Part 1: It Is Time To Slothersize
Trigger Warning: Part 1 touches on subjects covering economic barriers to sexual violence survivor support (ACC sensitive claims) and WINZ
Intersectional Marxist reflections on spacetime, humanity and Where I fit in the economy.
I am mostly interested in the relationship(s) between spacetime and human relationships. The blurring line between individuals and collectives, the irony of living in cities with thousands to millions of people, only to be intentionally physically isolating. The contradictions of having a social public health emergency come to the surface, only to have collectives of individuals complaining about so-called ‘infringements’ of ‘individual freedoms’.
The transformation of virtual internet space to becoming an essential public space, minus a grounded fixed location. A condensed reduction of spacetime. Local/national/international. Spacetime collapsing.
Each country/state with a different response and priority to the pandemic. The capitalist economy versus public health. The public health needs to trump Trump the need for capital for capitals sake. However Trump is trumping public health science for Trump's sake. The intensive fetishisation of productivity under neoliberal economies, leading to poor economic management, as workers are not seen as people, but an objectified mechanical service for the overall capitalist machine.
Nevermind that most Human Resources departments create an industry of unemployment/reemployment and constant influx of restructuring and job insecurity, for the sake of cutting corners, based on a mathematical formula detached from material realities, Person C is somehow able to do both person A and B’s job in half the time required. Not sure what the physics of this would be. The chaos of the market and anarchy of unregulated restructuring, creating a world of constant financial insecurity and inconsistencies.
And in downtime we are ‘consumers’ who are expected to ‘keep the economy flowing’ by constantly shopping. Not people. Consumers. Defined by their relationship to things for sale. The existence and justification of daily tasks, social interactions, and breakdown of spacetime always experienced in relation to the conditions of capital. Not to humanity. But Capital.
It is Time to Slothersize.
In lockdown our standardized experiences of spacetime under neoliberal capitalism for many people dissipated. The disintegration of boundaries between private, commercialised and public spaces. The conversion of social media virtual streaming spaces to public forums or concert halls, all of us getting sneak peaks via webcam of what would be an individual's private domain of the bedroom, the private company space becoming one with the privacy of an individual's living quarters.
The concept of spacetime under capitalism is fundamentally understood through labour and productivity. Capital growth being the ultimate goal. If you do not earn a wage you do not earn human rights for a quality of life. Wealth and finance can travel freely between borders, however human beings (even before Covid) cannot. What are we actually doing in our jobs which contribute to ‘Capital Growth’, in our paid hours at work? What are we doing in our ‘down time’ to be productive to the economy? Conspicuous consumption?
Often as ‘consumers’ we are taught we are ‘in control’ of what choices we may make. When budgeting/or deciding what we spend money on, right through to what is an ‘essential need’ in terms of purchases. If you cannot afford a home apparently you made poor life choices by spending too much on avocados. I suppose the price of milk is not en vogue since the emergence of climate change conscientious vegans. One of my friends in England told me being vegan was a choice ruling class people make. But many people have needs that they have no financial control or choices over. Shelter, maintenance issues with housing or cars, the lack of green public transport. Most people I know who can't afford houses, can barely afford avocados. Even access to basic foods such as vegetables or fruit, for affordable pricing, has become a ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ or ‘that is only for middle class/rich people’ rather than an essential social need that by default all human beings should have basic rights to access.
At its core, the value framework of morality under capitalism is ethically bankrupt. If you earn a high enough wage, in theory it means you are a “better person” than those who happen to earn less than you. People who are in control of management, coercion of resources of production, conspicuous production. If there is excess of any product - whether its agricultural goods, food, plastic waste, electronic waste, oil and petrol - the onus is not put on the capitalist producers of goods, to be ethically binding to the needs of humanity or planet earth. The concept of “moral choices'' gets dumped onto “consumers”. People on minimum wage. Or, those who for whatever reason are not in formal employment or rely on social welfare.
Never mind what the Royal Family rakes in from peoples taxes while doing no work or however many unused homes and grounds they could be providing to the homeless. Wouldn’t it be great if the Governor General grounds could be repurposed as a public park/housing facility? Even in the North Shore you may see empty houses, not even being rented, as some rich people can choose not to be bothered with the responsibility to be landlords, and are rich enough to make these types of choices. So how do we address this issue of reclaiming spacetime for basic human rights and needs, to be able to access housing, space for growing food, and collective environmentally responsible transport resolutions? What does an ethical relationship to spacetime look like for humanity? What is an ethical economy? How is it that in Level 3 and Level 4, all the homeless in NZ were suddenly accommodated in hotels, only to be evicted as soon as the ‘economy’ was reprioritized?
