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Paul Maunder's blog

Entering the ‘real’ world

After four weeks of grandchildren – interesting being immersed once more in the child’s world of opportunism and insistent need – I’ve been making the transition to the ‘adult’ world.

As part of the transition I went to a concert by  the Canadian singer, Jane Silberry, at the Barrytown Hall. Canadians are often interesting, living so close to the madness of the States, separate and saner, but close to the centre.

Jane was a skilled vocalist and guitarist and a competent wordsmith. The performance was fascinating in its portrayal of post modernism. I felt the dense and competitive musical culture that must exist in her part of the world. There will be a multitude of performances taking place at any one time, all at a skilled level. Everyone has to be original. The performance must be subtle yet able to respond to the interjector or the drunk, and needs a gag or two. You have to be gender savvy, environment savvy, psychologically savvy, new age savvy, masked yet unmasked, sardonic yet open to wonder, skilled yet not showy, cool not adversarial. And life is difficult: hard to find an acceptable and sustainable romantic partner; having to conquer depression or neurosis as the planet goes down the tube and cyclones and hurricanes rage; having to deal with aging parents; there are refugees and terrorists; to not get swallowed by urban busyness and at the end of the day, the need to sleep.

What it produces is a performance which in some ways is old fashioned, with something of the spinster, a sadness yet a need for hope, a desire for the certitude of religion, for Blake’s angels. There’s the knowledge it’s all been said before, done before, action is impossible.  We simply follow little trails of difference. Small children and heavy rain overwhelm. And when we die it will be inconsequential, like euthanasia, another tidying of the world where all is regulated for the best, rumble strips and median barriers on the highways, scaffolding around every height, human rights for all, our heart monitored twenty four hours a day, and no such thing as evil. Politics has died for there is no adversary, no possibility of the imaginary, all is regulated, and our teeth report cavities directly to the dentist.

In this world self pity is sardonic. All you can do is counsel yourself and others that things will work out and you don’t need the medication, just the occasional revelation from the natural world which becomes a secure but volatile partner. Plus a dog which barks at strangers and provides company in the dark hours of the siren-sounding night.

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Poison and Purity

With its call to ban 1080, the SPCA have literally put the cat amongst the pigeons. Their  kaupapa is to prevent cruelty to animals by human beings. 1080 is a poison which takes roughly 12 hours to kill by denying oxygen to organs. Vomiting, fits and internal bleeding occur, so it is, one imagines, an unpleasant death. Cruelty is ‘being indifferent to or delighting in another’s pain’ (OED). The SPCA argues therefore that DOC and OSPRI (formally TB FREE NZ) are being cruel when they administer 1080.

Historically, the SPCA, established here in 1882, has been an effective lobby group: cattle are no longer badly treated, horses are no longer flogged, dogs beaten, kittens drowned and so on. The state imposes fines, even imprisonment, for those found guilty of cruelty. It has become generally agreed that we should look after our fellow creatures humanely and if we do have to kill them we should do it with the minimum of suffering. The society has also drawn the link between child abuse and animal abuse, both being caused by a lack of empathy. In a 2007 survey, the SPCA was the second most trusted charity in NZ, so it has some mana.

Forest and Bird have reacted with some vehemence. Usually the anti 1080 lobby can be portrayed as being made up of obsessive ferals, but the SPCA does not fit this mould and the complexity and the problematic of the environmentalist’s kaupapa in regard to 1080 is revealed. Generally they prefer to turn a blind eye, but if pointed out, they argue that the cruelty attached to 1080 use is a necessary evil in order to preserve our indigenous flora and fauna. For OSPRI the dairy industry, one of our main earners, is under threat. We have to be cruel in order to be kind and the end justifies the means. War imagery is used, e.g. Battle for the Birds and collateral damage is acceptable.

