VJMP Reads: Edward Bernays’s Propaganda III

This reading carries on from here.

The third chapter of Edward Bernays’s Propaganda is called ‘The New Propagandists’. Here, Bernays gets to the task of who it is that molds public opinion. “Who are the men who, without us realising it, give us our ideas?”

Bernays admits openly that these molders of public opinion decide for us who we admire and who we despise, and what we think about all manner of political issues. They decide our fashions, our speech, and even what jokes we feel like we’re allowed to make. They decide the shape of everything in our societies – but who are they?

These people include all of the top politicians, all of the leaders of the biggest industries, all of the leaders of the largest cultural organisations, the editors of the largest newspapers and magazines, the heads of the various industry groups, the chancellors of the most prominent universities and the main religious figures. Even so, most of these people, in their turn, get their ideas from elsewhere.

In some cases, it’s clear who the wirepullers are. In most cases, it isn’t. But these people control the destinies of millions. The degree to which a small number of people influence a large number of public figures is generally not appreciated. This number will, however, always be small on account of the great expense involved in manipulating the machinery of propaganda to form public opinion.

This has given rise to the new (in 1928) profession of professional propagandist, which has been euphemised as “public relations counsel”. This role is necessary because all governments, no matter what their type, depend on the acquiescence of the people. Bernays here gives us the maxim “Government is only government by virtue of public acquiescence.” Even commercial enterprises need public approval to succeed.

The propagandist is not simply an advertiser. Although he might use letters to the editor, radio, lectures, magazines and more, his work does not duplicate that of the advertiser. His first business is to make sure that his client’s product is something that the public can be brought to accept. The propagandist’s next job is to analyse the public, and how to approach the leaders of the various groups within it.

Bernays contends that, in the age of mass media, corporations found it necessary to give the appearance of conforming to the public’s sense of decency and honesty. As a result, and much like governments, corporations found propagandists necessary in order to get anything done.

The ideal of the propagandist’s profession is making the client understand what the public wants, and making the public understand the objectives of the client. Propagandising can therein be likened to a form of diplomacy. Bernays labours at length the point that the propagandist does not work to hoodwink the public, and lists the ethical considerations of the profession.

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VJMP Reads: Edward Bernays’s Propaganda I

Fittingly, the Propaganda Ministry turns its attention to the granddaddy of all propaganda literature, Propaganda by Edward Bernays. This short book was written by Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, by way of explaining his own prodigious insight into the manipulation of mass consciousness in the America of 1928.

He opens in the first chapter, “Organising Chaos”, with a stark declaration that the “organised habits and opinions” of the masses are formed according to the will of men who effectively form an unseen government. These men mold our minds and our tastes, mostly without us knowing who they even are.

Bernays contends that this is necessary, owing to the confusion ordinarily created by the democratic process, with its hundreds of different candidates. People would become confused if they were expected to understand the inner workings of all the issues that politicians are faced with. Therefore, the media narrows things down to a range that can be grasped.

Likewise, Bernays claims that society consents to have its choices relating to commercial products narrowed down by way of media propaganda. Because of reasons like these, there is a constant battle going on to capture the minds of individual people.

Bernays mentions that it may have been better to have had committees of wise men, who made decisions about the best way to do things. But we elected for the opposite of this. We have free competition of ideas, and in order for this to not lead to chaos we have to allow for leadership and propaganda to direct attention. This can be misused, but it is necessary nevertheless.

The advent of mass media has changed the way that the world is organised. At the time of the writing of the American Constitution, the village was the basic unit of society. Thanks to the mass media, it has become possible to be organised alongside people who live thousands of miles away.

Our society, instead of being divided by coherent geographical units, is now cleaved by all manner of social, political, ethnic, religious, racial or moral divisions. It is along the lines of these divisions that propaganda is spread. One influential group leader in any of these domains can soon have all the others in that domain following an idea.

Bernays labours the point that these cleavages are nonetheless comprised of individuals who exist in several groups, and therefore these groups are all interlaced. This is, in Bernays’s view, what society is. It is how democracy has chosen to simplify its decision making.

He summarises the book in the final paragraph of the first chapter. It is to explain how the minds of people are molded in modern democratic society, and how the manipulators of it go about their work.

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VJMP Reads: Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber Manifesto VII (fin)

This reading carries on from here.

