Monday, July 30, 2018

Monday Forum - rebuilding community cohesion

Today's Monday Forum focuses on one current issue in Australia life: declining community cohesion. As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you want.

Yesterday's post was a parochial one dealing with the proposed redevelopment of Astrolabe Park. This has energised the small Daceyville community. This is another shot of of the Bayside Council information session. The woman on the left is the Council GM, beside her in the jeans stands the project manager for the Sydney Water, UNSW, Cricket NSW and AFL consortium In that post I mentioned that in the few weeks since the protest  started I had met more people in Daceyville than in the previous three years.

On 30 January 2017, Australian social analyst Hugh Mackay delivered the Gandhi Oration on the topic the state of the nation starts in your street. In April 2018 he returned to the the broad topic in a new book, Australia Reimagined. On 17 May 2018 he explored his ideas in an ABC Radio National Program, Conversations with Richard Fidler. This one is on-line so you can listen to his views.

On objective measures, he suggests, Australia has done very well. And yet Australians have become more insecure, edgier: :"We are a society in the grip of epidemics of anxiety, obesity and depression."
"How did this happen? Where did this edgy, anxious, too-violent society come from? This uneasy blend of arrogance and timidity?"
Noting that the problem is not unique to Australia but can be found in other Western countries, Mackay provides various explanations including:
  • growing social inequity that affects those involved but also Australians' perceptions of themselves with a growing disconnect between those perceptions and external reality
  • rise of individualism creating a me first mentality, a decline in real social connection, a focus on the pursuit of happiness
  • a decline in respect for our social institutions
  • a growing feeling of powerlessness accentuated by the growing rumble of the three big threats – climate change, international terrorism and the threat of a major global economic disruption.
These things interconnect and feed each other. To Mackay's mind and recognising how little influence we have over broader matters, the solution begins by focusing on repairing and rebuilding those things that we can influence and that starts with our neigbourhood and local community.

What do you think of all this?


Evan said...

I suspect the domestic things driving the anxiety etc are insecure work and less affordable housing.

Internationally and domestically the lack of action on climate change is striking - to put it mildly.

My guess is that one factor is neither political party seems to be doing anything much. Certainly nothing that would qualify as bold or courageous. So people feel that there is nothing they can do. If the pollies were offering a way forward, I'm guessing people would feel more able to collaborate.

Jim Belshaw said...

You raise some issues that concern me Evan. Not quite sure how to put it given that I am thinking this stuff through.

Yes, insecure work and less affordable housing are problems. But insecure work has been a problem in the past as has housing. Compare now with multiple periods in Ox history.

I'm too tired tonight to be sensible in developing my views. I will come back in the morning!

Jim Belshaw said...

Returning to my comment, I think that we have become a more anxious and insecure society, a trait that we seem to share with other developed countries. This has happened even though we are in some ways wealthier than we have ever been. The question is why, the difficult to distinguish between fact and perceptions where perceptions themselves are critical.

I agree that job insecurity and affordable housing are issues. If we compare now with the Great Depression things are better. If we compare now with the first decades after the Second World War, I think things are worse. Our houses are better, but you have to be able to afford one whether as a buyer or renter. We have and want more stuff, we can afford it if we are in more secure work, but more of us do not have access to that work compared with the pre 1990s. For many decades after WWII incomes rose. We still expect that, but it's not happening.

Among other things, I worked as an out-placement consultant in the nineties during the structural changes that began in the 1980s. Some people finally got new jobs, others retired. Still more in still secure jobs took early retirement, something that Don Aitkin explored in the book "What was it all for?", because they had the old style super, could afford to go and did not want to continue in the new regimes.

This broad cohort, their children, all carry attitudes formed during that time that continue to affect current perceptions. This includes lower faith in institutions and organisations. However, that is not the end of the story.

A day back, I was listening to a program on mental health issues. I thought that if I heard one more story on mental health I might throw a book at the radio. Well, in this case, I simply turned it off! We are constantly hammered with this stuff. To what degree is the apparent rise in the proportion of Australians with mental issues real, to what degree is it due to changing definitions, medicalisation and statistical collections, to what degree the simple reaction to the constant media stress on mental health? By the way, if this discussion disturbs you, you can ring Lifeline on 13 11 44.

I need to pause here. Will continue a little later.

2 tanners said...

People have always been insecure in one way or another. We had economic security in the post-WWII years but we also had the Bomb. Media is always trying to hype up hysteria and push an agenda. Not much has changed in that regard.

I do agree that a critical thing that has changed is the tendency to think of 'me' instead of 'us'. Even collectively, NIMBYism (not commenting on the development proposal per se) still is about me, not us. And the emphasis in mainstream and social media on making yourself rich/healthy/happy etc simply emphasizes this movement.

I disagree with you, Jim, about mental health. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (for instance) has been with us for a long time. But around WWI it was called 'nostalgia' and carried a burden of shame for the sufferer. I just think we've gotten better at identifying it, while at the same time (and you may have been driving at this) broadening the scope of what is considered poor mental health.

Anonymous said...

