Australia - A Sweden of the South?

By Vern Hughes:

Since the 1960s, the Scandinavian model of social inclusion, economic co-operation and political consensus-seeking has been cited around the world as the stand-out, practical, real-life alternative to both free market capitalism and centralized socialism. For many people who are disheartened by the brutal winner-take-all politics of English-speaking nations, the five countries of Scandinavia (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland) have been a beacon of social inclusion, intellectual moderation, sexual equality and economic partnership.

Given the affection which many Australians have towards the Scandinavian way of doing things, it is surprising that social reformers here have not exploited this synergy. We value openness as the Scandinavians do. We have a love of the outdoors and nature as Nordic people do. We pioneered sexual equality along with New Zealand and the Scandinavians. We were innovators in democracy in the 19th century, like the Nordic countries. We have a down-to-earth non-pretentious culture which, at its best, values loyalty and relationships over personal indulgence and conspicuous wealth (conspicuous private wealth is still culturally frowned upon in the Nordic countries to a remarkable degree).

At various points in the last half century, the Scandinavian model – and Sweden, in particular – have been proposed as directions for Australian public policy and social reform. When industrial democracy and economic collaboration were talked about in the 1970s and 1980s, it was the Swedish and Finnish models that were discussed. The ACTU’s Prices and Incomes Accord during the Hawke-Keating period was drawn from Swedish and Norwegian historical experience. When alternatives to our military dependence on the USA were explored in the 1980s, it was Swedish and Finnish neutrality that caught our interest. As second-wave feminism gave way to practical issues of sexual partnership, it was Iceland, Denmark and Sweden that were pace-setters. As our public schools began to fall behind in the 1990s, it was the Finnish education system that beckoned.

In the 1980s, I first came across the term ‘Sweden of the South’. It referred to an Australian take-up of the Swedish model of economic and social inclusion. This was popular for a period with some Australian economists, trade unionists, and feminists. Some in the peace movement took it up in the late 1980s as Sweden stood outside NATO and military entanglement with the United States in a nuclear stand-off with the Soviet Union. Adult education groups discovered Sweden’s extensive system of adult and further education. Reformers in areas such as illicit drug use, prostitution and crime embraced the Swedish model in these areas.

Why didn’t this trend find its expression in the Australian Democrats? On the surface, the Democrats (1977-2003) might appear to have been a likely proponent of Scandinavian centrism. The late Senator John Siddons was a fervent advocate of employee ownership of firms and industrial democracy. He was joined in the 1990s by Senator Andrew Murray from WA. And the party always favoured reform of our Westminster parliamentary system to extend proportional representation and create a more diverse and representative system of contending political parties.
But in the main, the prevailing social libertarianism of the 1980s and 1990s ran counter to the consensual egalitarianism and inclusion of the Scandinavians. Advocacy of industrial democracy and learning circles in firms, family co-operatives in social policy, and recognition of natural relationships and mutual supports in disability and mental health require more than a culture of parliamentary amendment and protest: they demand a culture of creating practical alternatives in society and building social participation in these arrangements. This was a step too far for the Democrats – the party never managed to make the transition from ‘keeping the bastards honest’ to constructing social and economic arrangements that kept the bastards out of power and influence.

Today, the Scandinavian model stands as clearly as ever as an alternative to the political paralysis and division that has engulfed the Western world. A Donald Trump or a Jeremy Corbyn are both inconceiveable in the five Nordic countries. While parliamentary stagnation and division in Australia, the US and the UK reach record levels, Sweden continues its 40 year practice of Almedalen, where 20,000 political leaders and party members across the spectrum gather on the island of Gotlund for a week-long summer camp of discussions, talks and shared recreation. Can Australians imagine anything like this in our politics?

When Australian voters are asked in opinion polls what they expect of their politicians, they consistently indicate a preference for something like Almedalen, that is, they expect their representatives to work together for the common good without partisan divisions or game-playing. The trouble is, our Westminster system of duopoly ensures they never get it.

In 2018 there is a huge vacuum in the centre of Australian politics for an electoral force that represents the Scandinavian way of doing things – a ‘Sweden of the South’. Can such an electoral force emerge? In several key areas, the residual Left and Right still stand in the way.

On immigration, refugees and social cohesion, the Scandinavian countries do not favour open entry to their nations. They acknowledge limits to diversity, and limits to their capacity to absorb immigrants and refugees into the social mainstream. Denmark, Norway and Sweden have in recent years reduced their intake of new settlers. Sweden has curtailed welfare allocations to asylum seekers and now restricts jobs for immigrants to positions that can't be filled by native Swedes. Australia can learn from this typically Scandinavian pragmatism. Most of the centre left in Australian politics is reluctant to embrace a similar stance, as if there is something morally deficient in limiting the entry of immigrants and refugees. Australians can surely learn from the Scandinavians that limiting immigration in the name of social cohesion is perfectly legitimate for a nation that values cohesion and participation.

