Pandemic Diary – May 25-31
Saving seeds [25.5.20]
When New Zealand went into Level 4 lockdown two months ago my usual seed supplier, Kings Seeds, reported a rush on its stock. Usually they turn around an order in a day, but they soon had a three to four day backlog. Most of the people buying the seed would not have been experienced gardeners who know just what can be raised to edibility from seeds started in late March or early April. It’s not much – some quick growing greens is all I would attempt, and then only in sheltered places.
The more experienced gardeners saw any extra free time gained by the lockdown as an opportunity to save seeds from mature summer veges. I used the time to set up a much better seed storage system – a concertina file box in which I can store packets of seed (my saved seed and commercial seeds) alphabetically and retrieve them easily when required for spring sowing. The box takes up very little room in the required dry, cool, dark storage space (in my case, the laundry closet) where it lives when not in use. It also has a convenient carrying handle.
There are three good reasons for saving your own seed. The first one is that it saves you money. This is not a strong reason, as commercial seeds are very good value for not much money. The second one is that it increases the resilience of your ‘home economy’, so that when there is a shock which disrupts the usual supply lines you can still function normally. (If the pandemic had come in spring the rush on buying seeds would have been been more disruptive.) The third reason, which is probably the best one, is that saved seeds have adapted to your ‘home ecology’. If you save only the best seeds from year to year, you get the value of the epigenetic changes which have occurred that make the plant better adapted to your home growing conditions than to anywhere else. This includes resilience to local pests and diseases and tolerance for local temperatures and moisture levels.
If you have lots of time then saving all your own seed is a good thing to do. If you are busy elsewhere, then prioritise the crops and varieties which you are least likely to be able to buy easily. This year I chose pumpkins (Austrian Oil Seed) and tomatoes (two special cherry tomatoes, one of which was collected by a friend who found it growing wild). Next year I hope to find time for cucumbers and larger tomatoes. I have also saved seed from some perennial flowers, to sow in spring. This is good economy, as buying just one plant can cost up to $10 these days, and one plant does not make much impact in a flowerbed. This brings up a final reason for saving seed. It provides a connection with plants and their seasonal cycles which satisfies deep human needs which otherwise go unmet.
The politics of incompetency [26.5.20]
The first reason that I am no longer a member of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, which I helped found and was a spokesperson for in 1990, and of which I was also the Co-Convenor and Co-Campaign Manager in the crucial years (1998-2000) in which the party entered parliament in its own right for the first time ever, is that in 2017 the party stopped following its own policies and precedents on economic policy and parliamentary representation.
The second and related reason is that the party also stopped following its constitutionally-mandated democratic internal decision-making processes and became dominated by its caucus. A caucus which (then and now) has extremely poor judgement on policy issues, and even less competency with regard to political tactics and strategy. This incompetency was instrumental in causing the collapse of electoral support for the party in 2017, with the caucus dropping from 14 to 8 MPs, on a result of 6.3% of the total party vote.
The 2020 general election is now less than four months away. The last time the Greens polled better than 6.3 in an opinion poll was in November 2019, six months ago. In the four polls conducted since then (January, February and May 2020) the party did not reach 6. In the most recent poll it was 4.7%. It is obvious that this is a party which will struggle to get across the essential 5% threshold. Such a party needs to pull out all the stops to make sure it succeeds.
Looking at the list which the party released yesterday, I see no signs that it is even aware of what this means. It has put in first place a woman who will contest a seat (Tamaki Makaurau) which she can not possibly win (she has already placed third there twice) and which will deliver less than half the number of party votes obtainable in the three best seats for Greens in Auckland, and only two thirds of the next best seats. Any campaign strategist worth their hire (and/or any volunteer with any political nous) would advise standing high profile candidates in seats where their presence is able to exert a ‘halo effect’, and not in seats where they cast a dim shadow.