The next chapter in Industrial Society and Its Future is ‘Two Kinds of Technology’. Here Kaczynski works to counter the argument that technological progress is so inevitable that revolutionary efforts are futile.

First, Kaczynski distinguishes between two different scales of technology. Small-scale technology is different to organised-scale technology. The former is technology that can be used by communities without outside help, such as simple crafting or metalsmithing. This kind of technology can survive a collapse of the industrial system, unlike (e.g.) refrigerator manufacturing.

Because organised-scale technology is dependent on other organised-scale technology, any collapse of the industrial system would take centuries to rebuild, if it ever happened. In any case, there’s no guarantee that a medieval society would even develop an industrial system again. It didn’t happen in India, China or the Middle East. It is therefore still worth opposing organised-scale technology, even if opposing small-scale technology is meaningless.

The final section in this manifesto is titled ‘The Danger of Leftism’. Kaczynski exhorts anti-technology revolutionaries to take a resolutely anti-left stance from the beginning, otherwise they will get co-opted. Leftism is incompatible with freedom, because it is collectivist and seeks to bind the entire world into a single whole. Because collectivism is only possible with technology, leftists will never really support it.

Some leftists claim to oppose technology, but they only do so as long as that technology and the system is in the hands of non-leftists. Much like censorship and academic freedom, whether or not leftists support it depends on whether or not they are in charge. They cannot be trusted because they will double-cross anyone they work with.

For many people, leftism fills the same psychological niche filled by religion. The leftist needs to believe in it. Kaczynski notes here that leftists are driven by a compulsion to impose their beliefs onto everyone. “Everything contrary to leftist beliefs represents Sin.”

Leftists seek power through identification with a social movement; helping that movement attain its goals helps satisfy that leftist’s power process. However, the desires of the leftist are infinite. They are not satisfied with anything; they demand total control. “…as long as anyone harbors in some corner of his mind a negative attitude toward some minority, the leftist has to re-educated him. And ethnic minorities are not enough; no one can be allowed to have a negative attitude toward homosexuals, disabled people, fat people, old people, ugly people, and on and on and on…”

The leftists will never stop until they have complete control. Even if you gave them everything they wanted, they would soon want more. Ultimately the leftist is not motivated by good, but by the desire to fulfill their will to power by imposing it on society. Most leftists are driven heavily by the desire to impose their own morality on everyone else. Individual tendencies towards liberty don’t change this general trend.

Identifying the leftist is not difficult. They inevitably identify with the victim, and with the collective. They tend to be against individualism, competition and violence, although they readily find excuses for violent leftists. “Maybe the best diagnostic trait of the leftist is his tendency to sympathize with the following movements: feminism, gay rights, ethnic rights, disability rights, animal rights, political correctness.” (a previous article here would describe them as horizontalists.

The manifesto ends with a number of footnotes; there is no conclusion or summary. The reader is left with the feeling that Kaczynski was an extremely intelligent man who saw very deeply into the nature of reality, but who was not necessarily able to pull everything he knew into a coherent worldview, perhaps on account of some psychological disturbance.

This may have been a result of Kaczynski’s apparent lack of spiritual belief. Many of the problems he attributes to the techno-industrial system could just as well be argued to be problems with materialism. Yet, the absence of spiritual knowledge and the consequences of this are not addressed by Kaczynski. It could be said that Kaczynski, despite his immense insight, was fighting his own shadow to a large extent, in the form of materialism.

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VJMP Reads: Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber Manifesto VI

This reading carries on from here.

The next chapter in Industrial Society and Its Future, beginning from paragraph 171, is ‘The Future’. Here, Kaczynski discusses the likely outcomes of the perpetuation of the techno-industrial system.

One potential outcome is that increasing technology and automation means that the vast majority of human labour becomes performed by machines instead. At this point, one must consider whether this machine workforce is to remain working under direct human supervision or if it is to work autonomously. It could be that our increasing dependence on the decisions made by these machines make us dependent on them, in the same way that we have become dependent on other technology.

The horror scenario, as Kaczynski sees it, is that automation will incentivise the extermination of the masses on the grounds that they are no longer needed for their labour. A more humane scenario is that the elite uses propaganda to reduce the birth rate of the masses so that natural deaths cause the population to decline. This may become necessary because of ecological considerations. The only alternative is to essentially domesticate humans like pets.

