Thursday 13 January 2022


Another World: Oamaru’s whitestone Victorian Precinct is an enclave for aging alternative life-stylers. The air is filled with the scent of patchouli and hand-crafted leather. There are troll figurines and fairies for sale, alongside crystals and dream-catchers.

OAMARU likes to think of itself as the “steam-punk” capital of the world. It certainly has plenty of the whitestone Victorian and Edwardian architecture needed for such a project. It has also made room for the requisite collection of amiable eccentrics and creatives required to flesh-out the standard steam-punk narrative. As harmless games of dress-up go, Oamaru’s make-believe world seemed quirkily benign.

But, that was before Covid.

Walking around the North Otago town’s “Victorian Precinct” in early January, the anti-vaxxer vibe was unmistakable. It wasn’t just the signs welcoming “everyone” into the market stalls and boutiques that gave the anti-vax sentiment away, but the defiant stares their owners levelled at the tourists. Some of the retailers almost seemed to be daring the out-of-towners to make an issue of the fact that their QR codes had mysteriously gone missing.

Not that many visitors would have “made an issue” out of it – any more than a Springbok Tour protester would have “made an issue” of apartheid sport in a public bar back in 1981. Wrong sort of place. Wrong sort of people.

Oamaru’s whitestone Precinct is an enclave for aging alternative life-stylers. The air is filled with the scent of patchouli and hand-crafted leather. There are troll figurines and fairies for sale, alongside crystals and dream-catchers.

In the North Otago artist Donna Demente’s “Grainstore Gallery” it is difficult to resist the whiff of magic that permeates not just her paintings and papier mâché sculptures, but all the weird and wonderful nineteenth and twentieth century bric-a-brac among which her artworks nestle. For all its steam-punk machinery, the Precinct smacks more of Pre-Raphaelite sorcery and enchantment than Victorian science.

Donna Demente’s “Grainstore Gallery”, Victorian Precinct, Oamaru.

The intrusion of QR codes and Vaccination Passes into this world was never going to be welcomed with open arms. Even among the vaccinated, one suspects, there would have been a strong sense of disappointment. Like when some kill-joy suddenly turns on the electric lights at an intimate candle-lit party.

Covid-19 must have burst into the Precinct with all the sensitivity of a drugs bust. Rules and regulations, masks and jabs, and precious little tolerance for those whose understanding of health and wellbeing embraces wholesome food, sunlight, and midnight swims with dolphins. The eccentric steam-punk scientists may have accepted the rationality of mass inoculation, but a significant number of the hippies and herbalists clearly remain unconvinced.

Magic only works in circumstances where people are willing to suspend their disbelief and set their imagination free. The possibility of catching a dangerous disease – even among the ornate “Oamaru stone” facades of the Precinct – is simply not conducive to turning-on, tuning-in, and dropping-out of the workaday world.

What Covid meant was that just about everybody suddenly stopped “playing”. The childlike wonder which had been the common currency among those who stepped across the invisible boundary separating twenty-first century Oamaru from its nineteenth century forerunner was replaced with the impatience and intolerance of visitors determined to “stay safe”.

No wonder the aging hippies and herbalists, funky craftspeople, magical artists, and amateur baristas felt affronted and disrespected. No wonder some of them felt compelled to make a stand against the rules and regulations pouring out of Wellington.

And if the cotton-print stall-holders and bearded wood-carvers glared with barely concealed hostility at the loud and decidedly unenchanting Aucklanders – who could really blame them?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 13 January 2022.


David George said...

"who could really blame them"
Their supposed animosity is as nothing to the wall of cultivated hostility directed at the un-vaxxed. It's deeply disgusting, I've decided to refuse a third dose and refuse to use my vaccine pass in solidarity. You could, perhaps, justify the hate, the extraordinary and draconian measures if Covid had a high mortality rate and the vaccines were highly effective against transmission - all of our border cases are fully vaccinated and tested.

“The surest way to work up a crusade in favor of some good cause is to promise people they will have a chance of maltreating someone. To be able to destroy with good conscience, to be able to behave badly and call your bad behavior ‘righteous indignation’ — this is the height of psychological luxury, the most delicious of moral treats.”
― Aldous Huxley.

Here's a very good essay by Mary Harrington looking at the religious like fervour gripping the (non existent?) debate.

