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Moving

A poignant moment as my daughter and her partner walk through the airport departure gate on their way to Sydney, after living down the road for a decade so that we were a part of the characteristic Blackball extended family. Even more poignant as she is hapu with the baby due in May. At the same time it’s absolutely right for them to explore some change – she’s established herself professionally and needs time to herself; he has family and work in Aussie; it is only three hours away and as I helped them pack and organise things we felt closer than ever… nevertheless.

Meanwhile grandchildren from another part of the family have been staying with the insistent energy of children, the dog’s got a buggered knee, we went to the last Tui Folk Festival where the nostalgia of folk music could be given full reign; the Zapatistas issue an extraordinary manifesto for the world to sign up to; the US is as politically crazy as ever; viruses rule and I learn a part in Beckett’s Endgame, Beckett being a writer who does absurdity remarkably well. We will, with suitable absurdity, be performing the piece in the old Blackball bathhouse.

At a loose end reading wise I picked up from the bookshelves Knight’s Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson (a relic from student days), to find myself immersed in the story of early capitalism: of land becoming commodified, of the riches brought to England by early colonising ventures, of sheep farming leading to enclosure and the wool trade which in turn led to the industrial revolution, of early entrepreneurs with crazy schemes, of the breaking down of the manor house subsistence where an estate could provide for a thousand people and where money was irrelevant.

My daughter’s shift has involved the selling of house and cars. I had an ugly experience getting an assessment at Turners: ‘Scruffy and over capitalised’ was the verdict – it’s carried dogs around a bit and to keep it going involved the spending of four grand a couple of years ago – but it carries a lot of memories. Their house had a couple of dogs buried there… you can’t sell a life, but that is what we have to do.

In Europe there is a movement to take land and houses and culture out of the marketplace. A land trust buys up land with the promise that it will never be sold. People may build upon it and ownership of built property can change hands but the land is sacrosanct. Another trust is buying houses and apartments with the same promise – these properties will never be sold.

Meanwhile my daughter and partner have their worldly possessions in a storage container – goods extracted from the market. So we enter and leave the market place, some people stay there all the time, buying and selling as a life purpose. Perhaps the market and the virus are one and the same paradigm.

So, one strange year has run its course, another begins and one day Beckett’s prophecy will be fulfilled: ‘Time was never, time is over, reckoning finished, story ended.’

Journey

I went up to Kotare, north of Auckland, for a workshop, so travelled seriously for the first time this year. As I waved my card at the ticket machine in order to enter the parking lot at Nelson Airport I realised I had embarked on a digital journey which had begun with the booking of a plane ticket then a rental car. Algorithms had immediately begun to generate messages and last night I could check in online. The rental car booking had produced a hiccup when I read through what the algorithm had produced and realised the insurance cover had been issued by a company in Greece. Dealing with Greece could prove difficult so I changed that, and immediately received a message of regret, once more produced by an algorithm.

Now for the mask, which, like one’s shoes I realise, reveals one’s class – designer or mass produced; it seems someone has produced a transparent mask but I didn’t see any. More algorithms at Auckland airport as I message the rental car shuttle which then carries me to their base tucked away in the warehousing zone. More card waving. Now it is time to pay a toll for the toll road, otherwise the algorithm will bill the rental car company and another algorithm will be called upon. Switch on google maps which accurately predicts traffic congestion and a 20k/hour crawl along a motorway created in order to solve the congestion problem. Everyone’s checking their phones wherever I’ve been and the algorithms know where we are.

I spend a couple of days in the temporary autonomous zone of Kotare (no cell phone coverage) before the return journey.

I get to the rental car base early on a Sunday morning and have time to wander around the area which is filled with vast featureless buildings storing and then transporting goods ordered by algorithm. There’s one for lease and I imagine it populated by the homeless. My thoughts turn to my daughter who is hapu and transformed by the nesting instinct. Like a bird she is intent on creating a safe space for the newborn. It’s lovely to witness.

