In the Revolution's Twilight

The Foundations of a Revolution

Advocating an Ethical Revolution

Is anyone advocating "Ayn Rand's selfishness" — a man's right to live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself for others nor others to himself? Yes, I & my colleagues are — if I may be personal for a moment. In my magazine, The Free Radical, on my radio programme, and through my political party, The Libertarianz. But progress is infinitesimal, & the price one pays in so small & small-minded a country is enormous. In the time we have been out of the ideological closet, my close comrade-in-arms Deborah Coddington & myself have gone from being foremost in our respective fields — print & television journalism — feted & respected & highly paid, to being social outcasts. Destitute social outcasts! When I launched The Free Radical in 1994, one letter-writer in a weekly left-liberal publication eloquently denounced me for my "consummate unsaintliness," and another urged that I be locked up & the key thrown away. But that was better than the total ostracism that followed. When I became leader of The Libertarianz, even the press began to notice its own boycott of me. I was invited to speak to the National Press Club on "What it's like to be the victim of a media boycott." The theme was resonantly underscored by the fact that no one from the media turned up. And they had organised the event! Someone, who I assure you was & is unknown to me, then wrote a letter to the National Press Club's newsletter, saying:

"The pathetic attendance at Lindsay Perigo's Libertarianz address draws attention to one of the darkest & most unsettling aspects of the press here. I have no doubt that they were riven with jealousy by Mr Perigo's status as by far the best broadcast interviewer this country has ever seen. In New Zealand, for reasons centred on the tall poppy syndrome, or proximity jealousy, the media do not report the media. In the United States, by contrast, any candidate in the household name bracket of Mr Perigo would have been accorded full & unreserved coverage."

I tell you this, not out of self-pity or conceit, but rather by way of drawing your attention to a pervasive leitmotif in New Zealand's public life, very pertinent to our discussion this morning — envy. Ayn Rand's famous essay on the subject could have been written with New Zealand in mind. Decades of egalitarianism have produced a culture of militant mediocrity, where people are pulled down not for their shortcomings but for their achievements — and for their temerity in achieving anything to begin with. A "who does he think he is?!" sort of attitude. This is particularly pronounced, of course, in respect of a person's wealth. Former Prime Minister David Lange, who, ironically ended up leading the reformist Labour Government from 1984-89, promised before the election which brought him to power that people would be prohibited from "flaunting their excess wealth" if he won it. Fortunately he didn't try to make good on that promise, but his hatred for the wealthy was real enough. He used to travel around affluent suburbs just for the satisfaction of flicking cigarette ash on the streets, in a gesture of contempt for the inhabitants. We have a long-running real-life soap opera going on called the Winebox Inquiry, in which a group of ultra-wealthy businessmen who operated a tax avoidance scheme back in the 80s are being investigated for fraud. The alleged fraud is not the deception of any private individuals or parties to the scheme, but the withholding of money from Inland Revenue. (As if one can defraud thieves of one's own money!) Most of the general public are not concerned with such philosophical niceties as the definition of fraud or even the technical difference in law between avoidance & evasion — they simply want to see these particular businessmen sent to jail, because they are rich & because they avoided paying tax.

The Reign of Altruism

The most hated group in New Zealand's public life is the New Zealand Business Roundtable, a lobby group/Think Tank consisting of large businesses, which has had a significant input into the reform process. It is hated for that — and for the sheer fact that its membership is Big Business. Here is a letter to the editor of the country's leading daily newspaper which eloquently expresses this widespread, envy-driven hatred: a reply to a market liberal columnist named Gareth Morgan, who had written about the absence of taxpayer-funded pensions in South Korea:

"I read Gareth Morgan's column only when I think I need reminding about just what has now gone wrong in this country. He usually imparts messages to people like me, who don't drive a BMW, don't have shares in Fletcher Challenge and can't give an address in one of Auckland's 'golden suburbs' that somehow we are a hindrance to progress. With me he fails, however. The fat cats rode easily to where they are today on the backs of people like me, and I don't ever let them forget it. A recent trip to South Korea has Dr Morgan enthusing, among other things, about that county's 'work till you die' philosophy. I am sure that he believes a similar attitude is what we need here. Mind you, I would be prepared to believe that Dr Morgan, champion of the Far Right and knight of the free market debacle system, would probably have found something positive in Hitler's holiday camps had he been around to see them. After all, these establishments dealt with cold efficiency with the immediate needs of the old & the sick, as well as the racially impure. The heartening thing is that if government attitudes in this country keep heading down their present track, we may have similar solutions ready just about when Dr Morgan will need them."

I selected this letter among hundreds I could have quoted because it encapsulates just about every bromide scattered throughout the others: the hatred of achievement; the hatred of such symbols of achievement as the share market & BMWs; the depiction of achievers as fat cats who ride on the backs of the downtrodden; the positing of taxpayer-funded pensions or "work-till-you-die" as the only two possibilities for old age, as if there were no such thing as private provision; the equating of the free market with Hitler — Hitler, the National Socialist!; & the hope that advocates of the free market will meet a fate similar to that of Hitler's victims.

Such attitudes, I assure you, are commonplace, rampant throughout letters to the editor columns & on radio talkback. They are reflected in the policies of political parties which together muster a commanding majority of votes cast in our general elections.

This being so, you might ask, how did this much-vaunted "revolution" you hear so much about ever get off the ground?

The answer is — it happened by stealth. And nothing like it will ever happen that way again.


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