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Those valuable insights beyond ‘shithole country’


CAIRNS – I was particularly struck by the recent observations of Dr Chris McCall and author Nick Brown (in Phil Fitzpatrick’s review of his latest book).

Their observations of discovering some of life's grim realities provided by salient insights into the shallow ignorance of what former US president Donald Trump contemptuously referred to as “shithole countries”.

Both McCall and Brown had witnessed and been moved by the shocking lives many people were forced to endure, often exacerbated by the consequences of unbridled corruption.

In doing so they had developed an incisive understanding of the terrible consequences that occur when personal agendas override all other considerations to the point where the outcome is evil.

In essence, the doctor and the author were first-hand witnesses to the logical end point to the late UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s much quoted assertion that “there's no such thing as society”.

They were words perfectly formed for the favoured 10-second sound bite on a news bulletin.

Just like Trump’s, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” referring to people from Africa and Central America.

One of his sympathisers denied Trump was being racist: “Trump simply meant countries without plumbing,” he said.

While another stated the president did certainly not sue the word ‘shithole’. He had in fact used the word ‘shithouse’.

Well, they might seem like the sort of language you can use or the sort of sentiments you might offer until a grieving mother turns up at your door at four in the morning cradling a dead toddler who has succumbed to an entirely preventable disease.

Or when you arrive in a remote village to transport their vegetables to market and are met by a line of stunned women, one of whom is bleeding profusely from an axe wound to the back of her head.

Many readers could relate similar moments when self-satisfaction was shaken out of them.

How an event forced an examination of their sugar-coated view of how the world worked and how its inhabitants were somehow not part of ‘normal’ life.

When these moments of shocking realisation occur, it doesn’t take long to shake you out of your complacency and examine the shallowness of your thinking about how the world worked.

It’s about that time when you either decide to pack up and ‘go pinis’ (leave forever) or something more profound happens: that you have an obligation to stick around.

At this point you have unknowingly crossed your own personal Rubicon.

It’s then that you no longer feel fully comfortable about who you are. Nor are you able to relate in the same way to where you came from

It’s at this point you decide to stay on. It’s at this point a feeling of empathy and understanding attach to you, never to leave no matter where you are.

I empathise with both McCall and Brown, neither of whom I know but who’s sentiments are immediately familiar.

And I am thankful they feel the way they do, because in this incredibly shallow world of Maccas and ‘fully sick’ and ‘BLT’, there’s more truth and purpose to be found in the realities they discovered than they ever would have known in the bubbles they came from.


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Bernard Corden

Michel Foucault argued that the exercise of power in the service of maximising life carries a dark underside.

When the state is invested in protecting the life of the population, when the stakes are life itself, anything can be justified.

Groups identified as the threat to the existence of the life of the nation or of humanity can be eradicated with impunity.

The following links covering biopolitics and the darker side of CRSPR Cas 9 technology are extremely interesting articles:

A couple of other articles on the challenging ethical issue of saving a single life to save many (or even to save your best clothes) are worth a read if this is a subject that intrigues you.

There is the lifeboat dilemma and the trolleybus theory - -
and Prof Peter Singer's case of the drowning boy - - KJ

Lindsay F Bond

Discussion on discard. When all is broken down and no bucks to be made, the flimsy unfolds, lines obscured, mechanised heavyweights trundle steelily by.

If it was in oceans, would those passing be spared any need to look ahead at profits of gloom?


William Dunlop

Ach now my dear Bearnard, They do say' It takes one to know one.

Stephen Charteris

I agree entirely with Chris Overland that “we collectively ought to have sufficient insight and humility to accept that we have an obligation to help out those who live in 'shithole' countries, not merely through charity, but by a conscious, systemic and systematic effort to help them reach their true socio-economic potential.”

The bit that sticks in my craw is the inequity that exists at a level that is deeply disturbing.

To observe a young boy dying from the ravages of tuberculosis 200km from the Australian border kindles a deep sense of sadness and outrage at the inequity.

I cannot separate the image of our citizens arriving as FIFO (fly in - fly out) workers at mines across PNG from the hunter gatherer family standing in front of me to whom the boy belongs.

Workers shepherded straight off the plane onto buses going to the mess, donga or their first world jobs. And during their 'swing' they can be certain they won’t miss a single game of footy or be exposed to anything 'outside the fence'.

