Australia: what’s happening?
I want you to read this news item that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald last week. I simply can’t bring myself to describe what happened, so I’m going to ask you to read the article instead. Once you have, I’m sure you’ll be staggered by this senseless and cruel act. There is no reason to believe the woman was lying or exaggerating. Okay, perhaps it wasn’t the smartest thing to do: walking late at night, a woman alone, in an isolated industrial estate. I’ll be very interested to see if the area was monitored by CCTV: here’s where I would agree with CCTV if it can identify the “hoons” and send them off for punishment.
I’m sure that people think of Sydney as a safe place, with a glittering harbour, good food, plenty of sunshine and so on. On the whole, it’s a great place to live but I’ve been noting subtle (and not so subtle) changes of late. I’m noticing a lot more homeless people or people sitting on the sidewalks near Martin Place asking for spare change. Over the last month, about five people have come up to me asking for money. Every city has its underbelly of homeless or struggling people, but as I was growing up, it was a rare sight indeed to see people asking for money. What really gets me is whilst I give them whatever spare change I have, besuited people rush on by, almost as though to look at a person who is struggling or dirty is abhorrent.
And we seem to be witnessing a rise in unbelievable acts of violence. Melbourne has also been suffering of late with its fair share of crazed people. A young man in his late 20s was quietly reading his book on a train when a “speed-using schizophrenic” fatally stabbed the man with a serrated knife without provocation or warning. Apparently, the man who did the stabbing said his victim was “looking at me the wrong way”.
Of course, we live in a selfish society: it’s all about ME. So we indulge ourselves with drugs that mess with the mind; we want our 15 minutes of fame because we believe we have stuff to say (and that people actually want to hear it). But I think these two acts in Sydney and Melbourne point to the fact that our society is starting to cross the line. We could say the hoons in the car were (a) simply evil or (b) on some sort of drug trip and that the Melbourne incident occurred because our society prefers to ignore the plight of the mentally ill and so they are often not appropriately medicated or integrated into mainstream society.
Or we could say that there is something deep-rooted in contemporary society, something disturbing and unsettling. Whilst we are busy worrying about ME and whether ME is known and worshipped by OTHERS; and whilst we’re worrying about whether ME is paid well enough or has a big enough house – what we don’t fully appreciate is that we are isolating ourselves, drawing a tight boundary around ourselves. And this is leading IMHO to looking at others with suspicion. Trust is dead, kaput in our society. So we have CCTV cams because WE can’t be trusted by the State and private corporations; we protect ourselves from increasing abnormal behaviour by installing security alarms. We are not friendly and welcoming or helpful and caring. We are aggressive, self-centred and prone to poking fun at anything “different”.
We’re a narcissistic society – the result of post-WWII innovation and increasing prosperity, good employment opportunities and unlimitless BRANDS to choose from. We’ve grown fat and lazy like the contented domestic cat wallowing away the hours on comfy cushions. We have road-rage, steroid-rage, obviously now “pet-rage”. We’re angry and feeling vulnerable. I think that modern capitalism has led to this – it has weakened unique cultures, traditions and values and left people confused about who they are and what they stand for. We (the West) are now culturally weak. The irony is that we are told to be “multi-cultural” and respect other cultures. Fine, but we fail to really understand those cultures or find out anything about their traditions – we simply pay lip-service. And this leads to kindergarten battles over whether Santa Claus and his “ho ho ho” is offensive to other cultures. It’s descended into a struggle for the soul of Christmas.
I suspect that Samuel Huntington was indeed right: the clash of civilisations is the pattern of conflict replacing the Cold War. Huntington said: It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.
And so in a world that is facing the War on Terror, war on drugs, rage, aggression and anger – how can we not as individuals feel that our culture and self is being threatened. So we lash out or we take back control (for example controlling our bodies, hence eating disorders and diet obsessions). In no way do I think this excuses what happened to the pet dog or the train victim – these sorry and frightening incidents are symptoms of what’s coursing through the veins of Western society.
I remember that this essay by Mark Steyn had a profound impact on me when it was published in the WSJ in 2006. His bold statement is: Much of what we loosely call the Western world will not survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most Western European countries.
And if Huntington is right about the clash of civilisations, then Steyn’s essay I think shows us that perhaps we don’t need to worry about whether the planet is heating up – because humans won’t be around at the rate we’re going.