The rental car crew arrive and enter my information for the algorithm to process and take me to the airport. The airport is a paranoid place and the cabin crew brusque. In this complex digital world, birth, sickness and death or the threat of sickness and death become the signifiers of reality. The virus hovers, seeking a host.

On the ground in Nelson, I wave my card at the parking machine, the barrier arm lifts, I switch off my phone and for the next three hours will be out of the zone. But the algorithms sending messages of thanks and requests for feedback on service are already being sent

When I reach home I am amazed at how fast the grass has grown.

Commodification

The Croesus Track, which begins near Blackball, was established by goldminers who found a reef of gold bearing quartz. With the usual Victorian energy, they carted a stamper battery up the hill and had a brief bonanza, with two pubs springing up to ease the journey. Then it faded. The operation was briefly re-established during the depression before being finally abandoned. Trampers took over the track, extended it over the hill to Barrytown and one of their number organised the building of a hut at the top. It’s named after him. The track and hut became then, part of the local commons.

Then the Paparoa National Park was established and DOC began to administer the commons. The hut remained free to use and we put up with the signage, banning of dogs etc. However, Pike came along and government guilt led to the recent building of the Paparoa Great Walk, both as a tribute to the dead but also being seen as a means of invigorating the local economy.

Te Puawai Co-operative Society had been established as an incubator for local co-ops in the necessary economic transition for the Coast, so it seemed logical to set up a shuttle and vehicle relocation co-op in Blackball. There was a lot of competition from ‘the  market’ and we formed a partnership with the biggest enterprise, a South Island wide provider. It has worked well. They provide the van and booking service, and the co-op provides a way for the local labour to organise itself in an equitable fashion.

It is interesting to observe the dynamics of a Great Walk (which is also open to mountain bikers). The vehicle relocation service is more popular than the shuttle. Why? Presumably the same reason that the private car is more popular than public transport. Flexibility – and you don’t have to relate to ‘the public’. Those who cycle are often on a mission to do the track quickly, to ‘conquer’ it. Some do it in a day. One bloke drove from Christchurch, parked his car in Blackball, cycled up the hill, rode the track and we picked him up at 3pm, wet, muddy and exhausted, brought him back and he was returning to Christchurch that evening. An extreme experience. Walkers take their time and it is often a social experience for family members or to meet up with old mates and to do something together. Both cyclists and walkers are generally middle class pakeha and the walk has become a commodity. You have to book and pay to stay in the huts and ‘our hut’ has become part of the deal. It is no longer part of the commons. But there is some money circulating locally and that’s the trade off for accepting enclosure.
There’ll be some stories, mainly of stuff going wrong. Probably some cyclist will die of exposure on the tops one day. We get to drive some flash cars and keep a wary eye out that we don’t get into a zero hour contract syndrome. And co-op members can think about a new roof or tyres for the car or a visit to the dentist.

If there were a socialist and climate crisis solution it would be to cut out the vehicle relocations (they are logistically problematic) and have a singular and regular shuttle service operated via an electric van. But that would mean limiting the providers to local people who agree on this strategy and culling the market impulse. Unfortunately, that sort of logic can only exist in a country like Cuba. Meanwhile, we have to play the market game.

And we no longer go for a walk up Croesus.

Knots

The Greens and Labour agree to agree to disagree – one of those R.D. Laing knots that afflict the schizophrenic mind. James Shaw continues as Climate Change Minister and Associate Minister for the Environment focusing on biodiversity and Marama Davidson becomes the Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence plus Associate Minister for Housing (focusing on homelessness). Both parties will co-operate, presumably in the above areas but also on electoral reform – to make the parliamentary term four years rather than three and to lower the MMP threshold. The Greens have no economic portfolios or control of big spending ministries and no representation in the budget setting process, They have no fiscal voice so the economic establishments will be placated: no wealth taxes, no capital gains taxes, no guaranteed minimum income, no getting at the farmers – incremental change only for Brand NZ.

