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.
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.