Useful And Fantastic: We've Never Had It So Good
"No previous time, no previous place, has ever had it as good as the average Australian has now,'' declares Val Yule.
No previous time, no previous place, has ever had it as good as the average Australian has now.
Women particularly have never had it so good. Even when I was young, married women could not have permanent jobs, and many occupation were out of bounds.
We can usually go about in public without being molested, we own our own property, most men recognise that they should not hit us, we have the vote and can enter Parliament and many boardrooms.
When I was young, unemployed men were often reduced to being tramps, children in disadvantaged schools often wore no shoes, their clothes were in rags, and Fridays were a time of classrooms of children needing a bath. The poor were hungry. There were still slums in the big cities.
Today most people can access some government funding no matter what happens to them, in accidents, disabilities, ill-health, family discord, and old age.
We have cut infant mortality. Five of my great-grandmother’s 13 children did not grow old. Sometimes parents now are even careless about their gift of children, expecting them all to grow up. All the old diseases are reduced, and the impediments of old age have medical and technological means to turn them from death-dealing to chronic. We live longer and longer.
Many of us still live ‘the Australian Dream’ in comfortable homes with backyards and leafy streets.
Instead of worrying where the next food will come from, people worry about obesity through eating too much.
Most young people hope to travel some time in their lives, and Grey Nomads too. Anywhere in the world, and faster than ever before.
Most people have cars, TV, frigs, washing machines, and have music coming out of their ears, with access all the time. They can see what is happening anywhere in the world, and they can tell the world about themselves with Twitters, Facebook and the rest.
They have so much material goods that they have to throw it out in order to accumulate more. It comes from every corner of the world, as cheap as chips. Their food also comes from all over the world, and we are not restricted to what is in season.
We need not live within our means, because individuals can have credit cards and mortgages, and the nation need not balance its trade but pile up debt.
Our parents were told, “From those to whom much is given, much will be required.”
What we are living on comes from what our ancestors stored up and we are using up, and also, what we take from others in the world now, and in the future.
In my city of Melbourne, our ancestors were still largely living in tents when they planned our magnificent town halls, wide city streets, public transport with forethought, parks and the splendours of our city centre. We have even sold off the land they reserved for more public transport, and replaced many noble buildings with short-lived ‘anything goes’. Laws that kept water and utilities in public hands have been abandoned.
We remember many awful things that our predecessors did, but their good deeds were for our benefit.
We also benefit from the rest of the world which does not live as well as we do. We have goods made by exploited labor, and forest products and biofuels that come from areas that are cleared for our benefit. We take the fish of the sea, trawling the seabeds to scarify their spawning-beds.
We are continually being told of what we are taking from the next generations. We get fed up with being told.
We could however distinguish between what we have which is worth having and worth handing on to our children, and what we waste, meaning less for our children.
There are many social goods which we should guard. We could lose them. There have been many societies before us which have reached their pinnacle, and then, it seemed, simply thrown their blessings away. We have an idea of progress which continues ever upward – or at least, until the recent rash of dystopias shown to us by our artists. The Victorian vision was expressed by Tennyson in a poem on the future, with the dream of world peace. We now have hardly a fictional portrait of the future which is not dreadful.
An ancient Greek view of history, Hesiod for example, was cyclic, with societies and nations declining from a Golden Age to Silver, Bronze or Brass, and Iron, with the lucky ones in the Golden Age throwing away the treasures around them. Even the coinage and pottery deteriorated, from technically skilled and aesthetically delightful, to rough and careless, almost as they had begun. Then another society went through the process.
Archeology has extended that picture, finding societies that began with primitive nomads, to agricultural villages, the Iron and Bronze ages preceding the Gold, Silver, and Brass. The Roman Empire fitted that paradigm. By that standard, the Victorian age was our Golden Age. We are the age of Brass, and the age of Excess.
But we have the continuation of scientific and technological discovery. There are some signs that these might have reached their peak- we have been to the Moon, but not since. However, we know more about the far edges of our world, in space and in nanotechnology. We know more about ourselves, and our brains. How ironic if when we stand almost at the door of the answers to Life, we end it all.
Since the Industrial Revolution, we have made more progress in quality of material life than ever before. This present generation can have no idea that we have so much that we could give up as unnecessary, in order that the future may continue as well as we have.