It was the year of the brutal murder of a Saudi journalist, the eruption of Kilauea in Hawaii and the election of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in the US. This summer we look back at the big stories of the year around the world and closer to home.
In August former National Party leader Don Brash and Herald senior writer Simon Wilson went head to head in debating teams at the University of Auckland. The moot: That this house believes politically correct culture has gone too far, to the point of limiting freedom of speech. Here are their speeches, edited for publication.
Kia ora! As Post Office staff have been allowed to say since 1984. Nau mai, haere mai. Ko Simon Wilson tōku ingoa. Tēnā koe, Don. A special tēnā koe to you.
Let's define some terms. "Political correctness", or "PC", is a pejorative phrase for what happens when some people object to other people trying to respect the diversity of values and upbringings in a society. Nobody self-identifies as politically correct, because it's only ever used as a sneer.
"Free speech" isn't so easy. In Athens, in the cradle of democracy, parrhesia meant the licence to say whatever you like, when, how and to whom. But there was another word, isegoria, which meant the equal right of citizens to participate in public debate in the democratic assembly. Both translate as freedom of speech.
When our new friend, the Canadian narcissist Lauren Southern, says "free speech", she means parrhesia: a licence to say what you want. She is opposed to isegoria, because she is opposed to citizens, in general, having the rights you and I want for ourselves. That she wants for herself.
But for those who would like a break from the abuse, the threats, and oppression that come with unbridled parrhesia, there is isegoria. Ensuring everyone feels safe to speak.
There's value in this. People who were previously silenced can be heard. Society becomes inclusive, not exclusive. We grow as a civilisation, not through constant reinforcing of the values of an elite – those who dominate the discourse already – but with an interchange of ideas and values among everyone.
A couple of other things about definitions. In the United States "free speech" is protected by the first amendment to the constitution. You can be as vile as you like, and many people are. Clearly, this is not a rule being bent out of shape by "PC culture". It's a rule that favours vile people.
That first amendment also allows you to do your best to buy an election, by spending as much as you like being as vile as you like about the candidates you don't like. Again, "PC culture" isn't to blame. This is a rule that favours super-rich, vile people.
Free speech in America is not colour blind or gender blind. It favours most those who are best placed to take advantage of it. There is some madness flowing through American culture but we should not assume it is necessarily present here. It isn't.
In this country, let's agree: when we're talking free speech, we're not talking vile, like Alex Jones at InfoWars saying parents of Sandy Hook massacre victims are fake. We're not talking dangerous, like incitements to violence or shouting fire in a cinema. And we're not talking defamatory. We proscribe all those without fearing an end to free speech.
But, while we're on definitions, why are the brave heroes of the free-speech campaign here so selective? Did you know some of them want RNZ to stop using te reo?
That's a complaint we have too much free speech and it's because of "PC culture". Isn't it?
What about the free-speech rights of Nicky Hager, when the police illegally went after him for the publication of his book Dirty Politics? Where was the Free Speech Coalition then?
Free speech is a serious issue. All over the world, people are dying for it. Uighurs in western China. Journalists in Russia and Chechnya and Syria. Kurds at the hands of ISIS, and Iraq, and Turkey. Gays in Kenya. Churchgoers in Charleston. Ordinary people in so many countries: it's a very long list.
And we're not on it. It's outrageous to suggest that because of "PC culture" anyone here is being persecuted, as those people are persecuted, for speaking out. Outrageous and offensive.
We all know what happened this week. The vice-chancellor at Massey University, Jan Thomas, in a fit of what I would call stupidity but the other side relishes calling "PC gone mad", uninvited Don Brash from a speaking engagement on Massey's Palmerston North campus.
Proof? Game over? Not at all. Jan Thomas didn't speak for liberal New Zealand, or the PC brigade, or for whoever it is you want to sneer at.
Jan Thomas is an outlier. She's been condemned for her decision by just about everybody. Including the Prime Minister, whom many call a loyal PC trooper; even including the Massey University Students Association.
And on this team, we condemn her too. But isn't she the exception that proves the rule? And isn't this gathering tonight good evidence of that? There will always be outliers. We don't need to get in a moral panic about it.
I want to tell you a story about the use of free speech in this country, when it was unfettered by any hint of "PC culture" and really did have devastating consequences.
In 2003, says Statistics NZ, the wealth of the median Pākehā was $86,900. For the median Māori, it was $18,000. That's a gap of almost $69,000. That disparity showed up in every statistic you could imagine. Participation and achievement in education. Income, employment, and home ownership: Pākehā were twice as likely to own a house as Māori. Crime and punishment: half the prison population was Māori. And any number of health indices including diseases of poverty, mental health, suicide and life expectancy. Did you know Pākehā live seven years longer than Māori?
