Lindsay Perigo Liberty Conference Speech
Saturday, Oct 6
Lindsay Perigo Liberty Conference Speech
Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
The liberty of the human individual is the most sacred thing in the universe.
Shame on anyone who knows that and becomes silent about it.
When he becomes silent about liberty, knowing that it matters, his life will begin to end.
It's all too easy to become silent about liberty.
Being heard above a deafening chorus wittering and dribbling about things that don't matter is a daunting enterprise.
And there is a deafening chorus wittering and dribbling about things that don't matter.
I give you the aptly-named Twitterer, and that avalanche of asinine inanity which it pleases me to call Faecesbook.
Oceans and oceans of dribble, lacking the consistency or stature, strictly speaking, even to be called faeces, about things that don't matter, driven by an infantile conceit that somehow they do. Mega-repositories of empty heads and empty lives.
Yes, it's easy to succumb to the tidal waves of tosh and become silent, or even swim with the current. Someone to whom I was close many years ago and was at the time a fervent devotee of liberty and supremely eloquent promoter thereof, now airily witters away on Twitterer in his self-styled capacity as … “a connoisseur of human silliness.” If our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter, he is an example of someone committing slow suicide.
And yet, you see, those repositories of refuse are in their own way and at the same time shining beacons of liberty and the ultimate empirical vindication of the libertarian case.
The people immersed in things that don't matter, don't matter.
What the repositories represent and make possible, matters crucially. It embodies the crux of our case and an unassailable practical demonstration of it.
These repositories, and the Internet that subsumes them, are stunning testament to the efficacy of the uncoerced human mind, and the fact that it is our fundamental tool of survival and flourishing.
Think of the exruciating mental effort, the feats of sustained “non-contradictory identification,” performed by the cream of humanity, the Bill Gateses and Steve Jobses of this world, in order to create technologies that have enabled us to flourish as never before.
As it happens, I am not technology-minded—have even been called a dizzy bitch technophobe—but when all of this was coming into its own I had the good fortune to be shacked up with a geek, who dragged me kicking and screaming into modernity. Soon I was sending The Free Radical to its designer, Graham Clark, not on a funny disk thing but via e-mail, for him to wreak his miracles with. The gratifying thing was that in all the to-ing and fro-ing that then went on, Graham—a bit of a socialist at the time—ended up absorbing the articles and finding them increasingly and dangerously persuasive. The rest as they say they say, is history. He's here this morning.
One more anecdote I can't resist interpolating: in those days of the fledging Libz, at our regular meetings there was one person put up fierce resistance to all new-fangled electronic inclinations, who spoke disparagingly, dismissively, vitriolically, not just of the Internet but of computers generally. He heaped scorn upon the geek language of those who'd moved beyond his own Ludditism. But soon he too was dragged kicking and screaming into modernity … and ultimately went on to start a rather splendid libertarian, anti-Luddite blog site called Not PC.
But I digress. Back to my point about the Internet and how it is our ultimate vindication:
What you have there is voluntary interaction writ large. Voluntary interaction writ global. It is a cosmic cauldron of capitalist acts among consenting adults. You can shop without leaving your house … and most of the time you don't have to pay the Government Slavery Tax on your purchases. You can buy books you won't find in shops, including the most sacred book in the universe, my ew Kindle book! You can buy medicines prohibited by governments, knowing that it's caveat emptor. You can express your opinions, no matter how batty, about anything at all. Someone right here even has a blog site devoted to a goblin. Never mind all the airheads—you don't have to deal with them. No one forces you to do anything on the Internet. You don't have to join the social media, and if you do, you can do as I do—go on to Faecesbook or Twitterer when you absolutely have to, just long enough to cast a pearl, and then flee immediately, taking a shower if you inadvertently get tainted by all the banality.
And even the social media can transcend their customary imbecility when it matters, and be a potent force for the freedom they tacitly represent, as we see whenever populations rise up against tyrants.
Free trade, free association, free expression, no coercion, government that steps in only to protect life and property: this is not a virtual libertarian society, it is a libertarian society. To those who say what we promote is a utopian, pie-in-the-sky pipe-dream, incapable of implementation: point them to the Internet and ask them if that doesn't work! Richard McGrath, next time you're asked where our ideas have been put to the test, you don't have to cite Victorian England and have hostile media put up images of smokestacks: point them to the Internet. There are our principles at work—and their success is demonstrable.
There's no doubt the Internet will come under threat from the United Nations, rapacious politicians and rampaging Muslims wanting to prohibit, tax, regulate and restrict. Let's ask our critics if they think that's a good thing, and if not, why it becomes a good thing outside Cyberspace.
So, to the geographical areas we could
once cite as close to our ideals—Hong Kong, Taiwan, West
Germany when there was an East Germany, South Korea, America
and Britain prior to the success of Gramsci's
socialism-by-stealth, a blend of Singapore's economic
freedom and Holland's social freedom—we can add a potent
propaganda tool that is up-to-the-minute current, very close
indeed to our ideals … and takes in most of the
If we can get by quite peaceably and prosperously in Cyberspace without the Chris Trotters, the Helen Clarks, the Jim Neandertons, the John Bankses, the Sue Kedgleys, the Peter Dunnes, the Russell Normans et al ad nauseam of this world, why the hell would we want to indulge their filthy authoritarian power-lust in New Zealand?
It's not our dreams that don't work, it's their nightmares!
That's my first point today. What we're fighting for is already here, and flourishing. We just have to draw attention to the fact and exploit it to the hilt. As of now I fear the point has eluded us altogether.
Second, regarding a rebrand, name change and so on. As the party's founding leader and resident grumpy old fart—not even resident for a couple of years—I'm all in favour of it. Give the old tart a makeover by all means. I worry, however, when I read the process described as “toning it down.” I think it's not a toning down that's required, and I venture to hope that is not what is being proposed.
I believe what is required is that you desist from dumping the whole load every time you enter the fray. I suspect we've all evolved to the point where we know there is no point in campaigning on the achievement of a full-fledged libertarian society in five minutes … or four years. To accomplish that would require endorsement of such a programme by a majority of voters. To accomplish that would require a cultural revolution that is beyond the brief or scope of a political party.
That revolution should be the objective of a dedicated Think Tank—or as Mr Ansell would call it, Teach Tank. Its job would be patiently and diligently to provide intellectual fuel for long-term cultural change. It would make the philosophical case for individual rights and capitalism. It would demonstrate why real capitalism, as opposed to crony capitalism—real capitalism, where the government acts against force and fraud—is not an orgy of cutting throats and cutting corners, but a guarantor of the brotherhood of man, the opposite of what the collectivists depict. It would deal with all the supposedly tricky historical issues such as smokestacks and children up chimneys—an expanded version, if you like, of “Common Fallacies about Capitalism” in Capitalism the Unknown Ideal. It would deal with the bromides we still face: capitalism is ruining the planet, it causes poverty, it alienates people from their inner human being, etc, etc. It would extol the virtues and values of entrepreneurialism: self-reliance, self-sufficiency, productivity, the earning of self-esteem, the pursuit of excellence, developing one's talents to the full, Shiraz, and so on. It would demonstrate how the Nanny State and compulsory welfarism are the enemy of these virtues and values. It would agitate to have its materials taken on to enemy territory: schools, which are currently brainwashing centres of collectivism and statism. The kind of Teach Tank I envisage would be the Business Roundtable without its contradictory premises. Its starting point would be individual liberty, not the mythical “common good.”
A Teach Tank would deal in the whole load and dump great wads of it at every opportunity.
A political party, I think we've all now come to realise, must offer a small number of bite-sized morsels that can be assimilated by at least the upper end of a voting population dumbed down by state schools and state television.
A political party must accommodate attention spans that are microscopically short, and the anti-conceptual mentality: the inability to think in principles.
Writing about this deficiency, Leonard Peikoff posited a group of people who sit down to discuss whether it's moral to rob a bank. One of them asks, which bank?
He also tells a real-life story of someone he spent six months persuading that it was wrong to nationalise the coal industry. At the end of that time the person said, “OK, I get it that coal shouldn't be nationalised. But what about steel?”
Now, a libertarian political party in New Zealand must count on at least five per cent of voters who can concentrate for a few minutes, and can connect dots, in spite of having gone to school—and even worse, university—or can elevate themselves to that status during an election campaign. Either way, it must err on the side of brevity, concreteness, simplicity and the short term. Leave the long term to the Teach Tank. Remember the good news: the long term might not be as long as we always feared, since we have the Internet to point to as an example of how well the whole load works already.
This involves no sacrifice of principle. Let's say hypothetically the party was to be called the Freedom Party, or the More Freedom Less Government Party, or True Liberals, as opposed to the much less accessible term Libertarianz. Is there any compromise of principle involved? No.
