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Cynicism wins out over hope

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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  1. Phil Pryor

    Government may seem paternal or occasionally maternal, but it is predatory, subject to the obscenities of ambition, pose. preferment, riddled with insiderisms, plotting, rigging, pocketing, asserting, coercing, ignoring, The vast majority of decent people live conscientiously enough, in trades and professionas, with skills and duties, with regard for family, neighbours, society. You can be an honest politician, but don’t get caught at it. Australia’s record is not so good, but, look around, back, deeply…

  2. Mark Buckley

    We as a society have become hardened by the endless rhetoric of so-called leaders, who have increasingly embraced the dog eat dog philosophy of the late 19th century.

  3. Andrew Smith

    Interesting and related to media’s ‘cost of living’ obsessions, most lower income people have permanent ‘cost of living’ crises, but ignored till it impacts middle income.

    Further, cynicism towards liberal democracy, government, services and taxes are constant media and political themes of radical right libertarians, to discredit centrist governments.

    Prof Ian Haney-Lopez, author of ‘Dog Whistle Politics’ has cited not just racism, but targeting of liberal democracy to encourage disgust and disengagement, as a form of voter suppression in the Anglosphere.

  4. Hotspringer

    Well, as a pensioner I expected nothing, and that’s what I got. I will miss out on the tax cuts and subsidies for fossil fuel companies.

  5. Mark Buckley

    Prof Ian Haney-Lopez, author of ‘Dog Whistle Politics’ has cited not just racism, but targeting of liberal democracy to encourage disgust and disengagement, as a form of voter suppression in the Anglosphere.
    Playing the ‘long game’ Andrew?

  6. RoadKillCafe

    Given that we have embraced mass suicide by our constant, relentless destruction of this planet, our home, does the luxury still exist of politics, of factions, of right wings/left wings deserving of attention, of energy, of discussion.

    It appears to me if we, the whole damn lot of us insane creatures, don’t learn how to work together, don’t change our evil, deadly ways, rich or poor, we are equally fucked.

  7. Terence Mills


    Pensions are indexed to the CPI twice a year (March & September) so with the way things are going September should deliver a reasonable increase.

  8. Mark Buckley

    RoadKill (for short) I agree wholeheartedly.

  9. Overtonwindow

    I share the ‘deep cynicism toward “the government”’. I gave Labor the benefit of the doubt until yesterday but after their announcement of a review into the RBA handling of inflation, I pass. Labor are preferable in most respects to LNP, but both parties are a liability.
    The review into the RBA is a smokescreen. Both parties have fanned the flames of irresponsible commercial bank lending for at least 20 years by tax rulings that curried flavor with investors at the cost of whole of economy health.
    Inflation is no mystery, it’s a plan. Labor’s smokescreen attempt to lay the blame for inflation at the hooves of the RBA is a scam.

  10. Harry Lime

    “All societies are based on imagined hierarchies,but not necessarily on the same hierarchies.What accounts for the differences?Why did traditional Indian society classify people according to caste,Ottoman society according to religion and American society according to race?In most cases the hierarchy originated as a result of a set of accidental historical circumstances and was then perpetuated and refined over many generations as different groups developed vested interests in it.”-SAPIENS..Yuval Noah Harari.A sobering book, well worth a read if you want to get a handle on why we behave the way we do.Unless we ‘reimagine’ the future, as RoadKillCafe notes,we are going to fuck ourselves right off the planet.
    Nice article Mark,the almighty dollar will be the death of all of us.The hypnotic illusion of materialism has us by the Jatz Crackers.

  11. RoadKillCafe

    A very distressing situation, Mark, I would like to feel I had, personally, tried to change the way of our mass insanity, to instil the urgent need to wake up, stand up and demand. I’m a grandparent, I’d like to think there will be a liveable world for them, a liveable world for all that are being fucked over. Please.

