Friday, 6 March 2015

The Glutton Seagulls: Thoughts On A Friday Afternoon In March.

Discovered instead the glutton seagulls squabbling over crusts - James K. Baxter.
LISTENING TO RADIO LIVE, this bloke’s telling Willie Jackson what he’d do to the Aussies awaiting execution in Indonesia.
“I’d kill ‘em. Yeah, just shoot ‘em. No problem with that at all.”
And I’m thinking, what the hell has happened to us. When did we turn into this sort of country?
Because it’s everywhere. This viciousness. This absence of civility. This lack of love. What James K. Baxter called “the crushed herb of grief at another’s pain”.
God! Just imagine what our right-wing shock-jocks would make of James K. if he suddenly reappeared to point his prophetic finger at the greasy excrescences who have somehow floated to the top of “God’s own country”.
Hell, Baxter was an angry man in the 1960s and 70s. The 60s and 70s! When kids could go to Varsity for free. When a young couple could buy their first house at 25 with a 3 percent State Advances loan. When fewer than 5,000 people were unemployed.
In his poem, Crossing Cook Strait, Baxter has “Seddon and Savage, the socialist father” raging:
I  walked forth gladly to find the angry poor
Who are my nation; discovered instead
The glutton seagulls squabbling over crusts
And policies made and broken behind locked doors.
The glutton seagulls, oh yes, they’re still with us. Still squabbling over crusts. They’ve grown obscenely fat over the intervening years. Too fat now to fly. But just you watch them strutting around their enormous piles of crusts. Running furiously at anyone who comes close. Screeching insults. Their angry voices drowning out the songs of the gentle. The warnings of the wise. Eleanor Catton. Nicky Hager.
“Kill ‘em all! I’ve got no problem with that.”
I was at Radio Live on Election Night as the seagulls racked up yet another win for gluttony. Saw the Seagull-in-Chief on the TV monitor, his vast wings outstretched in a billious benediction. How the flock screeched. And why not? Their crusts were safe for “Three more years! Three more years!”
Sean Plunket, wearing the sort of grin more usually found on the face of a wolf who's finally caught up with his exhausted prey, asked me how I was feeling.
All I could think of was James K Baxter’s lines from Pig Island Letters:
The man who talks to the masters of Pig Island
About the love they dread
Plaits ropes of sand, yet I was born among them
And will lie one day with their dead.
I rode home in a taxi as the skies unleashed sweeping showers of Spring rain across Auckland.
Like tears, I thought. Like tears.
This essay was posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Friday, 6 March 2015.


Pdogge said...

I fear I find Radio Live just too awful to listen to. I am now too old to be reminded of the state of Kiwi thought...

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It's always been there – that underbelly of small-minded hatred of the other. Just hidden somewhat by the general prosperity, and by the more gentlemanly media. I've said it before on this site. There is a mean streak in New Zealand society that comes to the surface every so often. Well more than that really. Whenever the downtrodden if you want to call them that seem like getting something. I think it's exacerbated by the nature of society today, dog eat dog, where everyone is scared that if someone makes gains they will lose. They're clinging on precariously to what they've got many of them. I've just read about a similar reaction in the US in 1919. Black soldiers coming home from World War I, wearing their uniforms, acting confident – race riots (white ones) all over the country. Similar scenario. I don't listen to Radio Live, but I guarantee it gets pretty Live -ly whenever there is some sort of Treaty settlement :-). And Sean Plunkett seems to have become a total arse. :-)

Anonymous said...

Again Chris, at your best, you are hitting another plane.

Charles E said...

