It has been said before that the overall mentality of the Australian public is as best passively obedient and at worst wilfully ignorant. I have lived here for almost twenty years and this has been one of the reasons (As has recently dawned upon me)that I have spent my entire youth hopping from one workplace to another in order to save up and escape the continent for as long as my financial capability at the time would permit. Unfortunately one does not have to be well read to find evidence of this sleepy attitude as a simple stroll down the street will provide more examples than an observer can handle.
Admittedly the very incident that inspired this piece was noted whilst observing people preparing to cross the road while strolling down little Collins street in Melbourne. A group of five people were standing at the traffic light waiting to cross the road. However, even though the roads were clear from both sides of the crossing, the lot of them stood there for what seemed like forever, waiting for the little man to go green before finally crossing (As if the fact that there wasn’t a single car on the road was completely irrelevant) What was both interesting and infuriating was that, as if they were all in a trans; not a single one looked to make sure there were no cars speeding their way once the little man blinked green (As if it’s never before happened that a car has driven through a red light). Admittedly, my main problem with this scenario is the waiting for the little green man.
My taking is that this group of people are so distracted; mindless and passively obedient that they themselves cannot make a judgement call on when to cross the road and instead need a machine to guide them. If you happen to be well travelled, you will know that this does not happen in many places and in those it does; this attitude is clearly and prominently reflected in all other facets of that particular society.
While this may seem like an insignificant scenario in the grand scheme of things; the unnerving implications of it are unfortunately much more than that. What can be said about a public who has surrendered a trivial decision such as when to cross a road to a machine? Perhaps that this same public will likely surrender many other decisions in their life to a streamline process or authority. In Australia, we are fined a whopping $150 for not wearing a helmet on a 40 degree day cycling down the beach in order to prove that the law enforcement body care more about the safety of our scull then we ourselves do (Yes, this is another incident organically derived from personal experience.) Following from this, it has often been said that a controlled public is vulnerable to many forms of manipulation. As this simple incident suggests; nowhere is this more prominent then in Australia (All you have to do is watch a bit of television if you are not yet convinced)
I have spent many hours contemplating why there is more of this narrow herd like mentality here than anywhere else I have been to (including the small town of 50 000 in central Bosnia where I’m originally from). The conclusion I have come to is that as a young country, Australia is unevolved culturally and thus has drunk the neo liberal coolade long before it was mature and sophisticated enough to see through the blatant insanity of a system of this kind. In addition, Its development was directly aligned with the growth and gradual take-over of advertising campaigns that followed the industrial revolution so that in result; the main source of culture became commercialism; or more specifically and endless race to accumulate as much wealth as possible without any real means to an end. (ie. A persons worth is in direct proportion to how much money they collect and keep over the course of their life.) Consequently, the vast majority of the people barely stood a chance at growing up to question or scrutinise what was in their lunch box let alone anything more significant. Other obvious reasons are the level of isolation from the rest of the world; a long period of chummy ties with the US; deliberate dumbing down of the population through education and so on.
Admittedly, I discount the many people I know who are the very opposite of what I have just implied but as stated earlier, I refer to the general public and if you know anything about Australian politics; you will see that it takes a nation with mostly zombies to let this circus go on for as long as it has. My sincerest apologies if I have offended anyone as this is clearly a mere observation and since it should be all of our job to stir the pot relating to this circus of a world we live in, I reserve the right to have my say.
The addiction I’m refering to is not an obvious one. In fact, on the contrary, it is one that is not only widely, accepted but extremely encouraged. It is one that has seeped so deeply into our consciousness that we barely recognise its there. But it is there, guiding our actions and choices every day and dictating our path in life. In fact it’s safe now to say that most spend their entire lives feeding it without ever recognising they need treatment. It is the silent killer whom, we, in the west have been arming for the last century.
