Sunday, July 18, 2010

A preliminary report on the end of the world

Despite our best intentions, Skyler and I arrived at Sky City too late to join in the rowdy trade union demonstration outside the National Party conference's Sunday morning breakfast. I noticed a couple of cops still hanging about the building's southern entrance as we slipped inside - one of them was nodding sagely as the other made a series of vigorous motions with his arms, as if he were illustrating one of the more vicious moves he had used earlier in the morning on a protester.

The John Key fan club had retreated into a closed session, though one or two puffy-faced Young Nats hung about the bottom of the stairs, their delegate ID badges prominently displayed on their expensive Tory-blue suits. (Were they hoping that some stray journalist might mistake them for backbench MPs, and take their photos?) Next door to the vast room where the National faithful had assembled, overweight shabby men banged away at pokie machines which hummed and buzzed and flashed obediently, and slim, suited men barked orders at dealers, whose arms moved backwards and forwards robotically over sea-green tables, dropping cards and scooping up chips.

As we reached the third floor of Sky City, leaving the buzzing machines and barking blackjackers behind and walking into a performance by Polynesian dancers and drummers, I was struck by the incongruity of the location that Auckland Film Festival organisers had selected for the New Zealand premiere of There Once Was An Island: Te Henua E Noho, Briar March's film about the people of the remote and imperilled Polynesian atoll of Takuu.

Over the past few months Takuu, a collection of islets on a reef two hundred and fifty kilometres north of Bougainville, far to the west of the Polynesian heartland, has suddenly become famous, as climate change activists and journalists use its battle with a rising sea to symbolise the dangers many low-lying parts of the world face from global warming. In more than a few newspaper articles, including a long feature which appeared in the New Zealand Herald a couple of months ago, the people of Takuu, who do not have electricity, let alone a carbon footprint, are cast as the innocent victims of a decadent developed world, which has put its hunger for economic growth and consumer goods ahead of ecological considerations, and ended up raising seas so high they threaten to drown low-lying Pacific atolls.

It would be hard to pick a better symbol of the decadence of twenty-first century capitalism than Sky City last Sunday, where National Party staffers on a quarter of a million a year salaries sat in well-stuffed chairs and discussed new ways of disciplining beneficiaries and the poorest workers, while nearby the psychic victims of previous attacks on the working class poured their benefits and low wage jobs into machines that robbed them with noisy efficiency. Was Film Festival supremo Bill Gosden perhaps trying to underscore the moral as well as physical distance between our decadent city and the pristine subsistence society of tropical Takuu, when he booked Briar March's film into the theatre on Sky City's third floor?

When I reached the third floor I was pleased to see that there were far more people in the foyer outside the theatre, listening to the dense, almost claustrophobic drumming and watching rows of dancers shake their hips violently while miraculously keeping their feet firmly planted in the carpet, than there were in the casino downstairs. When the performance was over the theatre filled to capacity in a few minutes; the improbably young Briar March, who runs her own film production company and has two other movies showing at this festival, looked genuinely surprised by the turnout as she thanked a variety of people who helped with the film, including 'the many boyfriends' she and her co-producer Lyn Collie have had 'over the past four years'.

The opening frames of There Once Was An Island were unpromising: a camera half-submerged in water approached the islands of Takuu slowly, while faintly menacing music sounded. Was I the only one of the five hundred viewers who was reminded of one of the more famous, and more naff, scenes from Jaws? (Perhaps, though, March is too young to remember Jaws, and realise the absurd connotations her camerawork has for old fogies like myself?)

After the worrying beginning There Once Was An Island soon found its feet, as March's small crew introduced us to some of Takuu's four hundred residents in a series of sensitive, unhurried shots. In this place where almost every meal comes at least partly from the sea, we met a young fisherman who grinned and confessed to using the traditional canoe he had fashioned from driftwood to escape regularly from the demands of his wife and his small children. We followed him to a remote part of Takuu's warm, calm lagoon, and watched as he collected a meal using techniques which have not changed in many generations.

We met a series of other islanders who exhibited the range of skills that a subsistence lifestyle on a remote atoll requires, and who talked of their pride in their history and culture. We heard how steadily rising sea levels are making the task of survival on Takuu harder and harder. A middle-aged man took us to one of the reef islets reserved for farming, and showed how brine is leaching into the soil there and slowly killing the enormous taro he grows. A group of men struggled to improvise a sea wall out of coconut trunks, in an attempt to protect the beautiful but fragile homes they build from pandanus leaves. Another man lamented the loss of a beach of golden sand to the waves that wash relentlessly over the reef. The islanders denounced the Papua New Guinean government for its failure to provide them with a regular shipping service, and for its attempts to persuade them to resettle on the unfamiliar island of Bougainville far to their south. With its Melanesian culture, its recent history of warfare, its rocky, unsafe coastline, and its malaria, Bougainville seems an uninviting place for many of the people of Takuu.