Yes nice piece of writing and I share some of your images of some of our fellow Kiwis. Just been to Aussie and I dare say there are more mean, thin lipped bastards over there. Perhaps that is where we are getting it from, if there is more of it here now. But is there?
But it is not a manifestation of the right wing, and especially not the current Key team either. They are cocky but benign. That is where your bias and I'm afraid left team bile manifests itself. Next you will use the phrase 'rich prick' or 'Tory scum' or many of the nasty words of abuse which so freely fall from the envious and spiteful left these days and forever in the past.
You see I interpret most of the nasty, mean, cruel, bloated, greedy, slob culture we see today to the current children and grandchildren of the working classes you and I once had some admiration for, but are gone now. Successful capitalists are much more relaxed and pleasant these days. A parallel I noticed recently is how well behaved and even sporting are top tennis players now. They used to be such jerks in the days when the left was reigning more. No connection of course, but just another example of how in fact today could be a better place than yesterday. It's purely perception, like your depression on election night.

alan rhodes said...

This pond has been rancid a while now, and as with all ponds that host life its creatures will sicken or prosper depending on the water.

Greed and selfishness were elevated into economic Holy Writ in the 80s by Roger Douglas in the greatest act of political and social treachery this country has ever seen, and the social shadows of that betrayal have been lengthening across the waters of this NZ pond ever since.. The sublime treachery of hooking the country into the Trans-Pacific ‘Partnership’ is the latest in this dark chapter.
‘Jack’s as good as his master..’, was a message many older folk would remember from their childhoods. It was a message of inclusion and equality, befitting a democratic somewhat socialist society that believed in the redeeming importance of work as a human right, and an egalitarianism that embraced access to good healthcare and education for all.

Where did that go?
It went the way the egalitarian and inclusive society we once had went… down the gurgler. Quaint, historic, and now patently untrue, it joins ‘Do unto others…’ , and other favourites of the time, in that great dump of yesterday’s wisdoms that now serve no purpose. In the new society of ruthless individualism and competitiveness, ‘If you don’t look after yourself no one else will..’ is the new watchcry of individualist virtue, along with “I’m all right Jack..”

And so the generations shuffle blindly on, uninformed and not knowing their history, and consequently unable to understand the contention of beliefs on which argument and vision were and still are formed, beyond a plethora of PC utterances that sanctify shallowness of comprehension and allow us to endure the slippery governments we’ve had for too long now.

anne said...

Brilliant writing,so true, NZ used to be inclusive,now divisions have
opened up between 'them and us' it's a sad state of affairs, but one that had to come eventually, given the hammering those at the bottom of the heap are getting,the sick and disabled waiting for surgery are cast aside in favour of urgent cases,money taken from public services, health,education
social programs,anything to do with a public need.

Don Franks said...

like that one

Nick J said...

From the heart Chris. Truly splendid. You can't argue baseless logic against emotions expressed as poetry.

Brewerstroupe said...

Charles E.
"cruel, bloated, greedy, slob culture we see today to the current children and grandchildren of the working classes you and I once had some admiration for, but are gone now."

I am inclined to agree with this description. But isn't that what the old left feared would happen when the ruling ideology placed the intellect of a dollar bill ahead of the intellect of man - cooperative man? When children grow up knowing nothing but materialism?
I'm not sure you understand the left.

For too long the Western World has placed their collective faith in the notion that money is smart, it will flow to where it is needed. It doesn't.

David said...

Meanwhile the number of real seagulls in New Zealand is declining a sadly rapid rate

unaha-closp said...

"The 60s and 70s! When kids could go to Varsity for free. When a young couple could buy their first house at 25 with a 3 percent State Advances loan. When fewer than 5,000 people were unemployed."

And high inflation and no wage growth and shortages of everything.

Don't cry over that.

Chris Trotter said...

OMG unaha-closp! You really believe this, don't you? You really think New Zealand was some sort of South Seas version of East Germany!

You obviously weren't alive back then. So you are clearly relying on the neoliberal propaganda that's been served up to you your entire life - both at school and at university.

FYI, throughout the 1960s and 70s inflation in New Zealand was neither much better nor much worse than in any other OECD country. Yes, it got away following the 1973 Oil Shock (and again, following the second Oil Shock in 1979) but that was true of the entire world.

