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Age of entitlement unhealthy

By Mark Christensen - posted Tuesday, 8 July 2014


Neither Tony Abbott nor Joe Hockey has opted to hammer home an obvious point arising from the ongoing budget austerity ruckus.

Isn't the whining and hash-tagging rage indeed evidence Australia has developed an unhealthy sense of entitlement? Aren't those convinced opportunity and a fair go are somehow contingent on obligatory income redistribution and free health care, part of the problem? Seriously, is it money and coercive power that makes a nation great, or the heart of its people?

A reluctance to confront this moral dimension betrays a failure of imagination, one that's likely to cost the government dearly.

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Prerogative is pretty much the defining attribute of messianic Western culture. What is institutional politics if not the false hope of a final solution, the Utopian delusion that knowledge – revealed by God or plain old empirical – can and will, someday, liberate us of the exquisite demands of existence?

For centuries, the clergy convinced us religion possessed pre-determined answers for success. Believe this, do that and all is redeemed. Forget the fact a meaningful life is an experience, not a problem to be solved using theory and logic. Now we're self-deceiving all over again, with social democracy pulling levers and ticking boxes, spurred on by the prospect of a second coming: salvation manifest as a techno-bureaucratic triumph over reality and human nature.

The other day, I'm standing alongside some millennial slacker, waiting to cross a busy road. Ear-phones in, she makes a no-look stride out into traffic, lured on by the green man. When some bloke in a beat-up Camry overshoots the intersection and nearly cleans her up.

Doubtless the bloke – he had the look of Thoreau's man of quiet desperation – should have done better. But our blithe twentysomething is also culpable, inasmuch as she wrongly supposed an electronic image atop a pole could protect her. What is more, I'll wager afterwards there was righteous affirmation, in conversation and on social media, of the uncritical belief it's someone else's responsibility to make it better.

Modern Western society is roundly criticized for treating its people as commodities. Our common humanity, that which surpasses mundane materialism, goes unrecognized and unvalued. Communal relations are increasingly mechanistic, the give and take of genuine reciprocity readily exchanged for servitude to the economic, legal and political formalities adored by reason. As a consequence, the mind – and therefore politics – is disinclined to interrogate the true source of our spiritual impoverishment.

When Bill Shorten pledges to "fight like never before" for the poor or some hack at The Guardian equates welfare cuts to the demise of Australian egalitarianism, the cynicism perpetuates a preposterous exploitation of our moral and intellectual frailties.

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Think about it. Asked if she's happy with less financial support, a granny in aged-care, afraid and feeling abandoned, is hardly likely to transcend the empty promises of the system she is part of. A leader is characterized by an unselfconscious readiness to elevate the conversation, to reveal it is dependency on the system that is actually dehumanizing. They disavow further intervention as the fix, realising that what people, old and young, most crave is mutual presence, being in the here-and-now, sharing a sense of what is beyond government activism. Pay attention to the guy in the Toyota, for it's him – not a politician or an automated signal – that matters. Life can't be scripted, so let go of the bogus assurances.

Of course this stoic way-of-life "solution" – which cuts through the confounding expectations of rational politics – is seen by the paradigmatic mind as a threat to its grand ambitions. There is nothing tangible to protect or fight for here, merely the interaction of those willing to work things out in a shared reality too mysterious to ever master. Even more vital than lofty rhetoric, an inspirational leader understands "she'll be right, mate" entails living this principle without condition. Society must ultimately accept its utmost collective goals are irreducible to political calculation and thus draw a line between the state and individual.

A fair go is an inside job, a sacred contribution far too intimate to be contracted out to a third party. Ideological equality forged by the instruments of centralized power isn't fair, nor dignified, nor effective. Hubristic commentators like Vanessa "Van" Badham only add to populist confusion and ire – not to mention pedestrian casualties. By worshipping political overreach, she re-enforces the craven view people are valuable, not for their uniqueness and heart, but as cogs to be manipulated in the name of a more equitable, more inclusive world that can't be realised in this fashion. Misanthropy and homogenizing tyranny parading as idealism.

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About the Author

Mark is a social and political commentator, with a background in economics. He also has an abiding interest in philosophy and theology, and is trying to write a book on the nature of reality. He blogs here.

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