What is happening to humanity? This is a question increasingly being discussed by older members of society. Are we simply echoing what older generations have always said, ‘Things were better in the old days?’
The recent election of far-right senators in Australia, mirroring the Tea Party in the USA, and the nastiness of the current US presidential election are sobering. Yet to balance these events we have seen Germany and other European countries open their borders to countless refugees. We have yet to see how these governments can manage the financial costs of integrating the refugees into their communities and at the same time managing the vocal anti-migration groups.
It can be argued that we live in a world where material self-interest has become paramount, resulting in the breakdown of humanism. We are like Oscar Wilde’s cynic of 1892, ‘who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. The deregulation of capitalism has resulted in the diminution of cultural values, ethics and morals, the rich grow richer and greedier as they wreck society in their ever increasing demand to make money. How can a $12 million salary be justified for the head of a public company when the basic wage is set at $17 a week and many exploited workers earn much less?
This greed mentality is resulting in the contraction of the middle class as increasing numbers of workers are on short-term contracts, jobs become part-time and increasingly companies move their businesses overseas, where they can pay lower wages and maximise their profits.
The loss of manufacturing industries has rendered hundreds of thousands of workers without secure employment, many being two or three weeks from reneging on their mortgages. Owning one’s home is often the difference between freedom and despair, or health and sickness.
It is understandable why right-wing politicians gain momentum: an unknown future for your family is a frightening prospect, and it is hard to consider the needs of others when you are afraid. Afraid of financial ruin; afraid of different cultures and religions; afraid of the threat of terrorism. These fears, real or imagined, lead to a loss of trust on which a civil society is based. These fears are played on by sensational reporting on TV, and in the social media and newspapers.
The Australian Constitution hints that Australia is a secular state. It ought to guarantee that we have a political system in which religion does not dictate to, nor interfere with, matters of state; where religion and politics are formally separated, yet religious freedom is guaranteed and protected.
The truth must be faced. During the last thirty years, the Parliament of Australia has been increasingly dominated by committed Christians, who have no scruples about peddling their so called ‘Christian values’, regardless of the values of those they have been elected to represent. This has been achieved by churches encouraging their members to join political parties and stacking the selection process.
As a result, Australia is now governed mainly by white males, who have been educated at Christian private schools, attended university, worked usually for a few years in the electorate office of a parliamentarian, a lobby group, a research group or, on the other side of politics, a trade union office. They have no idea of the lives of the vast percentage of the population, the struggles faced to bring up their families and feed and educate them. The only physical work or exercise they have done would be at the gym or on the playing field.
Some parliamentarians still believe that a woman’s role is to be a support to her working husband. They call that ‘traditional values’. The world has moved forward but these conservative males who govern us are still grounded in the 1960s. Look at their reaction to the Safe Schools initiative and the question of same-sex marriage, and their lack of humanism with regard to the refugees.
Yet there is hope. Many people are now deciding that they will no longer tolerate the rise of intolerance and nastiness as experienced in the United States, the Philippines, Britain and others. There is a growing movement amongst the young for a return to a fairer society and a more equal distribution of services and assets. Look at the support given to Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, and the fact that the Polish Government was forced, by people power, not to ban abortion.
People are inherently good; they care about and value others. We all need to speak up for humanist values whenever the opportunity arises. And change the world.
[HSV member and prolific letter-writer to newspapers. Years ago she helped found ‘Aunty’s Nieces and Nephews’, which later became ABC Friends.]