The Age Of Crap
I note with some gratification that I've been billed as a "philosopher. " I'm not a philosopher by training or profession, of course – I have become an amateur philosopher thanks to being a broadcaster by training & profession. A broadcaster, particularly in the realm in which I specialised – political interviewing – must listen to all opinions, test them, & refrain from expressing his own, at least while on air. That doesn't mean he won't have his own opinions, or form them over time. I certainly did that, to the point where I run my own magazine in my spare time dedicated to the spreading of my philosophy even while retaining a day job reporting out of parliament on the philosophies & doings of politicians.
I made headlines some ten years ago by walking out of Television New Zealand pronouncing its news & current affairs coverage "braindead." I meant that then & I would mean it now. But I'm also very conscious that society at large has become so braindead that I hesitate even to use a word like "philosophy" for fear that no one knows what it means any more. I'm sure I could safely except present company, but just in case, let's be clear that a "philosophy" is an overview of life. Your philosophy - & you have one whether you know it or not – is your view of existence, your place in it, how you should behave, what constitutes good & evil, whether there's a life after this one, & so on. Philosophy deals with the big picture; specific philosophies, like the Christian philosophy, the existentialist philosophy, the Objectivist philosophy to which I subscribe, give specific answers to big picture questions - or, in some cases, tell you that no answers are possible.
But I say to all those whose eyes glaze over when the word is mentioned, you're all philosophers, actually. You all have a view on these big picture matters, even if it's not clear to you what it is, even if you've absorbed it by osmosis from the person sitting next you who's absorbed it from the person sitting next to him. Passive philosophers you may be, but philosophers nonetheless. So your eyes shouldn't glaze over because these are life & death matters, & you do have a view on them. The reason philosophy has a bad name is – bad philosophies, bad philosophers. Philosophers who've turned philosophy into an academic parlour game where pointy-headed losers sit around & analyse the meaning of "The cat sat on the mat." Philosophers who say quite openly that philosophy is irrelevant to living & even inimical to it. You might think this is just a modern thing, but the original Sophists in Ancient Greece started it off two & half thousand years ago. Nothing exists, they said. If anything did exist, you couldn't know it. If something did exist & you could know it, you couldn't communicate it. How's that for a helpful philosophy? It's possible those things were said tongue-in-cheek, but they came to be taken seriously. In the 18th century David Hume said we had no right to assume the sun would rise tomorrow just because it rose this morning. He figured we couldn't know anything, too, & we couldn't figure out right from wrong with any objectivity. He realised no one could live on this basis, & famously remarked that when his own conclusions got him down he would repair to the pub to drink ale with friends. Then came the big villain of the piece, Immanuel Kant, who experienced nothing of the real world, never drank, never left the little village in which he was brought up – just sat in his study for years on end writing nonsense. He said we could know stuff if there weren't filters in our brain distorting the real nature of everything we perceive. What we perceive is not the real thing, but the thing as we perceive it. The real thing is tucked away in another dimension – the noumenal dimension – where we can never get at it; the thing as we perceive it belongs here in the phenomenal dimension, & that's enough to be getting by on, just so long as we don't kid ourselves that it's the real thing. Kant is the father of that revolting bromide that is the scourge of our age, the source of political spin-doctory & every other form of shysterism – perception is reality, perception is everything. It's very common in touchy-feely New Age motivational tapes that people like financial advisers listen to, so I may be treading on some toes here, but that's never stopped me in the past. I often refer to this as The Age of Crap, & the essence of the crap lies in that phrase, "perception is everything" - the implication being that reality is nothing - & Kant is its philosophical father; though in fairness to him, he too would probably be horrified by it. The point I'm really concerned to make at this juncture is that philosophy is important. More than important. It's fundamental.
And the good news is – in spite of all the crap, there is now out there a philosophy that, unlike the others, is meant to be practised, that deals with the real world, & is not dull or out of reach. I'll make a few remarks about it at the end of this presentation – but first, a few observations as to how I got to it.
The philosophy I refer to, you see, is, among other things, a philosophy of freedom. It's a philosophy that says there a reality, that you have a brain with which to perceive it & reason about it & form conclusions as to what you should do & how you should act - & you should be free so to act. In P. J. O'Rourke's words, "There is only one basic right, the right to do as you damn well please." The only constraint of course, is that we recognise that same right in others & refrain from interfering with it.
What I became painfully aware of, over a period of many years as a television interviewer, is that government as we know it is a monumental scam, a con job, a racket, no different from the Mafia except that it's legal. We are governed by those who steal your money in order to live off it themselves, to give it to those who vote for them, & to make laws taking away your right to do as you damn well please. The only thing that differentiates the parties is the extent to which they would steal from you, whom they would give the loot to, & in what precise ways they would order you about.
Now, of course, this is hardly an original discovery of mine. Voltaire tumbled to it, when he said, "In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one part of the citizens to give to the other." H. L. Mencken tumbled to it when he said, "An election is an advance auction of stolen goods." Ronald Reagan identified it when he said, "Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it." Pericles warned of it 400 years BC when he said, "Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you." Mark Twain recognised it when he said, "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the congress is in session." And, "There is no distinctly native American criminal class save Congress." Ronald Reagan again: "The government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other." PJ O'Rouke again: "Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys." Frederick Bastiat: "Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavours to live at the expense of everybody else." All of these wise men & countless more saw through the confidence trick that is government as we know it. I saw it through years of rubbing shoulders with politicians of all parties. Were the results not so catastrophic, one could join Will Rogers in saying, "I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts."