The addiction I’m talking about is almost impossible to avoid in today’s world. It glares from every corner; the television screen when we get home; the smartphone we rarely let go of; even from the innocent by standers on the road. It is so powerful; it inevitably creeps into just about every conversation and interaction we have. It is an addiction that has seen us turn our backs to the values that are most natural to us such as; compassion; understanding; progression; the need to live a purposeful life but most of all to endure and protect each other as well as our precious environment. Instead, like every addiction it has brought out the worst in us; Greed; selfishness; disregard for one another; aggression; psychosis; exploitative tendencies; blind arrogance; ignorance and detachment from our surroundings. (Just to scratch the surface).
Like all addictions, this one is also driven primarily by our need to fill a void; to distract our senses from the life we live in that is an irrational circus at best and an empty deprived existence at worst. It is like any other addiction in that a hit provides temporary relief from a reality where freedom is just another myth among many others. Each time the addiction is fed; we experience the kind of superficial high that makes us feel that we have instantly bettered ourselves; and just as with every addiction, the satisfaction wares of quickly and we jump straight back into the hunt for some more gratifying moments; If you look at the world around us, you will quickly realise that this addiction is the root of all dysfunctions in us as individuals; the societies we a part of; and the world. Unfortunately having grown up in the 21st century, we are all addicts to varying degrees. There is likely not a single one of us that has managed to dodge this addiction mostly due to our intrinsic need to belong and be a part of something bigger. This destructive addiction currently provides the basis for our sense of belonging and expression.
The addiction I am referring to is Consumerism. Never in all the history of human kind have we all been addicts of something so dangerous and destructive. This addiction is unique in that, unless treated will end in our collective demise as well as that of our precious planet. Looking at the world around us, it is hard to ignore that consumerism has indirectly or directly paralysed every single path to future betterment. It has polluted our consciousness and corrupted our values to such an extreme that we have become desensitised to our brothers and sisters in the third world who are dying as a direct result of it. Being a shopaholic is therefore more destructive than alcoholism; drug abuse; and any other addiction put together a thousand times over. It is in fact an addiction that has given birth to all other addictions and must be treated at its core.
So, my fellow human beings, It is now down to you.
Anyone who knows anything about politics in the 21st century is well aware that the left and right are two arms belonging to the same body and that neither should be used as a frame of reference for what is right and wrong; not only because in practice they both operate to serve the almighty dollar first and foremost but also because labels alone are stereotypes and can be viewed negatively in themselves without considering what they represent.
It fascinates me the way people are always using these in the box terms (lefty; right wing; tree hugger, hippy) to generalize points of view on themes of social justice as if it means something. Just because you are compassionate towards the world around you does not automatically make you someone that identifies with the left; maybe you are just a decent person? It is apparent however that people and the media have a need to categories individuals into a familiar term to simplify a standpoint and particularly so if a perspective or individual is not fully understood or identified with. Unfortunately labels such as hippy and tree huger are today often used as an argument to debunk often valid points of view which are in opposition with the current establishment.
In his latest stand-up show, Russell Brand warns his audience not to be terrified of the word communist as it simply means “sharing”. This is a great example of how powerful labels can be. People in the west have to actually be warned not to instantly reject such terms as communism, often without even realizing it comes from the word communal/community; something that is familiar to us all in both practice and theory.
This may be one of the reasons it is so refreshing to listen to one of Russell Brand’s rants which serve to promote what is humane first and foremost in a way that is completely devoid of paradigms and political labels. While Brands message strongly promotes social change, you will rarely hear him use political frameworks to support his arguments. I feel that this is one of the reasons he appeals to the general public so much more than the average politician. Let’s face it political frameworks of the past such as capitalism, communism, socialism; any type of “ism for that matter are outdated and limiting in their scope. Using them as frameworks and labels is crippling to progress not only because we have seen them, and continue to see them all fail but because categorizing people and views as either left right or in between leaves no room for progressing past these particular schools of thought.
