Words by Gerry Georgatos, Imagery by Desire Mallet

Words by Gerry Georgatos, Imagery by Desire Mallet

Economic imperatives have taken much of humanity into the haze of despair and into a sense of unconquerable hopelessness. Economic imperatives which are not grounded in the fibre of moral reasoning will be skewed exclusively to the interests of the authors. Valid moral imperatives are categorical principles grounded in reason – pure reason, as opposed to irrational self-interest. From within categorical imperatives the experience of conscience is better understood and represented. The presumptive experience of conscience is to pursue what is right.

Personally, I am sick to death of arguments borne of economic imperatives that are not in sync with moral imperatives or that seek to reduce and even worse to dismiss moral imperatives. But this is the world we live in. Nearly everything is debated in the narrow corridor of economic arguments with no room for moral arguments. The economy should be geared to society and hence strive to equality and not the other way around. Our societies have degenerated to bean counting. The discussions are reductionist because they are framed so. The media fails to challenge the reductionist discourse by refusing to focus on the moral imperatives. Civilisation has long experienced society geared to the economy and in turn society has degenerated to indenture, a workforce and resource. We know all the rest, of the commodities that people are contained as; within the most severe stricture.

Moral imperatives can be intense arguments for the common good driven by compassion and other emotive context. Moral imperatives keep us not only safe but happy. Economic imperatives at best provide for a meritocracy, but without fail spawn underclasses and inequalities.

Economic imperatives at best argue the best use of what they describe as available funds, whereas moral imperatives are dedicated to the natural rights of all people before else and that this must be obliged. It costs society hundreds of thousands of dollars per annum to incarcerate an individual, even if for a low level offender. In Australia, more than 60 per cent of inmates have previously been to jail. Re-offending is high and many of us argue that the penal estate is a failed experiment as a deterrent to crime, particularly to low level poverty related offending. Moral imperatives argue that people should be assisted to improve their lot, to assist them out of dire circumstance, to brighten prospects for hope. However little of this occurs in a society reduced by economic imperatives, its natural levels of compassion significantly damaged, its will to help first those with greatest need languishes last. Even when economic imperatives argue ways forward aligning with moral imperatives the damage of the endless discourse of fiscal constraints, budgets, money, the economy, has significantly reduced the will for such change.

For too long economic imperatives have regularly dished out displaced anger, displaced to supposedly ‘criminally-minded’ offenders – but who in fact are poverty related low level offenders. Not everyone in our jails is criminally minded. Many are mentally unwell but have been swept up in the justifications of ruthless economic imperatives. There are a tsunami of poverty related issues and circumstances filling prisons with the poorest among us. Nearly 90 per cent of the Australian prison population has failed to reach Year 12 secondary schooling. Nearly 40 per cent did not get past Year 9. The underlying factors are there for all to see. We know the solutions and even when economic imperatives support some of the moral solutions they fail to garner wider community support. This is because for too long the authors of draconian and divisive attitudes and policies have dumped on the poor or the unwell, the vulnerable. So, when economic imperatives all of a sudden suggest it is more cost effective to not incarcerate a low level poverty related offender and instead that we should spend on their education, potential employment, on their psychosocial healing, wellbeing and mentoring, even if the spend is significantly less, far too many in society have been indoctrinated by the justifications that were deployed by previous economic imperative driven models and they cannot just let go. In other words the means and the end are always the same.

Economic imperatives will lurch wherever to serve their end and if need be will vilify whomever in order to justify their legitimacy. This vilification of others as ‘criminals’, as ‘scum’, the whole ‘self-responsibility’ mantra, has washed throughout society – biases, prejudices, classism, racism. Even the chattering classes buy into the corral of economic imperatives. They fear to radically challenge the abomination of economic imperatives only discourses because the language of ‘cost effectiveness’, ‘affordability’, ‘the economy’ are ingrained right across society – from the privileged classes right down to the majority, indentured humanity; a humanity that believes it cannot survive without the crumbs. At best, there is only tinkering on the edges, slivers of some skewed social justice, of the neo-liberal project, a project peddling propaganda –  economic imperatives. We expect it of those from within various privilege but we are done and dusted when chattering classes betray the cause and pretend to challenge but never radically. There is not a single politician thus far who has been up for the challenge.

Economic imperatives misuse the argument of incremental change as both justification and propaganda. Incremental ‘change’ is exactly what it states to be; ‘incremental’, in other words so slow in terms of change agency that unmet needs increase and outstrip any good that is achieved. The various divides continue to widen. The economy never belongs to all the people, as would be sought by moral imperatives.

