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Lindsay PERIGO

Vol. 10, No. 1 (September 1997)


The following excerpts are from Karen Reedstrom's interview with Lindsay Perigo, published in the September 1997 issue of Full Context. 

Links to New Zealand WWW resources mentioned

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Q: Where did you grow up, and what was your family life like as a youngster? 

Perigo: Feilding, a small town in the lower North Island of New Zealand. My family life was congenial and harmonious—fortunately my parents, once they realised I was an eccentric, left me alone to pursue my oddball interests. 

Q: Oddball interests? 

Perigo: Such as classical music and political philosophy. At a time when the Beatles were all the rage, I was obsessed with operatic tenors. When my peers were watching Maxwell Smart, I was reading Marx and Engels. 

Q: Where did you go to college, and what did you study? 

Perigo: I briefly attended Victoria University in Wellington, intent on a musical career as a conductor or singer. I had had some schoolboy success as both, but in truth, I lacked the voice for the latter and the theoretical grounding for the former. I also lacked any temperamental or philosophical empathy for listening to recordings of chainsaws, which we were expected to regard as music. I dropped out.  

Q: Who were some of the writers and intellectuals that appealed to you in your early years? 

Perigo: I was born into a Marxist family—my grandfather had been General Secretary of the New Zealand Communist Party in the thirties—so I had ready access to the writings of Marx himself and all his prominent disciples. I was devouring these at 9 or 10 years of age. I balked at reading Das Kapital from cover to cover, but did master the theory of surplus value, dialectical materialism, Marx’ theory of history, etc. I also loved the writings of Robert Green Ingersoll, a nineteenth-century American freethinker and iconoclast. 

Q: How did you discover the writings of Ayn Rand? 

Perigo: Through the brother of a broadcasting colleague, Jessica Weddell. Brother Bill was a hard-core, hellfire and brimstone Objectivist curmudgeon. Like me, he had once been a Marxist, so we could talk on the same wave-length. 

Q: How old were you when you first read her? 

Perigo: Quite ancient by the usual standards. I think I was 28 when I read The Fountainhead

Q: Was there a key insight that was a turning point for you—away from socialism and toward capitalism? 

Perigo: There was no "defining moment," just a process of attrition—an inability to win my arguments with Bill, the evidence of reality itself, the horrible, supercilious demeanour of the new generation of socialists I encountered, the reading of Rand—whereby by the age of 30 I had done a 180 degree turn. 

Q: What drew you to a career in broadcasting? 

Perigo: The fact that it had become apparent to me that I wasn’t going to have a career in music! 

Q: I mean, why broadcasting instead of writing novels or repairing automobiles? 

Perigo: Well, it was third best, after being a singer or conductor. Another of my childhood fantasies had been to be a radio announcer. In those days, that term covered far more than simply being a disc jockey. It incorporated, among other things, interviewing, including political interviewing, which tied in nicely with my other interests. When I dropped out of university, I did an announcer’s audition for what was then the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, state-run and controlling all radio and television in the country. The audition was successful in spite of my being under-age—I was 18, and they generally didn’t accept anyone under 20. 

Q: There was some furore in the wake of your recent departure from television brought about by pronouncements you made about the state of the New Zealand news media. What did you say, and what happened? 

Perigo: At that point, I had been the country’s leading television current affairs interviewer for the past six or so years. During that time our (TVNZ’s) selection of material and manner of coverage had been significantly dumbed down. When I left I declared it to be "braindead." This set off a storm that raged for months. TVNZ’s only competitor produced T-shirts sporting a brain with the caption, "Alive and Kicking!" 

Q: Dumbed down? For what end? 

Perigo: To cater more successfully to the dumbed-down entities who were emerging from the school system. Cats stuck in drainpipes superseded politics. "Current affairs" came to mean which Hollywood celebrity was currently having an affair with which other Hollywood celebrity, etc. 

Q: You are the editor of New Zealand’s only Objectivist-oriented magazine, The Free Radical, which you founded. What was the motivation behind starting it? 