And the boy. There is nothing we can do. The nearest health centre is days away and he will probably die before being assessed for treatment.

This is not to bag the workers. But to my mind the system which they benefit from represents the worst aspects of our inequitable and imperialist world.

And comments you hear at the mess too often confirm that former President Trump’s ruminations on “shithouse countries” expressed commonly held views.

Each time I hear our political classes refer to “our Pacific family” I wince.

This statement is crass beyond all imagining. The fact it is uttered at all given the circumstances only serves to show how conveniently ignorant we are, or worse how opportunist and amoral we have become.

This is not about some misplaced 'dogooder' zeal. Rather the notion that if you wouldn’t tolerate the death of your child or sister from the abject failure of the health system, why would you tolerate it 200km beyond our border.

And for how much longer do you expect those on the other side of that imaginary line to tolerate it as well?

We are a rich nation that benefits directly from their resources. Are we contributing anything worthwhile in return?

Are we doing enough to facilitate the type of socio-economic empowerment that provides people with degree of financial independence and a pathway towards improved health and education services?

No – we are not. Our models of development assistance are demonstrably ineffective. We would rather focus on offshore camps in which to incarcerate other desperate people.

We are now witnessing the cost of inequity across the globe. The price to be paid for the creeping calamity of global heating that is driving human misery on an increasing scale.

Millions are being forced ever further to look for a place with reliable fresh water, or from the ravages of conflict arising from shrinking resources, a place where they can simply exist.

The notion that we in our privileged bubble can turn a blind eye and solve it by increasing Border Force and naval patrols is mind-numbingly myopic.

It is clear that our survival is becoming more and more dependent and intertwined with others with whom we share an increasingly over stretched planet. Where access to clean water rather than which movie to watch is the pressing order of the day.

As Chris correctly says, it is about how we assist them to achieve their socio-economic potential and what we likewise need to do. That’s not charity, it’s common sense.

Our political class are not prepared to confront these realities with anything like the intellectual rigour or scale required. They can’t even make sensible decisions about our relationships with our nearest neighbours. There is nothing to be proud of about this. It is painful and cringeworthy to watch.

I fear that if we continue along the path we have created for ourselves. The product of exploitation of resources and citizens on a global scale, we are in for an almighty reckoning when the chickens come home to roost.

Almost four hundred years ago John Donne penned these prophetic words.

“Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

It is nearing a crescendo now.

Chris Overland

Like William, I think that Keith is drawing too long a bow when he likens Thatcher to Trump.

Trump is only animated by greed, hubris and self interest, whilst Thatcher, for all her faults, actually had a coherent 'worldview' (albeit one I vehemently disagree with) to which she adhered very rigorously.

Also, Thatcher was essentially competent at an administrative level and had the hard nosed ruthlessness and work ethic required to implement her ideas in the face of severe and protracted resistance.

This does not mean that I have any great admiration for Thatcher but it has to be acknowledged that at least some of her reforms were probably necessary and inevitable. This is an important reason why most were never reversed by the incoming Blair Labour government.

In a manner typical of many instinctively authoritarian figures, Thatcher eventually over reached herself and thus was cut down by her own party.

She was succeeded by John Major whose generally bland and even dull disposition served as some sort of balm for those who had felt affronted by Thatcher sometimes strident and hectoring manner.

Thatcher was and is a figure of historic importance. Rightly or wrongly her ideas about the world gained traction and were adopted, in various forms, all over the world. That they have subsequently proved to be flawed or plainly wrong ideas does not alter this fact.

Trump, on the other hand, has never had a political or philosophical idea of any significance. He is merely a demagogue, reflecting back to his supporters their prejudices and delusions.

He appears to lack both the intellect and imagination required to conjure up anything even resembling a world view.

In a sense, he the perfect representative of neo-liberal capitalism, being devoid of any motivation beyond self aggrandisement and the single minded pursuit of wealth for its own sake.

History will judge Trump very harshly indeed for his lies, distortions and extraordinary bad judgement at almost every level.

In Thatcher's case, the judgement is likely to be much more nuanced, with divided opinion depending upon the observers own personal philosophy and outlook.

