Statues not the only edifices to fall?

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There are so many images that define the weirdness of our times. The ominous orange skies of Australia’s bushfires seem a more innocent age ago – when all we apparently had to worry about were climate change and species extinctions. Suddenly, subsequent images were of motorways empty and deserted of traffic -unheard of, shocking in what they revealed about the disruption of everyday life. Toilet paper rushes, queues of ‘socially distanced’ people outside supermarkets. Fork-lifts loading bodies into refrigerated trucks. Mass graves. A cop with his knee fatally pinned against a prone black man’s neck. Trump holding a bible. Looting of shops and an angry expose of an unequal American dream. Crowds of thousands, bowed on one knee to honour George Floyd and the victims of racist systems and racist acts everywhere.

Other images stick with me too – shed sized piles of dead pigs, collateral damage from the corporate food system that treats animals as commodities and waste – and, as victims of a disrupted supply chain, inconvenient lives to be disposed of, via ‘humane slaughter’, which was anything but – drowning them in firefighting foam or turning up the heat until they cooked to death – over hours. At home, the photos of stunned and despondent Sky City workers meeting their own fates as waves of ‘rightsizings’ and redundancies decimate their ranks.

These are the faces of capitalism. Casino capitalism treats the world’s fortunes like something to be gambled and hedged. Real casinos and the elite horse racing industry get concessions from governments to promote gambling, (and animal cruelty), but not for their workers. We import immigrant workers to do our precarious dirty work, hard labour, cleaning hotel toilets for leisurely tourists or picking fruit, jobs kiwi didn’t care for, until now. But the immigrant workers themselves are now dispensable, left to their own devices, from hero to zero in the blink of an eye, invisible and uncared for by state welfare services and even the ‘kindest’ of governments. ‘They’re ‘others’ -second class non-citizens, political footballs, as usual. Racism and expediency combined.

We’ve achieved a non-victory of sorts here in NZ though, as the new Police Commissioner Andrew Coster, admits the trialed Armed Response Team style of policing has no social licence. “It’s not the sort of policing New Zealanders find acceptable”. But it’s an argument that should never have been had. Ask Maori communities how they find policing – especially armed policing, (and JustSpeak did), and you’ll find they felt targeted, vulnerable, exposed, and at the mercy of an authority who was not their own. But as the death-by-cop killing of George Floyd found, cops don’t have to have guns to be brutal.

Those images of the American cops pushing the elderly protester were brutal enough. But to walk past him as he lay on the ground bleeding from the head showed the illegitimacy of brute force and violent state power. Apparently police aren’t trained to diffuse aggressive situations, or to deal even with elderly aggressive protagonists, other than through violence. As a JustSpeak poster here in New Zealand says “imagine if, instead of armed police, we had teams of mental health and de-escalation specialists ready to help, 24/7”. “Wouldn’t that be safer communities together”. Wouldn’t that be better policing, policing we all could trust? Where mental health problems had a mental health response.

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How about policing that people of all colours could respect, a society that even poor brown people could have a stake in, be represented by, believe in perhaps? How about a police force that has mana to Māori? Not a (post) colonial militia continuing to express an oppressive, illegitimate rule of someone else’s law. That many first convictions for Māori men are in response to suspected cannabis possession, a victimless and socially unjustified ‘crime’ but which puts many onto a path of future ‘criminalisation’, makes police force even less legitimate.

Because in NZ, even before the Armed Response Team ‘initiative’, young Māori men were more likely to be suspected, stopped, apprehended, arrested, convicted and incarcated than their pakeha counterparts. Between 2009 and 2019 two-thirds of people shot by the police were either Māori or Pasifika. The Minister of Police, Stuart Nash, is just not credible when he says the New Zealand police force isn’t racist, though the Minister of Justice, Andrew Little, more compassionate and with a clearly broader understanding of the expression and effects of structural racism, says ‘everything has to change’.

