Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 15. August 4, 1971
The P.Y.M. — a case history
a case history
In his 1969 Reith Lectures, 'The Politics of the Family', the existential psychiatrist R.D. Laing told a very interesting anecdote which went something like this: If a person rises in the morning, comes down to breakfast and says 'Good morning mother, this meal is delicious' and he's good in the eyes of the family. If he comes down to breakfast and says 'Quiet you old harridan, what lousy hash' then he's bad, and if he comes down and says 'quarble de arble warble do' then he's mad. Laing then went on to say that whenever someone is referred to him by a family for treatment for schizophrenia, his special field of study, then he almost invariably finds that it's the total family environment which needs treatment, and he finally defined insanity as a breakdown in communication between a group and an individual to the extent that the group cannot understand what the individual is saying. In self defence the group defines the individual as insane. The political implication of this is fairly obvious.
Let's assume that you and I are marooned on a desert island. I see a ship sailing past out of hailing distance but you do not. We can't appeal to empirical proof because the ship doesn't know we're there, if it does in fact exist, and it sails on past. Conceivably we might argue for days over whether I perceived the ship or not. But suppose there is a third person on the island. We could then appeal to him as an arbitrator and he could rule on the reliability of my perception However, I'm quite sure that at that stage Chuang Tzu, the Chinese taoist philosopher would appear, as taoist philosophers have a habit of doing, and speak thus: 'What is the use of an arbitrator? If he agrees with me he is useless as an arbitrator from your point of view, if he agrees with you he is useless from my point of view, if he agrees with neither of us he is useless as an arbitrator, and if argues with both of us he is useless as an arbitrator'.
I would therefore go on insisting vociferously that I saw a ship. At this point the debate would become political because there was a public decision to be made, for politics is neither more nor less than the community acting in the realm of public decision making. If it were night time and my two companions were trying to sleep they might rudely suggest that there was no ship and I should shut up. If I went on insisting that I had indeed perceived a ship they might eventually be constrained to gag me, so that they might go back to sleep in the sure knowledge that the community perception had prevailed. Alternatively I might accept their perception as valid and go to sleep myself. The question of validity of perception does not, of course, apply solely in a political context. Many creative people have had original perceptions so startling perceptive that no-one has been able to understand what it is they are on about. Some of the perceivers have nervous breakdowns, some cut off an ear, some just forget it, and others, the strongest personalities, cling to their perception and are either written off by future generations as amiable eccentrics or any finally recognised as geniuses of the first rank who were far ahead of their fellows. William Blake is one who has fallen, at one time or another, into both categories.
Anyway, eventually a ship might come along which we could all agree to see and I would be brought back to New Zealand, where I would begin to have further perceptions, such as a perception that Robert Muldoon is a reactionary economist. Depending upon the circles in which I moved I might eventually abandon that perception, or I might maintain its validity, in which latter case I could hug it to my bosom and decide to do something about it. At two extremes I might join the Labour Party, or I might lay in a store of dynamite, wait for a convenient moment and blow Robert Muldoon into innumerable small pieces, a singularly negative action but one which would show the confidence I reposed in my judgement.
'Such as do build their faith upon
The sacred text of pike and gun.
Prove my position orthodox
With apostolic blows and knocks.
Decide each controversy by
Call fire and sword and desolation
A Godly Thorough Reformation.'
In short, I would become a political fanatic.
But thee are fanatics and fanatics, each with [unclear: hi] own perception, there are groups of fanatics who share a perception, and there are groups of fanatic-even who don't share anything but who are too busy being fanatical to care. For the sake of the clarity of my own perception I usually try to hang a label or fanatics - communist, fascist, hell-fire-and-damnatior Christians, or even flat earthers. This latter group may well have something. The earth is relatively flat where I live, but we differ in this, for while I am perfectly prepared to accept that it may be any shape it cares the flat earthers often are not. It will be, it must be flat and there's an end to it.
Within the New Zealand context true believers are relatively rare. There was the Protestant Political Association in the twenties for instance, of whom lar Paisley is a recent reincarnation, the defunct Constitutional Society, the Aid Rhodesia movement, on latest and brightest start in the political firmament the Progressive Youth Movement.
