On The Meaning Of Richard Prosser – A Saddening Post-Mortem

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I saw reporting (at first on twitter, and then in my personal messages) that Richard Prosser has died. I do not know the details, although the phrase “after a long battle with depression” seems to be mentioned, with clear purport.

Another phrase which gets mentioned comes from a certain piece he penned in 2013. I shall not quote it here.

Now I am most definitely not here to defend the remarks in question (and, hell, a younger me literally lead the charge internally to have something done about said remarks and their maker) ;

But perhaps it is worth noting that he did not only apologize but actually change his mind after that occurrence. And I do not mean simply in the idle sense of merely issuing a press statement to that effect.

If memory serves he went out in person to engage with the community he’d hurt through his commentary. Both to learn and to make some effort at restitution. It was, reportedly, a humbling experience.

Now obviously, the whole thing shouldn’t have happened – that much goes without saying; and while it was positive that some members of NZ’s Muslim community were prepared to open homes & dialogue to help him see in an entirely different way .. again, they shouldn’t have had to.

Yet given the way that the conspiratorial fringe goes today – it’s a rare thing to have somebody actually do that. Go out, meet what would be described as “the other side”, and come away a changed man with changed views in consequence.

It’s a shame that what he’ll be remembered for, it would seem, is the bad call he made (and it was abominable) – rather than the choice to repudiate that & grow.

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If we are to turn the death of somebody into a trenchant morality-tale (and it is the inexorable consequence of having been in the public eye with some prominence that this shall, indeed, occur) … it seems to me that there is somewhat greater value to be had in that side to it.

That rather than simply pointing and jeering at something done wrong near a decade ago, the ensuing subsequent effort at doing right and renouncing the thing is also at least mentioned.

Otherwise, what’s the point. Are all such circumstances merely to be ‘cautionary tales’ of what not to do, with no corresponding pathway showing what one ought to do where one has already done it?

Which also does not mean I am here for a moment to pen a glistening and blemish-free hagiography for Richard Prosser.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

Something that, I’d like to believe, his personal vehemence in favour of ‘truth-telling’ in columnry (even if that ‘truth’ could be rather .. divergent from what the rest of us had thought) would mean he’d also appreciate such a principle for his own circumstance.

He most definitely did go down other rabbit-holes both before and after the Wogistan episode. And yes, for the past two years there had observably been quite a bit of … stereotypical takes about the pandemic situation etc.; (or, in other words, the underlying trait of personality which exhibited itself in the form of the adoption of rather … fringe views such as the arguable necessity of South Island Secessionism, lay evidently unameliorated in some respects)

Yet I must confess myself rather uneasy at the notion that that ought comprise the sum total to his recollection among us here today. The guy who wrote the ‘Wogistan’ piece, with various reporting or social media commentary no doubt quoting some choice words or a sentence or two from same to illustrate.

Illustrate the man, that is, rather than merely the column they’re drawn from in time.

All up, I guess it’s a bit of a curious feeling to see a man one’s known for … twelve years, reduced to a single half-a-sentence quote upon a page in such a manner.

There’s no doubt that it’s a pertinent piece of verbiage.

And, as I say, the only way that placing it in “context” changes anything even an iota is if it’s the “context” of his own repudiation and growing forward from a previous state that should never have existed in the first place.

But that definitely was not all there was to the man. And for a number of reasons I do think that deserves to be recognized. Even – indeed, outright especially – in death.

It’s the last time many if not most of us shall hear of him in the active sense. It deserves to be done rightly.

Personally, I’ll also remember the awkward-but-enthusiastic and genuinely warm-hearted man who even though I vehemently disagreed (and was quite open about this) with a very large quotient of what he said (and I should easily have fitted into several of the categories he’d condemn in print) – he would still go out of his way in his endeavour to help me.

When I’d wound up in some tight spots – suddenly lacking a place to live etc. for instance, he’d reach out, whether to myself or to other persons around me and ask if I needed a place to stay.

And that’s after I’d lead an internal effort to have him excoriated / de-selected, had been quoted in media attacking his stuff, etc. (hence, in part, why one of those occasions was a reaching out to (or, should I say – ‘through’) ‘other persons around me’ – he presumably perhaps thought I’d be unlikely to pick up the phone from him directly given the way things were at that time).

I’d like to think that something such as that is also relevant when we are coming to our general assessment as to the proverbial ‘measure of the man’.

Again, fully aware that my experience is very different from somebody who’s had no engagement with him suddenly waking up to hear a sitting NZ MP had declared in print one shouldn’t be allowed on an aircraft due to one’s race / religion.

I’ll also remember, for what it’s worth, that rather amusing incident in 2017 wherein he went into a BusinessNZ event held on that year’s election campaign trail, completely accurately stated NZ First’s policy of renationalizing part-privatized power-companies (at no more than price they’d been sold for) …

… and for his troubles wound up with David Seymour declaring him to be “what a f^<king idiot” to the assembled doyens of business New Zealand – this remark of Seymour’s appearing, on video/audio on the 6 o’clock news etc. …

Followed by Winston making a statement about how that wasn’t the policy, Prosser had been speaking gravely in error etc. … despite the fact that the policy in question was, at the time, still right there on the NZF website for all to see.

Events which, one can argue, appear to be at the very least heavily correlated with what had effectively brought his Parliamentary career to a close (insofar as the 2017 NZ First List which was announced a few days later had him dropping I think eleven places and rendering him significantly unlikely to return back to Parliament as a result)

There is definitely something to be said for terrifying BusinessNZ and ACT about the specter of a socialist takeover of NZ through nationalization of industry.