Excerpt: The growing tendency for ‘the vaccinated’ to treat ‘the unvaccinated’ as other or impure recalls the willingness of an earlier age to deny others simple forms of inclusion on the basis of baptism. Never mind what studies say about the efficacy of Covid vaccination in protecting us from severe illness (which evidence strongly suggests it does) or mitigating further infection (perhaps more debatable). Increasingly, vaccination carries a social meaning as well as a medical one. It’s a ritual infusion — albeit via injection, not anointment — of sacred liquid, whose application confers freedom from spiritual taint.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Christ almighty, these people are stupid. If they were in charge would still be dying of smallpox. Most of them to be fair, are not old enough to remember polio. When I was a kid there were a number of pupils at my primary school who walked around in leg braces because they had caught polio and it had crippled them essentially. I had a friend who was rendered sterile by mumps. I still have one who is profoundly deaf because of measles. And yet they moan about minor inconveniences like showing a vaccine pass, reading a code with their phone, or wearing a mask. Selfish, ignorant, and dangerous.
There is a meme which this archaic website won't allow me to post, but there is a picture of a kid in London in 1940 with a gas mask on. The caption reads something like "Won't wear a mask? This kid in London in 1940 thinks you are a whiny bitch." We still had a couple of gas masks in an old box in the wardrobe when I was a kid – they were a damn sight more inconvenient than what we have to wear at the moment. Whiny indeed.

DS said...

Umm... Oamaru has very good vaccination rates. Slightly below the national average, but still well over 90%. If you want anti-vaxxers in the lower South Island, rural Southland is a better bet (some parts under 90%). The heartland of anti-vaxxers in the South Island is around Nelson and Golden Bay, with rates under 80%.

Also, generally speaking, anti-vaxxers are a phenomenon of the rural upper North. Exactly what this says about National's voter base...

(As for vaccine pass regulations, I'd point out that the plague has not visited South of Timaru since the initial 2020 outbreak. People can and do get lazy, because they know the disease is not in town).

DS said...

Increasingly, vaccination carries a social meaning as well as a medical one. It’s a ritual infusion — albeit via injection, not anointment — of sacred liquid, whose application confers freedom from spiritual taint.

Yes, it has a social meaning. The social meaning in question being "I actually value my own health, and the lives of other people." If caring about your community (rather than the hyper-individualistic anti-intellectual nonsense so popular in the Modern Right) is tantamount to pseudo-religion then call me pseudo-religious.

John Hurley said...

I got the same vibe in Geraldine and I noticed a Kiwiana wall on The Bakery (by the theater).
I have a different take on that. I think that the elites have gotten too big for their own boots. They OWN the media.

Think of John Campbell challenging the two Groundswell organisers that Stop Shoveling Te Reo down Our Throats sign was "a load of racist twaddle". One of them capitulated and agreed.

But he is wrong and people have just got too used to the narrative. We go along with things because that's the way it is round here. We have lost touch with the basic philosophy on which our society was founded...

I suggested to a media lawyer that Isaiah Berlins Two Types of Liberty provided an argument against the collective normalisation of te reo by media.
He replied that

Isiah Berlin would turn in his grave to hear you invoke negative liberty as a means to take away someone’s choice of what and how to speak. Sure, feel free to argue that it’s a political act in a broad sense, and that the media are performing in lockstep, though that’s not my impression.

THE ROOT of both democracy and Communism in eighteenth century rationalism. Belief that all questions, including those of morals and politics, can be answered with absolute certainty, like those of science and mathematics, by correct use of reason or correct observation of nature. Rousseau formulates the basic proposition of Communism, Fascism and all other totalitarian orders, namely that if one is sure that one has the correct solution to the questions ‘How should men live?’ and ‘How should society be organised?’ one can, in the name of reason, impose it ruthlessly on others, * since if they are rational they will agree freely; if they do not agree, they are not rational. This denies that different ideals of life, not necessarily altogether reconcilable with each other, are equally valid and equally worthy.

Steve Maharey says how important public media is as a platform against "Mr Trump Mr Farage and Mr Bolsanero [?]"

Positive Liberty - The true Maori self
Behind the "one people" slogan sits a belief that Maori are at no disadvantage. Afterall, they enjoy the same opportunities and play by the same rules. It is, Brash suggests, patronising to think otherwise. The disturbing story told by prison, health, housing, education, employment and income statistics can, therefore, have nothing to do with the history of Maori as a colonised people. Any problems can be placed at the feet of Maori themselves.
He is, as the saying goes, on the wrong side of history. But we should not dismiss him as out of date and irrelevant. That was the mistake many Americans made as they cracked jokes about Donald Trump. Brash represents a view that has an audience. That is why his Orewa speech had such an impact. We should debate with him making it clear that hearing Maori on Morning Report is the future. And there is much more to come.