Twenty years ago, when I was working with Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons to get the Greens into parliament, this is what we did. In the time when Rod and Jeanette were the party’s co-leaders there was also careful attention paid to balancing the party’s list by gender (60/40) and other criteria. As the current list stands, if the Greens scrape in with 5% and 6 MPs, the gender imbalance will be 16% male (1 MP) and 84% female. It gets worse if 7 MPs are elected (14% male). It improves to 25% if 8 MPs are elected – still a long way from 40%. If only 6 MPs are elected half of them will be from Auckland; if it is 7 – over half. There is only 1 South Islander in the top 10 – and another Aucklander. The male candidate who was at #5 on the initial list ranking, and would have gender-balanced a caucus of 6, was demoted three points in the final ranking. On current polling he will be lucky to scrape in, and balance will not be achieved anyway.
Does any of this matter? Not if you think that your candidates and policies are self-evidently attractive and capable of pulling more votes than they did in 2017 – despite all opinion polling evidence to the contrary. Also that balancing the list in order to have the fairest representation and widest voter appeal is also unnecessary. Further, with regard to the Auckland candidates, that you don’t need to bother with standing them in the seats where the highest number of Green votes can be found. The table below shows the party vote results in 2014 and 2017.
1 Mt Albert 8005 5657
2 Auckland Central 6242 4170
3 Epsom 4706 3263
4 Helensville 4430 2971
5 North Shore 4118 2638
6 Northcote 4099 2496
So a savvy campaign manager and/or party strategist would strongly advise that the highest profile candidates – the current MPs – should stand in those seats and work hard to increase the votes that will return them to parliament. Instead, the best Auckland candidate in 2017, who stood in Mt Albert (who was also an excellent candidate in Epsom in 2014), MP Julie Anne Genter, is standing as list only. Genter won 5657 party votes for the Greens in 2017, whereas Marama Davidson MP, standing in Tamaki Makaurau, where she also stood in 2014, got only 1963 party votes – 951 less than what she got in 2014. She came third in the candidate vote both times, and does not have a hope in hell of winning the seat and helping her list colleagues into parliament that way.
Chloe Swarbrick standing in Auckland Central is the only sensible choice, but she would be better placed in Mt Albert if Genter is not going to stand there again. Finally, if Golriz Ghahraman MP (# 7 on the list) wants to improve her own and her party’s chances of making it back into parliament she would be advised to stand in any of the other top seats above, rather than Mt Roskill. For those non-MP Auckland men at #10 and #11 on the list, neither of whom has chosen to stand in a ‘top 5’ seat, it would also be better for them and the party if they had looked at where they would have the most impact, rather than whatever motivated them to stand where they are.
Since the Green Party hierarchy was not interested in my voluntary pre-election number-crunching in 2016 (how could my skills, experience and previous success as a Green campaign manager, and my qualifications in Political Science, possibly be relevant and useful?) I know it won’t be interested now, when it is polling as poorly as it did in the run-up to this election as it did in 1999. Nor is it interested in seeking out other expert advice – or even adhering to proper list ranking criteria. It is clear that those in charge are as self-confident as the optimist who fell ten stories. (“At each window bar, He shouted to the people, ‘All right, so far!’ ”)
As the party is now Green in name only, and the current MPs and party leadership (public and internal) are so incompetent, having the party leave parliament in four months time will be no loss as far as real Greens are concerned. But will it make a difference for New Zealand; and if so, what? Time will tell…
Sleep, Australia, sleep [29.5.20]
This week the death toll from Covid-19 in Australia reached 102. That’s three times the (human) death toll from the bushfires which burned out of control at the beginning of the year. The toll on native wildlife was horrendous – in the millions. This toll – and what humans are being deprived of as a result – is the theme of Paul Kelly’s song Sleep, Australia, Sleep. The official video version is beautiful and very moving. Australian native animals are unique and extraordinary, and the sacrifice of their current existence and sustainable future so that the profits of corporations can grow is a crime against humanity as well as nature. But what does one of the corporations (mining and metals giant Rio Tinto) care? After the fires, the bulldozers keep tearing the land apart. It’s called Business As Usual. The sort of BAU practised by the Mafia – lots of death and money involved.
