Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Problem with ACT

An Actually Quick Quick Take
We are a nation of immigrants and openness to newcomers is part of our national DNA.
~ The ACT Party on immigration
I have a lot of respect for David Seymour. He stands up for people and isn't afraid of biting the hand that feeds (i.e. National) when it does bad things. He's also well spoken and acquitted himself nobly in the Debating Society's Politician's Debate (I have not seen the Management Consulting Club's debate). He is also, at the moment, ACT. And ACT is right on the money when it looks at National's recent pronouncements about immigration and describes it as starting a "populist bidding war." I mean, just look at how Little immediately had to go BIGGER... as if more of a bad idea makes it better.

The thing with ACT is that no matter how much it says the right things about some stuff, it says terrible things about other stuff. (Voting for ACT is also a tacit endorsement of the Rotten Borough system created by the Coat-tail's provision but we'll ignore that today.) One only has to think of what Seymour's said about the Grammar Zone, Charter Schools (although, of course, we all know that was really just a National policy we were told was an ACT one) or introducing interest to the student loan system. For every socially responsible thing Seymour-ACT comes out with, there's surely another daft or even harmful idea just waiting in the wings.
A nation that values personal responsibility, tolerance, civility and compassion
~ ACT, on its vision 
Look, I'm not saying that "personal responsibility" (which we might understand as the overarching concern of ACT's combination of social progressivism and economic conservatism) is a bad idea. I am saying that it is a bounded concept. It is true that one needs to take personal responsibility for, as an example, writing boring blog-posts or being addicted to smoking. It is also true that one of the reasons why I might think my blog post is boring is that university's restricted word counts make me look for the freedom to be verbose and at school (where habits are formed) I was quite literally told that flair can't be taught. That might well be true, but style definitely can be (and traditionally was one part of one of the foundations of education in the "Western" tradition). Similarly, cigarette addiction is a reflection of a societal concerns around smoking, of the peer environment (smokers have friends who smoke) and of the nature of addiction (over-rides personal will). We are all not entirely our own. It follows that policies derived from a view that we are personally responsible will probably just as often be bad as they are good.
If anyone, no matter who, were given the opportunity of choosing from amongst all the nations in the world the set of beliefs which he thought best, he would inevitably—after careful considerations of their relative merits—choose that of his own country. Everyone without exception believes his own native customs, and the religion he was brought up in, to be the best.
~ Herodotus, The Histories
David Seymour has a task on his hands to build up ACT and while ACT's dubious ideological grounding is one of its problems, insofar as it means Seymour will continue to stand against the xenophobia, racism and scaremongering put about by Little, Peters and whoever else, it just may attract people attuned to "New Zealand's Values." And if that did happen and if ACT realised their mandate was thus derived? Well, that just seems like a very good thing indeed. But it's an if. Probably a very big If.

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