Are our policy makers Voltaire’s illegitimate children ?

May 20, 2024
Care facility, Dinning area wheel chair

Aged care and disability services bureaucratic elites seem increasingly to work in ways that are divorced from morality and common sense and removed from the everyday reality experienced by older people and their families.

The modern Age of Reason was characterised by three pivotal events and the influential figures behind them. The Inquisition of the 12th Century, the writings of Niccolo Machiavelli in “The Prince,” and the establishment of the Jesuits by Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th Century. All three drew on Aristotle’s logic (Voltaire’s Bastards. The Triumph of Reason in the West. John Ralston Saul.). This method focused on constructing arguments to confirm already accepted but unproven truths rather than seeking to determine the truth through the argument itself.

In the 18th Century, Voltaire, recognising the insufficiency of this approach, further developed the Aristotelian approach by highlighting the obvious lack of morality, common sense, and connection to observed reality in his logic. Voltaire’s view was that it merely served as a tool for justifying the existing political and bureaucratic power distribution within the society of his day. However, despite the power and logic of his insights our contemporary Western power elites appear to have regressed to this earlier, morally and common-sensically vacant form of reasoning. Aged care and disability services are good examples, where bureaucratic elites appear to exhibit a similar commitment to logic divorced from morality and common sense and the everyday reality experienced by the aged and their families and communities.

That population today faces challenges clearly different from those of the Enlightenment age, which largely dealt with complexities arising from centuries of religious and civil conflicts. However, despite the Enlightenment thinkers’ intentions to replace religious superstitions with reason, there’s a community realisation that reason alone doesn’t encompass morality, common sense, personal freedom or lived experience. Instead, the policy elites use it merely as a method of intellectual determinism and control.

John Ralston-Saul argues that modern elites, whether governmental, bureaucratic, or otherwise, are driven by a common methodological approach, irrespective of their ideological differences. The question arises whether these elites truly serve the desires, needs, and values of the populace and whether their methods align with the outcomes they expect.

In a range of societal domains the bureaucratic elites are reverting to a rigid, predetermined logic, neglecting the human aspects of the issues at hand. Examples include the undue emphasis on evidence-based policies which if taken to an extreme, stifle innovation. Similarly, the unwavering faith in market mechanisms as a solution to complex social problems in the aged care and disability spaces in particular, is leading to policy rigidity, vast wastes of taxpayers money and far less than optimal solutions. For example Julia Gillard had the best intentions when she proposed setting up the NDIS – however once it was handed to the bureaucrats to design, they went about designing it by substituting method for morality, common sense and an appreciation of the real world in which people with disabilities and their families actually live and without appropriate expertise and the required level of involvement by the end user in designing the system — and now what we have is a unfolding and vastly expensive debacle that has been all about a theory of markets which do not exist in reality anywhere in the real world, with end users receiving far less than optimal care at vastly inflated prices. The bureaucrats who were the architects of the NDIS are now repeating this failure by creating the NIDS for the Aged.

Also, the lack of end user involvement in the aged care reforms is clearly demonstrated by the fact that Aged Care Reform consultations – most done by online submissions, surveys and webinars – are largely inaccessible to the people the reforms affect. Meaningful consultation for those affected by these reforms would include focus groups taking place in residential aged care and in the community. Why aren’t the consultations happening in the places that matter – nursing homes, meals on wheels services and other community based providers and recipients? Given that they were seeking feedback that confirmed their original assumptions about the method for dealing with these issues they naturally failed to involve such organisations in getting unfiltered feedback as they may well have received unwanted advice as to the shortcomings of their methodological approach. This blind adherence to long outdated methods, devoid of real-world applicability, leads to repeated failures marketed as successes. The refusal to adapt and evolve signifies a systemic failure to address the genuine needs of society. Instead, it perpetuates a cycle of repeating past mistakes under the guise of revealed truth.

The pervasive influence of this distorted application of reason is permeating every facet of Western civilisation, reducing human relationships and emotions to mere economic transactions. This reductionist approach is contributing to the erosion of societal values and the deterioration of civilisational health.

In the context of aged care in Australia, Voltaire would view our current approach and those who promote it, as a distorted and stunted interpretation of reason. Our policymakers and bureaucrats cling to ancient beliefs and methodologies, failing to acknowledge the evolving needs of society. In essence, we are the illegitimate offspring of Voltaire’s Enlightenment, lacking the vigour and integrity of our intellectual ancestry.

Article updated 21 May 2024.

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