Humanity is driven by the instinctual need to keep safe. Only moral imperatives explicitly understand that to keep society safe we must be fair to everyone, to provide for everyone, that there is no greater legacy than to assist people who are in need of their lot being improved, to change lives, to save lives. Economic imperatives have destroyed the legal system and set it up exclusively for the oppressor. Economic imperatives are intended as Hadrian Walls, providing safety to the few, understanding safety as a predominant entitlement for those who have accumulated various privileges, even if at the expense of other humanity; that they should be kept safe from the underclasses, from those induced into abject poverty and indenture. 85 families possess more than half the world’s measurable wealth.

It is a fortress mentality, like Fortress Australia which seeks to turn away boats of asylum seekers, or like a gated community of upper class residents who fear the increasing and intense poverty that is accumulating.

So what hope for widespread implementation do proposals such as Justice Reinvestment have when for too long the premises that that are Justice Reinvestment have been smashed by one generation after another of advocates of economic imperatives that served the interests of a single class of people? For too long the simple solution to respond to the impacts of classism, of growing underclasses of poverty, to respond to those who threatened the material well-being of the privileged was to build prisons. This continues. The propaganda sold the poor, the marginalised, the disadvantaged as ‘criminally’ minded dissidents, as ‘scum’. So dungeons were built, and the ‘scum’ were locked up. The prisons have accumulated and prison populations the world over are increasing. The United States of America houses in its jails one in four of the world’s inmates; incarcerating nearly one per cent of its total population. Only the Seychelles has a higher incarceration rate than the United States. But here in Australia if we standalone Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples from the rest of the population, from a racialised lens the statistics are damning; highest arrest rates and jailing rates in the nation. But not just in the nation, among the highest in the world. In fact, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia endure higher jailing rates than every sovereign nation on the planet. From a racialised lens, Western Australia jails Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people at the world’s highest rate – higher than the United States of America’s jailing rate of its African-American population. Up to one in six and no less than one in ten Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders living have been to jail – this is an abomination, moral, political and otherwise. We have been sold that it underlying issues do no matter, that extreme poverty does not matter, that if you do the crime you do the time, the whole self-responsibility mantra. We have been sold the simple axiom that the only crime is the one where someone steals or is aggressive or harms someone else. We have been sold that there are no excuses. All of a sudden we have the economic imperative argument being used by advocates arguing moral imperatives. They argue that it is cheaper to assist someone to improve their lot and change their ways rather than jailing them. This makes sense to those who are exclusively about the bean counting, who are bent by economic imperatives. But it doesn’t make sense to everyone, not to all those hoodwinked for too long that punishment matters, that anyone arguing otherwise is a ‘bleeding do-gooder’. We have sold vengeance as a must-do and now all of a sudden we’re saying ‘hey hold on there, they are not so bad, let’s not lock them up.’ So winning hearts and souls to alternatives to prison sentences for low level offenders because they are supported by economic models, because this will cost the taxpayer less are not an altogether winning argument. Outside prison reform advocates, it has rarely mattered to the ‘masses’ that the evidence demonstrates that alternatives to jailing the poor and troubled will likely lead to reduced levels of re-offending, surely something that society would want; but society has been damaged by the justifications that economic imperatives have for far too long viciously deployed. Vengeful societies, retribution before redemption has long been the propaganda. The only way to unpack all this is for commentators and the media to do away with the bent for exclusive economic rationales and instead focus on the moral stay.

Discourses need to be broadened, the walls of the narrow corridor of discussion must be demolished. We must move away from relentlessly grounding a perception of reason and logic and the common good in economic terms and in concomitant reductionist vocabulary. We must move away from discussing people in terms of economic imperatives – we are not beans – and instead understand and discuss issues with moral understandings, principles and imperatives. Only then will compassion take over, and do away with the horrid repressions that have been so adverse to the universal safety of human beings. If we do not do this then compassion will continue at best compartmentalised, it will never become widespread and predominant.

Moral imperatives call for equality, for an enriching of the poor, feeding the hungry, shelter for the homeless, universal care of the sick, cures for the sick, cleaning up the atmosphere and the environment, understanding that we need to live in balance with nature and to end hate, racism and fighting between people. If we want to make real difference then we have to speak in terms of moral imperatives, 24/7, and not in economic imperatives, which fail to keep us all safe, but even worse impart abominable pain on the majority of humanity. It is a categorical tenet that the means and the end are indeed identical.