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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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).

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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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).

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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VJMP Reads: David Seymour’s Own Your Future X

This reading carries on from here.

The ninth chapter in Own Your Future is ‘Personal Responsibility’. Seymour opens here with a stark claim that ACT doesn’t believe in the nanny state or in a paternalistic government. Many of our laws are holdouts from an age of Victorian values, he states, and they are enforced by politicians who transparently do not have a deeper grasp on morality than anyone else.

Breaking rank with the other Parliamentarians, Seymour is willing to admit here that cannabis does less harm than alcohol and tobacco (although he points out that cannabis is not without its own harms). He also echoes a point often made by Kiwi cannabis law reform activists (such as here), that the burden of Police enforcement of cannabis prohibition falls mostly on Maori.

Seymour cites a Treasury study that estimated that cannabis prohibition costs the country $300,000,000 annually, as well as tying up 600,000 hours of Police time. Worst of all, the supposed criminal deterrence doesn’t even work – the overwhelming majority of people convicted for cannabis offences go on to use it. Moreover, the law is applied in a haphazard manner, as can be seen by the 26-month sentence initially handed down to Kelly van Gaalen.

In a distinct break from the right-wing that ACT is usually associated with, Seymour repudiates the moralising that is chiefly responsible for cannabis prohibition, pointing out that not only is there a heavy majority in favour of cannabis law reform, but that majority is steadily growing. This contrasts with the proportion of people who oppose actual crimes, such as murder – this proportion remains constant.

True to the libertarian image that Seymour is trying to stake out, he argues for legal recreational cannabis as well. However, true to the conservative streak that binds his party to National, he is torn, claiming that 80% of the New Zealand public opposes recreational cannabis. He does not cite a source here, and neither does he note that such opposition would be unusual in the context of places like Colorado and California voting by referendum to legalise medicinal cannabis.

Seymour takes pains to seat himself as immovably as possible, right in the middle of the fence. He is open to the possibility that countries that legalise cannabis might “lose their morality” and “become cesspits of unmotivated human squalor” (as if alcohol was not well capable of achieving both), and wants to have a Royal Commission that takes five years before he will consider that we have satisfactory evidence to make a decision.

He rightly pillories the Government for its sharp increase in the tobacco tax, pointing out that the people most sharply affected by this are those who can least afford it. Worst of all, it seems that raising the tax further will not help persuade people to give up smoking. Those who are still addicted are so addicted that they will do almost anything to get hold of tobacco. Sensibly, Seymour would legalise vaping and e-cigarettes.

Euthanasia is another thing that Seymour would legalise, promising an end to “morality-based harassment”. His reason for promoting this is to avoid the indignity of the last weeks of life. Having nursed elderly grandparents to the end of a terminal illness, I can commiserate with him in this regard. He is also in favour of abortion, which makes him less hypocritical than the old right. Seymour doesn’t want to pay for your kid either, but he’s happy to help you get it aborted.

It’s hard to find fault with any of Seymour’s proposals in this chapter. Even if the only right he champions with conviction is the right to die, it’s an excellent thing that these libertarian proposals are even being suggested. It is interesting to note how similar ACT is with the Greens on issues such as cannabis, especially if it is considered that being young is highly correlated with both voting ACT and Green.

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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).

VJMP Reads: David Seymour’s Own Your Future VIII

A Liberal Vision for New Zealand in 2017

This reading carries on from here.

The seventh chapter in Own Your Future is ‘Public Safety’. Here Seymour opens the chapter with one of the non-sequiturs that seems to be characteristic of his style. He talks about visiting a prison, and seeing the downcast faces on the prisoners there. For some reason he lurches directly from this to stating his belief in deterrence being the primary solution to the crime problem.

It’s hard to believe that Seymour is writing this chapter with a straight face. He claims to be tough on the causes of crime – yet his party supports National every step of the way in ripping down the social welfare that people need to get out of the poverty that causes crime.

Indeed, the facade soon slips, and he openly admits that ACT Policy is based around “making the consequences of committing crimes sufficiently bad that people will decide not to do it in the first place.” Within the space of a few sentences he goes from complaining about the cost of prisons to crowing about ACT success in keeping people in prison for longer through their three strikes policy.

From there, Seymour launches into a rant against burglary. Fittingly for a party that values property more highly than people, he wants to add burglary to the list of crimes that involve the three strikes law, the third offence being punished by a minimum three years without parole. Helpfully, he informs us that “The aim [of burglary] is getting more money or goods without working for them or being given them.”

At this point, Seymour serves up a genuinely good idea. Prisoners often find it difficult to return to civilian life after their sentence on account of poor literacy and numeracy, so Seymour proposes that they can get time knocked off their sentences by completing adult reading and maths courses while in prison. Any prisoner who is already educated can get time off for helping to tutor the other prisoners.

This is actually a really good policy, but it’s incredible that Seymour, as a supposedly principled libertarian, doesn’t mention cannabis law reform here. If it costs $105,000 a year to keep a person in jail, we could save tens of millions immediately just by letting cannabis growers and dealers out. He doesn’t suggest this, even though it seems like such an obvious thing for a principled, libertarian party to suggest at this juncture.

This newspaper wondered some time ago if perhaps David Seymour is the biggest coward in the New Zealand Parliament. It’s astonishing that ACT, who barely get more votes than the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, aren’t willing to support cannabis law reform as their libertarian counterparts everywhere else have done, when the entire country is crying out for it. They could take votes off the Greens and the Opportunity Party simply by offering a right-wing alternative to how to legalise cannabis.

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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).

VJMP Reads: David Seymour’s Own Your Future VII

A Liberal Vision for New Zealand in 2017

This reading carries on from here.

The sixth chapter in Own Your Future is ‘Immigration’. It starts with an attack on Winston Peters’s “twenty year racist dogwhistling campaign”, in which Seymour takes the opportunity to position himself as a crusader against racism and bigotry. This is a wise strategic move on Seymour’s part, considering that his party gets more votes from the foreign-born than any other. The Greens are also accused of racism for wanting to lower immigration levels.

Astonishingly, Seymour makes a passionate appeal to New Zealand’s moral obligation to help displaced refugees – but at no point in this book so far has he made any appeal to New Zealand’s moral obligation to help its own people, especially its poorest and most disadvantaged. Here Seymour comes across as the out-of-touch, highly privileged urban dweller who is horrified by a tennis ball to the head.

Ironically, Seymour pillories those who cry “racist” at everyone who claims that we need some immigration restrictions, despite doing the same thing himself on the previous page. This he does in an attempt to position himself as the supporter of a “smart” immigration policy, pointing out that no-one wants no immigration and no-one wants open borders.

He lists at length what he perceives to be the good things about New Zealand, as a way of explaining why so many people want to come here. He claims that New Zealand has a “generous” welfare system, no doubt by way of comparison to Samoa or India. Noting that New Zealand would be swamped tomorrow if we decided to throw open our borders, he seems to think it’s good enough for New Zealand to be doing better than the global average. No word about our domestic violence, child abuse or teen suicide rates.

He also makes some fair criticisms of the current immigration system, such as the absurdity of getting an investment visa from buying and holding for a few years a couple of million dollars’ worth of Government bonds. He laments the shortage of workers at tech companies and hospitals, but manages to resist the temptation of arguing that we need to attract them through lower tax rates.

New Zealand First comes in for special criticism here, with Seymour going as far as to claim that their “poisonousness” is “intended to hurt those who want to bring their skills and settle in New Zealand”. Seymour might not be aware that Maoris vote New Zealand First much more often than white people, so one wonders what he makes of this. Are Maoris racist for not wanting mass immigration? No-one knows.

There are many contradictions in this essay, many of them glaring. Possibly the most grievous encountered so far is when he complains that previous Governments have failed to make sure that the immigrants coming there are those who will integrate and contribute to economic growth, but in the very next sentence complains that those Governments only “reluctantly and begrudgingly” increase the refugee quota when concern about overseas suffering becomes “overwhelming”.

Anyone with the most passing familiarity with the situation in Europe knows that refugees are precisely the sort of person who are least likely to integrate, and who will offer negative economic growth. This contradiction is so glaringly incredible that it’s unclear if Seymour is being dishonest here or if this essay is simply poorly written.

