THERE’S NO DISPUTING that Neale Jones is very good at what he does. As a public relations practitioner working in Jacinda Ardern’s Wellington, he has an instinctive feel for the lines that will be remembered and re-tweeted enthusiastically by the Ardernian establishment. Jones’ tweet of this morning (22/11/21) offers an excellent example of the CEO of Capital Government Relations’ craft.
Responding to the self-styled “Mother of All Protests” organised by Groundswell, Jones tweeted:
“Aside from the casual racism and sexism, Groundswell represents a reactionary attempt to cling to a purely extractive economic model: pollute, emit, exploit, and let someone else bear the cost.”
One has to admire the way Jones covers-off all the bases of the current political zeitgeist. Right up front there is the reference to the opponent’s “casual” racism and sexism. The use of the word “casual” is instructive in this context.
That all men are sexists, and all White people racists, are core axioms of the Identity Politics that dominates all aspects of official life in the capital city. No Pakeha male operating in this environment would be so foolish (or career limiting) as to deny either his sexism or his racism. Were he to do so he would be denying the systemic character of these entrenched structures of privilege. Instead, he would offer his assurance that he was “working” on his sexism and racism. Not with any real expectation of becoming a better person, you understand, but in hopes of not becoming a worse one.
That’s why the word “casual” is so important. Jones’ charge is that the farmers behind the Groundswell protests are so antediluvian, so Neanderthalic, that they are either unaware of the gender and ethnic privileges they enjoy – enabling them to engage in sexist and racist behaviour quite unconsciously. Or, that the social milieu in which they operate is so saturated with misogyny, homophobia and racism, that they have grown accustomed to voicing their prejudices “casually” – without the slightest fear of reproof.
Having successfully consigned these moral ingrates to the ninth circle of Woke Hell (in an admirably economical seven words) Jones then moves on to the central charge of his tweet. Groundswell, he asserts, represents “a reactionary attempt to cling to a purely extractive economic model: pollute, emit, exploit, and let someone else bear the cost.”
Let’s unpick this statement forensically.
The first thing to note is that it is phrased in the language of classical socialism, as well as the rhetoric of classical environmentalism. The importance of this mix will become clear presently.
The first thing to note, however, is that the farmers organising the Groundswell protests aren’t just sexists and racists, they are “reactionaries”. The choice of epithet is important, because “reactionary” grounds the word’s user in the political landscape of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
According to Wikipedia, a Reactionary “is a person who holds political views that favour a return to the status quo ante, the previous political state of society, which that person believes possessed positive characteristics absent from contemporary society.” Synonyms for reactionary include: archconservative, die-hard, hidebound, traditional and unprogressive.
Historically-speaking, “reactionary” described the politics of the dynastic regimes which did all within their power to extirpate the ideas and institutions spawned by the French Revolution, and then spread across Europe by the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte. In the first half of the twentieth century, however, “Reaction” became a catch-all term, applied to those who stood against the forces unleashed by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.
So, it is a very heavy word to use in a political conversation. To be a “reactionary” is to set your face not only against the future, but also against the present – making you a very dangerous person (or group of people) indeed.
The danger is lessened, however, when Jones describes these farmer reactionaries as “clinging” to the expectations and practices of the past. Now, who “clings”? Frightened children – to their mother’s skirts. Mountain-climbers – for dear life on a vertiginous cliff-face. Lovers – desperate not to lose the object of their affections. All rather pathetic, all rather desperate. Anybody, or anything, that clings is not strong, or, at least, not in a strong position. In this instance the “cling-ee” is the “purely extractive economic model” which, because the “cling-ers” are reactionaries, must be a thing of the past.
And, just to make sure that Jones’ readers understand how very bad that past was, the elements of the “purely extractive economic model” are spat out like bullets to remind them: “pollute, emit, exploit, and let someone else bear the cost.”
This is the classic formula of old-school environmentalism. Of the Values Party – forerunner of the Greens. Of the many activist conservation movements of the 1970s and 80s, which condemned the “rip-in, rip-out, rip-off” mentality of miners, loggers, fishing companies and, yes, farmers. You’ve got to hand it to Jones, this is a truly masterful evocation. These sexist, racist, cockies aren’t just the backward-looking enemies of social progress, they are, Jones implies, the foes of Mother Earth herself.
If you were commissioned to lay the groundwork for a full-scale assault upon the New Zealand farming sector, launched in the name of Aotearoa “meeting its responsibilities” in the global effort against Climate Change, you could hardly have made a better start. Small wonder that the people organising the Groundswell protests are driving Federated Farmers and Dairy NZ to distraction. With “friends” like these blokes, the farming industry doesn’t really need enemies!
The genuinely inspired quality of Jones’ tweet is, of course, the way it appears to banish the “purely extractive economic model” to the dark recesses of history. Like the Divine Right of Kings, the ideas of these “reactionary” farmers are relics of a bygone era. The forces of social and economic progress are moving onwards and upwards. Those who refuse to join them in their heroic ascent towards the light, must resign themselves to living in the shadows.
Except, of course, it is all misdirection and disinformation. The “purely extractive economic model”, far from being a relic of the past, is still the driving force behind the entire capitalist system. “[P]ollute, emit, exploit, and let someone else bear the cost.” That isn’t just the disgraceful formula of colonial-era farmers who clear-felled the forests and drained the wetlands, it is the purest contemporary essence of actually existing capitalism the world over.
New Zealand’s farmers are not reactionary throwbacks, yearning for a world that has gone forever, they are stressed-out twenty-first century capitalists, some of whom came to town last Sunday (21/11/21) to remind the very capitalist government of this very capitalist country, that if it intends to go on monetizing her golden eggs, then it should remove its choking regulatory fingers from around the neck of the Golden Rural Goose.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 23 November 2021.