From 1944 to 1945, Germany had an astonishingly resilient society when it was under an unrelenting attack, and when the government left the people with no other option but to dig in. Resilience emerges naturally when the only two options are suicide or surviving another day.
So, when following the Victorian fires and the Queensland floods we were informed by the media and politicians that Australians had a resilient character, that was pure rhetoric.
The more perceptive of those trying to survive in the rubble of Berlin would have accepted that they were justly being punished for what they allowed to occur during the 1930s. This was a tolerance for the devaluing of the truth. From this moral decay, a paranoid and xenophobic culture emerged which then led to the height of immorality - an indifference to the sufferings of others.
The clear lesson is that the resilience that matters most to a society's continuing viability is its resilience to moral decay. This is the resilience which does not come naturally. This is the resilience which has to be built.
From the German experience we should have learned that it is a self-serving government and a self-serving media that lead the way in the moral decay of a whole society. Can we identify this force at work in our own peaceful and relatively gentle society? We can. To support a wish that they wanted to be true, the Howard government and the tabloid media condemned the throwing of children overboard from a boat of asylum seekers - without any check on what was the true situation.
From the German experience we should have learned that even an advanced society feels insecure, and in such a frame of mind can be manipulated by misinformation. Can we identify this force at work in our own peaceful and relatively gentle society? We can. A contributing factor to the Howard government's re-election shortly after the children overboard incident would likely have been the heightened xenophobia of the electorate due to misinformation which was not strongly enough condemned in time to affect the outcome.
It was implied by the Howard government that the asylum seekers were not of good character. It was emphatically stated by the Hitler administration that Jews were sub-human. That gap seems to be too wide for we relatively decent people to ever cross. But the gap is only a distance to be travelled and is not a chasm. By degrees we can become as bad as the worst of them as human DNA is the same in every society.
Our schools have since taken aboard the Howard government's weapon against moral decay. This is the taxpayer-funded chaplaincy service. Now we need schools to teach our children the value of evidence. Only when we insist on evidence can we keep our society from slipping by degrees into behaving monstrously.
How the media encourages mob-think
Tabloid radio's listening audience is not discerning - it is reactionary - and a popular broadcaster on talk-back can make a strongly emotive statement that is instantly processed by 500,000 minds. It is a threat to our way of life that broadcasters with biased opinions are not only given a free hand to say almost what they feel like, but after it becomes obvious that a mistake has been made, little is done by the organisation to subdue the broadcaster. To give two examples:
Broadcaster Alan Jones made a reference to "Middle-Eastern grubs" - and did not lose his job when the Cronulla riot followed soon after. This event frightened every Muslim in the country. Now 350,000 Muslims feel less Australian. Before him Sydney broadcaster Ron Casey sent a message to "the boys at the pub" to leave their beers and "sort out a few Asians" - and he got away with that (not completely as media personality Jana Wendt did not forget and maneuvered him into a humiliating situation on her show).
In 1975 there was a "constitutional crisis". The masses did not notice a far more serious situation. There are unavoidable negative outcomes inherent in any administration, but a press determined to get rid of the Whitlam government was able to convince the electorate that the government was not fit to manage a chook yard. The stage was set for the necessary circumstances to come together to remove an elected government.
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