Nothing but junk: How we buy up loneliness

A recent Lifeline survey found that the majority of respondents felt lonely. Even more respondents believed that loneliness was on the rise.

For me, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes to mind.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs (click for source)
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (click for source)

We live with the endless pursuit of stuff.

Stuff is suppose to make us entertained and more desirable to others. Stuff fills our homes and our spare time. Stuff weighs upon our anxieties.

Yet, to return to Maslow, beyond basic comfort (eg. shelter, warmth etc) and safety, much of the stuff is pointless.

We are sold on the idea that brands provide us with esteem, but does anyone really respect others more because they wear or hold a certain brand?

Even if the answer is yes, is this genuine esteem; after all, its attention is not the result of the person in any way, but only due to the badge they hold? Envy would be a better name for it, but more often, the types of people we would prefer to respect us are not the types of people so caught up in such trivialities as branding.

Brand association also means we spend a lot more on stuff when the generic alternative is just as good or, where the item is actually superfluous, we could live better without it entirely.

Self-actualisation too is not found in stuff. In fact the opposite is often true.

The advertisement shows us the driver cruising on empty roads through forests by sunset, and never the repayment schedule that leaves them pinned to the office desk.

Self-actualisation demands minimal overheads and expensive items that require undue attention and protection. The aim is to have opportunity to learn what fuels the fire in our hearts and minds as well as to provide us with the power to pursue these personal interests.

I entered into the discussion of environmental management from a natural sciences avenue, but the more I’ve learnt, the more I’ve come to realise that the problem is cultural. We are generally unfulfilled and needlessly isolated in a world of abundance and opportunity. We admire people that we typically don’t like and suffer endlessly from buyer’s remorse.

All the while, we churn over resources ever faster, quickly filling up garbage tip after garbage tip. The sigh of disappointment grows, pumping ever more carbon dioxide into our atmosphere and we are left paralysed, unable to stop it.

The valley of lost dreams (click for source)
The valley of lost dreams (click for source)

The problem isn’t new. Thinkers have long recognised that stuff does not bring happiness. Seneca, Epicurus and Lao Tzu are all examples of such thinkers who warned us thousands of years ago.

We are told that we want this stuff, but we fail to listen to the inner self as to what we actually need: The laughter of good friends over lively conversation. The affection of one in particular. To master something for no other reason but the enjoyment of it. To tread on new grounds.

To live.

To achieve a higher level of joy in life, it starts with recognising that the most rewarding goals are not found in material stuff. We need to focus on friendships and pursuing our hobbies.

Rather than a new pair of designer sunglasses, buy a $15 pair of sunnies and spend the rest on a BBQ with mates.

When your mobile plan is up, keep your phone if it’s otherwise fine (or replace it with a reasonable one you can buy outright), move to a SIM only plan and use the money you save to have regular movie nights with close friends once a month.

Reassess the house and car for functionality over prestige.

Make “work less, live more” central to all your future planning.

You’ll feel better for it.

Refugee crisis: are we better than that?

It’s good to see that, globally, we are finally motivated to care about the plight of the growing number of refugees.

In a heart beat, we stopped calling them the sterile term “asylum-seekers” (or more idiotically, illegal asylum-seekers) and recognised them for what they are.

What changed our perception were, primarily two photographs; one of an emotional father on the beach and another, more horrible; a lifeless child on another beach.

“Aren’t we better than this?” many have been asking.

No. No, we’re not better than this. If we were, actions would never have led us to such conclusions.

We’ve had more than a decade of scapegoating refugees as potential terrorists, the eroders of cultural identity and even the cause of job loss or economic weakness. Even since this shift in attitude, our own PM has stated that by helping the refugees we hold in detention camps, we would be rewarding people smugglers.

(A word to the wise: the people smugglers already have the money, they don’t care about the future of these people.)

Refugees are the easy option for that ails your political sphere. Afterall, how often do they have enough of a voice to defend themselves?