Guyon Espiner: "Keep pushing the uglies"

John Hurley said...

If this were the 1960's students would have taken their cue from Ben Hur and taken to the streets as the lepers: [bell] "unvacinated"; "unvacinated"

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Stop Shoveling Te Reo down Our Throats."

In the midst of of all the incoherence there is this – so we're back to this again. What a terrible problem, a few words of Maori on TV and radio. Particularly as it's usually on stations you guys seem to hate.

It's not actually a problem. Certainly not when there's people in this country who can't feed their kids. I tell you a problem – two retired people trying to get their son equity in property given that he can't get a mortgage worth spit no matter how much money he seems to save up. So they look for a house with an attached flat – they find one, they have to put in an unconditional offer in order to get it, and about 1/3 of their life savings in the deposit. But then they have an offer on their house from a young couple trying to upgrade I suppose into the slightly posher suburb that the old couple's suburb has become since they moved into it 30 or 40 years ago. They can't afford a deposit but the old couple waives that because they feel sort of sorry for them. They get the house and flat. Everyone is really happy and then the young couple pull-out. They have no deposit to lose so I guess it must be easy. So the old people are left with no offer on their house, and having to get bridging finance. The Cooperative bank, which they have been banking with pretty much all their lives at least 40 odd years, refuses them on a technicality. They get rid of the technicality and the Cooperative bank refuses them again. So much for loyalty and looking after their customers. The banks expect it – but it's not necessarily mutual. So here you have a couple in their 70s, with very few choices. Pull-out of that offer they've made on the house and lose their deposit, or try to get a mortgage – which means at least one of them has to stay in employment after the age of retirement.
Now that is a problem. Not on the level of not being able to feed your kids, but still a genuine problem. A few Maori words on TV is an annoyance, I suspect that conservatives only watch/listen in order to keep themselves in a state of anger anyway, because it seems important to them. Maybe it's the only thing that keeps them alive. That – and whining about a few Maori words on TV.

greywarbler said...

Some ideas for amusing oneself while beset with concerns of pestilence and pustulence.

A piece from The Conversation about intricate ideas for combatting disease.

Some comforts and trinkets for keeping healthy in the time of thy plague -

Magic in a Time of Plague | FifteenEightyFour › 2021/03 › magic-in-a-...
9/03/2021 — The ominous, bird-like masks worn by plague doctors reflect this theory — the “beak” was often stuffed with fragrant herbs, spices, citrus, and ...

greywarbler said...

What Covid meant was that just about everybody suddenly stopped “playing”. The childlike wonder which had been the common currency among those who stepped across the invisible boundary separating twenty-first century Oamaru from its nineteenth century forerunner was replaced with the impatience and intolerance of visitors determined to “stay safe”.

What are you on (about) Chris. People get impatient and intolerant about anti vaxxers yes, but that is a regular human condition and is I think, perfectly justified in this case. Sacrifices, controls on normal life, have been felt by all, and if some have popped their cork and put others at risk of sickness and dying because they want to be out partying or whatever or just being bumptious, cocky or wanting to antagonise, it is not unreasonable that there will be aggravation felt.

David George said...

Not sure that the aging hippies are "The New Right" (or this aging conservative Christian liberal is either) but, yes DS, getting vaxxed is a responsible social and personal good, or so we've been told. The real question is: should it be government mandated. Is "no jab no job" a reasonable thing to impose?

When you have the PM gloating over the creation of two classes of people ( or insisting that "we are the sole source of truth" or the state removing democratic rights or forcibly removing health and water services from direct democratic control or criminalising our speech it might pay to question whether we're still living in a liberal, democratic and pluralistic society at all.

Where do you draw the line over these things, this chipping away at our rights and freedoms? The mandatory injection of a genetically engineered potion not a problem? How about QR coded health records? Your BMI too high: no KFC, coke or cookies for you! Why not? If protecting the health system is the priority then the obese must be forced to change. How is that any different? When do you cross the line?

John Hurley said...

Isaiah Berlins would almost certainly have been on Don Brash's side thinks Henry Hardy (his biographer)

John Hurley said...

