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Weekend reflection

July 1st, 2011

It’s time again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. In keeping with my attempts to open up the comments to new contributors , I’d like to redirect discussion, and restatements of previous arguments, as opposed to substantive new contributions, to the sandpit(s). In particular, please post nothing related to nuclear energy. As always, civilised discussion and no coarse language please.

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  1. Ikonoclast
    July 2nd, 2011 at 10:45 | #1

    I want to take up the theme of what it feels like, as an individual thinking citizen, to live in our current society. My feelings may be idiosyncratic or they may strike a chord with others. My general position is that of a late middle-aged, middle-class male, materially comfortable but with no spare cash after looking after family needs. I am relatively recently retired, so I retain plenty of memories, thoughts and feelings about my working life. My feelings now are not materially different from when I was working, so what I say here is equally true of how I felt in the last ten or fifteen years of my working life.

    I feel disaffected, alienated and powerless. I feel that my citizenship and general membership of this society is useless and pointless. I also feel that the whole direction of my society is meaningless and indeed worse than meaningless. It is destructive of all environmental and individual worth. I have no influence over the direction of my society just as I had no influence over the direction of my workplace when I worked. Our whole society and system seems to have a “logic” (or rather an illogic) and momentum of its own which individual citizens have no influence over. I mean individual citizens other than those belonging to the small wealthy and powerful vested interest class.

    At work (Federal Public Service), I watched as managerialism took over and managed us around in circles for fifteen years. I complained at times and pointed out the illogic and pointless circuitous nature of the progressive reorganisations. I pointed out how we had no organisational memory and kept cycling through failed management theories and initiatives from past years, often in cycles as short as three years. For this, of course, I became very unpopular with management and my promotion chances were reduced to nil. Eventually, I was forced out of the organisation into early retirement.

    An honest evaluation of myself is that I have always been a somewhat disaffected personality, probably affectedly rather than genuinely intellectual and decidedly short on tact when I was confronted by what I believed was pure bulldust rather than serious, rigorous and logical analysis of technical or management work problems. Thus we can perhaps discount my reported experience to some considerable extent. However, I also found (and I think in this judgement I am objective) that the better educated, better adjusted personalities and more enlightened thinkers amongst my peers and line managers were mostly as marginalised as I was. Those in charge at management level were generally less well educated in any formal sense, clearly had less capability in written language skills, report writing skills, mathematical skills and logical and analytical skills. In addition, their organisational and people management skills were usually mediocre to poor.

    The one characteristic that these organisationally successful people had was some level of “political” skill. This skill seemed to consist mainly of the ability to always support and be obedient to the “party line”; the party line in this case being the political and managerial ideology of the day and the particular initiatives pushed at any particular time. It never seemed to matter to these people that a current round of re-organisation of initiatives was diametrically opposed to those implemented only a few years ago. If this was pointed out, reactions varied from slightly discomfited to very angry and excuses were produced that the situation was different now (though it was not logically explained how the situation was different) or more blatantly it was said that it had to be done and that workers at my level could not question it.

    The key component of this condition, which seems general in our society now, is that corporate conformist power triumphs over logic and equity. (Not only were the tenets of logic offended by many of the initiatives, the tenets of social equity for both workers and citizens were also offended on any reasonable judgement.) What has happened to our society that parochial ignorance and narrow sectional self-interest (witness the Murray-Darling fiasco) triumph over rational, scientific and logical policy that is also the best policy re social equity and sustainability? What has happened to our society that corporate managerialist conformism and adherence to continually failing policies (failing on any objective measure) triumph again over rational, scientific and logical policy that is also the best policy for social equity and sustainability?

    What is the source of this power based apparently on ignorance, conformism and amnesia about the lessons of the past which allows it to so triumph? There is a deep malaise in our society and system, which manifests itself in the stubborn survival of failed “solutions”, stubborn adherence to failed and inhumane policy (ten years and counting in the Iraq and Afghanistan to achieve nothing but the mass slaughter and impoverishment of mainly innocents and non-combatants) and stubborn refusal to address or even admit real problems like climate change and resource depletion.