Instead of polluters paying, fossil fuel subsidies disappearing and us taking responsibility for our Pacific neighbours, instead of social equity and just transition, we will have agricultural change research, will clean up waterways, have better waste management and will phase out fossil fuels with regard to process heat (drying milk powder). Housing policy will remain aspirational with a curious emphasis on getting rid of rheumatic fever.

When it comes to Domestic and Sexual Violence, Jan Logie’s private members bill actually did something by enabling paid leave and flexible working arrangements. Now there’ll be working groups and reports, perhaps programmes in prisons and schools and better funding for refuges.

As for the homeless, there is already an action plan which includes supporting people coming out of prison and mental hospital and drug programmes and a scheme to replace motel accommodation with transitional housing. But never bring up the economic causation of generational poverty. Never bring up the tension caused by the daily performance of success in the media and more generally, the glare from the bright lights of stars and celebrities, the beaming faces of athletes and the consumer aspiration in every ad. The Greens brought this up and have been put in their place.

But hopefully, Marama will continue to speak this contradiction and Jacinda will continue to interject, Not on my watch. It could become an interesting skit.   

Spotlight

I’ve been doing further reading on the kaupapa of some cultural worker activists from the northern hemisphere and been both startled, stimulated and grateful that the energy and analysis that arose in the 1990s and then had seemed to dissipate, even disappear, has returned – stronger and more coherent. It leaves me with a ‘I can die happy’ sort of feeling.

They are saying something like the following: We have to admit the crisis and realise that all the crises are connected. Rather than put our energy and tolerance of risk into surviving individually within a decaying capitalist system, let us put our energy into and take the risk of establishing relationships of solidarity.

And then a set of questions:

  • Given unstable incomes, unstable housing and an unknown future how do we organise within this set of completely unstable conditions?
  • Can we organise without money, space, stability and experts?
  • Do we trust ourselves?
  • Can we disentangle our nervous systems from the habits of capitalism?
  • Have we the courage to be disobedient in terms of energy and time?
  • Can we look at wishes not problems?
  • Can we understand that reciprocity is complex and that post capitalist reciprocation looks different? (By this they mean that relationships of gift and reception, work and payment are not simply binary.)
  • Can we understand that difference and change are our greatest powers?
  • Let us understand that what we are doing and making is done and made by workers, for the community.
  • Whatever we do has to be such that it cannot be colonised by google, has to outlast capitalism and doesn’t replace the government’s work.
  • Radical change is no longer about a singular confrontation or revolution, but rather a complex integration of multiple responses operating in a precarious manner – indigenous, gender, worker, hunter and gatherer, sexual orientation, national, ability, age, environmental, with often the conflict being between this diversity and the imposers of regularity. 

One of the activists, Cassie Thornton, who describes herself as a feminist economist artist, has modelled a system of care, based on what she saw happening in Greece during the austerity crisis. She calls it the hologram (giving a picture of a three dimensional person). The person who is the hologram gathers three people who interview the hologram  – one focusing on physical health, one on psychological health, the third on social and relationship health. They meet perhaps once a season or if there is a big decision to be made. It becomes a system of caring outside the mainstream. And then each of those listeners become a hologram, getting three people to form the triangle. And then those people meet etc. A network of different relationships spreads, like a virus. In this way, new systems of relationships could be built up, subverting capitalist relations.

Thornton is also active in a Canadian organisation called RiVAL (Reimagining Value Action Lab), which operates ‘at the intersections between art, research and social activism.’ The organisation mounts projects around three themes: Post extractive futures which requires an expanded imagination of ‘the economy’; Decolonising the settler imagination through establishing new communities of risk and relation and storytelling solidarity; and Investigating what comes after revenge politics (falling out of love with authoritarian institutions, transcending capitalist neurohacking(facebook etc) to establish a new radical humanism. The hallmarks of a project they would support is that it is about collaboration and relationship, has a radical imagination, is challenging conventions and power, and is in dialogue with struggles for social justice.

