Saturday, 16 February 2008

The past is a third world country

The whole "sorry" thing is an exercise in judging the actions of the past by the conditions of the present.

And that, my friends, is frogshit.

The past is the past. The conditions of the day that motivated people to do certain things are different to the conditions of today. Lefties always go on about "context", but I am yet to hear anyone use that word when it comes to saying sorry. Context has become the dirty word as far as the sorry shock troops are concerned.

I hate using the "c" word as well, since I think it has been horribly overused, so I will not use it again. But keep it in the back of your mind.

I'll start with an analogy. When I was a student 20 years ago, this was our idea of a pretty flash car. A 1979 Commodore, three speed auto with a 3.3 litre carby engine. Out of all the cars my friends had, it was the only one to have air conditioning.

Until Trendyman wrote his off by smashing it into a tree in Kings Park (during what I suspect was a blowjob), it was the ducks nuts of cars in our troupe.

But look at it now. If you told a kiddie these days that a friend owned this car, they'd look at you oddly and then say, "What the hell were you thinking?" By the standards of today, it is a total bucket of shit. The engine was underpowered, the styling attrocious, it had the handling characteristics of a delivery van and the interior was designed by bogans. It also lacked ABS, cruise control, climate control, an MP3 player and possibly power steering (I don't recall any of our cars back then having cruise control - I think obesity became a problem when we stopped having to work hard to park our cars).

In 20 years, our country has come a long way. We are much, much richer than we were back in 1987. Engineering improvements have delivered incredible jumps in the standard of the things that we have at our fingertips. Humble items like washing machines have more computing power than the XT computers that I did my uni work on back in '87.

The era that I grew up in is quite different from today in terms of attitudes, wealth, technology, communications and all that. The only thing that doesn't seem to have changed is that people are still beastly to each other.

If you consider how much has changed in 20 years, then try and think how much things have changed since the 1930's.

The 1930's might as well be a different country. If today is Australia, the 1930's are Kenya, Uganda or perhaps the highlands of PNG. We are talking about a country that by the standards of today, would be considered decidely third world. A simple thing to imagine is that the street outside your house is unpaved gravel, rather than tarmac (this does not apply if you are living on a farm).

If you think that's a bit of a stretch, I recently looked at some photos of Haberfield, which is a very nice suburb just around the corner. It's hard to buy a 3 bedroom house there for under a million bucks. It was one of the first "garden suburbs" to be developed in Australia. All the streets in the photos are gravel, and the blocks had laneways at the back for the dunny cart.

If your definition of the first world is where your shit gets taken away in a bucket by a horse drawn cart, then you need to update your view of the world. If you look at all the indicators of wealth that define a modern country today - the percentage of kids that go to secondary school, infant mortality rates, the prevalence of certain diseases, percentage of income spent on food, square metres of living space per person, access to clean drinking water and a proper sewerage system, then by any definition, my parents grew up in a third world country.

Most people walked to work. The last place I saw that was South Africa in 1994, and the only people walking to work were the blacks who lived in mud houses without electricity on the outskirts of the towns. (I recall driving past entire villages at night that failed to show a single light. Once the sun went down, everyone went to bed. It was like medieval England).

The infant mortality rate had dropped quite substantially by 1930, but in 1900, it was up around where the Congo is today, and the Congo is a country completely fucked by civil war, misgovernment and banditry.

Steam trains were the high-tech way to get around.

Most cooking was still done with wood fired stoves. Gas and electric cooking would not make serious inroads into the middle class home until after WWII. Again, the last time I saw a lot of people cooking at home over a wood fired stove was in Soweto, which we drove into by accident.

Drugs like penicillin had not been invented. Medicine was still pretty crude. Most homes did not have a telephone. Mum grew up on a farm out in the wheatbelt, and it was pretty much on the edge of civilisation - if not beyond it. The walls of the house were made of hessian, the uprights of bush poles. Meat was kept in a meat safe - refrigeration was beyond their reach. Hot water did not come out of a tap - it came out of a kettle that you boiled over a fire. Given that she grew up during the Depression, her experience was probably a little rougher than that had by many, but not untypical.

But note that she still grew up with a good education - good enough to get a Masters degree later in life. Her handwriting is beautiful to behold - far better than mine. She is a human calculator - I think my generation are the last of a breed that can add up a supermarket docket in their head - and she leaves me for dead when it comes to spelling, grammar and punctuation.
I mention these things because although both my parents grew up in environments that would no doubt be defined as "deprived" these days, they turned out to be tough, self-reliant, well adjusted people, and they have gone on to achieve a lot in their lives, including bringing up me and my siblings as succesful, happy, well adjusted people (although sometimes my rantings might give you reason to question that last item).

They did things differently back then. They thought differently. They acted differently, because it was a different country to the one we live in today.

Take Dad. He dropped out of school because WWII had been declared, and he knew that he would be signing up, along with every other male of his age - and he figured that if WWI was any guide, a lot of them would not be coming back, so doing the year 12 exams did not rate high on his list of priorities.

Imagine that - every 17 year old male knowing that they had a duty to serve, even after living with the results of WWI for their entire lives up until then. Fathers and uncles that did not return from France, neighbours hopping around on one leg and some crutches, or the local shopkeeper with only one arm. The enormous repatriation hospitals housing thousands of those that had been gassed or too badly wounded to live a normal life. Seeing men with one arm or one leg was the norm - not an oddity.

And you know what? They all went and queued up and off they went, and thankfully most of them came back in one piece.

But I digress. Or do I? Can you imagine the same thing happening today? Do we live in a country that contains hundreds of thousands of patriotic young Australians who are willing to risk it all for freedom?