Bernard Corden

My dear William, It would be somewhat remiss of me not to remind you that the architect of the 1963 Great Train Robbery in the UK was an Ulsterman:

William Dunlop

Thanks to Argentina and the Falkland Islands, Maggy Thatcher, the High Street grocer's daughter became the Iron Lady. And she bears no relation whatsoever to that arch arsehole Trump in my book.

Mind you, Trump had a Scottish mother, so he is not totally Germanic, as the royal family is not totally Germanic.

We only have to go back to Cumberland to expose the vicious barbarity of that bastard in Scotland and to a lesser extent in Ireland. (Beware of the Hun in the sun.)

And, of course, Longshanks very much left his mark.
The Great British Empire was founded on such bastardry.

Torys, Whigs, Liberals etc etc always well endowed in that time before Labour emerged.

My mob is largely Unionist. Em tasol.

Bernard Corden

The illegitimate daughter of Satan was an avid acolyte of Austrian-British economist Friedrich Hayek's 'Road to Serfdom'.

Hayek's book, beloved of conservatives, embraced the Gipper's sophism of trickle-down economics, which included a determined cull of centralised planning:

Unfettered markets and the inevitable collapse of capitalism's gigantic festering Ponzi scheme have since undermined any skerrick of social order and degenerated into a pernicious paradigm of gangster capitalism.

It has created an oppressive society under elective dictatorships with the tyrannical serfdom of the individual. It is ironic that Hayek claimed these evils were some of the adverse consequences of socialism.

Paul Oates

Ouch! Keith I was only suggesting that the credibility gap between Thatcher and Trump is so wide that it should never be bridged.

Whatever one thinks of Thatcher, and as I suggested, that is in the eye of the beholder, to liken her to Trump is a very, very long bow.

Lindsay F Bond

A question might arise at the words "duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour".

Firstly, however, on Thatcher's logic, the 'ourselves' and 'our' has plurality that the listener and reader might choose to comprehend as of a singular, thus I suggest 'each one of us".

Secondly, consider that heroic evidenced of humans in time of disaster or trouble, when folk as individuals (and possibly in company and not only at battlefields) do what is apparent in the interests of others before sheltering each of self.

Thirdly, in the oft quoted "love your neighbour as yourself" (seems of singular focus) from Leviticus, the matter of which is first, vanishes.

Chris Overland

Apart from displaying his crass ignorance, Trump's comment about 'shithole' countries neatly sums up the world view of a startling number of Americans.

Far too many Americans are insulated from the lived reality of the world beyond America by a combination of ignorance and an invincible faith in the idea of American exceptionalism, whereby there cannot be a better, fairer, more decent society than that created by America.

The American world view is dominated by the idea that an individual's path in life is essentially determined by their individual efforts, not social circumstances. It naturally flows from this that those who inhabit 'shithole' countries are largely responsible for their own dire circumstances.

In fairness, this is a world view that resonates in many other parts of the developed world. Our collective wealth and privilege insulates us from the often harsh reality of living at a subsistence level.

My much loved Peruvian 'daughter' once asked me why Australia has no poor people? I had to admit that this was, with very rare exceptions, quite true. To be welfare dependent in Australia is to enjoy unusual wealth and comfort from a Peruvian standpoint.

We are fortunate almost beyond belief in the developed world. We have created societies based upon, amongst other things, the ruthless exploitation of others.

This was the nature of European imperialism and the same process is built into the neo-liberal economic model that arose with the collapse of the overtly imperialist system.

We complain that China is exhibiting imperialist behaviour (which it clearly is) without giving much thought to the inherently imperialist nature of the predominant economic system in the developed world.

Surely it is possible for people to understand that the rise and rise of the so-called 'gig economy' is nothing more than a 21st century reinvention of the laissez faire economic system that dominated 19th century Britain, Europe and the USA?

The victims of that system included those who lived under the various colonial regimes across the world. Overwhelmingly, these are the 'shithole' countries that Trump referred to in his infamous comment. That he and other capitalists like him may have materially contributed to their creation would not occur to him.

So, Stephen is right to suggest that we collectively ought to have sufficient insight and humility to accept that we have an obligation to help out those who live in 'shithole' countries, not merely through charity, but by a conscious, systemic and systematic effort to help them reach their true socio-economic potential.

Of course, this is easy to say and extremely difficult to do, especially when the interest groups now in charge in those countries are highly resistant to any reform that might diminish their power or wealth.

