Blog description.

Accentuating the Liberal in Classical Liberal: Advocating Ascendency of the Individual & a Politick & Literature to Fight the Rise & Rise of the Tax Surveillance State. 'Illigitum non carborundum'.

Liberty and freedom are two proud words that have been executed from the political lexicon: they were frog marched and stood before a wall of blank minds, then forcibly blindfolded, and shot, with the whimpering staccato of ‘equality’ and ‘fairness’ resounding over and over. And not only did this atrocity go unreported by journalists in the mainstream media, they were in the firing squad.

The premise of this blog is simple: the Soviets thought they had equality, and welfare from cradle to grave, until the illusory free lunch of redistribution took its inevitable course, and cost them everything they had. First to go was their privacy, after that their freedom, then on being ground down to an equality of poverty only, for many of them their lives as they tried to escape a life behind the Iron Curtain. In the state-enforced common good, was found only slavery to the prison of each other's mind; instead of the caring state, they had imposed the surveillance state to keep them in line. So why are we accumulating a national debt to build the slave state again in the West? Where is the contrarian, uncomfortable literature to put the state experiment finally to rest?

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Cancelling of BNZ Short Story Award & Booksellers Book Month – The Relevant Questions.

Over the last month Bank of New Zealand has withdrawn from running its annual short story competition of the last 55 years.

A damned shame, particularly after so much history, plus looking at some of the winners who went on to be New Zealand literary heavyweights, it could conceivably be argued the competition has helped launch some literary careers.

Then to add to the woe of the literary industries this year, just in on email (Wednesday, 29 April) while I am editing this post, I find via Booksellers that the New Zealand Book Month is cancelled, and for the same reason as this year’s Book Awards were earlier also canned – lack of sponsors:

Dear New Zealand Book Month supporters,

It is with great regret we announce that New Zealand Book Month is not able to take place in 2015. Despite an extensive sponsor search the event has not been able to secure the necessary funding to run an impactful national campaign of events. The New Zealand Book Month board has had to make the difficult decision to postpone the campaign indefinitely.

“It’s been a time of disappointing setbacks for New Zealand Book Month and the board is keenly aware of the challenges for national book events generally that have emerged in the past year,” said current chairperson, Sir Bob Harvey. “Books and reading are crucial to the cultural landscape yet the sponsorship for several major events including New Zealand Book Month and the New Zealand Book Awards remains indefinite.  The Book Month board are continuing to look for support to re-launch the campaign at the earliest opportunity.”

But here’s the rub. Of all the words I’ve seen printed on this, or striving for attention through the cliquey air of Twitter, I’ve not seen any participant speaking from the arts formulate the correct, and constructive question. And that is instructive in itself, as well as a lost opportunity given I both formulated the problem for our modern literature, and thus the seeds of solutions, at the end of last year in my literary ramble IV. I'm pleased to say that post continues to have increasing reads, currently my ninth most read post, albeit, looking quickly at the site stats, nine out of ten reads are coming from the US, then France, before miniscule New Zealand reads. The only response I have from New Zealand is a single Twitter tweet which simply stated I was wrong, no attempt whatsoever to answer any of the points I raised.  I am small enough to say I find it something a little more than annoying that this blog, with classical liberalism, is viewed as something akin to a literary ebola at home.

If I had the money, I would fund either the short story award, or a solid – in terms of longevity - annual book award (anonymously, note, I’m not Gareth Morgan, and far too much about books has become about celebrity – a toxic infection from reality TV). However, I don’t have the money required for that. Currently, as I intimated in this piece regarding why I’m keeping this blog in the first place, I have a day job which is sucking the very marrow from my bones and so I want to be quit of it to an early ‘retirement’ in which I can pursue my happiness in projects that are meaningful to me – (a retirement, note, I would probably be on were it not postponed by years due to the tax dollars extracted from me).

