The first decade of the 21st century was a testing time for public debate. On the issues of Aboriginal Reconciliation, asylum seeker policy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and, later, climate change, it was impossible to sit on the fence. Australia was still one tribe there were two distinct clans rallying around different totems: the Insiders and the outsiders. There had always been divisions in Australian society: convicts and soldiers; Catholic and Protestant; city and country; rich and poor; left and right. This however was of a different order.
For the first time there were people who did not simply feel better off but better than their fellow Australians. They were cosmopolitan and sophisticated, well read (or so they would have us believe) and politically aware. Their presumption of virtue set them apart from the common herd. They were not a racist or sexist, claimed to be indifferent to material wealth, ate healthfully, drank in moderation, and, if they were not gay themselves, made a show solidarity with a lot of friends who were. Their compassion knew no bounds: the vulnerable of the world could rely on their support, in principle at least. They were plastic bag refusenicks and tickers of carbon box offset boxes, for they knew what the science was saying, and it could not be denied. People like them should be running the country, they thought, or more accurately ruling it…
Anyone who and behave like this in the Australia I arrived in would have been told bluntly to pull their head in. Their ridiculousness wouldn’t have been ridiculed, their pretensions pilloried and they conjectures counted by common sense. Today, however, they call the shots, since their voices represent the majority of you in the media, education, the law and the political class. On an ABC TV discussion program, dissenting voices are sometimes outnumbered five to one; unpopular panelists face jeers and boos from the intercity audience as mocking tweet scroll across the bottom of the screen. This was not the classless the society I had signed up to join; it was split into two, with one side showing troubling aristocratic Ambition. This was not the egalitarian Australia, where everyone who earned an honest living was worthy of equal respect, where manual and non manual work as soon as equals in the front bar and the wisdom of the cloisters was matched by the wisdom of the paddock.
Sneering was taboo in the Australia I arrived in semicolon today these ubiquitous full stop the offer on the American of 1989 was Streetwise underdogs who commanded respect semicolon in The Insiders imagination, The Bogans and rednecks of today are vulgar, vacuous materialist. The proletariat has gone from nearly two greedy in the space of a generation. Once they were the victims of capitalism, now they are it’s mercenary agents, spending their ill-gotten gains to expand their carbon footprint. The oppressed of the Earth have become into oppressors.
Industrialist who were once courted by Premiers and Prime Ministers as the creators of common wealth are today assumed to be roguish and unscrupulous. The assumption that growth follows investment as sure as night follows day, and that a growing economy would pay dividends to all, has been abandoned. Contemporary industrialists are today assumed to be grasping creatures intent on pocketing everything for themselves. Corpulent capitalists and blubbery blackguards a stripped of their dignity and placed in the stocks.
Like the middle class ascendancies of earlier ages, the new and laid our client the new elite are inclined towards puritanism, although this time without divine authority. They cast a censorious eye on the lifestyles of their fellow Australians, sternly admonishing any lapse of judgement in a manner that would only have been acceptable from the pulpit or the teacher’s desk half a century ago. For the most part, the grazers at McDonald’s are considered to be as clueless as the cattle slaughtered for their sustenance; they cannot be expected to know better. A few, however, who show outward signs of intelligence, can only be taking a contrarian stand out of malevolence. The distinction between mutton-heads, who are merely demeaned, and the malevolent, who are detested, can be seen in the attitude the body mass. The suburban classes have been ravaged buying an obesity epidemic that torments them much as their ancestors were stricken by typhoid and cholera. The others are considered to be downright gluttonous; stout entrepreneurs, portley politicians and paunchy powerbrokers deserve nothing but the deepest contempt.
Such intolerant behaviour would not have been allowed in the country and which I arrived in 1989 yet, like swearing in front of women and children, the moratorium has been lifted on the sneer, the open denigration of one’s fellow Australians. It is a display of prejudice we once reserved for foreigners; lazy Mediterraneans, warring Tartars and inscrutable Orientals before race based expressions of patriotism became and fashionable. With the arrival Twitter, the sneer has gone viral, an expression that, like the obesity epidemic, absolves anyone of any responsibility.