Keep it simple, silly

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

After a couple of weeks in Mexico and a couple of months in the States, I am struck by the similarities Australia shares with each nation.

Like America, Australia strives to be the best in so much it does, giving its insecurities away so often with the ‘world class’ tag placed on everything from hotels to kitchen sinks. And like America, Australia seems to have been bitten by the wealth at all costs bug; education is no longer free and the once public utilities that abounded in the country are now private as a result of this obsession, but people are driving European cars and living in bigger houses furnished with mod cons galore nowadays, so that is presented as a worthwhile consolation.

Like Mexico, Australia appreciates leisure. Most people still enjoy four weeks of leave annually, and depending on where you are and who you’re with you could find yourself regularly at the beach, in bars or restaurants, at the footy or cricket, in the bush, or enjoying a barby. Despite increased working hours, we still find time to drink more than anyone else in the world except the Germans, so somebody in Australia must be trying to have a good time.

What I have been experiencing in Australia in my lifetime is a shift from a more ‘Mexican’ lifestyle to a more ‘American’ one. There is no judgement in this, it is simply an observation, and maybe it is worth examining the motives behind it and their veracity.

There seems to be an underlying assumption that to be wealthy is to be secure is to be happy. If this is the case, why does Australia have one of the highest suicide rates in the world? If correlation proved causation, then we could explain it away by blaming it on having more hangovers than anyone else, but it is more probable that the (world class) drinking and suicide statistics are symptoms of a greater condition in which people who are trying to be happy are realising they’re not.

So it seems wealth and happiness may not necessarily share a direct relationship. What about wealth and security? My observation is that the more wealthy a person is, the more they tie their money up in trust funds, the higher their fences and the tighter their security systems. These are not signs of security to me, these are signs of insecurity. Personally, I have never felt so insecure as in those times when I have had wads of cash in my pockets. Conversely, now the less I have, the less I have to lose and the more confident and secure I feel. If I step out the door and get robbed now it would be no different than stepping out and buying a t-shirt or a bus ticket. So where is the security in wealth?

“Ah,” you say, “But if we don’t focus on improving the GDP, we’ll become a third-world nation.” And? Your point is what, exactly?

I can only speak from my experience, and my current experience extends only as far as Mexico which, admittedly, is not regarded as a third-world nation. It also is not, as far as I am aware, considered to be a ‘developed’ nation, whatever that means exactly.

I’ll tell you what my experience of this ‘underdeveloped’ is to date: the people are warm and friendly and generous; they eat really well, and their produce has more flavour than you’ll find in the supermarkets of Australia or the US; tertiary education is free; the nation is not at war with anyone; the houses, the clothes, the people are all colourful; young people respect their elders; music is everywhere; the people love to party; and there is a community spirit, a real sense of interdependence, wherever I go. What exactly is wrong with this picture? What are we afraid of?

And no, I’m not saying we should be like Mexico – that is Mexico’s job. But nor should we strive to be like America – the US is much better qualified for that. Australia is the land of the fair go, and if we trust in what we know, what we’ve always known, rather than believing in a dream – someone else’s dream – then we will realise that regardless of our financial status, she will indeed be right. She always was. Dead set.


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