When greed pulls the strings, humanity doesn’t count

This post was prompted by Deb Hunt’s post Bad Smell. You’ll find it here.

Most people just want to live their lives, I think. Nothing complicated: family, friends, a roof over their heads, enough money to pay the bills. They want to have lives as well as jobs – to watch the sunset, see the seasons turn, play with their children, laugh, smell a rose or two from time to time…

But it seems now that that isn’t allowed to be enough. We have been pushed into ‘wanting’, or even ‘needing’, in order to satisfy someone else’s greed. We must all become pawns in the game of consumerism pushing us to exploit every last drop of the world’s finite resources, lest those at the top of the commercial pyramid fail to turn the most dollars possible in the fastest possible time. Greed has consumed basic human intelligence and commonsense. Marketing has stepped in to fill the void and convince us that happiness depends on products.

It’s all so stupid it makes me want to weep. We are destroying the earth under our feet, the air we breathe and the water essential to our survival, to meet ‘needs’ that in many cases aren’t needs at all, but ‘wants’ artificially created for corporate financial benefit. Less destructive methods of meeting genuine needs – such as energy, for example – are rejected as being too costly. For whom? For this generation’s corporations, for whom maximum profit is the pinnacle of human endeavour.

But the ultimate stupidity is that the inmates have now taken over the asylum, certainly in Australia, and apparently in the US, the UK and Canada as well. In these countries as least, money has bought power, and the unholy alliance is setting out to make its monopoly unbreakable. Any government that withdraws or withholds funding from public education is making its ideology and its intention crystal clear: the masses must be kept in their place; only the privileged should be encouraged to lead; taking is more satisfying than giving.

But every fibre of my being rebels against that, and here’s why.

My father was the son of an out-of-work tram driver. (He was knocked down by a tram and lost his job before workers’ compensation existed.) My father intended to leave school as soon as possible and work to support the family, but his mother insisted he stay. He finished his schooling with the help of a State Bursary, obtained a first class degree at Sydney University thanks to a Teachers College Scholarship, and a doctorate at Oxford thanks to a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship. He went on to become a highly respected educationist, was the architect and pioneer of distance and adult education in Australia, and was ultimately honoured for his contribution to Australian education. In the current political climate, he would have left school at 16.

At no time in his life was he ever in danger of losing sight of the values he considered important. He would have been appalled at the suggestion that success made him worthier than anyone else doing their best in whatever capacity. The standards he taught us are at total variance to the behaviour of current leaders: never tell a lie; never break a promise; that human worth has nothing to do with status; that power must always be balanced by humility and a willingness to listen and learn; that arrogance is never justifiable; that privilege always entails responsibility.

Perhaps he was old-fashioned. Perhaps I am. But if so, I don’t apologise. It’s taken me almost three months to realise that my current depression owes as much to our recent blatantly elitist budget as it does to my regular horror of winter. Usually I can shrug these things off. It’s the nature of budgets that someone will always feel wronged. But this is different. It sets out systematically to undermine Australian egalitarianism, and any pretence of ‘a fair go’. It thumbs its nose with cavalier arrogance at two basic rights essential for equal opportunity – free healthcare and free education – and at the same time, effectively muzzles the one media body pledged to give a balanced view of news and current affairs. It sets up a power/money stranglehold that will be almost impossible to break, given that those wishing to break it will have minimal access to funds, and no funds at all to repair the damage. It promises an Australia I will no longer recognise, or be proud to call home.

For me personally (before you ask) – it won’t affect me much, at least financially. But it brings me face to face with the fact that human values and ethical standards no longer seem to matter. That perhaps intelligence no longer matters when greed rules the world, obdurately blind to its own stupidity. That those of us who’ve worked hard to live honest and honourable lives have become fools.

But then again, look at it this way: most people just want to live their lives. Nothing complicated.
When gangland killer Carl Williams died, his family imported a gold-plated coffin for him. It didn’t make him any less dead. He’d spent his life ruthlessly amassing money, but that didn’t make him any less dead either, and even he couldn’t take it with him. So what was it all for?

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23 Responses to When greed pulls the strings, humanity doesn’t count

  1. ashokbhatia says:

    You have beautifully articulated one of the most serious dilemmas we face today. Those of us who have worked hard to live honest and honourable lives might look like losers in the short run. In the long run, the values we pass on to the coming generations and the inner glow of satisfaction we experience on living a truthful and honest life are the rewards we earn.

  2. Helen I have the greatest respect for your ability to articulate what I can barely find the words to express, I’m so glad I’m following your blog and reading such powerful prose. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  3. “‘wants’ artificially created for corporate financial benefit.”

    Yes.

    Here in Canada, and I assume elsewhere in the Western world, every town has a “dollar” store. These stores are filled to the ceilings with bits and pieces of off-gassing stuff. Most, if not all, made in China.

    I would like to see a campaign where for one week no one shopped at a dollar store. Do without the crap and the baubles and knick-knacks. If you truly need something that is on those shelves, find an alternate local source. Pay a bit or a even a lot more so that the local artisan benefits.

