“The cold truth is this: Australia is not preparing itself adequately for the challenges ahead.
The reason for this is also clear: we are too comfortable,
and when we are comfortable we are often willing to settle for less,
so long as we don’t have to change how we do things.”
Australia is breeding a society of comfortable, unthinking followers.
AT what point did we hand all responsibility to our government? I don’t recall a date or time or a key event, but looking around at our society today, we have abdicated self responsibility and asked our government to regulate our lives to the point where we no longer need to think, and we can simply be consumers, content in our endless circles of earning and spending and family time.
More by the minute, there’s a rule for everything, and a penalty to back it up. We have more legislation than any country on the planet. We’ve asked government to be involved in so many aspects of our lives that our politicians are debating whether they are giving enough money to families to afford to buy prams. Surely that’s a debate you would expect to hear in a communist country, not Australia with it’s proud democracy and successes built on capitalism?
We are constantly dumbing down everything to cater to the lowest common denominator, removing choices, removing the need to think, desperate to make life safer and safer; easier and easier. We are proving that when people have a lot, their actions are entirely geared around around defending what they’ve got, and very little around genuine improvements and creative solutions.
We are told to only cross the road when the light is green, and we stand there waiting for the green man to tell us its safe, even though the green man doesn’t know whether oncoming traffic is paying attention to the red light. We don’t think about crossing the road, the government tells us that the green man knows what’s best. If you disagree with the green man when there are police around, you may get fined – you are automatically deemed incapable of determining when it is safe to cross the road. Because a tiny percentage of people can’t cross the road safely, everyone has to move at the speed of the incapable.
Why aren’t the incapable simply afforded the potential of safe passage, while everyone else can make up their own mind?
It’s hard to find right hand turns at busy intersections that are not controlled by traffic lights; even intersections where visibility is perfect. Because a few people at a few intersections occasionally aren’t capable of turning safely, everyone has to move at the speed of the incapable. Of course we need traffic lights, but do we need ever more “dumbing down” of driving conditions? Go slower and slower, stop at every intersection, no need to think just follow the lights.
We sit in traffic wasting our precious lives, obeying rules that we never overtly agreed to in the first place. Where was the poll that asked you whether you would be prepared to spend an estimated additional 9 days of your 60 year lifespan, sitting at intersections with turning lights, in order to reduce your chance of an accident by 0.015% per day? These aren’t real numbers (though they are probably not far off), but my point is that every time we try to pass rules to make our world a bit safer, there is ALWAYS a cost to consider. I think we’ve just abdicated all responsibility for those rules and are ignoring those costs.
No one asks us, and we just don’t seem to care.
We are bombarded by speeding propaganda that’s as emotive and as lacking in fact as any wartime propaganda campaign. In Queensland for example, we are drilled that 40% of traffic accidents involve speeding and yet the only independent government authorised study (a Parliamentary study done in 1994 – nothing since), says that 1.8% of crashes are caused only by speed. There is no study that says a high percentage of accidents involve travelling above the posted speed limit. None.
Simple logic tells you that the faster you travel, the greater the chance of an accident, due to reaction times and stopping distances. But how “safe” does our society want driving to be? The only safe speed is zero. Let’s just ban motor cars and never have another accident. And yet we drill everyone with speeding fines, and even make criminals of those who flaunt the sacred rules, all in an effort to reduce 1.8% of crashes? What we could do instead is accept that there is inherent risk in driving 1.5 tonnes of metal at speed, and that sometimes its going to go wrong. If you were then uncomfortable with the factual published injury and death statistics, then you could choose to take the train, or walk.
We could simply take responsibility for our informed decisions instead of expecting a government to reduce the risk to zero at any cost. Ask our government to INFORM us accurately, instead of putting up an endless new pile of safety fences to attempt to achieve the impossible. What is the real quantifiable risk of driving today?
Choose a risk and cost profile that you are happy with, and live your life the way you want to. Be informed, be responsible for your own well-being. When you ask the government to create a risk versus cost profile for you, all they can do is create ever more restrictive rules to protect ever more people. And in doing so, cause more cost to ever more people, than what those people would otherwise choose for themselves. Governments have to rule by mass legislation and must remove choices in order to achieve that.
Speed limits themselves used to be based upon observations of what speed 80% of drivers did along a stretch of road. That is, its based upon sensible people like you assessing the road conditions, and deciding what was safe based on your skills and instincts.
Now speed limits are based upon centralised government decisions that often have nothing to do with the road itself. The governments own research data like that from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, shows that dropping speeds from 60KMH to 50KMH did not reduce the road toll. But now on any 30 mins drive across a mix of roads in any urban area, you’ll probably find yourself having to change speed 5 to 10 times due to posted speed zones. So your chance of becoming one of those terrible people who speed is dramatically increased every time there is another speed zone change on your journey. You are deemed to not have the capability to assess what speed you should travel at based on road conditions.
So why isn’t the decision to have 50 zones reversed? What politician is going to have the courage to make that happen, when they know that they will be crucified at the next death that is deemed to be have been preventable if the driver was doing 10KMH less. Every time a new rule gets created for you to follow, it may as well be considered permanent, regardless of whether it was sensible or backed by solid facts in the first place.
