter M. Miller Jr. It was published in 1959 and is a fantastic read. Science has been mostly eliminated from the world due to it, among other things, being blamed for an apocalypse. Religious monks keep science alive over hundreds of years. Working in secret, they reproduce scientific literary works by hand and with great reverence. One of these is an electrical schematic originally drafted by one A. Leibowitz. The monks have no idea what the schematic means. Looks like they’ll be needing such monks soon in NZ.

      1. “Praise God, from Whom electrons flow!
        Praise Him, the source of all we know!
        Whose order’s in the stellar host!
        For in machines, He is the Ghost!”

        Thanks for the reference!

    1. It should be noted that, partly due to the monastic order of Saint Leibowitz and their archives of science and technology, Miller’s tale ends with yet another revival, and yet another — apparently final == atomic apocalypse.

  3. On the other hand, juxtaposing science and non-science in the classroom may lead to the general dismissal of the mythology. It’ll waste time but the collisions and resulting cognitive dissonance students will undoubtedly experience may have the opposite of the intended “respect” for “other ways of knowing.”

    1. That sounds reasonable. I can imagine a teacher explaining an MM bit of knowledge to the class, following it with something like, “We now have a way that works better …”, supplying the scientific version.

    2. So do you suggest, then, that when I teach Evolution I devote half my class to creationism? I do mention it and how Darwin dispelled it, but that’s a 1.5 hour lecture. Should we teach Holocaust denialism in history class? If not, why not? That appears to be what you’re arguing.

      1. Don’t forget to give equal time to the Tower of Babel theory about the origin of different languages in linguistics classes…

      2. No, I wouldn’t suggest doing so. Like I said, it’s a waste. My only point was that the intended consequences may not be what the proponents of MM ways of knowing were hoping for. I can almost hear the students rolling their eyes at much of the material.

      3. I do mention it and how Darwin dispelled it, but that’s a 1.5 hour lecture.

        That’s a lecture I’d like to attend. I guess, since I read WEIT, I already have in a way.

        Should we teach Holocaust denialism in history class? If not, why not? That appears to be what you’re arguing.

        I think it would be a good case study to get people thinking about historical evidence. It was only when I found out about holocaust deniers that I really started to think about how I know the Holocaust happened. Obviously, the evidence for the Holocaust is overwhelming, but the same does not apply to other areas of “common knowledge” – the existence of Jesus being the first example that comes to mind.

    3. Yes exactly your first sentence. Jerry says “No serious harm is done with this”, but it’s quite harmful to MM. They’re basically teaching people that the ‘MM way of knowing’ is to take some scientific or engineering knowledge and rephrase it in maori terms. They are teaching that it adds nothing and is worthless. The next generation will have less respect and interest for the native culture because of these efforts.

      You cannot force social utility and the consequential respect. The only way a discipline gets it is by earning it.

  4. This all reminds me of the old Larry Niven novel Fallen Angels, which takes place in a not too distant future, when rather than global warming, the Earth has experienced a new Ice Age. Government has been taken over by spiritualists, New Agers, and the like, and Science is given a subservient position. (It’s a fun book if you are a Sci-Fi fan, because there’s lots of in-references to Sci-Fi fandom.)

  5. Like the other examples of Maori ways of knowing promulgating NZ, this is just dumb and patronizing. I wonder how they’ll handle low voltage wiring for phones/computers that use many more colors than the three for high voltage (at least here in the US). I used to deal with analog telecommunications equipment and 25-pair cables were pretty standard (that’s 50 separate colors). What fun!

  6. For those wishing to learn more about ‘Taniwha’ in Maori Matauranga I suggest this wonderful rendition by a Maori blues group (Swamp Thing) . It depicts with typical Maori humour and irony how the Taniwha does his work, where he typically lives and his powers (over the human mind). ‘Swamp Thing’ is one of New Zealands’ greatest blues band; actually it might be the only one!

  7. Please read Dr. Nolan’s article in its entirety.
    I agree. My friend refers to Black people as
    Nubians, thinking this is humorous and a
    way to disguise what he thinks. He is a
    remarkably intelligent and talented person,
    otherwise. The Conversation, as Dr. Nolan,
    suggests is necessary.

  8. Can we fight wokeness with wokeness? Surely it is cultural appropriation for any non-Maori to teach, learn or use MM. We need to do something to show that we’re serious about ending this unconscionable dilution of Maori culture. Maybe a petition. That’ll show ’em.

  9. I’m almost more worried about the change in wire colors! And is “Earth” what they have always said down there instead of “ground”? As an amateur home electrician, I could get hurt in this environment, forget the mangled Rarotongan they talk.

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