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Paul Nizan

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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.

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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.

Conservation Estate Part 2

For the Coast to argue coherently with Forest and Bird et al, we need to do some research into the environmental movement, which has its own historical trajectory and its differing ideologies. The National Park/Forest and Bird position has its origins in the 19th century and remains urban based and middle class. There is an obvious need to have wilderness areas for threatened species, an obvious need to acknowledge the realities of climate change, but socially, the conservation position remains mainly about people living in the cities who want to have recreational access to pristine wilderness to recharge their batteries. That originating need has become global and is tied in with tourism.

However, in the latter part of last century, the position was challenged by the environmental justice movement, for poorer  and indigenous communities become sacrifice zones: both in terms of areas to dump toxic waste, but also as areas from which those who traditionally inhabited them, are expelled in the interests of conservation. Coasters can’t argue an indigenous role but certainly people have lived in these communities for a century and a half.

From the environmental justice movement comes the concept of the extractive reserve. Despite an area being primarily reserve, the people who traditionally live in the area also have the right to earn a living, to have access to health and education and so on. This requires some extraction, and tourism needs to be considered an extractive industry. But under what criteria does extraction take place? This should be the real debate. Are the jobs for local people? Where do the profits go? Who owns the enterprise? How is it controlled?? Who’s making the decisions? What are the workers paid? How damaging is it environmentally? Is it sustainable?

Such criteria would, I believe, quickly cancel the multinational, could even challenge the local franchise holding capitalist.

To explore such criteria produces some interesting results: Westpower’s Waitaha Power Scheme receives full marks: sustainable, environmentally sensitive, locally owned and controlled with profits distributed equitably. Westland Milk is owned and controlled locally with profits distributed on the Coast. Westfleet Seafoods however, provide jobs but demanded a gifting of local equity as the price of building a processing plant, are owned by Maori , Japanese and Nelson fishing interests and are now seeking state patronage via the Regional Growth Fund. Oceana Gold? Provided jobs but how many were local? Where did the profit go? The equity? Now they’ve left. Compare with a local goldminer pottering along year after year.

There are other issues. Many Coasters have a subsistence component to their livelihood – wood gathering, hunting and fishing. Is that being allowed? I gather that hunting and firewood gathering are becoming more difficult now that Ngai Tahu have taken over the forests. There’s the traditional concept of the commons at play here and some obvious ironies.

It becomes an interesting exercise to really begin to argue for access to conservation estate from criteria which it would be difficult to dismiss. And from it might come the seeds of a sustainable local economy and culture.

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Conservation Estate

The proposed banning of mining or grazing or any other productive activity  from DOC stewardship land is causing much gnashing of teeth and a series of scatter-brained opinions from local leaders.

We’ve suddenly had them arguing for the use of thermal coal for milk factories, hospitals and school; a switch from the usual argument that Coast coal is used for steel making and therefore innocent when it comes to CO2 emissions. And of course gold mining is a ‘must’ for the Coast economy and so is the exploration for rarer minerals. Even gravel extraction and access to rock for emergency purposes is brought into the debate. And of course there are the climate change deniers.

Arguing against them is Forest and Bird with a simpler, more fundamentalist position; this land should be left alone to regenerate and become pristine habitat for native flora and fauna. The Coast is a big area, there are only 30,000 people living here so the social cost is not great given the bigger picture. Transition the mining workforce to some other task. If it means moving off the Coast so be it. The mining workforce has always been a mobile one, for mining has never been sustainable. We need some gold for decorative and electronic purposes  but most of it is stored away somewhat meaninglessly. Rare minerals? There are more abundant supplies elsewhere in the world. What is truly valuable on the Coast is its wilderness and that is irreplaceable. So, no digging holes and leaving a mess. The community is already mobile: kids go away to school, tourism is often staffed by people on working visas, incomers are often Greenies from the north, the born and bred people are simply left over from mining and forestry. They are a past, spent force, politically irrelevant and will eventually disappear. Climate change, pollution, species loss are the planetary threats and we have to change our ways. If it means areas of social sacrifice, so be it. The species called man must pull in its head.

If the Coast leadership remain incoherent and scatterbrained it is painfully obvious who is going to win this argument.

But there is another line, which I will advocate for next week.P1040835

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