    And this brings me full circle. I feel alienated, disaffected, hopeless and powerless. This has all been going on for far too long. Do we have to have a catastrophic crisis before anything changes (and even then not necessarily for the better)? Apparently so. I for one am in total despair about this.

  2. Jill Rush
    July 2nd, 2011 at 11:19 | #2

    Prof Q has a mention in Stephen Matchett’s column in the Australian today – not in a good way though.

    http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/thecommonroom/index.php/theaustralian/comments/undead_among_the_undergraduates

    Matchett shows how a failure to actually look at your topic and a selective use of evidence lead to false conclusions. It seems that the study of humanities is required in his case despite his scathing dismissal.

  3. PB
    July 2nd, 2011 at 12:11 | #3

    I wonder if any of you professional economists have a reaction to Abbott’s interesting talk yesterday “It may well be … that most Australian economists think that a carbon price or emissions trading scheme is the way to go… Maybe that’s a comment on the quality of our economists rather than on the merits of the argument.”

    Prof Q gets two comments, but not on Abbott’s assessment of the economics profession. Transcript at http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2011/s3258975.htm?

  4. Ikonoclast
    July 2nd, 2011 at 12:27 | #4

    Our mainstream politicians believe in nothing substantial or progressive and will say and espouse the exact opposite of what they said and espoused 2 years ago. Both Abbott and Gillard have done this over and over again. This behaviour is consistent with the modus operandi of corporate managerialism which is to go round in circles. With the status qou so favourable to the corporate plutocrats, they want no change of any kind with the sole exception of regressing workers’ rights, wages and conditions and thus increasing the profit share of national income.

    The pretence of examining new initiatives and making progress is achieved by “progress” in circles. The real intention is obfuscation and endless delay. Look at how successful this strategy has been in obfuscating, delaying and preventing action on climate change. It is actually pointless and hopeless to engage in discussion or negotiation with all such people who have the clear intention to delay real action endlessly.

    People must abandon the mainstream political parties (Liberal and Labor) en masse. A new paradigm can only arise from a new force not from these entrenched, paralysing forces and willing lackeys of corporate capitalism.

  5. Freelander
    July 2nd, 2011 at 23:41 | #5

    @PB

    Given that the vast majority of economists worldwide agree with the vast majority of Australian economists that some form of pricing is the minimum cost way to go (in relation to greenhouse gas abatement), Abbott is saying they’re all wrong.

    Maybe he is claiming he is the world’s greatest economist?

    Whatever, somehow I don’t think his Magic Pudding Economics has much chance of catching on.

    I think he should join that other singular intellect, Moncton, on his global clown tour. Two things with Moncton – I can’t understand his popularity or his venue choices.

  6. Donald Oats
    July 3rd, 2011 at 00:26 | #6

    Given the opposition party’s Budget Reply not so long ago, for Abbott to make the snide remark about the quality of the Australian economists that he did, it is just a further data point as to the emptiness of the man. I laugh at his general direction.

  7. Hermit
    July 3rd, 2011 at 09:17 | #7

    @Ikonoclast
    This introspection supports my growing belief that while Baby Boomers are powerless they are not clueless like most of Generations X and Y. As the world faces increasing biophysical constraints it seems those born from about 1970 to 1990 are largely bereft of ideas on how to solve the big problems. They are the passengers on the slow train wreck.

    One thing baby boomers should do is try to brainwash Gen Z into picking up the baton on some key issues. Baby boomers have seen the good times come and go. That’s why they own the best real estate. Baby boomers ‘get’ the need to do things differently whereas the immediately succeeding generations haven’t caught on as yet. When the reality check occurs a decade or so from now the oldies may not have enough fight left in them to make a difference. Baby boomers should make themselves heard now.

  8. iain
    July 3rd, 2011 at 10:25 | #8

    @Hermit

    Very ironic post.

    Here we see a key issue. People and institutions that either; stood by, or, caused the problems – thinking they then know how to fix them.

