The election of Donald Trump was the rebel yell of the forgotten seeking an alternative to the neoliberal status quo. Any alternative. He not only smashed the Overton Window, campaigning on policies which were outside the narrow acceptable margins, but his manner was also entirely outside the established norms. For a press which is more used to challenging politicians on procedural rather than policy grounds, these mannerisms were particularly offensive. Democratic pundits and pollsters refused to believe that such a man could win. When faced with the choice between four more years of status quo neoliberalism and a loose cannon promising to drain the swamp, the disenfranchised masses opted for the Trump, hoping for a wrecking ball.
The liberal press and democratic establishment still refused to believe it. An odious man who refused to hide his racism and sexism behind any of the obligatory smokescreens could not beat their golden girl, the pre-ordained first woman president. In the world of Red Brand versus Blue Brand, each occupying the sensible centre with a different sales pitch, such a result was unthinkable. So they rejected reality and substituted their own.
I seek to read and learn widely, building an understanding across a wide range of areas in order to understand the world I live in. If you’re willing to trawl the internet widely enough to find this blog, then that probably applies to you as well. But what good does all this knowledge do us? Does understanding the dynamics of society improve our lives if we lack the power to change them? Is the ignorant worker-drone who spends his leisure time with mindless entertainment more at peace and happier than one who understands his problems yet cannot solve them?
We are all free to choose our own purpose, our own values and to make our lives our own projects. In a world without godly codes, everything is permitted and it is up to us both as individuals and as members of the greater mankind to decide what is good and just. Our own choices and actions demonstrate what we see as good, and our society’s conception of ‘good’ is the sum of our individual choices. So far, so Jean-Paul Sartre. But most of the folks who make up our society don’t ever actually consider their values or examine their lives the way a bourgeois philosopher might. How many amongst us have ever really considered the meaning of their lives beyond simple surface level goals?
For most of us, our values aren’t defined by a heady contemplation of ethics; we muddle along and try to make the best of the limited information which is readily available. At best, our ethics are informed by looking at parents and role models, at worst by simple osmosis from the society in which we are immersed and only in the case of rare individuals through active contemplation. So if, as Sartre asserts, “everything happens to every man as if the entire human race was staring at him and measuring itself by what he does”, what happens when the bulk of people are not actively choosing, but merely being swept along in their unexamined lives?
The ABS released the results of Australia’s survey into the legalisation of gay marriage today. The headline result was a win for the ‘Yes’ vote, with 61.6% of the vote which should translate into legislation in the near future. Thanks to the release of data per electorate, we can also use this to take a look at what sorts of communities were more supportive of the change. As a pure issue of social liberalism versus conservatism, this gives us the opportunity to consider positions of groups of people solely on an axis of social issues, rather than conflating them with economic issues as is the case in general elections.
The self-help book is ubiquitous, filling the shelves of bookstores and offering to solve the problems of your life. From happiness to loneliness to overeating, everything can be solved with a ten step plan. In the digital age, a cottage industry of self-help websites have sprung up, with similar promises and even less scientific backing. Self-help books are the world’s best selling genre. They demonstrate both our dissatisfaction with our lives and the all pervasive nature of the ideology which underpins them.
To further my earlier post on STEM oversupply, I took a look at historical graduate numbers and job openings (on a three year rolling average to smooth out fluctuations), using data from the ABS and the Department of Education & Training, accounting for not just retirement but also deaths and migration (though occupation data on skilled migrants isn’t available). In short – even under restricted entry graduates often outpaced opportunities, but the combination of economic slowdown and increased access to education after the GFC has led to this gap widening to an unsustainable level.
Deregulation of university places by the Gillard government has left a legacy of massive graduate oversupply. The chart above makes for stark reading, with masses more graduates than jobs available for them in every field except IT, much like the situation in the US. The much vaunted STEM field, which Australia’s Chief Scientist declared should be “at the core of almost every agenda” is revealed to be a hollow wasteland, with 18 graduates for every job in the maths and sciences. The supposedly “always in demand” engineering sector provides a similar employment proposition to the much derided creative arts stream. Without jobs in their area of study, graduates in SEM will be forced outside in order to find work, if indeed they can find skilled work at all given the depths of the oversupply. So how did we get here, and why is STEM still lionised as a cure-all to employability?
Since the GFC and subsequent stagnation obliterated the established orthodoxies, we’ve seen a re-emergence of radicals on both the left and right worldwide. From Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump, Syriza to Golden Dawn and Jean-Luc Melechon to Marine Le Pen, the Overton Window has been blown out by charismatic firebrands on both sides of centre. If we are to build a better society, we need these folks for their ability to think outside the square and imagine alternatives to the status quo. Australia has the re-invigorated Pauline Hanson, onion-infused Tony Abbott and pure reactionary Cory Bernardi providing right wing alternatives, but where is our left?
What do you do?
To this common icebreaker, one is expected to respond with their job title. But I write, I think, I analyse, I research, I design, I create, I photograph and I develop, there is much more to my abilities than just ‘Mechanical Services Engineer’ or ‘Software Developer’. The intellectual poverty of late stage Taylorism has driven us into tiny little silos with exceedingly specific skills, debasing our general abilites and as a result we are losing the ability to consider things holistically or systemically.
Our society isn’t working out well for regular people right now. Every politician wants to appear a saviour, a fount of fresh ideas which will solve those problems. Yet this rebellion against the establishment seems to be repeatedly turning towards figures from the top of that existing order. How did these figures manage to dichotomously be both integral to the establishment and seen as fresh opposition to it?