The UN Declaration of Human Rights was ratified in 1948. It is a measure of any government. Just how well are our people doing? It is a measure for any commercial behaviour as well. Are you a contributor to this world and its people, now and forever, or are you here to extract, abuse and take, whatever the cost? Do you govern and manage with some element of soul, some moral base to what you consider right or wrong …. or is it just expedience and the short term deal that spins your wheels?
I got politicised in the early 1990s when Ruth Richardson came along and continued (on steroids) to rip the soul out of our society – and these, our human rights – continuing the Neoliberal agenda of Treasury and Rodger Douglas since 1984. People and place were no longer at the centre of things – of economics and policy. No, the dollar was, and those who owned most of those dollars, and had the contacts, and could buy all the public assets that were gifted to them. They were those who wanted more and more for themselves, and were applauded for their greed. They were and are those with the least morality, the greatest selfish, and the most manic madness for power.
The eaters of worlds.
When would all this madness end?!?!?!
I got politicised *and* contemptuous – because of the obvious rogues that clasped their new ‘freedoms’ to exploit and make our world more nasty, brutish and short-term in outlook – and far less moral or wise. The rouges are very much alive. We heard the some ACT mouthpiece only recently suggest giving money to schools whose teachers were not unionised. They used the word ‘freedom’ of course. Their freedom, grounded on the shackles they put on others.
Freedom. There is always some loss to our culture when a word that means so much is taken and twisted by some fanatic to represent its opposite; Arbeit macht frei.
I became increasingly contemptuous also because in the 1990s I was witnessing 1984 (the book, not the year) and Brave New World in one – with some people blowing deeply dishonest Newspeak smoke in the eyes of the public while claiming
all these fatuous clichés involving ‘freedom’.
The clichés came thick and fast: “There is no alternative,” “no gain without pain,” “we all have the same opportunities and the same power exercised through the market,” “meritocracy” and “rational choice” (even the presumption that the poor ‘choose’ to be poor) – while thought and expression of any disagreement was increasingly stifled – or you were pigeonholed as extreme left if you questioned all the nonsense assumptions.
“You don’t believe in the long list of completely spurious assumptions of Neoliberalism? Well, then you must be a baby killing Stalinist obviously.”
But I don’t think there would be more than a handful in Treasury – let alone Richardson or Douglas – who had ever read either 1984 or Brave New World, and perhaps they wouldn’t have understood them even if they had (I think Brave New World won btw – their system is much less overt than the totalitarianism of 1984 – which is what we have; a form of covert thought control and consumerism and reality TV soma to keep most people in some state of acceptance). The Treasury-types certainly didn’t get any of their own ironic parallels with fundamentalist state communists and their oh-so-similar fraternal totalitarian methods of ensuring obedience, group-think and thought control.
I realised how far politics in this country had lurched to the far right, and it just kept on lurching – with all the ‘third ways’, and oh-so-deep wheeler-dealer commission salesmen like John Key calling himself “centre-right.” He probably had no idea. Our governments
since 1984 (the year, not the book – confusing coincidence that??) have leapt so far to the right that they could no longer look at this UN Declaration and presume that they were in any way directed by the people-centred moral rudder it provides.
It was as if we tore up our UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and began working on some Declaration of the Rights of the Powerful and Never mind the Rest.
Faced with the inevitable abuse and decline from such a shift in our moral compass, you have to speak. The world needs its moral compass back. It needs to think in human rights terms both for the people alive today and for those yet to be born.
That will be a particular challenge for the powerful commercial interests of the world, simply because you make more money – if that is your sorry obsession – by degrading the worth of tomorrow for the cashflow of today. And you make more money – until the pitchforks inevitably come – by using your power to suppress the rights of people and the natural systems of the planet you would prefer to be defined as measured ‘resources’, mere ‘things’; means to your singular end.
David Orr wrote that these brain stem behemoths,“… spawned gargantuan organisations with simple goals, roughly analogous to the body/brain ratio of the dinosaur … lack[ing] the ability to think much beyond business equivalents of ingestion and procreation. The monomania drove out thought of the morrow, warped lives, disfigured much of the world, and dominated the intellectual landscapes.”
Such minds should not be in any position to rule. They have no moral rudder, nor a shred of wisdom. We have put the fools on a pedestal and called them statesmen.
Chris Perley has a background in embedding himself in our landscapes and fields, in management, policy, consulting and research relating to land use, the environment, provincial economies and communities. He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.
Orr, D. 2002. The Nature of Design: Ecology, Culture and Human Intention. OUP, NY p69-70