    Their “fixes” often involve excluding other groups, and perpetuating unnecessary division in society.

  9. Fran Barlow
    July 3rd, 2011 at 11:33 | #9

    @Ikonoclast

    I don’t doubt that a great many people can share your sentiments, and I rather suspect that in many respects, even many of those who would normally be counted (and count themselves as on the right) would share it. Certainly your description of restructuring is one we all recognise. My partner tells it very much as you do in his workplace in the university sector.

    Of course in any truly democratic and egalitarian society — one which we could call an inclusive governance society without most thinking it empty rhetoric, the power of any individual to effect change will be very modest. Power, whether exercised for good or ill, is a zero sum game. If one person, or a handful of persons, really can change the world, it means that most people must have no say at all. In our current world, those handfuls are privileged self-serving elites whose changes or resistances to change are also exercises in embezzling resources that belong by right to all humanity — but the point remains the same. If inclusive governance is to be established, it will be because we have found a means to empower and inspire nearly everyone to take an active part in shaping public policy to serve the common (rather than merely the private) good.

    There can be little doubt that a lot of work needs to be done, and very well indeed for us to approach such a happy set of circumstances but becoming despairing, as understandable a response as that is, is deeply counter-productive. You spoke of a “malaise” and indeed, it’s like an illness — an epidemiology driven by marginalisation and disempowerment — but it cannot be cured or even alleviated by succumbing to its symptoms. One sees that very much in the cris de coeur not only of left of centre people but on the right too. Having accepted that this is as good as it gets, the right’s response is to focus purely and narrowly on what salves their individual pain, their sense of entitlement, their senses of quid pro quo. Yet precisely because existing arrangements have nothing tangible to offer them, they turn this angst out at those inhabiting their space, much as does the person suffering from road rage in a traffic jam — ignoring the entire complex of circumstances that put him/her and every other commuter there — and focusing on the person who changed lanes in front of them or whose car broke down and aggravated the delay.

    Nobody really wants to be marginalised — not even rightwingers. The challenge confronting us leftists is to show not only that the world can be different and better, but that there is a connection between that different and better world and what can be done for good or ill right now.

  10. Ikonoclast
    July 3rd, 2011 at 12:45 | #10

    @Fran Barlow

    “Of course in any truly democratic and egalitarian society — one which we could call an inclusive governance society without most thinking it empty rhetoric, the power of any individual to effect change will be very modest.” – Fran Barlow.

    This is true and a caution for anyone who thinks such a world would be a social and personal paradise. On the other hand, I would feel somewhat empowered even if the clear will of the majority actually sometimes prevailed. More than 50% of Australians did not want us involved in Iraq 2 and Afghanistan but we went. More than 50% of Australians have wanted something done about climate change fro a decade or more but still nothing. More than 50% wanted Work Choices (so called) substantially repealed but the weasel word sayers, Rudd and Gillard, have effectively left most of it in place. More than 50% of Qlders wanted no sell offs of power, water and rail but they happened anyway.

    Why is it that both major parties ignore the will of the majority and pander to big money and corporates. Why is it that our pale representative democracy is so unrepresentative of the people’s actual wishes?

    Somehow there’s a stifling blanket of control over any chance of worker or social democratic rights ever being heard.

    I can hear the genuine Marxists (not the many brands of post and pseudo-Marxists) laughing at me and saying, well actually we do know the answers to those questions. And yep, I believe you do.

  11. Hermit
    July 3rd, 2011 at 14:22 | #11

    I just watch a twenty-something comment on an overseas win by one of our marvellous Australian racehorses. She said the horse was now short priced for the A-R-C by which I think she meant the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Perhaps an A-R-C is something like an arch in a built structure. Do 20-30 year olds know anything? Could they recognise a quote from Shakespeare? Can they solve climate change, sea level rise or oil depletion?

  12. Freelander
    July 3rd, 2011 at 14:47 | #12

    Shakespeare? Didn’t he write the script for Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet? I think where Baz went wrong with ‘Australia’ is not using him again for that script.