Maps in textbooks and on museum walls often illustrate the extent of Polynesia with a triangle that begins in the central Pacific, near Samoa and Tonga, and extends south to New Zealand, east to Rapa Nui, and northeast to Hawaii. Although the 'Polynesian triangle' covers a vast area of ocean and many hundreds of islands, it excludes the peoples of the so-called Polynesian outliers, who live far to the west of Samoa, in island groups dominated by non-Polynesian peoples like Melanesians, Micronesians, and Papuans.

The outliers were once thought to be 'stepping stones' that bearers of Polynesian culture crossed, as they moved out of southeast Asia towards the vast spaces of the central and eastern Pacific. In the last half-century, though, scholars have come to recognise that Polynesian culture was not brought to Polynesia from anywhere else, but rather developed within Polynesia, and in particular in the central region that includes Samoa and Tonga. It is likely that the outliers were settled by Polynesians who, having reached the central Pacific and established a culture and civilisation there, turned back to the west, in search of lands that had been bypassed during the earlier movement east. Over hundreds or even thousands of years, the outlier colonies have developed their own cultures. Takuu's inhabitants have a tradition that their forefathers arrived from Samoa a thousand years ago, and ethnographic and linguistic evidence supports this, but their language and their customs long ago became distinctive. Some of the Polynesian outliers, like well-forested Rennell Island in the Solomons, are large and robust; many, though, are tiny, flat atolls, environments as vulnerable as the isolated cultural fragments they support. A decade and a half ago Richard Moyle, a long-serving anthropologist and former editor of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, arrived on Takuu to do some research, and realised that the atoll's isolation, which is extreme even by the standards of the Polynesian outliers, had made the culture of its people distinctive and significant.

Moyle was particularly excited when he discovered that, unlike every other Polynesian society, Takuu had never been comprehensively Christianised, and still hosted all sorts of 'pagan' practices. Moyle was also struck by the lack of hierarchy on the islands, and by the way that resources were shared out equally in good times and bad. Moyle served as an advisor to the makers of There Once Was An Island, and his series of books and monographs about Takuu - works produced at the request of the islanders, who have been anxious to have their culture documented - remain the only scholarly studies of this piece of the Polynesian diaspora.

Briar March's film eventually introduced us to a Takuuan who had a radical and unusual attitude towards the plight of her homeland. A woman who left the island in her youth, married a Papuan, and made a success of herself in Port Moresby, the large and chaotic capital city of Papua New Guinea, she had returned to the island of her birth to spread the creed of Christianity, and to urge her kin to take the advice of the government and resettle on Bougainville. At a meeting in an improvised, pandanus-walled church close to the breaking waves, she led a group of other women in a series of songs and prayers, and then preached against the evil of the traditional religious rituals that are still so widespread on Takuu, claiming that these practices were responsible for many of the islanders' woes. Only by settling on Bougainville, swapping their subsistence lifestyle for wage labour, and exchanging traditional beliefs for fundamentalist Chrisitianity can the Takuuans survive God's wrath, she claimed.

While the evangelist we met represents a minority viewpoint, it would be wrong to dismiss her chances of winning over her fellow islanders. In some other Polynesian outliers, a history of isolation and the absence of competition between different Christian denominations has meant that conversion to Christianity has been an extremely fast and extremely thoroughgoing affair. Rennell Islanders, for instance, remained pagan until 1938, and then converted to Seventh Day Adventism in a matter of weeks, junking much of their traditional culture in the process.

When two scientists - John Hunter, an English oceanographer, and Scott Smithers, an Australian expert on atolls - were brought to Takuu by the film-makers there was hope that a solution might be found to the problems caused by rising sea levels. Probing water tables, measuring tides, and inspecting sea walls, Hunter and Smithers soon established a rapport with the Takuuans. Despite their isolation and their relative lack of education, the islanders quickly assimilated the complex theories and research findings Hunter and Smithers shared with them. One islander joked that he had learned so much from the scientists that he almost felt like one of them himself.

