Thursday, May 10, 2007

Activity, Change and a Sense of Weariness

In an earlier post I suggested that Australia and indeed other countries needed to take a cold shower to wake them up from the constant obsession with doing better, going faster. I suggested that the human cost was becoming just too high, the overall results too negative.

It has become a modern truism that we live at a time of great change. There is no doubt that this is true, but it's not the whole story.

The current Australian Howard Government has been in power for twelve years. We know that there have been many changes in this time. Yet if we look back, every equivalent twelve year has been marked by great change. To illustrate.

The period 1900 to 1912 saw Federation, one of the most significant events in Australia's short history. It also saw the worst drought in Australia's history, worse in fact than the one we have just experienced.

Then in 1913 to 1925 we had the Great War as well as a huge worldwide influenza pandemic. 1926-1938 saw depression, 1939 - 1951 War, cold war and the start of the mass migration program, a huge social engineering experiment that would transform Australian society over the following twelve year period.

The period 1952 to 1964 was a period of relative stability. Still, we have a few wars including the start of the Vietnam war, the emergence of flower power, the Columbo Plan and the beginning of the end of white Australia. Then 1965 to 1977 saw Vietnam, the dismissal, oil shocks and world wide recession, the beginning of the end of the welfare state. And so it goes on.

Compared to the past, the Howard years have been a pussy cat. Yet many people feel a continuing sense of weariness, a sense that things are not quite right. Mr Howard himself has tried to capture this, to present himself as a stable figure in the midst of change.

In a post last September, Migration Matters - End of Consensus, I talked about the end of the Australian social contract. I also referred to Toffler's 1970 book Future Shock.

Toffler's key point was a simple one. Each real decision imposed strain. Human beings could only make so many decisions before the capacity to decide started shutting down. So, and this is 1970, the pace of change was outrunning people's capacity to adjust.

Two thing have happened since 1970.

The first is the loss of the traditional verities, the pillars supporting Australian society.

I am not saying that this is right or wrong. Personally, I do not want to go back to some of those verities. The point is that this loss increases strain because it increases the range and complexities of the things on which we must decide.

The second is Government's increased desire to tinker, to change things, thus forcing continual variations in people's responses and day to day life. Leave aside the effect this has on the effectiveness of policy. My point at the moment is that this adds to our weariness.

One of my core professional skills is that of change agent. I know that because change involves personal costs, the process has to be handled with care if it is to be effective. We no longer do this. We simply expect people to adjust to change. And this does not work.

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