Wednesday, October 9, 2013

true crime

Have just finished reading John Safran's Murder in Mississippi, a 'true crime' story. In a gumshoe kind of way Safran went here and there, spoke to this person and that but, unlike a novel, the 'crime' is not 'solved'.

As in a crime novel, place is a character, so in that sense it provides an interesting portrait of Mississippi today.
It has been suggested elsewhere that the "left" is full of groups with diverse ideas or obsessions: because those on the left struggle to present a united front they struggle, collectively, to match conservatism's "power".
The satisfying thing about Safran's portrait of Mississippi is reading about just how piddly and divided various white supremacist groups are.
What they seem to have in common is that their ideas are vague references to how things once were rather than how they might be.

It's very easy to idealise the past, and to forget that in many respects life improves when we are prepared to change. But change to what?

Howard was happy to rabbit on about the ANZAC spirit, or the achievements of Don Bradman. What had he to say about the future rather than that it should ensure there is no change in the future.?


Perhaps all of our politicians should be forced to wear corporate logos on their parliamentary clobber,
so we could identify the names of their real sponsors

The most significant trend we are seeing now in politics is a shift to corporatism. Corporatism is not 'justified' as a way of achieving some vision for the future but as something economically necessary that must be instantly effected without any thought to the future. All we have to measure its desirability is  some vague suggestion the consequences and benefits are self-evident.


Plans for building infrastructure are increasingly piecemeal and reactionary. We are given limited and often only undesirable choices, then told we can only have one or two. When we do choose from this restricted set of options, we are then told we made the wrong choice, and ignored.

The new freeway link in Melbourne is an example of something that advantages certain corporations. Now Victoria's government is talking up plans of building a new super suburb near Werribee – way across the other side of the universe from the new, "vital" freeway extension. Again, the need to plan for improvements of public transport are dismissed on the grounds we can only afford limited amounts of infrastructure. With the focus on creating a super suburb in the west without addressing the need for public transport, we are seeing plans that can only lead to the marginalisation of yet another suburb full of people.

There is a tragic similarity between this and the way Joe Bageant described the evolution of 'redneck' culture in the U.S. where once self-sufficient farming communities have been disenfranchised, and the way Safran describes exactly the same thing happening in the Mississipi Delta – an area occupied predominantly by African Americans.


It is often claimed that Australia's primary value is encapsulated by the phrase "a fair go". Perhaps this could be interpreted to mean any of a dozen ideas, but I am tempted to try and define it as a spirit of "inclusiveness".

If I rail against the values of a limited number of refugee groups, it is because their unwillingness to assimilate is characterised by a rejection of inclusiveness.

The English class system was once quite rigid and classes within that system were defined by their source of income – old money, new money, the professional classes etc – the less rigid system that evolved in Australia did not define people by their source of income but rather by a sense of inclusiveness.

There will always be people who choose to marginalise themselves or feel alienated from society, but the growth of class divides is exacerbated by the willingness of our governments to marginalise people through poor planning: through planning, for example, that alienates suburbs full of people by denying them transport or the means to move freely.
Someone recently posted a YouTube clip of Bill Maher – an American pundit I rather like – who explained the difference between USian Democrats and Republicans in terms of the difference between gridiron and baseball - both run on different economic models.
Those who support losing [poor, community style] baseball teams, he says, stop going to games early in the season if their team has no hope of winning.

"If you are not IN the game you become indifferent to the fate of the game, and maybe even get bitter".

Australia is fast becoming a country where people are excluded from the game by poor planning, and transparent rationalisations of corporatism. Our values seem to be shifting from a nation built on inclusiveness to a nation dependent on divisiveness.

Am I simply romanticizing a past which was largely unsatisfactory and is today unworkable? I don't know. Perhaps we never did value inclusiveness at all - but its share price is definitely plummeting.


  1. I think some areas, especially but not only in the west of Melbourne will end up very badly. Monster houses on tiny blocks of land, expensive to heat and cool, little public transport, no sense of community and what happens when this generation have finished with this poor quality housing? They become unsaleable.

    1. McMansions are an excellent example, Andrew. Within them, even family members are alienated from each other because they all have their own "spaces" where they don't have to interact with each other. It's quite weird.

      How many decades have we been hearing predictions that one day everyone will be able to work from home [via internet] and not even need to commute?