Kaczynski flat-out rejects the idea that work for the sake of the work is the solution to the problem. Makework will not lead to any kind of fulfillment. Even more of a worry is the fact that these problems will continue to get worse. The bourgeois sort of person who runs the machine will only become more and more a part of it, and the machine will grow to absorb all, barring the odd pocket of nature kept as reserve.

He concludes, “It would be better to dump the whole stinking system and take the consequences.”

The next section is titled ‘Strategy’. Here Kaczynski talks about what specifically can be done to oppose the techno-industrial system. Most people believe that the forwards march of the system is inevitable; Kaczynski disagrees. It can be meaningfully opposed in two ways: by increasing the stresses within it to hasten its collapse, and by developing an alternative ideology so that people can learn to live without it.

The French and Russian Revolutions provide an example of how this could be achieved. Ideologies must have both a positive and a negative ideal. Kaczynski proposes valuing wild, raw Nature as something that should prosper freely. This includes human nature. If the techno-industrial system collapses, people will come to live close to Nature again, on account of that they will be forced to.

Most people don’t like psychological conflict, and as a consequence they do like black-and-white thinking. Despite that, it’s important to target the ideology at intelligent and thoughtful people, because they will be most capable of influencing others. Even so, it’s necessary to have a simpler version of the ideology that even simple people can understand. Care must be taken so that propagandising towards this simpler version doesn’t put the more thoughtful people off.

The most important thing is building a committed core of good people. For this reason one needs to take care who one attacks and who one befriends. The general public should never be blamed, but focus should be placed on the ruling class. Care must be taken not to encourage conflict in the wrong places, because that will lead to more technology. It’s also a mistake for minorities to put members into high positions in government and business, because that will just hasten the absorption of that culture by the system.

For this reason, it’s better for revolutionaries to not try to win power in the democratic system. There is no way to change the system from within without getting co-opted. The collapse of the techno-industrial system will induce short-term suffering, and the politicians will get blamed for it, so best to stay out of the way until such a time as this suffering gets blamed on the shortcomings of the system.

The revolution will have to happen in all nations at the same time. For this reason, it’s better for the world to become interconnected – the hope is that if, for example, America collapses, it will take the rest of the world down with it.

People will not be aided by becoming more passive in the face of the system. Humans have a will to power; this is a fact. This will to power can be better satisfied in primitive conditions, because people will satisfy it by meeting their survival needs.

Technology can be freely employed by revolutionaries, but only if it is directly employed in the destruction of the techno-industrial system. Humans cannot be trusted with technology any more than any alcoholic can be trusted to babysit a bottle of wine. In any case, revolutionaries should have as many children as they can, because anti-technological attitudes will be in some way inherited.

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VJMP Reads: Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber Manifesto IV

This reading carries on from here.

The next chapter in Industrial Society and Its Future is ‘Restriction of Freedom is Unavoidable in Industrial Society’. Here Kaczynski expounds at length what appears to be the central thesis of the manifesto.

Modern man is strapped down by a number of rules and regulations that have been laid down on him by faceless people far away and who he cannot hope to influence. Kaczynski contends that this is not because bureaucrats are malicious or because the system is yet to be perfected – this is the nature of technological society. Generally speaking, our lives have to be closely regulated by large organisations in order for society to function. Human lives have to be modified to fit the system.

This close regulation happens even to children. The system needs people educated in a particular manner in order to run its machines, and so children have to be forced to study things that they don’t really care about. This social pressure creates a lot of dysfunction in the form of dropouts and mentally ill people. The system uses propaganda to try to induce people to want what the system is doing to them. This is a complicated and dishonest process.

In ‘The Bad Parts of Technology Cannot Be Separated From the Good Parts’ Kaczynski argues that technology is a double-edged sword. Not only does advanced medical treatment require an entire industrial society to maintain, but it also removes the natural selection pressure that is, in many ways, keeping the human race healthy. The only solution to this is either eugenics or massive genetic engineering. Kaczynski contends that this genetic engineering is inevitable owing to the good things it promises.

The next chapter is ‘Technology is a More Powerful Social Force Than the Aspiration For Freedom’. Freedom is continually forced to compromise to technology, and after many repeated instances of this, all freedom is gone. The motor vehicle is a great example: when first introduced, they took no freedom away from the walking man, but society has been forced to adapt to accommodate them, and now walking in many places is impossible. Moreover, regulations such as driver’s licences and insurance have tied people down.