  12. RoadKillCafe

    Does our incompetence never end? First varroa mite, kill all the pollinators and now foot and mouth as well as African swine fever just been detected in meat products from china and Indonesia. If foot and mouth gets loose onto Australian farm it will shut down a $27 billion trade. Not content with smashing the poor, with agreement for Beetaloo Basin, Scarborough, etc., we seem to be on an intentional course of self destruction. For fuck sake, what is happening, have the lunatics actually taken over the asylum?

  13. Stephengb

    Terrence Mills
    Yes we do get a raise “in accord with the CPI”, every Mar and Sep, but it is not actually the CPI, for the aged pension they only give us a raise “in accord” meaning a percentage of the CPI, they call it CPI but it is not, we are always behind CPI.

  14. Stephengb

    Recently I was attacked by a Labor supporter, apparently I am “a LNP stooge”.

    I was attacked because I had the temerity to criticise the Treasurer and Albo, for using the Neoliberal economic narrative.

    It seems as though culture politics applies to the ALP as well as the LNP.

    We must keep the pressure on the government no matter what their ideology, the ALP are not foolproof, not averse to telling porkies, or guilding the lilly.

  15. Terence Mills

    Some of the reporting can be alarmist and misleading,

    A young couple were interviewed on the ABC RN recently and they were bemoaning the increase in home loan interest rates which could add up to $20,000 to their loan repayments.

    It turned out that they had borrowed $1.5 million on an interest only loan repayment schedule.

    This was never explained or questioned by the interviewer and it was never confirmed (as I suspect) that this was an investment property loan and that the couple were probably house flippers that being the only explanation for the interest only repayments.

    Our media have got to be more probing as to what they are feeding us as tough luck stories can be highly misleading without the facts.


  16. wam

    Dear Mark, I am not usually a follower of if you can’t say anything nice say nothing.

  17. Fred

    Mark: It’s the age old inequality paradox. If tomorrow all food, profits and income were added together then divided equally across the planet’s population we might all have enough to feed everybody but human nature dictates that most would be unhappy. The hard workers wouldn’t be happy subsidising the unemployed, etc. Those born into wealth are likely to feel entitled. Lord of the flies revisited.

  18. andy56

    Cynicism is warranted. But, i have to say we are our own worst enemies. We as a population voted for the liberals to stay in for nearly ten years. Ten long years of death by a thousand cuts. We could have had meaningful reforms if shorten got in, but we were still in love with the ” jungle kings”. So it has come to pass, Labor had to ditch any real meaningful reform to get in. Just listen to how the greens are still getting kicked for labor’s failures under Rudd. It takes real guts to poison your career by doing what you think is the right thing. But it took an arsehole like Abbott to really shred the country.

  19. RosemaryJ36

    One significant issue which has been ignored is the role of the unions – which are not always useful!
    Allowing enterprise bargaining was usually good but the growing gap between profits and wages highlights the ill effects of company size.

  20. Terence Mills

    Good to hear that Multinational mining giant Rio Tinto has settled a tax dodge involving transfer pricing whereby they under-sell iron ore etc into their marketing hub in Singapore to minimise Australian tax and then onsell at world market prices. They will be up for around $1 billion in unpaid taxes after an investigation of its Singapore marketing hub by the Australian Tax Office.

    I used to work in Singapore and there were any number of these schemes operating in Singapore’s low tax environment which help to make Singapore a very wealthy island state who don’t actually have much in the way of their own onshore industries but do provide a very attractive domicile for dodgy tax avoidance schemes.

  21. Stephengb


    I do not think that enterprise bargaining was any help at all, I would contend that it was the wish of big business to have enterprise bargaining, why ? Because union power was invested in collective bargain which the government and big business had difficulty in fighting. They knew it was a way to control wage claims, and offset wage rise against reduced conditions.

    Hawke sold it to the unions, Hawke knew enterprise bargaining had to mean restricting the workers right to withdraw labour.

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