‘Activist’ is a term of abuse for some. I am not sure why. If an activist is someone who actively seeks to change public attitudes, is there anything necessarily wrong with that? Prime candidates would be Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King. And, for that matter, Martin Luther and that son of a Jewish carpenter who started it all.
Are we wrong to look up to these people? What makes them heroic but makes other activists nasty? The answer is I think that you accuse someone of being an ‘activist’ when you don’t want the change in public attitudes that they wish to bring about. Like a reduced reliance on coal.
This intellectual lesion – for that is what it is – is linked to another. Some people say – and for the most part they keep a straight face – that corporates or business people generally should not engage in public debate about political, social or moral attitudes. Again, I am not sure why.
This response is odd for two reasons. First it mainly comes from people who sprout about freedom of speech at the drop of a hat – but here they want to restrict that freedom in others.
The second reason that this response is odd is that it is bullshit. Business is conducted in a community and if the business people get offside with their community, that may well be bad for business. That is why a body in the entertainment industry like the AFL has to take and be seen to take an active interest in diversity issues like gay rights, aboriginal recognition, and equal pay for women.
That is why Rugby Australia had to adopt the position it did with Folau. If people in that kind of business are seen to act against gays or indigenous people or women, the commercial consequences could be dire.
The same goes for BHP and aborigines. Mining companies have to work with aborigines and be seen to maintain a good relationship with them. Alcoa said as much in a successful libel action against the ABC for saying they did not care about aborigines.
None of that is hard to understand. The Financial Times today had an interview with the house counsel of BHP.
BHP was among the companies named in an investigation begun by the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines in 2015, into whether fossil fuel groups have violated human rights by causing climate change. The company formally severed ties with the World Coal Association last year, after Australian green groups urged it to quit industry lobby groups whose policies did not match the miner’s support for the Paris climate agreement. Ms Cox says climate change is high on her team’s agenda because the company knows its long-term sustainability depends on support from investors, regulators and the broader society. ‘We need the support of our communities in order to be successful’, she says.
That is basic business common sense. It is why Woolworths are getting out of gaming and why the AFL is advised to do the same.
Why, then, the criticism? The answer is the same. The critics reject the message. An ‘activist’ is likely to be a ‘progressive’. It worries these people not a bit that one term is as senseless as the other. And the irony is that this activism is a response to a gross failure of leadership by governments of the kind the critics machinate for.
Still we are living at a time when people are giving millions to a millionaire who is suing for more millions a body he pledged his loyalty to and then ratted on – and they claim to be doing so in God’s name for a man content to damn one in every ten people on earth to be blasted in fire for eternity because they are different to him.
There is one born every minute.
But if, which I doubt, there is a God, there is every chance that He is very down and dirty on these galahs because they are trashing His product here on Earth.