There are of course worrying connotations to this reasoning if we transfer it to human society, because similar arguments are used to justify ethnic cleansing: foreigners have crept into the midst of a ‘pure people’ who lived happily in a past golden age. The foreigner must be demonised: stoats, rats etc aren’t just living their instinctual life, they are ‘cruel murderers’ according to Forest and Bird. DOC websites will always picture snarling possums. For OSPRI possums are economic saboteurs. Suddenly these predators have been given consciousness and ethical judgement, which is stretching logic. The same state that will fine someone for drowning a kitten is itself, through one of its departments, poisoning thousands of animals who by living their natural lives threaten native species who evolved in a land cut off from the rest of the world. The native species natural habitat (wilderness) becomes carefully constructed and policed areas where the indigenous are encouraged to breed and the foreigners fecundity is an absolute threat, with an Armageddon of species loss just around the corner. The whole paradigm becomes infected with nationalism, the indigenous becoming central to national character and pride. At the same time the Anthropocene is upon us, that affecting of the planet by human beings at a geological level, with another great extinction on the cards.

These are perplexing and difficult issues and for this reason will not go away, no matter how often the anti 1080 brigade are portrayed as ‘nutcases’, who now include the SPCA. Do we try to return to a mammal-free Aotearoa? But what about humans, cows, horses, sheep, goats, deer, pigs, Tahr… When we move past the mammals to possums eating out our native forest, it is somehow ethically simpler. But then there is lupin, gorse, wilding pine plus the over populated dairy industry (perhaps as villainous as possums when we add polluted waterways and disappearing wetlands). None of it’s easy to resolve and purity can become absurd: DOC have been known to suggest that pohutakawa trees be removed from South Island national parks because they are not native. Certain weka have somehow become genetically impure. And therefore when someone like the SPCA steps in with their simple ethical argument: Don’t be cruel to our fellow creatures (a little like an organisation in Hitler’s Germany suggesting we should be kind to one another no matter what our ethnicity, politics, sexuality or religion), environmentalists become very grumpy indeed. At the same time, these environmentalists will generally be believers in diversity amongst human beings and pro refugee.

I don’t have the solution. When we did a play on the subject a decade ago we could see every side, and the only sensible suggestion we could make was for every community to be given the research, and after rigorous debate, to decide for itself.

And we are left it seems with some research questions: while 1080 has been proven to break down quickly in water, there seems to be little research as to the extent of the suffering involved in a 1080 death; there do seem to be issues with regard to how long it lasts in the food chain and there do seem to be issues relating to mutation caused by sub lethal doses. But yes, it is relatively cheap and effective and the introduction of predatory mammals was a disaster, caused once again by the worst predator of all, the human species.

A Christmas greeting

As the level of surveillance increases. I do find it an increasingly medieval world. Not only facebook etc,  but insurance companies and government departments use spies and another US state passes a law which means you lose your job or contract if you participate in the Boycott and Divest movement against Israel, even in the gentlest way – for example by not buying a humus made in Israel. And Congress is about to pass a law making it a criminal offence to boycott Israel, which now becomes a new Holy Land, to be taken from the infidel.

Meanwhile, children are endlessly monitored in their learning, no longer the occasional exam to gauge progress but weekly results reported to the MOE. The 3 Rs have been analysed to the nth degree in terms of stages. The use of metaphor is no longer a discovery, no longer something organic, but taught like a military drill. Thou shalt use metaphor on Wednesday, simile on Friday.

Cargo cults form. Suddenly sports teams take ice baths after games. Very unpleasant it seems, with no evidence of benefit, but it becomes a bonding ritual, this experiencing of pain together. There are often insufficient baths so wheelie bins are commandeered. The mind boggles at the image of the nation’s sports people sitting in wheelie bins packed with ice on a Saturday afternoon. What’s the figure of speech?

In the midst of chaos, Joan of Arc appears in the form of fifteen year old Greta Thumberg, labelled as Aspergic (if that’s a word) because she studied the climate change issue and became depressed that such a crisis could be wilfully ignored. She started to go to parliament and sit on the steps with a placard rather than go to school.  She’s become something of a phenomenon because she tells the truth.

‘…we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.

‘But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.’