In any case, while he was still around and I’d seen him posting as of a few weeks back .. I have no idea how his personal life had gone. I do recall that he had previously had both wife and child, so my thoughts would also be with them at this time.

Even if we vehemently disagree with people – to somebody else they’re family. And it cannot be easy to see the name and features of one’s father, say, occurrent in such a fashion about the place, especially given what appears to have happened.

All up – I’m not here to put forward that pithy rejoinder about the impropriety of “speaking ill of the dead”, even imminently following their departure from this globe and context of ours. People who genuinely believe in that principle can and shall adhere to it … and those who don’t, well, they shall no doubt do as they do instead.

Yet men are rarely as simple as the two-dimensional caricatures that we seemingly endlessly re-manufacture of them in our heads.

Acknowledging that fact – and presenting a somewhat broader view than just that singular half-sentence of his – does not mean bestowing an uncritical endorsement of a man, their words, deeds, and legacy.

It simply means acknowledging them as human.

15 COMMENTS

  1. While I certainly don’t support Prosser’s anti-muslim comments, drenched in the sort of ‘counter jihad’ ideology
    that inspired the Christchurch shooter and is spread by the likes of the Israel Institute of NZ, I find it hard to suggest that he was more hostile to Muslims than the National/Labour uniparty.

    In the end, saying cruel and stupid things is less bad than supporting the illegal American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq was.

  2. That rather than simply pointing and jeering at something done wrong near a decade ago, the ensuing subsequent effort at doing right and renouncing the thing is also at least mentioned.

    Otherwise, what’s the point. Are all such circumstances merely to be ‘cautionary tales’ of what not to do, with no corresponding pathway showing what one ought to do where one has already done it?
    Words to absorb to our innermost brain. Thanks for some positive thoughts lifting us out of the negative bog that grips us for much of the time.

  3. Haven’t followed his political career in much detail but always sad to hear of someone passing too young, checkered history and whether he amended for it or not.
    The original NZ Herald article on this had a disgusting quote from Tuariki Delamare calling the recently deceased a racist and a bigot.
    Pretty appalling.

    • Are we now in a new NZ war – a war of words with racist and bigot being fired off willy-nilly? When they can be found to fit something said or done on both sides do we end up in Stale-Mate? Yeah mate.

  4. Here’s an item on Prosser’s past from the Otago Daily Times which displays his various onslaughts which remind me of Don Quixote. If only he had an affection for all people and put his energies to help we ordinary people he would have been a treasure to the great majority of NZs.

  5. Yes, it is so sad to see a young man go like this, and a big loss to his whanau. At the time of the controversy which he subsequently navigated so well, Mr Prosser appeared to me to think that he was being clever and witty, following the line of at least than one home-grown bigoted commentator who scars others. He has a peace now, and one hopes that those who he has left behind reach a peace also.

  6. I also remember Richard Prosser, and largely agree with your account of him, Curwen. I met him at a number of NZ First events. While I often disagreed with him, his outspoken quality was, in its way, refreshing. It is a bit ironic that the party kept him on in 2014 despite his blunders, but dumped (demoted) him in 2017 for telling the truth. And, at any rate, let’s remember that none of us is 100% consistent in our views; in fact, I frequently find myself disagreeing with my own, earlier self! A sense of humour and a warm heart can cover a multitude of sins. RIP Richard

  7. I also remember Richard Prosser, having met him at several NZ First events. I also found myself at odds with his views. But I largely concur with your assessment of him, Curwen. I also agree with you that it is not right to remember him and pass final judgement on him just based on one outlandish set of comments. None of us is 100% consistent; in fact, I find myself frequently disagreeing with earlier versions of myself! Richard’s outspoken quality could be refreshing, especially in times and situations when most people seem grimly determined to watch their every step and every word. It is a bit ironic that the party stuck with him in 2014 but — as you note — dumped/demoted him in 2017. A warm heart and a sense of humour can cover a multitude of sins. So RIP, Richard.

  8. I wish as good an obituary. You express my thoughts about the ‘who’-mans. And your slicey, cutting to the point language is worthy of the best of this gravestone-intent species.

  9. Speaking as someone who loathed his politics you sum up a really complicated situation in a very sensitive way. Binary responses to people and issues miss out the nuance and complexity that we all have.

  10. Richard Prossers’ passing away is sad to me. Although I only knew him for a few short years through his contributions to Investigate Magazine, the Ian Wishart monthly publication, I felt a certain bond between us.

    Oh, our opinions contrasted on certain matters. That they certainly did! But we had common areas which we appeared to agree upon: trust, integrity, commitment, simplicity, and sense and sensibility.

    I felt as though Richard was more civilized, more cultivated, than the public often would give him credit for. In times of hardship, both national and international, Richard was a pillar of understanding, rationality and calmness; a listening ear, sensible and wise.

    I wouldn’t consider Richard Prosser to be an intellectual man; nor an academic. No, he was too clever for all of that. Nonsense, he’d call it. Carry-on. The useless jargon of the schooled.

    He was more practical, so Richard was. A man of the land. A man of humble perception but keen observation. He wouldn’t judge a book by its cover. And he also wouldn’t hum and har over his decisions. He’d make a choice and then boldly and bravely accept the consequences, whatever they so were.

    At the time, it is unfortunate but true that we were on opposite sides of the political spectrum. It was during Helen Clark’s third time in government. I’d sided with Helen.

    Despite the differences in our political leanings, I always respected Richard Prosser and I looked up to him.

    Rest peacefully Richard

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