And there’s the point. Tax dollars. The only question I’ve seen broached on the BNZ news, as with the earlier news of NZ Post pulling out of New Zealand’s main book awards, and now Book Month, is that flowing from Eleanor Catton’s – and I love ya Eleanor, you are a prodigious talent, but … - statement on Prime Minister John Key regarding his supposed dereliction of the arts, with the inference tax payer dollars should be supporting it. I spoke to that nonsense specifically here, however, for this purpose, my entire literary ramble IV – Standing Upright Here; A Captured Literature - concerned exactly why state support and state funding is anathema to all the arts, particularly writing. Quoting from that piece:

State funding of the arts is leading to the stultification of western literature under the reactionary establishment of Left-Liberalism, also called Progressivism, which has largely captured the means of production via the agents and publishers, and quietly indoctrinates the authors toward a homogenised literature via creative writing courses in progressive saturated tertiary institutions. Ours is no literature that will seed Le Guin's resistance and change, or that can be ‘disturbed by power’, as Solzhenitsyn feared, because it’s a literature which embraces the ethic of that power, the supremacy of the state over the individual, and incredibly for the arts, a collectivism over individualism, with at its base, the tax take which funds a complacent publishing channel, while eviscerating our private lives, our digital innards disembowelled and served up in the offices of government officials.

[Before moving on, to reiterate – because I don’t write these posts to make enemies -  huge kudos to Eleanor Catton for putting her Booker Prize money where her mouth is and setting up The Horoeka / Lancewood Reading project: what an exciting project that is, with the first two essays funded to date boding well for the future. Be sure to read that site, and bookmark.]

My salient point regarding the question not asked of BNZ’s closure of their Short Story competition is answered by the fact that if any individual or firm took on such sponsorship it would be as philanthropy, not part of that business’s public relations spend. And that’s the problem: literature has become so removed from the hoi polloi that no business can justify advertising spend because there are so few book buyers they form no substantial part of any industry customer base. Whereas a relevant, living literature would be oxygen to every one of us, the literature we have is not. This disastrous year of one arts sponsorship dropped after another is not a failure of markets, it’s because our literature no longer speaks to so many of us, and reading is not a day to day part of Kiwi life. What a loss that is.

Thus, for a general edification, copied below is just that section from my full piece, Literary Ramble IV - you should read the whole thing if you love booksk (and freedom) – speaking to these specific issues; a post which is itself the fulfilment of Eleanor’s wise admonition that we should all of us have our own literary manifesto, despite she might think in my manifesto she has born a monster:


[Extract follows.]

Further, moving to the price paid of such a literature, the New Zealand Book Awards has been cancelled for the 2015year due, in a roundabout way, to lack of a sponsor, with New Zealand Post having relinquished it’s funding of the event; for some years the issue of private sector sponsorship has been problematic. This month the Book Awards have issued a press release saying the event has moved to the structure of a charitable trust (31). Significantly, that seems to be so government assistance – remembering the Awards were once wholly funded by QEII Arts Council - is easier to obtain:

Announcing the formation of the New Zealand Book Awards Trust, chairperson Nicola Legat said the new legal structure would, amongst other things, allow more flexibility to apply for grants and patronage.

I’m assuming on the NZ Post – which itself is government, not private sector - withdrawal, that the private sector ‘patronage’ is non-existent, so the awards will be reliant on the grants stream. I’m sold on books, but books seem to be becoming so far removed from the lives of working and business New Zealand, no private sector firm can find sufficient nexus between their market and book readers to justify taking up sponsorship. There must be a lot of thinking for the arts to do in that conundrum, unless the arts wants to remain where they have ended up, as Virginia Woolf would say, for highbrows (32) – I have some sympathy for that – and as Progressive comfort food  – I have lost patience with that. I hope literary fiction, and our wider literature, is not forever doomed to be read by those who have a BA. The relevant question is can a progressive literature expect to be relevant to businesspeople, and let’s say laissez faire capitalists, individualists, small-staters, or will it alienate them by not speaking to and of the lives they live? Is a literature written almost exclusively within a Progressive mindscape with a Progressive metaphysics, relevant to living today, other than for Left Liberal lives lived on social media, and some few freaks like myself?

I’ll answer that. Of course it can, because literature talks to the human experience, what it is to wake up, have loved and lost. But that doesn’t change my point there’s an alienation of world-view to thankfully a still large portion of our population that is in the form of a schism. There’s a bigger world out there than in our interiors [where literature has been too mired in an oeuvre tracing its lineage to Proust and then the Bloomsbury set].