The facts have not been funny. A random sampling of the facts in my adult lifetime:
A tax department so vicious in its legalised theft it has driven victims to suicide.
A Resource Management Act under which a farmer was fined $25,000 for converting an unsightly bog into a duck pond on his own property; under which thousands of property owners have effectively had their property confiscated by the state in its local body guise.
The same Resource Management Act under which taxpayer money is used to placate witch-doctors who proclaim the presence of Taniwha & other ghosts; to fund the air-travel of witch-doctors sent to bless some frogs or remove ghosts from embassies. (There's your "perception is everything" writ large.)
Thousands of people fined or jailed for ingesting a substance – cannabis - of which the government disapproves.
The forbidding of office sweepstakes where the prize is more than $50.
A ban on the magazine Cigar Aficionado. Notwithstanding that our Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of publication, the government of Jenny Shipley upheld the banning of any magazine that promotes tobacco -–a legal product.
A Prime Ministerial push to pass legislation that would jail journalists for getting their facts wrong.
An increase in the rate of extortion from those who have the temerity to make a success of their lives for the sake of those who sole purpose in life is to breed at the expense of others. These bludgers will vote for whichever party promises them more of other people's money. As George Bernard Shaw said, "A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul." At the current rate of bludging & breeding, this guarantees us now a Labour Government in perpetuity.
The criminal prosecution of people who use a firearm in protection of their own lives & property; &, until recently, a lenient approach to the trespassers. This is to be expected, since government as we know it is based on theft.
The ongoing use of Other People's Money to fund an education system where kids are taught, not how to think but what to think – the Politically Correct government line on questions of race, gender, the Treaty of Waitangi, etc.; an education system from which kids emerge, according to some potential employers' accounts, unable even to read bus timetables; an education system in which kids learn to be embarrassed to excel because it's "uncool."
The ongoing use of Other People's Money, in this Age of Crap, to fund so-called "art" of which government flunkeys approve, such as the $200,000 Te Papa paid for a plank of wood & a couple of apples.
And so on. I could go on for some time. The point is, it's all a big scam. They screw you & insist that you pay them to do it. They make you pay them to boss you about & build monuments to themselves. They – usually unable to run their own lives – claim the right to run yours: at your expense. In my time, governments have come & governments have gone, but the scam has never altered. How do they get away with it? Well, that's the niftiest part of the scam – a clever little semantic obfuscation of the difference between freedom & democracy. Freedom – your right to do as you damn well please – is the same as democracy – majority rule, according to this obfuscation. The hell it is. In our time, democracy is the means by which freedom is being taken away. People are conditioned to think anything is permissible – if it's been voted for.
Now a moment's reflection will tell you how moronic & dangerous this notion is. You would regard it as outrageous if I suggested that we take a vote on whether one person here tonight be eaten by the rest of us & that, if we voted yes, we then vote on who that person should be. You know, in your heart of hearts, that someone's right to life is beyond the vote & the whim of majorities. Equally, if I suggested we vote on this proposition – that a portion of the money of the wallets in some of the people here be removed & placed in the wallets of the rest of us – that we then vote on who should surrender their money & who should receive it – you would, I trust, be outraged, especially if I suggested that a substantial slice of the stolen money be creamed off by me as the person running the process. You would, I trust, scream your heads off that this was wrong, no matter how many people voted for it.
Yet this is exactly what we do at election time. Who's going to steal your money, live off some of it & give the rest to bludgers who voted for them? Labour, ACT, National, New Zealand First ... at the end of the day, what difference does it make? Variations on a theme. As James Bovard, chronicler of the erosion of liberty in the United States, has observed, "Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner."
This is the scam I woke up to after years of rubbing shoulders with politicians.
What, then, is the answer?
Well, this is where "philosophy" comes into it. To be sure of your ground - & to get off the ground – you need to be able to demonstrate why freedom is preferable to tyranny. You need to draw on the ample experience of history & refine that experience into a coherent argument as to why freedom, not dictatorship – whether it be the dictatorship of one man or a majority of men - is man's proper estate. When you've mastered the arguments, go forth & do battle – to the extent that you enjoy it & won't be martyred by it. Protest when you encounter bureaucratic bossyboots & busybodies; write letters to the editor, join the one party that stands to smash the racket, Libertarianz. Conduct as much of your life as you can "under the table," proud in the knowledge that human transactions should be between consenting adults in private, free of the coercive interference of Nanny State. Remember at all times that your life is your own, & no one has the right to dictate to you how you shall live it. Enjoy your life, knowing that that's the biggest sin in Nanny State's book. Find out what makes you happy &, as long as it doesn't harm anyone else, go for it. In this respect, I stress, find out what makes you happy, not what others say makes them happy. If you're like me it may not take much – you may not need a lot of money, flash cars, mansions & yachts, though all these are admirable achievements on the part of those who create & earn them. Use your crowning glory, your sovereign, rational mind, to find out what makes you happy, &, so long as it's not bad for your life & doesn't violate the rights of others, go after it, greedily.
If you want spiritual fuel to help you in your journey, I would recommend my magazine, The Free Radical, the works of Ayn Rand & her philosophy of Objectivism, my organisation SOLO – Sense of Life Objectivists - & to remember at all times the words of Shakespeare: " This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."
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