Let's say it campaigned for five specific things: my 4/15 tax plan (ask me in the question period); a balanced budget; voluntary euthanasia; legalisation of marijuana; abolition of the Maori seats and other special representation. Is there any compromise of principle involved? Certainly not. A society in which they were implemented would be palpably freer than the one we have now. Three of them—marijuana, euthanasia, the Maori seats—already have majority support. The tax plan shouldn't be that hard to sell given its $15000 tax-free threshold and the phasing out of GST by two and a half per cent a year over 7 years. A flat rate of income tax of 15% on all income above the threshold should also have broad appeal. The toughie would be the balanced budget, requiring government to trim its cloth. This is when you'd raise the spectre of abolishing useless and anti-freedom agencies of government such as Ugly Wimmins Affairs, Economic Development and Te Puni Kokiri. You'd also be looking to stop paying people with taxpayer money who can least afford to support children to go ahead and breed anyway. But all of these, I submit, could be sold to voters who've survived the dumbing-down and the brainwashing with their thinking abilities intact—and there'd be enough of them to get you into Parliament.
Standing fast to principles will enhance, not reduce, your prospects.
I had to laugh at commentator Bryce Edwards's observation in the Sunday Star-Times that the problem with Libertarianz is that they're too principled!
Wear that as a badge of honour!
What he could more accurately have said is that the other parties that are supposed to believe in true liberal principles never so much as mention them, let alone advocate policies consistent with them. Libertarianz do both—and because they're the only ones who do, they seem to be overdoing it. Don't ever change that!
The National Socialists' list of values includes:
Individual freedom and choice• Personal responsibility• Competitive enterprise and rewards for achievement• Limited government.
As for ACT, you all know I've had inside experience of their commitment to principle.
signed on, hopeful that Don Brash would reinvent the party
as the classical liberal party it's supposed to be, my
intention was to help him by taking its primary principle
and ramming it home at every opportunity:
“that individuals are the rightful owners of their own lives and therefore have inherent rights and responsibilities; and that the proper purpose of government is to protect such rights and not to assume such responsibilities.”
That's so perfect you'd think a libertarian wrote it.
A libertarian did write it: the founder of Libertarianz, Ian Fraser, wrote it during his short involvement with the fledgling ACT Party back in 1993, before leaving in disgust.
And in 2011 I knew it was still there. Notwithstanding all the compulsionism whereby ACT violated it, it had never been dumped.
On my first day at Parliament, I went to the web site to print it out. Slight problem: there was no mention of the party's principles on the web site. Inquiries of other staff: does anyone have a hard copy of the principles? Blank stares. Phone call to HQ in Auckland. Where are the party principles? Good-humoured banter: “Was I right all along? You don't have any!” “Can't seem to locate them, Lindsay.” “Have you looked under the carpet?”
Many phone calls later: “We've found them. A certain person removed them when he revamped the web site.”
I was later to have cause to remember that.
For now, the principles were restored and I set about invoking them, or that one in particular, at every opportunity, especially in the speeches I would write!
At that point the strategy for the looming election campaign was a hard-hitting, straight-talking, Chris Christie-like effort spearheaded by the genius of National's 2005 campaign that almost made Don Brash Prime Minister, John Ansell. His billboards featured Helen Clark's face on the left, Don's on the right, with appropriate words superimposed:
More personal attacks. Less personal tax.
Beaches: Iwi. Kiwi.
What Are Schools For? PPTA. ABC.
And so on.
Others within ACT, though, most notably Parliamentary leader John Boscawen, wanted a squishy campaign that offended no one. Boscawen had made it known, incidentally, though not to me, that he wanted to stop “all this libertarian stuff.” The public relations oleaginites—oleaginites as in oleaginous, meaning oily and slimy—headed by the #2 candidate on the list, wanted a bland campaign also. Don't give anyone a reason to vote for you; just don't give them a reason to vote against you.
John Ansell walked out after the Maorification debacle, but the straight-talking strategy remained, and I was to be its wordsmith. How straight-talking? Well, we called it the “bomb strategy.” Each weekend for 6 weeks we'd drop a bomb via the Sunday newspapers. Ansell had called it “stroppy copy.” A potent explosive on a different major issue each week. A generic bomb first. Then—the economy. Education. One law for all. Social welfare. Law and order. The idea was that after the outrage had subsided and the carnage had been cleared, the people who mattered would see that we were right and that we had the courage to be right. And that they would vote for us. We figured “they” were up to 15% of the electorate. I came up to Auckland to build the bombs. After a week they were all done, tweaked and signed off on. We were ready to drop the generic bomb.