And what about bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies - are they immune to the ethical failings of the current economic structures? The computing power processing bitcoin has a larger carbon footprint than the entire population of Ireland. How does capital and fictitious finance, including mortgages, overdrafts and credit, operate in spacetime? Billionaires dodging taxes - sending pockets of wealth down wormholes in alternate locations, camouflaging their wealth in ‘assets’ or ‘offshore’ accounts? What does finance look like as spacetime?
The ‘real bludgers’ are apparently working class people relying on state assistance or benefits. And those homeless who try to reclaim even condemned or unused housing out of desperation, are branded as ‘squatters’. The moral language used performatively by those in power is fundamentally ethically bankrupt. It is our relation to our abilities to produce capital for the world's ruling classes which determines our social/self worth in a neoliberal society. Not an economic structure which serves fundamental needs of humanity or the planet.
The language of what activities we do in our “downtime” outside of work is also completely shaped by the economy. Certain activities are only seen as ‘morally justifiable” if you are employed in a high salary job. Even hobbies or how we spend time by ourselves or social activities with our friends, families, any social groups, are determined on someone's income - where it comes from, how the ‘money was earned’. For example, someone on the benefit who pays to go to the movies, who might also struggle to pay for fresh vegetables, is judged for this action. When perhaps going to a movie at the cinema provides spiritual mental and social health needs.
This is seen as an ‘irresponsible’ financial choice by many rich people in society, especially if someone has a family or children to look after as well. In fact, the idea of any beneficiaries or long term min wage workers even deciding to have children, is something some rich people will cry is ‘irresponsible’- that poor people are undeserving of a general right to parentage. The debate for the existence of the working class/those on welfare is a constant hot topic on talkback radio or elections.
The concept of ‘working on ourselves’ in the name of ‘selfcare’ under neoliberalism, is ultimately about perpetuating a constant state of productivity to serve capital. A worker as an investment for their labour power. If someone is on ACC or the sickness benefit, the idea is that all energy put into ‘healing’ or learning how to manage/cope with illness or disability, they will eventually be putting all resources into finding work again. I am not against the idea of an economy which is flexible for people with health needs that need to be met, or that is willing to support people returning to work. However, bosses are not usually expected to be accommodating to workers or beneficiaries health needs. Even under standard employment, the judgement and questioning for taking a standard sick day is something bosses feel entitled to question or complain about. The social pressure to ‘never take a sick day’ is engrained. The idea of healing for the sake of healing, because humans need to heal, within all needs of spiritual/personal/physical health, are not met in the infrastructure of most welfare systems or traditional workplaces, in a neoliberal government. Support is conditional.
It is Time to Slothersize.
So how does this relate to my own personal experience of spacetime in a NZ covid-era economy? What are my relationships to others, my sense of self under capitalism, as a beneficiary caught between ACC, WINZ and the arts? How does being an artist or the value of my art or creativity actually function under capitalism, and how much of that is my own intrinsic sense of value, versus what I have been conditioned to believe? Is my work purely individualistic and selfish, or does it contribute to the masses?
The Romantic period of classical western art music developed during the early days of the Industrial Revolution, the eradication of monarchies and a new era of private wealth and capitalist and international colonial power infrastructures. It saw shifts in society, the development of the middle and working classes. The archetype of the “starving artist”, or the “suffering artist”, as a so-called lifestyle choice, was born. These origins of the arts as an ambiguous industry in capitalism, have displaced not just the value of the arts, but the value of the people making it.
The adversity of the ‘starving artist’, is often said to be the source of what makes their work genuine or genius. Spinning adversity or the struggles of poverty as a ‘necessary evil’, to ensure the ‘quality’ of the work. So the flipside being that money can corrupt art, and as wages come in money format, perhaps we should not be paying these artists money? Perhaps artists who accept any wages or money are morally bankrupt? The other extreme is artists being able to market off the ‘exclusivity’ of their work. The commodity fetishism is an exclusive indulgence and peacock display of wealth,by those who have the disposable income to spend thousands to millions on privatised collections. Establishing a VIP fantasy of cultural capital for only the rich and famous to enjoy. In modern society, it means pay can be optional. Internships, ‘free exposure’, alcohol or other ‘in kind’ sponsorship such as snacks, are all things people will offer musicians/artists/performers - no matter how established/or new you are to the industry. It is one of the only industries I have heard of people not being paid after they were told they would be, because of someone overspending on another part of the budget, or that you should simply be thankful that you got a spot on the festival line up.