Erasing the past with bulldozers and bullshit [30.5.20]
“They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot” Joni Mitchell sings at the beginning of Big Yellow Taxi , first released in 1970. She goes on
“They took all the trees
Put them in a tree museum
And they charged all the people
A dollar and a half to see ’em.”
These lines preface the section on Forestry policy in the New Zealand Values Party’s 1975 election manifesto, Beyond Tomorrow. The policy was against destroying native forests to replace them with plantation forests to feed pulp mills. Half a century later, much of the native forest destined for clear felling in the 1970s has been saved, but the push to plant industrial trees is stronger than ever, both on land which has been converted to productive farmland and also on hills which can and should go back to their original native forest cover.
As Mitchell sings in the chorus of her song
“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone – They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.”
Have the decision-makers learned anything in fifty years? Are we now wise enough to realise that old-growth trees are essential to life on earth, while cars, and spaces for them, are turning out to be the opposite?
Short answer – no. Yesterday I read that “A sacred site in Western Australia that showed 46,000 years of continual occupation and provided a 4,000-year-old genetic link to present-day traditional owners has been destroyed in the expansion of an iron ore mine.” (See Rio Tinto blasts 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site to expand iron ore mine) This terrible news made me weep for the loss of precious knowledge of the distant past of humanity in that cave, and for the pain this bulldozing will have inflicted on the traditional owners. It also reminded me of the similar empathetic pain I felt when in 2001 the Taliban destroyed the 6th century Buddha statues of Bamyan in Afghanistan. Fourteen centuries of significant regional and world cultural heritage gone, in one act by state terrorists.
Are the governing authorities of Australia any better than state terrorists when they permit a global corporation to destroy a site of equal if not greater historical, anthropological and cultural significance? And is the government of New Zealand behaving equally badly when it allows the ‘disposal’ of over half a million books which have been bought with public money for public use over the past century or more, as part of the Overseas Publication Collection of the National Library of New Zealand (NLNZ). Books which undoubtedly are an important part of fulfilling the purpose of the library, as expressed in its Act of 2003 thus:
“Purpose of National Library
The purpose of the National Library is to enrich the cultural and economic life of New Zealand and its interchanges with other nations by, as appropriate,—
(a) collecting, preserving, and protecting documents, particularly those relating to New Zealand, and making them accessible for all the people of New Zealand, in a manner consistent with their status as documentary heritage and taonga; and
(b) supplementing and furthering the work of other libraries in New Zealand; and
(c) working collaboratively with other institutions having similar purposes, including those forming part of the international library community.”
In December 2019 the NLNZ paid a PR company $20,000 worth of taxpayers’ money to run spin on its plan to get rid of these taonga (and their role in “supplementing and furthering the work of other libraries in New Zealand”). It was claimed that the NLNZ could and should focus only on New Zealand and Pacific publications, and that all its “foreign” books were now pretty much redundant and could be got rid of.
Since this position is in direct contravention of the NLNZ’s purpose as enshrined in its Act, someone is not telling the truth here. The truth was set out by Don Gilling in August 2019 in his article DIA’s unfulfilled promises for Archives and National Library (Dr Gilling, FCA FCPA, has taught at universities in Australia, England and New Zealand, and for nine years was Professor of Accounting and Finance at the University of Waikato. He has acted as an expert witness in a number of applications for Judicial Review of the operations and decision making of government and public bodies. He has been a member of the committee of the Friends of the Turnbull Library for 20 years.)
As Dr Gilling explains it, after the NLNZ was deprived of its formerly independent status in 2010 and put into the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) it has been been starved of the funds necessary to run the service to the public and to other libraries which it should be providing, as per its Act. The disposal of the bulk of its collection is just the most recent and probably the most egregious of the cost-cutting measures it has undertaken in the past decade.
