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Coming face to face with dissonance

By Nicholas Antoniak - posted Wednesday, 8 June 2016

I never really did fit into this society. Often, I found myself at odds with those around me, and what seemed to drive them to live. I believe this to be the reason, that as I entered my formative years, I became more and more disconnected with both Australian society and the world as a whole. Whether this sensation is known to all adolescents, or distinct to those whose readings of Plath, Wallace and an excess of social commentary fostered doubt towards the system, it was a realisation that occurred to me. It became my war. My introspective struggle. Yet, for a long time, I didn't even know if there was an opposing team.

I was brought up in a privileged, middle class, Australian family. We were lucky, and financially stable enough to go on holidays about once a year to places that seemed built to pander to a Western ideal of paradise. Because of my family's relative financial success, I have, to this day, remained unaffected by many of the hardships known to most of the human race. For this I am grateful. But this piece is not about gratitude. As much as that should, and does play an integral role in my life, this is about the way my awareness, or perceived awareness of nation-wide moral hypocrisies, has left me feeling ostracized and cynical towards the future of our race.

Growing up, as many in my situation would've been, I was shuffled through a variety of prestigious high schools due to what I can only hope was a desire from my parents to give me the best possible chance at life. It was within these institutions, alongside traditional classes such as Maths, English and the Sciences, that I was exposed to what were virtues universal to humanity. Despite these various schools having different names, different missions, and even different religions, overall, the virtues remained the same. Kindness, generosity, forgiveness, integrity, humbleness, hope, and respect. At my second high school, which was non-denominational, but inspired by Christian values, a specific virtue, and its merits, were instilled into us each week. It was here, through what arguably could be called brainwashing with good intentions, that I began to doubt who, as humans, we believed ourselves to be. I began to uncover, through these lectures, a moral hypocrisy that seemed deeply embedded in our society. A society of which I was part.


In most of the Western World, countries belong to a system of capitalism. I am not qualified to speak of its detriments or merits, or provide any suitable alternatives. But what I am able to do, is highlight the contradictions I have noticed between the behaviours we, as a nation, claim to reward, and the reality of the behaviours generated by our current political ideology. For example, it is rare (but not impossible) for one to excel in the modern western world (with the definition of excel here being in regards to capitalism), through kindness.

The other virtues we were taught to pursue? The current state of the great barrier reef shows this system places money over respect. What about integrity? Where was that in the 2008 global financial crisis? A crisis, that one could reasonably argue, that our system permitted to occur. Caring for your fellow man, and generosity? Our current political leaders are planning cut-backs to our social safety net. Does that seem like kindness to you?

The advertisements to which we are regularly subjected mostly encourage egotism and vanity. We reward greed, as being in possession of more wealth is, within our society, equatable to a higher social status. So when I sat there, in those assemblies, thinking about our great nation and what sort of behaviours it actually promotes, it didn't seem to be the virtues displayed on the screens above us. This was the start of the source of my dissonance with Australia and the modern western world. A dissonance, promoted by the disconnect between the values our nation claimed to reward, respect, and strive for, and the reality of the behaviours our system produced.

To this day I am still struggling with this dilemma. I may not ever come to a conclusion, as is the way with many facets of life. Being of the belief that morality is relative, and merely a human construct, there is no force persuading me to vouch for what I believe to be good. But I don't think you should need to be told to be kind. To care. To look after your fellow man.

For me, the most noble form of kindness, is that performed for no reason at all. What may inhibit this, however, as it almost did for me, is through teaching our children that society will reward traditional virtues. Sadly, in most cases, it will not.

It has taken me some time to come to this conclusion, and it may not remain definitive, as I am still young and have much to learn. But even if you believe this article holds no truth, it is still undeniably an insight into the feelings of a member of the future generation towards this, at times, morally contradictory, ambiguous and transformative period in the history of humankind.

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About the Author

Nicholas Antoniak, is an 18 year old emerging Australian writer. He writes both creative fiction and opinion pieces and has been included in the 2015 Lane Cove short story anthology. In July he will commence a bachelor of arts majoring in philosophy and sociology and hopes one day to become involved in politics.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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