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Liberty, Equality and, for Crying Out Loud, Some Humility Please!

Watching our Foreign Minister always makes me feel uncomfortable. Sure, we have a long tradition of drunk, half-witted, boorish, ugly and just plain stupid ministers in general and Foreign Ministers in particular. So what’s the problem? There’s nothing special about this one, is there?

But there is. Deliberately or not, the FM carries herself in a way that suggests that it is her absolute right, as an educated Westerner, to tell the rest of the world how they should live and what they should think. I know, when I look at her, that she is utterly convinced of her mandate to instruct. Her obvious Western Supremacism radiates from her every twinset.

It’s also invalid.

I live in Manly. At this time of year, Manly is lousy with women wandering about the place in bikinis. Personally, I’m in favour of this, but even if I wasn’t, I live in a country where women have the right to wander about in bikinis to their hearts’ content.

It was not always thus. Near the the library, there is a mural made up of historical headlines from The Manly Daily. This being The Daily, they mostly deal with sharks, nudists and the wrong code of rugby. But then there’s this one:


Blonde in bikini put off beach

Just a few decades ago – within living memory – religious (ecclesiastic) law required us to cover our bodies in public. Sound familiar? This body of law still exists, but we’ve either stopped enforcing it or changed the way it’s interpreted. So we can all pat ourselves on the back for being an advanced, progressive society.

Really – I mean it.

It was a long, hard road. There were riots, demonstrations, some murders, a lot of protests and a hell of a lot of turmoil, but we got there in the end. Point is, though, that, historically speaking, the end of that process was something like five minutes ago. Wind the clock back a tiny amount and our ideals, values and principles are deplorable. Homophobic, militantly religious, racist, sexist – the list goes on. So what changed? Did we become better people? Have we risen to a higher moral plane than the rest of the world? Do we, somehow, deserve the irritating air of self-righteousness worn by Julie when she’s enlightening Johnny Foreigner?

Of course not. The latter half of the 20th Century found us holding the keys to the kingdom. The West was best, even the losers, so cue the welfare state, consumerism, education, urban redevelopment, and so on and so forth. Sure, there was the cold war and the communist domino thingummy, but, by and large, most wars were far away, bellies were full and the money was rolling in. So, like most people who have run out of real problems, the West began to examine its own soul. The result of this turbulent, traumatic process was the enlightened, liberal and more or less progressive thinking prevalent in mainstream Western politics today. But if the latter half of the 20th Century was a period of soul searching and self reflection for us, what was it like for the rest of the world?

In a word – hectic. Every major region of the world outside the West spent the greater part of the post war years in turmoil. Africa’s young nations, having been possessions, then battlefields and finally, orphans of the various dying Empires, have yet to finish recovering from the West’s tender mercies. Asia, convulsed by revolution, incessant warfare and the bumbling intervention of cold war America, is only now beginning to re-emerge as a viable version of its old self. The Balkans, despite the two global wars fought ostensibly with reference to their sovereignty, were far too busy imploding, exploding and committing war crimes to devote much energy to social justice. The Middle East, fragmented by the termination of the caliphate and the secularisation of Turkey, settled down to a few decades of near constant warfare, the politics of outrage, the catastrophic disruption of Israel’s formation and the inevitable crumbling of the ludicrously thoughtless makeup of their ‘nations’ at the hands of, you guessed it, the great Western powers.

So no, our advancements in social justice and political theory are not the product of some inborn Western superiority. The difference lies in opportunity. The only thing that separates us from the rest of the world is that the West spent the last half century angrily questioning its own morality, while the rest of the world spent it scrambling to survive.

How can we sneer at other countries when, less than a generation ago, Western nations were amongst the worst citizens of the world? We’ve produced rulers more fanatical than the Wahhabi, and reformers crazier than the Taliban. The faults we attribute to our enemies – religious fanaticism, tyrannical government, expansionist aggression, ethnic cleansing and persecution, slaving, the maltreatment of women, the disabled, minorities, minority faiths – Western nations of the post Roman era practically invented most of these.

So where the hell do we get off with this pretence of superiority? What right do we have to act as the world’s moral arbiters? Our power, as the West, rests in guns, money and the robust stability afforded by our legal and political systems. And guns. The world doesn’t listen to us because we’re better people. They listen because we have the most stuff. When we lecture foreign powers on democracy, rule of law and all the other nuggets of evolved statehood that we think we invented, there is a small possibility that our power and affluence might prove sufficient arguments to sell these ideas. But if we pitch these concepts from a position of moral superiority, we must rightly be rewarded with the horse’s laugh. We got where we are by theft, force and ruthless acquisitiveness. This is well known. The people we are lecturing are not only keenly aware of our past crimes, they are more than likely to be numbered amongst our past victims.

So please, for the love of reason, Julie, try to remember this simple fact:

We are no better than anyone else out there. We are just better off.

So let’s drop the self-righteous act, okay? Besides – I can’t think of anyone less entitled to it than the nations of the West.

Category: Politics


2 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    I really like this, Chris. Couple of questions, though…

    Are you referring to a specific incident? (e.g. Bali 9 executions)

    Are you saying that you are in favour of the west offering advice and condemning atrocities, but you object to the way we go about it?

  2. Chris says:

    Thanks mate – glad you liked it.

    WRT your questions:

    1. Yep. While there wasn’t anything specific in our response, the manner in which the whole process was conducted is mainly what brought this article about.

    2. Absolutely we in the West should condemn atrocities and share our thinking. It’s everyone’s duty as residents of the planet. I object, however, to the implicit or explicit assumption of superiority that so often goes with that. Inheriting worthy ideas does not make the inheritors worthy people. I absolutely hate the way we patronise the rest of the world. It’s unjustifiable, rude and. most importantly, counter-productive.

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