While no one who cares about New Zealand culture and heritage is claiming that all of the books in the Overseas Publication Collection are worthy of retention, it is just not true (as represented by the spin doctors hired by the NLNZ/DIA) that all or most of them are in the Windows for Dummies league, and are hence redundant as information. Certainly that sort of book is currently of no use for lending to school libraries (which was what the NLNZ used to do before that service was stopped as a cost-cutting measure in 2015). But its status as knowledge is now equivalent to a cook book or car manual of the same age, and any historian (or other intelligent person) can see that. Brian Easton, who has written economic histories of New Zealand, is quite clear that what the DIA/NLNZ are doing represents an attack on literacy. In January 2020 he argued in Fahrenheit 451 that “The proposed book disposals from the National Library involve burning our heritage.”
Other scholars, historians and writers have seconded Easton’s view, providing further examples from their own speciality areas. On Waitangi Day 2020 I wrote to the Minister and associate ministers of Arts, Culture and Heritage (the ministry where the NLNZ should belong, not jammed in with passports, racing, boxing and whatever else the DIA is responsible for) expressing my views as someone who has made her own contributions to New Zealand culture (books and films), and used a great number of overseas published books (some of them in the NLNZ) in order to do so. I said:
“When the Treaty of Waitangi was signed 180 years ago today, all my ancestors five generations back were still living in England (Sussex, Devon and Northumberland) and Northern Ireland (County Down). They began emigrating to Aotearoa in 1848, and had all arrived by the 1860s. As you know, they brought with them a glorious heritage of arts and culture, which their descendants have built on since, to create something unique to this land. This creativity has worked both ways, with Maori making wonderful use of British heritage materials. Examples include the first full length feature film in Maori, Te Tangata Whai Rawa o Weniti, the Māori Merchant of Venice (which used Dr Pei Te Hurinui Jones’s 1945 translation of Shakespeare’s play), classic European operas with Maori singers in lead roles, and Maori artists using European-derived materials and methods to create transformative ‘traditional’ art, such as Cliff Whiting’s stunning marae designs.
During the twentieth century more wonderful ancient cultures and heritages came to New Zealand from Asia, the Americas and even Africa and the Middle East. As a child growing up in Christchurch I used to visit the Canterbury Museum often, and was especially drawn to the collection of Chinese ceramics gifted by Rewi Alley, which are now a true national taonga. The Canterbury Museum will never (I hope) throw out these treasures, but it seems that the National Library is now planning to throw out any and possibly all of the books which record and interpret this outstanding Asian heritage for us.
They are currently part of the Overseas Publications collection held by the National Library (purchased with public money and believed by the public to represent enduring value for our national cultural development), along with literally thousands and thousands of other books relating to culture and heritage as it concerns creativity in the fine arts, music, crafts, drama and literature. There are also thousands and thousands more dealing with our joint and intertwined histories, societies, economies, technologies and so on. Just because these books were not produced in New Zealand by New Zealanders and are not about the only culture unique to New Zealand does not make them any less a part of the true culture and heritage of all New Zealanders, whatever their whakapapa.
To take a contrary position (as the National Library is currently doing) and claim that these books need to go to ‘make room’ for ‘New Zealand’ works is utter nonsense. Wherever another culture lives and is kept vibrant in New Zealand – as Shakespeare lives, and Confucius lives, and Gandhi lives, and even (alas) Milton Friedman lives – New Zealanders need access to books by and about these people, their thoughts and deeds, to analyses and critiques and careful records of what they thought, said and did. If our National Library abrogates its statutory responsibility for collecting these works and making them available to all New Zealanders (including young New Zealanders in rural schools), then what hope is there that our culture will grow and thrive, and we will continue to contribute at least as much to world culture as we receive?” I went on to say that it was time that the Labour Party honoured its 2017 election policy of getting the NLNZ out of the DIA, and funding an independent library properly again.
