The average Australian has a number of issues concerning them, one being the worry of rising interest rates and the negative impact this may have on the ability to gather personal wealth. Corresponding with this is the strain (on health, energy and relationships) of working longer hours to make more money to pay off larger debts.
Having enjoyed historically low interest rates, the average Australian has increased their level of personal debt to an all-time record high and is not in a financial position to absorb even the smallest interest rate rise.
Reduced workplace security is another concern. Increasingly, the only way workers can secure their employment is to sacrifice more of their workplace conditions than their colleagues. For many, workplace security comes only at the cost of disruption to the work-life balance, and a reduction in the quality of life.
Another concern still is a heightened awareness of potential violent attacks on what has become known as the “Australian (or Western) way of life” in this so-called “post- 9-11 world”. This perceived threat causes suspicion of certain racial and religious groups and acceptance of restrictions on civil liberties.
The themes of individualism and fear increasingly dominate the lives of many Australians, and Australia as a whole; whether it is fear of increasing debt, fear of workplace insecurity, or fear of terrorism - we are scared because, as individuals, we are beginning to feel more alone: we feel alone because of increasing fear.
It manifests itself in the developing tendency to prioritise self-interest over the good of the community. Busy city living, lack of “community” and interconnectedness, has caused people to worry that “strangers” in the community cannot be trusted or relied upon. This leaves only one alternative: each individual must have the resources to provide for their own self and family, and they must compete against others for those resources.
Corporate marketing campaigns and the privatisation of essential services capitalise on this feeling of insecurity, creating a wealth of products and services that satisfy people’s desire to “get ahead”. The consequence is a culture of consumeristic greed, ultimately resulting in a constant state of dissatisfaction, stress and financial debt.
The notions of “us versus them” and suspicion of “the other” go hand-in-hand with individualism. Fear is a powerful motivator.
What might happen if the individual is unable to protect and provide for themself or their family, either because of rising interest rates, poor working conditions or because of violent attacks on one’s lifestyle?
When people are fearful they become irrational. Fearful people are also likely to justify harsh measures in proportion to the seriousness of a perceived threat. Fear and suspicion lead to a cycle of social division, the reinforcement of individualism, and the rejection of diversity.
The opposite of fear and individualism is community. Community is built on commonality and diversity. A profound respect for diversity and the desire for increased diversity are necessary for the building of community. The myth that people who are “different” are a threat to the individual is helping lead to increasing individualism, and making people more scared. Communities are diverse: fear of diversity leads to fear of community.
Policy solutions that focus on micro-economic management, workplace stability or counter-terrorism methods are essential. But they are a treatment of symptoms, not of the underlying illness. Deeper action is needed.
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