It’s hard to see how that change might come when political economy itself, historically, and currently, shapes race -and class relations – themselves expressions of power. Māori are already more likely to be poor with poorer education and health status than white New Zealanders or white New Zealand immigrants. Māori are more likely to suffer in an economic downturn. Unemployed migrant workers are pawns in New Zealand First populist posturing. The shakedown from lockdown is more likely to benefit the already well-off, and bigger companies, than those already on the margins.

Black Lives Matter protests around the world are encouraging for their show of unity and solidarity. But protesters and protestations are still directed from the outside looking in. No legitimate representative democracy should really need reminding that its indigenous and other minorities matter. The revisionist desire to pull down statues of colonisers, oppressors and tyrants, is a rally against victors’ justice and victors’ versions of history. A history that is still racist in the making. A history that continues to reduce the life prospects for some groups more than others, based on ethnicity.

Bushfires and drought, workers treated like surplus stock, the COVID-19 pandemic, the treatment of animals in agriculture – and in the wild, the mistreatment of indigenous ecosystems and of indigenous people, all over the world. These are the manifestations of our economy. Profit is built on keeping costs low and extracting value at others’ expense. It’s an economy built on alienation and exploitation of nature and of all living things. It’s built on systematic brutality, slavery, indentured labour, wage oppression, and disregard for life. It’s based on the displacement of first peoples and their own political and economic systems, the commodification and use of their labour, the erosion of their traditional structures of law and lore.  Our quality of life and the private property system and political regime, the coffee and cocoa in our cups, the bananas on our plates – the meat and the fruit, the transportation networks, the oil in our cars and the palm oil in our food, are all the results of extraction, subjection and domination via systematic oppression of people and of places. It’s all political.

Despite the rush to return to the economy of pre-Covid-19, statues are not the only edifices we should seek to dismantle.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Liberal woke middle classes love to virtue signal whilst happily wearing and living amidst the output of slave labour.
    They couldn’t give a stuff about abused workers in China, Bangladesh etc as they hurriedly wave their iPhones around capturing another “historical moment” to show the kids how they *nearly* changed the world.

    • Jase
      Is there anyone whose protesting you would accept as valid, or are you simply straw-weasling out of confronting NZ racism?

      It’s been my experience that it’s more often; the poor, and students (also poor, except maybe not had the hope so thoroughly crushed out of them yet); who most often protest. The middle classes actually have something left to lose by challenging the status quo. And the rich already have politicians numbers, so they can just let their fingers do the marching.

      The notable thing about these BLM protests is their spontaneity. I didn’t hear about this Dunedin one from yesterday until I came inside and checked my charging phone to see an hour late text from a student acquaintance already assembling to march. Organiser was only 22, and black himself, so; different social circles.

      https://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/protesters-shine-light-‘real-big-racism-problem’

    • I have to agree. Its all just cosplay and all about me!
      Wokester and boring.
      Important issues but after all the hullabaloo, it’ll all get buried with some kind of token incremental changes to policy tweaks here and there and they’ll fall for it and stop.

      Capitalism will continue to prevail, development at the expense of the environment will continue and the kids will find something else to protest about.

      They have not learned how to take action post noisy protests. Filling up a few seats in parliament is another token-ism they fall for too.

      They’ll never learn or understand what sacrifice really is. They havent lived it.

  2. Indeed, Christine.

    We are living in The Age of Consequences but most people in ‘developed’ nations like New Zealand are still living in The Age of Entitlement’; they think they are entitled to the luxuries that are the products of looting and polluting the Earth and exploitation of the powerless (especially if the powerless are brown or non-human).

    People trapped in the mindset of entitlement demand their ‘entitlements’ -motor vehicles (plus all the infrastructure required to allow motor vehicles to function), cheap fuel, convenience foods, throw-away packaging, corporatised sport etc. The wealthier sectors of society demand air travel, overseas holidays (okay, off the agenda at the moment but being incessantly pushed for) and ostentatious consumption.