How should I classify the PYM? They may believe the earth is flat, I don't know, but I think that as true believers they fit best into the slot marked neo-fascist. Of course that's rather a serious accusation so perhaps I'd better spell out what I mean when I say fascist.
Speaking for myself the nature of fascism is summed up in two slogans, one, variously attributed to Herman Goering and Julius Stretcher which runs: When I hear the word culture I reach for my revolver', and the other from Herbert Marcuse: 'Violence is the orgasm of the young'. In every fascist movement certain elements recur, although not all occur in all movements, and the PYM only approximates the model I'm about to build. Let me say too, right at the outset, that racialism, is a red herring in this context. Some fascist movements are racialist, some are not. It's not a necessary ingredient, although a case might be made that the inverted racialism of the PYM, which seems to suggest that all Polynesians are one Polynesian and all have been grievously wronged, contains elements of fascist belief. More of that anon.
I want to stress too at this point that I don't generally oppose the policies the PYM espouses Like the flat earthers I'm half inclined to agree with them, it's the attitude of mind that goes with it that disturbs me.
The twentieth century has been dominated by certain viewpoints - collectivist, authoritarian, anti-parliamentary, anti-democratic - which have all been expressed in some form of fascist movements. All are also characteristics of some form of socialism and the two seem sometimes to differ only in the intellectual background of their ideologues and the social background of their supporters. All movements of this sort too are anti-liberal in the nineteenth century page break [unclear: se] of that term defined on the economic plane as a [unclear: trine] of laissez-faire which allows certain interests assert themselves at the expense of the social [unclear: ole]. The relationship between Karl Radek and on Eugenevon Reibnitz in Germany in the [unclear: enties] points a moral here. Generally speaking, of [unclear: irse], while the petite bourgeoisie have no quarrel [unclear: h] the laissez faire system in periods of relative [unclear: monomic] stability because they can trade in crumbs [unclear: m] the table of the wealthy, the working class has stake in the system. It is only at moments of crisis economic relations that the petite bourgeoisie arrow the forms of authoritarian socialism and [unclear: ssed] in these borrowed rags, and some garments of [unclear: nerverted] nineteenth century liberalism, stalk the as stormtroopers.
This tawdry garb is composed largely of myth, [unclear: anticism], philistinism and a belief in the primacy action over thought - arming the prow and leaping the world' as D'Annunzio said at Fiume. The PYM takes of all these forms in some measure or other, list of all myth. This, as might be expected, takes form of a view of history as mutual antagonism of aposites, a view which did not begin with Hegel but which seems to be endemic in the human condition, shared by Marxists with the Christian Church, [unclear: na] since the Shang dynasty and the religion published in Persia by Zoroaster. The PYM cleaves the Marxist version which, like Hollywood paterns, draws up the world into goodies and badies, although real groups can change from one category to other with amazing rapidity. The PYM claims too represent the interests of the 'workers' although of its members, at least among those I have met, into that category, and those that do would be [unclear: ghed] at by most people in unskilled or semiskilled annual occupations because of their unorthodox [unclear: manners] and quaint social notions, such as the need non-punitive treatment of criminals and women's creation. In this respect the experience of Lenin and coterie during the revolution of 1905 is instructive. They felt they ought to make contact with the workers, but none of them actually knew any [unclear: kers] although one Bolshevik had known a worker of years previously but didn't think he could find again.
To continue with the myth the workers are aged in a massive struggle with the bourgeoisie or [unclear: ir] armed agent, the police and the military. [unclear: urally] the workers, who are the goodies, will win eventually. As a myth it's not very original, and in with what I've said previously, if I suggest that are have perhaps never been two entities called [unclear: rgeoisie] and workers, and they certainly don't best in New Zealand at present, then I must [unclear: continously] be a member of the bourgeoisie. Perhaps I At any rate I suppose the myth to which the [unclear: M] adheres has the advantage of all myths and that that it obviates the need to think. If you can stop thinking critically then you can get on with acting, which raises two further points.