On economic collaboration and industrial co-operation, the Scandinavians have been prepared to subjugate ideological positions (free markets and protection of local industry) to more fundamental and enduring commitments to shared ownership and governance in industry. Imagine the Australian debate on corporate tax cuts if an Australian party proposed that companies (big and small) with more than 50% ownership by their employees would receive big tax cuts and exemptions from land and payroll tax. Imagine the debate on energy if we proposed to transfer the operating licences of energy retailers to co-operatives of consumers and small businesses. Imagine the debate on Medicare if we proposed the Dutch model of health reform, whereby citizens may choose one of several competing health mutuals to meet 100% of their health needs (a Catholic mutual, a New Age mutual based on natural and complementary health, a sports and outdoor living mutual, an indigenous mutual based on traditional culture, and so on).

On partnership between the sexes, the Scandinavian countries have a cultural tradition of celebrating children and building child-centred communities, which has shaped their feminism. Compared to countries in the Anglosphere, the family unit is relatively strong in the Nordic countries - Sweden has the highest birth rate in Europe, Italy has the lowest. Australian feminists can learn a great deal from Scandinavian feminism, rejecting the anti-family feminism that is prominent in English-speaking countries and embedding egalitarian partnership between the sexes in daily life, and a celebration of children in the culture.

Individualised funding, or use of ‘vouchers’ in service delivery has tended to be anathema to ‘progressives’ in the Anglosphere, but Sweden has the highest use of vouchers of any country in the world. It has embedded individualised funding arrangements throughout its welfare state. This has resulted in greater ownership of social provision through taxation than in countries like Australia where political parties tend to use social programs as vote-buying dispensations to passive disengaged 'clients'. Extended individualized funding arrangements in service delivery in Australia would strengthen ownership of social service provision by consumers, and shift the balance of power from providers to consumers.

On drugs, the Scandinavian countries have been pragmatically sceptical of the overblown ‘war on drugs’. They have been prepared to experiment and learn from the results. In the 1980s Sweden decriminalized several illicit drugs, in expectation that drug use would go down. Twenty years later, when drug use had increased, Sweden reversed its position, moving to mandatory rehabilitation for users of several illicit drugs and re-criminalisation of dealers. Australians can learn from this pragmatism. Ideology should always be subservient to evidence of what works.

And on defence and foreign policy, the Nordic countries have maintained an ethic of independent military self-reliance, sceptical of entangling military alliances, which is backed up by compulsory military service for young people. All the Scandinavian countries integrate their military forces into civil society in the interests of comprehensive security planning and to prevent the development of a separatist military caste that stands apart from the rest of society. Both Left and Right in Australia have tended to not take military self-reliance and independence seriously - a consequence of our ongoing 'cultural cringe' which drives, still, our military dependence on the United States. Our peace movement and our defence forces have tended to live in different cultural universes – the Scandinavian tradition of inclusion and participation has demanded their collaboration.
Is this too big a jump for Australian political activists and social change movements? Can we build on our tradition to embody a clear alternative to neo-liberal capitalism and big government socialism that is radically centrist and radically Australian? Can we be the ‘Sweden of the South’?

Chapter 2: What was Promised?

The Technological Tempest: Charting a New Course

Chapter 2: What was promised?


Broderick, like many others, looks at recent developments of technology and projects them into the future. Such projections of technological progress are usually seen as offering a pathway to a Utopian or Dystopian future (or anywhere on the spectrum in-between). Utopian projections are typically the domain of optimistic science fiction writers and futurists. Such people tend to emphasise the perceived benefits of technology and predict a future based on these, largely ignoring or glossing over the drawbacks and negatives. Many ‘utopians’
tend to assume that the problems caused by technological progress will be solved by technological progress. Dystopian projections are likely to come from social critics and those who are already somewhat discontented with what they see in their society. These predictions take the opposite tack, projecting the negative effects of technological development whilst discounting the perceived benefits, or perhaps paint such ‘benefits’ in a negative light. Science fiction writers may also select some aspects of technology and use these to create ‘monster’ scenarios, like out-of-control computers or organisms created by technology.
These are typically variations on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein monster story - of science escaping the control of its creators.  In fact, some people, like Derek Jensen, suggest that science and technology have already escaped human control (Jensen and Draffan, 2004). 

