Monday, 25 June 2007

power and greed?

I wrote recently (how rich do you think you are?) about personal wealth, and the vast differences between the rich and poor. There are enormous differences between nations also.

Because of these differences, and the terrible effects of poverty on people's wellbeing, 189 nations signed the Millenium Declaration in 2000, "to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level".

These nations agreed to achieve the following targets by 2015:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger 2. Achieve universal primary education 3. Promote gender equality and empower women 4. Reduce child mortality 5. Improve maternal health 6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases 7. Ensure environmental sustainability 8. Develop a global partnership for development.

The cost of a realistic program to achieve these goals is estimated to be perhaps $50 billion extra aid a year. That seems an emormous amount, until you learn that almost $1000 billion is spent worldwide on arms each year, and $300 billion in agricultural subsidies. The Iraq war has cost something like $100 billion each year.

Yet the rich countries are not meeting their side of the deal, with aid from most countries either falling in real terms, or no better than steady. And the recent G8 meeting in Germany did little to bring change or confidence.

I guess governments will only act if they know their citizens want them to.

Read about the Millenium Development Goals, and a summary of the outcomes from the recent G8 meeting.

Read about what some peope are doing about it - Jubilee Debt Campaign, Make Poverty History.

Well, God is in heaven And we all want what's his But power and greed and corruptible seed Seem to be all that there is I'm gazing out the window Of the St. James Hotel And I know no one can sing the blues Like Blind Willie McTell Bob Dylan, "Blind Willie McTell"


  1. i am thinking george bush would not be the one to contact about this. also thinking it's not a good sign that i have never before heard of it - although i am glad i have now.

    reminds me of a non-profit i worked for briefly, global family day. it was a wonderful idea to have a day of peace, no hunger, etc, all over the world. i am an idealist at heart, but could not afford to continue working for the cause.

  2. (totally unrelated) there was an article on today about aborigines threatening to ban tourists from ayer's rock. the article explains that this is a protest to the govt crack down on child abuse in their town. in talking to my mom about it, she became very defensive saying the aborigines are the natives as the indians were the natives here. if the govt would not have suppressed them into poverty they would not have the issues of poverty such as these. not to mention ayer's rock is apprently their sacred ground and should be respected as such. i do not know much about all this but would be very interested in your point of view.
    (sorry to go on and on)

  3. "i have never before heard of it"

    Yes, I think this has not received as much publicity in the US as in Europe and Australia. As well as the Governmental and UN organisations, there are many volunteer organisations who are pursuing this. I will add a couple more links to my post, for you and any others who are interested.

    "aborigines threatening to ban tourists from ayer's rock. the article explains that this is a protest to the govt crack down on child abuse in their town"

    I haven't heard of that specific instance, but your mum's comments are generally right.

    When European people settled here 200+ years ago, the Aboriginal people were spread fairly thinly across the land - Aust is a fairly dry and arid country for the most part, and a sparse nomadic lifestyle suited the conditions.

    The early settlers (actually invaders) varied in their treatment of the indigenous people, from respect and friendship through to disdain and disregard. Certainly aboriginals were pushed to the margins by the advancing settlers, many died because of their lack of natural immunity to European diseases, some fought back and were killed by superior weaponry (though they are not naturally as warlike as I think the native Americans may have been). And some were simply mistreated, hunted down, killed indiscriminantly, etc. There is some debate about the extent of the latter, but it is pretty certain it was unfortunately common.

    Aboriginal culture is very different to European, more communal for a start, and was often seen as primitive and almost non-human by some whites, so the indigenous people were neglected and disregarded - I suspect the whites hoped they would all die out or be assimilated.

    But, terribly, what happened was that many indigenous people became degraded and marginalised, afflicted by alcoholism, white sexual abuse, unemployment, loss of traditional land and lifestyle and lack of white education. A hundred years ago, paternalistic and often well-meaning whites removed children from their families (the so-called "stolen generation") to try to break the cycle, but causing deep grief and family dislocation. Aboriginals were only recognised as citizens and given the vote in 1967, although many fought for Australia in two world wars!

    Some whites feel grief and responsibility about all this, some deny it or pass it off as history. Reconciliation is an active movement that still has a way to go.

