Caution is key


Its no surprise that the IMP alliance and the undying support for Kim Dotcom has perplexed me. I have stated this on numerous occasions. The above Chomsky quote is from Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? and I borrow it for this post because I think it is relevant for those who  like me, cannot quite get their heads around the predicament of the IMP alliance, but more particularly, the Dotcom fetish.

Mike Treen has written what appears to amount to a defence of Kim Dotcom (see: Why the Mana Internet alliance is a potential game breaker). In it, Treen attempts to counter the claims levied against Dotcom in order to justify the IMP alliance to his friends on the left. However, the post reads as a clear cut case of cognitive dissonance, i.e., ‘when dissonance is present, in addition to trying to reduce it, the person will actively avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance’.

While dissonance appears to afflict many on the left, its also true that confirmation bias is rife on the right.

It’s not a simply an issue of whether or not we like Dotcom. Rather, it’s about whether or not we ought to support or even trust his reach for political power (and no I don’t here suggest that he is running as a candidate himself). I’ve written on Dotcom a few times see here and here specifically.

As noted in a previous post, some Internet Party supporters vehemently deny that Dotcom is the Internet Party, insisting he is simply its founder. I think that is a slightly disingenuous claim, given his formal constitutional title is the ‘Party Visionary’ and he is the only member the party cannot involuntarily remove [see rules 8.17 and 10.8].

My concern is that when an individual openly declares vengeance against a political party in power and then forms a political party to further that interest, we should probably approach the issue with caution. We might want to look at, the motivation behind the venture. For instance, whether there is some advantage the individual seeks that is not (or is unlikely to be) available to general members of the public, or alternatively, if the investment provides benefits to all members of the public in common. We might also want to think about how the government is (said to be) representative of the people that voted it in and in exacting revenge on a political party in power, how might this affect the proportion of the public that support that government? I do not suggest that the National Party or right wing voters shouldn’t be challenged at elections, my point is whether ‘vengeance’ on a particular party is a legitimate or morally justifiable basis for forming and running a political party. The arguments could go either way. However, unlike revolutionaries or anarchists that would prefer to bring down the institution of government, Dotcom’s motive is more narrow, in that it specifically targets the National Party.

So in approaching this from the left we need to ask: would we be happy with an individual person using their wealth in an attempt to force a change in government as an act of revenge, if the target were a left wing party that we voted in? The answer is an unequivocal no. Reverse arguing that National already do it is not a justifiable defence (nor do I think the argument would hold), and its dodging the answer to reduce one’s dissonance.

We might also want to consider whether the individual displays a propensity to invest their wealth in political matters for personal gain. For instance, there might be some weight to establish propensity in the bounty offered by Dotcom for Osama Bin Laden’s head on a plate (or information leading to his arrest) due to fear for the safety of his family in the Philippines or the John Banks mayoralty donation based on Banks’s apparent pro-internet stance. We might also consider how we can know that an individual, e.g. Dotcom, wont use this tactic to turn on the left? Clearly the John Banks’s case is an example of when things can go wrong. Sure, we can take the risk but the fallout in the long term might not justify the short-term gain and in fact, we cannot be assured of any short-term gain. So again, I think there is good reason to approach the IMP alliance with caution. Not because the candidates are cause for concern (they’re not), but because it’s unclear the extent of influence Dotcom might have over the party, the alliance and ultimately, the government.

There are two other points I want to highlight from Treen’s article, firstly, that people can and do change their political ideologies; and secondly, that people are admitted or denied entry on various criteria.

Treen suggests that there is nothing on the public record to discern Dotcom’s actual political ideology so it is wrong for people to assume that he is some kind of neoliberal right winger. However, in a later paragraph Treen claims to be able to draw inferences that Dotcom has all the hallmarks of a German Social Democrat, protecting the poor, supporting higher taxes etc.  Now, Treen might be right in his assessment and I agree that people can and do change their political leanings. But I think Treen is wrong to suggest that inferences made about Dotcom as a neoliberal capitalist are unfounded when those  making the claims engage the same inferential reasoning Treen uses to make his own claim. Any conclusions drawn will depend on what information a person is using to make the inference. Treen has limited his information to a lack of public record and recent talks given by Dotcom, and that is certainly relevant. But past and present behaviour, actions, and statements – explicit or implied are also relevant considerations, so it’s not as clear cut as Treen implies.