Picketty in his 2014 book ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ suggests that there is empirical evidence to support Rousseau’s bleak general analysis of civilised society by making the following claim in relation to 19th century France:

‘As I will soon show, the structure of the income and wealth hierarchies in nineteenth- century France was such that the standard of living the wealthiest French people could attain greatly exceeded that to which one could aspire on the basis of income from labor alone. Under such conditions, why work? And why behave morally at all? Since social in equality was in itself immoral and unjustified, why not be thoroughly immoral and appropriate capital by whatever means are available?’ (p. 240)

Henry David Thoreau was another who was suspicious not only of modern civilisation but also its governments, stating in the introduction to his book ‘On the Duty of Civil Disobedience’ the following:

‘Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing government. The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for, in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure.’

‘Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor.’ (Thoreau, 1854, para. 19).

Greg (1936) makes the following argument in relation to simplicity:

‘It is often said that possessions are important because they enable the possessors thereby to enrich and enhance their personalities and characters. The claim is that by means of ownership the powers of self-direction and self-control inherent in personality become real. Property, they say, gives stability, security, independence, a real place in the larger life of the community, a feeling of responsibility, all of which are elements of vigorous personality." name="_ftnref1" title="" id="_ftnref1"> style='font-size:12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"'>[1]

Nevertheless, the greatest characters, those who have influenced the largest numbers of people for the longest time, have been people with extremely few possessions. For example, Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Kagawa, Socrates, St. Francis, Confucius, Sun Yat Sen, Lenin, Gandhi, many scientists, inventors and artists. "The higher ranges of life where personality has fullest play and is most nearly free from the tyranny of circumstance, are precisely those where it depends least on possessions. . . . The higher we ascend among human types and the more intense personalities become, the more the importance of possessions dwindles.’ href="" name="_ftnref2" title="">[2] (section IX)

Finally on this point are more recent advocates of simple living Alexander, Trainer, & Ussher (2012):

‘Once our basic material needs are met, the limitless pursuit of money and stuff merely distracts us from more meaningful and inspiring things. As the ancient philosophers told us long ago, those who know they have enough are rich, and those who have enough but do not know it, are poor. Consumerism, it is clear, represents a mistaken idea of wealth, and it is based on a mistaken idea of freedom.’ (p. iii)

So we have seen one type of utopia – a simpler world living closer to nature. Is it possible that we can exist in a closer state to nature and still be happy? (technology after all, is largely about separating us from a state of nature.) It may well be so, and this is a topic we return to in Chapter 7.

Two variations on dystopian themes of futuristic societies are presented in the books ‘Brave New World’ and ‘1984’.

Aldous Huxley’s 1932 book “Brave New World” is a tale of a futuristic society in which everyone seems to be free, but desires are manipulated by the state (through behaviour conditioning) and various
state-favoured forms of amusement are promoted. In particular amusements based on casual sexual relations, a variation on cinema movies (called ‘feelies’) and a legalised drug called soma. Consumerism is encouraged and slogans like “ending is better than mending” contribute to a “throw-away” mentality in the population.

In Chapter 17 of ‘Brave New World’ Huxley presents the following conversation between two of his characters: John the Savage, who was raised in uncivilised reservation, and Mustapha Mond, Resident World Controller of Western Europe:

‘Mustapha Mond shut the [philosophy] book and leaned back in his chair. "One of the numerous things in heaven and earth that these philosophers didn't dream about was this" (he waved his hand), "us, the modern world. “You can only be independent of God while you've got youth and prosperity; independence won't take you safely to the end.” Well, we've now got youth and prosperity right up to the end. What follows? Evidently, that we can be independent of God. 'The religious sentiment will compensate us for all our losses.” But there aren't any losses for us to compensate; religious sentiment is superfluous. And why should we go hunting for a substitute for youthful desires, when youthful desires never fail? A substitute for distractions, when we go on enjoying all the old fooleries to the very last? What need have we of repose when our minds and bodies continue to delight in activity? of consolation, when we have soma? of something immovable, when there is the social order?”

    “Then you think there is no God?”

    “No, I think there quite probably is one.”

    “Then why? …”

    Mustapha Mond checked him. "But he manifests himself in different ways to different men. In pre-modern times he manifested himself as the being that's described in these books. Now …"

"How does he manifest himself now?" asked the Savage.

    "Well, he manifests himself as an absence; as though he weren't there at all."

    "That's your fault."

    "Call it the fault of civilization. God isn't compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make your choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness. That's why I have to keep
these books locked up in the safe. They're smut. People would be shocked if

George Orwell’s book ‘1984’ (published in 1949) presents a more overtly controlled society in contrast to the more subtle and sophisticated methods of ‘Brave New World’. A society in which government engages in mass surveillance so as to detect and eliminate any possible resistance or threats to the government or the dis-information it disseminates.   