We are only ever as good as our behaviour, including, more damningly, those voted in to direct future actions. Polls shouldn’t be just a signal for anxious politicians, but also a gauge of popular attitude.

Policies geared towards coming down hard on refugees have remained popular for years.

No, we’re not better than that.

Sure, a voice of defence for refugees has lingered in the national discourse, but this has been drowned out by red-faced rants wrapped in a makeshift Aussie flag cape. Morality has long tried to be entertained, only to be rejected, on most platforms.

So, again, we’re not better than that.

If we cared about the risks of boat arrival, we would have long recognised that these refugees are not idiots. Just like us, they know just how risky this venture is. Moreover, they often burn the last of their meagre cash supplies on the gamble.

Given a genuine alternative in an Asian country, say a processing office that gave them real hope of refuge, the whole “business model” of the smugglers would be undermined.

Because risky behaviour remains the preferable option also tells us that we are not better than that.

If we were better than this, we would have been proactive, not reactive after some gruesome photos went viral.

It’s always easier to ignore a problem than to face it. Our willingness to warp the problem and to blame the victims speaks volumes to what we will condone.

My only hope is that this is not a mere wisp of concern to quickly be lost the next time a politician points the finger and screams “bogeyman!”

Don’t be hoodwinked.

Allow this to be another step forward in our moral development.

Ultimately, this is only the start of the problem. Not only are the players involved seemed determined to annihilate the Middle East, but food and water security will increasingly shift where people will need to be, simply to live.

Without tolerance, we will fail to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Australian democracy: why we are fighting back

The word ‘democracy’ means something different to each of us. In short, it represents empowered people, with all else open to debate, as it should be.

In Australia, empowerment is embedded with the belief of fairness; the ‘fair go’ for the individual to make a life for themselves, based not on class, but solely merit. Fair opportunity, not privileged positioning.

I have to admit, for most of my three and a half decades of life, the ‘fair go’ felt to have left polite conversation. I believe it quietly sat within the Australian values goodie bag while the market took our imagination with bling, sprawl and SUV’s.

Yet, so nasty and individualistic has this government’s attitude been that it has reminded us of our core sense of fairness.

Make no mistake; the student protests and the March Australia protests are truly free, democratic processes. The Aussie ‘fair go’, is back.

The right to be free from sickness

For a small cost to taxpayers collectively, we all have the right to genuine healthcare. We are all empowered to seek out quality medical help when we need it, regardless of our social status.

It opens the doors to those most disadvantaged and works to Close the Gap for indigenous people. It gives us all a ‘leg up’ in tough times.

For me, as a young and healthy professional, I know I’ve paid more than my share of use of public healthcare.

So what? There will come a time where I am no longer so young or so healthy. I may suffer illness that limits my capacity to earn. My support for Medicare will, at that point, be returned to me. It’s a personal investment as much as it is a social service.

The co-payments may not currently hurt me personally, but the same cannot be said for those who must struggle to make ends meet. For them, a doctor visit, potentially leading to blood tests, x-rays and/or medicine, all add up. Rather than working to Close the Gap, it rips it a new one.

Some might point out that co-payments are limited to the first 10 visits for concession holders. Does the government really need that $70 from a poor person’s pocket, especially when $50 of it goes to research?

Tertiary education

Gina Rinehart once lamented that she had to compete against companies in Africa where they could get away with paying employees little better than crumbs.

Australia is an expensive country when compared to developing countries in Africa. It is expensive not only to pay wages, but also for workers to make ends meet.

What we trade abroad must meet that challenge. Rather than flogging off iron ore, coal and wood to whoever would buy it, we must refine our resources and develop specialised products that include due premium.

We are also moving towards a service based economy. All of which requires a population with specialised tertiary educated to remain globally competitive. Business needs highly trained people.

The proposed changes to the cost of tertiary education may lead to lifelong debt. It will act as a deterrent to family-orientated women and the disadvantaged, reducing our resource of professionals in contrast to the needs of our changing economy.