New technology changes society in a way that people are forced to use it. Each new advance, taken by itself, is desirable, but the cumulative effect is to lose freedom to people far away. Technology always advances, but can never be rolled back without a collapse of the system. This means that reform is impossible, which in turn means that any resisters effectively have to be revolutionaries. History shows that social arrangements are temporary, but technological advances are more or less permanent.

The last two chapters in this section are ‘Simpler Social Problems Have Proved Intractable’ and ‘Revolution is Easier than Reform’. These contain a summary of the main statements made so far. Humans have proven themselves incapable of dealing with much easier problems than resisting technology, and therefore cannot succeed without a revolution that destroys the entire industrial system. Kaczynski points out here that we have already left massive environmental problems to our grandchildren merely for the sake of convenience now.

Revolution will not be as difficult as it seems, because the prospect of revolution is capable of inspiring powerful emotions in people. By contrast, the prospect of reform can only inspire lukewarm emotions at best. It is not necessary for a majority of people to become revolutionaries, just enough so that the system is incapacitated.

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VJMP Reads: Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber Manifesto III

This reading carries on from here.

The next chapter in Industrial Society and Its Future is ‘How Some People Adjust’, namely, how people adjust to industrial society.

The first thing that Kaczynski points out is that people naturally differ with regards to their drive for power. They also vary with regards to susceptibility to marketing and advertising techniques. These people can never be satisfied, because they will always want something else. These desires add to the collective frustration. Adding to this frustration are the wide range of instincts that our oversocialisation causes us to repress.

Other people adjust by joining a political organisation and adopting its goals, because they find satisfaction when some of those goals are achieved. By this method can their desire to partake in the power process be satisfied. Many people experience the power process vicariously through the actions of these larger political movements. On top of this are a variety of surrogate activities, but for the majority of people the desire to experience power goes unfulfilled.

In a section on ‘The Motives of Scientists’, Kaczynski dismisses the idea that scientists are driven by curiosity. Neither are they driven to benefit humanity necessarily, because some subjects (archaeology and comparative linguistics given as examples) are of no benefit to humanity at all. In reality, most scientists are simply motivated by going through the power process by way of scientific endeavour as a surrogate activity. As a result, science itself has become like a destructive juggernaut.

In ‘The Nature of Freedom’, Kaczynski defines freedom as the ability to participate in the power process to achieve real (not surrogate) goals, and without supervision or control by any outside agency. “Freedom means having power; not the power to control other people but the power to control the circumstances of one’s own life.” One does not have freedom if another entity has power over one – having permission to do something is not the same as having the freedom to do it.

We don’t actually have much freedom, because in practice freedom is a function of the economic and technological structure of a society, and not by its laws. A lack of technology makes people more free, because it makes it more difficult for the ruler to enact their will. The press is not freeing because it is tied to major media enterprises, who dominate the informational space through sheer volume. Frighteningly, our freedom is restricted, to a large part, on controls that work on our subconscious.

Kaczynski lays out some of his theory in ‘Some Principles of History’. He considers history to be a function of two subfunctions, one which is erratic and almost random, the other composed of long-term trends. Here he is concerned with the long-term trends. Outlining five basic principles of history, Kaczynski asserts that any chance large enough to change a long-term trend will also change the nature of society, and in unpredictable ways.

New societies cannot just be laid out on paper and expected to function. This is because they are too complex. The economy, the environment and human behaviour are all interdependent, and changes to any one will create changes in the others. Relating to this is the principle that people do not choose the nature of their own societies – this is something that evolves over time, and is not under rational human control.

This is the theoretical basis for his contention that industrial society inevitably will take away more and more of our freedoms. This is the argument in ‘Industrial-Technological Society Cannot Be Reformed’. Resistance is futile – as long as the general trend is towards more technology, the general trend will be towards less freedom. The sentence “It seems highly improbable that any way of changing society could be found that would reconcile freedom with modern technology,” suggests that Kaczynski saw us on a crash course with a technodystopia.

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VJMP Reads: Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber Manifesto II

This reading carries on from here.