The NLNZ began disposing of some of the OPC books in its Whanganui warehouse in February. Then came the Covid-19 lockdown, which has provided a reprieve – until now. There was also the promise, in May’s Budget, of more funding for the NLNZ (and Archives NZ) which means (we hope) that the rent on the Whanganui warehouse can still be paid until the Labour policy is able to take effect, and more reasonable views on the value of the OPC prevail. Finally, the current minister of Internal Affairs, Tracey Martin (who signed off the disposal of the OPC and then defended doing so in quite vicious terms) is unlikely to even be back in parliament, let alone a minister, in four months time. In the two opinion polls taken after this year’s Budget, her party, NZ First, scored only 2.7 and 2.9 per cent. (Compare that with its standing in the two post-Budget polls in May 2017, which were 16.25 and 9 per cent. In the last five polls before the 2017 election, at which it got 7.2%, its average was 6%. ) So there will be a new minister, who may well be, in the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, less of “a maroon and an ignoranumus”. A minister who will almost certainly be from the Labour Party, and will therefore be interested in facilitating Labour policy, not thwarting it.
Will this be in time to save the books which senior NLNZ management (principally National Librarian Bill Macnaught and Director of Content Services Rachel Esson) seem hell bent on chucking out a.s.a.p.? Before there has been any evaluation of their cultural and intellectual merit by those qualified by reason of expertise in the field to do so (as Brian Easton certainly is for economics); and also of their rarity value and ease of access in other libraries in New Zealand. (Elsewhere is a joke in a post Covid-19 world when we will – and should – all be travelling less.)
The NLNZ’s claim that the books can be read on line in a digital version is also a crock. Most of them have not been digitised, and those that have are not necessarily available free, and/or in a free user-friendly version. This claim also assumes that all would-be readers should be able (and willing) to purchase the technologies and connections necessary to access books in this way. As the so-called ‘all-digital’ 2018 census, and the recent pandemic-related experience on at-home on-line learning show, a large percentage of New Zealanders (as many as 1 in 6 overall, and probably 1 in 4 for Maori) do not have such access, and this is mainly because they can not afford it.
Finally, it seems to have escaped the notice of these public servants and their minister that the books they are giving away or proposing to give away for free or at below market value (if not actually sending to the tip) are actually public property, and as such they should not be disposed of without due financial diligence. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, for example, does not give away the New Zealand art works it displays in its offices around the world when it decides they are no longer required. It sells them for at least what it paid for them, and in many cases, for much more than the original purchase price. While most good books do not appreciate in value like good works of art, some definitely do. The OPC contains books which are collectors’ items worth more than US$100, and even books worth thousands of dollars. These were purchased by savvy librarians who were able to discern the inherent value of certain authors before they became popular, or famous. They were great servants of the public, and their greatness needs recognition and honouring. As the NLNZ can expect better funding from now on, it has no reason to dispose of books which have not been properly assessed, and to keep acting in such a cavalier and injudicious fashion with the nation’s heritage and its pocketbook.
But I am afraid that something even worse than advancing underhand and specious reasons for trashing the OPC are going on. That worse thing is called the Cult of Information which has possessed library management in the digital era, and is leading to not just the National Library but also civic libraries and university libraries (also funded with public money) throwing out books in favour of 3D printers, games and toys, social spaces and just about anything other than more shelves for books for quiet reading and study.
Where and how this cult began and what it consists of deserves full and separate consideration – see below.
The Cult of Information [31.5.20]
“… the mind has never been dependent on machinery to reach the peaks of achievement” wrote Theodore Roszak in the introduction to the second (1994) edition of his prescient and still entirely relevant book The Cult of Information. His 1986 critique of the shortcomings and blind alleys of digital reading, learning and teaching, and the irrelevancy and indeed disabling effects of digital technologies when it comes to thinking, is as worth reading now as it was then, when (as far as I can ascertain) it was the first serious analysis of what digital technologies can and can not do with and for human minds.
The National Library of New Zealand has a copy of the first edition of Roszak’s book, in its Overseas Publications Collection. That very same 600,000 volume OPC which is still up for being disposed of lock, stock and barrel. If not given away to Rotary Clubs and prison libraries for free (as the first thousands of books to be gotten rid of have been), then taken to the tip. Perhaps Roszak’s book has already gone. It would be an irony of ironies if it were dumped, because it is the book in that whole collection which explains (to those who have the ability to read serious books and the brains to think about them) where the whole nonsense of replacing printed books with digital texts, and knowledge with information, started.