Of course, there is personal responsibility. But there is also social responsibility. We take – they, we, all of us who call ourselves an inclusive society – we take seven years off their lives.
The response of the Government was a series of social programmes that went by the name "Closing the Gaps".
It wasn't revolutionary. There wasn't going to be any overturning of the old order. But Closing the Gaps said such gross inequality was unacceptable. It also said, implicitly, that the indigenous people of this country have been victimised by the way we construct our society. The pain of colonisation is real.
Closing the Gaps said: for Māori and for all of us, we need to do something about this. Would many New Zealanders find that controversial now? I doubt it.
But in 2004 we did. Closing the Gaps was attacked by a political leader desperate for attention and happy to cast aside the social good it would do. In a speech in January that year he called the programmes racist – and in doing so he unleashed the dogs. Fear, hatred, confusion: the dogs of real racism.
His party climbed sharply in the polls and the Government fell sharply. Closing the Gaps was itself closed down, judged by the Government too politically dangerous to pursue. Racial divisions flared. The progress we might have made was wrecked.
On the last data, which is for 2015, the median Pākehā had $114,000 of net wealth. The median Māori had just $23,000. That is, in the next 10 years Pākehā net wealth grew by $27,000 while Maori net wealth grew by only $4900. The gaps have got wider.
I tell that story because of the evidence it brings to the topic at hand. Freedom of speech is not endangered in this country, and most certainly not by a "politically correct culture". The attack on Closing the Gaps was, to my mind, the most egregious use of free speech in New Zealand we have seen in decades.
And the politician who did that, who used his free speech to mount that attack on the most impoverished among us, sits here tonight. He is Don Brash.
But you know what? He didn't quite win that election. The vote was, among other things, a plebiscite on his view of race relations, and a majority of voters said no. Not because we're oppressed by a PC culture, but because we're better than that.
I tell the story for another reason. It points to motive.
The inequality between Pākehā and Māori is, to my mind, the biggest issue facing this country. Not political correctness. That's a distraction, the bacon you throw to Homer Simpson.
The reason we're even debating this largely fictitious issue is because of how upset some people get when the public discourse is organised to promote isegoria. The equal right of citizens to participate.
With isegoria, ideas bubble up about inequality and fairness and perhaps a bit of reorganising of the prevailing power relations. Women want equal pay. Māori want not to be structured into educational failure. Workers want a living wage. Poor people, even those who are not poor, want a decent roof over their heads and they especially want that for their kids.
And we develop new ideas, too, about how to speak to each other so everyone can be heard.
Those who say society was better the way it used to be fear those changes are happening at their expense. Which might be true, but it doesn't have to be.
Arguing that we're losing the right of free speech turns attention away from real deprivation. And that enables you to insist those other hardships aren't so important or are just misunderstood, or possibly don't exist at all.
What is it they're so scared of? It's this. So-called "PC culture", a culture that invites wide participation, says we should not assume the way we define and regulate society is governed by neutrality. The rules of middle-class white men may not serve the interests of everyone equally.
Being "blind" to difference doesn't eliminate its negative impacts, it reinforces them.
So, when it comes to defining free speech, and who gets to use it for what, we agree we have to draw some lines – around incitements to violence, for example. But the critical word is "we".
Who's we? Who gets to decide who can speak, and say what? Many of the objections to "political correctness", at heart, boil down to a fear that it will be a very inclusive "we".
What else are they scared of? A culture of inclusiveness says being "different" through accident of birth or upbringing should not open you to discrimination. It says choosing to be different should not do that either.
It's a culture that asks for a little humility. It suggests: if you hold all the privileges, try not to lecture other people on what's good for them.
This is not about the martyrdom of Don Brash. No one exercises their freedom to speak more than Don Brash. Martyrdom is a narcissist's fantasy.
And free speech, in social democracies, isn't on the endangered list. The world is awash with free speech. We've never had so much talk.
The truth is, in the age of social media and the internet, you can't limit it. That's not entirely a good thing, but it's the truth.
Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux did not have their rights restricted in New Zealand. They came and went and spoke as they pleased. They just couldn't find a venue owner to help them.
If so-called "PC culture" was running things, they'd have been ignored by the media, but that didn't happen. Nor were they nobodies until the media made a fuss: Southern has 300,000 friends on Facebook and Molyneux's YouTube material has been seen more than two million times. They both have more than 300,000 Twitter followers. On social media they're quite big.
Which points to one of the singular truths of our time: "PC" doesn't define our social relations. The internet is proof of that.
And the values of our civilisation are not a static concept. We've evolved from the Greeks, who privileged free men at the expense of women and slaves. We've evolved from the Enlightenment, too, which gave us so much to treasure and was also a period of great persecution of all sorts of outsiders. Even the great Isaac Newton, in his capacity as Warden of the Royal Mint (forerunner to Don Brash at the Reserve Bank!), was responsible for torture and execution. Counterfeiters were his chosen enemy.
