A characteristic of the world at present is the crumbling of many nations. A second common quality involves the attempts to repair or resuscitate particular nations. At the same time, a kind of financial super-movement that inhabits a stratum well above the lives and thought of most voters grows in power. In this setting, it is not surprising that many people—perhaps a majority—in Britain would prefer to take their country back again, out of a United Europe.
Nations, of course, vary. The Chinese written character for a nation is of a rectangle: a nation has a boundary, and a figure within it representing a necessary centre of power. Benedict Anderson once wrote that a nation is an ‘imagined’ community. Malcolm Turnbull clearly imagines himself as a member of a superior group occupying a remote area high above the common mind, where exciting futures and monetary rewards await every young Australian who goes to the right schools and universities. His failed proposal that the states should collect their own taxation to provide for public schools, while the Commonwealth would support private schools, was an exhibition of his imaginatively positioned self.
Turnbull’s time as Prime Minister has provided plenty of evidence of his limited ability. In some ways this is a relief. He hasn’t got the wily fox-like cunning of Howard, nor the ability or interest in pushing the class struggle along with the anti-female qualities of Abbott. His ability does not extend far in developing the interests of the Australian people and nation, and he seems more at home in the cloud of international finance that floats above all the people of the world. His recent proposal that maths and science be compulsory for university entry is another projection of his idea that the future lies with a floating abstraction rather than a land based people.
Perhaps the figure of a nation that looms for Australia is of a bit of hard country under a much larger sphere of abstract notions of invention, patent ownership and intellectual property. It may rain a little on the harsh world below so long as taxes are handed over, something like the prayers once made to the heavenly ghosts. No wonder that when this realisation becomes apparent people protest. In Australia, we’ve seen a growing disenchantment with mainstream two-party politics, while a good many Europeans seem to be doubtful of United Europe, many Americans preferred the populist Trump as their leader, and some Middle Eastern Muslims support an anciently oriented and brutal ideology with the result that others are forced to flee their wasted nations.
In recent decades Australia has undergone changes which sometimes welcome the great cloud of abstraction that reduces lived relationships to things to be bought and sold. Others are quite the opposite and provide hope that we can avoid it. Such changes bring their own contradictions. We’ve had a vast destruction of full-time employment; in particular, jobs requiring manual labour have become fewer. Perhaps the loss of position experienced by some men has led to other changes. In many ways, women’s lives have changed radically and this has been welcomed by nearly all of us. Abuse and discrimination against gays and lesbians has gradually reduced. Awareness of global warming is much greater than a few years ago. In the rural regions a friendliness and mutual supportiveness has blossomed, although these had good foundations.
What Australia lacks is a political party or movement that could bring about a renewal of our nation that is based upon the people whose everyday realities are grounded here. There are heaps of possibilities. The rapid conversion to an energy source that is nondestructive and renewable is a basic one. Changes to the form and content of schooling is another, particularly moves to a better understanding of history and an empathetic approach to others. Increased awareness and understanding of Indigenous knowledge, culture and history are critically needed. A very long list could be drawn up. At this stage, such a development needs writers, thinkers, activists and publications to tell the story. A hung parliament would save us from the worst this election, and give us time to prepare purposefully for the next. Rather than our researchers finding ways for financial services to flourish, their work can develop stability and a cycling of materials in ways which improve our health, our personal and public lives, and our relationships with other people.
– Doug White