Category Archives: Things Which Keep Me Awake At Night

Seven: Be it ever so humble….

What is keeping me awake at night, you may ask? For most nights this week, absolutely nothing…. Though that is down to a feeling of constantly treading water at the moment. I’m tired from a lack of downtime over the last week, and that tiredness has me sleeping like a baby. The reason for my good sleep? The house I’ve rented for 12 years has recently been sold. After work I’ve been busy packing my life into boxes, and preparing to move across town…. a very bittersweet feeling if being honest.

One of the thoughts which has occupied my mind; as I sort through books, DVD cases, and product warranties for various household items is just how Quixotic a dream it has become to actually own property in late-stage capitalist New Zealand. Yes, I have more or less paid one mortgage of late – that of my soon to be ex-landlords. The property records show they bought this beaten up old bungalow in 1998 for $220,000. After four years they left to rent in a fancy school zone themselves, so their son could attend a Grammar school. They then moved back to Cape Town in 2006. I have no idea how much of a deposit they paid for the house. For 18 years though, myself and others have contributed a considerable sum to their mortgage.

Of course we live with an economy which needs must maintain growth, in an age of shrinking productive sectors. Added value has come from other places – including allowing asset values to grow beyond the reach of most first time buyers. Plenty of cashed up opportunists; house flippers, land bankers, unscrupulous slum lords, in search of a quick buck, bear some responsibility – but to be fair, responsibility for the insane rise in house prices rests squarely, systemically with Neo-liberalism. The opportunists could not have gamed the system if the system had not been built to be gamed that way.
Baby boomers, in their youth, could have bought an average property for four times the average wage before tax. Ask any boomer, they will tell you paying the mortgage was still a struggle. It took sacrifice – but in the end it was all worth it. Personally I have no doubt this is true… That only 60% of Baby Boomers managed to own property is testament to this. That a quarter of boomers still need to work in their retirement speaks volumes.

The market prior to COVID? The most recent statistics I came across had average house prices at 12 times the average wage. To complicate matters, wage inequality had also risen, so less than 10 percent of New Zealanders even earn the average wage, or higher anymore. Coronavirus feels like a massive juncture. It comes on the heels of a crashing long economic wave (a Kondratieff wave) in 2008; and an awkward start to the next one. Democracies just printed out more and more fiat money and pretended as best they could nothing radical ever happened. If we’re on the edge of a post-capitalist world I have no idea if what’s next will be better… but I do know the neoliberal experiment was a bitch to most people.

So, yes, if something were keeping me awake at night it could well be a wish to lay down roots – thwarted by a seven figure price tag.

Except, that wouldn’t be the only thought to keep me awake.

We imbue houses with all kinds of totemic, and metaphysical power. When the tempest rages outside your home protects you from the storm. It is your castle. Your sanctuary. It holds all kinds of memories, both bad and good – of friends and celebrations, trials and tragedy. “If only these walls could talk” right? Even a rental becomes, by virtue of the things you collect in it, an outwards representation of your very self. At the very least, it is nice to live in a place long enough that when you get up to use the rest room in the middle of the night, you can find your way without having to turn on the lights. As much as we take those memories with us, we pack our treasures in boxes, and we will hang our paintings on walls that look as good as the old walls – I think there is a level of present hedonism – in me at least, that struggles to see the new place will soon feel like home too.

* Note, not my actual house in the featured image. The picture below is my home office however, how I will miss my office…

Six: Bedtime for Don-zo

What is keeping me awake at night tonight, you may ask? Let me tell you a short story.

On 19-20 November 1985 Ronald Reagan, the most powerful man in the First World, and Mikhail Gorbachev the most powerful man in the Second World met to discuss a way forward which did not involve the mutually assured destruction of the planet. A dangerous Cold War had raged between the two powers for decades, leading to a massive stockpiling of nuclear weapons. The talk had been incredibly tense as both men politicked away. If you were a fly on the wall at the Geneva chateau where the two men met you might think we’re all done for – the talks were not going terribly well. The group took a break, with Reagan and Gorbachev taking a walk outside.

While stretching their legs, Reagan turned to Gorbachev and asked, earnestly
“Mikhail, What would you do if the United States were suddenly attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us?”

“No doubt about it” replied a bemused Gorbachev.

“We too” responded Reagan.

I needn’t tell you the Geneva summit went much more productively after that. In 1987 Ronald Reagan revisited this thought in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

“I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside of this world.”

This evening a friend of mine re-posted a video to social media featuring a tearful WHO head Tedros Adhanom. In the video Adhanom pleads with the despots of this world who have let COVID19 run rampant to do the right thing. He calls for the world to put aside partisan squabbles, and act in the greater good to defeat this alien threat. What struck me is, if Ronald Reagan, a criminal, one time bootlicker of the House Un-American Activities Committee; a man once out-acted by a chimpanzee got it – surely we all can too? Trump, I’m looking specifically at you.

Two: Ozymandias.

“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

P.B Shelley – Ozymandias.

What is keeping me awake at the moment you may ask? America has quite a history of putting bronze racists on bronze horses, and brazen traitors on plinths. Most of them were put up in times when racists felt lynching wasn’t enough of a deterrent to the black folk – this is why you get a lot of them popping up in the South during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

If someone tears down a statue, say to General Nathan Bedford Forrest are they erasing history, thus robbing future generations of a chance to learn of what really happened?

Well, yeah maybe some people- when someone puts a plaque up which says “Here lies Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was a sadist who owned black people, and fought to keep owning – and being sadistic to, black people. In 1864 he captured over 500 union soldiers and committed a war crime, massacring them. He was a traitor to his country, and ultimately lost the war – but went on being racist by becoming the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan” and you tear that down too.

Then, only then, might it be said you are erasing history.

To tear down a Confederate statue is a very modern action on a very modern avatar; a symbolic casting off of historic oppression which carries on to this day. To compare this to book burning is a misunderstanding of both statues and of how we preserve history.