Hunter and Smithers decided that the impact of rising sea levels can be lessened, and that Takuu can remain habitable for a long time, if certain measures are taken. Some measures, like the relocation of homes to higher ground and the dismantling of sea walls that prevent the build-up of new beaches, can be understaken without great expense. Others, though, like the construction of a sophisticated sea wall in deep lagoon water, require funds that seem unlikely to come from the Papua New Guinea government. The work of Smithers and Hunter made the Takuuans more optimistic about their future, but this optimism was soon washed away by a series of surge tides that sent large dirty waves through homes and into the island's school, ruining foodstores and soaking textbooks. In the aftermath of this disaster islanders began to go hungry, as they waited for emergency food supplies from the government. Although the surge tide and its after-effects claimed no lives, they were a major blow to morale, and There Once Was An Island ended with many Takuuans thinking seriously about resettling on Bougainville, even if doing so meant losing the way of life they love.

After being treated to two prolonged rounds of applause, Briar March invited us all down to the Wintergarden room, at the bottom of the Civic theatre, to watch a panel discussion about her film. I joined the crowd heading down the hill, partly because I wanted to hear from Smithers, Hunter and Richard Moyle, but also because I have fond memories of the Wintergarden, and of the Civic theatre in general, from my childhood, when its Orientalist interiors, shadowy staircases and corridors, and impossibly deep blue, star-sprinkled mock sky would make me feel like I had stepped into some alternative reality. The Civic's interior was more exciting than many of the films my parents took me there to watch, and I'm always happy to revisit it. When I arrived at the Wintergarden the room seemed stranger than ever, because Polynesian drummers and dancers were swaying amidst the mock-Moorish pillars and frescoes.

The panel discussion and the question and answer session which followed it were sometimes as strange as their setting. Sitting between the lean, serious Hunter and the affable Smithers, the silver-haired, suited Richard Moyle looked distinctly unimpressed with proceedings. When Smithers cracked jokes, Moyle's thin mouth barely twitched. When he was given the microphone, Moyle gave a sober, prepared speech, instead of the animated, improvised talks offered by his fellow panelists. At one point an audience member politely interrupted Moyle to protest that she couldn't hear him. 'Well, I can't hear you', the veteran anthropologist responded, before continuing at the same volume.

It is a pity that Moyle couldn't be heard by everybody at the Wintergarden, because he had some fascinating things to say. Moyle paid tribute to Takuu culture, saying that it is as rich and as vibrant as the culture of any Polynesian society. He said, with a certain amount of pride, that the islanders are famous throughout Bougainville Province for their refusal to abandon their traditions in the face of the dubious charms of Christianity and capitalism. Moyle, who had the honour of publishing the first dictionary of the Takuuan language, noted that the islanders' word for 'different' is the same as their word for 'danger'. Because of their long seclusion, the threat which faces them now seems positively apocalyptic: the destruction of their island 'equals the destruction of the world'. But Moyle believes that the Takuu people may be able to draw on the great journey they made a thousand years ago from Samoa as an inspiration, and undertake a new migration without losing their identity. He thinks that the expatriate Takuuan population in Papua New Guinea will give vital assistance to the islanders if they resettle on Bougainville.

Moyle's words might have seemed overly optimistic, but there have been other Pacific peoples who have been forced, in modern times, to abandon their home islands, and yet have succeeded in preserving their culture in a new setting. The Micronesian people of Banaba Island had their atoll torn up by phosphate-hungry Britons in the middle of last century, and were dispatched to the volcanic island of Rabi in the Fijian archipelago, thousands of kilometres to the south. Despite their minority status on Fiji, they have held on to their traditions and identity. At the beginning of this year I spent a few days on 'Eua, the southernmost inhabited island in Tonga, where hundreds of people from the island of Niuafo'ou far to the north were resettled in the 1950s after their villages were covered in lava and volcanic rocks. The people of Niuafo'ou did not abandon their heritage, but instead gave the new settlements they built on 'Eua the names of the villages of their beloved homeland. In more recent times, a couple of villages of Tuvaluans have successfully relocated from their low-lying homeland to Niue, an island depopulated by decades of migration to New Zealand.

After Moyle finished his presentation, an elderly woman rose determinedly to her feet and aimed a question at him. 'If global warming is such a concern to you, why you don't do something about it yourself?' she demanded in a barely controlled voice. 'Why don't you stop flying and using up carbon and stay at home instead of going off to this island?' It seemed a remarkably aggressive question, but it elicited a shy smile from Moyle. 'That is my beloved wife' he said slowly. 'I am going back to Takuu on Tuesday. I have promised her this will be my last trip.' The rest of the audience burst into laughter, but Mrs Moyle wasn't even smiling as she sat back down.

