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From adolescent hope to mild despair in just forty short years

By James Moylan

In just forty years the ‘Australian ethos’ has transformed itself utterly. We no longer believe we are ‘lucky’. Disillusionment and distrust has become the default setting.

Our juvenile political dreaming has been grossly tempered by the events of the last four decades. Our difficult adolescence has given way to widespread and very adult disenchantment. The ‘lucky country’ mentality has vanished. It seems that gradually, as a society, we have incrementally discovered that all of our fondest childhood dreams were mere phantasms.

Forty years ago it was easy to tell the story of what it meant to ‘be an Australian’ – this is no longer the case. All the core aspirations and rationales that were once held in common have, over the years, become ever less substantial. Aussie ‘culture’ seems to have thinned and disappeared slowly like the early morning mist. In its place we are left with cable & free-to-air television, national & local print media, plus local & national radio, that are all brought to you by a the same handful of national and multinational corporations. All with centralised newsrooms and similar post-modern sensibilities. We have over the last forty years turned from considering ourselves to be citizens of a commonwealth to be consumers in an economy. Where once we had local television, radio, newspapers, and school and community events: we are now all plugged into the same huge, massively differentiated yet amazingly particular, world-wide, multi-media experience.  In the modern age the Australian accent fades and our disenchantment becomes personal, lonely, digital, and partisan.

Most significantly for the future of the Australian ‘ethos’ is the lack of any new explanations and stories being born on our own soil. It seems the Aussie story is dead. We are now engaged in retelling over and over again all our original stories in a new Aussie/Hollywood/capitalist vernacular. So translating all of our cultural myths for a modern audience. One that simply no longer believes that we all live in an egalitarian society, or that everyone is or should be pretty much equal. Or that this is any sort of an ideal that is worth pursuing. Or that any such agitation would likely make any sort of difference anyway. (Sigh).

So into this vacuum has roared a flood of American and mid-Atlantic comedies and commentaries and celebrities and reality shows, all interspersed with a million disjointed advertisements that all assume you are a heartless mongrel. Thus we have allowed corporations to usurp all authority and dilute ethics until we come to the current juncture where we all know that politicians are owned by vested interests, and yet it somehow just does not seem to matter. They have just been relabelled as ‘sponsors’ and ‘donors’. So now the general opinion is that it doesn’t matter who you vote for your vote is going to be overruled anyway. Cynicism is widespread and perfectly warranted considering there is so much to be cynical about.

As a result our society has become so dispirited and disjointed that we no longer even expect our politicians to act in the public interest. Quiet informed desperation has replaced angry activism. The idea that our politicians were ever anything other than corrupt and eminently corruptible now seems quaint. ‘Society’ is a quaint historical notion. As is ‘the public interest’. Everywhere you look self interest and the economy seem to rule. We are a land where there are lifters and leaners. You are a bludger or a battler. The modern Aussie parliament and our press is positively chock-full of just this moralistic spite.

And whether or not you are labelling or being labelled, in our modern social discourse, the ‘economy’ is considered to be an unstoppable natural force that overcomes and consumes all political volition. In our modern age we simply accept that we are ultimately ruled by ‘the whim of the marketplace’. In this way economic imperative has replaced all other universal considerations. It is the last great commandment left standing. Our politicians must contemplate all matters first and foremost in the light of our ‘economy’.

In the 70’s and 80’s the tone of the discussion we were having had an entirely different flavour. The Australia of my youth was at once a much smaller and much larger place.  In 1975 there were only thirteen and a half million of us Aussies and we all shared much the same relatively egalitarian ethic.  We were proud that we had a centralised wage fixing scheme and a stable traditional banking system with fixed interest rates and strict prudential controls. Social equity was a lived reality. We had lots of local newspapers with lots of different flavours of ‘news’. Rent was cheap. As were houses.  Beers were different in every state, as were the retailers. Retail was still focussed in local shopping centres which were full of independent retail outlets.

However for forty years we have seen the retail, media, banking, and political options that Aussies enjoy shrinking even as the population has grown by ten million souls. From a generally equitable society we have gradually been transformed into a society of the rich and the poor. It is not only wages that have suddenly become ever more wildly disparate, during the last forty years we have witnessed the property owning class in our country become ever richer at the expense of all of the rest of us.

