It is strange how the synchronicity of what comes across one's path in close conjunction turns one's thoughts.
This week there has been a certain conjunction in:
Freeman Dyson's review of the Daniel Kahneman book, How to Dispel your illusions.
Geraldine Brooks' Third Boyer Lecture, At Home in the World.
Reports of the court martial investigating allegations a naval officer aboard an Australian warship repeatedly spanked the bare buttocks of a junior female sailor in the shadow of events in relation to sexual abuse at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA).
Dyson's review of Kahneman's work begins with insights into military decision-making. Military decision-making in the bureaucratic culture in which it exists is a mystery to many, not least to those within the military itself. It is often costly of lives and resources in quite profligate ways.
Brooks' Third Boyer Lecture gives full flight to her feminism. She tries to explain her views of women, war and feminism not least among these is consideration of a woman's right to fight and die as as a soldier for her country. In this stream of consciousness, Brooks speaks of meeting Janis Karpinsky early in Karpinsky's career. She speaks of the betrayal of military women by their colleagues across cultures.
Brooks points out that Janis Karpinsky - the only senior scapegoat connected to the torture at Abu Ghraib - was demoted and disgraced while male colleagues involved went onto develop and prosper in their military careers.
Brooks reports US servicewomen's role in the interrogation of Muslim prisoners by performing lewd behaviour. She points out that these actions have been officially reviewed and sanctioned. Brooks accusation is strong:
"The US military has sunk to pimping its female personnel."
Women, Brooks sums up, should approach the military life only with "a pair of tongs and a hazmat suit".
And while we hear news of elsewhere, how are things on the Australian homefront? Tawdry is one word for it. Demeaning is another as we hear of the spanking court-martial and actions at ADFA.
All this brings me to ask - what to do? Women have demanded and earned the right to pursue their careers of choice. Women have demanded the right of sexual freedom, a right men have always taken as their own. How then does a liberal society respond when women are abused, when freedom of choice is short-circuited?
My beginning suggestion is that we put away the tut-tuts or guffaws. What we need to develop within our civil society is a policy of no tolerance for such behaviour, such decision-making. We need to work at developing a society in which, when we hear of such behaviour, the perpetrators run the risk of becoming socially, politically, and financially outcast themselves.
There have to be such community sanctions in place that the perpetrators - no matter how high within the military, no matter the skewed view of what military situations might demand - know with certainty that they are indulging in high risk behaviour.
Human society has always functioned in this way - inclusion, exclusion; reward and sanctions. At this time in the 21st century, many human societies across the world are displaying a clear lack of moral compass. There is a significant inability to treat others with the respect which we would claim for ourselves. It is being writ large in financial collapse - but this could not have occurred without widespread individual moral collapse at its core.
In Australia, the settler contingent have always carried on like a colonised people ready to imitate and adopt the actions and attitudes of its "betters" in Europe or the USA. In the USA, we are currently looking at the religious co-option of one side of politics. Such religious co-option has widespread imitation in Australia. One thing we must remember is that religion morality; religion does not equal morality. Lack of religion does not automatically mean lack of morality.
Without entering into the depths of discussion about the cultural relativism of morality, I would suggest two things to bear in mind. Firstly, that the Christian's Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would be done by is found, in one form or another, across many religions and cultures. Here is evidence of a basic way forward in human society. Secondly, Australia has/had developed an ethos which may be fast eroding away. We have, in white culture, developed the concepts of being fair dinkum or, in Aboriginal parlance, being a true fella, and of giving everyone a fair go or an equal chance.
Being fair dinkum, giving everyone a fair go will take us a long way to keeping the moral compass of Australian civil society firmly in place. We need also to take heed of what our Aboriginal compatriots teach us, that without each other; without family and without culture and country we are empty shells.