Australia has changed. I cannot say when exactly it happened but sometime in the last 15 years, while we were all stood around the BBQ indulging in the government sanctioned, media driven hysteria about dole bludgers, single mothers, welfare cheats, refugees and terrorists, an air of brutal, self-aggrandising elitism has gently wafted over us.
Masked by our nation’s perennial feel good olfactory cocktail of jasmine, Aerogard and BBQ smoke we barely noticed it at first, but over that last few years it has become far more pervasive. Many of the well to do among us have inhaled the right’s harsh new rhetoric as if it where the only oxygen in a gas chamber. Even so-called “Aussie battlers” can be heard publicly mouthing the right’s battle cry.
So what happened to us? How did we, the land of plenty, the nation with the 2nd highest standard of living in the world, the nation of the fair go for all, the nation of the good sport, come to this? How did we come to feel so besieged, so hard done by, so threatened?
Throughout history humans have toiled under countless social orders. Whether it be tribalism, feudal fiefdoms, the divine right of kings, communism, capitalism, religious caliphates, socialism, collectivism, fascism or rampant corporatocracies, power and politics have always been about the allocation of resources.
While there are limitless arguments over the virtues and shortcomings of various political systems, the long-standing schism between the left and right is basically about whether power and resources aught to serve the interests of the few (as favoured by the right) or the many (as advocated by the left).
Historically speaking the vast majority of social orders have leaned heavily to the right, which has resulted in a dynastic concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few so called “elites”. Admittedly there have been a few bold attempts at dismantling entrenched power and organising distribution in a more equitable way. However for the most part these revolutions where born of a desperate scarcity rather than a utopian vision that was crafted through careful planning; and as such most attempts to revamp the social order have been relatively short lived and achieved little more than the supplanting of one set of avaricious oligarchs by another.
But in this media savvy age, where the west pays significant lip service to the concept of democracy, the hoarding of resources and the institutional abuse of power in the name of unchecked greed must be presented in a more nuanced fashion. The stark reality must be massaged into a more palatable form.
While it is clear we do not start out on a level playing field, with issues such as educational opportunity, poverty, ill health, violence and addiction clearly plaguing some sections of society more than others. Study after study shows that children that are subject to such stressors have markedly reduced educational outcomes and subsequently lower incomes.
When pressed most Aussies agree that denying people equal opportunity is intrinsically wrong. However by glossing over the inherent inequities in the system and branding the poor and marginalised as stupid, lazy or undeserving, the right has curbed our natural concern for those less fortunate, and positioned itself as the champion of the increasingly paranoid and rapidly shrinking middle and aspirational classes.
The right’s rhetoric is an endless conversation about reducing government support in favour of self-reliance, rewarding success and not fostering dependence. It is pro capitalism, pro business, pro individual; it is the self-declared advocate of the so-called self-made man. As Hockey famously said “if you want to buy a house in Sydney, then get a job that pays good money”
On the face of it, it sounds quite reasonable that we should focus on fostering individual reward for individual effort. But as with many things that can seem intuitively correct at first glance, the issue is considerably more complex.
For a start, at what point can someone accurately be described as “self made”, rather than the beneficiary of some privilege inherent to their wealth, education, class, race, gender or sexual orientation? (This is not to say that those who actually benefit from such systemic biases don’t work extremely hard, but it does raise questions as to whether their endeavours would be quite so fruitful where they subjected to the same hurdles that say an aboriginal woman might have to contend with).
Then we need to consider the question of who is actually responsible for making a success? Whether we acknowledge it or not entrepreneurs and corporations require the efforts of an extraordinary array of people to bring their vision to life.
For example, Apple wouldn’t be able to sell many iPhones were it not for the miners and chemical engineers that deliver the raw materials, or the workers that assemble, ship and market them. So is it really accurate to describe Jobs and Wozniack as “self made”, or would it be more accurate to describe them as great innovators and organisers, who successfully utilised the talents and resources of others to rise to prominence?
Consider this, is the so-called “self made man” responsible for the fact that his workforce can read and do basic math? Of course not, yet he is benefiting from the public education for his own private profit. Did he pay for the roads and airports over which his goods travel? No. Yet he benefits and profits from the public infrastructure.
The fact is the self made man is a myth. Success is always a collaboration, and a large share of the resources brought to bear in any enterprise are funded by the public purse; a fact that is rarely, if ever, acknowledged by the right.
Sure, there are plenty of industrialists who have proven themselves masterful in utilising the abilities and efforts of others, but they are simply one cog in much larger machine, and common sense aught to tell us that if we only service that one cog the machine is heading for a catastrophic failure.
In spite of the threat of global warming, rampant environmental degradation, spiralling rates of homelessness and mortgage stress, skyrocketing health and education costs and our ever-diminishing access to fresh healthy food and water the right continue to tell us that their lop sided hegemony is a good thing; and in spite of the fact that they primarily serve the interests of huge multi-national corporations and wealthy elites, we remain surprisingly willing to believe them.
The right has branded their beloved “captains of industry” as successful. They are the “winners”, and one of the right’s great tricks is to sell us on the notion that if we work hard enough, and are smart enough, we will get our turn. But there is little to no real evidence to support this idea. There is no escaping the fact that society needs many levels of operatives to function; we can’t all be CEO’s. Someone still has to clean the toilets!
And what about those of us that cannot adequately function or contribute? Are we so full of reverence for the tax evading elites that we believe they should be able to utilise the benefits of public education and infrastructure without contributing, while the poor, disabled, mentally ill, and single parents etc., are denied a dignified existence?
The fundamental difference between the left and the right is the prescribed value that is attached to human existence and input.
I put it to you that in overvaluing and prioritising the interests of those at the top and undervaluing everyone else the right has got it very very wrong.
The right is at war with us; they are fighting to reduce our wages in support of corporate profits. They are looking to tax us more and the tax 1% less, and we are willingly falling in as foot soldiers in the war against our broader interests.
It seems to me that as we sit around our BBQ’s inhaling the heady scent of our own entitlement, demonising the weak and disenfranchised, chugging back a few beers and cheering on our nation’s reinvigorated racist zeal and self righteous cruelty to refugees, the coalition is slowly cutting our legs out from under us, while disingenuously urging us all to step up and climb the ladder.
Ever tried to climb a ladder with no legs? It just doesn’t work.