In conclusion; labels such as lefty and right wing are outdated; over generalizing; over assuming and tainted with propaganda which has been attached to them over decades and decades. It is not whether you choose to be right wing or left wing but whether you have a moral duty towards your fellow human beings or not. It is high time we incorporate social justice, common decency and the general well being of everyone and everything as a point of reference for human progress, not outdated political paradigms in our quest to solve world problems. This, in my mind is where all political debate should begin and end.
I was watching Edward Snowden talk about his incredible journey since he famously leaked a series of classified NSA documents back in 2013. It occurred to me that Edward, along with Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and a handful of others would all be facing imprisonment and prosecution of sorts for the remainder of their lives. Since we can agree that these individuals were acting out of moral duty and deserve to be made examples of; I ask myself if there is anything they could have done to spare themselves from such a bleak future. In an interview for the world press conference, Edward Snowden mentioned that he had discussed his plans with some of his colleagues; but what if he had gone further and rounded up a number of people from this organisation, all willing to share responsibility for leaking the truth out to the world. Would all of them have been fired and facing severe backlash from the NSA and US government? In this case Edward would no longer be a target, but a part of a critical mass of workers who are challenging the operations of their organisation. The answer to this question may solely depend on the number of workers willing to take part. I dare to argue that the larger amount of people, the bigger the impact of the message but smaller the consequence for each individual involved.
When we talk about a revolution, I feel that not enough credit is given to small-scale collectivized disobedience and the robust nature of this action. For example, Say I was in a tram one day with a couple of friends and we decided not to touch on to pay for our trip. The line of people behind me would have noted this and so decided they didn’t have to either. In turn, the people behind them might have noticed and decided they didn’t have to pay either since no –one else was. Soon the amount of passengers that have not paid for their trip grows to 100. On the way, the train inspector comes in and starts to check people’s tickets and quickly finds that out of the 100 people on the tram, barely anyone has paid their fare. Suddenly the train inspector’s authority and power is discredited by the overbearing number of people he is designated to hand out fines to. Let’s take this a step further, say a student or a few note this bizarre event and pass it onto their peers who pass it onto their friends. Suddenly the incident has reached various social media platforms and students have decided that they would all stop paying for their tram fares. Soon an entire student body has decided that they will no longer be paying as there was no consequence following from the first incident. As the trend progresses to more and more people, the law enforcement bodies are now a minority and therefore increasingly helpless to control the situation.
It is at this point that rules begin to crumble, come under questioning and scrutiny and inevitably need to be changed to suit people’s demands. While this hypothetical scenario may be far-fetched, it is only so due to people’s will to participate in what they know is right. For most of us, it is therefore not our moral campus that needs redirecting but our reluctance to participate in organised disobedience in fear of ending up like some of our heroes mentioned earlier. The point of course is that, had there been 20 Edward Snowden’s, Chelsea Manning’s and Julian Assange’s, the grounds for prosecution would have been considerably weakened with each growing number of individuals to the extent that it would no longer be applicable or even relevant. “This all sounds great in theory” I hear you say or think but actually policy changes that have come about as a direct result of civil disobedience are many, perhaps the most notable being the case of Iceland. The small country in Northern Europe that refused to participate in the banking crisis by simply coming together and saying “we are not paying a debt we are not liable for and one we never gave consent to”. While people of countries such as Greece and Cyprus (Who have suffered tremendously as a result) along with most of the world accepted the mounting debt caused by the 2008 financial crisis and continue to sink 7 years later, the people of Iceland jailed their bankers and overthrew their government by simply gathering in large numbers and firmly standing their ground in saying “NO”.
In conclusion; It is therefore not the rules that are imposed by the powerful that keeping us from moving forward but our own persistent belief and upholding of these rules that cement them in place through time. For the very minute we all collectively decide and agree we no longer want it that way, it is in that same minute that the foundations will crumble and inevitably pave the way for something better for all. The best part of collective action is that it can be applied to anything. All that is necessary is that enough people agree and come together. The solution is as simple as that; once this becomes widely adapted into practice, a critical mass will form and the possibilities to a brighter future will be endless.