Most traditional societies revere their elders and their wisdom and celebrate and cherish their youth for their innocence and energy. These societies have been premised on the elders being supported when they are past their age of labour. The youth in these societies are supported through informal/formal education and care to understand their world and their responsibilities as they age. This is a social contract as old as time itself.
In our “developed” world this traditional social contract was given more depth and a wider vision, whereby, the broader society shared in these responsibilities. Youth had access to affordable, even free, formal education and elders were provided universal support to assist them in their waning years. Other programs were created to assist people through many of life’s other challenges including disabilities, changing employment situations and hardship situations.
This type of social contract has existed in most developed countries at least since the end of the last great depression. This concept grew in importance after World War II, a war fought to overcome the last wave of ultra-conservatism and fascism that threatened the world.
The “developed” world is again under treat by a new wave of ultra-conservative ideology that is gaining control of many democratic governments and free societies, not only threatening their democracies, but bent on destroying any form of social contract that exists.
The recent financial collapse which engulfed the entire world was caused by the unfettered greed of financial managers, huge subsidies and bailouts to large corporations. It wasn’t the result of social support to the aged, disabled and disadvantaged. It has though, given traction to the proponents of this extreme ideology in many countries.
Using the untruth of global fiscal collapse (corporations are swimming in unused cash) they are imposing a process of government and societal restructuring that negates any concept of social support much less a concept of a social contract. The importance of the human dimension of society, let alone a humane approach to life has little value in their ideological world. Only the strong (and rich) deserve to survive.
In these countries, which includes Canada, people face the diminishment of democratic government, privatization of national assets, programs and resources and the collapse of meaningful social support, including education. At the same time policies are being created providing more governmental control, punitive justice, military expansion and curtailment of individual, family and community freedom.
These impositions will come at great cost both fiscally and societal. They will be borne by those most vulnerable, which include the old and the young and the disadvantaged, certainly not those most wealthy. Most fiscal wealth is now controlled by larger private interests and less is in the hands of the people. This will be only be exacerbated by the intended restructuring.
This is an insult to those elders, many now gone, who had the foresight to build democratic and supportive governments with open societies. They knew that people would flourish and prosper in such an environment. The expansion of technology, the growth of a well educated middle class and the once wide dispersion of wealth are but examples of the results of their wisdom.
Today’s elders now face limited support, later retirement (most will never be able to retire) and increasing poverty after a lifetime of labour. Most private pensions are now bankrupt, collapsing, or being withdrawn. Government employee pension plans are becoming overwhelmed with early retirements and redundancies complimented by golden handshakes that it is questionable how long they will survive. The concept of retirement is being set back a century.
It is an abuse to those younger, who in free and open societies would have widened their educations, made considerable contribution to societal development and brought charity and sharing to new levels throughout the world.
Instead, youth now face unaffordable, substandard education and big debts, low-paying or non employment and housing and living costs that eclipse anyone’s ability to pay. For them retirement won’t even be a dream, much less one to be dashed.
The last time such ultra-conservative ideology achieved a foothold in a society, it took a world war to put it in its place and bring humanness back into vogue and into conscious thought. Such ideology is now so pervasiveness, and in so many countries that it is an even greater challenge. The apparent lack of appreciation by people of the societal threat of this ideology and its proponents is much more worrisome.
Where are the wise elders who can share their wisdom of the folly of what’s happening? How can youth get a foothold to at least challenge what is being perpetrated upon them?
These two questions, more than any others, perhaps hold the key to the future of free and open democratic societies that will not be replaced by repressed states controlled by a few twisted ideologs.
Written by Bill Pardy
March 13th, 2011