Meandering Back:

To answer the Book Awards dilemma in context, think about this. Progressives thought they were going to do a lot better in this year's ([2014], New Zealand) election; readers of social media would have thought that inevitable. Because I had become mired in social media, I thought so too, not understanding how distorted toward progressivism social media was. Philip Matthews, chief all-things-literary in The Press newspaper, Christchurch, and who can write a good book review, whose politick – evident on his Twitter account – is, again, hard left, in a piece on Left blogs and the election result (33) as well as being a handy mass media advertisement for many Left blogs, including one so new it’s not had a chance to build a readership, ruminated on a connection between Left blogs and the Left’s worse showing in an election since 1922, with one of the bloggers early in the piece asking, ‘is it even possible that bloggers are part of the problem?’ A theme picked up again in closing by Danyl Mclauchlan, author of Left blog Dim-Post, who concludes that ‘some of the Left’s problems stem from over-engagement with social media’. Indeed, on the strength of this Mclauchlan promised to stop his blog, a promise, I notice this week, unfulfilled, a happy occurrence given Dim-Post is one of the better progressive blogs. The problem is neither of these two bloggers, or Matthew’s article, got close to the truth. Namely, those individuals who understand – even if put to the task many couldn’t verbalise it - the importance of self-reliance and aspiration to a prosperous and free society, and the cruel harm of government created dependence, plus the malice behind every big state model, I’m talking about businesspeople, private sector workers, the missing majority, are busy out working and not sniping away behind keyboards: they’re largely invisible on social media. Over this election the only time they showed up in person was at the voting booth, and in a manner that sent predictable shockwaves through the progressive New Zealand blogosphere, even from aftershock ridden Christchurch where a bloodbath for the Right had been predicted, but ended in the opposite. 

That columnist the Left love to hate, Karl du Fresne, picks up this point: (34)

Not everyone is so obsessed with politics or news in general that they feel compelled to constantly check Twitter, Stuff or Cameron Slater’s latest blog post.

People who are so obsessed – [snip] – could easily fall into the trap of assuming that everyone else is, too. But most people I know, and they represent a reasonably wide demographic cross-section, seem to have a healthy grip on life’s priorities and manage perfectly well without getting hung up on Twitter or any other online news outlet.

If they are on Twitter at all (and I know few people who are, or at least who are prepared to admit it), then it takes its place along with all the other things going on their lives. It doesn’t occupy their every waking thought.

And thank God for that, because what sort of world would it be if police officers, bus drivers, construction workers, shop assistants, schoolteachers, forestry workers, nurses, farmers and plumbers constantly interrupted whatever they were doing to look at their digital devices for fear they might have missed something?

My thesis entails that this difference between the progressive world-view informing social media, replicating the same world-view of our literature from writing to publishing, to review and every mouthpiece for our literature, as compared with a real New Zealand as indicated in the voting booth, no, that’s unfair, as compared with the rest of New Zealand, is a problem for a diverse, relevant literature, for we largely have a potential readership which is alienated from the writing industry by metaphysics. I love reading. I particularly love reading New Zealand novels because they can bring me home to this landscape. Yet, no New Zealand literary fiction novel I have read is set in the mindscape I inhabit, a mindscape I hold based on how the world actually works, particularly regarding economics – noting economics, philosophy and politics can’t be separated -  indeed, when metaphysics is overt in any novel, that will likely be antagonistic to my metaphysics, and thus, wrong: and given Left mixed-state-centric economics, the socialism of today, is a disaster for every population that succumbs to it that’s a problem again for the suspension of disbelief. And despite the chest beating this piece is written to provoke – though I suspect silence will be the likely response – that world-view, that metaphysics, is a vital matter for a literature, for even if a ‘novel must not state its values’ to eschew such notion subtly, that progressive world-view is pervasive, a world-view is always pervasive: it seeps through and exists behind the text. It is destroying a Free West. Possibly I’m the only one who can write that, because, returning to where I set out from, the Progressives take that metaphysics for granted as reality, it’s unseen to them because it’s the narrative they have stopped questioning, (thus left to confusion when the world bursts in).

Thank Rand New Zealand letters has this blog to show it what it is incapable to see for itself. (Though I won’t hold my breath on being interviewed by The Press’s literary go-to … um, on that point, I wouldn’t be interviewed anyway: I don’t like public, thus the only place public will know me is via this blog.)

Look, I just brought up Ayn Rand. A litmus test.

Does anyone think if Ayn were trying to flog her manuscript of Atlas Shrugged today, she’d have any success? Or Ezra Pound? On the balance of probabilities, I will venture my own opinion she wouldn’t get past the first step, finding an agent, though I would be fascinated in the opinions (in the comments section) of agents or publishers. Interested parties might argue that from the point view of aesthetics, and I’d have some sympathy for that argument, but I’m not so sure that would fully explain it, not forgetting that book has over time been one of the most influential in its audience and the book market’s best sellers: (35)

"In 1991, the book-of-the-month club conducted a survey asking people what book had most influenced their lives. The Bible ranked number one and Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” was number two. In 1998, the Modern Library released two lists of the top 100 books of the twentieth century. One was compiled from the votes of the Modern Library’s Board, consisting of luminaries such as Joyce Carol Oates, Maya Angelou, Edmund Morris, and Salman Rushdie. The two top-ranked books on the Board’s list were “Ulysses” and “The Great Gatsby.”