In 1975 average yearly earnings were $7616.00. The most expensive property market in that year was in Sydney where the average home cost $28,000 – or about three and a half times the average yearly wage. In the forty years since we have seen average wages rise to $72,000 and the average price of a house in Sydney skyrocket to just under a one million dollars – or a bit under fourteen times average weekly wages.

In other words earnings have gone up by almost tenfold and yet house prices have gone up by more than thirtyfold. Even while the top marginal tax rate has plummeted by 40%.

Therefore in our public discussions we have had to set aside most of our youthful aspirations. It is no longer tenable to conceive of Australia as being an equitable country. In fact just discussing ‘common’ aspirations at all seems to be naïve considering the constant partisan bickering. So American conversations and stories also seemed to better describe the reality we saw unfolding as our adolescent dreams soured.

Disillusionment and distrust is a far more appropriate default setting for appraising the modern Australian political and social landscape.  But it is this disillusionment that is the most dangerous aspect of our current social malaise. The majority have become so despairing they are turning away from the political process in disgust, and our political masters are happily shutting and bolting the doors behind them. They are more than happy to be in control and stay in control.

So while I am confident that the worm will turn (as I do trust the eventual common-sense of the majority) it will likely be a very long time before enough Aussies get sufficiently angry to overthrow the many political and corporate monopolies that have gained such a vice like grip on so many aspects of our society. Everywhere you turn in our country there is immediate and anguishing evidence of unabashed corporate bastardry.

Our retail sector is all about two huge thugs being allowed to buy up virtually every retail sector they want while simultaneously sucking the life out of every one of their competitors and suppliers. Our mining sector is controlled by massive multinational corporations that repatriate their profits and will likewise leave the country as soon as the resources have been exhausted.

Yet still these and most other large multinational companies who operate in our country pay virtually no tax. Which, we are informed, is perfectly all right because our Prime Minister is a businessman who knows all about tax havens and the intricacies of international banking. He says they are sorry but still I am unsure if I should believe him. I am so unsure about so many things.

In our new media environment we all know that half of what is written in our papers and online cannot be trusted. But it’s largely impossible to be sure of which is which. So to get to anywhere where politicians are trusted and the press is reliable, from here, really does require a very long journey indeed. Just thinking about how we might mount such an epic journey is exhausting.

So while I am pretty sure that the current card castle that is the Australian property market will eventually come crashing down, and the giant banking, retail, mining, and press monopolies that have so debauched our society will eventually be tamed once again. The significant question is whether or not this will be in time to stave off economic depression and environmental devastation.

As with most everyone else I remain mildly pessimistic. But I am old enough to remember back before this pervading gloom set in.  Back when we weren’t aware that we are all actively engaged in destroying the planet. Back before we surrendered all aspects of our daily life to the monopolising corporations that now crowd every desktop and lounge-room across the country. Way back when life really was a lot simpler. (sigh)

Mild despair does seem to be appropriate in this modern day and age. Excuse me while I reach for a distraction . . .

17 comments

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  1. Jack

    Reduction in Negative Gearing is off the table though there will be plenty of old age care in the Privately run prisons. So the homeless may as well commit a crime at least there will be a bed in prison and into twilight years

    http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/federal-election-2016-home-ownership-an-election-issue-as-government-takes-reform-off-table/news-story/e77a2451fffa74787fbdd261e67208d2

    http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/prisons-agedcare-proposal-will-help-keep-longterm-criminals-behind-bars/news-story/4d186643052db3fcf60b2a6056bc75b5

  2. brickbob

    Very good article and one that i can relate to. Thanks.””

  3. Stephen

    I sadly agree and I go back even further voting for the first time on being old enough, for Gough Whitlam in his first victory, gone down hill ever since Hawke was pretty useless and a sell out a lot of mouth and ego not much else really. Julia Gillard did a lot and had great ideas and had me hoping for a while till Rudd’s egomania and Abbott callously destroyed it, which is why Liberals are so desperate and determined to destroy any remaining shreds and poison the memories of what might have been.
    They say you should keep fighting and vote but while I do my experience tells me It’s the old stuck in a hole simile I keep digging and hoping but It just gets worse now we have Malcolm in a Muddle, Abbott light with a phony smile and reassuring manner and what next Liberals re-elected Turnbull dumped and Abbott back has to be a strong probability.
    I think I should give up, sometimes it is the best way, people don’t learn and will swallow what ever shallow lying promises are made only to be served a crap sandwich afterwards and most of them will smile and say thank you sir.