    • Maybe it isn’t until you get older that you realise how meaningless ‘stuff’ is. And ‘image’. Even if I had it, I can’t imagine paying hundreds of thousands for a car (imagine the first time you scraped a fence post!). I suppose it’s sad that people feel they need these things to feel worthwhile, but I can’t muster up sympathy when their ruthless pursuit of them affects the rest of us and throws social conscience out the window.

  4. bkpyett says:

    Helen, you write about the true and meaningful values that make life worthwhile. Your Father sound a wonderful man and his values live on through you and your children. We can only hope that the political situation will change. I, too, thank you for your wonderful posts.

    • Thanks, Barbara. I remember discussing with Dad my concern that even when they were little, the ‘consideration for others’ I’d drummed into my children put them at the end of the queue for rides at the Royal Easter Show. His response was that you can only be true to yourself. I hope the political situation changes soon enough for that still to be valid.

  5. Digging up Karl Williams and getting that gold-plated coffin might help a little.

  6. So very true. I don’t value or covet ‘stuff’ anything like as much as I used to do.

  7. Martha Kennedy says:

    Very well said — and I agree that basically we all just want to live our lives.

    But, I don’t think we’re fools. We’re just no, wait, we’re fools! I’m definitely a fool! I gave 35 years of my life to the machine. Because it KNEW I was idealistic and passionate about teaching, it exploited me and my good will and my faith. It saw a sucker, “Ah-HA! She’s here for the students!” One former boss said to me, when he first offered me classes, “You don’t even ask what I’m paying you?” I didn’t ask. I knew already what it would be and I needed work. I knew I’d take the classes regardless of what I was paid…

    Capitalism survives on creating dissatisfaction in people then persuading them that by buying something that emptiness will be filled. I’ve often wondered if we all were simply content with what we have if the machine would grind to a halt. I also think you should add China to your list…

    • And ‘stuff’ never does fill the emptiness, so dissatisfaction grows exponentially in what’s become an ethical (moral? spiritual?) void. Clever, and cruel. (Maybe that’s why fundamentalist Christianity is so rampant in the US)
      But even though you know now that you’ve been exploited, would you have been any happier during those 35 years if you’d been ruthless? Hobson’s choice: be true to yourself and screwed over by the system, or betray yourself and prosper financially.
      What frightens me is that the machine becomes irreversible. The damage would be too widespread and horrendous if it stopped.

      • Martha Kennedy says:

        The dissatisfaction hits a new level when debt sets in… Fundamentalist Christianity in the US is extremely materialistic; it follows the doctrine of the elect — if you are chosen, you will prosper in this world and in this life. It’s an excuse for greed. There’s little or nothing Christian about it.

        I do not believe I was ever exploited; my exploiters did believe it, though. I’m a misfit in the world of education. I was passed over several times for tenured positions. Passed over for people who were less prepared, less intelligent, less effective than I was. Why? Well, it took a long time for me to get it completely — chances are that I didn’t belong at a community college but at a university, where I ended up, actually. Still, without a PhD I couldn’t get tenure and in the academic climate of my career years I probably would never have gotten tenure. I am NOT political and those 30 years were years of increasing politicization of education. The important thing is that I loved teaching for a long time and during all that time I was employed. That’s how I see it. But the last four years were not enjoyable — I had to constantly adjust my mind to look on the bright side. It was also during that time that the whole Machiavellian machine revealed itself to me. But the post-agrarian greed machine (I think) has been around a while. Even in the 19th century there was constant tension between the classes.

      • Yes. Even before that. Think of the French revolution. Which is why education is so vital. M A’s ‘let them eat cake’ is happening all over again. The upper echelons have not even the vaguest clue what life is like for those outside the club, and care even less. Tsarist Russia springs to mind. I’ve never had any particular political affliliations – I’m a swinging voter – but the current trend towards oligarchy appals me.
        Tenured or not, you taught your students to THINK. While there are teachers like you, there’s hope. But how long can they withstand an increasingly political system?
        As for the fundamentalists – they scare the pants off me.

  8. Pat says:

    Awesome. Just so heartfelt and with the right spirit.

    Brilliantly articulated Helen.

    I know it seems that like minded people are fools, especially when there are so many blindsided and consumed by all of this overspending, extremely high-debt, waste everything, to hell with it all attitude, but fools we may be. Still, the only thing that gives me any sliver of hope is that there are people willing to express their views, and there are others echoing the same sentiments.

    We may be drops in an ocean, but if enough drops collect, a swell can change the tides and currents. Even if it is only in our little corners of the world.

    As for the rich, powerful and yes, extreme elitist — well, some of the world’s most powerful Western nations may call themselves “democratic” – but this is complete and utter B.S.

    Yes, I am grateful that I live in a nation that is safe, where I have an abundance of resources and can vote and have my say – but when the elected (God knows how) keep lining their pockets, abusing the general system, and then deny any wrong-doing, while ignoring basic human rights and freedoms, in one’s own backyard, let alone around the world – and pointing the finger at the general population and saying, “it’s for your own good” —- I have to hang my head in shame.

  9. The more “stuff” you own, the more it owns you.

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