In the first place there are people around who have an embarrassing habit of questioning the validity of the perceptions implied or spelled out by the more sophisticated myths, and these are often individual and creative people who find it satisfying to hold a mirror up to members of society and let them see the grisly truth about themselves and their beliefs. This can be very annoying to would be revolutionaries. The reason why Dostoyevsky's Possessed is so unpopular with the revolutionary elite is not because its perception is a damned lie, but because it's a damned truth. When various leaders of the PYM say 'down with poetry, down with art, down with creative effort', they are aping Herman Goering, philistine extrordinaire, and are posturing for the same reason. Artists and poets like taking silly myths and holding them up to ridicule and scorn. How much easier it makes life for a revolutionary if he never has to run the risk of seeing his tatty rags laughed at in public or never to have it revealed that there are actually no clothes at all Laughter kills revolutions just as quickly as it kills reactionaries. And the rejection of individual and differing perceptions in favour of myths carries with it a repudiation of history John Pocock once said that never has there been such an availability of history as there is at present, yet the ignorance of history is abysmal. If you have a myth to live by then you never have an incentive to enquire into what really happened, because events began when you discovered the myth and they end with the revolutions, a sort of secular way of saying that history is the time between the Creation and the Apocalypse. I've never yet met a member of the PYM who could tell me why Pat Hickey's 'red' Federation failed to carry out the revolution in 1913. In fact I've met very few of them who know who Pat Hickey was or who could give a solitary cuss about the 'red' Federation, although most of them have a vague feeling that if it's called 'red' they ought to be for it Again, most of them react blankly to the name Gordon Coates. If they've never heard of Coates then how can they ever understand what Muldoon is up to. And if the PYM don't know what Muldoon is up to then they might just as well close up shop and go home Of course the PYM would probably insist that they do know what Muldoon is up to. He's grinding the faces of the workers, fighting against freedom and liberty and he's the local evil genius of the class war, a series of facts about Muldoon that not even Muldoon knows. But this doesn't give you any clue about what ought to be done about him. The advantage of history is that it tells you where you've been, and if you know where you've been then you stand a fair chance of knowing where you are. Naturally once you know where you are, you can map out what you're going, or more important to a political activist you discover where everyone else is going and run up the front. The National Party has been doing this for years excent they stumbled on it by accident, and now that it's going wrong they're beginning to realise that the ones in front reach the bullets first.
Unfortunately in a conflict between myth and history it's the myth that usually wins. History comes up with uncomfortable facts like the failure of the Hickey Revolution that I mentioned earlier. Most revolutionaries prefer to take the broader view and ignore the details, unless they're a little cleverer than most and define the details in terms of the general. They're in good company there. St. Thomas Aquinas and his team of needle-dancing angels were given to similar pranks. Naturally too it's also more romantic to believe that you're taking part in immense events and that your every political move is an historical act Fraught with world shattering significance. It's rather hard to accept the appalling way in which the universe ignores homo sapiens, especially if you've recently recovered from a bad attack of millenial Christianity as many adolescents have, and are just discovering your intellectual autonomy. Marxist myths fit in very well. They have an air of intellectuality and a sweep and grandeur which is breathtaking; they're also guaranteed to infuriate the grocer down the road who's also a vestryman.
Which leaves us with the primacy of action I suppose. There's nothing wrong with believing in a myth if you don't mind having intellectual bad breath. It's when people start living their myths that they become bothersome, or boring, or downright dangerous, as a lot of Jewish folk found out in Germany and elsewhere. Nor is there anything the matter with deeds rather than words provided the deeds are well thought out beforehand. I'm afraid the PYM don't qualify on both counts, because their deeds are based on their myths.
Telling a lot of kids in Otara to go and play hell because they're the victim of the capitalist octopus is unbelievably irresponsible Going on from there to tell them to direct their fury at a beast chosen from a modern day bestiary is even worse, because it's destructive, and what changes a monochrome environment into something that means something is creation, not destruction Freedom is pushing self chosen responsibility to the limit, not throwing a petrol bomb into an arsenal because you're silly enough to think that the army is no more than the capitalist class in arms.
When it deals with these elements - mythology, romanticism, repudiation of history, philistinism and action without thought the PYM is behaving just like the soldiers of the Spanish Foreign Legion who backed Franco's rebellion, and took as its rallying cry: 'Down with intellect. Long Live Death'. That's neo-fascist.
I like some of the policies espoused by the PYM. But my flesh creeps at the thought of being on a desert island with a PYM member Every time he saw a ship and I didn't he'd hit me with a piece of wood. I don't think I'd like to live in a society based on that principle.