Another woman, Sibylle Peters of Fundus Theatre in Hamburg does this amazing theatre work with children based on the children’s wishes. If they want to be astronauts they build a spaceship, but then the sense of flying through space? – lie on your back and stare at the sky and imagine. You want to be rich? – start a children’s bank. Projects also involved finding the spirits within a school and inventing rituals to relate to them. You want to destroy something? Work out what and why and go and do it. Amazingly enough, schools (from low decile areas) go along with it. Once again art is used as a means of research.

There are other groups in the states and obviously a network which is building. I’ve started circulating people here. The question remains, Is this just arty-farty ideas? Well, at the moment, the shuttle co-op we’re running is proving popular as an income earner for locals who are under-employed and in some cases unwilling to go back to 12 hour shifts and 60 hour weeks. Put simply, they want a life. I have a feeling this is more generally the case, and the choice: over employed and stressed out. or under-employed, broke and stressed out. I begin to see the possibility of a ‘virus’ of co-ops solving this, meeting the outlined ideology. The one thing stopping it is access to capital. How do we organise without money?

Debate?

The final leaders’ debate was a saccharine affair, the set belonging to an ad for colour schemes, the costumes carefully chosen, Jacinda’s earrings bouncing light, Judith’s eyebrows arched and her costume dowdier, the moderator a head prefect presence, the ads in the breaks particularly surreal, the discussion superficial. A moment of crabbiness over the wealth tax, with no mention of the Guaranteed Minimum Income for which the wealth tax is simply one of the tools to raise the money. Too deep. So, reassurance for the rich, but ignore meaningful solutions to poverty. School lunches are hardly transformational. Housing reform is impossible because no one will prick the high price bubble – too much personal equity at stake. Build affordable houses, but how? Increase the housing supply? I would’ve thought that brings prices down? Climate crisis – don’t panic, link to brand NZ. So, Climate crisis NZ- no – clean green, Covid free, God’s own country. Be nicer to Maori. And be stable. Aspirations? To make politics a friendlier and more diverse space, a more bearable staffroom with the children playing safely outside. Closed borders and who do we let in other than our own? Well, Hollywood first, America Cup participants second, sports teams third, farm contractors fourth, fruit pickers fifth. Faith? Judith a liberal Anglican, whatever that means, Jacinda a lapsed Mormon and curiously disturbed by the question. Unions and workplace relations? Not a mention. It would bugger up the colour scheme.

I recently read a book: Workers without bosses, which revisits the stroppy Australian unionism of the late sixties and seventies when shop floor committees insisted on closed shops, on workers input into hiring and firing and into health and safety, when workers continued working when factories tried to close, had green bans, rainbow bans, stopped gentrification of working class housing areas, got involved in foreign policy, in fact ‘challenged the foundations of the capitalist employment relationships in which bosses govern and workers obey… challenged all aspects of the power, authority and control of the employer class.’ Attempts to introduce penal controls were ignored with further bans. It was only stopped by neo liberalism and the creating of unemployment.

Those were the aspirational days, my friends.

Demo by building workers to save the urban environment
Unionists save a working class heritage area

Glimmers of Light

It’s a world of magic realism. Because of a Certificate of Public Use running out, a toilet is legal today, illegal tomorrow, the event taking place presumably at midnight. No physical change has occurred, simply a regulation kicking in. In the UK, six is suddenly the number for legal gatherings. A family of seven becomes illicit. Darcy, a fly in fly out miner turns up at the airport with paperwork that allows a workmate standing beside him in the queue to fly across the Tasman but the same paperwork proves inadequate in his case. Different immigration officer. A headache perhaps, a relationship breaking up?  This begins a bureaucratic process that is truly Kafkaesque. Similarly, the Assange trial is pure Kafka. The go-to epidemiologist, with shocking pink hair, seems a character out of Alice in Wonderland. National’s team of ‘competent business people’ get their figures wrong. Floods, hurricanes and bush fires rage. We have entered the time of crisis. The centre will try and hold, with the margins collapsing. I video a local candidates meeting and it’s all predictable, Labour keeping things moving, Greens kindly and idealistic, NZ First full of policy, National preaching competence for recovery, the rest a bit loopy and nationalist with the anti money party having the insight of extremity. A drunk is embarrassing and no one can ask a simple question. Given the opportunity, people start raving. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZER-Ss7gFg

I read a book, The mushroom at the end of the world, which posits a strange hope on the margins of precarity, as war vets, refugees and ferals gather matsutake mushrooms in the degraded pine forest of Wyoming. A complex supply train gets the mushrooms to Japan where they are a delicacy offered as gifts. The point made is that in a post human, intersectional, contaminated world, a community of outsiders can still find a rough praxis, different species interact and nurture one another and capital accumulates on the margins. I wonder whether the wilding pines are hiding this mushroom delicacy and in our lust for purity we forgot to notice.

In another book, Cassie Thornton, a feminist economist artist (that’s a mouthful) makes an interesting proposal: ‘How can we let go of what we know are false and deadly dreams of individual success within this murderous system to construct a yet unimaginable social world?’ she writes. ‘Instead of constantly risking everything to survive as individuals we might use our energy to take risks to make collective experiences of steadfast and deep solidarity where success is measured differently.’ And she is not preaching new ageism which she describes as a ‘middle class, saccharine, self congratulatory, individualistic, crypto masochistic, quasi activist rhetoric of healing, self care, pleasure, generosity and kindness.’ Not bad.

Thornton mounted an interesting dance project with dancers entering a large bank trying to find some dirt; which, if it existed, would be the only real thing in the building. A Hamburg colleague, Sybelle Peters, works with children and their wishes; one project involved the kids finding miracles in their neighbourhood – which sounds a worthwhile exercise well outside the National Standards testing regime.

Reading about these women’s work there is a sense of entering a space which is real, a space where people have taken a scalpel to the dark clouds of mystification to let through a glimmer of light.

The aesthetic of the inarticulate

Over in Christchurch for a couple of days I went with Leigh to the film Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always. An eighteen year old college girl finds she’s pregnant but can’t get an abortion in Pennsylvania. Supported by her cousin, who steals some money from the supermarket where they both work weekends, she goes to New York for the procedure. Because she is over ten weeks it requires them staying there for two days. In between clinic appointments they are too broke to afford accommodation so roam the streets and the malls and ride the subway. The title of the film comes from interview questions from the counsellor as she asks about abusive sexual experiences (Never, rarely etc.).

The cousin is more outgoing but the central character is shut away within her inarticulate self. Her integrity is her inarticulateness. She suffers the experience and has no words for it. The relationship with her family is mute. Her relationship with her cousin is equally wordless, other than a couple of small moments of tenderness. Their home town looks singularly grim. New York is serial and the women in the clinic locked into procedure. The film is brilliantly acted and photographed, but at the end I was left with the question: Why has all the scripting, photography and editing – the whole machinery of articulation –  been devoted to create an oppressed silence without a glimmer of hope. Is it because hope would have been a romantic lie? Is it that these young women and their families are trapped in a nihilism where no one is capable of comprehending their experience. Is that the reality or is it the filmmaker’s perception of that reality? The filmmaker, after all, has chosen. What would Brecht have shown? Or Boal? Brecht was always keen to show with clarity the oppression caused by capitalist economic structures and is famous for that profound moment of silent articulation:  Mother Courage’s voiceless scream. Boal would insist on replaying the action and for the audience to explore with the actors, other choices. Boal insists on articulation and clarity. Leigh meanwhile, focused on the role of the women in the clinic. How could this young woman be supported, even while rejecting support?