Aldous Huxley argued in a letter to George Orwell that the covert means of control used in Brave New World was more realistic than 1984’s overt methods:

‘the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency.’ (Huxley, 1949)

Note that the driver of this process is believed by Huxley to be ‘a need for efficiency’, the type of motivation one might expect in a technocratic society, a society in which efficiency is defined or conceived in such a way so as to exclude many negative side effects (i.e negative externalities) - a topic which we will return to in a later chapter.

One pattern that appears to emerge from our brief analysis of visions of utopia and dystopia, is that utopian societies can be ones with relatively little technology (or at least with relatively simple technologies) or ones with very sophisticated technology, like Broderick’s book ‘The Last Mortal Generation’. Dystopian ideas, however, tend be almost exclusively associated with societies that have attained a level of ‘high technology’. It is as though highly developed technology is itself somewhat ominous, somewhat less controllable by everyday people, and somewhat more empowering for dehumanised abstractions, like state power or ideologies. This may in part be explained by the fact that societies without technology are seen as more imaginable, perhaps the underlying, and unsaid, understanding is that one need only study historical societies to know what less technologically sophisticated societies would be like. This implies that any future society that does not use highly sophisticated technology would be very much like one or more societies of the past. But is this true? Could we not have a society that is in many ways different from past societies, even if we were to revert back to a much simpler way of living? Does this assumption of future-being-like-the-past place too much emphasis on the role of technology in society? Perhaps this perspective itself, of seeing and judging societies based on their levels and use of technology is a product of our own ‘technologically biased’ mindset? Someone visiting from a past time period brought to our modern world may overlook our technology entirely. Rather than being in awe of our technological achievements they may be well be horrified at the high cost and slowness of our justice systems, the levels of ill health and obesity, the fact that vast numbers of people sit all day in offices, the enormous amounts of time (and energy) spent travelling, the inequality of wealth, the waste and epicureanism all around. They may well regard our opinion of ourselves as an ‘advanced human culture’ as altogether conceited, and in many ways inaccurate.

There are however, some who conceive the possibility of a life closer to nature, with simpler technologies, and see this not as a return to the past, but as an entirely new culture. David Holmgren and Bill
Mollison proposed permaculture as a system for redesigning society for a ‘low energy future’. Such a pattern of reaching a peak of resource use, followed by a sudden collapse is one of the scenarios predicted by modelling in the 1972 report, sponsored by the Club of Rome, called the ‘Limits to Growth’. The Limits to Growth report also tackled technological determinism as depicted by statements like:

‘There are no substantial limits in sight either in raw materials or in energy that alterations in the price structure, product substitution, anticipated gains in technology and pollution control cannot be expected to solve’ (pg 130)

In response, based on their modelling, the report’s authors conclude:

‘The basic behavior mode of the world system is exponential growth of population and capital, followed by collapse. As we have shown in the model runs presented here, this behavior mode occurs if we assume no change in the present system or if we assume any number of technological changes in the system.’ (p. 142)

An alternative vision of society is provided by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, both of whom have written extensively about the system they call ‘permaculture’. Bill Mollison describes permaculture as
follows (Mollison 1991):

‘The word itself is a contraction not only of permanent agriculture but also of
permanent culture, as cultures cannot survive for long without a sustainable agricultural base and landuse ethic.’ (p. 1)

Mollison (1988) also states that a principle of permaculture is ‘Cooperation, not competition, is the very basis of existing life systems and of future survival’ (p 2)

For his part, Holmgren (2002) states:

‘I am suggesting that we need to get over our naïve and simplistic notions of sustainability as a
likely reality for ourselves or even our grandchildren and instead accept our task is to use our familiarity with continuous change to adapt to energy descent’ (p. xxx)

By energy descent Holmgren is referring to notions of a global peak of energy use followed by a rapid decline, with its associated chaos.  

Holmgren’s and Mollison’s vision is a variation on, and perhaps a direct descendent of, the vision of Professor J. Russell Smith who in 1929 published a book called “Tree Crops” (Smith, 1929). Smith argues for a system of agriculture that relies more on trees and less on annual grains. Smith claims this will protect soils from erosion, and require less work than pure grain crops whilst providing farmers with a diversity of crops to protect them against the failures that may affect single crop systems. Smith proposes that nut and fruit trees should be used largely to provide animal feed, not just human food. Like permaculture Smith also suggests that this will provide a system of ‘permanent agriculture’.

The visions of the Smith, Holmgren and Mollison stand in stark contrast to the ‘predictions of Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and other macho sci-fi novelists whose future worlds were always filled with space traders, superslick salesmen, genius scientists, pirate captains and other rugged individualists’ (

The idea of the power of the individual seems to be embedded in American culture. John Ralston Saul (1992) has suggested that most cultures are based on a kind of mythology or ideology. In America, this mythology seems to be based around the idea of the ‘self-made man’. In other words, the ability of any American to become rich if they just apply themselves. If you are rich, it is because you deserve to be rich. In America, unlike Old Europe where wealth is inherited, people become rich by applying themselves to hard work either in industry, their own education or both. Based on this concept of meritocracy, America has promoted itself in the past as the ‘land of opportunity’. 