I hope we do. I grew up as one of them, and I'd like to think that I grew up with people like that. But I sometimes think that we are a shrinking breed, slowly being squeezed out of existence by the social engineers with the tilty heads.

Those young men and women who queued up at the recruitment centres back in 1939, 1940 and 1941 like my father, his brother and pretty much everyone they knew, looked at the world differently to the way we see it today. Sure, they think a bit differently today to how they thought in 1940, but that's because they have adapted and changed as the world has changed around them. But the reasons for why they did the things they did back then have not changed, because those things were done back then - 60 years ago or more. The reasons have not changed or adapted over that time, because the decisions were made with respect to the thinking,the culture, the attitudes, the technology and the resources that existed at that time.

Once a decision is made, it is made. You can't go back later on and change the reasoning behind why you made that choice. The reasoning is fixed in stone, cemented in the time in which that decision was made.

People have such a bad habit of looking at the past and deriding the decisions that were made because we think we know so much better today. But when you make a decision, you make it with the information you have at the time - not the information you have 50 years down the track. They say that the future is uncertain with good reason. We have no information about the future. We have information about the past, and information about now, but the future is guesswork. Judging the past is the height of intellectual masturbation.

I will wrap up with these thoughts. I have been through a lot of historical houses in my time, and it strikes me that the ones that we have kept are generally those of the elite of that time - we have preserved the houses that were owned by the equivalents of the 1890's Kerry Packer. There are some places around that are a bit further down the scale, but they were probably owned by the upper middle class - think of homes today that are worth say $1.5 million or more.

We have not preserved the hovels of the poor, and with good reason. As soon as we could afford it, we flattened them. Some of the inner city suburbs still have plenty of examples of where the poor white trash lived back in say 1920, but even they have been scrubbed up by bringing the toilet inside, adding a hot water system and a gas stove. Most of us have no conception of how the poor really lived 80 years ago, because we have done away with the shabby infrastructure which housed them. The rat infested, typhoid ridden shacks that made up most of The Rocks were flattened to build the Harbour Bridge. Several generations of renovators and rebuilders have flattened and rebuilt or gutted and renovated the warrens of the lower classes, and instead of a family of 10 living in a cramped, narrow two bedroom terrace, we now have a couple of trendy arty types luving it up in a gentrified existence in Newtown.

We don't see real poverty in the city anymore. You can see a bit of it if you want to - just visit the Block down at Redfern, but most people are not game to visit, since the chance of being mugged by a drug-fucked young fool seems to be abnormally high. The Block is shuttered away so that people like us can safely ignore it. And we do.

When I think of poverty, I think of the mental cases that you occasionally see wandering the streets of the CBD. They're usually drunk, they are badly dressed and filthy, they stink (generally having pissed in their clothes in their sleep, or even crapped in them) and they are all completely off their heads, hearing voices and talking back in an animated fashion. Those people are poor - they lack a roof over their heads, they can easily go hungry, they lack access to washing facilities and toilets and it is doubtful they will ever be gainfully employed.

Now, consider this. Almost all the nutbags are white. None are asian. Their accents indicate that they were born here - none seem to be immigrants. They are home grown nutters.

If one of them had a kid in tow - say four years old - would you think it appropriate to allow them to hang onto that kid?

I doubt it.

The kid would be whisked away before you could say 'boo', and you'd be hard pressed to find someone that would think that unfair and unwise.

Now travel down the road a bit to the park opposite Central. On most days, that park will contain up to a dozen blackfellas, who will be happily getting on the turps and pestering those passing by for change. Most of them appear to sleep rough. Like the white winos, they smell. Some have clearly fried all their remaining brain cells. The only difference between black and white drunks is that the whites seem to be happy on their own, whilst the blacks are a more sociable bunch. I might have to think on that one day.

But let's imagine that the gaggle of blackfellas also have a couple of 4 year old kids with them. Would we think it appropriate that they should continue to grow up in such a fashion? Or should the authorities take them away?

Let's assume that you have voted for removal.

Now transpose the scene to a 'township' out in the NT somewhere. The drunks are the same, except a bit dustier, and all the circumstances are the same except that there are no white people walking past every day. The place is entirely black, and whilst some people are making a go of it, they're constantly dragged down by their drunken, violent, destructive kith and kin.

Would we leave kids in that environment, or take them away?

Me, I'd be stuffing them on a bus and heading for a boarding school in Darwin as fast as the speed limit would allow. And I'd fight tooth and nail to stop the little buggers from escaping and running away to head back to a shit hole like that - a shit hole with no future. Who in their right mind would let them go back to that?

Whilst you ponder this, I'll add something else into the mix. Remember what I told you about the 'country' that my parents grew up in? Try and imagine what the black townships looked like before the government started pouring in money for housing, Landcruisers, phones, electricity, water supplies, sewerage, schools, medical centres, roads, washing machines, sinks, beds, kitchen tables, chairs, fridges and all the other things that we take for granted today.

Imagine growing up in a place without any of that stuff, but instead of growing up with religious, deeply moral and hardworking parents that have very little (like my parents), imagine growing up surrounded by drunks, raised by your mum because your dad has shot through, and without a welfare system to support you, your mum and your sibblings.

I don't have a problem with anyone being removed from a place like that, no matter what their colour.

So all I can say Kevin, is that you can stick your sorry up your arse.

1 comment:

John Oh said...

I agree it's taboo to remove aboriginal children no matter how bad the situation, but I still think we have to acknowledge how we basically destroyed traditional aboriginal society and then excluded them from what was left of it. It's not easy to just 'get over' something like that in a few generations. I think the sorry gesture was good as a gesture, but should be just a beginning, but should not promote a hand-out culture among the indigenous.