This degradation seems to be socially accepted across the board (even though it shouldn't be). Of course working class/beneficiaries sometimes rely on goodwill to have access to an artistic community, but this should be subsidised by those with excess capital or taxes of the wealthy. More and more artists (of all classes) are moving to crowdfunding as a source of basic income or to have the means to make a production happen. But this seems to be the libertarian free market ideology in practice. If people want something to happen, the ‘free market’ will just somehow make it happen. In reality, crowdfunding depends on access to knowing individuals with disposable income. I can easily see the red flags that crowdfunding could easily be used in future as a justification for more funding cuts in the arts. Crowdsourced funding is libertarianism in its core, but it is also reflective of the arts industry, which does not even guarantee a minimum wage. The abolishment of minimum wage combined with the free market.
Although adversity or coping with adversity, may be a genuine factor or motivation for some peoples creative processes, I personally find it patronising to presume. I will avoid going on a tangent about being a single woman with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and how the last thing I want to write songs or music about is the trauma experiences which sometime debilitate me into catatonic agoraphobic states of confusion and amnesia, disrupting my sense of self and identity as I time travel back to regressed ages of myself, and spiral into time loops of some of the worst things that have happened to me. These states of mind when my cognitive functioning fails. And writing music is almost as hard as trying not to forget to brush my teeth, or remembering that I am in fact a 32 year old woman living the year 2020. And it definitely impacts on my ability to be stable enough to create an output, or engage in social music spaces as a performer/creator/ audience member.
I will take this opportunity though to acknowledge that when I was having my psychiatric assessment in September 2019, it was advised that I needed to focus on the basic daily self care routines such as showering, eating regularly/proper meals, taking my medication, basic healthy social interactions with my flatmate/family and making sure I was committed to making music/or engaging in my art practice on a daily basis. On one hand this could be read that making and producing art is a functional part of my rehabilitation, healing and long term recovery, which it is. It helps me stay present, to stay in “The Now”, to feel connected to the external spacetime around me, rather than being omnipresent in split headspaces and multiple time zones, as I can not always tell what is a memory and what is happening right now. Usually by “reality” it is referring to some sense of the present, as well as our memories and our brains ability to digest and integrate what is actually happening around us in real-time.
What then is this myth that suffering is essential for an artform to be valid, totally integrated to the fetishisation of a commodity for art to be considered authentic or have intrinsic value? Why does it insinuate the naturalisation of poverty or oppressive suffering as a necessary predisposition for an artist to stay true to their ethos? Why does the suffering of an artist get used to justify precarity, ambiguity of employment or basic rights? Why is the wage for an artist or a beneficiary always up for debate?
Sometimes I do not know what some people find more offensive. That I dare to be a musician, or that I am on a benefit. Just as the artist’s wage is constantly up for debate, so is a welfare benefit. As a beneficiary I find my existence comes up for debate constantly. My confidence dissolves. My quality of life is not an automated human right. Some people don't understand that the beneficiary is the middleman. Over two thirds of my income goes straight to rent to a private landlord and the property management company - who are sure to raise the rent for the sake of it every year, just like every other Wellington landlord. The remainder of my benefit is always going to private power companies and the supermarket. The same supermarket which throws god knows how much excess produce out on a daily basis to claim back tax, and will prosecute people who have no money for food for stealing if they are caught taking it from a rubbish bin. The supermarket and landlords are the ones really making money out of a government subsidised benefit, not me. However I should be grateful for a lifeline, a basic income to meet the basic needs of shelter and food, even if it means juggling basic needs and constantly justifying my existence to the state, in order to get the basic benefit.
At the moment I am displaced between the worlds of WINZ, ACC and Work. Because my long term mental health issues relate to several sexual abuse incidents, that are the root cause of my Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)and depression, I technically should be under the ACC sensitive claims branch of welfare. But the layers of bureaucracy and assessments, even with an existing claim and record which has been with ACC since I was under 5, have meant that for the last 2 years since I had to stop work, I have not been able to access the welfare income from ACC from the incident causing my PTSD, and fundamentally interfering with my ability to work. ACC has a policy, that if you were under 18 when the initial incident of sexual abuse happened, you have to stand down for 6 months not working, before they will do assessments to prove it was the trauma incident which is interferring with your ability to work. I should add this includes the context I won the court case when I was only 5 years old, charging the person who abused me (and ACC knows this). The whole process feels like going to court all over again - that I have to prove this happened, that it really has caused my mental health issues, despite decades of doctors notes and assessments which ACC has access to.
