Even in the Great Depression of the thirties, a time we are having to relive today, a sense of responsibility was generally cultivated in most families and classes. This consisted of not spending on what you did not need, not wanting what you could not honestly have, not letting yourself fall into debt if it could be avoided and in general living regulated and disciplined lives, helping others where necessary and not expecting too much out of life, which could be hard and needed much patience.
Compare that to today. Yes, there was a crime, but it was generally condemned, and there was nothing like the greed, fraud and blatant dishonesty which is now evident in the financial world, which does not seem to realise how it is seen by society in general. Then there are the politicians who seem to care about nothing except their earnings, pensions, perks and chances of being re-elected. If they know what ought to be done, and some of them do, they dare not say it and take every opportunity to lie, quite blatantly, about the situation, prospects and what ultimately will have to be done. Even the best of them, like Vince Cable, have to hold back, although at the just-finished Liberal conference, he has shown the courage to be honest and the things the next government will have to do.
A generation that has only known an affluent society, living well beyond its means, getting carelessly in to deep debt to incur mortgages on overpriced property and high expenditure on things it really does not need, through the blandishments of adversities and credit-card companies, until recently always increasing the credit limits, now has to face many years of depression that the financial world and politicians constantly claim, where all the evidence points the other way, is about to end. The problem is that most people no longer trust their reasoning powers and what used to be called common sense, and give way either to what they want to believe or to any spin doctor who tells them that what they would like to happen, is happening. This is part of the Americanisation of our mind-set and culture. This is combined with our failing to recognise the gravity of the terrible situation and welfare of the poorest parts of the world, a deplorable ignorance of history, and a refusal to give any though to reality, especially if sacrifice is involved, in such major dangers confronting us as climate change, overpopulation, shortage of water, essential foods and energy sources and all the evils associated with irresponsible global capitalism. Democracy without ethical thought and responsibility can lead to disaster, as at present in California where voters use the system to deprive the state of the necessary funds to make it function. The Oklahoma dustbowl of the thirties has now hit Australia. Although every foreign invasion of Afghanistan has lead to humiliating defeat and withdrawal, we have chosen to face the experience all over again. Resurgent tribalism is again destroying any hope of a civilised future in Africa and this is also true in Northern Ireland, where terrorism will always return until – and unless – the country finally adopts a unified and secular school system where religion is a private matter for the home and not the cause of tribal warfare.
What is needed is the emergence of inspired, intelligent and ethical individuals able to lead us through open and honest persuasion to a realisation that only a transformation of society into one with shared ideals and an disposable income ratio of something like one to fifteen, efficient social services, proper education (which depends on paying good teachers as much as doctors) and the ending of a culture based on greed. The winding up of the stock market would be no bad thing. Accountants should be taught to think long-term and not short-term. Lawyers whose practices cover-up crime, such immoral practices as dumping poisonous waste in unsuspecting poorer countries, and generally are there to protect the wicked, should be shut down and, in many cases, criminally prosecuted. Those whose conduct put profit before the common good should be disgraced and ostracised. Then we would have a responsible society at last.
John Calder 23/9/09