Guerilla Surgeon
At the heart of Berlin's argument, which gains its fullest expression in From Hope and Fear Set Free, stands his contention that positive liberty, in its incarnation as self-realisation, conflates liberty with knowledge, which leads to the distortion of our phenomenologically inescapable structure of experience. This transgression against the conceptual framework in terms of which we think, Berlin argues, played its desolate part in linking the ‘totalitarian temptation’ latent in liberty as self-realisation with the totalitarian politics of the mid-twentieth century.
The whole public service is now at odds with a large section of the public.

Paul Spoonley
we need to ask the question right around the community “are there difference between people who are tangatawhenua in terms of recognition as opposed to those who are immigrants and their decendants?” My answer is yes! I mean I think the conversation should be a very different conversation. And so i react quite strongly and quite negatively when people say , you know, there’s me, Im Pakeha and there’s others who are different. No there are not they are not all the same.

That is at odds with my phenomenologically inescapable structure of experience.
As I pointed out when I complained to RNZ. Julie Zhu (from Xi'an) didn't sit on the floor in the 1950's and watch 100 Crowded Years (1941). Spoonley can react as strongley as he likes.

Labours big idea was the self-realisation of NZ Society as anti-racist (multi-racial).

Guerilla Surgeon said...

So your technique is to fight clarity with obscurity John? I see you quote the abstract of a philosophical article. Interesting that someone who purports to despise the social sciences resorts to quoting a critique of a philosopher. Did you read it till the end?

"As a contribution to the philosophy of liberalism, therefore, Berlin’s
critique of positive liberty is founded on his contention, which is based on
his account of our structure of experience, that the conflation of knowledge
with liberty is phenomenologically fallacious. For Berlin, self-realization
and self-determination must be described as products of the ‘metaphysical
temptation’, which is another way of declaring their meaninglessness."

I'm not at all sure that you have caught the essence of what Spoonley was writing about either. All this is why I have pretty much given up reading any of your stuff. You rarely if ever make sense. You quote other people at length without context. You expect people to somehow define the meaning of your enigmatic statements.

TLDR in most cases I'm afraid.

John Hurley said...

Guerilla Surgeon.
That is indeed awful.
According to Paul Spoonley NZ is too small to garner the skills it needs so we need to attract migrants who bring diversity.

And a wealthy middleclass in India and China are behind it (a big house near my friend in Northwood was sold to "a lovely family from Shanghai" during lockdown).

Fortunately (despite the pain of a few people who don't work at RNZ or Newshub) we will emerge better. As Arthur Grimes reminds us "Auckland used to be boring as hell".

Watching the parliamentary debates over the Slum Enabling Bill, National is fizzing at the bung to increase migration. As the Indian Stuff business editor demonstrated on Twitter, if you want sun you just ($$$$$) up. He and his Twitter star partner have a lovely view from their apartment.

While we concentrate on gangs and 501's are we also looking at Asian immigration to Aus?
Bernard Salk pointed at that when interviewed by Katherine Ryan.

"White supremacy" anyone?

"Huge immigration" - Paul Spoonley
"a wealthy middle class from India and China"
Is the bond with Australia a thing of the past?

I see Ashley Church beating the "tall poppy" drum.
Intuitively I always saw those "property people" as violating a moral code because they exploit and bolt hole. At a free Dolf DeRoos seminar at Chch Town Hall I noticed people walking around with glazed eyes. It was a formula that worked (and) underpinned by immigration thanks to the MSM, a bipartisan agreement between every party (minus NZ First) and the globalist's Key/Clarke/Ardern

Asset inflation isn't wealth creation; it simply creates a charge elsewhere in the economy".
Scratch social media and they are all over it - I notice a split on Kiwiblog and I reckon Maori are also split. "Culture" is not a trade for old NZ.

John Hurley said...

For Berlin, self-realization and self-determination must be described as products of the ‘metaphysical temptation’, which is another way of declaring their meaninglessness."
No I don't have access to that.
I'm still working through all the sources I can find.
The above statement doesn't sound correct though (to me)

All forms of tampering with human beings, getting at them, shaping them against their will to your own pattern, all thought control and conditioning is, therefore, a denial of that in men which makes them men and their values ultimate.

"The idea that we once had something – an imaginary "Kiwiness" – and now we have lost it is both a form of misplaced nostalgia but it is also disrespectful to the New Zealand that has emerged," Spoonley said.

Spoonley is rarely critiqued; that would be racist. He is treated with genuflection by the media on the left and (possibly) a useful fool on the right.