    Weak-willed governments, beholden to international bankers (banksters, synonymous with gangsters) and corporations refuse to even discuss the fundamentally flawed nature of the system. Indeed, governments make it difficult, if not impossible, to not have access to motor vehicles and smart phones etc. via withdrawal of services that do not rely on such technology. And the corporate media, utterly dependent on the advertising dollar, dare not challenge the system too loudly or point out the reality of our dire energetic, environmental, resource and overpopulation predicament. The ‘best’ we ever get from them is a 3 minute report telling us that the Earth has never been warmer and that a warmer Earth will be bad for ski tourism.

    The fact that the Earth has never been in a worse condition as the result of the activities of one species is just not on the political or social agenda.

    So, the looting and polluting continue, with many politicians and would-be political leaders demanding the looting and polluting be carried out at a faster pace via creation of yet more unrepayable debt. And the bulk of the populace will endorse that absurd narrative because they are deliberately kept in the dark. Goodness me, how ‘bad’ it would be if the general populace understood Fractional Reserve Banking and the utterly flawed nature of GDP. How bad it would be if the general populace understood the finite nature of fossil fuels and the dire consequences of burning them at the rate humanity is currently doing.

    And so, all the children will suffer even worse consequences as a result of the continuing stupidity. Indeed, anyone not terminally is or very aged will suffer the consequences of the political, economic, social, energetic and environmental madness that defines the current consumer society.
    The only factor that might ‘save us’ to some extent is the out-of-control pandemic, which is in the process of bringing down the house of cards economy, commencing with the US, Brazil, India, the UK etc.

    Having peaked at around 418 ppm this year, I anticipate atmospheric CO2 to peak at between 420 and 421 ppm a year from now. That is around 140 ppm above normal for the geological age [of 280 ppm] immediately before widespread industrialism started to throw everything seriously out of balance. Only a near-total collapse of the system will prevent that.

    Of course, carrying on as we did before Covid-19 would lead to total collapse of the system anyway.

    • Many Kiwis feel trapped locked into a consumer society in which they get their food and shelter with little money left to branch out of the rut they are in.

      Ideally living close to a small town with room to grow food and share community support may be seen as a desirable step they can never achieve.

      Transitioning takes time, resource, opportunity and struggle. It is largely beyond most city dwellers.
      Small changes in personal consumption, use of transport, recycling, getting better educated and encouraging others; is very important in managing your footprint but insisting others do similarly.

      Big changes take political shift as we have seen recently.
      Momentum is underway in public discussion but can easily be lost in the coming elections.

      The capitalist forces will drive the rhetoric as they own the MSM and the big players.

      We have to get passed this

  3. Christine Rose, You say what needs to be said and you say it brilliantly. Your blog sits alongside one by davebrownz, they would work well together.

  4. Christine
    We are still ‘skiving’ in the past – but we choose to get out of the syndrome of being “stuck in the past”.

    All because we can see that the constant pressure from the right to increase our “productivity” will kill m us all.

    Ask a neo-liberal “How much is enough?

    They cant answer as they are “stuck in the past” MORE_MORE_MORE_MORE.

  5. Obviously easier to destroy a statue than work towards real change.

    A wise person once told me that people who wanted a 40 hour working week were considered terrorists. They often paid with their lives… we live in times where people don’t really understand history or even sacrifice, everything is now prepped to be short term gratification. We live in a casual, short term, times. Deliberately encouraged (by user pays education and government policy) selfish times and individualism and not much depth to political activism now, to keep neoliberals going.

    Here are some other examples of removing statues…

    China Removes Antique Statues From Tibetan Monastery
    https://www.rfa.org/english/news/tibetan_statues-20070111.html

    Statue of ‘racist’ Gandhi removed from University of Ghana
    This article is more than 1 year old
    Monument installed two years ago taken away in middle of night amid controversy over Gandhi’s views about Africans
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/14/racist-gandhi-statue-removed-from-university-of-ghana
    (One races hero is another one’s racist these days).

