The Kids Are Not Alright (and that means we’re all in trouble)

If there is a potential positive to emerge from the virus, it is the opportunity to address some very unpalatable social poisons. So, as the Roman Emperor Claudius once said, ‘Let all the poisons that are in the mud hatch out.’ Here’s just a few.

1.Already we are into a third generation of families where no-one has ever had a full-time job and, with the way our society and economy is structured, these people are unlikely to ever get a paid job as long as their arse points to the ground (as we say in Australia). Where jobs do exist, as in the fruit and veg picking industries for example, young Australians are bereft of the physical capacity and mental resilience to undertake such work and/or they consider such work as beneath them as they wait to become famous. So we import backpackers and overseas contract labour to ensure we all get to eat.

2. Not only are the officially unemployed at least three times as numerous as the vacancies available, the vast majority of those unemployed people don’t have the skills or experience to fill the vacancies that do exist. This is underpinned by the dirty little secret that at least a third of them are functionally illiterate and innumerate. Any ‘solution’ will lack perfection. However the principles of flexible on-site training and gradual work hardening and transferrable qualifications and skills, underpinned by literacy and numeracy support, could be the building blocks for both introducing young people to work and keeping them sustainably employed. If there is hope beyond the difficult task at hand, engagement and retention are that much easier and as a society we all benefit. Regarding wages, as consumers we have to be educated into the idea that every ‘saving’ we make is someone’s (including our own children) job gone now and into the future.

3. Increasingly jobs at every level of society are part-time, casual or contract, which makes planning for any sort of stable future impossible. Throw in the inability to have continuous access to affordable housing, utilities, transport, health care and food and we have an increasing proportion of our community who are constantly one step away from personal and financial disaster.

4. Our social ‘safety nets’ are the envy of many nations but it’s a low bar. During the virus crisis, the Government decided to double unemployment benefit because millions of Australians were about to experience unemployment and the resultant poverty for the first time. In other words ‘good’ Australians couldn’t be expected to live on the pittance that ‘bad’ unemployed Australians have had to live on. That pittance hasn’t increased in real terms for 25 years, leaving over 3 million Australians, living in one of the richest countries in the world, existing below the poverty line. (Before you ask, I don’t believe a guaranteed minimum income is affordable or the way forward to build dignity and self-worth.)

5. As long as governments, businesses and the employed continue in their relentless search for what’s cheap and fast rather than what is in their community’s and family’s interest, nothing will change. Think throwaway T-shirts from Asian sweatshops, self-serve at supermarkets, disposable gadgetry, ticketing machines and the list goes on. Ask any business in Australia now that relies on imports what they think of the supposed benefits of globalisation (aka beggar thy neighbour) and you’ll get a very different answer than the one you would have received a year ago.

As the Government’s massive economic stimulus has shown, it’s not that we don’t have the money to fix these problem over the coming decades. The question is whether the current crisis has given us the humility to question everything about how our economy can best serve us all, especially the young.

The virus and the fragile state.

Photo: ABC News (Patrick Rocca)

For those followers outside Australia, we are a Federation of six States and ten Territories, two of which are part of mainland Australia (Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory) and each State and mainland Territory has its own legislature.

I have lived in four of those States (Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia; I know, we’re an imaginative lot).

I was born in Victoria and lived there on and off for 29 years, hence my tragic association with the Melbourne Demons AFL club, which hasn’t added to its silverware collection since I was 13 years old. I’ve lived in South Australia (SA)  my current home  State, on and off for 32 years, with the remaining 8 years in three other States and Territories. To complicate matters, my English ancestors settled in SA in the 1860’s and remained there until the 1940’s. To locals, that is of no consequence; the bottom line is that we, unforgivably, left and there’s no coming back.

Fast forward to July 2020 and our hitherto heroic success with containing Covid-19 compared to other countries, assisted by an unprecedented peacetime National Cabinet arrangement between the Feds and the States and Territories in the national interest.

And then the State of Victoria went pear-shaped very quickly and is well into a second wave, driven by community transmission as a result of inadequate tracing, less than vigilant private security companies controlling quarantine centres (rumours of bonking and gambling with those in quarantine abound) and the early relaxing of social distancing measures to kickstart the hospitality industry.

To cut to the chase, Victoria is now a pariah State, with closed borders to every other jurisdiction, enforced by the police and military, and it is assumed that all Victorians are Typhoid Mary in disguise. The Prime Minister is going through the motions of national unity and universal brotherly and sisterly love but the average punter outside Victoria is furious that this may have set a national economic recovery back by at least six months.