After they were asked about Takuu culture, Scott Smithers and Briar March both talked about how impressed they were by the happy egalitarianism of the islanders. March said that, after the cashless economy and rigorously fair distribution of food and other essentials on Takuu, she suffered culture shock when she travelled to the Gold Coast to do some technical work on her film. The inequality and conflict of capitalist society upset her. Smithers said he experienced a similar sense of dislocation when he returned from Takuu, where children play contentedly for hours with rubber bands and seem never to quarrel amongst themselves, to his home in the suburbs of Australia, where he found his children fighting over lavish Christmas presents.

Smithers' and March's reflections prompted a couple of contrasting contributions from audience members. In a voice that became progressively more agitated, a woman asked whether Takuu culture was worth preserving, given that it seemed to be 'rooted in the past' and incompatible with the 'global culture' that those of us who live in the West supposedly enjoy. Wouldn't it be better, she asked, in what seemed intended as a rhetorical question, to remove the Takuuans from their homeland and bring them into the modern world?

In a sensitive response to these rather insensitive remarks, Lyn Collie argued that the Takuuans themselves ought to be able to decide the shape of their society. Many of them, the producer of March's film suggested, might want to 'have a foot in both worlds', by maintaining their culture whilst also opening it up to new influences, and by maintaining elements of a subsistence economy at the same time that they earned more cash, and thus better access to the modern world. The advocate of 'global culture' was undeterred by these words, and launched into another broadside about the need to abandon 'traditionalism' in order to enjoy the 'fruits' of modernity. For her, the cultures of the Takuu islanders and of other indigenous peoples seemed to be static things, wholly incapable of changing and incorporating the new and the useful. They had to be cast away, like old clothes.

Another member of the audience advanced a very different, yet equally one-sided, interpretation of Takuu culture. A young man with the sickly, tofu-grey skin and evangelical manner of a vegan, he announced that he was working on a Masters thesis which would explain that the cause of global warming and most of the rest of the world's ills was 'consumerism as an identity'. Capitalism, he explained in a voice that managed to be at once high-pitched and grave, was a product of the desire of ordinary people to 'define themselves as consumers'. The world could be cured of its ills if its inhabitants learnt from the people of Takuu island, and abandoned their 'consumerist identities' in favour, presumably, of a subsistence lifestyle.

I hope that the earnest young vegan's thesis supervisor pushes him in the direction of a classic study of the origins of capitalism like EP Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class, or Marx's chapter on primitive accumulation in Capital. As both those authors showed, the working class which forms a large majority of the population in advanced capitalist societies did not 'choose' capitalism because it had developed a fetish for consumer goods. In nation after nation, capitalism was established as peasants were forced to abandon their land, get jobs in noisy, dangerous factories, and stay alive by buying commodities like bread and shelter. If the people of Takuu have to leave their home for Bougainville, they may well become labourers on one of the island's cocoa or palm oil plantations, and have no choice but to survive by purchasing commodities. In a capitalist economy, people have to buy and consume goods. Why they should be chided for this necessity is not clear.

To present the people of Takuu as across-the-board opponents of a cash economy also seems wrong-headed. Discussing the situation of the islanders, Briar March said that they would like to have more sources of cash, so that they could more easily pay their children's tuition fees. Could we possibly condemn the Takuuans for wanting their children to consume the commodity that is education in Papua New Guinea?

It seems to me that the two members of the audience I have been criticising offered versions of two very common Western responses to indigenous societies. The aggressive advocate for 'global culture' and the abolition of Takuu identity had the the teleological view of history and the uncritical admiration of modernity that was endemic amongst the nineteenth century missionaries who were so determined to 'civilise' Pacific peoples, and which is often today found, in a secular form, amongst the 'experts' on Third World 'economic development' employed by organisations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The earnest young opponent of consumerism, on the other hand, seemed intent on recycling the romantic image of the Pacific islander as a 'noble savage' which so captivated European intellectuals like Gauguin and Robert Louis Stevenson in the nineteenth century, and which still influences popular perceptions of the region today.

It is to Briar March's credit that her film avoided the sort of cliches that I have been criticising. Like the texts of Richard Moyle, There Once Was An Island did not try to diminish the complexity and dynamism of Takuu society. Instead of siding with one faction on the island over another or paternalistically lecturing her subjects, March has allowed the people of Takuu to tell their own stories.

Footnote: you can contribute to a fund set up to help the people of Takuu through this page, which is a part of the official There Once Was An Island website.