  13. July 3rd, 2011 at 15:32 | #13

    @Ikonoclast
    A sense of hopelessness and indignation about being forced to succumb to the idiocy which directs our lives is, I’d wager gathering momentum everywhere. You expressed this feeling/reality very well. Pity (perhaps) that here in Australia, such disquiet has not also settled in our bellies and we are in large part fed and housed and always have the inanities of popular culture to lure our attention away and onto our next target for consumption. Even though our current standard of living looks decidedly less sure, as he (or she) who has the gold makes the rules and continues to be revered be essentially piss-weak government. Besides who are we to complain in the face of global deprivations- elsewhere?

    But take heart, and keep writing, as Chomsky would say we are among a privileged few who have the time, the dinner in the oven, the rent paid and the luxury of opportunity to dissent with what tools we have–language and an unwavering desire to know the truth.

    I was having a similar conversation with several people last night about the path of nonsense that gets taken as opposed to the path of blind-freddy-could-tell-you-it’s-common-sense in this world. Both ends of the social-political spectrum are feeling frighty. But the more we can expose the truth about the lies we are fed and how say for instance, the MCA is really at the pointy end of power in this country, (a fact we should be far more outraged by then we can currently bother to be), the shaky, dodgy, edifice of lies and venal corporate interests begins to look a whole lot less sure of itself in the face of simple, breathtaking, truth.

    Anglo American’s head, Ms Carroll, told 550 executives at the annual London dinner of the Melbourne Mining Club at the Lord’s cricket oval that miners needed to speak up against irresponsible operators in their own industry and against governments that tried to impose harsh taxation or nationalise mining assets.

    Nationalise mining assets? Wow. Hey what a great idea, we get to own, er.. what we own!

  14. Salient Green
    July 3rd, 2011 at 19:38 | #14

    Once again Ikonoclast expresses what I am thinking far better than I could. What he said.

  15. W
    July 3rd, 2011 at 20:51 | #15

    @Hermit

    I am not sure if you being sarcastic or not. I generally don’t agree with over-arching generational simplifications but this is ridiculous given the trend of the topic.

    Tony Abbott reveals himself once again to be absolutely bereft of any economic logic. He is the leader of the Opposition, the supposed best alternative. He is born in 1957.

    Andrew Leigh leaves a successful career in academia to become a politician. Né 1972.

  16. July 4th, 2011 at 11:08 | #16

    In the comments section of
    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/07/mark-ames-why-the-american-right-never-liked-v-s-naipaul.html
    Yves Smith has some nice things to say about Australia
    “I’ve lived in Australian and done business in Canada. They are so far from libertarian it isn’t funny.

    Both are WAY to the left of the US. They have universal health care, much more progressive taxation (and far more cumbersome tax reporting in Oz than here), much higher minimum wages, have laws more favorable to unions, far more aggressive regulation (Australia’s version of the FDA makes the FDA look like pussies; they shut down a major drug maker while I was there and have much tougher policies on food than we do. Similarly Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have more extensive and intrusive bank regulation by a country mile). ….”

  17. Scott
    July 7th, 2011 at 10:17 | #17

    Canada’s minimum wage varies by province, but it’s nowhere above $C11 per hour and in British Columbia it’s only $8.75. Nearly half what it is in Australia. Food and energy is cheaper here but rent is more. Canada’s health system doesn’t have anything like the PBS. I would put it that Canada’s probably half way between the US and Australia when it comes to social services and values. More progressive then the United States, but behind Australia and Europe. And there’s definately a ‘right-wing’ drift in the way things are going.

    Most recently, Air Canada and Canada Post have attacked their workers and stripped them of important pension rights, with the full support of the Canadian media and government.

  18. Tim Macknay
    July 7th, 2011 at 11:14 | #18

    @Hermit:

    This introspection supports my growing belief that while Baby Boomers are powerless they are not clueless like most of Generations X and Y.

    Sounds like the onset of dementia. I’d get that checked out if I were you.

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