No. 90

Stone the Crows! Things are crook. What with the way we are just sooo stressed![i] Not to mention that working families are going broke due to the high cost of everything.[ii]

It is astonishing how Australians find things to whinge about. Certainly the ill, indigent and unlucky do it unjustly tough. But for the generality of us it is hard to imagine anywhere this side of paradise better to be.

And if you don’t believe the Crows, take a look at the Better Life Index, produced by the panglosses at the OECD. On just about every quality measure (education and the environment, health and housing, income and governance and so on) Australia is ahead of the OECD averages.[iii]

And when it comes to life satisfaction, 75 per cent of people think things are okay.

Which all sounds good. But it’s not. We are only eleventh on this rating, well behind Iceland, for example, where people apparently are content to be cold and broke.

So what’s going on? Here’s a hint:

Sometimes coaxing the public to your point of view reaches an immovable barrier. Sometimes people must be jolted out of their complacency by militancy, even if that means a period of rancour, turmoil and danger.[iv]

That’s Clive Hamilton on the need to convince people on the imminent dangers of global warming. He used to get upset about the way conspicuous consumption made ordinary Australians unhappy, even if they did not know it:

Af-flu-en-za (n). 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the Australian dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth.[v]

Of course, Hamilton had to stop when we started saving at a rate not seen for 30 years. Not because, as he expected, middle class Australia would be overwhelmed by the GFC, but because prudent people in work decided to repair their family balance sheets. [vi]

But never mind. When there is nothing specific to scare us, critics will just tell us how stressed we are by over-work.

The majority of working Australians say that work – for all its benefits – has negative effects on the rest of life, creating strain and restricting time they have for themselves, families and friends, and communities. Many of those affected are not parents. More than half of all workers find that work interferes with their activities beyond work and feel often or almost always rushed and pressed for time[vii]

Given productivity has gone to hell, unless we are working harder and dumber this is a bit difficult to explain.[viii] Especially as the OECD says we work fewer hours than the average for advanced economies.[ix]

But why let stats get in the way of a worldview when making us all miserable, and then reporting it, helps advance a cause? Thus the climate change industry says that “loss of social cohesion in the wake of severe weather events related to climate change could be linked to increased rates of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and substance abuse.” [x]

Cyclones will do that to you – but as Katrina demonstrated it was less the event than the incompetence of officialdom that made New Orleans miserable – and if climate change is beyond humanity to halt public sector inefficiency isn’t.

But be it obesity, over-work or global warming activists argue that we have made a mess of things (if only by allowing capitalism to control us) and that unless we do what we are told by our betters things will get worse. No one wonder a fair swag of citizens aren’t content with life when we are told there is so much to worry about.

Which confuses the Crows. You don’t have to deny climate change or inequality exists to wonder whether the doomsayers are either permanent pessimists or perpetually aggrieved – variously wed to worrying about whatever is available or angry that nobody pays any attention to them.

A generation back critics used to point to all the flaws in Australian society and suggest socialism was an alternative and when that idea didn’t work they switched to suggesting that there was something crook about our culture, especially the way academic and public sector elites are ignored.

At the end of the 1990s sociologist Michael Pusey worried that the leadership of officialdom was undermined:

…it’s as our public institutions weaken, the esteem which used to attach to being a public servant who did things in the public interest, or a person in public broadcasting, serving a public without fear or favour, I mean the public esteem which these roles hold is being whittled away. I mean quite deliberately by corporate Australia, if you want to point the finger at somebody. And that has consequences for individuals and the way they live their life. After a certain time, they say “The game’s not worth a candle, it’s too exhausting”.  [xi]

But they were re-energised by a new cause. A decade on the ABC’s Angry Beast screened an extraordinary hip hop video of climate scientists sneering at everybody who dares disagree with them – the very thing they attack sceptics for doing. [xii]

So we are now in a position where smart people see their status as depending on everybody believing them when they explain how crook things are and how much worse they will get if we do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Perhaps they are right. The Crows don’t have a clue, but it seems the grim are determined to win the argument, less by convincing than unsettling everybody. (The other side does not help with conspiracy theories and warning of economic ruin.)

As Hamilton puts it:

The task of environmental campaigners is not to pander to public evasions but to make those evasions untenable, to blast away the pretences people use to blind themselves to the science, to make them see what is coming down the road.[xiii]

And, to add to the impact of their efforts, activists explain that not only is capitalism working over the environment it is screwing the workers as well.

As Lee Rhiannon explained in her first Senate speech;

By the end of the 20th century, neoliberalism had successfully repositioned the public discourse around the dominance of the free market, unconstrained by appropriate regulations. Public provisions in housing, education and health had declined, bringing hardship to many. Laws protecting the environment had also been weakened under this influence. Recent history has shown us that without a strong regulatory environment the market leads to speculation and practices that undermine financial stability and security.

I am deeply troubled by the increasing power of large corporations. The influence of lobby groups, political donations and advertising campaigns, which are undermining good policy proposals including a mining tax and a price on carbon, is affecting our democratic processes. But I still feel confident in the future. The Greens’ policies are my anchor; they provide a solid base for my work as a senator. The Greens are committed to addressing economic inequality. The burden of debt, both personal and through mortgages, for too many has become a permanent fixture of daily life. This stands in sharp contrast with the many CEOs who receive astronomical bonuses on top of their salary package, sometimes granted after the CEO has successfully shifted the financial crisis their company faced onto the public purse.[xiv]

It’s straight from the 1960s, the decade when people were first taught that longer life expectancy and higher standards of living counted for nothing compared to the crimes of capitalism.

Given the popularity of this sort of strategy among self-appointed opinion leaders it’s amazing most of us as happy as we are.

[i] Kelly Burke, “Safe, secure, but more stressed forever,” Sydney Morning Herald, August 13

[ii] ACTU, “New ABS data shows the real cost of living for working families is rising faster than wages,” @ recovered on September 3

[iii] OECD Better life initiative, @ recovered on September 4

[iv] Clive Hamilton, “Environmentalism: the way forward,” April 9 2011, recovered on September 4

[v] Clive Hamilton and Richard Dennis, Affluenza: when too much is never enough (Allen and Unwin, 2005) 3

[vi] Clive Hamilton, “Recovering from Affluenza,” Sydney Morning Herald, October 30, 2008, Reserve Bank of Australia, “Statement on Monetary Policy,” February 2011 @ recovered on September 3

[vii] Barbara Pocock, Natalie Skinner and Sandra Pisaniello, How much should we work? The Australian work and life index 2010, (University of South Australia, 2010) 2

[viii] Australian Bureau of Statistics, “Measures of Australia’s Progress, 2010: Productivity,” September 15, 2010

[ix] OECD, ibid

[x] Erek Jensen, “Mental illness rise linked to climate,” Sydney Morning Herald, August 29 2011

[xi] ABC Radio, Media Report, March 5 1998 @ recovered on September 3

[xii] ABC 1 Hungry Beast, “ I am a climate scientist,” @ recovered on September 3

[xiii] Hamilton, “Environmentalism, the way forward”, ibid

[xiv] Lee Rhiannon, “Greens senator for NSW Lee Rhiannon’s first speech,” August 24 recovered on September 4