The next chapter in Industrial Society and Its Future is ‘The Power Process’. The next few chapters relate to this. Here, Kaczynski outlines his take on Nietzsche’s concept of the Will to Power. He states that “in order to avoid serious psychological problems, a human being needs goals whose attainment requires effort, and he must have a reasonable rate of success in attaining his goals.”

Consistent failure to achieve goals throughout life leads to depression and low self-esteem. This is a particular problem in modern society on account of that we have a lot of leisure time – all that is necessary to be wealthy is to learn some simple skill and then to hold down a job. As a consequence, we have developed surrogate goal-seeking activities.

Kaczynski was able to point out, even back in 1995, that many leftists support their pet political cause by means of finding a surrogate for their need to partake in the power process. These surrogate activities can be dangerous because they aren’t as satisfying as taking care of actual survival needs. As a result, they tend to be performed without end.

In the chapter ‘Autonomy’, Kaczynski points out how a sense of being able to operate autonomously is important for a satisfactory resolution of the power process. Individuals need to feel like they have had some input into how things are run, or at least need to be able to have some autonomy in how they carry out their orders. Absent this, we get “depression, anxiety, guilt, frustration, hostility, spouse or child abuse, insatiable hedonism, abnormal sexual behavior, sleep disorders, eating disorders, etc.”.

‘Sources of Social Problems’ is where Kaczynski relates all the previous to the problems currently plaguing our society. Acknowledging that “the world today seems to be going crazy”, he argues that primitive man was free of many of the stresses that currently plague us. However, he is not a Rousseau follower – he acknowledges that primitive life was tough in many regards. The main point is that human beings evolved to adapt to a radically different from the one we now live in.

Here Kaczynski is extremely insightful. He pinpoints the origin of many social problems as excessive population density, alienation from nature, speed of technological change (what Alvin Toffler called “future shock”) and breakdown of the normal small-scale communities like the family and village. The crowding and isolation from nature follow naturally from technological advancement. A modern industrial society has to tame and emasculate people in this manner in order to function.

Modern people feel like all change is imposed in them from the outside – this is the origin of their frustration and discontent. “the most important cause of social and psychological problems in modern society is the fact that people have insufficient opportunity to go through the power process in a normal way”. Leftism is a symptom of this deep malaise.

In the chapter ‘Disruption of the Power Process in Modern Society’, Kaczynski gets down to the evolutionary psychology behind our current malaise. Essentially the problem is that all of our physiological needs are easily met: all we have to do is to be obedient at work. This means that the power process is not being met. We have very little autonomy at work with which to achieve our goals.

Capitalism is partly to blame. “Advertising and marketing techniques have been developed that make many people feel they need things that their grandparents never desired or even dreamed of.” We put a lot of effort into chasing meaningless things, and consequently life feels meaningless. The power process can only be fulfilled by external goals, not concepts like “fulfillment”. This is hard because “Today people live more by virtue of what the system does FOR them or TO them than by virtue of what they do for themselves.”

Frustration also arises from the fact that only 500 to 1,000 people have any real power, and the rest just get things done to them. Primitive man, although his life is shorter, is better off in this regard because he is not helpless. Modern man can do anything he likes as long as it is unimportant; our behaviour is tightly regulated in all other matters. Primitive man has fulfilled his need to participate in the power process and therefore avoids many pathologies that affect modern people.

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VJMP Reads: Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber Manifesto I

Having completed our reading of David Seymour’s Own Your Future, we now turn away from neoliberalism and have a look at anarcho-primitivism. The next subject of the VJMP Reads column will be Industrial Society And Its Future, otherwise known as the Unabomber Manifesto, by Ted Kaczynski.

Sent to the Washington Post in June of 1995, alongside a threat to kill more people with mailbombs if it was not published, the 35,000-word manifesto is broken down into 232 numbered paragraphs. These are grouped in short chapters, each with a subject heading.

The first of these groups is the Introduction. Kaczynski wastes no time shocking the reader: the first sentence is “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.” This section pulls no punches: Kaczynski is adamant that the effect of industrial society has been to increase the amount of human suffering, and that it will only get worse as society develops. The only solution is a revolution, which may or may not be violent.