    All this means that there are some indigenous people who have entered the dominant "white" society and lived "successful" lives as sportspeople, professionals, politicians and activists, but most are still marginalised (living in remote sub-standard communities or in urban semi-ghettos) or less well off than average.

    It is in these urban and remote communities that disaffection, unemployment, low education and poverty are common, leading to crime, alcoholism and aimlessness, and, it is now becoming apparent, sexual abuse brought on by pornography, alcohol, poverty and aimlessness. Even young kids are affected.

    The problem is exacerbated by the strong aboriginal communal culture, which makes it less likely that anyone will inform on a fellow member of the community. A recent investigation revealed all this, and so the Government was forced to act. But many feel they are acting (again) paternalistically, insensitively and without sufficient consultation. But everyone agrees something needs to be done.

    It is a terrible story (which I have tried to present fairly) and reflects no good on us "white" Australians. Many believe, as I do, that we need to apolgise deeply and formally to the indigenous people and build a new society, and that Australia stands in shame until we do.

    Thanks for asking - I hope that helps, even if it's not pleasant reading.

  4. On re-reading my note, I think I left one thing out. There are many people of full aboriginal or mixed ethnicity (aboriginal and something else - indigenous people tend not to make a distinction) who have assimilated quite well. They may still strongly identify with their traditional culture and people, or they may not, but their aboriginality may not be immediately obvious. I should have mentioned this, possibly large, but often "unseen" group as well as the "successful" and "marginalised" groups that I mentioned.

  5. Thank you, I very much appreciate that background info. It is striking the similarities between the course of the Aborigines once the settlers invaded (or the invaders settled) and the course of the Native Americans after the arrival of the European "settlers."
    It is especially heartbreaking to see the modern day results of this history, as you mentioned. I wonder how people would go about a "reconciliation" at this point.

  6. Yes, I know little about your history apart from the (obviously unhistorical) "cowboys and indians" stories of my youth. As I said, I think the native Americans were more numerous and warlike, and so fought back more, though the end result was apparently the same, from what you say.

    In Australia reconciliation has focused on a few matters - a push for the Government to formally apologise, which the present Prime Minister has refused to do; citizens' events to support indigenous people; and restoration of land rights in some areas where white settlement hasn't been deemed to have obliterated native title.

    If you watched the Olympic Games closing ceremony in Sydney, you may have seen one of Australia's most popular bands, Midnight Oil, perform a pro reconciliation song "Beds are Burning" wearing black jump suits with large letters saying "Sorry" on them - that was in support of a formal apology. Peter Garrett, lead singer of the Oils is now a member of our national parliament.

    The Government has also thrown a lot of money at aboriginal health (which is much worse than for whites - e.g. higher infant mortality), housing, self determination, etc, and established land councils and other consultative groups, but to limited effect. Aboriginal traditional culture is very different to white - more communal, more laid back - and the efforts have tended not to work.

    I think it will be difficult for the aboriginals who want to try to retain that culture, because they no longer have the social structure nor the wide open spaces that support it, and to survive in our white "brave new world", they'll probably have to allow their culture to evolve quite a bit and quite quickly. We shall see.

  7. i find your entire blog so interesting. thank you for the response.

    i think the greatest lesson we could learn would be to live in harmony, but there i go again, trying to deny our human nature that puts us at war.

  8. Thanks so much for your kind words. I blog about the things that interest me - cosmology, human society, environment, social justice, God and faith. I used to keep a scrapbook of interesting newspaper articles, but having electronic reference to them is better. I hope other people may be interested in the ideas and the links, and I try to keep my own comments reasonably brief.

    "i think the greatest lesson we could learn would be to live in harmony, but there i go again, trying to deny our human nature that puts us at war"

    I agree with both aspects of what you say here. That we should, and often do, aspire to a peaceful life, and that our selfishness or competitiveness or circumstances so often get in the way. Because I believe in God, I believe he can help us overcome, although it isn't easy or automatic. But there is hope!

    Best wishes.

  9. we just passed half-way point to the MDGs! (popularly seen as 07/07/07) and at current rates, we're not going to get anywhere near meeting them... and of course they've already been criticised for being too half-hearted, so that's not even reaching a goal that was tepid to start with (if I may mix my metaphors somewhat)


    it's even more damning when contrasted with all that other spending...


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