This myth based around the merits of the individual has always been questionable. Let us consider the merit of the bankers who take home enormous sums; are the people whose ingenious inventiveness in derivatives led to global financial collapse in 2008 really worth those large sums? Presumably, merit in a meritocracy, such as America claims to provide, should lead to benefits for all? Otherwise, it is not really a system that rewards merit at all – or least not what most people would consider merit, but rather a system that rewards pure selfishness and greed. And that at the expense of everyone else.

In fact, it is likely that it is selfishness and greed that is taking away many of the opportunities that Americans have enjoyed in recent decades. For example, many American opportunities for gaining work and experience in a range of fields are either disappearing overseas (to China, India and other low-wage countries) or being automated away (Ford, 2007). The opportunities that are not automated away probably mostly remain with vulnerable small to medium enterprises (with
varying degrees of profitability) or with large bureaucratic organisations in which work is (and thus workers are) standardised and controlled as never before. Recent evidence suggests that active efforts are underway by large players to eliminate smaller ones as quickly and ruthlessly as possible. This is especially the case with respect to agriculture and food production, which appears to have a revolving door between corporate positions and government regulatory roles, much like the American financial industry.

style='font-size:12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"'>

‘Those skills eventually made him or her highly marketable, whether in developing applications-software or implementing networks. The hacker became a technician, an inventor and, in case after case, a creator of new wealth in the form of the baby businesses that have given America the lead in cyberspatial exploration and settlement.’

to right wing conservatism and suggests the influence of Ayn Rand. Rand’s philosophy suggests that one’s abilities and talents are entirely one's own. Thus those fortunate enough to be gifted by nature with intelligence and ability owe nothing to their fellow man.
In fact, these unfortunates are to be despised, as most likely (according to Rand – see her book ‘The Fountainhead’) their ignorance and incompetence will just hold back those who are more talented. Is this the meritocracy of America? Where the strong exploit, rather than help, the weak? Sadly, that seems to be evident in both banking and corporate behaviour more generally in America.

It seems that such one-sided arguments as Rand’s which argue for freedom but not for responsibility can lead to reckless, unjust and inhumane behaviour. And it is not just Rand who promotes such views. The following extract from the article by Morozov (2015) discusses the influential theories of free-market economist Friedrich Hayek and links those theories to an example of the very sorts of problems that such unbalanced free-market thinking seems to lead to:

‘In the free-market utopia of thinkers such as Friedrich Hayek – the true patron saint of the sharing economy – your reputation would also reflect what other market participants know about you.
Thus, if you are a nasty customer or an ill-mannered driver, everybody else will soon discover this, and specific laws to police your behaviour are
rendered unnecessary.

The good news, according to Hayek, is that once our norms change – what was considered nasty 50 years ago might be perfectly acceptable today – our reputations would reflect these changes immediately.
Laws, on the other hand, would take quite some time to be altered.

In reality, though, such a perfectly liquid and dynamic reputation
marketplace is nowhere to be seen. A recent lawsuit in the US highlights its
absence. Uber drivers have been accused of discriminating against disabled people by refusing to put their wheelchairs in the boot of their car. One would think that anti-discrimination laws that apply to taxis would also apply to Uber. Uber says it has anti-discrimination policies – and that it’s not a taxi company, it’s a technology company, a platform. Here, there is clearly no easy feedback mechanism to assist disabled travellers: this is what consumer protection laws are for.



#10;margin-left:36.0pt;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height:normal;text-autospace:<br />&;none">There is still a chance to achieve a reduction in CO2 emissions that would keep the world broadly on track to limit global warming to around 2 degrees Celsius (2°C) above pre-industrial levels. This study outlines how it could be done’.

#10;margin-left:36.0pt;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height:normal;text-autospace:<br />&;none"> 

#10;margin-left:36.0pt;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height:normal;text-autospace:<br />&;none">‘The study specifies the technologies that would be employed in this energy system in a reference scenario (the “low mitigation scenario”, LMS) in which no concerted action on climate change is undertaken, and in a range of low-carbon scenarios (LCS) in which emissions reductions would be broadly in line with a
2oC global warming target. In this way the study sets out the major
technologies needed for this energy system transformation, with associated costs.’

