We have a Law Reform Commission that’s impotent, as well as a Commission for Human Rights that has no impact on the lack of rights of Australians. Is that accidental—or intended? Is there a chance for any sort of reform in this country before it slips up its own shirt-tails into eternal darkness and intestinal rumblings?
Most, if not all, of the changes to our society wrought since the mid-Seventies owe their existence to ASI, or augmented social incompetence, a disease that always plagued Australia but is now de rigeur like never before. It came out of a permissiveness organised by boofheads that rendered respectable the freeing up the economy (code for tailored anarchy) by cutting corners to facilitate profits for the most cunning of us with no regard for the social or cultural consequences. The imagined Utopia we wanted became Dystopia (bummer), marked by even greater alienation than Marx ever imagined.
There’s a quality our society has that makes any desire for reform look not just naive or stupid, but downright treasonous. According to H. L. Mencken: “A Galileo could no more be elected president of the United States than he could be elected Pope of Rome. Both high posts are reserved for men favoured by God with an extraordinary genius for swathing the bitter facts of life in bandages of self-delusion.” Here are more observations by other Mencken types worth repeating. Modern society honours its living conformists and its dead troublemakers. Scientific discovery consists in the interpretation for our own convenience of a system of existence that’s been made with no eye to our convenience.
We risk becoming the best-informed society that has ever died of ignorance. On our watch, the future switched from being a promise to a threat. It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. It’s a sad and stupid thing to have to proclaim yourself a revolutionary just to be a decent man. It’ll be a great day when education gets all the money it needs and the Air Force has to hold a fete to buy bombers. If you’re not outraged, you haven’t been paying attention. The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat. Are right and wrong convertible terms, dependent upon popular opinion?
A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both. Few great men could pass Human Resources today. It’s getting harder and harder to worry needlessly. There is no hope for a civilization that starts each day to the sound of an alarm clock. It would be a service to mankind if the pill were available in slot machines and the cigarette were placed on prescription. Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them. Today, more than ever, you’re obliged to pretend respect for people and institutions you consider absurd, even evil. You live attached in a cowardly fashion to moral and social conventions you despise, condemn, and know lack all foundation.
It’s that permanent contradiction between your ideas and desires and all the dead formalities and vain pretences of your civilization which makes you sad, troubled and unbalanced. In that intolerable conflict you lose all joy of life and all feeling of personality, because at every moment they suppress and restrain and check the free play of your powers. That’s the poisoned and mortal wound of the ‘civilized world’. When people go to work, they have to leave their hearts and conscience at home or get let go. The choice so often these days is to believe something that seems insane or go insane. Oh, for the good old days when people would stop Christmas shopping when they ran out of money. Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths going in or out of fashion. The trouble with our age is that it’s all signposts and no destination. We’ve produced a world of contented bodies, discontented minds and broken spirit.
Think what a better world it would be if we all—the whole world—had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. We’re living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavours and furniture polish is made from real lemons. Most people are willing to pay more to be amused than to be educated, and are only too happy to pay a plumber well rather than a school teacher. Unhappy is a people that has run out of words to describe what is going on. People have been working all these years to make the world a safe organized place with no thought to how dangerous they’d make it. A definition of sanity is the ability to tell real from unreal. We need a new definition today. The world is so dreadfully managed that there’s no one manning the complaints desk anymore.
Failure seems to be regarded as the one unpardonable crime, success as the all-redeeming virtue, the acquisition of wealth as the single worthy aim of life. The hair-raising revelations of skulduggery and grand-scale thievery merely incite others to surpass by yet bolder outrages and more corrupt combinations. Armaments, universal debt and planned obsolescence—those are the three pillars of Western prosperity. Most people know more about their member of parliament via smear campaigns or corruption than they know about their own neighbour via conversations, just as they know a lot more about Britney Spears via tabloids than they know about their own MP via voting brochures.
The worst of it is that no one seems to detect a problem with all this, especially those paid to detect and fix them.
Greg Hamilton is a former architect and academic, now a novelist, social critic and advocate for a new Australian Constitution for a genuinely independent Australia.