As we talked, the plot of the film began to unravel and we became aware of moments of mystification: Was the girl’s father an abuser? If so, why not make it clear? Who was the father of the baby? Why was he not relevant? Why not allow the relationship of the two girls to develop? How did she find her cousin and the boy after they had vanished into the streets of New York? Would the women in the recovery room ignore one another?  Why couldn’t she talk to her mother? What conversation would she have with her mother when she returned home? These mystifications are necessary for the girls to remain inarticulate.

When we googled the filmmaker we found the intent was to make a pro abortion film. Presumably, if abortion were available in her home town, greater dialogue would have been possible? Although she didn’t want her parents to know, so dialogue with whom? And the final question: Who is going to see the film? Would the two girls at its centre sit through an art film? Unlikely. The portrayal of oppression involves aesthetic choices which are also political choices on the part of the artist. To deny the working class articulation in the interests of art is a serious decision to make: Never? Rarely? Sometimes? Always?

Despair (2)

A preview performance of our stories at Red Books went well. Performing is always healing, as is the coherence of a story formed and perfected. For a moment the dross falls away and clarity is achieved. The contradictions and ironies become the sinews of reality. For a moment.

Only one mask wearer, who in a situation of presence was absent. And that is one function of the mask, to protect oneself against the presence of the other and to protect the other against one’s own presence, to become effectively, as absent as possible. That is the rationality for the burqa, to protect the woman against serial male desire and to protect the woman from reciprocating. Presence and desire are then privatised to the patriarch’s bedroom.

A contrary function of the mask is to allow freedom of the libido, as in the carnival. For the Zapatista the mask protects the ‘we’ from the state gaze. And one of the ironies of any mandatory mask wearing will be to sabotage CCTV and facial recognition systems.

Meanwhile, the Greenland ice cap has melted. The canary is dead with barely a mention in the media.

Back to the despair of trying to forge different relationships in the real world. There’s a bulk food store for sale in Greymouth, the perfect venture for Te Puawai Co-op to facilitate an Invercargill style venture (www.thepantry.co.nz) where such a facility is run by a collective which involves people with a disability. Despite Provincial Growth Funds, mayoral job funds, Development West Coast, employment schemes, wage subsidies, various NGOs advocating for the disabled, there is no effective interest. If we did get something off the ground a saboteur would appear, a system centred buyer. For the sake of some minimal capital nothing transformative will happen outside the sphere of art.

The Greenland ice cap has melted. The canary is dead.

A sign outside a café: Now that you have learned to wash your hands children, we will learn to put our chairs under our desks neatly.  Jacinda has become over exposed. There’s a visceral rebellion welling up which could seriously fragment the political landscape.

A commentator has described the current world as no longer capitalist, but neo feudal, with kings and queens, an aristocracy, a gentry, guilds of skilled workers, and at the bottom serfs no longer tied to land but tied to pracarity: a cheap rental if you’re lucky, or a cheap car, a shopping trolley, a sleeping bag, a cell phone if you’re unlucky… Within this the search for transformative relationship is hugely difficult: how to create the autonomous zone, the commune, how to link up effectively while respecting diversity? There are promising signs that the new age impulse is becoming politicised, past the privilege of food choice, life style block and mouse-click environmentalism, leading to the seeking of relations of solidarity not within or against but outside the feudal system.

Signs and signals.

I suddenly remember our production of Oedipus in the late seventies, couched as an environmental statement, something which I didn’t quite understand at the time; but now it’s obvious: the cursed baby (Western civilisation) saved by a shepherd’s sympathy (think Christ), grows up amongst strangers, loses his temper and kills a man at the crossroads (colonisation), solves the riddle (science), marries his mother in order to become king (the industrial revolution), the plague descends and in trying to find a solution he discovers his own culpability; the solution is to blind himself and go into the wilderness.

The Greenland ice cap has melted. The canary is dead.

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