As Luke Sulzberger recently wrote [my emphasis]; “Would it not be more logical and efficient (not to mention fair) to increase the income tax rate of the demographic earning this “75 per cent more” [the assumed benefit of tertiary education of personal income] to pay for the hike in education fees?”

This would be today’s successful professions passing on the benefits they enjoyed for all the economic perks that come come along with it for themselves (eg. employees and high quality services) as much the country.

Fair go vs. individualism

Mr. Pyne labelled tertiary student protesters a “socialist alternative“. This must have had Joe Hockey squirming uncomfortably in his seat, known to protest against increased university fees in his own youth.

It gets worst for Pyne. The protesters are not calling for a radical change from current situations, but against changes. Is Christopher Pyne suggesting that Australia currently has a socialist leaning already?

Above I’ve tried to illustrate the clear economic benefits of the systems we now have in place.

Moreover, Australian’s believe in a fair go for all. This isn’t some slippery slope to an alternative government, but the acknowledgement that a population full of healthy bodies and fit minds benefit us all and our local marketplace. The most efficient way to empower the Australian population is for us to contribute to the ‘whip round’ when we are in our prime. It all comes back.

Australian’s have always done the heavy lifting, with our working class roots, which allowed Hockey and Pyne to enjoy cheap tertiary education and free health care when they were young.

We are not ignorant, however, and can spot when our government is removing the mechanisms of general empowerment that remain fundamental to Australian culture.

Bring the faith to Australian schools and all hell will break loose.

Firstly, I would like to publicly apologize to my wife for my outburst when I heard the following. I was so appalled that this could even be taken seriously in 21st century Australia.

Straight from ABC news;

“Former teacher and ex-Liberal Party staffer Kevin Donnelly says Australian education has become too secular, and the federation’s Judeo-Christian heritage should be better reflected in the curriculum.”

Now, here’s why I have a problem with that. Take one example, say from the book of Judges, a story relevant to Judeo-Christians.

In short, a mob wanted to rape a male guest of a household, but were convinced in the end to brutalise his female slave instead, ultimately killing her. Her master then, for some reason, thought it was a good idea to cut her to pieces and leave those parts around the country (story below from the King James Version).

How the hell is that of any value to a child’s education?

Why not teach children about Zeus, Thor or  whoever some culture has ever imagined at some point in history?

The reason we don’t is because it is of very limited value apart from a minor historical perspective. Already children spend many hours outside of school completing homework that has real-world application, such as mathematics, science and English. Why would we want to add to this with mythology?

A child is at school to learn facts and practical skills, not dogmatic ideologies that often threaten death and eternal damnation to non-believers. A young mind is impressionable and unlikely to have the skills sets to take such fiction for what it is without fear of suffering if they do not accept it as true.

For this reason, religion must be kept away from a child until they are old enough to make an informed decision.

Furthermore, ‘Judeo-Christian heritage’ does not reflect modern Australia. Looking at the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data from 2011, 22.3% of Australian’s stated themselves to be non-religious, just shy of the 25.3% who claimed to be Catholic. Another 24.9% stated that they were other, younger forms of Christian.

So around half of the Australian population consider themselves Christian in some form (remembering that Christians have a long history of fighting amount their various sects so one cannot even consider this group united) and the next biggest group are non-religious, accounting for almost another quarter of Australia, leaving one in four Australians making up the other faiths of the world.

We could add that the comment ‘Judeo-Christian heritage’ is insulting. Not only to the half of the population that now do not consider themselves reflected by this, but the various cultures and religions that made up Australia prior to federation.

If anything of culture needs greater representation in schools, it should be the deep history that exists in our indigenous heritage. Not only the dream time stories and cultural significance of landscapes, flora and fauna, but also the modern history that covers the fight for recognition and equality.

This is to most children a complete unknown, which is shameful.