Treen also downplays the alleged seriousness of the Dotcom’s past convictions. He writes:

“Remember that Kim was given residence in NZ despite this past so it can’t have been considered that serious”

However, ‘character‘ is assessed against a specific criteria, in particular, ss15-16 of the Immigration Act, which excludes only if you have been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for 5 years or more or in the past 10 years you were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for 12 months or more. As Treen points out and Dotcom clarifies in the article cited in Treen’s piece, he was convicted but not sentenced to imprisonment. It doesn’t mean his white collar crime, insider trading, is not serious, it just means his conviction and suspended sentence were not exclusionary grounds under the Act that grants residence.

The gravity of Dotcom’s plight for political power is not a simple case of liking or disliking Dotcom. There are a raft of considerations in which people are justifiably weary. And while I agree with Treen and Trotter/Bradbury that there is a  bias asserted against Dotcom in right wing blogs (often viciously), the defences they offer avoid the full context, and pass off unverifiable snippets as truths to bolster their support for an unprecedented alliance in what appears to be an attempt to reduce their own dissonance.

This post isn’t intended to persuade readers to vote or not vote a particular way, nor is it intended to demonise Dotcom, it’s about recognising that there are important ethical questions and concerns that go beyond the ‘Fuck National’ narrative.

Immigration and the tendency to favour exclusion

I read an interesting tweet this morning, which stated:

“Excessive” immigration creates debt people pay for in multiple ways. Right person, right job, right place, right time?

It’s not news that immigration has become the scourge of the election year. Surprisingly, it is many (but not all) of those who subscribe to ‘inclusive’ ideologies that argue against increases in immigration or alternatively stated, to cap or reduce immigration, which is achieved through tougher exclusive measures. This exclusionary attitude appears to derive from the idea that immigrants equate to a ‘financial or economic cost’ to the resident population, which still seems entirely inconsistent with inclusiveness. Conceiving of other human beings as a ‘financial or economic costs’ is language one might expect of corporations rather than those who might otherwise consider themselves humanitarians. If we think all human beings have an equal right to be free, whether or not that freedom has some justifiable limitations, then it is difficult to justify excluding immigrants because they bear a financial or economic costs to residents. After all, immigrants become ‘financial or economic’ contributors the moment they start purchasing goods and services, paying rent or paying taxes on their income. Additionally, many of the goods and services we purchase are produced outside NZ by the foreign nationals we purportedly want to ramp up excluding.

As Aaron Schiff points out in his post About That Migration Boom:

We should celebrate because on the incoming side, skilled immigrants provide New Zealand with a significant free gift. Some other country has paid the cost of their birth, childcare, childhood medical care, education, etc. They turn up in New Zealand effectively bringing all that investment with them and this benefits the country. 

Remembering also that immigrants must meet a criteria as set out in the Immigration Act 2009 before being granted entry to NZ.  I’m unclear whether those talking about our apparent ‘immigration problem’ are including refugees, of which we have an appalling record by the way because we take in far less than we ought to due to a very restrictive criteria denying some entry because the rules are not responsive to changing global circumstances.

I guess what I am trying to say, is that rather than pursuing the populist position that  ‘immigration is a problem’, perhaps politicians, could focus on how better to collaborate with those states whose citizens are migrating to NZ, and look at removing this segregative attitude that is unbecoming of a geography largely comprised of migrants.

But say we accept the claim that there are financial burdens with ‘excessive’ immigration [whatever that means], might this not suggest that we have ineffective policy makers?

Perhaps we might reduce these ‘costs’ of infrastructure, or the ‘debts that people pay for in multiple ways’ if we were more collaborative rather than restricting ourselves to antiquated notions of exclusion. For example, we could consider creating a framework whereby states pool resources and distribute them on a proportionate basis. There are obvious practical implications and potentially ethical considerations in implementing such a framework e.g. would states start restricting who could leave their territory to reduce what they put into such a pooling of resources, or would states coerce people to migrate as part of an expansionary process? (both of these issues could be managed in a properly thought out legal instrument). But the philosophising aside,  my point is, perhaps the idea isn’t to presume we must ‘borrow’ to pay for infrastructure to accommodate those coming to NZ (noting that we benefit from these infrastructure improvements as well), but look at working with those other states so that free movement has broader benefits for all.  Because frankly, I am not comfortable with the idea that ‘human beings attract costs and should therefore be excluded from a society’.

Just a brief thought.