Sunday, 8 September 2013

Did You Get a Head Knock on the Weekend?

For some reason ever since I watched the election broadcast last night I've been thinking of this advert for NRMA Insurance a couple of years ago that featured a group of Brisbane Broncos rugby league players.

Shane Webke, the owner of the damaged car, wonders if his team-mate has had a head-knock on the weekend, and if this explains his bizarre confusion about whether the problem is caused by the elements or by a rival football team.

I wonder the same about our country.  We have just voted overwhelmingly, as we always seemed certain to do, for a government that promises to look firmly backwards, led by a man who in the first leaders debate said, "There is nothing wrong with this country that a change of government won't fix".  In other words, all the problems we are facing are caused by the Labor Party.  Is this evidence of some form of brain damage?

As you know, I'm not a huge fan of the Labor Party although I'm even less a fan of the Liberals.  For the record, I voted Green.  Yet I know it is plainly absurd to say that the problems we are facing are the result of a dysfunctional and incompetent government.  While the Labor Party is clearly divided and has serious organisational problems, the government of the last six years is not noticeably more incompetent than previous ones, and nothing in the election campaign has suggested the incoming one is exceptionally gifted. 

No, we are facing a number of serious global challenges.  We are facing a looming ecological shift which will see steady changes to our climate and rising sea levels.  We are rapidly reaching the point at which oil supplies will begin to decline.  We are facing a major shift in the global economic and political order from one dominated by the US and Europe, to one dominated by China and India. 

The results of these shifts and the measures to respond to them were ever-present in this campaign, but mostly in a "don't mention the war" fashion.  The Coalition's climate change policy consists of a promise to repeal the Carbon Tax plus some vague mumblings about "Direct Action", while the Labor Party promised to water down the carbon tax so that it would be less effective.  Coalition transport policy revolves around building more infrastructure for petrol-driven vehicles.  Both major parties have been falling over themselves to pretend that the global refugee crisis is just a problem of border security.

I've been wondering why one of the best educated nations on earth, populated by highly intelligent people with access to a vast amount of  information, has so easily fallen for this nonsense.  Why are we so determined not to see what is right in front of our noses?

By coincidence this weekend I read another article, this one about the drop-off in Australian retail spending. 

A middle-aged woman from a middle-class suburb sits among a group of people and is asked why she isn't spending money at the shops.    She pauses, thinks, and in her lengthy answer touches upon a hotch-potch of real and imagined worries that make the action to reach for her purse feel almost impossible.  Then she mentions the ''US fiscal cliff''; asked to explain what the fiscal cliff actually is, she is unable to define it but blames it for her lack of spending anyway.

This is a real discussion taken from a recent focus group run by one of the nation's best known retailers and goes to the heart of all that is wrong with consumers today - they have reined in their discretionary spending, but many just don't really know why.

You understand what is being described here, don't you?  It's generalised anxiety.  We have an overwhelming feeling that something is wrong, that we are facing threats in our future, but we can't put our finger on exactly what these threats are.

This anxiety triggers our "fight or flight" response.  We can come out looking for someone to blame, and then kick them hard.  Alternatively we can pretend it's not happening, that if we just close our eyes things will go back to the way they were.

There is, of course, a third option.  We can face the problems and do our best to solve them. 

A good government will try to do this, explaining the problems, outlining the options for solving them and choosing ones that have a reasonable chance of success.  A responsible media will report the problems and attempt to explain them.

Unfortunately we have neither.  We have political parties, on both sides, that see their best interests in provoking our fight or flight response, egging us on against their opponents and reassuring us that if we vote for them everything will be alright.  We have a media so interwoven with the world of big business that its vested interest in the status quo gets in the way of intelligent reporting.  And each of us play our own part in this problem, choosing to hide our faces, immerse ourselves in trivia and hope things will be better in the morning.

We have indeed had a head knock.  In fact we have had several.  Like Shane Webke we have been hit by a storm and we are likely to be hit repeatedly in the future.  The insurance industry will not save us.  The evidence of past crises is that insurance companies are some of the first to go when the financial world shifts.  Tony Abbott most certainly won't save us because he is busy pretending there is nothing to save us from except Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and a bunch of unfortunate asylum seekers.  Kevin and Julia are now slipping off into history but their successor, whoever that may be, will not save us either.

Looks like we'll just have to save ourselves.


Alex Smith said...

I voted for the Greens too. Very disappointed at the outcome.

Jon Eastgate said...

Your Tassie neighbours were especially savage. must be more to worry about, with your economy down there and all. Interesting that Wilkie seems set to survive though.

Andrew said...

Yeah, the US is drowning if fight or flight... The Republicans generate fear everywhere... there is part of me who hopes they win next time just so they will calm down.

Gary Cook said...

To be fair, the Tony comment that you refer to repeatedly did not say there was nothing wrong with Aust but the govt- instead it said (arrogantly) that a new govt could fix what is wrong.

Mike Westerman said...

Our new government has as its priorities 3 non solutions to non problems: better economy, stop the boats, get rid of 2 taxes (while surreptiously introducing 1 of its own) - it succeeded in making the anxious believe these were real problems. We also seem to believe that a party favouring 4WD in national parks and another favouring hunting in national parks are suitable gatekeepers in the new senate. I don't relish the likely dullest period of inaction by any government in our history while serious issues of distributive inefficiency, energy policy and infrastructure failure are ignored.