With the election now complete, many are wondering who we really are. Australia, I believe, is a nation of small people and selective blindness. We see what we choose to.
After Scott Morrison’s so-called ‘miracle’ election win, many are wondering aloud who we are. However, this Australia that has revealed has always been present, always swimming freely in the undercurrent of the nation, as simple-mindedness is handed down, and is our default function.
Fundamentally, we’re those who hang on for the cushy council job, which was my early career goal, much pay, not much work. I had (what I now understand is entitlement) to buy the newspaper strictly for the sports pages and bin the rest. I did this until I was 26. The first time I voted was in allegiance to a rhyming slogan. I bought The Daily Telegraph because the literal dimensions were easier to deal with. Politics had no say in my purchase, as I had no politics. It was a question of personal ease.
After Saturday night, it’s fair to say that the Commonwealth is moved by that ease.
What we seek, I believe, is the safety of an anonymous rut. As long as we’re personally safe, we’ll take extreme lengths to maintain that comfort. As a nation, and this is particularly obvious in my grandfather, we possess fearful respect for society’s lesser authority figures. He values the postman, the bus driver and the constable. While he believes that politicians are crooked, he evokes the mysterious golem of own his creation, the empathetic local member of parliament, when something goes awry. When he’s in crisis, or worse, when he feels he needs to complain, his ally is the person we elected, the person he cannot trust. My grandfather was born and raised in Wollongong, a town that proudly elevates how corrupt it is on a local government level.
Our hometown is a subjective example of our larger thinking. The original industry that made us (the steelworks and the mine) is long dead, so employment is a question of survival. All employment is, of course, but in Wollongong, it has resulted in a flaw in the mindset. Because the opportunity is limited, you tend to desperately clutch onto what you can find, and hold it until you die. Those who can’t seek employment, are forced to relocate or commute 95 minutes to Sydney. Those who graduate often leave soon after. Those who stay seldom attempt to better themselves, but double down on what they already have.
In his 1964 book The Lucky Country, Donald Horne wrote about the shortcomings of us, in that “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.”
Which I certainly agree with Horne, I think the problem runs deeper. As our lifestyle is dominated by what is in front of us. Paycheck to paycheck, weekend to weekend, Monday to Friday; we lead by deferment, which is to say that we choose those who promise to save us from what we fear most: a removal of our comfort. We’re dealing with the here and now, the future is tomorrow. It has nothing to do with us. We need to deal with the things that directly impact us, as we believe that we cannot afford the apple cart to rock even slightly. Which, of course, stops us from wondering why our financial management is so poor, with many of the election scare tactics following the line of if we spend it on x, the economy will self-destruct. Obviously, one should ask why the economy is one hit away from austerity, yet we clutch our purses closer to our chests. We don’t ask these questions, because we fear the next crisis, because we’ll have to deal with it.
Queensland’s inability to accept climate change as a reality speaks loudly to that fact. They chose to stick it to the ‘latte sippers’ from the south. We believe it isn’t as urgent as the gas bill, so we dismiss it. The conservative media’s takedown of school children, those who opposed climate change, is a particularly vibrant example of our own delusion. Climate change isn’t the problem, our kids skipping school and tarnishing their attendance record is.
We view worrying about the future climate as a luxury. The same holds true for the poor, or those seeking asylum, or those seeking better healthcare. It doesn’t matter, unless it affects us personally. We’re not sick, or unemployed, or not from here. The planet isn’t boiling yet, so I better make sure I can get my slice of the franking pie.
We are fortunate than lucky. By definition, you can create your own luck, but fortune is random. Most of us are fortunate enough to have the more serious of life’s problems representing nothing more than a bad week to forget. That lack of uniform strife has bred this culture of entitlement. The people we need to most look after is not our children, but us…so we can look after them. So we can afford the housing deposit they’ll ask us for. So they can move out of our house, so they can take our second car, which they can have…at a heavy discount. They need to learn about responsibility.
We should never forget, and always note, our capacity for smallness. We may miss it, especially when we’re winning. While we’re hosting the Olympics (but leaving Cathy Freeman’s statement on inclusion just a moment in history), or the domination world cricket (but elevating the application of sandpaper on a ball to a national discussion) or tracking the turbulent wake of a man we nicknamed the ‘Thorpedo’, (but not giving him the opportunity to marry whoever he wanted to).
Disappointment, I feel, comes from overestimation. Clearly, the ALP thought we were smarter, more empathetic and more hopeful than we were. It is the hope that kills you, yes, but as a nation that hopes to remain the Casino until they kick us out, or until we beat the house, we’ll continue to justify our choices as the means to a very personal end.
Donald Horne discovered this fact, as we witnessed the pejorative title of his book, (which was an acidic takedown of 1960s Australia from cover to cover) morph into one of endearment, which he later recalled: “I have had to sit through the most appalling rubbish as successive generations misapplied this phrase.”
Clearly, we’re subject to selective blindness. We see what we want to, and our vision seldom extends beyond our property line.