23 Comments:

Blogger hamshi said...

Interesting comments there maps. There was a question at the cinema, or rather a rant disguised as a question, that suggested it was a good thing Takuu was doomed because the women appeared to do most of the work. I'm not sure how relocating to Bougainville could solve this.

Do you think it is naive of the islanders to think they would be accepted more in a polynesian society than a melanesian one?

9:58 am  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Hamshi,

with my usual lack of probity I actually telescoped the question and answer sessions at the cinema, immediately after the film was shown, and at the Wintergarden later in the afternoon. The woman you referred to seemed, by my count, to ask three 'questions' at the cinema and two at the Wintergarden. She may have made more 'contributions' at the Wintergarden - she was sitting near the back of the room, and the panelists and most of the audience seemed (with good reason) to be trying to ignore her. I missed the bit where she mentioned women's work.

I'm not sure if you came down to the Wintergarden, but there was a bloke who asked an interesting question there about whether the Takuu islanders would perhaps be better off relocating to the east, into the Polynesian heartland. He mentioned Niue and parts of the Cooks as possibilities, because those areas had been depopulated.

One of the panelists replied by saying that Papua New Guinea bureaucracy was such a nightmare that it would be very hard to move a large number of people outside the country.

A friend of mine who has spent quite a bit of time in Niue says that the Tuvaluans who have settled there are doing reasonably well, and that there hasn't been tension between them and the Niueans, though the two groups don't necessarily interact all that much. There was tension for a while after the people of Niuafo'ou resettled on 'Eua, but it eventually dissipated, and the newcomers intermarried with the locals.

One of the panelists mentioned that Papaua New Guinea wants to resettle Melanesian atoll-dwellers on the same plantation as the people of Takuu. This has apparently caused misgivings on Takuu. It would be bad indeed if parts of Bougainville ended up resembling Palm Island, where the Australian government more or less forcibly resettled many different Aboriginal groups, and by mixing them together robbed them of their different cultures.

You probably remember a character in the film referring to trouble some atoll peoples who have already moved to Bougainville have had with the indigenous people there. Bougainville still seems like an unstable place, and the war that took place in the '90s might well have a left a strong hostility to outsiders taking local land, even if those outsiders are poor atoll-dwellers, rather than multinational companies.

10:19 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A good round up of TV, video, photo and commentary from Sunday's battle here -
http://socialistaotearoa.blogspot.
com/2010/07/photos-and-video-from-barricades.html

10:48 am  
Anonymous Give up meat, save the planet said...

As a political vegan I am shocked and anagered by your bigoted comments. What have you got against people prepared to make a stand to save the planet and set the example for humanity? You are proof that the consumption of meat leads to aggression and spite! I advise you to get help so that you give up your addiction to flesh.

11:54 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That sounds a very interesting film, as do the discussions that followed
Has anybody thought to ask the people of Takuu what they would like to do?
It is all very well talking about "noble savages" and certainly from our point of view their life has a certain charm but is that what they want for their children

Five generations ago my paternal line left an island, giving up religion, language and culture for the New Zealand life
Looking through rose tinted glasses we seemed to have given away a lot but no one seems keen to return to the islands, in this case the Western Islands known now as the Azores
Ray

3:41 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Well, I have some friends who lived in the Azores, and they said it wasn't all that different from New Zealand! Apparently some of the botany is very similar: the islands have lots of cabbage trees, for instance. The influence of Catholicism on the Azores and the generally conservative culture there was a bit much for my friends, though - they preferred liberal New Zealand!

I think the strength of Briar March's film was the way it allowed the people of Takuu to speak for themselves. Most of the islanders did not seem keen to become wage earners in a capitalist or semi-capitalist economy. Nor, though, did they seem to want to stand back completely from the world outside their island. They were keen to utilise modern technology where it fitted with their traditional way of life, and according to Briar March they wanted their kids to be educated on Bougainville.

There are some good intellectual reasons why the culture of Takuu ought to be preserved - we might talk, for instance, about how it potentially provides a window into traditional Polynesian life, and thus a boon for anthropologists. While this sort of argument should not be neglected, it seems to me a little utilitarian, and perhaps Western-centric. It reminds me of the argument that tropical forests should be preserved because all the herbs they harbour might be useful for the development of modern drugs that can be mass produced in the West. Don't such arguments reply too much on the interests of the West?

There is the basic democratic argument, advanced on Sunday by the film's producer Lyn Collie, that the Takuu islanders should be able to decide their own fate, and not have it imposed upon them by government officials or market forces or the climate.