It is over two years since I stopped working and been on waiting lists to get assessments, and I have managed to go through 4 case managers (due to ACC’s constant restructuring) and I have only done one assessment with them. At first they declined to do the income assessments with me, claiming I was not receiving treatment. However this was incorrect. I had been an outpatient at the Hospital psychiatric services, receiving regular support from the mental health nurses and psychiatric staff there, including medication and psychiatric exercises to strengthen my cognitive functioning and self-awareness. I had already signed a form giving ACC permission to access my medical records from the hospital and GP. When I pressed further at Community Law, ACC explained they declined because I was not going to an ACC therapist, which was their definition of ‘treatment’.
This might make sense to some people. However I have on my medical record including advice from psychiatrists that the last year and a half I was not psychologically well enough to engage in therapy. I had had a relapse when attempting therapy a few years ago, and it was agitating my symptoms. Many ACC therapists are on waiting lists for at least 3-6 months, and even in the sensitive claims, there are many psychologists and therapists who will not do ACC as they believe the process to be morally and ethically unsafe and retraumatizing.
The main differences between ACC and WINZ:
1. WINZ policy is accessible, and even though sometimes still need advocacy assistance to get entitlements, there is at least a publication of the policy and what people are entitled to.
ACC on the other hand, does not publish basic entitlements regarding sensitive claims. Even when we requested a copy of the policy in writing, they were not able to provide this to me or my advocate.
2. With WINZ, I need to provide a basic medical certificate every 3 months, and if I need extra assistance regarding disability allowance, I get my GP to sign it off.
With ACC, they will not accept any assessments done by Public Health clinicians, even if they are related to the claim. So basically, the case manager has to book the appointments(apart from the Therapist).
It doesn't matter that I have been seeing a psychiatrist at the public health service, and all the notes can state quite clearly it's related to my sensitive claim.
The biggest stress for me going into lockdown was coping with the sudden shock of radical social isolation. Sometimes when forced into a situation out of my own control I go into survival mode. Survival mode for me means operating on my essential basic needs to maintain holistic wellbeing and a baseline functioning. This is kind of what it's like in general living on welfare.
The concept of spacetime under capitalism is understood through labour and productivity. Capital growth being the ultimate goal. What are we doing in our jobs which contribute to Capital Growth, in our paid hours at work. What are we doing in our ‘down time’ to be productive to the economy? Conspicuous consumption. Even hobbies or how we spend time with our families, ‘working’ on ‘ourselves’ in the name of selfcare, all needs are ultimately about perpetuating a constant state of productivity. Nevermind that most Human Resources departments create an industry of unemployment/reemployment and constant influx of restructuring, for the sake of cutting corners, based on a mathematical formula detached from material realities, Person C is somehow able to do both person A and B’s job in half the time required. Not sure what the physics of this would be. The chaos of the market and anarchy of unregulated restructuring.
4th October 2017, 00:30am, (Facebook update)
To this day the concept of a Power Sloth is one of my number one tools of coping when the going gets challenging. That Tony Robbins guy doesn't know what he’s talking about when it comes to the secrets of success !! But I’m no L Ron Hubbard, so I got no intentions to capitalize on this, although perhaps a picture book for primary school children to help them [learn] how to have healthy ways of dealing with emotional stress would do the world some good. I bet some adults would use it too !!
Marika Pratley (she/they/them) is a Queer Greek/Cypriot New Zealander, composer, improviser and performance artist, born and raised in Te Whanganui a tara, Aotearoa. The online launch of It Is Time To Slothersize is timely with the 2021 NZ lockdown for the delta variant, reflecting on lived experience as a working class performance artist/beneficiary activist with mental health issues.
Marika creates both solo and collaboration works across all platforms. Themes of her work include radical relaxation, intersectional feminism/queerness, mental health activism, healing from trauma, anticapitalism and sloths.
Ongoing music projects include Moody V and The Menstrual Cycle (with Madison Van Staden), Reptilian Future Cops (with Matt Hunt), Greek Rembetika band Kali Ora and performing with sister Heleyni Pratley.
Marika's performance art works include multiple collaborations with Virginia Kennard, Mega Pash Action, and Richard Orjis including performances at Queer Pavilion for Auckland Pride Festival 2020. She has also scored installations, dance and theatre works, including Orjis cruising lazing learning for the About Walking series, and the award winning dance works Demi God Half Human (excerpt) and An Unfortunate Willingness To Agree.
Solo work includes avant-garde meditation musical A Symphony of Sloths and deluge project Class War On The Dance Floor. She has performed festivals and live events around Aotearoa and abroad.
In 2021 Marika and sister Heleyni Pratley will be the recipients of the inaugural Pyramid Club and Museums Wellington Thomas King Observatory Residency, extending on sibling collaboration with astrophysicist sibling Dr Luke Pratley. Marika is currently producing an autobiographical documentary, The Healing Power of The Sloth, and intends to release debut Class War On The Dance Floor album this summer.