At that point, alas, the campaign committee displayed the bombs to Boscawen and other Kumbaya blandifiers. They all fainted and needed smelling salts, oxygen and ambulances. That was the end of the bomb strategy. A generic ad was placed that Don wrote himself, which was not only not a bomb; it wasn't even a pop-gun. It attracted no comment and no one remembers it. The only time Don captured headlines after that was with the marijuana speech, which of course was one of mine and for which I was cut loose while all the brave classical liberals who were supposed to speak up ran for cover, including Act on Campus. Don received 72% per cent support for his stance in a Campbell Live poll that had a record number of respondents, but was ordered to drop the subject … and me.
Don had been carrying around with him an article by former Prime Minister Mike Moore entitled “Reflections on Political Courage.” It included the Martin Luther King quote I began with. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” It included a line which Don had underlined: “Opinion polls make cowards of us all.” Don had hand-written a note to himself at the top of it: “Re-read at regular intervals.”
If only he did.
The point I'm making from all of this is: never, ever be tempted to blandify. ACT blandified and got 1.1% of the vote—not enough even to get Don into Parliament. Those who like bland have got National. Leave them to each other's slippery embrace. Present your case with the qualities I argued for at the time and argue for at all times: courage, clarity and conviction. You might just be surprised by how many voters respond favourably.
The bomb strategy, I should say, was the brainchild of the then-Communications Director, David Bridgman. The same David Bridgman who appeared at the end of the TV3 feature on ACT and the Libertarianz last week and said classical liberals were great at putting the world to rights in smoke-filled rooms but hopeless when it came to a strategy for actually doing it. Well, his one would be worth a try.
One more thing. The stinking corpse of ACT must lie down, and none of the bacteria from its decomposition must contaminate the new force. The compulsionism, the conservatism, the culture of ACT: begone! I don't need to explain “compulsionism”—it was there from Day One and was the reason I called ACT the Association of Compulsion-Touters. Right to the end and to this day Roger was and is still itching to force people into superannuation and health insurance schemes.
“Conservatism”: well, it's the reason it was impossible to make ACT socially as well as economically liberal. It's the reason the marijuana speech and its author had to be buried. A grotesque, feral conservative, the antipode of a classical liberal, is now ACT leader. This leering gargoyle, the ultimate in homophobic bigotry and wowserism, votes for gay marriage and keeping the drinking age at 18 solely because ACT on Campus threaten to pull the plug if he doesn't. Next to John Banks, Winston Peters looks principled! John Banks is the Whore of Epsom.
Mr Banks, you are a hypocrite and a harlot.
Mr Banks, end this charade.
Mr Banks, tear down this facade.
Mr Banks, leave politics. And leave Lady Liberty to her lovers.
But even an ACT Party without the Whore of Epsom should not be resuscitated. A culture had taken over within it which a freedom party must never countenance. The party was run by people for whom the game of politics—and the dirtier the game the better—was more important than the reason they were in politics. The game had become the reason. These people are gamers first, classical liberals an occasional and distant second. What gets them out of bed is not, what can I do for liberty today, but, whose back can I stab today? It's not Mises who turns them on, it's Machiavelli. Directed not at Labour or the Greens, but their own colleagues. Most of all they are morbidly, postmodernly cynical, contemptuous of any notion of sincerity. They are disgusting.
Let us welcome the refugees from ACT who genuinely want to fight for liberty, especially the youngsters within Banks on Campus who shudder at the prospect of prostituting themselves working the streets for Banks again. But let's ask that they self-fumigate first.
I don't care who might stupidly and wrongly accuse me of collectivism for saying it: A freedom party should be a band of brothers, not a band of backstabbers. In carrying the torch of freedom we must be: all for one and one for all.
So, in sum:
The Internet, showing liberty at work … and that it works.
A Teach Tank, explaining why liberty is man's proper and estate, and why, as such, it can't help but work.
A rebranded, rejuvenated, reinforced Libertarianz: spiritual soulmates advocating for freedom in palatable political chunks, with clarity, courage and conviction—inspiring support from a significant minority of voters … and even from ex-libertarian Deborah Coddington, who asked me to pass on her regards and best wishes.
Remember the words of Sam Adams: “It does not take a majority to prevail ... but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”
Don't be silent about things that matter. Be irate. Be tireless. Set those brushfires.
Now get the hell on with it!