This is why comments made by people like Cory Bernardi about “traditional values” as well as Donnelly’s are increasingly out of date. Bernardi and Donnelly are clearly throw backs to an era that didn’t look like they think it did.

We live in an age that is increasingly humane and well-informed. This has been achieved because we’ve chosen to step away from dogmatic scripture that teaches racism (“god’s people” for instance) and sexism and debated these time-old traditions through humanistic, secular arguments.

It’s a step backwards for my daughter to have to carry a Bible alongside her Biology text book. Both men happily admit that it’s a step backwards, but they would fail to understand why this is a problem.

It’s a massive problem if anyone wants to subject my children to religious education where I send them for life training. If they came home fearful of hell, I would have no problem in confronting the school for child abuse.

Religions get tax breaks to build places to conduct their teachings. Keep it within those walls and by voluntary entry by the faithful and not where evidence and reasoning are suppose to take center-stage for each Australian child.

J’g:19:22: Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him.
J’g:19:23: And the man, the master of the house, went out unto them, Nay, my brethren, nay, I pray you, do not so wickedly; seeing that this man is come into mine house, do not this folly.
J’g:19:24: Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing.
J’g:19:25: But the men would not hearken to him: so the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go.
J’g:19:26: Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her lord was, till it was light.
J’g:19:27: And her lord rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way: and, behold, the woman his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house, and her hands were upon the threshold.
J’g:19:28: And he said unto her, Up, and let us be going. But none answered. Then the man took her up upon an ass, and the man rose up, and gat him unto his place.
J’g:19:29: And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel.
J’g:19:30: And it was so, that all that saw it said, There was no such deed done nor seen from the day that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt unto this day: consider of it, take advice, and speak your minds.

Australian government playing dirty behind the scene

The latest in the saga on the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers by the Australian government should have been seen as inevitable to anybody with half a brain or more (which, I can only assume, excludes anyone in the Coalition with a voice).

“Turning back the boats” was an election promise that the largest minority voted for. We voted for it… at least enough of us.

The Indonesian government told us that it was a no go – here’s a regional problem, NOT Australia’s problem. We ought to work it out as a collective of responsible nations and not just sweep it under the Indonesian rug.

Now the UN has cottoned-on to this policy and outlined that it’s very likely illegal to boot.

But the government is proving itself so gutless and unable to adjust its policies to fit in with the realities of foreign sovereignty and international law, that it is apparently carrying out this failed policy in secret, insulting us with claims that to inform the public (who in truth, they are responsible to and speaking on behalf of) will be a security issue.

I lost a friend over the 2013 election, and one of the promises I left her regarded this topic; Abbott may stop the boats (or may not), but the only thing that is certain is that he’ll make a mess along the way. All I can say is, “watch this space”.

Bernardi’s zombie values in modern Australia

We ought to thank Cory Bernardi for illustrating that the conservative right politician can swing so far to the right that they are utterly backwards.

Liberal senator Bernardi is making the news with the release of his new book, The Conservative Revolution, in which he makes a number of points that, from his interview this morning with ABC, are based on confirmation bias.

For example, to support the claim that “traditional families” – that is, one that includes a mother and father in wedlock – are better for children than other family models, he relies on self-rating from mothers, overlooking the fact that evidence shows that children of same-sex relationships fair as well in schools as traditional families and much better than other combinations.

And then there’s the point that he is against something which he could never possibility understand or face in his own life – having an abortion. It’s not an easy option, physically or emotionally, leaving his opinion of the matter the only one clearly detached from the serious nature of the choice.

Much of the defence he has made for his book has been in the name of “traditional values”.

In the ABC interview, he notes that these values have been “developed over successive generations”.

Hang on. Isn’t that to say that they have been modified, dare I say it, progressively, over time, to improve morality and the standard of living for our species? What’s wrong with continuing this development to further improve morality and the standard of living?

Cory thinks not – further development is, get this, erosion.