Perigo: As I explained in my first editorial, to fight against the lack of a belief in freedom. The lack of awareness as to what freedom actually is—the inability to see through its many false guises. The almost complete ignorance of its necessary philosophical underpinnings. To promote politics, economics and life as if freedom—and by implication, reason—mattered. 

Q: What kinds of pieces are published in it? 

Perigo: Excellent ones, of course! Over the three years since its inception, I’ve run articles on anything from Nietzsche to speed cameras. One of its American fans says it’s "the best libertarian publication in the world." I try to have a good mixture of the abstract and the concrete, the serious and the humorous, the long and the short. And it takes no prisoners. Larry Sechrest recently described it to me as "daring, witty and ruthless," which absolutely thrilled me. 

Q: How long is it and how often does it come out? 

Perigo: I started at a mere 16 pages, and it’s now 40. It’s a bi-monthly. 

Q: What is the circulation of TFR

Perigo: About 1500 in a country of 3.6 million people. I’m told that, pitiful though that may seem, on a pro rata basis that compares more than favourably with Reason and Liberty

Q: In the last dozen years, New Zealand has risen into the top three countries in the world in terms of economic freedom, according to the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World report, and this after 25 years of "Kiwi Socialism." What brought on the crisis of 1984, and what was the nature of the liberalization program that finance minister Roger Douglas and the Labour government brought in? 

Perigo: In 1984, the country was effectively bankrupt. Borrowing was no longer an option, tax was at crippling levels, and the country had wearied of the authoritarian ways of Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon. He was thrown out in the election of that year—but not before there was a huge run on the currency. Roger Douglas’ first step was a devaluation, followed by floating the currency and a number of other deregulatory measures. Unfortunately, these did not include the labour market. Indeed, quite the reverse: the new Government actually reintroduced compulsory unionism—which meant that when Douglas lifted the controls on wages and prices, the unions went berserk, making demands which were utterly unrelated to productivity improvements. The result was terrible inflation, which the Reserve Bank tamed by means of a high interest rate regime which stymied economic recovery for some years. 

Q: In his article in a recent issue of Reason, W. D. Eggers claims that Prime Minister Lange was able to diffuse the altruists’ moral opposition to "Rogernomics." How was he able to do this? 

Perigo: By banning US warships from NZ ports! 

Q: Is that it? Surely just a single gesture pandering to leftist pacifism would not have been sufficient! Foreign affairs is one thing, domestic economic policy is another. 

Perigo: Oh, you wouldn’t believe how the Left jerked off over this. It was thumbing the nose at World Enemy #1, the vile headquarters of capitalism itself. This cretinous nonsense indeed kept them docile while the Douglas juggernaut careened on! 

Q: "The Douglas juggernaut"—do I detect a hit of approval there? 

Perigo: Hell, more than a hint. It was a great time to be around. Apart from the fact that much of what he did was right, it was wonderful watching him in action, ploughing ahead at break–neck speed, giving his opponents, as he put it, so many moving targets they didn’t know which one to shoot at. The tragedy now is that Roger thinks he can pull that kind of stunt again. 

Q: In just the last couple of years or so, the reform movement seems to have run out of steam. Is the reason for that essentially the move to the new system of parliamentary representation, which makes single–party majorities almost impossible, or have the leaders of the two major parties lost their sense of vision? 

Perigo: The reforms never had a decent philosophic base, and are not about to be given one—that is the problem. The new voting system merely compounds it. The current Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, leader of the National Party, is an admirer of George "the vision thing" Bush. I once suggested to him that his party’s policies all ought to be drawn up in accordance with certain core principles. His response was: "Bullshit." The other politicians here are pretty much on par—the most consistently principled ones, unfortunately, are to be found on the Left. 

Q: Is that because the Right is so unprincipled, the Left is less so by default, or is it because the Right is corrupted in entanglements with business interests? 

Perigo: The Right is beholden to the ethic of altruism, and so defends the reforms on the basis of their serving the common good more efficiently than socialism. [see "Prebble, Rand and the Common Good" at right]. I don’t have to explain to your audience that this is no way to defend capitalism. 

