What a strange world ours has become. Just this morning, I was wakened by the first shafts of dawn slipping through the venetians, when I became aware of my wife, propped up in bed, her face bathed in reflected light, poring over her smart-phone. “What’s the time?” I managed to croak through sleep-sealed lips. She replied. I groaned.
Yet, even I could not believe that 6.10am was sufficient reason for anyone to be glued to the internet, unless they’re a news junkie. And my wife has never been a news junkie. “What’s new?” I asked gingerly, assuming another bomb had gone off in Beirut or Kabul or any of those places that are just dots on the map, far from our provincial lives in the Land of Oz.
She rattled off a series of events and incidents about which the only thing they shared in common was their essential weirdness. “Koalas,” she said. Koalas? How could the cute little koala, victim of dog attacks, pancake-flattened by speeding motor vehicles and scorched by bushfires, almost bring down a secure, relatively popular government? But it did.
“More copies of Harry Potter books are being burned everywhere.” Only a handful of years ago, J.K. Rowling was being lauded across the globe for almost single-handedly bringing a lost generation of children back to the wonderment of books and reading, but now she was going up in smoke. Was this New England 2020? Or Kristallnacht 1938?
“More events planned to commemorate the 2000 Sydney Olympics.” That was the next pearl dropped from her news alerts, but I could only think of how the need to beat up a two-week extravaganza which not only happened 20 years ago, but has been repeated elsewhere on four similar occasions, only dulls the worth of the rest of our lives. Some pearl.
“Morrison’s still banging on about building a gas-fuelled power station,” she continued, but I’d had enough. I didn’t want to hear about more sad stories from our locked-down borders, nor did I want to hear more doom and gloom about how the Chinese are undermining us, when any discussion of the sale of the Port of Darwin – about as strategic an asset as it can possibly get – is decreed to be off-limits. Full stop.
But the gas-fuelled power station? That did stir the old grey cells a little. Not for what our prime minister said, but for what he didn’t. I have always held firm to the belief that the blind, total acceptance of the whole global package by Australian governments of both persuasions, has been the most reprehensible act of vandalism inflicted on our country since the Bank of England drove us to the brink of bankruptcy in the Great Depression.
As any fool knows, the only way to make a motza from scratch is to capitalise your profits and offload your losses. Yet we bought the idea of a free lunch, over and over again. And even when the Global Financial Crisis warned us that debt offers no way out for an asset-stripped country, we ignored the warning, preferring the smooth words of snake-oil salesmen who kept telling us you can always get something for nothing. (So long as the bill isn’t left in your lap).
I lay there in bed, mulling over these things, oblivious to my wife’s continued mutterings about James Cook University toying with the trimester nettle and another university contemplating the closure of its classics department, the basic heart of the traditional university, wondering, again, what does it take to make people face hard facts.
The Covid-inspired $200 billion of debt-fuelled public stimulus to keep an “entrepreneurial” economy afloat is hardly an endorsement of the virtues of the free market. Yet no-one has uttered the dread word of “socialism”. And the same government’s threat to build new power generation capacity because the private operators are only interested in profits, not losses, is also a black mark against Adam Smith, Milton Friedman and all the other ideological hair-splitters.
“Tina,” Margaret Thatcher said, “There Is No Alternative.” Really, Maggie; so, when does a practical recanting become a philosophical recanting? Or is that a bridge too far?
But the more I thought about the litany of social crimes from today’s news alerts, the more I realised that there is a thread in all this, whether it be monsters like Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko kicking in the heads of people who have the gall to object to a rigged election, or posturing buffoons like Kim Jong-un, who really ought to change hairdressers.
And that is that everybody seems to be getting in for their cut or cutting rivals down to size, regardless of the consequences, regardless of the climate of public opinion. It is all happening as though something in their waters is telling them the balloon is about to go up, and if they don’t grab what they can as fast as they can, they may never have the chance again. A loss of faith in the future, some may call it. Or the death of hope.
We’ve all experienced it, right down to the level of our own little plots of earth: after being told, once again, by the great sages of Canberra, that we’ll only “get a go, if we have a go” (whatever that may mean), the window-pane envelope still arrives in the mailbox, informing us that council rates, power and water charges, health-care premiums, you name it, have all gone up, regardless.
And it was only because the government overplayed its hand with Robodebt, that we wouldn’t be waiting now for the threatening letter in the mail telling us that the economic stimulus package we had received to prop up the corporate economy, was ours to pay back.
To me, it all adds up to one depressing thought: that we have lost, or surrendered, any notion that we live in a society where everyone has a place, no matter how exalted or how humble. Once upon a time, you didn’t have to have a go to get a go. You got a go because the rest of us believed that there but for the grace of god go I. In other words, if it could happen to him or her, it could happen to me.
Or, to put it another way, that hyped-up slogan, “We’re all in this together” actually had some meaning, rather than being a glib form of words put together by a slick operator in the marketing department.
As it happens, the Chinese also have an old saying: May you live in interesting times. We, surely, live in the most interesting times in nearly a century. But we should never forget that the subtext of that saying is this: Beware, that you don’t bring it on yourself.
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