Evidently, the tiny percentage of people who cant figure out what speed is “safe” to travel in their cars, means that we all must be treated like children – pampered and punished.
It’s not just the roads where we see “big government” eroding this great nation. Australia forged part of its national identity and pride in war. The Boer War, two World Wars, and the Vietnam War all contributed to Australia’s international reputation and internal pride at being highly effective in combat. Although a significant part of this (at least in a modern setting) can be attributed to world-leading training and very high recruit selection criteria in our military, much of our fighting prowess is nothing to do with these factors.
One of our most celebrated wartime events was actually a spectacular military failure – the Gallipoli landing. This is celebrated chiefly for two reasons. Firstly, because we dug deep against adversity, we summoned extraordinary courage to the last man, stared death in the face and achieved impossible feats. These are not the actions of people who value safety first. These are the actions of those who value freedom above all else – the right to live their lives as they choose, and in peace.
The second reason we celebrate Gallipoli is due to the ingenuity and creative brilliance of our troops. When a retreat was declared as the only viable option, an ingenious plan was hatched to allow a safe retreat. When death or surrender were the only two options for formula thinkers, our leaders in battle came up with a third option that defied all the rules, and was not written in any book or taught in any school.
It’s this courage against adversity, and this ability to think creativity that is part of my personal definition of Australia’s identity. This is not compatible with big government thinking, where we want someone else to be responsible for our well-being, nor the desire to run our society according to the lowest possible risk profile. There’s nothing wrong with mavericks – they are part of what made us great.
You may argue that we are not at war, and that we are best served by promoting law and order. This is not untrue, but it fails to address our place in the global community. Australia is no longer an isolated nation that prospers or fails by it’s own successes and failures. Now we are a tiny part of a very large global community that permeates us to such an extent that national borders are nothing more than a line on a map. There is no longer Australia’s economy and sovereign wealth– there is only Australia’s economic interactions with the world economy and how that creates or erodes our individual wealth. There is no longer Australia’s employment – there is only the current number of jobs available here and jobs filled offshore.
But we don’t yet think globally. We have built a little oasis on the bottom of the world, and content in our assumed isolation, we seek to make it as safe and rewarding as possible.
But this isolated view of the world died at the end of the 20th century. We fantasise and obsess about a million tweaks to legislation and who is most deserving of government hand-outs, and who is at fault for someone’s injury and how that might be prevented by a broad-scale rule of law.
Meanwhile, the world is changing dramatically around us, and our insular obsessions are preventing us from evolving as a nation. As thousands and soon millions of jobs disappear offshore to nations who are building their next evolution, we are still talking about minimum wages in isolation. The big danger with being concerned only with the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is that the bottom gets pulled out from underneath us. Building a strong country to suit the 20th century world is not the same thing as building a strong country in the 21st century.
In times gone by we actually CELEBRATED a healthy scepticism of law and government – this was part of the Australian culture. Every child in school learns about Ned Kelly; something like our own Robin Hood in some ways. We are taught he was a man of convict heritage, who stood up against mistreatment by colonial authorities, and made a stand to create a better place for all to live. Almost 132 years ago to the day, his actions created one of Australia’s most enduring legends.
I would argue that this edge of ‘roughness’ and selective disregard for the rules, and our historical lack of resources, that were fundamental in creating our success over two hundred years. We were a nation rich with creative thinkers who built solutions. Even today our entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, despite ongoing legislative suffocation. My concern is that the harder we make it to create, the more incentive there is to go create somewhere else.
The new generations of creators will be children of a global community. They will have no fear in leaving these shores to pursue their dreams, and if theres enough barriers here, leave they will. But wouldn’t it be great if they wanted to stay? Wouldn’t it be great if brilliant people and creative problem solvers from all over the world wanted to come live here as well?
Australians love a “fair go” – this too is part of our heritage. Seen in this light, much of the extraordinary volume of legislation and law in this country can be seen as a constant endeavour to make the country fair for all. The intention is generally a good one.
However, an obsession with safety and fairness can create an insular and self-referencing spiral, where new rules are only compared to previous iterations of rules, and not to a broad scale view of what is good for us as a society, and what will succeed in the new world.
We have gotten lazy in our comfort. We want a big government to do our thinking, and when they get it wrong, we rarely could be bothered to speak up and fix it. We will accept less so long as we don’t have to change or put in effort.
When you get a speeding fine and you know you were travelling at a safe speed regardless of the sign. When you get caught jaywalking without a single car on the street. When people vote for the politician with the short-sighted policy that will put money in the pockets of voters today. When businesses are portrayed as evil for cutting jobs and employers are viewed as greedy by default instead of as risk-takers who put food on the tables of the nation. When people believe self-serving government propaganda without requiring hard evidence.
These are all things that make me worry when we will start adapting Australia to be a global leader in the 21st century, and what will happen to us if we continue to believe that we are isolated and protected from the world, and that safety and comfort is all we need to be concerned with.