How to Look After “Our Own First”

I took part in a focus group for Global Citizen a few weeks back. I was thrilled to be asked to participate as it is an organisation with which I share so many values. My own mantra that I developed through MacroEdgo is “United Humanity” and my email signature is as follows:

We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away. We have learned that we must live as men, not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s 4th Inauguration speech, as WWII drew to an end (he died before the atomic bombs were dropped.)

I used the same email signature in my final years of working as a research scientist, leading up to and during the second Iraq war.

All participants in the focus group were obviously people who had interacted with Global Citizen in one way or another, so they presumably felt that they shared many of their values.

Our discussion early on revolved around Australia’s foreign aid and one question posed to us was whether it should be needs-based or whether it would be appropriate in this time of pandemic to cut back to be able to provide more support here in Australia.

Obviously the question is a little leading because by mentioning “needs-based” it is almost intimating that to redirect funds towards Australia would be against a needs-based assessment because Australians on average were in less need.

Nonetheless, that would be true to my own assessment, and my answer reflected as such when I said that Australia’s foreign aid program should always be needs-based and thus we should be doing more to assist the developing world and not cutting back. Nobody familiar with my blog site would be surprised with this, nor my passion for this topic leading me to express these views plainly with justification in that setting.

I was the oldest person in the group, by some margin, and the only male, and most others answered with some degree of sympathy towards a perception of Australians doing it tough financially in the pandemic, though the people who appeared to have non-Caucasian ancestry were less strong on that view. 

The other more outspoken person in the group was quite strong in insisting that we needed to “help our own first” as she had friends who were struggling to keep their homes. 

While I have a great deal of compassion for people in financial hardship, this comment goes to one of my great bug-bears about societies. I wanted to challenge this viewpoint assertively but it was not the forum to do so and moderators were keen to move the discussion on in any case.

All that is wrong with this statement, in my view, is contained within the title of the organisation with which we were talking – “Global Citizen”.

Many years ago I realised the danger and the folly in nationalism, or tribalism, or any form of division amongst humanity for that matter. 

In essence all of these viewpoints include one overriding premise – I should care more about people within this arbitrary man-made grouping, regardless of whether I know them or anything of them, than I do about other people outside of that grouping.

To me this makes zero sense.

When it comes to “looking after our own” on a national basis, to what does that really refer – people who reside in the country, or people who were born in the country and still reside there, or all people who were born in the country irrespective of where they have resided through their lives. I could go on, and the truth is that the definition would vary from person to person.

Obviously, on a darker level many people will consciously or subconsciously also overlay a further descriptor of what constitutes “our own”, whether that be related to ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and so on.

So it is clear that “our own” is a very opaque phrase and extremely subjective.

It essentially infers that in some way we are more closely related to someone within this grouping than to people in all other groupings. But countries really are man-made constructs and are thus arbitrary – after all for half of white occupation of the Australian continent the non-indigenous inhabitants were citizens of England (and my understanding is that indigenous people were not even considered “people”, though I stand corrected on that) – so are we really more closely related to people who belong to the same nation?

Moreover, if we should care about people who are more closely related to us, geographically or otherwise, than to all other people, then it should be true across all man-made groupings to which we all belong. So we should care more about people who belong to the same state grouping (for me Queensland), and we should care even more about people who belong to the same city, town or local government area grouping (for me Brisbane), and we should care even more about people who belong to the same suburb grouping, and we should care even more again about people who live in our street.

I suspect that all people would find this preposterous, though that would vary from region to region, and I recall in Germany how the Bavarians were so “patriotic” that temporary residents from other regions of Germany, such as students who I knew, would attempt to alter their accents to avoid being “detected” and made to feel unwelcome as an “auslander”. Even in these regions, however, there is a point at which the man-made division is seen as preposterous.

While I do believe strongly in community, my level of compassion towards somebody has no relevance to any of these man-made constructs or any other nonsensical ways that some people consciously or subconsciously seek to divide us (usually for their own petty agendas).

“Our own” is really human beings, all human beings, and the best way to look after human beings is to genuinely care equally for everyone. That is exactly what FDR was telling us was the greatest lesson from the horror of WW2, and the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic is revealing in the most awful way how those lessons were not acted upon through the intervening three-quarters of century.

That does not say that I have no compassion for Australians struggling to pay a mortgage on a home purchased for a half million dollars or more. 

That will be the subject of my next post.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020

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