#10;margin-left:36.0pt;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height:normal;text-autospace:<br />&;none">

#10;margin-left:36.0pt;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height:normal;text-autospace:<br />&;none">‘Importantly, this study assumes that future GDP growth is the same in the LMS and the LCS,
which implies that investments in low-carbon technologies do not affect other investments outside of the energy sector, such that the overall effect of investment patterns on growth is the same in both scenarios’

So the Grantham Institute for Climate Change’s 2013 report seems to provide evidence of how our society desperately seeks technological solutions to resolve the problems caused by technology, seeking at the same time to preserve our technological system and the ideologies associated with it.

So what has gone wrong with our technological society? Why are we faced with such momentous calamities? Why have our utopian dreams around the possibilities of progress been unable to deliver happiness and security? Perhaps the answer is alluded to in the writings of Friedrich Georg Juenger in his 1920 book titled ‘The Failure of Technology’. In this book Juenger writes about the authors of utopian visions as follows:

‘No one will look for prophetic gifts in a Jules
Verne or a Bellamy, for they lack almost everything that makes a prophet. Most of all, they lack the vocation, the call, and with it also the necessary wisdom, and the language in which this wisdom speaks. At best, they make a lucky guess that something will happen. They play with the imaginary, they play with the future, but it can never have for them the certainty it has for him who thinks and lives in religious terms. What they project into the future is merely a possibility emerging in the present, expanded by them in a logical and rational manner.’ (pg 2)

Is it true that utopian authors and peddlers lack wisdom? Perhaps at leastit is true that they lack the calling, as frequently they are seeking to tell a story, seeking perhaps to titillate the intellectual senses, rather than address real problems of the world in a holistic and wise manner?  Who do we turn to then we want to consider what sort of society we want and how we might achieve it? Perhaps the first question to answer here is: What sort of society do we want? Hopefully the following chapters will help shed some light on what aspects might be desirable, and also what might be undesirable, as well as offering some lessons in regard to the question of how to achieve what we might want.



" name="_ftn1" title="" id="_ftn1"> class=MsoFootnoteReference> style='font-size:10.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"'>[1]
"Property: A Study in Social Psychology," by Ernest Beaglehole, Alien
& Unwin, London, 1931.

" name="_ftn2" title="" id="_ftn2"> class=MsoFootnoteReference> style='font-size:10.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"'>[2]
"The Christian Attitude Toward Private Property." by Vida D. Scudder
(a pamphlet), Morehouse Pub. Co., Milwaukee, Wis.; cf. also Chapter VI of
"Our Economic Morality," by Harry F. Ward, Macmillan

Chapter 1: Where are we? (The Technological Tempest: Charting a New Course)


This book arrives in a society completely lost in a sea of technological gadgetry. Furthermore that society is unceasingly buffeted by powerful winds of change that continually destroy and reshape both the social and physical landscape. The book attempts to explain how we arrived at this situation, what forces and visions drove us here. It recalls the warnings of the prudent which were ignored as we discarded the anchor of past moralities and left the safety of the shores for a new adventure that promised wealth and opportunity for all. To some extent it is a story of pirates and brave heroes, but it reads as much like tragedy as it does epic. The book reveals what we left behind and by drawing on small islands of knowledge it attempts to chart a course to take us through calmer, safer waters.

Stated in the most dramatic terms, the accusation can be made that the uncontrolled growth of technology destroys the vital sources of our humanity. It creates a culture without moral foundation. It undermines certain mental processes and
social relations that make human life worth living.

Neil Postman, Technopoly (1993)

This hit a peak early in the 1800's as many elites evicted villagers and
appropriated the land for their own purposes. A mass of people were thus left homeless and destitute. Not just the villagers, but the craftspeople who depended on them. This mass converged on the cities and the emerging factories seeking work. There was insufficient work for all of them, so many literally starved. There were riots, which were brutally suppressed by army troops who were deployed, as necessary, around England. In fact this is the recurring pattern of our culture and industrial development. Similar techniques were applied to Indigenous nations from the Americas to Australia. The pattern has been repeated continuously now for around 500 years; no signs of change are apparent. It reflects a failure to learn. For the last few decades there has
been talk about the importance of 'Learning Organisations', but we do not have a 'Learning Society'. On the contrary, the evidence is that in some important respects our culture cannot adapt, it cannot change. Thus our culture and society continue to be based on coercion and violence which is more apparent at some times and places than others. By right of might (economic and military) our culture claims ownership of the entire planet. History shows that any alternative culture that western culture encounters is eventually destroyed (Saul, 1992). First by violence, followed by a loss of sovereignty, autonomy and community. The pattern of lawlessness in this regard is clear: from the theft of land from English peasants to the theft of land from American Indians (and
Australian and other Aborigines), despite numerous legal contracts assuring indigenous ownership (Hedges & Sacco 2012). General Custer's famous last stand was a process of stealing land, legally owned by Indians, because they refused to sell it and they stood in the way of resource extraction (Hedges & Sacco 2012). Sitting Bull acidly suggested that the whites should “start selling dirt by the pound”. Faced with the violent destruction of his tribe and the theft of everything they owned, Sitting Bull also posed the question “Do we submit or resist?” (Hedges & Sacco 2012). The disregard of western culture for other cultures and contrary views is apparent. The Occupy movement is a
case in point here. Groups of peaceful people using relatively small patches of public land to present an alternative narrative about our society were met with violent resistance and removal. In nearly all cities, despite often having vast public parks, show grounds, sports arenas, no alternative space could be found and offered to the Occupiers. It is clear that they, or rather their message, could not be tolerated. In relation to this consider a quote from D. H Lawrence who wrote:

Hedges & Sacco (2012) are convinced that as our culture and the planet's systems collapse the cultural violence that has been mostly applied to others will now be turned on its own citizens. The enclosure movement provides past evidence of this as does state violence in response to protests in 1960's and 1970's USA (e.g. see the BBC series ‘The Century of Self’). State responses to the Occupy movement in general suggest that this is just as much a possibility today along with recent violent government responses to protests in Spain and China, and highly militarised police responses to protests in places like Ferguson, Missouri, U.S.A.

;12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"">

Practical Ways in Which Everyone Can Improve Society

Not many people are Christians these days. However, there is one aspect of Christian thought which is perhaps worth modern atheists considering. That is the idea that improvement needs to come from the ground up – i.e. from the grass roots. We may lament the poor quality of our politicians, the corruption of political donations, the failure of neo-liberalism, and we may feel we are somewhat powerless against these. Christian thought says otherwise. Christian thought sees society as a product of its members, as a sum produced from the parts. Under this ideology, if you improve the parts you improve the overall organism. Thus according to this idea - which in modern language is perhaps associated with the term synergy - individuals are not powerless. In fact, the quality of the whole depends on the quality of the parts.

So how then do we improve the parts – in this case the individual people? Well firstly we must identify the problems. Here are some that I can see (in no particular order):

  • Increasing aggression (road rage, etc.);
  • Increasing impatience with others – we see them as holding us up, not doing what we want, not agreeing with what we say;
  • Increasing selfishness of various types, not considering others in a myriad of ways;
  • Increased ‘transactionalism’ – seeing others as just a means to an end, not as people (eg. Shop attendants);
  • Lack of humility – if others draw attention to any faults – whether rightly or wrongly – the response is anger and/or indignation.

Now these things could all be linked to the classic Christian vices, but even non-Christians would probably agree that most of the above are undesirable. And if we are honest, most of us will admit to exhibiting one or more of these failings regularly. Under the Christian concept, that is fine, and the secular mind is also unlikely to expect that everyone should be perfect. The traditional way of dealing with this is to practice mercy and forgiveness.

So what I propose is that everyone, Christian or not, spends some time each day reflecting on their own actions, whether they were selfish or not, whether they could perhaps have let that car change lanes in the heavy traffic, whether they were viewing the sales assistant at the shop as a fellow human, or just a kind of vending-machine to dispense what they, the customer, wants.

Perhaps if we all reflect on these points, and then try to improve ourselves in these regards then maybe, perhaps gradually or perhaps quickly, society will start to improve. And as a result people may find themselves much happier if they are consciously trying not to rush everywhere. Maybe rushing to get home to relax is not as good as enjoying life as one goes about one’s business? Maybe some decide to try and do less; maybe many are less angry and frustrated with others if they are trying harder to see things from the other’s perspective and value more the time they spend with them. And maybe, just maybe, people will reach the point where each of us can suggest faults and improvements without being confronted with anger and indignation, but rather humility, a humility which is prepared to accept, in the first instance, that the critic is right and then only after reflection make a judgement on the validity of any suggestions that have been offered.

There are many things that are out of our control. This situation is not unique. Soldiers like Simpson may not have been able to stop the first world war, but they could still do plenty to help their fellow men on the field of battle through selfless action. These actions no doubt made a huge difference in the lives of those they helped, as well their friends and family

It's Pawn-Ography!

This piece speaks about psychological entrapment and manipulation of reality by social politics much more than it arbitrates upon Hensen's photos per se.

This makes it a relevant, if not fundamentally crucial, theme for how "we can do better." It is useful as a catalyst to further discussion, even if it is not a technical and/or particularised accounts of the mess as it is physically unravelling structurally or locationally with regard to resources, energy, materials and overpopulation. It is true that the mere mention of those photos may trigger the monochrome Pavlovian payload that has been loaded into the issue. This might obscure the actual point of the script to many, unfortunately.- Editor

It's Pawn-Ography!