Just think about the current deflationary effect of the recent 40 percent reduction in global oil prices, and then try to imagine the inflationary effect of oil prices doubling, and the doubling again, in the space of six months. That's right, between October 1973 and March 1974 the price of a barrel of oil rose from $US3.00 to $US12.00!

You're simply living in a fantasy world when it comes to describing what life was like in NZ during the 60s and 70s.

Which, sadly, makes you just another unfortunate example of what relentless official propaganda and straightforward misinformation can do to a person's ability to comprehend the past.

pat said...

the theme would appear to be universal..

Guerilla Surgeon said...

My wages went up a lot more in the 1960s and 70s, (even accounting for inflation) than they ever did under Roger Douglas. AND it was usually backdated to when negotiations started. That's just the Prebble Douglas line, along with other steaming piles of bullshit like it took 3 months to get a phone, and railways to know where their wagons were or how many they had – as if I gave a fuck about that :-). But most of this stuff would have been taken care of by simple technology advances anyway. Like computers, which only existed in universities then basically.

unaha-closp said...

Chris, whatever else anyone says about you, I remain in awe at your ability to rose tint.

The oil shocks of opec/Iran and 9-11/Iraq were dealt with by different governments. First by the Nats resulted in high inflation (but you say wasn't their fault) and second by Labour resulted in no discernible change (but you say they were neoliberal "gulls").

It is really hard to see which party you support.

Davo Stevens said...

You beat me to it Chris, Unaha has no idea of what it was really like then.

Sadly he/she's not the first to say that stuff. Pumped full of neolib claptrap.

Through the 60's and early 70's everyone who could work had a job in the most part (there was a small recession in 68 that upped the un-employment somewhat but it quickly went down again. The mid and late 70's Oil shocks really put a strain on our economy. Rob Muldoon's 'Think Big' projects were down to buffer us from the vagarities of the world.

Incidentally Rob was more Socialist than Helen ever was. Although he was harsh and sometimes abrasive, he really cared about the people here.

Anonymous said...

How can I put this...
You are getting old and have a severe case of Golden Age Fallacy, focusing on the time of your youth, and what you and your friends believed then. Consider that you and your then associates may be atypical.

There have always been 'Hang 'em and flog 'em' types, and they are often the sort of people who call radio talkback. Shock jockery is not (I hope!) an accurate measure of a nation.

In any case the death penalty was only abolished in 1957, with the help of your friend that eminent socialist Rob Muldoon. I am not being sarcastic, if anyone was for state intervention it was RDM.

For most, the 60s and 70s were much more restrictive, albeit with more certainly. Consider that the two may be related.

Chris Trotter said...

To: unaha closp.

Your response does not address any of the issues raised.

Rose-tinting is one thing. Relying on the factual statistical data of the time is another.

Are you even aware of what sparked the 1973 oil crisis?

How would you have dealt with the quadrupling in price of a key global commodity?

Give us some idea of what you know unaha closp - and whether you're capable of applying it in a fashion that conforms to the norms of rational debate.

unaha-closp said...

External shocks happen.

1970s massive rise in oil prices, 1970-80s NZ inflation rate 6% to 18% pa. 2000s massive rise in oil prices, 2000-10s NZ inflation rate 1 - 5% pa. You never mention this.

On the other hand, unemployment works the other way. Low in the 70s and much higher in the 00s. You always mention this.

If you wanted an honest, rational discourse you'd acknowledge the faults in your preferred system. But no, you're saying that everything good was due to the system and everything bad is due to external events.

Chris Trotter said...

Oh boy, unaha, you really aren't very good at this are you?

That spike in 1970s-80s inflation to upwards of 18 percent: guess who? Keith Holyoake? No. Jack Marshall? No. Norman Kirk? No. Bill Rowling? Getting there. Rob Muldoon? Close - but no cigar. Roger Douglas? BINGO!

Real oil price rises in the period 1990-2014 were much more gradual than the period 1973-1979.

Try again.