Tuesday, February 12, 2013

From a Wannabe Radical

With an election campaign underway here in Australia, I am led into a rather nostalgic place. It is a sign of age. I was a little too young to be politically active during the nineteen-sixties. I first became politically aware during the election of 1972, when I was fifteen years old. I was too young to vote, but I remember being caught up in the euphoria of those days. “It’s Time!”, the Labor election campaign proclaimed, and so, to many of us, it seemed to be. We were emerging from the turbulent ’sixties, and from the Vietnam War, and the future seemed bright. At last, someone with true vision was going to run the country. Here were people who were prepared to stand for an ideal, even if it might involve some hardship along the way. It is all too easy to look back on those days with cynicism. The dream, in the end, was shattered; but not necessarily because the dreams and visions were misguided. Australia proved, in the end, too conservative to take any real risks, to undertake any bold political, social  and economic experiments.

Since then, Australian politics has become increasingly conservative, if not reactionary. Economics dominates everything. Placing faith in the advice and predictions of economists is fine, if you are an advocate of crystal ball gazing and reading the entrails of animals. Nevertheless, somehow economists have conned us into trusting them, into accepting their unfounded opinions as “science” – and this faith appears to continue unabated, despite the repeated failures of their predictions and prescriptions. Faith and religion are alive and well, it would seem – we just have a different set of priests and prophets. Government in Australia now amounts to little more than running a large business, thanks to the dominance of economics.

It’s interesting, because the word “economics” actually comes from the Latin word meaning “household management”; so economics should be more closely related to this, than to running a business. Of course the household budget is important. But I hope that for most of us, running a household is about more than the bottom line. It is about creating a place where we feel safe and valued. It is about creating an environment and community which encourages and fosters growth and development. NOT just “economic” growth and development – how modern usage as despoiled that word!

There was a time when Australians cared about social issues. People would march in the street in support of issues, even when they would not personally benefit from the changes. Now we are all enclosed within our own wallets and purses. There used to be a time when it really seemed to matter which political party one voted for. Now we know that, excepting a few superficial differences, both parties are guided by the same “ideals”. Whoever gets into power, we know that decisions will be based on narrow economic principles – however fallible and flawed those principles reveal themselves to be, time and time again.

You can dismiss these as the ravings of an aging wannabe radical, if you like. But I can think of far worse things to be accused of!


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