Perhaps it will simply mean that Greta has her ten minutes of fame. I hope not. Perhaps all the children of the world will opt out of surveillance and data collection and ice baths and simply overthrow the system in a truly symbolic moment that will not fit the achievement model held by the MOE.

Meanwhile, there are some lovely anticipations of a future world happening, for example, kids going to school on a bike bus. Bike buses might become a universal means of transport. Mary, Joseph and little Jesus, the three wise men and the shepherds all pedalling toward Jerusalem to burn down the US embassy. And the Australian; and the Saudi Arabian, plus the settlements…

france-bike-bus-main-1506732822

Take care.

All the c’s

P1060886

Convolvulus is an extraordinarily aggressive weed at this time of year. The chicken coop is under attack. I tear at it but also know that every piece left lying around will produce a new tendril. It seems you have to burn it. I haven’t the time or patience for total eradication and at least it dies off in winter.  But as Christmas approaches it becomes a useful metaphor.

For convolvulus reminds me of commercialisation, of commodification, of. let’s name it, capitalism – all the c words. Entering the Warehouse or Mitre 10, or simply walking through the shopping centre, the banal Christmas jingles assault the ear, while the eye is bemused by the multiplicity of invitations to buy some junk. I had to compose a quick poster for the carol service at the Working Men’s Club so googled Christmas images. There were pages of bad design of the worst kind.

Yet Christmas is a complex cultural ritual: the birth of the prophet Christ as a man-god, the charitable work of fourth century Saint Nicholas, the tribal god Woden with his horse, the change of the earth’s orbit. This rich pot pourri has been historically vandalised by magazines, department stores and Coca Cola to see the concept of ‘gift’ reduced to the mass production and consumption of baubles and beads which together with the Boxing Day sales, ‘adds to the GDP’. It is a banal culture we live in and one which deserves to be washed away.

Still, there are a few signs of hope: the range of protestors in Katowice as the emperors fiddle (a new term- macho-fascist); the economist who has calculated the value of breast milk to the GDP, Marilyn Waring reinstating the value of unpaid work to the economy…

Today is a heavy, cloudy day, the wind chime faintly stirs and soon it will rain. The convolvulus will continue to grow. The dog quietly snuffles under my desk. For the moment, all is quiet.

Take care.

The 1980s

Last weekend I attended the 30th anniversary of the Waimapihi Housing Co-operative which I helped set up in Holloway Road, Wellington, in 1988. We had successfully fought for a government designation to be lifted (they were going to bulldoze the gully and turn it into playing fields) and then the task was to enable the tenants to have first right to buy,

Even then, some tenants would never be able to raise a mortgage, or like me, didn’t believe in private ownership of housing, and we were able to borrow money from the Housing Corporation and buy seven houses plus a renovation fund. As we recorded an oral history, David McGill, who was our resident architect for the renovations pointed out that the co-op was able to take advantage of a six month window of opportunity. The government had been researching the usefulness of co-operatives as a means to provide housing and had set up a fund, which was then quickly gutted by the Roger Douglas faction. But we had been ready and able to take advantage of that brief moment.

But the reunion also brought back vivid memories of the eighties. It began of course with the mass mobilisations of the anti apartheid movement and the intense debates within the movement – between communists, Maori, feminists, lesbians, churchgoers… Meetings and protests were extraordinary performative affairs. For me the era was one of community involvement for the first time, of fathoming the practice of the progressive communist, and of being faced with feminism and the Maori struggle. We did a series of plays based on first contact: Thomas Kendall, Parihaka, Te Puea.  We toured marae with one of the plays which took me to the heartland of Maoridom. I tried to fathom the reality of oppression at the personal level, for example the victim of sexual abuse, as opposed to the ideology of oppression and the spokespeople for the ideology. They were intensely difficult issues without easy solution.

During the reunion I wrote a poem within a simple framework I use for primary school creative writing students. First line, one word, second line two words etc.