Hilariously, Seymour is willing to grit his teeth and write that New Zealand doesn’t need “upper middle class foreign citizens flashing their bank accounts at us on their way through customs to get to a beach house” – when those people make up most of ACT’s voters. Also, we don’t need more Pacific Islanders “taking the piss” by using family migration to get their extended family “to come and live and take advantage of our generous welfare system”. Seymour writes this, apparently completely unaware that, earlier in the chapter, he pilloried New Zealand First and called them racist for saying much the same thing.

Seymour concludes this chapter with some virtue signalling about how our refugee quota is an “embarrassment”. He doesn’t appear to understand that keeping the number of Muslims and Africans low is the only way that the New Zealand population will remain favourable to immigration in general – this has been the lesson of the last twenty years in Europe. This contradiction is typical of what has so far been the most poorly written and argued essay in this book so far.

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VJMP Reads: David Seymour’s Own Your Future VI

A Liberal Vision for New Zealand in 2017

This reading carries on from here.

The fifth chapter in Own Your Future is ‘Welfare’. Here Seymour opens with what appears to be sympathy for the disadvantaged, telling a story about the children without shoes or food at Raumanga Middle School, before white flight took all the pakeha kids (including him) elsewhere. This doesn’t last long. Within a few paragraphs, he’s fuming about how welfare “saps the will to live”.

Seymour then tells a story about how Michael Joseph Savage, when he carried a table through the front door of the first state house in New Zealand, put that table down immediately after passing through that door. It’s not clear why this story is told here, because it doesn’t fit the rest of the section. It seems to simply fit Seymour’s narrative that anything done to help people is bad.

Like a 21st-century echo of Ebenezer Scrooge, Seymour decries the entire welfare system, going all the way back to 1937. The problem isn’t so much the usual right-wing canards of welfare queens and benefit fraudsters, the problem is that the welfare system is designed to “allow the disadvantaged to live full lives participating in equal footing in the community”.

In this section, the brutal and dishonest reasoning at the heart of neoliberalism is laid bare. Seymour makes a list of all of the problems in society and then blames them all on welfare, without providing any evidence or even so much as an argument that the two are connected. He lists a number of statistics about people on welfare, but provides no comparison to other times and places so that we can judge if those numbers are angstworthy.

Without a hint of irony, Seymour writes that “A Treasury report on life outcomes showed that at every stage of life, having parents relying on benefits predicted worse outcomes for children.” The fact that he conflates being on a benefit, rather than poverty, with being the cause of these poor outcomes, is the central error in Seymour’s reasoning, in the ACT Party’s reasoning, and is why the party can never and will never succeed electorally.

He talks about being on welfare as if it was a simple choice, and the man writing that is every bit the man writing about the horror of getting a tennis ball to the head. Seymour comes across as so out of touch that it’s almost comical, such as when he argues against the idea that “welfare is good for the people receiving it”.

The idea that welfare is bad because it makes people lazy is a fringe belief of the American Republican Party, considered gauche even by them, but it’s front-and-centre here. “Being out of work harms people, and more importantly it harms their children,” Seymour wails, crocodile tears spurting. One can easily imagine him as the overseer of a cotton plantation in the antebellum South, cracking the whip for his wealthy employers.

In an outburst of raw neoliberalism, Seymour quotes John Key when it comes to describing Working For Families as an example of “Communism by stealth”. Seymour goes as far as suggesting that not offering tax cuts when possible is equivalent to totalitarianism by stealth. Not ashamed of absurdity, he even accuses National, who slashed the welfare system so badly that we now have the developed world’s highest youth suicide rate, of not being opposed to Communism.

Laughably, Seymour claims here that ACT supports greater access to mental health care. Anyone who has been a mental health patient for long will know that the Fifth National Government slashed funding and access to mental health care, going as far as cutting benefits to severely mentally ill people – and the ACT Party supported them every step of the way. This is why there was a very strong correlation of -0.66 between voting ACT in 2017 and being on the invalid’s benefit (c.f. Dan McGlashan’s Understanding New Zealand).

It’s most notable that nowhere in this essay does Seymour mention the supply side of the welfare question. At no point does he touch on the poor wages in New Zealand, and at no point does he suggest that Kiwi employers ought to do their bit by offering a fair wage. Employers are completely exempt from playing any role in motivating workers to work by offering them a wage that they can live on or buy a house with.

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