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Paul Maunder's blog

Surveillance

The old Eastern Europe had many informers, people who spied on their neighbours for the state. Everyone knew who they were and after a while, even a foreigner could pick them out. It was their demeanour, something about their presence that you picked up. Did they have a dress code? I remember overcoats. Anyway, you couldn’t get rid of them and it was unwise to confront, so you simply circled around them: there would be a glance from a companion, a lowered voice… They filled the secret service archives with endless reports, most of them useless, but they did pick up and marginalise the recalcitrant.

Surveillance in a modern Western ‘democracy’ is more subtle and more pervasive.  Glances, lowered voices, recognition of presence was a primitive game. Now, ‘they’ track your movements through your cell phone, through your eftpos transactions, emails and web searches, your journeys along motorways; managers can access your computer and can immobilise vehicles if they think an employee is up to no good. The television can spy on you, your computer may well have a chip in it for that purpose, every street has a CCTV camera, every shop, and there are facial recognition programmes to quickly identify. As schools digitalise their learning, the training in obedience starts early. The lessons are emailed to students and the teacher can check on what a student is doing at any moment, even if not in the classroom. The lesson plans are sort of cute but there is also an irritability present, the irritation of being under surveillance, the knowledge that the students are in some sort of prison being constantly watched and monitored. But presumably, if it starts when they’re young, they get used to it and accept. But schools are suddenly places where nobody sings.

And the recalcitrant? In the old Eastern Europe, if the rebel escaped the labour camp, they could often be forced, or chose, to live quietly away from the main centres, performing some menial task to earn a living. If they wrote, they either smuggled out the manuscript or it circulated locally, with each reader typing a copy, so that the readership grew. It was an amazing way to publish, requiring real reader devotion. It was the very opposite of commodification.

In current society publication is ridiculously easy and at the same time, a little meaningless, with a constant reduction in quality: from posts to tweets to instagrams.

Solzhenitsyn once stated that despite the parody of revolutionary society represented by the USSR state, at street level, socialism existed – relationships among ordinary people (other than the informers), were characterised by equality. I’m not sure that a similar, street level ‘goodness’ currently exists in the West, although there are isolated pockets, some ‘monastic’ centres. For instance, the City of Joy in the Congo; a centre where brutally violated women, victims of the warfare generated as various militia battle to gain control of the sources of precious metals vital for cellphone and computer manufacture, are healed and then go back to their communities to educate and to develop awareness and resilience.

In these monastic pockets, informers are irrelevant. The people have nothing to lose. The information to be gained would be information the inherently corrupt system doesn’t want to know.

The 10 Guiding Principles of the City of Joy are:

  1. TELL THE TRUTH
  2. STOP WAITING TO BE RESCUED; TAKE INITIATIVE
  3. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
  4. RAISE YOUR VOICE
  5. SHARE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED
  6. GIVE WHAT YOU WANT THE MOST
  7. FEEL AND TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH
  8. USE IT TO FUEL A REVOLUTION
  9. PRACTICE KINDNESS
  10. TREAT YOUR SISTERS’ LIFE AS IF IT WERE YOUR OWN

Let me finish with a quote from Solzhenitsyn: Not everything has a name. Some things lead us into a realm beyond words.

city of joy

A class in the City of Joy

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Business confidence

It’s the same the whole world over/ It’s the poor wot gets the blame

While the rich has all the pleasure/ Aint it all a bleedin’ shame.

The words of the 19th century street ballad popped into my head as I watched Jacinda at the business breakfast.  The local business men and women lack confidence it seems and like autistic children, don’t like uncertainty. From the look of them, they seemed pretty confident and were not faced with the uncertainty of being able to pay the rent or feed their children. The breakfast, as well, looked sumptuous. So what’s this shit all about?

Well, it is the same the whole world over. Capitalists own the means of production and they therefore believe they should be in control of most things, but especially in control of their workforce. The coalition government murmured about being in favour of collective bargaining and even setting industry wide agreements in some areas. They started to talk some shit about redistribution and greater worker rights. All this, after years of business calling the tune via a National  government; so, yes, start pulling this government down – as quickly as possible – and let’s return to the natural order of things.

There is no one more vicious than an outraged capitalist. Try and take away their control and look out. Cuba got rid of them and have been paying the price ever since. The outrage at having their banana companies and sugar companies and their mansions taken away has led to an economic blockade which is as sadistic and vengeful as any mobster bully you can find might impose. Under Trump the intensity increases. The local embassy staff are refused eftpos cards by ANZ bank. Nor can they transfer money through the usual channels – the Yanks might object. Meanwhile, despite supplying doctors to countries in need, including South Pacific Islands, Cuba can’t buy medical supplies to treat their sick and needy. Their sports teams can’t buy the equipment needed to compete internationally. Zimbabwe, that shining example of a healthy economy refuses them bank services. If a ship calls in at Cuba it can’t visit the US for six months. If a European company makes a product with one US made component, they are not allowed to sell it to Cuba; if they do so they will be blacklisted in the states. Those capitalists want their banana and sugar companies and their mansions back, and they’ll punish a population forever until it happens. Their confidence took a momentary blow and they were faced with the uncertainty of people’s power, so they relentlessly pursue their autistic agenda. If you want to know what eternal damnation looks like, take away the capitalists’ power base. The UN condemns the blockade and finds it both immoral and farcical, but what’s the UN? Another shitty organisation trying to curb their power. Send it broke. As for Iran, your turn’s coming.

So, better keep them happy Jacinda and Grant, that’s the reality of ‘power’.

Paul Nizan

nizan

Paul Nizan was a French writer, writing between the wars.  When I first encountered him he was  someone who spoke to me directly. Son of a railwayman, he was a communist (but left the party when Stalin began his reign of terror), an existentialist and a harsh critic of capitalism. Yet he had toyed with joining the priesthood. He once wrote of oscillating between the guru and the commissar (the political activist) and that struck a chord. For as a cultural worker, that oscillation is always present.

Except now, as we prepare for performances of a new play, the release of a film and a readers and writers festival, there is the realisation that neither of the roles is relevant. Instead, it is all about promoting a commodity, using marketing tools of branding and recognition, of logo and packaging, of activating networks, generating likes, ascertaining the market demographic etc etc.

Nizan wrote of the alienation that capitalism produces, of his father who had never lived ‘a life’ because always subservient to the system. I remember myself as a young child, taken in by a new family, playing the role expected of me, in a society where people were learning to be consumers, the media beginning to seriously intrude, bringing the American way of life – and with the threat of the bomb hanging over the planet.

From that role came a spiritual need (I suspect grief and spirituality are deeply connected), but also a realisation of social injustice, seeing my adopted father peddling off to his carpenter job each morning until his back packed up. It was hard yakker in those days, there being no power tools – and the family just getting by on a single wage. Yet he was against those who questioned the system – bloody commos etc. After a lifetime they owned an ex state house and died uncelebrated deaths.

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He was right to be angry but his anger took strange forms. He was a road rager hovering on the absurd, once ran a red light while searching for a traffic cop to dob someone in and instead received a ticket himself. He chopped down a perfectly good apple tree because someone stole some of the apples. His anger had no notion of cause and effect.

It was a life Nizan could’ve written with a cruel honesty. Nizan has of course,  been mainly forgotten, apart from his journalist works preserved on an archival website.

On with the branding.

National and Climate Change

I went along to a talk by the National Party’s climate change spokesperson, Todd Muller. Todd’s a plausible enough, air brushed bloke from Tauranga.  It was interesting to sit with the Nats with their assumptions of leadership based on supposed pragmatic compromise, designer shirts, polished shoes and good teeth, knowing wives and a venal willingness to sell their souls to the highest bidder.

Todd was here to help Maureen Pugh, the local list MP stir the West Coast pot of populism being created by the local business clique of miners, engineers and trucking companies; with the digger drivers and the farmers hovering. They own the councils and the newspapers and they do some charitable stuff for schools and St John. They go to church occasionally and holiday in Surfers, sometimes Bali, and they know which side their bread is buttered on. A local mythology is being re-energised, of the born and bred West Coaster (like the Aryan) having a genetic virtue; of there having been a golden time of economic boom created by extraction and now destroyed by the Greens (Jews) helped by a Labour government captured by Aucklanders and urban parasites more generally. Maureen Pugh actually spoke of dogs barking when a property is trespassed upon. ‘We’ll keep barking,’ she said. Unfortunately the metaphor has some problematic connotations: runaway slaves were chased by dogs, the SS were also into dogs. As for Abu Ghraib…

The local business cartel used to be balanced by the miners and their unions, plus a level of state ownership of economic infrastructure. But that’s gone. Only the Greens have unpragmatic ethics and they’re hated for that reason. The urban-based, identity-politics liberals led by Jacinda have seized power and the regions will get rid of them as fast as they can.  But then there’s Winston and Shane Jones, the other side of the populist coin, confusing things.

As well there’s the really big boy capitalists in the cities (and operating globally) who can sense the chaos that could ensue if the climate is not ameliorated, the smashing of infrastructure past profitable repair, the mad rush of refugees…; so there is tension between the feudal overlords and the local squirocracy. I am sure there’s historical precedence, somewhere around the time of Oliver Cromwell. It’s all very complex, messy and potentially dangerous. Out of these tensions, Trump arises.

Meanwhile an article sent to me by a fellow conspirator at the meeting, Richard Arlidge, describing the period when climate change might have been effectively tackled: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/01/magazine/climate-change-losing-earth.html

 

 

An incident

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I was walking with granddaughter, Lily along the creek bed when she found this rusting piece of technology in the water. We fished it out and placed it on a boulder.

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I felt utter astonishment that this insubstantial piece of technology, the internals of a smart phone we decided, should be running the world, should be weaving the web of information, tweets, emails, music, visuals, bombing people, operating aeroplanes, delivering our petrol…the list is endless. And yet the boulder on which we placed it is, in comparison, so substantial, registering the slow processes of the planet: erosion, inundation, pressure, heating, a new ice age and the waters receding – sun, wind, rain, ice – to end up here, on the creek bank, tossed by floods. Millions of years have been involved in this narrative. Yet this piece of crap with made in China printed in one corner has ended up in the same spot in a much smaller period of time and is seemingly more potent.

Lily watched me take a photo and then walked across the rocks to the other side while the dog worried a piece of wood. What should I do with this thing now, make a coffin, bury it? But it’s not compostable, can’t burn it – the whole disposing issue is tiresome. I will leave it here, sitting on the boulder. It could become the subject of a cargo cult – Chomski has written recently that society has now become fundamentally disorganised.

Lily returned, her gumboots full of water. She sloshed along for a while, enjoying the heavy footed sensation before emptying them, and then insisted we practice our superhero dance routine in the paddock, where, inevitably the dog will spring a hare and equally inevitably, the hare will be the faster.

Reality Check

Last Saturday evening’s concert by Porirua orchestra. Virtuoso Strings, was an absolute delight. Mainly PI and Maori young people (with some Pakeha and Asian) from Cannons Creek, tackled the European classics, added some more popular refrains and generally charmed the Greymouth audience, for this was culture as it should be; surprising, inclusive, diverse, communal, skilled, and free. This was a hopeful glimpse of the future.

How different from the current hysteria of Coast extractivists, fuelled by testosterone and arrogance, can of diesel in hand, doing doughnuts on the political landscape with regard to their having access to conservation land. How tired I have become of the born and bred mantra; its attempt to silence diversity and above all, its lack of reality.

The extractive industries have not actually developed the Coast, which, after 150 years with extraction as its economic base, languishes as an economic backwater with a sparse population of 30,000 people.

As for the supposed villainy of the Greens, they had nothing to do with the coal mine closures of the 1960s and 1970s, had nothing to do with the restructuring in the 1980s, were not responsible for the demise of Solid Energy, were not responsible for the Pike fiasco, were not responsible for Oceana closing down its gold mine. With regard to native logging, does anyone still think we should cut down every podocarp on the Coast?

Climate Change is a reality. Sea level rise is a reality, The role of fossil fuels in this crisis is a reality. Sixty major NZ companies (over half of NZ’s production base) signing up to a carbon neutral NZ by 2050, is a reality.

Comparing Eugenie Sage and Jacinda Adern to Hitler is politically infantile. We are heading for Trump land.

Regional Council chairperson, Andrew Robb was an isolated voice of reason when he stated that the Coast needs to be part of the solution rather than once again play the victim. The hysterical reaction to that statement belongs on the analyst’s couch rather than the political forum.

When it comes to extraction in all its forms (some of them more hunting and gathering than mining) on conservation estate in all its forms, negotiation will take place, and as local communities living beside and sometimes working on that land, we have a case to develop from within the above realities. But the boy racers should be left in the nearest cell cooling their heels.

Returning to the concert, and bringing this matter up afterward, a mate muttered, Boys with their toys – they’ve had their day. Another was less resilient: I’m wondering why I’m living here. The latter statement is worrying, for it will not be an isolated case. The vision of the extreme extractivists, that the Coast will die, could well become true – and they will be the cause.

Pronouns

I’d heard about it, but first experienced the pronoun problem last week while attending a workshop in Auckland.  When someone is in transition between gender roles, ‘he’ or ‘she’ needs to be replaced by ‘they’. Sometimes a child is a ‘they’ until they’ve decided for themselves, their gender. It makes writing a little problematic: J. enters. They sit. F. wonders what they have been up to. They stare into their eyes. I am reminded of R.D. Laing’s famous study, The Divided Self, which portrayed the disembodiment of the schiz and the tendency toward multiple personalities. But when discussing this with my teacher daughter she felt that it was a very good thing for children to be able to explore their gender.

However, when identity is created in this way by the adult, with not only gender, but ethnicity and political position included, it produces a polished persona, alongside which someone of my generation feels very drab indeed. I am reminded in fact of the aesthetes of the late 19th century, the Wildes and the Beardsleys, the art for art’s sake people; but neither should we forget the politicising of Wilde.

After the workshop I was told of the conflict that can arise when a long term campaign such as the equal pay campaign is subtlely undermined by the concept of transition, for the campaign is based on  gender stability. Sex workers can present similar difficulty with their role playing for payment.

During the workshop we were looking at the mystifications occurring in the community sector as government programmes (often imported from overseas) such as social enterprise, community-led development and co-design are forced on the sector as fads for a period, requiring providers to align their service provision to the new paradigm, which has often been birthed in the business sector. The long march of neo-liberalism to its decadent conclusion continues. Interesting and a little tiring.

Back in Christchurch I was faced with the practical dilemma of strapping a new information panel to an old roof rack and transporting it back to Blackball. Wind vectors in the alps can get extreme and the panel hummed, rattled, moaned and occasionally roared. I refer to it as ‘it’ but ‘it’ sometimes seemed more alive than the pronoun suggests. We got here (me and the panel), but it took a little longer than usual.

Finally there arose the ultimate insult to the aesthetic, the need to go and bury two wild goats who were knocked over by a hit and run driver last night. They were both pregnant, so the impulse to gut them and use the meat quickly disappeared. Instead I need to dig a hole, which I have perhaps already done with the above meditation.

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Living in fascist times

We have to entertain the possibility that the Trump regime is now a fascist government. The separation of migrant children from their families and the caging of the children by an NGO, the withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Committee, the demonising of migrants, the prison labour camps, the escalation of military spending and continuing popular support for the American First agenda, entwined with National Rifle Association and evangelical roots, justifies this judgement.

Trump himself grows in confidence, his tweets a modern parody of Hitler’s rants. His ability to attack other leaders, something Hitler did, leaving them nonplussed by such abnormal behaviour, backs up the judgement. His bedfellow is Netanyahu and an Israeli regime that is indifferent to international critique and law. Europe becomes confused. Hungary, Poland and Italy have populist governments, there are strong neo fascist parties in France and Germany and even in some of the Nordic countries, all motivated by the refugee (Muslim) ‘infestation’. Russia is squeezed and sullen and the Chinese perhaps over extended economically (a bubble waiting to burst). Meanwhile South American destablisises. The military skirmishing initially takes place in Africa, that’s par for the course, creating more ‘infestation’.

