Monday, February 15, 2016

Australia's pathological indifference to refugees' suffering

Drawing from a child imprisoned on Nauru
My most recent Canberra Times column is on Australia's treatment of asylum seekers.

In 'Australians' pathological indifference to refugees' suffering', I discuss the dubious ethics of our mandatory offshore detention regime. A sample:
Even if adult asylum seekers were guilty of serious legal or ethical transgressions – again, there is no evidence of this – this would be no argument for the punishment of children. Yet many Australians accept what amounts to institutional abuse. They might lament the situation, saying that it's a shame to imprison kids indefinitely; that alleged sexual assault of minors is a terrible thing; that it is hardly ideal these children are "among the most traumatised" Australian paediatricians have seen. But they still support the system itself, the efficacy of which is prefaced on suffering.
In this, my fellow citizens are supporting evils. They are vicious, in the original sense: demonstrating vices. 
These vices might include cruelty, understood as a pathological indifference to others' suffering. The medical qualifier is vital here, as human flourishing requires some distance from other beings. There is so much pain in the world, even feeling a tiny quantum of its agony would cripple us. This becomes pathological when we not only accept suffering, but also endorse and encourage it. Not because we enjoy it – this is another vice – but because we somehow refuse to recognise it as an evil. 
There are other possible vices, but the point is this: to support, in principle and by vote, the abuse of innocents requires unethical traits.
(Photo: ABC)

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