Please take a few moments on Saturday or the Monday holiday to reflect on what it means to be Australian.
Yes, I know the question has no suitable answer, that our identity acquires meaning through the doing, not the thinking or the arguing. The thing is, those running the place have forgotten this, and need to be reminded, even at the risk of bamboozling them further.
Our nation is a brave social experiment, in many ways more radical and informed than the American version, a frontier society guided by a constitution that proudly spells out the ultimate concerns of humanity. We took a less affected approach.
Not only have we preferred fraternity to individual liberty, any conflict arising from the pursuit of our shared goals has been managed in a more casual, roundabout way, the journey characterised by an abiding suspicion of politics and institutional authority. Life, liberty and happiness are indeed self-evident truths. So why the hell spell them out? You're just asking for a blue, or affording some idiot politician the opportunity to do stuff that probably doesn't need doing.
As philosopher Tim Soutphommasane rightly suggests in The Age, our egalitarianism has traditionally come in the form of "socialism sans doctrine", the belief democratic and legal formalities, while necessary, can't be relied upon to sort out our differences.
Alas, this is exactly where Australia is headed.
According to Soutphommasane, there is no elite political class pulling the levers and controlling the key institutions in this country. The left-leaning, cosmopolitan, politically-correct type who loathes middle Australia is a bogeyman, dreamt up by Howard acolytes and News Limited to reignite old-style culture wars.
One need only object vociferously to such claims to effectively prove them wrong.
Enter the public sphere and announce, for instance, you aren't in favour of a popular cause, like gay marriage, and watch as rabid, left-leaning intellectuals set about methodically bringing you down by any political means possible. Social media will be lit up. Editors swamped with hateful correspondence. Parliamentarians petitioned to introduce new laws capable of making the uneducated and ill-bred conform to acceptable social mores.
The Australian character, its sardonic humour and fondness for sacrilegious mockery, stems from our willingness to embrace the immutable ironies of existence. As our man Russ says in The Gladiator: "Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back."
Modern politics is anything but fertile ground for irony. The voters want tangible results, and the pollies promise to deliver, conveniently overlooking the fact our ultimate aspirations lie beyond the material and by-the-book.
As history and America amply demonstrate, progressive causes are doubled-edged. A sacred vision that lights the way to a better world always becomes objectified in the end, the Utopian ideal rendered a blinding source of frustration and moral confusion.
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