[...] 

Q: Has there been any backlash against the market-oriented reforms—any big demonstrations or protests? 

Perigo: Polls show continued majority opposition, not just to any further reforms, such as privatising electricity, but to the reforms that have already occurred, such as the privatisation of Telecom—seven years after the event, where the benefits are obvious even to the most moronic socialist! Public attitudes have barely moved. As I said in my seminar lecture, if there’s been a revolution, it hasn’t been inside people’s heads! 

Q: You’re referring, of course, to your "Antipodean Altruism" talk at the IOS Summer Seminar this July. By the way, what was your impression of that event, socially and intellectually? 

Perigo: I think that Donald Heath and his crew deserve a medal for their Herculean efforts in organising the thing so successfully. Socially, I enjoyed the opportunity to meet people over drinks each night. Intellectually, I think it could have been better disciplined—fewer lectures, more professional presentation, no choices, and stricter oversight by David [Kelley] of the content of some of the lectures. I don’t think that treating Objectivism as an "open" system means we should countenance the dissemination of outright nonsense. I should say that I am referring here just to the formal lecture courses, not the Participant-Sponsored sessions, where anything goes, and should—and did! 

Q: Can you recall an example of something that struck you as nonsensical? 

Perigo: Yes, but I’d prefer to bite my tongue at present. It’s no big deal, in that this was not characteristic. In a way, I believe David is now facing the problems of his own success—the thing has gotten so big! And that’s a stunning tribute to him, well-deserved. Moreover, I would rather attend a conference where a few dubious things are said than one where all free speech is shut down and even jokes are not permitted unless they are deemed to be about the "metaphysically insignificant." 

Q: Do you think that the United States, from what you’ve seen of it, is headed spiritually and economically, to greater socialism long-term, or is there hope for Americans? 

Perigo: The U.S. already seems to have as much socialism as New Zealand. There seems to be absolutely no awareness whatsoever of the founding principles of the nation. However, that "sense of life" thing of which Ayn Rand wrote in "Don’t Let It Go" still seems to be there, and if that lingers for long enough, and the work of groups like the IOS starts to bear fruit, then there is certainly hope. Also, for all my reservations about the ARI, I think it’s fantastic that Leonard Peikoff has a radio show—that’s a great way of reaching people, and Leonard does it with his characteristic brilliance. 

[...]

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Lindsay Perigo was the Ted Koppel of New Zealand television from 1986-92. Alarmed at the growing statist bias and anti-intellectualism of the medium, he turned his back on this most lucrative of careers and became a full-time proselytiser for freedom and individualism. Early in 1994, he founded The Free Radical magazine, which he describes as a libertarian journal with an Objectivist orientation. He is contemptuous of the hostility between libertarians and Objectivists in the U.S., as he is of the notion of any inherent philosophy/activism dichotomy. In 1996 he became leader of the newly formed Libertarianz political party, and has a popular and controversial weekly radio show, "The Politically Incorrect Show," on a nationwide network. His impassioned speech at the 1997 IOS Summer Seminar, "Antipodean Altruism," drew a standing ovation.

 

  

Prebble, Rand and the Common Good
(or how to contradict yourself in two simple paragraphs)
 

(From the introduction to I've Been Thinking, by Richard Prebble 

"The underlying policy of ACT is choice. The party can only advocate choice if it believes that individuals can and should take responsibility for their own lives. That's a value statement. 

It's a commentary on our present political system that advocating commonsense values is regarded as radical. ACT is advocating innovation not just because the present system is failing but because its leaders believe in achievement. But it is not an extreme right-wing individualist party. No-one in it is advocating Ayn Rand's selfishness. The policy proceeds from the view that there must be community responsibility. If we want to live in a civilised society we need a system to look after those who can't look after themselves."

 

These excerpts represent a little over 1/3 of the interview with Mr. Perigo. To read the full text, you may order a copy of the September 1997 issue of Full Context here.


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