Thursday, November 08, 2012

Somewhat depressing threads

Today's post is just a somewhat random report on recent conversations. The integrating element is social change.

The Ageing of the volunteer workforce

Monday night I gave a presentation on New England history to the Armidale North Rotary Club. The membership is nearly all older. I was told that three service clubs, in this case all female, have shut in Armidale in the last twelve months. Across service organisations, the membership is aging. People wonder how long they can continue.

I asked why this was happening. The view taken was that people didn't like the requirement for constant ordered participation. It didn't fit with modern individualism, or the structures of current life.

Why I shouldn't pay my taxes

I was waiting for a shop to open, and got chatting with someone also waiting, She was quite impatient. I said hullo, and she responded with a comment that could be interpreted as the country is going to the dogs. I asked why.

"I came to this country thirty seven years ago", she said. "I used to tell people that this  was a wonderful country.That's not true anymore. The politicians just squeeze us, They can't be trusted. They only look after the wealthy. I used to pay everything that was demanded, Now I pay as little as I can."

It's not an unusual view.

The Pedestrian Crossing

The NSW Government has recently changed the law to make it an offence for a pedestrian to walk against a don't walk sign. Central Railway Station is Sydney's main railway station. Just outside is a man pedestrian crossing. Those who know the crossing know that when the traffic lights turn red, there is a time gap before the pedestrian sign turns green. If the road is clear, they start walking.

The day of the change, a woman was rushing up down saying that you are breaking the law. She was right, of course. In the space of a few minutes, I counted over one hundred lawbreakers.  The police could have booked the lot. They weren't there. The law has become something that you observe selectively, only when it makes sense or when you have too.

Mega Departments

Smoking in the outside smoker's ghetto, I chatted to someone in the corporate services area. "It's stupid", he said, speaking of a new centralised arrangement. "I told them it wasn't going to work. They should trial it first.  When I asked why they had done it, start roll-out, they said they had no choice. They would fix the problems later."

A little earlier, I was speaking to another person in the same area. "I just spend all my time responding to central requests", she said. "I don't have time to do my job."

The University lecturer

Speaking of a new system, the lecturer said that students hate it. "They are not dumb. They know that they are getting lower grade teaching." He went on: "I wonder why I ever became a university lecturer. We have to do more with less. I can't do research. I have no time. It's just not fun any more." 

I asked about a development project we had been working on. "It's all stalled", he said. "No one has time. it's not measured."

The project is important to me in a personal sense. When I asked what would happen with it, he said nothing. Without higher level support, it was really dead.

Disability Services

At the Armidale presentation,I was asked about disability services. "How", the questioner asked, "can we get support at local level when everything is centralised"? 

I didn't have an answer. I spoke of the Facebook campaign launched by the save Bellingen Hospital Movement. But really, in a world of universals, it is very difficult to make an individual case. You either fit in or you don't.

If you do fit in and get your support, you cannot be sure how long it will last. Government is unreliable. At national or state level, the rules change all the time. No one can be sure. The only lesson is take what  you can, but assume nothing.


Looking at these brief reports, they must seem very negative. That wasn't my intent when I started the post. But they are, I think, all symptoms of an underlying malaise. I think that three things are central to that malaise:

  • the desire to control things that cannot be controlled
  • a focus on efficiency and effectiveness to the exclusion of the underlying purpose of measures
  • an abrogation of personal responsibility in circumstances where personal space, the ability of individuals to contribute in work or society, has become more limited.  


Winton Bates said...

Nicely written post, Jim.

I suspect confirmation bias in the pattern you observe, but that doesn't mean you are wrong.

The pattern I see is about the consequences of growth of government. It displaces civil society, it makes people dependent, it responds to every problem with more regulation. It invites disrespect.

But that is a pattern I see everywhere!

Jim Belshaw said...

As you imply, Winton, we may both be suffering from confirmation bias! Thanks for the compliment.