Lindsay Perigo
Lindsay Perigo

Editorial: Your 1998 Wake-Up Call!

One night last week a man from Statistics New Zealand knocked on my door. He said Statistics New Zealand was doing a time use survey and that my address had been chosen at random, along with 200 other households. I was told this was a field test which was a lead-up to the real survey. He wanted me to keep a diary of what I did over a 48-hour period, including my most intimate details of eating, sleeping and socialising. I said I would not be doing the survey because this was a blatant intrusion into my privacy and basic rights as a person. He said he could not make me do the field test but if it had been the real survey I would have had no choice in the matter.
— Letter to the Editor, NZ Herald, 12/02/98

You won't have to be a rocket scientist to detect the sub-text common to most articles in this issue of The Free Radical, the first for 1998. In case it is too subliminal for some, however, let me thrust it into your face right here. It is the question, "What are you doing?"

Fulton Huxtable's essay "Fatal Blindness" on page 17 begins with the famous, chilling words of Pastor Niemöller, tracing the descent of Germany into the totalitarian abyss — words that haunt us from the concentration camps: "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist ..." and so on through Jews, Catholics & trade unionists, ending with, "Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up." Huxtable points to the parallels in contemporary America: creeping, sometimes galloping, totalitarianism, greeted by the overwhelming majority of the populace with a great, collective yawn.

The state-sponsored censorship & racism at Waikato University highlighted by Robert White in this issue will no doubt elicit the same concerted indifference here in New Zealand. As will the plea for help by Joy Faulkner as she valiantly tries to muster some opposition to the persecution by the state of cigarette smokers. (The most despicable cowards in this saga are the tobacco companies themselves.) A leaden, lumpen acquiescence to state tyranny, epitomised by a local Internet columnist who, recounting the unconscionable persecution by the US Justice Department of Bill Gates for "bundling" his products as he saw fit, shrugged, "Honestly, I just couldn't get excited about it."

"Honestly, I just couldn't get excited about it." I guess that's modern parlance for what Pastor Niemšller said when the Nazis went after their first victims.

During 1997, an interesting division became apparent among some members of The Libertarianz executive concerning the value of being politically active at all. Two strongly contrasting views emerged:

1) It is premature to be active politically because the essential corruption we confront is philosophical. More philosophical education is therefore required before any meaningful political change can be effected. Specifically, Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, which attacks the dominant anti-reason, anti-freedom philosophies at their very roots, must reach more minds.

2) Philosophy is a waste of time; people are too dumb to get it & we must operate on a level which they can understand & "relate to" — the NaZis on Air fee, the census, abolition of separate seats for Maori, etc. (One of our much-loved executive members is frequently sent up for his impatient admonition to the rest of us one night: "Forget all this philosophy shit!")

In this disagreement, I found myself occupying the middle ground, for once. I believe firmly that it is not a case of either/or — it is a case of both. Yes, the right philosophy is needed to put freedom on a secure footing; but precisely because of this, such a philosophy cannot be an armchair indulgence; it must be a call to arms and a guide to action (which Objectivism is). Yes, action is necessary on specific, concrete issues that most people can readily grasp; but action uninformed by philosophy is blind, random, incoherent & self-defeating. (Our "forget-all-this-philosophy-shit" friend found himself tied up in knots on Newstalk ZB recently by Angela d'Audney, precisely because of his self-inflicted lack of philosophy.)

Thankfully, the "middle ground" perspective seems to have prevailed among the executive, as most members are enthusiastically bringing themselves up to speed philosophically while girding their loins for a very active year politically. This is as it should be. With understanding come both the impetus and the responsibility to act.

Yes, the responsibility. To know, to understand, and not to act, is an egregious sin of omission. It is the sin of silence. It is the sin of inertia. It is the sin of submission when the government comes knocking on your door at night demanding intimate information. It is the sin that will permit the eventual triumph of full-on totalitarianism.

And for this observation, I claim the imprimatur of Ayn Rand herself. There is a magnificent polemic in the recently-published Journals of Ayn Rand titled, "To All Innocent Fifth Columnists." Written in 1941, it is an open letter to sympathetic but inert intellectuals, exhorting them to get off their butts & form a national organisation advocating individualism. "You who read this," she begins, "represent the greatest danger to America. No matter what the outcome of the war in Europe may be, totalitarianism has already won a complete victory in many American minds and conquered all of our national life. You have helped it to win ..." And on she goes to admonish: "There is no personal neutrality in the world today. Repeat that & scream that to yourself ... you are against totalitarianism — or you are for it. There is no intellectual neutrality. The totalitarians do not want your active support. They do not need it ... All they want from you is your indifference ... Just sit at home, pursue your private affairs, shrug about world problems — and you are the most effective Fifth Columnist that can be devised. You're doing your part as well as if you took orders consciously from Hitler or Stalin. And so, you're in it, whether you want to be or not ... what do you prefer? To do what you're doing & help the totalitarians? Or to fight them?"

If the latter, she says, then, "Let us be heard. To be heard, however, we must be organised. This is not a paradox. Individualists have always been reluctant to form any sort of organisation. The best, the most independent, the hardest working, the most productive members of our society have always lived & worked alone. But the incompetent & unscrupulous have organised. The world today shows how well they have organised. And so, we shall attempt what has never been attempted before — an organisation against organisation ... an organisation to defend our rights, including the right not to belong to any forced organisation; an organisation, not to impose our ideology on anyone, but to prevent anyone imposing his ideology on us by physical or social violence. Are you with us?"

Evidently the answer must have been no, because the organisation Rand was proposing never eventuated and the onward march of collectivism in America proceeded apace. But we have such an organisation in New Zealand in 1998. It's called Libertarianz. Are you with us?

What are you doing?

If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe?