barbarians353

What ya mean you haven't read Voss?

"Cultures live in one of three states. The first state is barbarism. Barbarians believe the customs of their village are the laws of nature and that anyone who doesn't live as they live is beneath contempt and requiring redemption or destruction."

When I read that quote in George Friedman's 2009 bestseller, The Next 100 Years, I thought, "Bazouks! He's been drinking at my local" (probably in the TAB section, near where all the smokers congregate.)

Then, I realised George had crafted a pretty handy description of not only half my suburb but a good portion of Australia.

Friedman, however, was sketching a theory about the adolescent psychology of the United States, what he calls "a bizarre mixture of overconfidence and insecurity".

It's also one that could be draped over the shoulders of its little brother Down Under.

Friedman emphasises his words are merely "a description, not a moral judgment" and, if you accept both the US and white Australia are still comparatively young, immature societies, it's uncharitable to expect much more of us.

Europe, Asia, the Midde-East ... hell, they've been at this culture business for thousands of years; Australia, by comparison, hasn't even opened the removalist's boxes.

So, if you agree we've got a ways to go before we reach "adulthood" as a nation - what lies ahead?

Friedman argues the third state in which cultures exist is "decadence", where citizens "cynically believe that nothing is better than anything else. If they hold anyone in contempt, it is those who believe in anything. Nothing is worth fighting for."

That's where I thought this bloke must now have been talking to the other half of my suburb because I can't tell you how many self-satisified, post-postmodern f---tards you'll find cracking peanuts at a certain bar in my 'hood, yawning nihilistically, feigning detachment about the obsessions of the masses.

(It's also a pretty good description of Canberra.)

Of course, between the TAB and the nut bar - you'll find my mates, propped next to the pool table, the height of civilised conversation.

I'll let George explain: "Civilisation is the second and most rare state," he writes. "Civilised people are able to balance two contradictory thoughts in their minds. They believe that there are truths and their cultures approximate those truths. At the same time they hold open in their mind the possibility that they are in error."

Hello, cognitive dissonance!

I know all about that ... it's one of my constant variables, y'know ... "acting" naturally, exercising my "only" choice in life ... can I get a plastic glass?

Refreshingly, for an American, Friedman is not arguing that America is a civilised culture - but that it remains barbaric.

"America is a place where the right wing despises Muslims for their faith and the left wing hates them for their treatment of women," writes Friedman.

"Such seemingly different perspectives are tied together in a self-righteous belief that their own values are self-evidently best. And as with all barbaric cultures, Americans are ready to fight for their self-evident truths."

Though Australians are a little less willing to invade countries to show them how stupid their way of life is, by and large, we do get pretty shitty if anyone tries to tell us there might be other, reasonably fulfilling past times than the beach, football and grogging on.

We are, after all - and I quote 97 per cent of our population on Australia Day - "the best country in the world".

"Obviously all cultures contain people who are barbaric, civilised, or decadent, but each culture is dominated at different times by one principle," writes Friedman.

All in all, it made me wonder into which category I fit and which best describes Australia, today.

Are we barbaric, civilised or decadent in this country? Which group currently has a choke-hold on the national psyche? Are we at the beginning of the cycle, the middle or, perhaps, the end?

Me? I reckon you could replace "America" with "Australia" in this famous quote by Oscar Wilde and you'd have it just about right.

"America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between."

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.