While there is plainly no 'magic bullet' solution for this problem we could at least start by using our wealth and influence to help create things like basic infrastructure and expanding our Pacific worker scheme as a way of redistributing wealth as well as meeting our own needs.

It is in our collective interests to ensure that there are no 'shithole' countries. The world will undoubtedly be a much better place for that.

Keith Jackson

Here is Thatcher’s full quote, which Paul linked to but did not transcribe:

“Who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business….”

Thatcher uttered these words to an interviewer in 1987 and since then, as Paul complains, ‘there is no such thing as society’ has been frequently cited on its own devoid of context. Paul and other defenders of Thatcher say this is unfair because this is not what she meant as the rest of the quote shows. Could this be so?

At this point I should note that, after the full quote including those words was published in a woman’s magazine, Thatcher got her press secretary to issue a clarification. As these things happen, it was too late. The dreadful words were already racing around the world unstoppably.

When such deliberate or accidental blunders (nowadays attracting that awful word 'misspeak') happen to well-known people, as so often they do, I found when advising many of them in my former career, the original words were accepted with such alacrity only because they so neatly fitted the character or the views of the person who uttered them.

So the grab, ‘“Who is society? There is no such thing!’ - taken out of context to mean what one writer has called “shorthand for a crassly individualist worldview: that prized selfishness, greed and the trashing of social obligations” – was seen to articulate people's preconceptions of exactly who and what Margaret Thatcher was.

She was making the point, as Paul writes, as do other apologists, “that people have to accept some responsibility for themselves instead of just blaming the government and expecting it to be responsible for everything”. That could be a fair interpretation except for this....

The emphasis on the apologists to say Thatcher meant ‘society’ to refer to ‘government’ is more than a little convenient and contrived, especially as Thatcher used government in its precise meaning just 18 words later.

No, in my view, Thatcher did mean exactly what she said in that interview. That in her belief system, there are men, women, families, neighbours and governments but “there is no such thing” as society.

The full context shows this as clearly as the grab shows it. And so did her rush to clarify (that is, to attach a different meaning to) the words as soon as she, or one of her aides, realised she had invoked a dangerous idea in the UK’s political and economic climate of that time.

The ex post facto interpretation that Paul offers as the ‘true’ meaning of the words has never succeeded in covering up what Thatcher meant, and nor should it. That is because what Thatcher’s policies portrayed in action, in objective reality, was precisely her worldview, as three decades later it was Trump’s, and arguably, today, Morrison’s.

Lindsay F Bond

Folks, please "...condemn this shit ASAP..."

More uplifting topics ahead?

Harry Topham

A good and frank analysis of the mess the world now finds itself in.

Re Trump - Nothing unexpected there just another opportunist trying to embellish his over inflated ego by pandering the less baser instincts of modern US society.

What can one expect from a gentleman who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and reared to be a complete sociopathic arsehole, a trait regarded by his father as being a prerequisite for success in the business world.

How people fell for his snake oil presentation still amazes me as the events that occurred indicates the complete reverse end of the human existence spectrum to the reality play role of those ‘ poor” good citizens he purported to be on side with.

Maybe the answer lies in his grandfather’s lineage as a refugee from Germany in the mid 18th century when German nationalism was on the rise as was bigotry against the Jews.

Maybe that German trait of stoicism also has come into play in creating this obnoxious type of human being that the good old USA has had to deal with.

Paul Oates

The cherry picked, condensed version of a quote from Thatcher illustrates how easy it is to take a fact and blend it with an opinion and come up with an apparent new fact.

Leaving aside ‘anything’ emanating out of Trump, who will always be poles apart from Thatcher, the careful selection of some of Thatcher's words diffuses the true meaning.

In the complete quote (see below) Thatcher was pointing out that people have to accept some responsibility for themselves instead of just blaming the government and expecting it to be responsible for everything.

Whether with hindsight, Thatcher was right in everything she did will always be in the eye of the beholder. To lump her in with anything Trump says or does I suggest is a travesty and not warranted. Thatcher was a product of her upbringing and environment.

I suggest Trump is a totally different matter.

You can read my response to this in another comment - KJ

Warwick Smith

Wouldnt it be more effective to help the shithole country occupants in their own country.

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