Life is increasingly serious, it seems to me. Or is it just what I choose to watch on television or read, especially on the Internet? Quark writes about our Heath Robinson government in Victoria, of the war between cyclists and nature lovers over parkland, of factory-farming of human masses and the tedious obligation of infinite pseudo choice.
It’s not that I go looking for trouble exactly.
I have what I would call a normal concern about our environment, not only because I enjoy nature but because I think I understand its inextricable relationship and importance to us. I also think I have a normal concern about the future, about the way animals are treated and about preserving native species and even about people and their quality of life.
Who doesn’t care about at least some of these things?
The sad thing is that I can’t find any good news, anywhere on these fronts.
Everywhere I look the situation seems to be getting worse and I am constantly confronted with images and accounts of suffering factory farm animals, homeless, doomed orangutans whose forest homes have been decimated, kangaroos being culled, and cattle tortured after an interminable journey to the other side of the planet before what must be the final real relief of expiring.
I think, to be a happy balanced person, I’m supposed to focus on other things and to appreciate the “privileged” place in history and in geography in which I find myself.
I’m supposed to thank my lucky stars that I live in the age of mass communications, especially the Internet.
I must say that I really do appreciate these things which I am using right now but, at the same time, there are so many other aspects of our contemporary world that are draining it of enjoyment.
This effect is a combination of how changes to our political, social and physical environment affect us directly and the pressures that human existence place on other creatures. I learn about these things via the very media which I have just acknowledged as a great plus.
Daily, I am deluged with electronic pleas to help stop baby seals being clubbed to death, save bears from being caged for the purpose of draining bile from them, to save from logging, forests in my own state which are home to the engaging and endangered Leadbeater's possum, the Victorian state emblem.
Even if I did not look at electronic media, I would still receive through my letter box appeals for funds to help the hapless products of puppy mills or to rescue other cruelly treated malnourished domestic animals.
It is well known that laying hens are kept in tiny cages, their little feet never scratching in the earth. If this were not bad enough, the media is oozing with propaganda meant to coax people, push them, finally forcing them through price into minimal sized apartments with little or no natural light.
Housing for the masses is now all about minimally accommodating people rather than providing living space.
Both situations - for hens and for people - are utilitarian, functional and completely inconsiderate.
I then read and hear about scarce public parkland being appropriated for road construction. At best one could see this as a utilitarian approach about traffic and transport rather than about people and their lives, at worst a project for its own sake.
Parkland is a luxury that can be just stolen from the people it seems. This can happen in Melbourne or Istanbul.
Whatever is happening spawns unexpected competing interests.
The gentle activity of cycling has become some sort of monster! In Melbourne cyclists want bicycle paths as commuter highways through parkland and require the sacrifice of pre-European settlement trees.
The cyclists could traverse the parkland in a meandering fashion on the existing pathways but they want to go at top speed in order to get to work.
You see, cycling is now a mode of transport rather than a recreational activity.
Cyclists occupy the high moral and environmental ground because of their dainty carbon footprint.
This is a kind of war between the cyclists and those who want to preserve the park.
The country’s priorities now seem to be focused on our lives as real estate consumers and workers. Numbers of hours worked, house prices, GDP, company profits, are critical indicators of our competitive edge.
Are these things really life or death?
We seem to be trapped in a very unimaginative version of a Heath Robinson machine with no detours.
Even our recreation seems to be about something organised and orchestrated from a higher power like the AFL (football) rather than our own ways of re creating ourselves. Our private activities and invented fun have literally no room in contemporary life.
Opportunities for creative play are being removed as open space diminishes and we are funneled into profit making arenas of entertainment. These opportunities are being removed as the ratio of nature to humanity decreases and access to nature diminishes, becoming less accessible in crowded, regulated, expensive cities.
Even our precious spare time is hijacked by organisations.
Things that I never used to have to make decisions about and could leave ticking away in the back ground are now items I am supposed to spend time on. I refer here especially to telcos and to energy supply.
In a nutshell, it requires quite some calculation to ascertain if one company is better value than another. This question comes up several times a week through phone calls interrupting my peace or someone at the door insisting that I go and find my last electricity account. Even after I have worked out the advantage of one over another, it will have all changed by the time I get around to working it out again and I’ll find I’ve been on the wrong plan or with the wrong company.
Did we ever really need this in our lives? “Choice” has become a very tedious obligation.
The Internet, smart phones, the “vibrancy” of a city growing in population at an enormous pace, Skype, Twitter, tablets: all these should make me happy.
The trouble is that I am losing what really made me happy.
At the risk of appearing to indulge in nostalgia, our lives are far less free than they were. Big Brother is out there doing its robotic best to nab us in a hapless 100 metres of driving at 64 in a 60 zone or the parking officer is doing his level best to add to his daily quota as we tear back to our parking meters when a community meeting goes 10 minutes too long.
Even using water has become a sort of crime whereas it was once part of our lives and it was OK to hydrate both ourselves and our environment. Friends boast to one another that they never water their plants or are getting rid of their gardens. My neighbours have covered theirs in concrete slabs which will be very economical on water.
All the above symptoms impose stress and remove spontaneity and freedom. It is the effect of our governments imposing themselves on us and overcrowding us so that we are constantly banging up against the will and interests of others, the limits to resources, and being reminded us of the cost of everything, every minute of the day.
Along with the loss of fun and freedom in contemporary life, there is a burdensome overlay of the oppressive and unhelpful role that governments play in our lives. There’s a feeling of being administered, of having ideas, projects and changes to our environment imposed on us; of control of our world coming from somewhere outside ourselves.