The movement is contradictory, as usual about tapping into resources, but couched in the language of withdrawal, even though withdrawal is absurd in a globalised world; the parts for a car or a toaster coming from a variety of countries and continents. The US impulse seems to be a desire to return to a simpler imperial regime. China is guilty of becoming innovative, ‘stealing’ intellectual copyright and starting to do its own thing, rather than providing cheap labour for first world manufacturers.

And like Hitler, who got the trains running on time, Trump’s economic programme seems to be working, with unemployment below 4%. Even here, the NZ Taxpayers’ Union is preaching Trump economics. So the bread is there and the circuses expand at an ever greater rate with world cups in everything. The steely-eyed, motivated individual fulfilling his or her dream becomes central. As Yeats prophesised: ‘The best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity.’

Will a Spanish Civil War arise to test the waters? The state is too well armed for amateurs to be effective (although the Zapatista did manage an effective minimalist armed rebellion). The intensification of surveillance parallels sea level rise. There is no coherent Left, only emanations of something so far to the left as to appear ridiculous, small pinpoints of light taking the form of spontaneous anarchist communes. The reaction of the state to these pinpoints of light is harsh enough for us to see that this is what the state abhors, anyone that ignores the state as  arbiter. And there can be a gulp at the thought of there being no state, to hand it over to the gangs and the mafia is unthinkable.

It’s terribly difficult, yet we must think. Perhaps my generation are too old to think, to advise? Quite likely. Yet Trump is an old man. Perhaps this is still our problem.  What do we in New Zealand do? Ignore it all and go about our business – too small and polite to be noticed – or make a stand and be punished?

Encounter

Jerzy Grotowski used to describe his workshops as ‘encounters’. It’s an interesting word, used to describe a meeting with a stranger which can turn hostile. We ‘encounter’ the wild animal for example. It’s a meeting, a collision almost, which allows for, even assumes, different subjectivities, different agendas. Yet it can result in profound engagement, in the removal of the daily mask, in rediscovering that which exists behind the mask. Being mauled by a wild animal will remove the mask of course, but if the encounter does not turn hostile, it can lead to a powerful connecting between people, a connecting which has a spiritual element. It is the area which gurus explore so it can turn into charlatanism, or chaos; yet at the same time, it is the stuff of life.

A couple of mornings ago there was a discreet knock on the door and Kennedy Warne re-introduced himself. A neighbour had brought him along a couple of weeks ago for Kennedy is writing an article for National Geographic on the Paparoa Track (I discovered later that he co-founded the magazine). We’d chatted about that but he’d returned, for he was interested in Grotowski. We talked about the mutually admired film, My Dinner With Andre, that classic encounter in a New York restaurant between an actor trying to pay the bills and a theatre director who has just returned from a Grotowski encounter in a Polish forest. We talked of conservation and local people needing to earn a living and whether the compromise is only possible for hunters and gatherers. We talked of the inherent instability of capitalism and swapped favourite authors. We talked about living in a decadent age and the difficulties that brings. It was wonderful discovering a common consciousness with someone who was still a relative stranger. Then he had to go to record his slot for the nine to noon show.

The encounter left me buoyant, but as well, with the realisation of the flaws of the internet flow of information, where the encounter is easy, but a parody; for the digital filter replaces the flesh and blood of encounter, the physical meeting of the stranger or the glancing into the eye of the wild animal which acknowledges nothing of human consciousness and which is therefore terrifying. Presence is absent and this absence starts to become a totality.

Younger generations of progressive politicians talk a lot about ‘having conversations’ and about ‘going forward’, two clichés (and every generation has its clichés) which supposedly facilitate post modern diversity. But the inherent  suggestion that differences can be easily solved feels like sleep walking.

I prefer to take the risk of the encounter.

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