Why is doing good mercilessly mocked?

Posted on 01 Sep 2022

By Denis Moriarty

Fairy Godmother i Stock 900993400

The federal Opposition under Peter Dutton is still hostile to action on climate change.

One of its continuing complaints is that Australia’s contribution to the problem is minor – about 1% of global carbon emissions – and that no significant improvement is going to be made unless the US and China act. Why, it says, would we disadvantage our own industries if what we do doesn’t matter? As commentator Peta Credlin said recently, “Why are we doing this to ourselves, to cut our 1% of world emissions in order to be a ‘good global citizen’,” when China isn’t?

It's an argument that Australia seems to have rejected, but it’s still worth addressing, because it’s one that is a threat across a wide swathe of Australian social mores. Why is being a good citizen seen as being so weak, so stupid, so mockable?

Let’s be open about this. The hard right are genuinely opposed to altruism, in principle. They believe that social progress comes from competition red in tooth and claw where individuals like Gina Rinehart fight for their own personal selfish interests (and, at a pinch, for their immediate families, provided they do what they’re told). “Do-gooder” is an insult almost as derisive as “woke”.

Denis CIC19
Our Community group managing director Denis Moriarty

In business terms, this translates to American economist Milton Friedman’s doctrine that a company has no social responsibility to the public or society; its only responsibility is to its shareholders, to increase its profits. In personal terms, it involves charity beginning at home and ending there, too.

I think this ideology is an utter distortion of the actual history of human progress. We’ve got as far as we have because we’ve worked together for most of the time under codes that prioritised generosity, tolerance, and sacrifice. We work for those who come after us, for example, even though that isn’t going to benefit us at all.

If Gina really believed that redistribution was a communist plot, she’d stop working now and try to spend her billions on herself before she died and lost the lot. I’m not saying it would be easy – it would involve spending about a hundred dollars every waking second for twenty years, which is a lot of caviar on her pork chops – but it would be the logical thing to do.

The thing is, though, that spitting on good citizens does have an effect. The voluntary sector in this county isn’t as healthy as it was, and Credlin-style rhetoric certainly doesn’t help.

Australians used to belong to a wide range of overlapping and culturally significant organisations – churches, unions, bowls clubs and political parties, for example. Increasingly, we’re holding back.

The latest Australian Charities Report shows that the number of Australian volunteers has dropped again. That’s a result of COVID, possibly – but it dropped the year before, too, when COVID was just a twinkle in the eye of a Chinese bat. Eliminating double counting and ruling out children and prisoners, something like 17% of Australians volunteer for a community not-for-profit – a lot of people, but not enough to make volunteering the norm.

Labor’s Charities Minister, Andrew Leigh, wants to fix this. He’d better, for Labor’s own sake. Parties are becoming husks of their former mass movements. In the 1950s, Robert Menzies’ Liberals had 200,000 members; now the party has at most 50,000, out of a population two and a half times larger, and Labor’s much the same. The problem isn’t that branches are being stacked, the problem is that they’re small enough to stack.

Part of this decline may flow from the general decline in churchgoing. Whatever you may say about the churches (and as a collapsed Catholic I’ve had a few things to say in my time), they did train you into making sacrifices for others. Over 2000 years the church (even with its mad preponderance of men) developed the technologies of nagging to a high degree. Just imagine if the Greens were able to corral their supporters for an hour of lectures every single week, with a collection at the end! It’s unthinkable now.

The whole idea of doing things because they’re the right thing to do is under challenge from the spread of a sense of entitlement masquerading as an appeal to Trumpist-style freedom. The COVID lockdown was, among other things, a call for solidarity, and there’s been a major push from the brutalists to retrospectively classify it as a Stalinist tyranny.

I may be an outlier here, but I can’t see why doing good is worse than doing harm. I think being a good citizen is better all round than being a feral. And I think being woke is more productive than being asleep.

Denis Moriarty is group managing director of OurCommunity.com.au, a social enterprise helping the country's 600,000 not-for-profits.

We're proud to take a stand on progressive issues, which we're able to do as a social enterprise that's not tied to the purse strings of any government or corporate organisation. Here's a taste of some other recent commentaries.

Become a member of ICDA – it's free!