I have been listening to, and reading the thoughts of Hugh MacKay since he was a regular guest on ABC radio with Caroline Jones back in '80's (?) and I've always stopped short of understanding just how it is he makes his living by stating the glaringly obvious, but with such a mellifluous 'voice'? He might deny it, but I've come to think of him as a member of the "guilt trade" - those who earn a crust by making us feel worse about things which are largely beyond any sort of personal control or ability to redress. And I don't think there's anything particularly deep or meaningful or insightful contained in his schtick - but more power to him, if it gets him through the night, and puts bread on his table.

And I'm not particularly in agreement with the thought that "me-ism" is a bad thing. It is, after all, all I can personally control, and direct, and maybe modify, and if successful, provide a small amount of external compassion for those around me.

Call me an INTJ personality type, I guess :)


Anonymous said...

"I hear new news every day, and those ordinary rumours of war, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, comets, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions, ....... so many men slain, monomachies, shipwrecks, piracies, and sea-fights, peace, leagues, stratagems, and fresh alarms. A vast confusion of vows, wishes, actions, edicts, petitions, lawsuits, pleas, laws, proclamations, complaints, grievances, are daily brought to our ears. New books every day, pamphlets, currantoes, stories, whole catalogues of volumes of all sorts, new paradoxes, opinions, schisms, heresies, controversies in philosophy, religion, &c. Now come tidings of weddings, maskings, mummeries, entertainments, jubilees, embassies, tilts and tournaments, trophies, triumphs, revels, sports, plays: then again, as in a new shifted scene, treasons, cheating tricks, robberies, enormous villanies in all kinds, funerals, burials, deaths of Princes, new discoveries, expeditions; ...; one is let loose, another imprisoned; one purchaseth, another breaketh: he thrives, his neighbour turns bankrupt; .... Amdist the gallantry and misery of the world: jollity, pride, perplexities and cares, simplicity and villany; subtlety, knavery, candour and integrity, mutually mixed and offering themselves, I rub on in a strictly private life." - Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy - 1628


Anonymous said...

To Mackay's mind and recognising how little influence we have over broader matters, the solution begins by focusing on repairing and rebuilding those things that we can influence and that starts with our neigbourhood and local community.

As I said, there seems very little original thought involved in HM's output. Dickens' Bleak House had a character called Mrs Jellyby -

- who provided the "moral lesson".


Jim Belshaw said...

Breaking my responses up into short bits while I'm running around doing other things.

While I'm inclined to agree with at least some of your views on Hugh Mackay, kvd, I would still ask these questions: has Australian and more broadly Western society become more insecure and anxious over the last five decades; has it become more fragmented; if so why; if so, what might be done about it?

Anonymous said...

has Australian and more broadly Western society become more insecure and anxious over the last five decades; - probably - if we give any credence to press reportage

has it become more fragmented; if this means "less homogeneous" - yes

if so why; - unsure if your "why" refers to fragmented or insecure/anxious?

if so, what might be done about it? - why must there be something "done about it"?

Anyway, maybe the government could hold an inquiry or some such; at the least it would keep them from annoying the rest of us.

Their first term of reference might be: is it insecurity/anxiety - or just virtue signalling? And the second, as always: cui bono :)


Winton Bates said...

Nice post, Jim.
kvd: Thanks for drawing attention to the ability of Hugh MacKay to make a living by stating the glaringly obvious. That seems to me to be quite an achievement these days! Most people who attract media attention seem to express outlandish views.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Winton!

kvd, you and 2t managed to derail me slightly. That is not a criticism, simply that you started me thinking. I went out Friday, then spent much of Saturday at the rugby and this morning at the hockey, so only now have I had the time to try to further the discussion.

Insecurity has been a feature of human life at all times and in all places. Individuals and groups (societies, institutions) try to develop mechanisms to manage this including explaining the inexplicable or poorly understood via things such as religious beliefs.

Societies go through periods of stress, increased insecurity both real and imagined. In some cases this may lead to social collapse, imposed or self-generated. In other cases it may lead to social or legal sanction as those in authority seek to impose order. In all this, individuals and families try to manage as best they can.

As indicated, my concern is with this society at this point. TBC

Jim Belshaw said...

Has society has become more anxious and insecure? I believe that it has but that's not based just on newspaper reports but my observations across a range of social indicators. However, if I assert it I need to provide the evidence.

In asking about fragmentation next, I was subconsciously mixing cause and effect. To my mind, social fragmentation is a cause. The why actually referred to both. And fragmentation is more than less homogeneity. Of itself, this need not lead to fragmentation. It's rather a combination of some basic social changes that extend beyond fragmentation.

I think that it does matter because if I am right, I fully accept that's arguable, the symptoms are unpleasant and dangerous. I don't like, for example, the way that some students and parents think that it's okay to abuse refs or umpires. I don't like the present tendency to wish to punish. I don't like what I see as an increasing and fairly pervasive loneliness.

I don't have any faith in the ability of Government to bring about real change in this area, although it may have a role in ameliorating some of the symptoms. In the interaction between social change and political responses, government has become part of the problem.

2 tanners said...

How can you derail a Monday Forum? :)

Jim Belshaw said...

You can't, 2t! Just me!