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Thursday, January 30, 2014

ACT Party confronts leadership choices before Sunday

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In recent weeks I have been excited with the prospect that NZ's ACT Party would have a new leader. More exciting perhaps was the prospect that there was the knowledge that there was a candidate that did not come from a traditional political background; a 'careerist politician', but rather someone who'd lived in the world, knew economics, philosophy, who had a real job, and moreover, had sensible values because of it. More refreshing still was the fact that that he had written a book 'Free Thoughts', so I would have the opportunity to get inside of his mind. This was a rare opportunity. I've never known a politician to be so open at the start of their career. Most wait until the end before they'd ever allow themselves to be 'pegged'. Well, its probable that Jamie Whyte never intended to be a politician. Still, honesty is a great path, but can he stay on it.
I am speaking of ACT Party presidential candidate Dr Jamie Whyte. His book is available at the Adam Smith Institute. I have not only read the 220-odd pages of this book, but I have critiqued it. This is what philosophers should do. In doing so, I was able to arrive at some startling conclusions:
1. Jamie Whyte has a magnificent capacity to make complex issues seem simple. This is great for articulating ideas; as long as you do justice to the ideas.
2. Whyte has a great understanding of economics, and he's pretty handy at politics too. I am less comfortable with his understanding of psychology and philosophy, but then that debate will have to wait for an issue to make the point.

Now, I am a person who really gets excited when someone like Whyte comes along. Maybe my expectations were always too high; or maybe I simply did not identify what was destined to become of him. i.e. How he was destined to reconcile the views outlined in his book with this political system. On some level I was apprehensive or suspicious about his intellectual roots. He identified himself as a supporter of Frederick Hayek. In some respects, I was always going to have a problem with his views. Indeed, I expected it. I in fact told myself that Whyte was a necessary precursor to people like me. I must say that, having been confronted his views, I'm having less success reconciling and accepting them as I see the concrete implication. Not because 'I'm extreme', but I'm having trouble accepting that any good can come out of his strategy. This strategy of placating 'popular support', or conservatism, arises from the belief that 'you can't change people's minds. You need to compromise. But you might ask whose views are changed, or what values are served, when:
1. You betray your values
2. Your views are examined by journalists who have no compunction but to deride you (because they hold opposing views) because they find contradictions
Why is it that no one gets to argue that "Its not my fault; its the systems?"
"The system made me betray my values".
Its an understandable argument that never gets made. I wonder if Jamie Whyte will get the chance to make this argument, and whether anyone will listen or care. I guess its ultimately the journalists who will decide if anyone cares, by thinking him important enough to write an article about him.

Based on this interview in the NZ Herald, my initial critical view was that 'this is not good', that this is a sell-out, or a betrayal of party principles. Well, its hard to argue that because this party has long been a 'sell-out' defined by 'conservative interests'. This is the price it seems that ACT pays for its coalition with the National Party, or is the problem simply that the ACT Party executive and board want to be 'more relevant', and to them that simply means being 'popular', by appealing to the self-evident values of people. The problem I have with this argument is that parties therein become 'creatures of populism' rather than ever acquainting themselves or their constituents with any values. Show me a party that discusses values. They don't. They extort or command influence, or demand it. They appeal to the 'common good' as if they knew what it meant, or they spoke for it. I know they don't, because I know that there is no such thing as a 'common good'. There is only the presumption of some person's good to be won at the expense of anothers. That is what extortion does. It does not win the argument; it circumvents the need to even discuss ideas by threatening people with adverse consequences if they don't agree, or it can simply presume to represent the interests of anyone who subscribes to some aspect of their policy position. This 'rough & ready' perspective of "representation" is a failure when any system of representation. It is ultimately an argument for voluntarism. Jamie Whyte says in this article:
“He does not want to impose his own views about drug liberalisation on to the Act Party".
The implication is that this is not a party for debating ideas; that this is a party where some people's ideas take precedence over others, even someone seeking to be leader. The acknowledgement by him is that you have to sell your soul to be leader, or that practicality (in terms of populism) in this party trumps facts, evidence and argument. Unless a philosopher, Jamie Whyte, is concluding that he doesn't have one. Is he arguing that he supports drug decriminalisation because he 'feels its a good idea'. The implication is that this party demands that he acquiesce. The question is to whom, or to what moral imperative. This sounds like a betrayal. Is that the best we can do? Apparently so. It appears that people are apprehensive about what an intellectual debate actually looks like.
On Sunday, the ACT Party will decide its new leader. It sounds like the deciding vote has already been lost. It was an epistemological 'cliff-hanger'; the political decision is now perhaps a foregone conclusion. Man overboard.

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'Buying NZ Property – Download the free sample readings!

NZ presents some of the most alluring property in the Western World; particularly given the greater easy of residency, the low cost of property, and the liveability of the country. In addition, there is no capital gains tax, transfer taxes, VAT/GST or wealth taxes in NZ, so rest assured that NZ property is tax-effective! Learn more now!

New Zealand Property Report 2010 - Download the table of contents or buy this 180-page report at our online store for just $US19.95.


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