Waimapihi

Mickey Savage

George Maureen Pop

The protests of ’81

Old working class, new lefties

Blend in born agains, hippy craftspeople

A common enemy,  the corporate capitalist state

A diverse whanau searching for new social relations

Clearing the gorse. for some a time of healing

Changing property relations, dancing revolution, as Rogernomics entered stage right

dissolving the commons, speeding up production, investing in investment, privatising pain

But a co-op preserved something of the dream, as consumerism claimed centre stage

P1110858 Waimapihi Housing Co-op 2018

A daunting task

It’s an increasingly surreal world. The UN report on climate change now gives us twelve years to sort things out. Otherwise we pass the point of no return. Instead of having at least a couple of generations, perhaps more, the task has become immediate. And it’s not just climate change.

Mike Barret of the World Wildlife Fund writes, ‘What’s absolutely clear at the moment, looking at the declines of nature that we’re currently seeing, is that the planet does need to be put on life support.’

And the response is to elect Bolsonaro, a Trump clone. The political trend internationally is to opt for thuggery, to rip up environmental protection, to retreat to persecutor-victim-rescuer syndromes and a resulting paranoia. A bruised and disenchanted working class combine with the ever present sub-fascist capitalists to push us over the cliff. Noam Chomsky writes, ‘… it’s as if we’re kind of like the proverbial lemmings just happily marching off the cliff, led by leaders who understand very well what they’re doing, but are so dedicated to enriching themselves and their friends in the near future that it simply doesn’t matter what happens to the human species. There’s nothing like this in all of human history. There have been plenty of monsters in the past, plenty of them. But you can’t find one who was dedicated, with passion, to destroying the prospects for organized human life.’

Meanwhile the media continues to beam smiling and positive people of diverse ethnicity and gender, promising us wonderful experiences. A strange utopia is portrayed, with limitless opportunity. If anything goes wrong we will be tended to by resolute police or fire people or ambos. Environmentalism becomes sentiment – smiling children bonding with penguins. The liberal opposition spirals into ever more anxious and varied postures of subjectivity. Trump supporters chanting, Lock them up, is redundant. The opposition is already locked up.

In the midst of the bread and circuses, it is tempting to similarly retreat to one’s own subjectivity, to take up meditation or Gurdjieff or tours of European cathedrals, to become immersed in family history or a local conservation project…

The one group making political judgements that ring true are the anarchists and there are some bright ones internationally who continue to argue that the nation state is the problem. They look back to those first Internationals and the struggle between the statists and those who preached direct confrontation between the working class and capital, who advocated for workers to join hands across national boundaries in the common task of revolution. In this scenario US, Afghani, New Zealand, Syrian, German, Russian, Chinese, Brazilian, Palestinian, Israeli etc. workers have the same agenda, to become a conscious articulate international force. Trade unions cease being ‘business’ unions, part of the service sector and instead become revolutionary vehicles driven by the simplest economic and social formula: from each according to their ability, to each according to their need. Include the environment in this maxim  and the singular obsession with preserving an ever more watered down social democracy is seen as a waste of energy, especially youthful energy.

From this point of view, the nation state historically was a structure which freed the middle class from feudal limitations. For the working class to try and take it over, leads to distortions. In the late 19th century, the statist faction, led by Marx, took over the Internationals and the distortions have played out ever since.  At the core of the libertarian socialists’ argument was and is, an ethical imperative, and an ethical imperative is necessary to save a life-sustaining planet.

The difficulty with anarchism is its requirement for sussed and sane working class people, without axes to grind or authoritarian tendencies, people who understand the discipline of freedom, yet are still capable of resolute action.  It’s not about dreamers or life-stylers.

And occasionally there is a flowering: the Spanish Civil War initially, some counter cultural moments in the sixties, the Zapatistas, and now the Kurdistan Workers Party and its establishing of a democratic confederation of cantons in northern Syria. Rojava is now the mecca for progressive European youth, for it’s a society attempting to put into practice principles of social ecology. Living at the centre of the world’s toxicity, these people are remarkable.