Values must evolve. We learned this from Othello, that tale of the corrosive impact of racism, religious bigotry, and fear of women. Shakespeare's lesson to all upstanding citizens is not to be so stupid as to fear the outsider.
I like to think the heart of our civilisation is the city, and the British sociologist Richard Sennett has a definition for it. He calls cities "human settlements in which strangers are likely to meet". That's where we're at now. That's our true spirit of the times, our zeitgeist. And our task is to make it work, for all of us.
Awful people will try to derail us. But they are on the fringe. They are the outliers. For most of us, the prospect of meeting strangers is difficult, of course, but also rewarding. We don't have to like everybody, but we have to like that we get along. We have to like that we share. Working that out is what we're doing here.
The rest – all those complaints from people that no one is listening to them anymore – that's the narcissists' sideshow.
My team strongly supports the motion that PC culture has gone too far to the point of limiting freedom of speech.
Indeed, this is so obviously true that I almost feel sorry for our opponents trying to argue the negative of this motion.
Let me immediately make it clear that we are not arguing that there should be absolutely no limits on free speech.
It has been long recognised that it cannot be acceptable to shout "Fire" in a crowded theatre.
It cannot be acceptable to incite violence against person or property. It should not be legal to post on the internet an explanation of how to use 3D printing to make a hand-gun which cannot be detected by airport screening systems (a recent free speech issue in the US).
But that we have recently moved well beyond such restraints is indisputable.
Our Bill of Rights Act appears to provide a strong guarantee of freedom of speech, not unlike the protection afforded by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
But the Human Rights Act passed in 1993 contradicts that guarantee, by making it an offence to "publish or distribute … matter which is threatening, abusive or insulting", and it appears to be that legislation which those who want to shut down free speech implicitly use.
Many people now recognize the dangers.
Last year, Paul Moon, history professor at Auckland University of Technology, quickly succeeded in getting nearly 30 prominent New Zealanders from all corners of the political spectrum to sign a statement emphasizing the vital importance of freedom of speech — people as different as Bryan Gould, Geoffrey Palmer, Tariana Turia and Don Brash.
And just last month, there was an immediate reaction from a host of people, again as different as Chris Trotter and Lindsay Perigo, when Phil Goff purported to block two Canadians from speaking in an Auckland Council-owned facility — I say "purported to block" because it turned out, on being challenged, that he had not blocked them at all and had no legal power to do so.
Media leaders like John Roughan, Nevil Gibson and Tim Watkin chimed in.
Perhaps even more encouraging has been the quite extraordinary number of people who over the last 48 hours have strongly deplored the decision by the Vice Chancellor of Massey University to ban me from giving a totally innocuous speech about my time in politics.
Matt Robson, a former Alliance Member of Parliament phoned me the other night and said "Don, you and I disagree on almost every policy issue, but we are very much in agreement on the issue of free speech."
So a large number of people have now become aware of just how far the PC culture which permeates much of our society has gone to shut down discussion on issues regarded as in some way "beyond the pale".
These issues relate to religion, to sexual orientation, to family structure, to the rights of different racial groups, to climate change — you name it. There are some issues which are regarded as just too sensitive to discuss.
A year or so back, I read a book by Niall Fergusson which noted that while Jews made up only around 0.2 per cent of the world's population, and only 2 per cent of the American population, they had won 22 per cent of all Nobel prizes, 38 per cent of the Oscars for Best Director and 67 per cent of the John Clarke Bates Medals for economists under the age of 40.
No fewer than 23 per cent of the CEOs of the Forbes 400 companies are Jewish, as are the founders or co-founders of most of the world's biggest technology companies, such as Facebook, Google, Intel and Oracle.
Now I don't know why that is the case, and I hasten to add that I am not a Jew myself, but it is impossible to ignore the possibility that at very least Jewish culture is superior to many other cultures.
The Treaty of Waitangi was an extraordinary document for its time — indeed, for any time — because it makes it quite explicit in Article III that all New Zealanders should have the same legal status.
Yet to say that today risks accusations of racism, and certainly risks being shut out of council-owned facilities, as Bruce Moon was in Nelson a couple of months ago.
Recently, the Human Rights Commission sought to ban disharmonious comments that are "targeted at the religion and beliefs of ethnic minority communities" in New Zealand — which being interpreted means you are free to insult Christians and Christianity but not Muslims and Islam.
And that surely is political correctness gone mad. I want to be free to say, and to say loudly, that people who believe that gays should be executed, and that people who want to abandon the religion of their childhood should similarly face a death sentence, have no place in New Zealand.
At the moment, the politically correct amongst us would stop me from saying that.
Salman Rushdie once said: "There is no such thing as a right not to be offended." And he was right.