There was a time not so long ago when I believed we were getting better, just by ourselves. People in general, that is, the human race. Inch by inch, it seemed to me, we were clawing our way out of the mire towards a kind of global civility. No mantra required. Just the application of goodwill and democratic process.
Then somewhere in the nineties along came Pauline Hanson and the reminder that it wasn’t that easy. The problem was our dark side. Racism, prejudice, self-interest hadn’t been tamed by progress after all; they just lurked beneath the surface, waiting for licence. For those of us made fortunate by good times, this was deeply dismaying.
But after a while, licence seemed to be withdrawn and we proceeded on our two-steps-forward, one-back way. Until Donald Trump.
It’s frightening enough that this man is entirely without scruple. It’s chilling that so many millions saw fit to vote for him. But what was most shocking was the way voters justified their support.
“He told those lies when he was a candidate. Once he’s president he’ll be honest!”
“That was just locker room talk. Boys will be boys. He’s just working the crowd.”
“Man, you can’t pussyfoot round if you’re going to make this country great again.”
Then there were all the bogus news stories circulated via social media which amassed millions of likes before they could be fact checked. Did you know that Donald Trump has an IQ of 145 and Barak Obama’s is 105? It’s true.
We know that we’re most likely to hear those views which align most closely with our own. We know we excuse the faults of those on our side more easily than we do the opposition’s. But what we saw in the US election was a wholesale abandonment of moral principles as the framework on which we build a civil society.
The US election tells us: Given enough anxiety, enough disappointment, we become the plaything of anyone who will promise relief. Given enough loss and resentment, we are anyone’s.
It’s a cynicism we see more and more here in Australia and it undermines every attempt to make our society fair and ethical. It leads us to wonder what the point of a liberal education is when the values of trust and integrity can so easily be subverted?
And there’s another question for those of us who don’t like feeling helpless. What more can be done here in Bass Coast to strengthen the case for respectful dialogue and responsible information sharing so that we make a stand and buck the trend?
I put these questions to three Bass Coast Post readers. Here are their responses:
It's easy to slide into a pessimistic outlook, as we hear about the goings-on in the US AND in Australia, we read or hear about comments – on immigration, religion, climate, economics – which display, at best a limited world view; at worst ignorance and bigotry.
Everywhere, in the 21st century, we are living the ancient curse: "May you live in interesting times ..." We are confronted with many “wicked”' problems, political, geographic, economic and social, for which there are no simple solutions.
In Bass Coast, opportunities for the woman/man-in-the-street to gain an understanding of the complexities of particular issues and the diverse perspectives of those affected would be a good starting point.
Let's have some respectful conversations and grapple with these challenges together. We have a wonderful range of talent and experience in the shire. We might possibly achieve some local solutions.
“What’s the point of a liberal education ...?” I disagree with what you seem to imply here. It seems to me that a liberal education is the exact thing we do need. Surely people who are educated and encouraged to question are less likely to just soak up the lies and nonsense expounded on the social media. Australian kids are encouraged to ask critical questions, much more than in many Asian countries, for instance, where leaders can traditionally get away with outrageous things. (Sadly it seems that self-interest and fear can prevail over a questioning mind.)
It seems to me education is even more important than it’s ever been, and not just education to get a job but education to help people think and discern for themselves.
Number 1: If we are looking to change things around, we can refer to change theory to assist us. What we can do is to make sure we model the behaviour we are promoting; don't get sucked into behaving like those we are opposing.
Number 2: As we seem to be being dragged into a form of the Dark Ages, let's be guided by history and repeat the next stage as well: the Age of Enlightenment, based on reason and cultured discussion (maybe we could forego the wigs and snuff!)
In fact, “Bass Coast Shire: the New Centre of Enlightenment”' has a certain ring to it, don't you think?
December 21, 2016
This is a tricky one Gill, but here are my ideas. People coming from outside Bass Coast often speak of how friendly the local people are. Let's keep being nice and smile at all comers. Let us also assist in the education process, adding new information where we can. For example, when we hear of 'Asian countries where leaders traditionally get away with outrageous things,' let us enlighten further by pointing out the fact that non-Asian countries such as Italy, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, England, Spain, Portugal and the U.S.A. have a history of producing leaders that get away with outrageous things- Italy was the first country to air bomb a civilian population.
An Age of Enlightenment based on reason and cultured discussion seems a remote possibility given that what is currently being passed off as discussion or debate is mainly opinion fuelled by fear. Geoff Ellis is on the money with his thoughts. We may have to descend to a very dark place indeed before reason can be permitted take its rightful place. We need to become innovative in how we present our case, given the ineffectiveness of conventional logic as a tool of persuasion. We also need to be prepared for some nasty, sometimes vicious backlash when we speak out. Look at what the last round of Bass Coast councillors were subjected to whilst attempting to serve our community.
Let's keep brainstorming this one. We may surprise ourselves, or we may feel a little less isolated or alone in our concerns. Thanks for raising the subject, Gill. Long live the 'fair go'.
John Coldebella, Wonthaggi
December 19, 2016
I must commend and complement Gill Heal - her deftly worded discussion exemplifies the raison d'être for the Bass Coast Post. My personal thought on Trump-ism is that technological progress is remorselessly linear while social progress is more a pendulum that counter swings creating the 'two steps forward, one step back.'
Achieving liberté, égalité, fraternit is always easier during times of abundance. When times are tough Darwinian instincts come to the fore and the angry, disgruntled mob is the easiest beast for a leader to loosely harness. Clan against clan or nation against nation? It's just a matter of scale; it's always the other that we fear.
So, as the world races into Ad-Hocracy how can we dampen the swing? France tried and they extruded Napoleon. I agree that the hardest way forward is the most productive: To be honest and true to our values while actually listening to each other. And keep at it.
Geoff Ellis, Krowera