"The other list was based on more than 200,000 votes cast online by anyone who wanted to vote. The top two on that list were “Atlas Shrugged” (1957) and “The Fountainhead” (1943). The two novels have had six-figure annual sales for decades, running at a combined 300,000 copies annually during the past ten years. In 2009, “Atlas Shrugged” alone sold a record 500,000 copies and Rand’s four novels combined (the lesser two are “We the Living” [1936] and “Anthem” [1938]) sold more than 1,000,000 copies.

"And yet for 27 years after her death in 1982, we had no single scholarly biography of Ayn Rand. Who was this woman? How did she come to write such phenomenally influential novels? What are we to make of her legacy?

Despite Rand’s influence, despite how the public want to read her not as much, but more, than the other literary heavy-weights, she only exists as the butt of cynicism and the arrogant put-down in a smug literary press (and social media). You won’t see a literary editor sourcing criticism on her work, or that biography mentioned. As I said, I didn’t put Ayn Rand in the title of this piece because I knew not a member of the Literary Establishment would get themselves past it and there’s no point just writing this piece for classical liberals: they have no influence over literature, none. This is important. It’s not relevant whether Rand’s philosophy is any battier than DH Lawrence’s notions of sexual life fucking in the forests and undergrowth; the point is, circa twenty first century, she probably wouldn’t get her foot in the door of the literary publishing industry, whereas Lawrence would. Aesthetics, yes, but also content. By way of anecdote and a personal remonstration, I can show Atlas Shrugged would not be published today because of content, and that is a matter relevant to a successful, because relevant, literature, and points to how problematic can be a literature which owes its livelihood to a welfare state, and has bought into that ethic intellectually. Hitch your socks up, this of course requires another detour off-piste. 

I sent the below patronising email to a client of mine some while ago, they’re a young couple, just starting out lower order milking, looking to their next step of share milking, their first baby on the way, and hungry for knowledge, needing to supply a five year plan for the bank:

I have learned over the years that the wealthiest self-made clients, who are often the most innovative, laugh on mention of formalised business plans and five year budgets – perhaps don’t tell [bank manager] this. Formal financial planning is not ‘huge’ within the psyche of an entrepreneurial spirit. One of the world’s richest businessmen, Richard Branson, of Virgin Airlines, admits he’s never been able to learn the difference between gross margin and net profit, and can’t read a set of financial statements. (I’ve done okay, yet have never in the twenty three year life of my practice ever done a financial budget or written business plan. Time spent on that would've been a waste of time for me, in my specific circumstances. ) I believe the important thing about these people, and individual’s such as Branson, is they tend to work on a conceptual, goal driven level, as well as a life-is-fun, glass half full, ethic, plus they’re interested in everything, not just the specific fields in which they work: particularly they read and travel widely, which educates and broadens their minds to new and differing opportunities.

By read widely, I mean within your industry, in order to understand the drivers of the economics of dairy in New Zealand, changes in technology, staff management, farm management, etc. Especially staff relations: that's huge in dairy. When the Dairy Exporter enters your mail box, actually make time to sit down and read it, for it’s part of your job. But also read widely outside farming, including general news – NZ Herald, Stuff, NBR, BBC, CNN (Internet great for this) – read and have opinions about politics, economics, and most certainly, shock, horror, read literary fiction novels to understand what life is, and the experiences of others – it’s a cheap way of traveling.  (If for no other reason, reading widely as well as broadening your minds to new opportunities and developing interests in other fields, including artistic, means when you’re out socially with non-dairy farmers you won’t bore them witless. Truly, I’ve been out with dairy farmers, I know what I’m talking about, as I've been bored witless. I've been at nights where if I heard the words, payout, heifer, rotary, conversion, tax, income equalisation, et al, one more time, I would have self-immolated.)