The Cult of Information is published by the University of California Press and I bought my new copy of the second edition in 2018. Since attempting a full review of the book would be effectively a precis, because Roszak makes so many worthwhile points, I have decided to focus on the sections which stood out for me particularly in a book which, although written before the ‘social media’ version of the Internet, and ‘distance learning’, and the dumbing down of public libraries and disposal of their books started happening, clearly point the way to the current nightmare of dis-information which prevails on so many subjects. The causes, prevention and cure of Covid-19 being but the most recent example.
In the 21st century a number of authors have (unwittingly, since I have yet to find one who quotes him directly) affirmed Roszak’s analysis with their own, and illustrated it with more contemporary examples. I value what they have to say, but none of them can yet match Roszak for his deep understanding of computers as machines which were created at a particular time by a particular culture to fulfill the functions which elite decision-makers in that culture deem are desirable.
As he expresses this insight on p. xxxv of the second edition: “The computer is an inherently Cartesian device embedded in the assumption of a single intellectual style within a single culture of the modern world. The very metaphors that surround it bespeak a conception of the mind as logical machinery; the constant references to the ‘productivity’ that the computer promises endorse the values of the market place and the western ethos of progress.”
He develops this theme in Chapter 2, ‘The Data Merchants’, saying: “Information technology is an outgrowth of the existing industrial system, which has always been dependent on the ‘knowledge’ that undergrids invention, management and marketing. Like the electrical, automotive and chemical technologies that came before it, high-tech arises as another stage in the ongoing industrial process … In high tech America even computer enthusiasts remain more dependent for their survival on the fieldworkers who pick the crops and the construction workers who build the buildings than they do on computer programmers or investment counselors working with spreadsheets.” (p. 29)
This key point is explained and analysed in book length detail by anthropologist Alf Hornborg in Global Magic Technologies of Appropriation from Ancient Rome to Wall Street (2016), and in other articles and books by Hornborg. Roszak was an historian and social scientist whose research into present day social phenomena was (like that of an anthropologist) always informed by the long view of human cultures and societies and their evolution through time. He studied the ‘computer creators’ of the USA and wrote about their sub-culture in the 1960s (along with other new cultural developments) in The Making of a Counter Culture (1969). He revisits this subject in Chapter 7, ‘The Computer and the Counter Culture’, of The Cult of Information, at precisely the time when home computer use pivots from being idealistic, ‘alternative’ and personal towards its opposite. The digital creativity of Steve Wozniak is displaced by the opportunities for commercial exploitation (dressed up as personal freedom and all that hippy stuff) sensed and executed by Steve Jobs. Roszak references as an example the very expensive advertisement for the first Macintosh computer which played during the broadcast of the 1984 Superbowl game.
Today Apple is the world’s top technology company, with total revenue of US$268 billion and a net income of US$57.2 billion. It is also believed to be the top US company practising tax evasion by putting money which would otherwise be taxable in offshore tax havens. This currently amounts to over US$200 billion – more than the GDP of New Zealand. The gap between Apple’s propaganda as a ‘progressive force for good’ and its actual behaviour could hardly be greater. The same goes for the other top tech companies, and for their ‘platform’ and ‘service’ mega-business mates, Google, Facebook and the like. These companies are not paying their fair share of tax to fund public services (from health care to libraries) and nor are they in the business of delivering the free or very low cost public information services which could and should be the responsibility of public libaries.