There is also a more subtle argument which holds that, because of its roots in the deep past, Takuu tells us something about a possible future. Marx valued egalitarian societies like the one that exists on Takuu because they show that capitalism is not something hardwired into human nature, and that there are alternative ways of organising a society. I think that the desire to return the whole world to the pre-industrial era is dangerously quixotic, but that some of the insights of societies like Takuu might help us to find ways of improving and eventually transcending contemporary Western capitalism. Obviously this is a tricky subject, and it probably deserves a more serious discussion in a post of its own. I'm interested to hear what others think, though.

1:18 am  
Blogger maps said...

On the subject of the Kiwi connection with the Azores, I ought to mention the case of Hamish Dewe:

http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com/2010/01/different-writers-different-weddings.html

1:21 am  
Blogger Ray said...

"Some of the insights of societies like Takuu might help us to find ways of improving and eventually transcending contemporary Western capitalism"
I think that would be interesting

One of the nice things that have happened over my life time is the way some/most public organisations now deal with things in a consensus way, the only down side is the time this takes to make decisions but that need not be a problem. It just means things have to move slowly but that is the pacific way
Interesting link to the Azores, according to family stories one son in each generation was always named Josef and nominated for the catholic church, he was the money man. Colour wise I am whiter than white thanks to a 4 or 5 of scottish women but in the wider family there are some browner than our Maori cousins. Mind you they claim to be Waitaha so that may be no surprise!

11:15 am  
Anonymous Give up meat, save the planet said...

The way to save the world is a lot easier than most people think - humans need to evolve into the new millenium and stop eating meat and consuming disgusting byproducts of animals like milk, butter etc But I guess the hate-filled meat addict who runs this sit can't see that. What people don't realise is that meat actually poisons over time and gets them onto irrational trains of thought. Go vegan and you'll immediately see the difference!
I have no aminosity to people who are ignorant about the poisonousness of meat...but those who know and who choose to attack the people trying to save the world...those people I pity, despise, and fear...

12:21 pm  
Anonymous lambert said...

My grandfather knew Takuu as 'the Mortlock Islands'.

He was quite an eccentric gent and I am not sure if this was his private designation, or an alternative name for the place.

But it was a name that rolled off his tongue in a very romantic way when he told stories to his grandchildren.

12:36 pm  
Anonymous david lambert said...

My grandfather knew Takuu as 'the Mortlock Islands'.

He was quite an eccentric gent and I am not sure if this was his private designation, or an alternative name for the place.

But it was a name that rolled off his tongue in a very romantic way when he told stories to his grandchildren.

12:37 pm  
Anonymous Give up meat, save the planet said...

A little a bit of context for the thinking people at this website (not the hate-filled meat freaks!). I just got home today from staying at my parents property. My mum made a big effort to make almost all the food vegan for my me, which was what I demanded as a condition of coming out. Just before I left though my asshole of a stepfather attacked me because I said that Peter Singer was a bastard for calling himself an 'impure vegan' (what a frightening concept) because although he eats vegan at home he 'indulges' when he eats out, and encouraging people to eat meat (this arose when my mum handed me a printout of a Peter Singer recipe for lentil soup). My step father is always a prick but he attacked me quite viciously, telling me that I was 'dogmatic' when all I did was criticise someone else not connected to him at all. They are meat eaters. I was very upset by my stepfather's treatment of me (and my mother making no effort to defend me, as usual) but I got a lot more upset on the train when my brother told me something very disturbing he had learnt during our stay.

My stepfather let him ride the quadbike around and when he was driving down the dirt track that goes past my parents property he saw two cows in a field belonging to my parents. It turns out they went halves in the cows with the people who live across the road and when the older one gets big enough they will have it murdered and split the corpse between them. They will then buy another young cow to keep the other one company and when the older one gets big enough they will kill it too, and so the bloody cycle of death will continue.

The thing is that my parents are originally city people and so were not indoctrinated into the horrible indifference and distain for animals country folk often possess. I just cannot comprehend what they are doing, I am so horrified that when I think of it it makes me feel physically ill. Why are they aspiring to this horrible attitude that makes their neighbours keep their dog chained all day every day unless they need it for work and only feed it every three days? From what I understand these cruel attitudes are developed by people who grow up on farms as a kind of defence against seeing the horrible cruelty they perpetrate everyday - like a type of learned pschopathy. These people see no other way to live and thus cannot empathise with animals as it would prevent them from exploiting them. My parents are educated people not hicks or factories workers and used to be in the peace movement?????????