'There seems to be no agent more effective than another person in bringing a world for oneself alive, or, by a glance, a gesture, or remark, shrivelling up the reality in which one is lodged.' (1)

'The physical environment unremittingly offers us possibilities of experience, or curtails them. The fundamental human significance of architecture stems from this. The glory of Athens, as Pericles so lucidly stated, and the horror of so many features of the modern megalopolis is that the former enhanced and the latter constricts humankind's consciousness.' (2)

Within these two quotations, there are some incredibly insightful points that enable us, if we open our minds to the richness of their meaning, to understand the Bill Henson Art issue beyond the bounds of a highly charged, simplistic, moral stance. It is hard to believe, when one looks at the level of technical sophistication in our society, just how it is that this very society continues to relish the exact same scapegoat routine that it has for centuries. Hetty Johnson's self-proclaimed Judge and Jury role, in combination with the 'Jack Boot' tactics of the NSW's Police Force, created a farcical public response in some quarters, that was reminiscent of the 'Killing of the Witch' scene from Monty Python's satire, the Holy Grail, set in Medieval England. The populist Politicians headed by Kevin Rudd, aided by some in the profit hungry media, knew exactly how to exploit this highly charged issue, pulling the strings in their own sordid game of 'Pawn-ography'.

Unfortunately, this simplistic moralist approach is what our politicians want, it is what some in the media want, and it's what business wants, for one very simple reason; it sells. For politicians it sells popularity, for the media more advertising and for business the consumption goods that 'make us happy', providing us with a convenient diversion when we reach the point of having to seriously confront the 'disturbing realities' of our world.

And for those occasions when our conscience really does catch up with us, why confront the 'disturbing realities', like those of pedophilia and child abuse in their own right, why spend time and committed effort in reaching an understanding of the deep complexity of these issues, when it's much easier to link them to a suitable scapegoat, someone like Henson whom we can project our own lack of insight onto ? After all, lynch mobs aren't concerned with complexity, apart from the expert needed for the knot, and afterwards we can all get back to consuming.

Of course our politicians have become highly skilled in understanding exactly how this psychology works, they're as happy as can be that Bill Henson, Dr Haneef and The Tampa were all ripe for the picking.

When our so called 'leaders', the politicians charged with addressing the true causes of the 'disturbing realities' of our world, are doing nothing more than perpetually exploiting those issues for their own benefit, we the public have an obligation to ask, 'where does the true sickness lie in our Society?' Spending our time pursuing those questions instead of chasing witches, would rapidly help us to begin seeing that our Society and its Politicians are stuck in a web of deceit of their own making. This deceit has one primary purpose and that is to keep the focus off the true insanity and the disturbing realities that this insanity causes.

'In order to rationalize our industrial-military complex, we have to destroy our capacity to see clearly any more what is in front of, and to imagine what is beyond our noses. Long before a nuclear war can come about, we have had to lay waste our own sanity. We begin with the children. It is imperative to catch them in time. Without the most thorough and rapid brain-washing their dirty minds would see through our dirty tricks. Children are not yet fools, but we shall turn them into imbeciles like ourselves, with high IQ's if possible.'(3)

In uncovering the true insanity, we are able to see perhaps for the first time, the extraordinary lengths we are prepared to go to in order to keep it hidden.

'From the moment of birth, when the stone-age baby confronts the twentieth-century mother, the baby is subjected to these forces of violence, called love, as it's mother and father have been, and their parents and their parents before them. These forces are mainly concerned with destroying most of its (the babies) potentialities. This enterprise is on the whole successful. By the time the new human being is fifteen or so, we are left with a being like ourselves. A half-crazed creature, more or less adjusted to a mad world. This is normality in our present age.'(4)

Only when we understand what we are hiding from and why, can we reach an understanding of what Bill Henson is perhaps trying to capture, the Teenager's inner conflict between their own purity and the torment we put them through in our efforts to adapt them to the insanity of our world.

Why is it that we are not questioning the cause of that torment and insanity and our role in it? Why is it that we persist instead with simplistic moralism and witches? What are we ultimately afraid of facing? If we honestly confronted ourselves with those questions and found the answers, we may find that what we are really afraid of is love in its purest form, in particular, the risks and insecurities that go with it.

'Love and violence, properly speaking, are polar opposites. Love lets the other be, but without affection and concern. Violence attempts to constrain the other's freedom, to force him / her to act in the way we desire, but with ultimate lack of concern, with indifference to the other's own existence of destiny.'(5)

We are each personally responsible for gaining a deeper understanding of the world we inhabit, but in a world that is highly manipulated in order to keep us from that understanding at all costs, the biggest question left unanswered is just what it is going to take to finally shrivel up the insane reality in which we are lodged?


(1) Erving Goffman; Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1961) Page 41.)

(2,3,4,5) R.D. Laing; 'The Politics of Experience' (London: Penguin, 1967) Pages 28, 29, 49 & 50.)