    China Destroys Buddhist Statue Carved in Cliff
    https://www.visiontimes.com/2019/03/21/china-destroys-buddhist-statue-carved-in-cliff.html

    Top 10 Controversial Statues Around The World
    https://listverse.com/2018/10/10/top-10-controversial-statues-around-the-world/

    Firdos Square statue destruction
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firdos_Square_statue_destruction

    Personally see statues more as a piece of history and perhaps updating the plaques with a modern version of the current thinking is more appropriate that destroying the artworks themselves.

    Art is history and history should be kept, not erased.

    • No, not balance in all things. That will just bring about destruction.

      Truth in all things.

      But that would, of course, destroy your beliefs.

  6. If so many of our Pakeha NZers are so concerned about our history being lost then they need to honour our Treaty of Waitangi, this document is an important part of our history, or do they have selective history syndrome, only what suits them and fuck the rest.

    • Well if negotionations between 2 parties aren’t using the same legal language and frame work then no matter how genius and eloquent one party attempts to draw out a plan forward the other party never agrees no matter how beautiful the picture may be. I mean everyone always thinks there toddler is the prettiest but objectively speaking it ain’t and neither are Māori nor pakeha drawing from the same legal bases.

    • I am back in a past that said “the treaty is a fraud”. We have a friend whose family is just as sceptical of Pakeha good intentions, as their forebear who signed the Treaty. Some of the debate in 1840 was about the English as a lesser evil than the French.

  7. Fox news article isn’t evidence based of anything it an opinion based devoid of facts and hasn’t been subjected to peer-reviewed that gives it legitimacy comrade.

  8. Up until a week ago most of the protestor didn’t know these works of art (statues) existed. All I see is a lot of children getting upset because they have lost a year of their lives just like the rest of us.

    It’s our history so let’s not become a country that likes to erase parts of their history they don’t like.

    Let’s hope they don’t discover art galleries or libraries.

    • DS “Let’s hope they don’t discover art galleries or libraries. ” They have. The National Library is biffing out books of non-NZ/Pacifica origin in order to make our lives happier.

      “…apparently, in order to “manage” their overseas collection – which consists of all the books they hold published anywhere on Earth except New Zealand – the library is proposing to … get rid of their overseas collection. That’s management with teeth. If DOC took this approach to managing the country’s conservation estate, it would save the government a great deal of expense; also, kiwi and kakapo would be extinct. The library’s cull process is under way now, and is intended to be complete by the end of this year. ”

      It is a user-hostile library anyway. Last time I accessed it, about 15 years ago, it was worse than living in London during the IRA bombings; I was compulsorily separated from my belongings which were placed in a transparent plastic bag and left in somebody’s care; about two years ago I had to meet an overseas visitor in their cafe – the music was far too loud and awful – but fortunately my visitor got lost on the way.

      The books should be appearing in the Wellington Op Shops by now, but I don’t think that they are.

  9. Christine i agree with your well written post.
    There is no prospect of the current evil capitalist economic system disappearing any time soon.
    We are all caught in the spiders web with no chance of survival.
    The top 20% have an exemption from the worst of the effects of destroying poverty that we must remember is a man made disaster.
    The casualties of neoliberalism are many and growing but have no organised disciplined political movement to advance change as Corbyn and Sanders have found that this empire is unrelenting in destroying any opposition committed to replacing the current orthodoxy.
    Only a major correction will alter the current totalitarian stranglehold and its not COVID 19.
    The pandemic has only stunned the animal temporarily and now the dust has cleared its back meaner than ever.
    If only these current protests about entrenched racism were directed to the evil of the current economic system that plays its part in the treatment of minorities and the people in high places who are saying they are listening and will act is the greatest insult because they can’t or wont act to fix what is at the heart of most of the misery inflicted against good people everywhere.

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