A young social worker recently told me that her clients were showing deep cynicism toward “the government”. This includes any government, of any stripe, because where they once had hope that life could become more pleasant, or at least less punitive, now they realise that all governments are without compassion, or even understanding.
Of course she deals mainly with people who are involved with either welfare support, or child protection issues, maybe housing problems. Read that for ‘the poor’. Those who rely on the government to improve their lives, or to make it at least liveable.
The election of a Labor government has made no difference to this cohort: They still live on around $40 a day, their housing is hopelessly inadequate, if they have a roof over their heads; their prospects of finding decent work are often out of reach, their health is worse than anyone else’s.
The list is long, but if you choose to turn a blind eye to others’ suffering, it doesn’t matter. You have an opinion that you deserve that bottle of French bubbly, that quick holiday to the snow. You might not have thought too deeply about it, but your brunches on Sunday morning will continue, because you can afford it.
You know it, because you have heard it all, many times. “You get a go if you have a go.” “Life is a race.” “Tax cuts for the rich” because the last government promised them.
We don’t say it out loud, but most of us agree that the poor are being punished for their poor life choices. Of course we also know about the inequality built into the system, and the skills and intelligence lottery, the parents raffle, but best to blame the poor for their conditions. “She shouldn’t have married him” shouldn’t be worthy of a life sentence of abuse, or children going hungry.
We have developed a particularly selfish middle class in this country. Perhaps it is the loaded education system, where we pay a subsidy to educate the children of the rich, and those aspiring to be rich, while starving the public schools of resources. That way you get a never-ending supply of what used to be called “factory fodder”.
That is why we have a splintered workforce, roughly divided into two. The ones with a degree or a trade, and a job at a good salary, comfortable working conditions, and that smug sense of achievement which comes from stepping up into your expected role, with all the trimmings, and not much in the way of struggle.
The others are those who don’t get sick pay, or regular work, or comfortable conditions. Often they deliver your Uber Eats, should they arrive in one piece. These are the people who inhabit your fever dreams, with rotating bodies in beds in slum like conditions, usually non-white, but jolly good workers picking up the jobs no-one else wants.
If you want to experience these divisions first hand, go to the races in Melbourne, during Cup week. There you will see the greedy and the entitled, feasting on fine wine and throwing away more good food than ten food-banks collect in a week.
See them lurch to the bookies to place bets which could cover the rent for an entire family for a week. See them vomit, or fighting among themselves, at the end of the day; but it is never from shame, but over-indulgence.
I was going to talk about the poisonous leadership of this country, and the corrosive effect it has had on generations of Australians, but these Australians know better than to live these empty lives of consumerism.
Possibly their grandparents bored them with tales of how we used to take care of each other. Yes there were social divisions, but not like these divisions.
Now we accept the difficulties in finding enough food, decent housing, health care as the unavoidable consequence of living in a mercantile world. We conveniently blame ‘the economy’, the wheels within wheels which dictate social inequality. Which is nice, but untrue.
We choose the society we live in. We allow governments to ignore sections of the community, because it doesn’t affect us. But as human civilisation faces possible extinction, might it be time to reflect on our own greed and profligate ways?
Taking care of the others is called for, and should civilisation crash and burn, I would like to know I at least thought about, and acted on behalf of, those who need our help. As the waves crash over Brighton Yacht Club …
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