I love the courses your bank runs, one of which you’ve done. Albeit I think their value is not so much the content, as forcing you off the farm and talking to each other about your aspirations and your lives together. When stuck in the often stressful, hum drum routine of the farm, on-farm, it's very easy to 'drift into' automatic pilot and not talk to each other at all until your relationship ends up on auto-pilot, as with your farm management. The only reason I've ever seen farmers on my client base leave farming- outside retirement and carking it - is over relationship breakdowns: I've not had a single one go broke, or forced off for lack of a five year budget. At least four times a year arrange, if nothing else, long weekends to get away by yourselves. Surround yourselves in ‘difference’ as much as you can, so you don’t end up old in your forties, thinking in straight lines. Always have a part of your mind off the farm, looking for other skills, no matter how unrelated they seem.

So, go through the exercise of the five year plan, and we’ll have a look, remembering my own opinion that you really mostly need a detailed cashflow for year one to negotiate the current facility and which can be revised as you go through the year; a near detailed plan for year two, but year three and beyond is really broad strokes only at this stage, and capital budgeting set by your goals for your lives. The year one and two detailed budgeting will have (hopefully) come from earlier goals you were striving for. My point being it’s the goals that are important, and budgeting doesn’t give you those, rather, it’s based on them. My challenge for you, outside of that, is get away at least once a quarter, and by this time next year have read at least three literary fiction novels: if you want to know what, off the top of my head, a New Zealand great, Maurice Gee, perhaps his novel Going West; Milas Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being; and Elizabeth Knox, another Kiwi, Glamour and The Sea. (I can see your faces from here.) If not that, then take up painting, or something, anything, just not directly related to farming. If you must, sport, but mixing with a different crowd to what you normally would - ie not all farmers - I particularly like solitary pursuits, as they force you to live and cogitate inside your own head.

As I’ve brought in dairy farmers to a literary post, it is relevant to point out that the dairy industry has its own annual awards, which unlike the Book Awards, are not short of private sector sponsorship: (36)

The Awards are supported by national sponsors Westpac, DairyNZ, Ecolab, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Honda Motorcycles NZ, LIC, Meridian Energy, New Zealand Farm Source, Ravensdown, and Triplejump, along with industry partner Primary ITO.

I’ll be checking on the young dairy couples’ reading program, or not, this coming fortnight, but this raises a pertinent point. I ask many of my clients, all businesspeople, contractors, farmers, what they read: the overwhelming reply is they don’t read fiction at all, certainly not literary fiction, with many doing that proud boasting thing Kiwis do, I only read non-fiction, what’s the point of that fiction guff, it’s not real life. And a related point, that personal remonstration I promised. My own second novel (the first awful, strictly bottom drawer) is now 117,000 words in progress, and because my mind seems better suited to long form – Whaleoil won’t read my blog because the posts are too long (so there are advantages; this blog is Whale Army proof) – I can’t write short stories, and worse, I can’t write a query letter. If I can’t write a query letter, all the time spent on my novel is wasted, as I’ll never get an agent to read a word of it, so I sent a draft query to a site called Query Shark run by an American literary agent. She was great, in that she took the query on, and over about twenty or so iterations rightly destroyed it. I still can’t write a query letter. But one of the by-the-by things she mentioned when finding part of the plot revolves around an income tax audit – write what you know - was a throwaway quip that nobody would be interested in reading about tax; it’s just one of those things, we all have to pay tax, get over it.

The thing is, these businesspeople and farmers who only read non-fiction do have to put their minds and their cash flows to taxes; taxes are precisely where they live. And I wonder if they’re not reading literary fiction because the books we’re writing are not written where they live. They’re in the landscape, they’d recognise that all right, but the lives walking around on fiction pages aren’t their lives, especially if those lives have seriously inculcated this fantastical nonsense in The Bone Clocks.

For a time I harboured a notion that it could be in the pages of indigenous writing that the rebellion against a state-endorsing literature might take hold, (given  classical liberal writing has all but folded its cards on the table): after all, a Maori oral literature had 'the trick of standing upright here' long before Mr Curnow sailed in. A literature working through colonialism surely must see the lie and damage of the state enterprise. Unfortunately, name me a Maori writer whose politick is not Left-Liberal, or advocacy for the future of Maori not tied to dependency on the welfare state? I don’t even think Alan Duff qualifies. So there will be no revolution away from a state literature born of Maori writing, for the same reason I have written there will be no Maori self-determination politically - and despite it appears arguable Maori did not cede sovereignty to the Crown via the Treaty (37) – because a progressive Maoridom is the antithesis of own-rule, individual or tribal. Indeed a progressive Maoridom is a culture happy to remain cowered on the leash of state also, accepting alms.

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