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Selective thinking devalues the V-word’s worth

by Roger Pulvers

There is a six-letter word so abused and perverted these days that I wouldn’t blame the media for banning it altogether. It is the V-word and, I must confess, I hesitated to write this column about it myself. But journalists must not be daunted by trends that pollute . . . and so, here we go. The word, as you may have guessed, is “values.”

It’s bad enough that ex-Prime Ministers Lee Kwan Yew (Singapore) and Mohamad Mahathir (Malaysia) celebrated “Asian values” in the 1990s. This novel use of the V-word was a euphemism for paternalism and authoritarian rule. “Just listen to us,” it told a few billion allegedly disciplined and industrious folk, “and keep your noses to the grindstone.”

Perhaps the only positive thing that came out of the Asian economic crisis of the late ’90s was the death of “Asian values.” In some countries, the grindstone nearly ground to a halt.

Now we have “family values,” a common buzz of the V-word on the Bible Pounders’ Circuit. The Republican National Convention of 2004 placed these values snugly in their platform on abortion.

“We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life,” stated this lofty platform.

The crux, if you will, of this platform is the two words “traditional” and “innocent.” Traditional is a coded Bush-word for “Christian.” “Innocent” simply implies that while the aborting of a fetus is a sin, the “taking out” (to borrow a term from evangelist Pat Robertson) of a democratically elected, leftwing Latin American president is not. According to this fervent belief, the American justice system is as rock solid as Alcatraz, ensuring that no one would ever find themselves innocently on Death Row.

In other words, to these Singaporean, Malaysian and American leaders alike, “values” exist to facilitate the privileged and wealthy elite of a society in maintaining power over the docile masses.

But the V-word has, for the most part, not been shouted from the ramparts in Australia, where I am presently writing this column in Sydney. Not until recently, that is.

Pick up a paper here, listen to the radio, watch the news on television. This generally secular and laid-back society has become drastically “values added,” thanks to the American moral agenda being imported lock, stock and smoking barrel. Australia’s Conservative Prime Minister John Howard is rocking ‘n’ rolling with the big boys, whistling “Dixie” and humming “Rock Around the Cross” in tune with the Top Gunslinger of the West.

The Australian government is providing A$29.7 million over the next four years to make “values education a core part of schooling.” The Howard government has issued a document on what it considers sacred features of Australian society. On the cover of this document is a picture of Simpson and his donkey. This is to be the Australian symbol of inculcation.

Now, if you don’t happen to be Australian, neither Simpson nor his donkey may immediately resonate. Simpson is John Simpson Kirkpatrick, a hero of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign in World War I. He carted wounded Aussie soldiers away from the front on his donkey.

No one would denigrate the courage of John Simpson (who, by the way, was English), stretcher-bearer with the 3rd Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps in 1914 and 1915. But I find it bizarre that young Australians today are being told to live up to the example of soldiers needlessly maimed and slaughtered at Gallipoli in a battle that had nothing to do with the defense of Australia, but was really just part of an imperial war waged against one dying empire (the Ottoman) to save another (the British).

Ironically for today — and these historical “value” lessons are only valid in terms of their contemporary import — in both that war, nearly a century ago, and in Australia’s war in Iraq now, Australia is willingly doing the bidding of a powerful master. In both wars, too, Australians are called upon to kill Muslims with no value whatsoever to Australian political, economic or cultural life. In other words, “traditional values” in Australia means offering yourself to be led by the nose by a leader, be it the U.K. or the U.S., on a dangerous and pernicious path which that leader has chosen for you.

Australian values? Don’t think for yourself; let others think for you.

The current Australian government has not gone down this path blindfolded. This time, however, they are dragging their country to a place it has not been before. Australia may have thrown itself in with the big boys strategically, but it has, increasingly in recent decades, chosen its own cultural, or multicultural, way. Australia has stood out, since the early ’70s reforms of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, for its genuine tolerance and ethnic harmony. The government now is dismantling this in the name of “American values” — and in the process making the country a target of terrorists.

ABC News reported on Aug. 24 that Education Minister Brendan Nelson was taking a firm stand in the defense of Australian values. “Those who do not accept Australian values,” Nelson said, “should clear off.”

It was unclear what Nelson meant by “Australian values,” or how people born in Australia could be made to “clear off” if they didn’t accept his values. It was clear, at any rate, that he had Muslim Australians in mind.

It is deeply regrettable that the V-word has lost its value. It has to mean more than self-sacrifice in support of wealthy elites jealously guarding their palace gates.

Those who truly cherish values do not transpose them in an antiquated form from one era, or one country, to another. They reinterpret them faithfully and honestly in the spirit of the times and the place in which they live.