It's that artificial hiatus after Christmas; the pause between the end of one year and the beginning of the next; a moment to reflect. So where - and who - are we?
Ask the politicians.
When it comes to understanding the divide between community and self-interest, Scott Morrison has no doubt about where we stand. When he was tackled over the diversion of government grants and funnelling money towards Liberal-voting electorates, the PM shamelessly asserted the individual's right to exploit the system. Grinning at the cameras he insisted those who receive government largess, whether extra carparks at the local rail station or change rooms at the sports ovals, well they have "good local members". Labor's attack, that money had been specifically diverted towards Coalition-voting electorates, was aggressively brushed aside.
This is exactly what governments should do, he asserted, the prosperity gospel in action. Help for those who "deserve".
What's so stunning about Morrison's vision is that it immediately became mainstream wisdom. His project is to redefine our idea of community. There's no nonsense here about anybody "owning" country - wealth flows to those who open their fingers and grasp it. It's the way the free-market works writ large and bold and it's a hugely powerful vision. Resources are limited and government grants have to be targeted; why not simply abandon the concept of need and channel the money where the pay-off is the greatest, bribing marginal electorates and paying off loyal supporters? The only mistake made by the journalists was that they thought they'd exposed a glitch in the system. It's actually a feature of the new way of doing things.
It's vital to understand this and recognise exactly what this means, because it touches directly on something central to our view of the way society should work.
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We channel our understanding of what divides us around old fault lines: Liberal or Labor; Christian and atheist; Anglo or ethnic. We continue to happily use labels like these as a means of (simplistically) placing ourselves in a particular category because it "feels" natural and right. It's also a release from having to do the hard work or actually examining our beliefs and working out what we really think - much better just to enjoy the sun, food, and laughter around a barbeque rather than having to deeply and pointlessly examine our innermost beliefs. Acceptance of a diversity of opinion is the grease that makes society work smoothly and that's the way things should be. What is important, however, is to recognise that those old divisions no longer really represent the way we live or who we are. Something new has taken over.
At one time the problem of working out what we believed in was taken care of by religion. Today it's not. Although many of us still genuflect towards those old tokens of identity we certainly don't - thank goodness - act according to the strictures of outmoded ways of behaviour. Our understanding of the way things work is no longer enhanced by a litany of empty words from ancient texts. Although they may provide comfort, they certainly don't illuminate the practical way things work today. That's why so many flock to new churches, where they wave their hands in the air and loose themselves in trance.
We've examined those old labels, those old patterns that were used to identify allegiance and belonging, and found them wanting. As a society we are still attempting to define where we stand and what unites us. Social transitions like this normally take place over centuries. Unfortunately today, we don't have the luxury of such an extended time frame. Social media, with its necessity for compression and preference for immediate answers and radical certainty, is dramatically compressing the space we need to work out how we want to live.
We instinctively gravitate towards anybody who plants their banner proudly in the sand, waves their flag proudly and tells us "how things are". Their certainty triggers our instinctive, unconscious reactions as their preformative play suggests they have a greater grip on understanding than we do. This explains why some Americans still love Donald Trump and the success of individuals as diverse as Boris Johnson, Vladimir Putin, and Xi Jinping (although the latter two have also benefited enormously from the assistance of a compliant media and intimate control over the apparatus of state security). These leaders have simply understood the zeitgeist better than our own, who have floundered so disastrously since Kevin Rudd won the 2007 election.
Scott Morrison will be the first politician since that date who will get the chance to win two back-to-back victories. If he wins in the coming year it will have nothing to do with good policy, but everything to do with his understanding of this confusion we have about society's direction. That's why it's significant that he doesn't (unlike, say, Kevin Rudd) follow an old interpretation of religion. The problems long-existing churches struggle to deal with don't feel relevant to so many people today. This is a world where we are urged to live in the moment, enjoy the pleasure that comes from material consumption, or persuade ourselves that living in a virtual world is just as good (if not better) than the real one.
This is our new way of life and it's useless to pretend we will ever go back to some old, imagined notion of community where everyone can be fulfilled by platitudes coming from the pulpit.
Morrison instinctively grasps that the real debates aren't marked out by the old trench-lines weaving their way across the political landscape and that's why - despite the polls - he's still in with a chance. He understands that if he's to win he will need to transform the issues to their most elemental level. He thinks he can speak directly to voter's hearts while Anthony Albanese is wasting his time by talking to their heads.
The result will tell us little about our political views but a great deal about what really motivates us and who we really are.
Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.
Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.
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