The 1980s was also the time in which big commercial tech first began to corrupt the ethos and the practice of public libraries in the USA. Roszak deals with the issue in Chapter 9, ‘Ben Franklin’s Information Service. Libraries, Literacy and the Ecology of Mind.’ He outlines the opposing tendencies within the library profession at the time, with some senior librarians predicting and optimistically affirming the end of the physical library and on-paper materials entirely. Others pointed out just how much of value would (will, is being) be lost if/as libraries disappear into the virtual reality of cyber-space. The “Information-Managers-Scientist-Brokers, Data Surfers, Digital Gurus, Info-shamans, Cyber-hyper-text-punks’ faction (as Roszak dubs them) have clearly won that battle. In the USA first, and now in New Zealand, as evidenced by the National Library disposing of most of its books, by public libraries giving more space to screens, toys, and machines than to literature, and by university libraries throwing out the books on which their courses were founded.
Lincoln University, for example, is one of only two universities in New Zealand to offer Masters qualifications in both Landscape Architecture and Horticulture. In my house at present I have a dozen books on Japanese gardening from the Lincoln University library which would otherwise have gone to the dump. I also have books on bulbs and perennials which were headed the same way; a friend has almost everything on cacti, succulents, orchids and beekeeping. These books are ‘old’ (as in twentieth century), to be sure, but that does not mean that the information and analysis in them has necessarily been superseded, or that it can be found on line. Certainly not the latter.
Nor will it ever be found on line, or in digital form. Roszak explains very clearly (pp 186-193) the sheer practical impossibility of digitising even existing publications, let alone the new ones being published every day, and the stupidity (and hubris) of the librarians and politicians who claim that it both can be done and should be done. This section should be compulsory reading for those responsible for all libraries which receive public funding in New Zealand.
Finally, Roszak speaks directly to the ‘New Dark Age’ which has been and is being ushered in by the extension of contemporary forms of digi-tech into every aspect of life. This applies to especially to politics, in which regard I found the two passages quoted below especially chilling.
“In Austria kids can now purchase neo-Naziware video games called Aryan Test and KZ Manager which allow players to run death camps and gas inferior races.” (p. xxvi) Yes, racist Nazi hate thinking and ‘gaming’ has been done digitally – as it could never be done in an analogue way – for three decades now.
“Along with Jack Kemp and other Congressional right wingers, Gingrich has organized the Conservative Opportunity Society as a major political voice of the Information Age. COS defines itself as ‘high tech, futurist, populist and conservative’. It is ‘anti-tax, anti-welfare state, and anti-Communist.’ ” (p. 25) The Gingrich who organised the COS in the early 1980s is Newt Gingrich, the Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives 1995-1999, who has authored or co-authored 20 books of non-fiction since 1982, of which the three most recent are Understanding Trump (2017), Trump’s America: The Truth about Our Nation’s Great Comeback (2018) Trump vs China: America’s Greatest Challenge (2019). So four decades before the election of Trump, with its associated digital skulduggery, Gingrich and others of his ilk were starting to work their way ‘up’ to it.
The New Dark Age may also be literally as well as mentally and socially dark, if it is dependent upon electricity and scarce material resources to exist and operate. Roszak (pp 193–196) discusses this in his section on ‘Electronic Alzheimers’. New digital technologies and the devices to operate them with have been invented every decade since the 1940s, and in and from each of those decades huge swathes of data/information have been lost because the storage and retrieval methods have broken down, or been rendered obsolete. This is particular obvious with regard to tape formats and their hundreds of different playing machines, but as someone who has personally worked her way through half a dozen different physical personal computers and three different software systems in the past thirty-five years, I know how much has been lost on the way. If I value some piece of writing particularly (including my own) I print it out. The so-called Cloud storage space was not invented when Roszak was writing, but James Bridle takes up the story (and other 21st century developments) in his 2018 book New Dark Age. Technology and the End of the Future, and points out the additional vulnerabilities associated with reliance on digi-tech at a time of climate and other ecological crises.
Roszak understood that this is where things were headed in the 1980s, when he wrote: “I fully accept that information technology is here to stay – for at least as long as the world industrial economy survives … It has the permanence of a mature technology. What is a mature technology? One that finally generates as many problems as it solves.” (p. xlii) Roszak was that rare being for an academic, someone who was not only informed and knowledgeable, but also wise. For the love of life – read him.