These small flowerings have to become a garden, and then to quickly fill the landscape. And that is a very daunting task indeed.

proletarios_unidos

 

Reflections on the Blackball Readers & Writers Festival

Art shows ‘a kind of people in a kind of place’. Raymond Williams.

As the Blackball Readers and Writers Festival approached I realised that I’d never been to a readers and writers festival and here I was organising one. Although I have seen video of a conversation with John Berger and attended the famous Grotowski session in Wellington in the 1970s so I had the gist of what happens. It is about conversations.

After the first day of the Blackball event I lay in bed pondering on the concept of ‘voice’ and who has a voice in society. Politicians, business people and media people have a voice (largely through the media, which can also give ordinary people a momentary voice when disasters or scandals erupt), but the writer’s voice is different. First of all something has to be written, then it has to get published, then it has to be publicised through interviews, reviews and festivals. It is a process of devotion and not many make much money. The festival then, gives the reader the chance to see the writer in the flesh.

The Blackball  festival was different from the city festival. It took place in a village, people had to come and stay, they generally attended everything, they got to know one another, there was an intimacy, it was held in a school and a working men’s club, there was the past political history and ‘ether’ of the place (workers’ struggles) and it was framed with mihi and karakia. People enjoyed this difference.

After the second day I lay in bed pondering on the reader psychology, the person with their head ’buried in a book’, escaping into a fictional world (even if non fiction) – something of the baby at the breast involved. A personality can collapse of course, if that escape is taken away.  Solitary confinement without a book to read would be hellish. And the reader has more control than the person watching a movie. The reader can set their own pace, can flip, daydream, return and reorder the story.

Of course, in the modern world there is the contentious digital voice: the tweet,  the unconsidered gossip of social media. But the gossip simply mirrors society and never achieves the status of the aesthetic. It is about a chaos of people in a chaotic place.

I learnt that the festival conversation should be 60 minutes in length – no longer. That is the length of the psycho-analytic  session and there are similarities.  One is talking about lives leading to poems or novels, the other is talking about lives as expressed through dreams. The novelist constructs an edifice, has to learn about architecture. It is similar to the realist portrait or landscape painter: detail, colour, perspective etc. The poet is more the dreamer, with the imagery formed from resistance to desire. And ordering existential anxiety remains a motive in both forms.

It was great to have Jean Devanny resurrected. What amazing women she and Lola Ridge were, feminist communists of the 1920s and 1930s, both beginning on the Coast.

The book market that developed organically during the festival was lovely. Every writer has a box of unsold books under the bed. Signings took place on the veranda, authors swapped books, someone brought some lemons to sell – it was an unmediated, village market place.

On Friday, the environmentalist writer, Kennedy Warne visited a couple of local schools for conversations with the kids.  He simply talked about what he does: which is visit natural environments then photograph, write and speak about them. Future writers and photographers were discovered in the classrooms. There should be more of this sort of interaction, especially in rural areas.

Organisationally, the festival was an ad for anarcho syndicalism. Three co-op members appeared from the woodwork to take over registration, book sales and catering co-ordination, leaving me to deal with writers and the tech stuff. A bloke in Greymouth loaned us his fancy radio mic headsets for a koha, the local caterer did two lunches, three morning and afternoon teas  and a dinner for $40 a head and it all went smoothly. In the city this would have required an event team and the associated budget.

This desire for a voice is deeply felt. On the final evening the floor was open for people to read a letter. Most brought a letter written by an ancestor and I realised the impulse toward genealogy, the rest home or hospice interview and the family history, is also about having a voice.

As well, the festival gave Blackball a voice and local people appreciated that. A ‘welcome writers’ sign someone placed on the main road was a sweet indication.

But there is also the consumer voice, the voice of entitlement, which suddenly appeared after handing out feedback forms. How to gain feedback without arousing that voice?

Of course we’ll do it again, but biannually. The in-between year will be devoted to a writers’ retreat with workshop elements.  The concept of coal to words and the applying of the underground mine paradigm to literature is a valid one.

