Is Australia becoming a better country, or a worse one? There is no doubt that it is changing, that it has changed greatly in the sixteen-odd years since I left these shores to explore New Zealand and Asia as an educator and adventurer. It’s a question that I have to ask myself now, a mere three months after my return here from my self-imposed exile.
I never left Australia because I didn’t like it. In fact, quite the reverse. I left because I was too comfortable here, and at the age of thirty had never been overseas. It was time to move out of my comfort zone. I didn’t imagine that after taking up a job at an international school in NZ that I would then go on to live in east Asia for a dozen years. That wasn’t the plan. It just happened. I have always enjoyed exploring new things and challenging myself.
The reason I pose the question about whether Australia is getting any better is two-fold. Firstly, as a futurist with a general interest in helping to contribute to the future of Australia, I have a strong professional interest with deepening my understanding of how the country now operates.
More immediately, just this morning I read a fascinating article by John Silverster in WA Today. “The salad days of a white-bread kid” begins by describing Silverster’s 40th anniversary school reunion, and then moves into comparing Australia at the time of his high school graduation, and as it is today. His conclusions are not positive. He writes that we are less happy, less grateful, and much more angry. And yet..
We as a community have no right to be so angry. We largely escaped the global financial collapse, have good weather, a sound education system, one of the best public-health models in the world and more assets in the ground than a Mokbel on bail.
There is little generational unemployment, no massive ghettos in our cities, low crime rates and we live in a safe, democratic society.
But that is not sufficient for some. This is not so much about the haves and the have-nots but the haves and have-not-everythings. We want the biggest plasma, a spot at the front of the queue and the closest park at the supermarket. Our time is more valuable, our problems more severe and our stories more important than anyone else’s. We try to stuff suitcases the size of a Chevrolet Impala in aeroplane overhead lockers because we are too time poor to stand at a luggage carousel for more than two minutes.
We drive like extras in Death Race 2000 and see any move to be overtaken as an attack on family honour that must be thwarted immediately.
Perhaps Silvester generalises a little more than necessary, but much of the behaviour he describes can be observed relatively commonly.
Silverster also writes that he feels compelled to find the reasons for these changes. He takes a novel approach and asks police officers, and comes up with the following summary of general reasons for increasingly anti-social behaviour.
1) Deadbeat dads who disappear. Many young male offenders have grown up without a male role model in their lives. ”No one has ever shown them how to be a man,” one policeman said. ”We see 25-year-olds carrying on like spoilt 12-year-olds,” said another.
2) Ice. The spread of the drug has led to a serious spike in street violence. Police say male and female users become spooky-violent, leading to an increased use of capsicum spray and foam.
3) Internet. Increase in racial and sexual vilification, easy access to hardline pornography, hate-filled blogs on (un)social media, open invitations to crash parties and the new phenomenon of online bullying have left police to deal with a whole new culture of bad behaviour.
These are some observations well-worth thinking about.Certainly i have noted that people seem to complain a lot about things that are really not so bad. In Hong Kong, if you are unemployed or very old and have no income or family to fall back on, it is quite likely that you may end up as one of the 100 000 “cage people”, living in a metal cage not much bigger than the size of a single mattress, crammed into a room with as many as 16 others – and all without air conditioning in Hong Kong’s sweltering, humid summers. Indeed the median wage in Hong Kong is about the same money as you would get on the dole as a single person in Australia. And Hong Kong is not a cheap city to live in, often rating as one of the most expensive in the world.
The young in Australia also have an easy ride, relatively speaking. In Confucian societies it is typical to have four hours of homework after school – and then tutoring classes to top it off. It gets worse when you get into high school!
But people love to complain in Australia. I was standing next to a fellow about my age the other day, and he was swearing away, complaining bitterly that he had had to wait five minutes in line at Centre-link (the social welfare agency) before being attended to. I was severely tempted to tell him that in many countries you get little or nothing if you do not contribute to society. I managed to restrain myself. If I was getting something for nothing, I wouldn’t be biting the hand that feeds me because the food came slowly.
So much of the problem can be traced back to the nature of mind/ego, and the way it constructs the world, and constructs ‘self’.
I won’t attempt to explore the issues further at this point, but leave this discussion for a later time here on MindFutres.com. Feel free to add your own comments, below. I would be happy to hear them, given that I am now looking into this area.
You can read the rest of Silvester’s story via the link below.