  4. SGB

    We are not alone, what is happening here is happening all over the western world, we are in fact a little behind.

    Just look at what is happening under the Tories of UK.

    We were saved most of the devastation caused by the GFC (clever action by the Labor Government at the time) but since then the neocons have redoubled their efforts to install a totally free market, even though it was the free, free market that has plunged us into recession after recession culminating in the GFC.

    Meanwhile the men who caused the GFC have controll of America and Australia and UK and Europe, all are treading the policies of austerity which is shear bloody stupid and they know it, but it will keep wages down, it will destroy unions and thus increase corporate profits. These people are so stupid for the instant gratification of dollars to not realise we are on a race to the bottom, even the GFC did not change the mindset of these free market fundamentalists.

    I am convinced that we have to educate the masses about the fact that Australia is a monopoly currency issuing nation, there is no need for austerity, our taxes are not used to pay for welfare or any government spending. We need a deficit to expand the economy, a surplus will only contract the economy.
    The size the deficit (or surplus) is imaterial if everyone has a living income. We can never run out of money. Living within our means, at a national level, means producing sufficient money to buy our produce, no more than that.

    SGB

  5. Steve Laing - makeourvoiceheard.com

    A sadly accurate reflection of the last 40 years. I worry for how my kids and their generation will survive this new dystopic future, if indeed climate change doesn’t get us all first. Mammon is an soulless bitch, her siren song of personal wealth and the “I’m alright Jack” attitude it instils, belittles us all.

  6. Glenn

    An interesting article and a refreshing read from the crap you come across in the MSM. This is occurring all over the Western world thanks to the power rise of the neo liberals and the Corporates who now govern everything from politics to what we eat. Capitalism has been exploited by the mega wealthy and given them almost absolute power at the slow demise of the middle class. The younger generations are brainwashed into instant gratification and that is the problem we have. They are blind to the agenda of the power class due to their obsession of finding the next pleasure hit. It is the simple rule of divide and conquer. What does the future hold? Unless we reeducate the young it will not be good.

  7. Stephen

    I am not even wanting to live in the past I was there at the time it had good and bad but I wouldn’t want to go back at all, I’ve always looked forward to the future and the new hopes and chances,. I just don’t see it getting better as I have always hoped it would, we have access to more information than at any time education is wider spread. Yet people seem more foolish more dedicated to personal self interest ignore the lessons of the past and willing to write off others so long as they are all right yet their turn comes eventually Shallow short sighted greed used against them.
    Health is declining look at the size and condition of so many now, I’m 65 and expect to outlive a lot of 40 or 45 year old’s when you see the state of health they are in.
    A lot of older people including my own siblings seem to be the same, what’s in it for them give them what they want and stuff the young.Look after yourself and your family after that who cares. We have been trained in short term thinking we see little hope so we grab what we can or at least hope we can while we can because every one else is or will be if they can.
    Basically it is this cult of Individualism I believe it invariably leads to what we have now, short sighted self interest.

  8. Jack

    And we have to buy inferior products from China that break, blow up or just don’t work properly or Inbuilt obsolescence.Though we have 457 workers here. Aussie companies setting up overseas. Selling our properties to overseas market.This country is stuffed. You couldn’t invent a perfect maddnes if you tried. I;d Hang Howard first.

  9. Pingback: From adolescent hope to mild despair in just forty short years – The AIM Network | SUSAN'S SPACE

  10. townsvilleblog

    Why would we still consider ourselves ‘lucky’ when we have 2.5 million people living below the poverty line, huge chunks of Australian land owned by the yanks, England, Japan and of course China. The country has been sold out from under us and we as usual have gotten the rough end of the pineapple. 50% of the world’s economy is owned by just 62 people, and apathy still reigns supreme in Australia, no sign of a fightback, or anger at our situation. We are lumbered with the worst ultra right wing government that Australia has ever seen, we should be marching in the streets as we did in the 70s, yet not a murmur, I don’t get it???

  11. Julie

    Next time someone says oh! we are the lucky country or we are the best country in the world. Slap their face hard .

  12. diannaart

    No-one told me, you could have more than just one dark night of the soul…

    Which has left me unshockable, pragmatic and not a little cynical.