None of this is helped by media and Government dog-whistling that this has emanated from Muslim communities in Melbourne. The State Health Minister announced that one of the triggers was the celebration of the end of Ramadan amongst the Sudanese community and then had to extract her foot from her mouth the next day when it was pointed out that 90% of the Sudanese community in Australia are Christians.

The current hysteria in a country where we have had something like 107 deaths from Covid-19 since the beginning of the outbreak (think about that number, my international friends) is alarmist and shameful in that it points to how easily national civility is punctured.

Statistically I have been counted as a resident of several States and Territories (and a subject of the bureaucratic nonsenses that entails) and as a citizen of Australia. None of these has ever trumped my allegiance to humanity, wherever it lives. That said, no-one is truer South Australian than me at the moment. 😉

Choosing the way to go

I first published this piece on my Six Crooked Highways blog on April 17 2020 but my views have not changed. The way matters are developing has, if anything, reinforced my view.

Lest you leap to the conclusion that this is just another woe-is-us piece on the world bequeathed to us by the C-word, list a while. It is my attempt to suggest a rational and compassionate way forward.

Much as The Who pined to die before they got old in ‘My Generation’, today’s younger generation tend to think they wished we had because then the planet would be a far better place than it is. Be that as it may, I find myself increasingly attracted to the sentiments behind it.

We have known for many weeks now that the virus is almost exclusively taking the old and the medically compromised, many of whom have remained on this mortal coil due to highly profitable drugs and eye-wateringly expensive health services. And of course many of the medically compromised are so as a result of the self-inflicted wounds of over-indulgence in food, smoking and alcohol. (I know of what I speak because I fit into both risk groups but if you thought this aside was to be an episode of True Confessions you will be disappointed.)

If we’d wanted the world to stay largely the same when it became obvious where the most likely deaths from the virus would occur, the logical strategy would have been to isolate those groups and let the rest of the world go about its business. But, being the illogical humans that we are, we didn’t. Instead we decided (slowly, to give the virus a sporting chance) to lock everyone down and wreck the livelihoods of 99% of the population for decades to come. As a result, the few remaining people over 12 and under 40 who didn’t already hate Boomers have now been given permission to go to the dark side.

How we got here, in my view, is that gradually the idea that we all should be allowed to live as long as possible, in any condition possible, has taken over any rational analysis by both electors and governments and abolished any notion of the cycle of life.

Most people over 60 have had more than enough time to live a productive life through spawning and nurturing the next generation, growing food, teaching, writing a novel or any number of other worthwhile pursuits (not including being a politician, operating cruise ships, being a computer expert etc). Absent major medical interventions and medications, most would pop their clogs in their seventies, with a smaller cohort winning the lottery of life into their eighties and beyond. The net result is we have developed an unsustainable health care system and an aged care system that is eating up an increasing proportion of our GDP.

Closely linked to this phenomenon is the dictatorial medicalisation of death by doctors and religious zealots. When anyone bothers to ask them, the vast majority of older people say they would choose to depart this life peacefully and painlessly when their body, and more importantly, their brain, fails them to the point of incapacity. Even when they leave strict instructions in this regard, their wishes are routinely ignored by doctors and families who refuse to come to grips with their own mortality and are, in fact, the real underminers of ‘God’s will’ or the natural cycle of life (whichever you prefer.) What we would do in the blink of an eye for a suffering pet suddenly becomes unthinkable.

So, ‘where to from here?’, I hear you cry.

In a nutshell:

  • Let social movement, business, education etc return to normal immediately, knowing that otherwise healthy people who are infected will survive, as they survive the flu, which is also never going to go away.
  • Provide palliative care only to infected persons over the age of 70 and offer them the option to depart this world peacefully and painlessly.

The positives to this approach include:

  • Rebuilding the economy and providing jobs as soon as possible and before it bankrupts us all.
  • Re-starting the education vital to our children’s and our grandchildren’s future.
  • Kick-starting a real community debate about the rational allocation of health resources in a time of crisis and more generally. To provide just one example, it would be more rational to give priority to a single mother who needs a knee operation so she can return to work to support her children than it would be to put a corona virus infected, obese, lifelong smoker and drinker in an ICU ward.

Over to you, dear readers.

Note: These are my thoughts and opinions only and I’m happy to hear your views. However, any comments I find abusive, obscene or moronic will be deleted and no further correspondence will be entered into.