Finally, the perennial rage about arts funding not being available to the regions or the community continues to simmer. It is a political scandal that the lotto ticket buyer continues to pretty much exclusively subsidise the middle class urban life style.

                     Two of the guest writers: Panni Palasti and Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

Flabbergasted

It’s not often I’m flabbergasted, but the fining of two New Zealand women, one Jewish, the other Palestinian, by an Israeli court for causing distress to three Israeli teenagers because they were instrumental in Lorde’s cancelling of her Tel Aviv concert is truly extraordinary. Instrumental because they wrote an open letter to Lorde suggesting she not play Tel Aviv because it would give moral support to Israel’s continuing oppression of the Palestinians.

It’s truly extraordinary because there exist in Gaza a million teenagers living in extreme distress, unable to move freely, reliant on food aid, homes bombed to rubble, unable to access education, subjected to extreme surveillance, sniped at, aware that drones flying overhead might, at the slightest provocation, release a missile, lacking water and electricity, without employment or hope, condemned to living in the largest prison on the planet, bereft of access to justice from a state forged from the theft of their land and possessing the third largest military in the world, a military heavily subsidised by the US, who has recently cut its aid programme to Gaza.

gaza 2

Israel prioritising the three teenagers distress at missing a concert over the situation in Gaza is an act of extraordinary arrogance, an arrogance that exposes their belief that the Palestinians are subhuman, something akin to feral cats and able to be killed with impunity. This impunity is justified by the past suffering of Jewish people, mainly at the hands of Europeans, which culminated in the Holocaust, a dreadful event for which the Palestinians bear no responsibility. But this event becomes an excuse for any Israeli action, no matter how vicious.

It is like the bully justifying murder, rape and theft because he suffered a traumatic childhood, in fact,  by now, because his parents or grandparents suffered a traumatic childhood. The boycott and divest movement threatens the bully’s excuses: his supposed keeping of order in the playground, it questions his right to exist in his current form, and It questions his right to beat up and steal from his victims. The bully is used to inspiring respect and fear, but like all bullies, Israel suffers from a deep insecurity and a corrupt psyche. It is a society in a state of moral decay. No wonder its leaders admire Trump.

Of course there are many Israeli citizens who are equally disturbed by this decay and this corruption. Unfortunately they remain a minority.

And the real threat to the two admirable Kiwi women, is not this puerile fine, but the possibility of the Israeli special forces clandestinely turning up on their doorstep. It has happened before. This is a bully that will stop at nothing.

Playing Silly Buggers

The visit to Blackball by the Waitati Brigade was a  community ’happening’. The script was simple: Blackball had stolen their teapot which contained precious secrets and they had come to claim it back. This required the formation of a Blackball Brigade, with uniforms, chants, haka, speeches and weaponry (flour bombs, paper swords, a catapult, a cardboard tank) for the mock battle. Strategy had to be devised as well.

Thursday night and Saturday morning were times of preparation. Waitati had arrived by then and were able to assist with techniques for sword making and the like. They belittled our sausages, we belittled their politics. This was mana for the kids of course. And the dogs were not disinterested.

The battle duly proceeded and a scripted finale of two Blackball hostages being taken by alien supporters of Waitati resulted in their victory and the reclaiming of their teapot.

The whole thing was great fun and reminded me of the work of the UK group, Welfare State, who were active from the 1960s through to the 1980s. They traveled the world facilitating this sort of community event; sometimes there was a political edge, when, for example, they devised a show for a town that relied for its economy on building Trident submarines. Welfare State specialised in giant puppets  made from newspaper, carpet glue, bamboo and gaffer tape. Dependent on grants, like most community-based work, they were booted out by neo-liberalism, for their work (and there were other similar companies) was an attempt to take back community culture from the money people, from the event companies, from the commodifiers of everything.

Saturday’s event was raw, hands on carnival, and there were no stalls, nothing to sell or buy, no sausage sizzles, no car boot sales, there was no money changing hands – a wonderful relief.

Afterward I wandered home dusting the flour off of my medieval cloak, feeling content.

It had been a moment’s break from the hegemony of capital.

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