What traditional values are we talking about? In the interview, he goes on to say that these traditional values have made our country such a good one. So these traditional values include, say, white Australian policies? What about taking indigenous Australian children away from their families to raise in white foster homes and orphanages?

If he means to go deeper – to a supposed Christian foundation under modern Australia, well we then cannot rule out the ownership (and further abuse) of other people and the subordinate nature of women to men (after all, she is about as valuable as a single male rib); both of which are key to both the new and old books of that religion.

By comparison, that the Australian government has acknowledged the mistake they made to the stolen generation, that Abbott himself wants to acknowledge Australia’s first people in the constitution, that the majority of us stand for racial and gender equality, as well as an increasing number for marriage equality all suggest we are becoming more moral.

If anything, these so-called “traditional values” are outdated. Not all of them of course. Those that actually improve the lives of people persist. Those that don’t are being rejected.

Yes the dialogue must continue – and by all accounts, the fact that we monitor the gender divide in many professions, that we debate marriage equality, that we discuss and applaud moves to improve the standard of living for indigenous Australians are excellent examples that this dialogue is alive and well in Australia.

What Cory really means is that he thinks we overshot utopia some 60 years ago. He hates that many of the bad ideas of his parent’s childhood have been buried. Of course, he didn’t live it, but conditioned to think it was something that it wasn’t; something splendid, pure and wonderful before the beatniks and damned hippies screwed it all up. It is irrelevant to the moral debate today, as is his book.

Senator Bernardi needs to stop for a few moments and monitor a clock. They move in but one direction. If this values package his desperately grips onto was so great, we would have held onto it.

He won’t bring it back from the dead without, like some zombie, eating the brains and thus higher faculties of reasoning from the population at large.

Pink Cabs: A solution or giving up?

The latest talk is that Melbourne is to get pink “women only” cabs in response to behaviour that ranges from the demeaning to assault on female passengers. The response from the media, at least, has been positive.

This is not the answer.

When you receive a service from a provider in Australia, you should feel confident that your gender would not play a role in the quality and safety of that service. My wife shouldn’t feel concerned about catching a “yellow” cab. Regardless of the colour, she is only asking for a ride from A to B. That’s it.

What, next will we have pink registers with exclusively female operators servicing exclusively female customers, because male operators are notoriously pigs to female customers?

Of course not. That behaviour just doesn’t happen.

The problem is obviously the quality of the staff. Taxi companies ought to be held liable for the people they offer customers, just as is happening with the YMCA for not picking up the warning signs of  having a pedophile within their staff. Sure, the perpetrators are horrible people, but those who put them in a place of trust must be held to account for placing them they in the first place.

We shouldn’t need segregation of services based purely on gender because the industry is failing us. The industry is failing us!

Hypocritically, it was only a few years ago that cab drivers took the streets in response to assault on them.

Pink cabs are not the answer. This is gender discrimination fed by outdated behaviour also motivated by gender discrimination. We have a right to be appalled and a right to demand better. If we allowed such behaviour to continue, the current taxi drivers ought to be those in pink cabs… also sporting a snout.

Each one of us deserves to obtain a safe ride home when we ride in a taxi and gender has not role in that service.

Abbott, have you forgotten about human rights?

Tony Abbott has released his proposed plan to tackle boats full of refugees – navy firepower, named Operation Sovereign Boarders (sounding straight out of some super-macho Matthew Reilly styled story).

Since when has this situation been a national emergency, when Australia takes on so few people in need? I suspect about as long as Australia collapsed into economic ruin with the intoduction of a carbon price – Tony’s falling sky that never happened. Maybe the slogans and demonisation of asylum seekers has gone on so long that Mr Abbott now believes his own spin.

Most troubling about this move is his references to asylum seeking as “illegal”? Since when is it illegal to be displaced and how can one be displaced if they cannot move from conflict without falling into a wall of guns? Where have basic human rights disappeared to?