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Climate crisis

Imagery

Delving into Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire I was struck by the intensity of controversy over images in the early church. Used to the ornately decorated European cathedral, we can forget the asceticism of the early church (to be repeated by the early Protestants). Painted or sculptured images of God, Christ, Mary or the saints, or depictions of the dramas of Christianity were forbidden and seen as succumbing to the heathen superstition and idolatry of tribal peoples. The cross was the only image allowed. A similar banning of imagery occurs in Islam. And there is a point to this. Not having a photographic image of Christ or Mary or the disciples or Mohamed, how does one paint a true likeness? It is necessarily made up and subjective.

But there was a counter argument: that such images were necessary to attract the more primitive and the simple minded folk. As well, images of Christ, Mary, saints and martyrs held huge emotional power, for example before battles when life might be lost. The depiction of the dead and the sacred does serve a real human need, with suspension of disbelief easily achieved.

My thoughts turned to the contemporary world and the cacophony of images and their association with the gods of commerce and consumerism. After looking after a couple of children for a month, I was glad to see the end of the endless supply of kids’ films, many of which are over the top in terms of stimulation. I’ve long wanted a ban on tourists taking photos. The emotional power of the commercial image has returned us to the idolising of the fetish. And without the mediation of the natural working world of the peasant.

In turn I wondered whether, in order to tackle the climate crisis, we need to return to a spiritual aesthetic asceticism, this time in order to acknowledge and respect the power and complexity of the natural systems; that a crucifixion has taken place which shouldn’t be imaged, but told as a simple story: we were gifted a planet and we crucified it. A single image could become the visual descriptor, together with testaments and songs.

Perhaps that degree of focus is required?

Christmas narratives

When I worked with Sue Bradford and the Auckland Unemployed Workers’ Rights Movement in the in 1990s on a play which told the story of the Rogernomics era from the point of view of the unemployed, we called the piece, Telling the Other Story. The concept of telling alternative narratives has become, since then, increasingly potent.

As the COP25 climate conference threatens to become bogged down at the official level, important stories are emerging: the corporate takeover via sponsorship, the farce of the carbon market, the holding onto power by the north (including Australia), the refusal to consider climate justice at the economic level thus condemning developing countries to becoming survival economies, the anger and creativity of the young climate activists and the prescient voice of Greta Thunberg and the growing centrality of the indigenous voice. Revolutionary change hovers.

Within this is the yet-to-be-forged narrative of a just transition. Here on the Coast it is beginning to happen and it feels vital in order to avoid the urban-regional political split characteristic of the US. Faced with two fundamentalist viewpoints: the extractivist who wants business as usual and the conservationist wanting to preserve at all cost, it is necessary to historicise both viewpoints; to explode the myth of a golden extractivist age on the one hand, but also to introduce the historical trajectory of the conservation come environmental come environmental justice movements on the other. To these have to be added iwi history and process. From this the narrative of a just transition begins to be spoken, then written. Unsurprisingly, the iwi story, focusing on sustainable use of the earth for purposes of survival,  begins to be central.

There has been considerable debate via opinion columns in the local newspaper, pieces which have challenged populist tendencies, critiqued generalist government policies, taken a closer look at market ‘planning’ and finding it obtuse and clumsy, identifying some remaining colonialist structures, unpacked the social construct of ‘wilderness’ by separating the strands of biodiversity, recreation and the aesthetic so that arguments are not conflated, questioned the power and influence of national, urban-based lobby groups and unpacked the class element of tourism. It’s not an easy process, with inevitable falling outs.

Above all, from these narratives, there comes to be a new questioning of capitalism, whether the problems we’re facing either globally or locally, can be solved within free market structures. There is an interesting movement in Europe calling itself the people2people movement, which rejects both the market and the state as frameworks.

The problem in forging this new narrative is the constraint of time, for it has to be written within a couple of decades. Meanwhile, yesterday, I was a member of a community choir singing Christmas carols at the dementia unit. It was both touching and curiously resonant.

The future

The future

Driving home from rehearsal and listening mindlessly to National Radio I suddenly found myself in the middle of a rather astonishing half hour of women discussing the Brazilian Butt Lift or BBL, a cosmetic operation which reshapes the body into an ‘ideal’ form:  big bum, narrow waist and with breast implants as well, big tits. It seems that African, Afro-American and South American women seek the operation for ‘cultural reasons’. Snapchat and Instagram are the social media villains for spreading the desire for this particular craziness.

Unfamiliar with these apps I spent an hour before bed trying them out. After BBL and a plenitude of before and after photos of bums I tried the Californian fires and had a somewhat terrifying glimpse of the future apocalyptic times – as the planet wreaks revenge. Endless photos of fires were interspersed with prayers, praise for the first responders, information about welfare centres for those forced from their homes or whose homes had been razed, photos of the threatened Ronald Reagan Museum, photos of planes dropping water bombs, instructions about the use of face masks to prevent damage from smoke inhalation, plus ads about whatever – a chaos of information about chaos. The Los Angeles Times digital edition was free for a day, but pleaded for donations.

From there I turned to Greta Thunberg’s progress through North America in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s electric car and her retweeting of images of climate strikes from around the world, resolute fighters of chaos, led by ‘the woman from heaven’, the name the Native Americans have given her. And always in the comments section a hate filled rave: ‘go home bitch’, ‘a rubbish dump of lefties’, ‘yachts have been known to sink’, from bitter and twisted men who I hope don’t have access to weaponry.

NZ seems particularly placid in comparison, apart from a section of the farming sector who seem intent on creating hysteria.

But as things fall apart, the left in the States seems increasingly left. The next morning, having a pee in the museum toilet, I examined the slogan in the 1920s Buffalo Lodge Certificate on the wall: ‘In things certain, unity; in things doubtful, liberty; in all things, charity’.

Not bad really.

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