Kaczynski then moves on to the psychology of modern leftism. He writes that “One of the most widespread manifestations of the craziness of our world is leftism,” which is curious if one thinks that this was written in before 1995, when ‘trans’ meant transvestite. What underlies modern leftism, Kaczynski states, are feelings of inferiority and oversocialisation. This ties in with the idea, expressed elsewhere by Nietzsche among others (such as VJM Publishing), that leftism is essentially a slave morality.

To elucidate further, these feelings of inferiority are a group of qualities such as self-hatred, low self-esteem, defeatism etc. that are not only shared by modern leftists but which have collectively come to shape the course of history. Kaczynski is extremely insightful when he points out that the people who most angrily take offence at politically incorrect statements are those from privileged families. Leftists are also dishonest. They are outraged when a Western country performs a certain action but are indifferent when a Third World or socialist country does so.

Leftists identify intensely with anyone weak, repellent or otherwise inferior, hence they take offence on their behalf. They hate anything good and successful. This makes them feel like losers, so that they have no faith in their own personal ability to provide. As a consequence, they become collectivists. They hate science and rationality because these mindsets consider some ideas superior and others inferior. Leftists hate that, because of their fear of being judged inferior. They hate IQ tests for similar reasons.

Oversocialisation is an extreme form of the process that psychologists describe when they explain how children learn to conform their behaviour to the demands of society. The difficulty with the current world, Kaczynski has it, is that has become so complicated that no-one can act morally anymore. Oversocialisation is the process whereby leftists, “In order to avoid feelings of guilt, […] continually have to deceive themselves about their own motives and find moral explanations for feelings and actions that in reality have a non-moral origin.”

Oversocialised leftists tend to be intellectuals or members of the upper-middle class. What they like to do is to take accepted moral principles, declare them as their own, and then accuse society of violating them. Leftists do not rebel by violating society’s principles, but they express their hostility by accusing society of not living up to them. Their hypocrisy is evident when they claim to support black people, but then insist that these black people live up to the values of the industrial-technological society that imprisons them.

Today’s society seeks to socialise us more than any previous society. As a consequence, oversocialisation has affected us more than ever before. These problems of the leftist are problems of our entire society in microcosm.

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VJMP Reads: David Seymour’s Own Your Future XII (incl. Summary)

This reading carries on from here.

The eleventh, and final, chapter in Own Your Future is ‘Treaty of Waitangi’. Given eight pages at the back of the book, it’s hard to imagine that Seymour takes this issue very seriously. One gets the feeling that it will be a quick virtue signal with one quiet mention of the Resource Management Act and that would be it.

He starts with a story about how the elders at the Te Tii Marae preferred him to the Green Party MPs at a Waitangi gathering on account of that he knew his Ngapuhi genealogy. Dismissing the Green MPs as “up themselves”, he is very much the hero of this story.

True to form, he then launches into the virtue signalling, being careful to place a macron over the a in ‘Maori’ and pushing a warm, fuzzy, globohomo vibe about how much he loves Maori culture. Seymour comes across as revoltingly dishonest and shallow here, considering that his ACT Party supported the Fifth National Government in its destruction of the Maori people. Politicians demand to be judged on their words, not their actions, like all hypocrites.

What Seymour writes here isn’t unreasonable on the face of it. It’s certainly true that many of the land confiscations made by the New Zealand Government were done so on spurious grounds, often outright false, and it is not reasonable for the beneficiaries of this process to get away with it scot free.

The problem is that the same logic can justify a great many other things. What Seymour and his kind like to call “profit”, others like to call “wage theft”. So if it’s true that “if you take something that is not yours, you should give it back” – which is apparently an ACT Party principle – then are the New Zealand working class owed some of their past production that was taken off them in the form of company profits? Why are wages dwindling relative to the cost of living? Seymour doesn’t seems to care about that side of things.

Indeed, the first mention of the RMA comes four pages in. Here, Seymour objects to the idea that local iwis might be allowed to object to land developments under the RMA. This, he cautions, leads to the possibility of Maoris being given a special class of citizenship. So Seymour is happy to virtue signal about how important Maoris and Maori culture are, he just doesn’t want to pay anything extra for it.

Laying down his neoliberal credentials harder than anywhere else in the book, Seymour declares that “New Zealand at its best” can be found at a citizenship swearing-in ceremony, where a bunch of people from other nationalities can be found “uniting as true Kiwis”. Not for Seymour the argument that a true Kiwi is someone who has roots in the country, or someone who can tell stories about his ancestors and their childhoods in the country. Kiwiness is merely another commodity to be bought and sold.

