Thursday, November 14, 2013

Blog Action Day - A late Posting on Human Rights

I was meant to be part of an international Blog Action Day on October 16, but I was away in Western Australia and wi-fi access to the Internet was difficult. So here is my belated post:

There is always a theme and this year the theme was Human Rights.

I thought about this and I thought I'd write about Human Rights in our present society and Human Rights for our grandchildren and future generations.

Firstly, let us look at our present society. Each year, surveys and scientific research are published which show that the income inequality is growing. Jesus said, "The poor are always with us.", but perhaps even he did not envisage a world where vast amounts of wealth were concentrated in the hands of only a relative few. His camels would be queueing up to go through the eye of the needle!

Recently, I read a Guardian article which expressed the view that oligarchy in Russia was societally unhealthy as the super-rich ran the country through political patronage. Putin and his cronies grow wealthy by essentially raping the natural wealth of their vast country while the majority of Russians still struggle with low incomes and lack of access to basic products and services.

When Tony Blair was in the early days of his Prime Ministership, he spoke of a much-vaunted "Third Way", some miraculous form of governance which would walk the line between Socialism and Capitalism and deliver a good life for all citizens of the planet. This idea soon was soon quietly forgotten and Blair went on to pander to the wealthy as usual even though he was a Labour Prime Minister. "New Labour" became synonymous with faux Conservatism dressed up to look like the working class weren't getting screwed even they knew damn well they were!

And in the good old superpower, USA, Republicans and Democrats aren't really right and left wing parties, more like extreme right and moderately right respectively. American politicians rarely do anything which doesn't have big corporation capitalist approval. Guns and War and Political Adventurism are the American way and being compassionate to people too poor for medical care is UnAmerican!

When I was a child growing up in the 1960s in small-town New Zealand, perhaps I was blind to social conditions, but I don't think I was. Modern statistics also verify my memories that New Zealand was more equal and egalitarian prior to the great New Right experiments of the 1980s. The gap between New Zealand's rich and poor has widened substantially from 1980 onwards according to many books and articles by esteemed social scientists and others.

My father worked his way up from a lowly teller in the Bank of New South Wales (which emerged from mergers as Westpac in modern times) eventually to bank manager, with his career only interrupted by 6 years of World War 2 when he flew in the RAF, mainly in the Middle East. In order to get promotion, we moved from town to town in rural New Zealand every 2-3 years so my childhood was peripatetic.

Everyone equated working in a bank with being rich, but we were only middle-class at best. When my Dad retired in 1974, I discovered, quite by accident, that he was only on a modest salary. As a 17-year-old Trainee Laboratory Assistant, I started on a higher yearly salary than my Dad finished his career on.

But we lived often in houses in small rural towns with populations anywhere between 3,000-10,000 people and the Bank actually provided the house at a modest rent so my parents did not have the outgoings of a mortgage for a long period in their lives.

My brothers and I went to ordinary State schools and mixed with lots of children, both Maori and Pakeha (there wasn't much multiculturalism then just a weak form of biculturalism). We played at other people's places and that was an indicator of whether they were better off than you or not. By my recollections, it was usually the families of accountants and lawyers who were the richest in the towns, but even then not obscenely rich, more a little bit rich.

I'm not saying we lived in a Golden Age prior to the 1980s, but I don't think New Zealand as a society contained the extremes of wealth and poverty that it does now. I know, also, that we cannot go backwards or remain cocooned in isolation from the rest of the world, but the 1980s also brought with it the concept of Globalisation. Like everything, Globalisation has its pros and cons. One of the downsides, I feel, has been the entry of multinational corporations into our economy with their purpose being to exploit New Zealander's wallets and maximise their returns to their shareholders. Although many will pretend to care about New Zealand society in their PR, in truth they have no stake in our society and their "pretend caring" is just another exercise in massaging the money from our wallets.

The Americans would do well to pay more attention to their founding forefathers' lofty goals for every citizen: "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". For every citizen of this planet to have real Human Rights, these goals are underpinned by a decent income, access to good education, having the basics such as clean water, wholesome food, decent shelter and the ability to enjoy leisure time.

Call me a Socialist, an unreconstructed Marxist or whatever, but until some of the obscene wealth held by a few can be spread more fairly amongst the many, Human Rights remain just a pallid phrase for a great majority of Earth's citizens.

This is a long post to digest so I will address my other concern: Human Rights for our grandchildren and future generations, in another post.

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