    My optimistic side agrees with James Moylan that “…. I am confident that the worm will turn (as I do trust the eventual common-sense of the majority) it will likely be a very long time…”

    I will continue to fight for a progressive political alliance – which will NOT occur while the LNP hold power – am hoping for a hung parliament at the next election which slightly favours Labor IF they can do what a recent Labor leader achieved (Gillard) government by negotiation, collaboration and compromise.

  13. WarrenRoss

    ” In 1975 there were only thirteen and a half million of us Aussies and we all shared much the same relatively egalitarian ethic.” The exception to this were our Catholic Liberal voting next door neighbours and the DLP family down the road

  14. Carol Taylor

    Extremism of any description seems to evoke a reaction, it’s just a matter of time. Think of how the socially stifling ’50s gave way to the free-thinking late ’60s and ’70s. It seemed that in the ’90s we revisited the ’70’s with a renewed interest in sustainability – then along came along the time where it was no longer ‘saving’ it became ‘wealth creation’. I think that we are coming to the end of that era as well, with this government still trying to convince all that their wealth equals the greater good. We no longer have Howard’s Aspirationals aspiring to anything much except flat wages, casual and temporary employment and unaffordable housing. This in itself cannot last for very much longer.

  15. johnlward010

    Corporations can—and do—get away with buying politicians, changing the outcome of elections and making laws because their legally-protected greater sums of money talk louder than we citizens do.
    Let me give you three examples of how this works:

    Shortly after taking office as governor of Texas, George Bush signed into law the Texas Environmental, Health & Safety Audit Privilege Act which exempts companies from reporting violations of environmental regulations to law enforcement officials or to the public. And if they do choose to report a violation, they cannot be penalized in any way. The same companies who benefited from this law donated $4 million to Bush’s campaign, which is perfectly legal under the First Amendment rights of corporations to “free speech”—you know, the “money talks” entitlement.

    Over the past ten years, some 25 other states have passed similar Audit Privilege laws.
    In 1997, the EPA received an anonymous tip from an employee of Riverdale Mills, a wire-mesh manufacturer located on the Blackstone River near Worcester, Massachusetts. The employee said the mill’s wastewater treatment plant wasn’t working. Agents got a search warrant to investigate and collected evidence that was used by the EPA to indict the company’s owner on two counts of violating the Clean Water Act. However, the judge agreed with the owner’s attorneys and refused to allow the water test results into testimony because the EPA took the samples without informing the owner. The case against the mill was dropped.
    In the early 1990s, Florida Rock Industries applied for a permit to mine limestone from 1,500 acres in the Florida Everglades wetlands. To their credit, the Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit because of the high risks of pollution and destruction of habitat. So the company sued the Army Corps for compensation of future profits;
    the government wound up paying Florida Rock $21 million.

    Today, the charters governing corporations no longer require businesses to benefit the public good; instead, they are required by law to place the wealth and profits of the Corporation and private shareholders above all other considerations, including local laws and ordinances.

    This legal point is also now—thanks to the United States—enshrined in international law and is the reason why the World Trade Organization consistently rules against the laws and protections of sovereign nations in favor of the rights of corporations to operate independently and above local and civil laws and regulations: So long as they are creating wealth and profits for the shareholders, their practices and operations cannot be impeded in any way.

    Their right to make money takes legal precedence over human rights.
    This right also extends to concepts of ownership that, in effect, turn human beings into indentured servants for corporate profits. In addition to mineral or drilling rights beneath the land you or entire villages thought you owned, corporations now own rights to the seeds that farmers once saved and shared freely, but now have to purchase at exorbitant cost;
    They own rights to entire species of medicinal plants that are integral to indigenous cultures;
    They even, as I mentioned earlier, have begun obtaining legal rights to entire human genetic sequences, including the genetic material of indigenous tribes in remote parts of the world.
    An interesting example of how corporate rights supersede human rights is in the area of free speech.

    Anyone ever hear of non-disparagement agreements?
    These are contracts signed by employees which forbid them from saying mean things about the corporation they work for, and over the past few years, the number of companies using them has doubled.
    Well, this past January [2008], the investment firm Lazard began using a non-disparagement agreement which forbids not only the employee from disparaging the company, but also the employee’s spouse, domestic partner, parents, and any of their lineal descendants.

    And yes, it’s entirely legal under our Australian corporate personhood laws.

  16. keerti

    MMMM! How many steps before Soylent Green?

  17. mark

    All so truthful,thanks all.mark

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