I learnt something else that disturbed me as well while I was there. My mum has four chickens which she keeps for eggs. They seem healthy and well cared for but I just found out that although chickens live for up to 10 years they only lay eggs for about two or three of these years, so the chickens are in danger too! And the fate of eggs - I don't want to think about that!

My parents treat me quite badly in general and I want to cut all ties with them because I can live quite well on a vegan diet and have heard many of our arguments against eating animal products, and this does not seem to have swayed them one bit. You should have seen the look on my mothers face when she asked if I would eat free range eggs, I said that regardless of the ethical aspects I was put off of eggs once I realised that an unfertilised egg is the chicken equivalent of a period, it was hilarious!!!

I just cant believe that I am related in any way to such ignorant, uncaring people. Even when I was eating meat I could never raise something, have it killed and then eat it. My parents are so disappointing to me.

1:02 pm  
Anonymous Give up meat, save the planet said...

A little a bit of context for the thinking people at this website (not the hate-filled meat freaks!). I just got home today from staying at my parents property. My mum made a big effort to make almost all the food vegan for my me, which was what I demanded as a condition of coming out. Just before I left though my asshole of a stepfather attacked me because I said that Peter Singer was a bastard for calling himself an 'impure vegan' (what a frightening concept) because although he eats vegan at home he 'indulges' when he eats out, and encouraging people to eat meat (this arose when my mum handed me a printout of a Peter Singer recipe for lentil soup). My step father is always a prick but he attacked me quite viciously, telling me that I was 'dogmatic' when all I did was criticise someone else not connected to him at all. They are meat eaters. I was very upset by my stepfather's treatment of me (and my mother making no effort to defend me, as usual) but I got a lot more upset on the train when my brother told me something very disturbing he had learnt during our stay.

My stepfather let him ride the quadbike around and when he was driving down the dirt track that goes past my parents property he saw two cows in a field belonging to my parents. It turns out they went halves in the cows with the people who live across the road and when the older one gets big enough they will have it murdered and split the corpse between them. They will then buy another young cow to keep the other one company and when the older one gets big enough they will kill it too, and so the bloody cycle of death will continue.

The thing is that my parents are originally city people and so were not indoctrinated into the horrible indifference and distain for animals country folk often possess. I just cannot comprehend what they are doing, I am so horrified that when I think of it it makes me feel physically ill. Why are they aspiring to this horrible attitude that makes their neighbours keep their dog chained all day every day unless they need it for work and only feed it every three days? From what I understand these cruel attitudes are developed by people who grow up on farms as a kind of defence against seeing the horrible cruelty they perpetrate everyday - like a type of learned pschopathy. These people see no other way to live and thus cannot empathise with animals as it would prevent them from exploiting them. My parents are educated people not hicks or factories workers and used to be in the peace movement?????????

I learnt something else that disturbed me as well while I was there. My mum has four chickens which she keeps for eggs. They seem healthy and well cared for but I just found out that although chickens live for up to 10 years they only lay eggs for about two or three of these years, so the chickens are in danger too! And the fate of eggs - I don't want to think about that!

My parents treat me quite badly in general and I want to cut all ties with them because I can live quite well on a vegan diet and have heard many of our arguments against eating animal products, and this does not seem to have swayed them one bit. You should have seen the look on my mothers face when she asked if I would eat free range eggs, I said that regardless of the ethical aspects I was put off of eggs once I realised that an unfertilised egg is the chicken equivalent of a period, it was hilarious!!!

I just cant believe that I am related in any way to such ignorant, uncaring people. Even when I was eating meat I could never raise something, have it killed and then eat it. My parents are so disappointing to me.

1:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That parody vegan is hilarious.

2:46 pm  
Anonymous George D said...

Oh dear. Angry and irritable vegans. Probably a lack of b12 and protein :)

For what it's worth, I am a vegan, but find the extreme self-righteousness of some cliquish vegans to be destructive.

Likewise, awful people who decide that they are the centre of attention, rather than the people several hundred have come to listen to and see. A good moderator or facilitator will have very little tolerance for such behaviour, and shut them down as soon as necessary.

Anyway! Back to the subject at hand - it's pleasant to see a depiction that presents Takuu Islanders as capable of determining their own present and future (despite the very obvious constraints on their agency), rather than as hapless victims who need saving from either their imagined past or future.

4:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Others saw the irony too

http://www.thestandard.org.nz/the-irony-of-the-confluence/

5:16 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are two separate places known as the Mortlock Islands, one of which is also known as Takuu
http://web.singnet.com.sg/~tonym/islands.html

1:00 am  
Anonymous Nestor Notabilis said...

also a vegan... enjoy giving stick to the meat eaters... BTW anyone got any or know any good pro-meat arguments other than the (a) i like the taste or (b) supporting local industry ones? Adorno had something good about fascism and animal rights as a disguise for hatred of humanity, while Nietzsche hated the moral implications in sort of the same way as maps suggests. Zizek had something interesting to say about Singer (http://www.egs.edu/faculty/slavoj-zizek/articles/a-plea-for-leninist-intolerance/) but I couldn't find much in it apart from some Uber-mensch trolling for the species... oh well, of for some chickpeas, anyone else hungry?

4:00 am  
Blogger maps said...

Thanks anon for the info about the other Mortlock Islands. Would you believe I had adorned this post with a photo from the wrong set of islands?!

I'm in hot water in the discussion thread under the Standard's response to this post for saying that underconsumption, not consumption, is a cause of environmental problems. Here's my justification for that claim, so you can see if I'm talking bollocks:

But the effect of attacks on the public sector and the social wage is to depress consumer spending – and the right is prepared to tolerate this, in the name of a quixotic Hoover-style desire to balance the books (whatever happened to Keynes and the lessons of the Great Depression?) and restart the business cycle, and because it likes any excuse to have a crack at the public sector. Underconsumption is a big problem this winter for a lot of Kiwis who can’t consume enough power to warm their houses properly, can’t consume enough at the supermarket to give their kids everything they need, and so on. To present consumption as a bad thing, and a desire to consume as the motor that sustains capitalism, as too many bourgeois Grey Lynn environmentalists do, is to misunderstand the system and to unwittingly line up with the right.

In parts of the Pacific where a hybrid economy composed of capitalist and pre-capitalist modes of production exists, ‘raids’ on the environment are often used as a way of supplementing wages which fall below starvation levels. People who have moved away from their land and become workers, but aren’t able to consume at the supermarket because their pay is so pitiful, head for the bush, poach birds and animals, grab a bit of timber to flog off, and so on. In other cases they might grab some land to which they have an entitlement back in the village, bang in some cash crop like mangos or squash, throw a lot of fertiliser into the mix, and make a quick harvest and a quick buck supplying an export market, without thinking about the rellies who have to try to use the same land next year for subsistence purposes (I know this was happening in Tonga). The failure of capitalism to provide a decent income so that Third World workers can consume in the capitalist economy leads to a lot of environmental problems.

I’m all for increased consumption, in the Third World and the West. I don’t see how one can support organisations like trade unions, which aim to increase the buying power of workers, without being in support of increased consumption.

http://www.thestandard.org.nz/the-irony-of-the-confluence/

10:29 am  
Blogger maps said...

Nestor,

the argument that meat-eating is a moral abomination strikes me in the same way as the anarchist argument that all authority is wrong, or the hyper-rationalist's argument that religion is inherently evil. To repudiate meat, or hierarchy, or religion is to repudiate nearly every human society that has ever existed. This sort of repudiation has its roots, surely, in a particular strand of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinking represented by people like Rousseau and Kropotkin, who wanted to transform humanity out of all recognition, until it resembled some utopian European intellectual's ideal. I just think we need to be a bit more easygoing.

Would you really want to argue that people of Takuu, who seem to get stuck into chickens and other birds as well as the fish, and would, I am guessing, also keep the odd pig, have to give up the pleasures of the flesh, in order to meet your standards of moral probity? Wouldn't such an argument be a little arrogant?

10:39 am  
Blogger dave said...

Impoverishment or immiseration rather than underconsumption.

"It makes an accumulation of misery a necessary condition, corresponding to the accumulation of wealth. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same accumulation of misery, the torment of labour, slavery, ignorance, brutalization and moral degradation at the opposite pole. i.e. on the side of the class that produces its own product as capital." [797]

On Keynsians before Keynes " The superficiality of political economy shows itself in the fact that it views the expansion and contraction of credit as the cause of the periodic alternations of the industrial cycle, whereas it is a mere symptom of them." [786]
The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation, Capital Vol 1

10:11 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Thanks for the quote, Dave.

11:49 pm  
Anonymous Nestor Notabilis said...

Maps,

(1) meat eating is not a moral abomination. It is an unsound ethical choice when faced with the global consequences of industrialised farming. It is not universally wrong, and so

(2) I would not deem the Takuu wrong for eating meat.

(3) but that doesn't keep you from answering the original questions with regard to your own situation,.

5:48 am  

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