Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Australia: A Place to Be

A patriot is "a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion."

Well I love Aussie Rules football, meat pies, the "proper" Australian-style pizza, preferential voting, the wealth and, of course, many of the people I know in Australia. But that doesn't mean that if things got bad enough here, I wouldn't pack up, go to Equatorial Guinea and start speaking Fang if I thought that the Equatoguinean way of life and system of government were significantly better, with no hope of Australia's improving.

So I guess I'm a bad patriot.

Now for a diversion before I get back on track:

Watching My Kitchen Rules would make a person think that Australians and New Zealanders actually hated each other. And the rivalry between Aussie states would be much higher if the Kiwis weren't there. As I experienced it over in the UK, seeing someone from anywhere in Australia or New Zealand was like meeting a long-lost relative. My distance from home would act to decrease the apparent distance of my home to the home of somebody else from that general region. Just like how when I go interstate, there's an affinity when meeting someone from several suburbs away. The closer the distance to home, the smaller the distance required for people to notice differences between each other. Think of the rivalry between the supporters of Collingwood and Carlton footy teams, whose home suburbs are just 1.4km apart.

That's how I think of tribalism.

Back on track:

I was thinking about how if I ever got into politics in a big way, I would not be like the normal pollies. They love to go on about how they love this country, about how they bleed cricket balls and skin cancer. And those sorts of statements just seem to have it all wrong. I've mentioned lots of the things I love about Australia. There are plenty more things about the country that I enjoy, from the aesthetic and identifiable shape of the country on a map to the quality and variety of the food, but I don't love Australia. That's not strictly true. I feel patriotic urges. I succumb playfully to tribalism, but I try to use rationality to control myself enough to keep things in perspective.

Australia is too ephemeral a concept to love truthfully. There are aspects of the Australian system that I love. I already mentioned preferential voting, but there is so much lacking. We have a limited freedom of political communication. It's been expanding over time, but it's only implied in our constitution, so it could disappear in a High Court reinterpretation as easily as it mysteriously appeared in the first place. We don't have a right to privacy or to be secure in our homes or possessions. We don't have real freedom of speech. We don't have real freedom of assembly. People are too willing to give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety. We have corruption in our political system, which can be seen by the effectiveness of various lobbying juggernauts. Our politicians have contempt not just for each other, but also for the electorate, which can be seen any Question Time by the complete lack of respect for representative democracy that is shown by our democratic representatives. The executive branch of our government loves to operate opaquely, for the benefit of all the wrong elements of society, and even when they release documents under freedom of information, they redact anything important. And when someone leaks documents that are central to transparent governance, the Prime Minister condemns him without trial (or even charges).

So why would I just lump this all together into a level of praise so high as to ascribe to it the label of love?

I'm happy to fight where I can to improve things, rather than immediately bailing. After all, Isaac Newton's 12th Law is that "a lazy software developer at rest tends to stay at rest" and Ohm's other law is that "societal willingness to migrate is directly proportional to overall repression." Many people don't know that these two prominent physicists were so involved in the humanities.

But one of the things that I have come to realise, over the last few years, is that for many of our elected representatives, the system of our government is almost incidental. They would have pretty much the same positions, and be happy working within the system if Australia were actually a single-party dictatorship like China. They don't actually care about improving civil liberties. They just want reelection. They love to talk about living in a free country, even while they restrict our freedom by agreeing to treaties like ACTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and even considering things like Europe's Data Retention Directive.

I guess the point I'm making is that Australia is a composite of both its tangible and intangible aspects. And when aspects change, especially when they degrade, Australia changes. The political institutions in this country are generally corrupt and we're missing most of what it means to have a truly free society. So a person who sees how things are, and sees the negative changes on the horizon, and maintains an undiminished love for Australia, might be a good patriot, but they're not a great person.

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