We could bet money that Seymour would profoundly disagree with this article about how being a Kiwi is a matter of the depth of one’s roots in the country.

He is, however, correct when he points that that Maoris have not actually benefit from all the special treatment of the last decades, and in some major measures (such as home ownership) have actually lost ground. He further makes a good point when he mentions that the problems faced by Maoris are the same problems as faced by all New Zealanders to a greater or lesser extent.

In summary, Own Your Future is a terrifying vision of how money and virtue signalling can matter more than heritage, blood links or any other basis for solidarity. David Seymour is the High Priest of New Zealand Neoliberalism, proudly carrying on the ACT tradition of valuing money more than people. He follows Rodney Hide, Richard Prebble and Roger Douglas in the ideology that everything in the nation can be packaged up and bought and sold for cash, people just as well as timber and lamb chops.

In this sense, he is unrepentant: he believes that New Zealand has a moral obligation to take care of foreign refugees out of general taxation money, but has no such moral obligation to take care of its own poor, even though many of them were created by the horrors of neoliberalism, the very same political philosophy he espouses in this book. Own Your Future stands out, even by the standards of political treatises, as an example of absolutely shameless virtue signalling.

Despite this, he makes several very good points about government overreach, especially with regards to its failed War on Drugs. He isn’t wrong when he points out that unnecessary taxation sucks energy unnecessarily from people, and although Seymour could never be a Georgist, he is correct when he labours the link between capitalism, innovation and prosperity. Perhaps, for that reason, there is merit in having an ACT Party seat in Parliament.

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VJMP Reads: David Seymour’s Own Your Future XI

This reading carries on from here.

The tenth chapter in Own Your Future is ‘Environment’. Seymour begins with an anecdote that gives us an idea of the moral sentiments that led Seymour to the ACT Party. The child Seymour didn’t like the moralistic implication of the Captain Planet writers that humanity was inherently evil on account of our environmental impact.

Seymour soon has a go at the Greens, who he labels hypocrites. He does make an excellent point: none of the Greens have any scientific background. This is certainly very curious for a party that makes such a point of having scientific backing for their policies. They also waste an incredible amount of money on junkets, especially when climate change is the excuse.

Another fair point he makes is that the price distorting effects of Big Government intervention often have environmental consequences. This is especially noticeable in the case of agricultural subsidies, which tend to lead to overproduction and exploitation of land. Much better to let the market solve such questions, as with water rights.

When talking about the importance of property rights, he unwittingly reveals the secret logic behind much of ACT Party thinking, when he says “pricing and property rights go together”. In the ACT mindset, wealth equals rights. The more money you have, the more rights you have to do things, including doing things to the land and to other people. The RMA gets attacked here again as a quasi-communist institution.

Seymour makes a very clever point when he says that productivity growth is the basis of prosperity. ACT have been heavily criticised in the past for taking a “rape and pillage” approach to New Zealand’s native areas, in which everything can be sold off for money. In this essay, Seymour switches focus to productivity gains from technology and software.

However, he doesn’t stray far from the general neoliberal path. Globalisation is good, and signing the TPP is a good thing. Not for Seymour any sympathy for those who have lost out from neoliberalism. The wealthy benefit from it, and ACT is fundamentally a party for the rich.

Noting that the left/right political divide correlates strongly with alarmist and sceptical positions (respectively) on the issue of global climate change, Seymour declares himself a “luke-warmist” who agrees that some degree of climate change is man-made but does not agree that it will necessarily have devastating effects.

The environmental idea that seems to appeal the most is the idea of having inland sanctuaries, naturally run by private investors. This, Seymour believes, is the only way that New Zealand has a chance of bringing back the dawn chorus that was sung by our birdlife several hundred years ago. Curiously, he wants to have a large trust to dole out grants for these sanctuaries, which, along with his support for foreign refugees, makes one wonder if working-class Kiwis are the only people he doesn’t care about.

It is interesting that ACT might have so detailed an environmental policy, because it seems like an attempt to attract alt-centrist voters. Both ACT and Green voters are young. Indeed, ACT and the Greens could be considered the alt-right and alt-left of a new paradigm of politics, or at least one that has been remodelled to appeal to the young.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis).