Walking on


As I was leaving the hosp[ital this morning after my treatment, I stood at the lift doors when they opened, and a man started to exit. When he realised it wasn’t the ground floor, he stepped back, confused, and I entered, brightly asking, “going down?”

It was hard to judge his age. I tend to do it taking myself as a reference point, but even given my recent travails, I’m more sprightly than many and certainly look a good deal younger than all but a few of the same age. Considering that, I’d estimate he was around my age or a couple of years older.

He was thin and bent, clutching at the handrail in the lift for support. He had wispy grey hair and a thin grey beard. He turned to study me as the lift doors closed. “You sound jolly for a man leaving hospital,” he said.

There was no judgement in the comment, nor even curiosity, really. In part, I think it was a reflection on his own condition compared to mine – he had a walker – but he took some reassurance from it also, I think, as if to say, good onya mate.

I don’t know if I was jolly – or if I could ever be described as jolly – but I was feeling pretty bright. I hadn’t realised until he said it, but I saw myself as he must have, seemingly healthy and full of vigour, a friendly tone to my voice, striding into the lift after him. “I’m jolly because I’m leaving the hospital,” I told him.

I got on at the second floor, and it took no time to get to the ground floor. We exchanged a couple of extra pleasantries and wished each other a good day. I was fairly certain that my day would be better than his, and perhaps the weeks and months ahead also. Not for the first time, I blessed my good fortune. There’s nothing like visiting a hospital to appreciate how many desperately sick people there are.

It was cool, but the sun was out. On impulse, I turned left instead of right as I left the building and walked down to the French restaurant near the corner. I ordered a flat-white to go, and the tall, slender French girl served me, smiling and friendly as she has been each time I’ve visited. I left and started towards the station.

I have headphones on while travelling on the train and to and from the station. With noise reduction switched on, I feel like I’m in my own little world, which is welcome in the cold mornings. I occasionally listen to music, but mostly it’s an audiobook I listen to pass the time. That was the case today.

It’s a well-worn route by now – this is my seventh week of treatment. Next week is my eighth and final week. I’ll be very grateful for the end of it, but the best part is when I’m heading home. Mostly I listen to my book and whatever thoughts in my head pass through without lingering long. For some reason, it was different today.

I thought of the man in the lift. I saw him as an individual and hoped his story would end well. Often, coming and going from the hospital, I’ll see patients in their robes, attached sometimes to a wheeled contraption, outside taking in the fresh air and activity or, alternately, having a cigarette. I always feel fortunate that that’s not me. Thinking of the man today, I felt grateful for what I have.

I don’t know how or why, but I then recalled, very vaguely, a woman I went out with many years ago. She had cottoned on me after getting all the details of my birth and doing my chart – she dabbled in that stuff. Her analysis proved that our stars were almost literally entwined. She proclaimed us a great match, which was the primary reason she had latched onto me. It was in the stars. Needless to say, it wasn’t.

Then, as I passed by a street, a nagging memory came to life. I’d gone out with a cute lawyer for a while and should have made much more of the relationship than I did. Walking to and fro all these weeks, I felt sure she had lived around here, and suddenly. It was the street I was passing where she lived.

I remembered her again. She was intelligent and attractive. A good type. I knew I should make a go of it, but I was coming off a recent disappointment, and my heart wasn’t in it. She’d have been good.

I walked on. That’s life. You walk on.

Take a ride


Thinking more about religion, I’ve always been quite mistrustful of the Catholic church while having a sneaky admiration for the ritual and ceremony with which they did things. Church should be a place of spiritual mystery, somewhere believers could go and be immersed in the lore of the religion. In this place, they give themselves over to a higher being.

Confession is part of that, I think. Enter with us, give yourself over, and open up for a chance of absolution…

I don’t know when it happened, but the Roman Catholic church cottoned onto the principle many centuries ago while the Protestant church quite deliberately set itself apart. Minus the frills and the mumbo jumbo of Latin liturgies, austerity was a more direct route to God, or so it went.

It was a reaction to the greed and intolerance of the Catholic church that had Luther nail his theses to a church door all those centuries ago. The church theocracy was out of touch with the devotion of the common man, caught up in its persecutions and building an empire of God within Europe and beyond. It had moved beyond the simple teachings of Jesus and become a thing unto itself, powerful and wealthy and corrupting its nature to sell indulgences to those who could afford it.

It’s no wonder that Protestantism caught on among the poor and powerless, the devout who were denied a simple passage to heaven because they couldn’t afford to pay for it. It led to bloody war back then and division since.

I am no theologian, though I find theology interesting. I’m not even a believer. I have a simpler view of devotion because I’ve slipped the ties of religion.

I have a visceral – even sensual – reaction to the trappings of the Catholic church, but not for a minute do I believe it truly reflects the life of Christ. Can you imagine if Jesus was among us today that he’d wear the robes of a priest?

The Jesus we know from the bible was humble and generous. He shunned wealth and lived simply. He was kind, gentle and self-sacrificing. He didn’t go about in finery. He didn’t seek power, though he might have had it. Instead, he preached tolerance and peace. He embraced the poor and the powerless. He healed the sick. He accepted one and all.

What is the true message of Jesus Christ? From my outsider’s perspective, it appears that the church is all about faith and devotion, but the message and meaning of Jesus are lost along the way. Go to church on Sunday, sing your hallelujah, and come out feeling good about yourself.

In a just world, what need is there for a fine church around you to show your devotion and belief? Belief should be something private, held close in your heart and sincerely felt – and I say that as a non-believer.

I think that misses the point of religion as it’s used today. It’s on bumper stickers and t-shirts, and God has his own 1-800 number. There’s nothing shy or personal about it. That’s a cynical view, but then I don’t know how many good churchgoers and Christians I’ve come across who are nasty pricks of the worst type. They say that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel – well, I think it applies equally to the self-proclaimed religious, though often it’s the first stop.

Back when I looked at it, I was drawn to the Franciscans because they seemed nearer to God. Unlike other orders, it seemed they preached and lived by principles closer to the teachings of God. They took a vow of poverty and sought to do good for others.

Still, it’s a tad histrionic to a plain man like me. You don’t need to be a signed-up Christian to do good things, and much of the Catholic church seems outlandish. I think it’s perverse, if not destructive, that priests take a vow of chastity (and the cost of that is clear). I can think of nothing worthy of sacrificing your God-given individuality, though I suppose that’s the point – the same way that nuns become brides of Christ, servants of church and God. I pity the sacrifice.

Like so much, it’s marketing, particularly the Catholic church. Tradition, ritual, mystery and lore – it’s a rich mix that should signify something of meaning. Yet, Jesus was not one for these accoutrements. His message was simple and intimate. The church has added layers to that until true meaning is lost in the ceremony. It’s a theme park – you pay your money, you take your ride, and at the end of it, you’re blessed by God.

I wonder what he thinks of it.

Why belief?


A couple of months ago I read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and really enjoyed. I’d bought the book and tried to read it about 30 years ago but then set it aside, deterred by the dense prose and the many digressions. I had no problem with that this time, and found many of the digressions exploring religious sects and controversies of the time utterly fascinating. It led me to believe that these are things I should know more of – like so many things I should know more of.

By chance, it appears that much of my recent reading has a religious aspect. I made mention a few weeks back of a novel I was reading of 1950’s Ireland that touched upon the religious divide. I’m reading a book now that is similar, set in Ireland during the troubles post WW1. (And another set during the English reformation).

This is fascinating to me from many angles.

To start with, to read of these things from within an Australian society that is modern and secular to the point of being irreligious, is a foreign experience. Religion has played no part in my life. I’ve never been to a church service that wasn’t a funeral, a wedding or a christening. I have an intellectual and historical interest in it, but feel nothing holy.

It’s never really played a part in our public life, either. There have been powerful religious voices, and our most recent PM tried to bring Christianity into the conversation, but it’s never taken here as it has in other place’s. I think that comes down to the nature of Australians – we don’t like to be lorded over or told what to do. And, somehow, we lack that holy need – the thing that draws man to god. We’re practical and independent and believe in the things we can do. It’s both a positive and a limitation.

Whether it’s by nature or nurture, I take a cynical view of the religious infrastructure and am wary of its power. Throughout history there’s been a long tradition of corruption in the church. Popes have feathered their own nest and sponsored violence, while cardinals and the like have acquired wealth and influence in the service of their own ambition. Then there’s the terrible and cynical abuse that priests have perpetrated upon their vulnerable brethren.

It’s a broad brush, I know, and there have been many devout and sincere holy men doing their best to uphold the true meaning of their belief. Often times, through history, they’re the ones who have been persecuted by the church. I’ve spoken to church leaders and found their faith endearing, even if I couldn’t share it.

I’ve wondered if that made me cynical, or if it came down to individual belief. I’m a democrat to my core, and by that I believe in equality and frown upon privilege. We each are deserving of an equal chance, but I believe in individual responsibility. I don’t need or want anyone telling me how to conduct myself, and I won’t believe in something I can’t.

My view is that you don’t have to be a churchman to be a decent human being, and wearing a cassock or a collar to do right by your fellow man. You don’t need a book or teachings or belief in a higher being to be a good man, it should be innate. By my observation, some churchgoers are the least charitable.

Ultimately, I just can’t believe it. I don’t doubt the historical basis for any religion, just the meaning given to it. We crave a higher meaning to give purpose and shape to our lives, and so we invent – or conflate – something we can humble ourselves before.

I’ve never felt any such need. I would be pleasantly surprised to find there is a God – I’m not against the idea. Given what I’ve gone through lately, I’d vote for a heaven also. I don’t judge anyone for their belief, though I do their actions. What you choose to believe in is your business.

But now I’ve digressed. If it wasn’t already clear, I’m an atheist who’d happily be an agnostic. I don’t believe in the church and am sceptical of organised religion generally. I was christened a Protestant, though by blood on my father’s side, I’m Catholic – Irish Catholic.

This I find interesting reading some of these books. If my family had never left Ireland all those generations ago I’d have been a Catholic and doubtless drawn into the troubles. Though I care less about the religious divide, as a democrat I feel sure I’d have become involved on the republican side. I don’t care where it is, I’m almost always going to take the side of the oppressed – and fighting for home rule seems the most worthy of causes.

It’s a curious thought, and an easy view to take sitting comfortably in secular, sophisticated Melbourne when nothing is on the line. I accept that. It’s easy to rage. To do is a different thing, and nothing more than a hypothetical in this environment.

If it counts for anything, we debated Australia becoming a republic at the dinner party last week. The boys were for it, the girls ambivalent or against it. I was predictably fierce. It will come.

What lies ahead


So much has changed in recent years, in the world and in my life. By necessity we’ve been made to adapt. I don’t remember more uncertain times than those we live in now, with Covid, climate change, and political turmoil becoming the standard we must bear up against. In so many ways, the outlook is bleak. The carefree days of my youth seem far away. But then my youth is past too, and besides all the global currents swirling about us, there is the personal. In my case, it’s cancer, though it goes beyond that.

Life is forever changed and I don’t know when or if it will settle into a new way or if it will remain forever changing. The best we can do is to shape our life to find pleasure and comfort where it still remains.

This morning I woke without having to rush out the door to the cold and dark. I had my coffee, then I read in bed. This is a small thing but gives me pleasure. It feels civilised and even normal. It’s good for me.

I feel myself very much in a state of transition because of my health. As I get better, the demands on me will become less and I will be able to do more. My outlook has shifted, though it remains unclear which way satisfaction lies. My claims are small for now.

I want to live like this, I know. I want to wake leisurely and approach the day slowly. I imagine a life where I read more, not just for pleasure, but for elucidation. There’s so much I don’t know and I want to expand into the space that reading opens to me. With reading comes thought. They are intertwined. I want to read and I want to think.

There are other things and they are similarly small, and familiar. It’s been years since I travelled properly. I must get back to it. It is another way of being opened up, and another way of thinking.

I’m sure writing will play a part. For the last couple of months I’ve been hard at it after doing nothing when I was ill. It serves an important purpose for me. It’s a way of exploring my mind and of bringing the things held inside me to the surface. It’s easy to argue that it’s another way of opening up. Though it’s hard work, and sometimes torturous, it gives me pleasure.

I don’t want to be alone doing this. I feel ready and able to open myself to that also, and there appear possibilities. What makes it difficult is that I’m not one to compromise. I don’t need companionship. I’m independent and self-sufficient without even trying – perhaps, too much so. It must be a meeting of minds and hearts, as well as bodies. It must be true and real. I want, as one long ago girlfriend described it, someone to steal horses with.

I can be assure of that when I get a dog again. I missing having a partner in crime.

Work, career, money – that’s more difficult. I may want something different, but I’m not in the position where I can change careers so easily. I have to figure this one out. So much of it is banal to me, but I need to make a living – and it’s more important now than ever before.

On the way back from the hospital yesterday I passed by a terrace house for sale in Greville street. I stoped to check it out. It appeared lovely – just my sort of home. I had a moment of sadness knowing I was on track for this until everything turned bad. Now it appears far out of reach – it is far out of reach.

I walked away refusing to accept that. I couldn’t stomach the melancholy reality of that defeat. I must find a way, I thought. And that’s true in many ways. I’ve been corralled by circumstance towards a certain path, but I refuse to take it. I must find a way of changing that, and I’m clever enough to do that.

There’s a lesson in that my illness has made me see more clearly. What makes me different? If you prefer, what are my strengths?

This was one of the party games we played the other night. Describe yourself in three words. Initially, we started with one. Mine was ‘formidable’. After some thought my three words were intelligent, independent and resilient.

Others may see it differently, and it’s hard to narrow it down to three words when each of us is an admixture of attributes all blended together.

These seem the essence of me, however. I might say I’m kind and generous or Im thoughtful and sensitive, that I’m strong or I’m proud, imaginative and creative, articulate and inquisitive, and so on. I think it boils down to this, though: I will keep going, and keep going my own way. And I’m smart.

These are the attributes I have to exploit. I can’t just accept them – I have to use them.

There’s not much I can do about the world about me except lend my weight and my voice when it’s called upon. To find a way forward for myself is a matter of finding pleasure where I can and designing a life around it. To make that possible, I must position myself as a thought leader. I’ve done things all my life, but now it’s time to guide others to do things.

All of this is conjecture still. There’s a lot to play out, and much dependent on my recovery. I’m approaching the last quarter of my life, however. If not now, then when?

The fall and rise


There was a moment the other week when I left the offsite meeting in the city that I was mighty tempted to find a good wine bar and sit there amongst my peers and indulge in something that, once so familiar, had become foreign to me. I imagined sitting at the bar and chatting to the bartender, as I have so often.

Most particularly, I imagined myself in conversation with an attractive stranger there for the same reason as I. I was ready, I thought, to re-enter the fray. The thought gave me delight. I remembered the feeling so well. There was pleasure in it and mystery, and half of it was that the outcome was unknown. I’d always been good at that. It was not always easy and sometimes challenging, but I was independent, confident and articulate, and this was life. Most of all, I craved the sense of vigour going down that path and the spice of flirtation, not knowing where it would lead.

I didn’t. I caught the train home. The day will come, however, when I will brave recent setbacks and put myself out there again.

I mention it now because it felt new. Like the first signs of regrowth. By the next day, I was feeling much more cynical, dismayed by the banality of the meeting I attended and feeling a general sense of alienation.

The day after that, though, a Saturday, it all changed again. For the first time in over a year, I went to the footy. I went to the MCG with a friend who barracked for the opposing side. We sat in the MCC members in the pale sunshine, a wicked chill in the air. I hardly expected my team to win, but they did, coming from behind in stirring fashion as the crowd roared.

I had forgotten that feeling. To be part of a crowd is to feel part of a living organism. It heaves and sighs. It roars and groans. Listen to it with your eyes closed, and you can follow the match by the rise and fall of human noise and the shouted comments from the crowd. I had been there hundreds of times before and felt a thrill to be back. I was alive to it.

We had a beer at halftime and another in the Percy Beames bar after the game. It was a happy, rambunctious crowd. About me, the crowd wore their team colours, mostly scarves, most in the red and black of my team, and a few in the red and white of the other.

I felt a part of a community again. For much of the past year, I have been alone, and more so once Rigby had gone. I was unwell and generally incapable, battling on looking towards a time when I would be well enough to be a part of society again.

Cancer is isolating, as much mentally as physically. There’s a sense of incapacity that is psychological. The disease, and the treatment for it, has left you weak and scarred. You have lost something and know it. It looms so immensely in your mind that everything else seems secondary. You have to get through it, have to survive.

There’s the perpetual regimen of specialists and treatment and medication – and pain, too. It’s a totally foreign way of living that you resign yourself to. Your friends are good, but you feel they look at you differently, and you feel in yourself something different. Cancer is scary to everyone, to those who have it and to those who don’t.

The trick is to get through it. Not everyone does, but I expect I will. That time is getting closer, and hence I raise my eyes to look further ahead and imagine a life beyond this.

I felt that on Saturday. I wasn’t alone. Here, in the crowd, a crowd of people who felt and thought as I did, there was a sense of brotherhood. I spoke to a couple in passing, enthused by our joint victory. I handed another his beer and talked to a girl waiting for her friends. In that living, heaving, boisterous crowd, I remembered what it was like to be part of a community.

Clearing the boundaries


I woke up early this morning to get to the hospital for my hyperbaric treatment. I wasn’t conscious of being in any particular mood.

I drove to the hospital through middling traffic and walked into the hospital 5 minutes early. I had a RAT, which was clear, and then had to change out of all my clothes – including undies and removing my watch – to put on a pair of hospital scrubs. Ten minutes later, they slid me into the hyperbaric tube.

They reckon when it’s fully pressurised, the pressure is like being 14 metres underwater, which is about twice as much as when you fly. You’re all familiar with your ears popping when flying; that’s absolutely necessary in the hyperbaric chamber to equalise pressure and ease any pain or risk of damage.

Normally you might do that by swallowing or holding your nostrils closed and blowing. Because of my surgery and the loss of feeling, I couldn’t do the second, so all I could do was keep swallowing as the oxygen pumped in and the pressure increased. It took a while for it to work. Along the way, they had to slow or even back off on the pressure because my left ear was troubling me.

The treatment after that was uneventful, even boring. I just lay there for over an hour. I couldn’t even read a book. When the attendants released the pressure again, I felt a crackling and gurgling in my left ear. The doctor on duty inspected it and reported it was bruised from the pressure. Long story short, I can’t continue treatment until they do a minor procedure to allow for the pressure to equalise more efficiently between the inner and outer ear – similar to the grommet in my right ear, just more temporary.

I left, frustrated and weary thinking I had to have yet more surgery.

I drove to my old stamping ground, Hampton. I went to a cafe I used to frequent and, waiting to be seated, had a couple of old ladies barge in and take the table meant for me. They were a couple of Brighton types and very rude. I was shown to another table. I waited ten minutes to be served and then walked out.

I went to another cafe, relatively new and much less busy. I was served by a sweet-natured teenage girl who got my order wrong. It was no big deal, and I made nothing of it, but as I left 20 minutes later, I realised I was in a cranky mood.

I get gruff when I’m cranky, which wasn’t helped by the fact that my speech had gone off sooner than usual – maybe due to the treatment. I stalked back to the car, feeling a cold agitation and a sense of impatience for something I couldn’t define.

Today, I think, is one of the few occasions that I feel sorry for myself. It’s okay; I’ll allow it this time. I was conscious of all I had lost, which I felt ever keener knowing there was no one I could talk to about it. I’ve never really complained, but I was unlucky to lose my close family prematurely. Losing my mum, particularly, was very hard, and her death set in train a series of calamitous events that left me with no family to comfort me in hard times.

I felt the loss of Rigby too, my boon companion. I think of him a lot and am still vacuuming up remnants of his fur! It feels pretty sad. The other day, returning home, I made a wish that I would open the door and he would be there. I felt quite good about it, much like when you feel your numbers might come up in lotto this week. He wasn’t there, though. Nor have I won lotto.

I miss him. I wonder how I would have coped last year with the cancer breaking if he hadn’t been there for me. I have vivid memories of that torrid time that recur to me regularly, yet in all of them, I return home to the eager affection of Rigby. I’ll probably get another dog soon and will be grateful for it, but it won’t bring back Rigby.

I’m a bit sad currently about friendship in general. No recriminations. Everything has a lifespan. Not great timing is all.

I feel I have lost a lot and possibly suffered more than my fair share of obstacles. I’ve always been conscious of not wanting to make that an excuse. You’ve got to deal with what comes your way, no ifs, buts or maybes. I’ve done that, but I’m aware of the cost.

I feel, in a way, that so many years have been lost, and remind myself there’s still time to find the comfort I need and yearn for. But, after tarrying for so long, I’m impatient to get that started, not knowing how.

There’s a feeling now different from before, which I’m unsure if it’s just a part of getting old or, more likely, it’s a part of coming close to death. There were always things I did and wanted to do, and they seemed a part of the continuum. If not this year, then next, or five years from now. There was no perceived limit or boundary. You know it exists, but distantly, and life feels boundless.

Now I feel the truth that more is behind me than ahead, and the times when I may have done the things I truly wanted were wasted. That’s an extreme perception that the urgent sense of loss exacerbates. The truth is, I did other things instead. While great fun and valuable in many ways, the things I did were transient. They were a moment that passed. I missed the opportunity to build something lasting.

It’s a classic tale. As they say, it’s later than you think.

Now, I can see the boundaries ahead. I can hear the clock ticking. Nothing feels boundless anymore. I try to recapture that sense, and it’s a key reason I strive to enhance my physical health – if I can feel and look younger, then maybe I can get some of that sense again. The sense of limitless possibilities. Maybe that can be, but then maybe it’s a delusional attempt to reclaim time lost to me.

Having got to this point, having survived cancer and experienced a form of enlightenment, I’m impatient to get back to the main game, knowing my opportunities to perform and score are dwindling. I feel it urgently: I have to make it count.

So, that’s the definition I was looking for, perhaps. It will remain true, but tomorrow is a different day and may bring a different view.

The wonder of it


I’ve been out and returned since I wrote the earlier post and found myself thinking about it as I visited the supermarket and library. The nature of a blog like this is that it’s personal, particularly in my version of it. I’m not so interested in recording the quotidian activities of my life, though I feel obliged to note down some of it. I’m interested in the psychological journey – how I see and experience things and the evolving perspective along the way. The logical extension of that is a degree of self-absorption, if not navel gazing. It aligns with my nature also.

All of that is heightened when you endure a life-threatening condition. Though it’s terrifying, it’s also fascinating. To bear witness to the breakdown of your body and functions and then toil as they slowly, haltingly, patchily repair is a thing of wonder.

It’s astonishing to comprehend when so many simple functions fail. You live at a baseline and above it often, but abruptly, you plunge beneath it. How can you not see things differently when your experience is so radically altered? The elementary experience – and expectation – of living is turned upside down when your speech and hearing fail, when your muscles become frail and your consciousness fragile, and your ability even to taste fades, and eating is a trial. With it goes a sense of self.

It is a challenge, obviously, but it’s much more than that. You become your own biological experiment. A part of you steps back, probably by necessity. It’s like peering into a microscope and being exposed to a myriad of mysterious worlds you never imagined. But it’s you!

It’s my physical self that has suffered this damage. I’m sharp as I ever was and my psyche is healthy. It’s my body that has been attacked, and hence my focus on it. I had something malicious grow inside me. It’s gone, though it can return. To reclaim what was taken is a victory. Every sign of healing is a bit of territory I take back from this foe. To become robust again, to feel my swagger return, is defiance of a fate otherwise decreed.

There are many bigger and stronger than me, true even when I was perfectly healthy. There are certainly many, and maybe most, who are more attractive than what I’ve become. I may take that as a mark of achievement one day, but for now, the only way I know I’m winning is in my physical progress. It becomes an obsession.

Winter is coming, I know. No matter how much I regain, the mounting years will slowly erode. I’ll defy that too, but it’s more readily accepted. One thing that has changed is that I’m much more aware of my mortality and the mortality of others. I know, most likely, the day will come, and I know how I don’t want to die. I’ve seen enough of that.

It’s the sense of detachment that gives me the perspective of transience. Everything passes, as it has for thousands of years. What seems vital and urgent to us now will one day be a thousand years past. I’ve had an awareness of that previously – it’s why I chose to write, to leave a mark – but it feels more real. Less theoretical, more practical.

It’s time


Today is Election Day in Australia. A lot of us have been waiting for this day for a long time – three years to be precise, after the great disappointment of last time. I feel sure the result will be different this time, and finally, we’ll be rid of the worst, most corrupt government in our history. It’s a moment to savour – though I shouldn’t get ahead of the result.

With the Election Day finally, there’s no more campaigning, no more political advertising, rabid journalism, no more sham, pretence and dishonesty. Not for a little while, anyway. Truly, election campaigns are a thing from hell, dispiriting and overwhelming. I’m a political animal, but I switch channels when a political ad shows on TV or political news comes on. I can’t stomach the inanity and shallow, often biased commentary. Now we’re free of it.

Much in that nature, Scott Morrison was heard to say early in the campaign that Australia was the greatest country in the world. Lest he is exposed as a turncoat in tabloid headlines across the nation, the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, was heard to pronounce the same soon after.

These are motherhood statements. By ritual, I reckon most leaders and would-be leaders say much the same thing in countless countries across the world. It’s meaningless drivel, of course, but I guess it’s intended to confirm their bona fides as a leader and affirm their commitment.

Not every country can be the greatest. I don’t even know what the criteria for the ‘greatest’ is. It’s an empty sentiment made up of bluster and insincerity. I don’t even know if it matters much, but, in any case, surely what defines the best and greatest is a matter of subjectivity?

It’s my subjective analysis that Australia is not the greatest country in the world. It pains my partisan heart to admit that, though it’s pretty clear that any claims to such a position have gone downhill in the last 10 years.

There was a time when I might have proudly believed there was no better place on earth than the lucky country. Even now, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems fair to claim that Australia of the late eighties and early nineties was not only a great place to be but a genuinely decent, egalitarian, progressive nation on top of it.

All that changed when Howard came into power in 1996. He was a small man in mind and body who seemed to resent the years his ambition had been thwarted. I don’t doubt that he was always innately conservative, but the years watching shinier, more articulate candidates get ahead of him had formed a view of the world that was crimped and narrow, and brewed a suspicion of anything original or daring or interesting. He set us back decades by discouraging progressive opinion and encouraging a bigoted, paternalistic perspective. He started the rot that has led us to the obnoxious, corrupt politics of the current government. It’s no wonder I hate John Howard, though I despise Morrison also and think him clearly the worst prime minister we’ve ever had.

Now that we’re on the cusp of electing a new government, there’s hope that everything will be different. Indeed, in key aspects, there’s strong evidence that long-overdue action will be taken concerning climate change, integrity, aged care, and so on. We await with bated breath.

I want to return to the concept of the ‘greatest’ nation for a moment. I know it’s a bit silly and spurious, but I also believe that, as a nation, as well as individuals, we should always strive to be better. A little ambition is no bad thing, and it’s been too long since we had some authentic national aspirations. The thing is, it doesn’t happen by accident. High minded speeches won’t do it. It takes action. And it takes belief – the belief that we can all share in and shoulder our portion of the quest.

That’s the challenge now. I hope we have that ambition as a government. We know what not to do – anything the government of the last ten years has done, which has made us petty and small-minded and reduced the stature of our nation in the global community. So, that’s the easy part, and there are obvious pathways towards becoming a healthier nation.

Despite all the positive policies and progressive initiatives, it seems to me we can never be anything like great until we mend our society. There are too many rifts and divisions, many of them actively fostered by a government that has favoured political advantage over the greater good.

We treat our poor, disadvantaged and elderly with disrespect and disgrace. Add to that the treatment of refugees and our first nations people. In many instances, they have been used as political pawns. I’m sad to say, it’s an attitude that has permeated sections of society.

We’re to blame for that. It takes authentic leadership to light the flame and show the true way forward. We haven’t had that for many years. It’s true in much of the world. The disenfranchised have been neglected and left to brood and rebel, exiled from the benefits of society.

It explains Trump, the rise of the extreme right and white supremacy, and it explains the anti-vaxxers.

In Victoria, in the last couple of years, we saw the value of a community that pulled together in service of the common good. We made hard sacrifices knowing what we did was for something bigger than our individual selves. In many ways, it was inspiring.

That’s what we can be. What it takes is a narrative we can all believe in and share, knowing that we are part of it. There are many policy levers that must be pulled if Albanese becomes PM later tonight, but over and around, that is healing the wounds of our community, tending to our national weal.

It’s a tall order, but I think it’s mighty helpful that we appear on the verge of electing a genuinely decent human being to the top job to replace a man who is nothing more than a contemptible turd. Example counts for much. Time will tell. It’s time.

The peril of mass man


I was reading some Jung over the weekend, specifically The Undiscovered Self, when I came across a passage that resonated strongly with me. It put me in mind of the anti-vaxxers out there who continue to protest, ever more pathetically, and threatening more violent action to get their message across. But then, I think it also applies to the tribes on social media, so adamant about their views and closed off to any variation to it.

This is the passage…

All mass movements, as one might expect, slip with the greatest ease down an inclined plane represented by large numbers. Where the many are, there is security; what the many believe must of course be true; what the many want must be worth striving for, and necessary, and therefore good. In the clamor of the many there lies the power to snatch wish- fulfillments by force; sweetest of all, however, is that gentle and painless slipping back into the kingdom of childhood, into the paradise of parental care, into happy-go-luckiness and irresponsibility. All the thinking and looking after are done from the top; to all questions there is an answer; and for all needs the necessary provision is made. The infantile dream state of the mass man is so unrealistic that he never thinks to ask who is paying for this paradise. The balancing of accounts is left to a higher political or social authority, which welcomes the task, for its power is thereby increased; and the more power it has, the weaker and more helpless the individual becomes.
Wherever social conditions of this type develop on a large scale the road to tyranny lies open and the freedom of the individual turns into spiritual and physical slavery. Since every tyranny is ipso facto immoral and ruthless, it has much more freedom in the choice of its methods than an institution which still takes account of the individual. Should such an institution come into conflict with the organized State, it is soon made aware of the very real disadvantage of its morality and therefore feels compelled to avail itself of the same methods as its opponent. In this way the evil spreads almost of necessity, even when direct infection might be avoided. The danger of infection is greater where decisive importance is attached to large numbers and statistical values, as is every- where the case in our Western world. The suffocating power of the masses is paraded before our eyes in one form or another every day in the newspapers, and the insignificance of the individual is rubbed into him so thoroughly that he loses all hope of making himself heard. The outworn ideals of liberté, égalité, fraternité help him not at all, as he can direct this appeal only to his executioners, the spokesmen of the masses.

But then, rereading it, I’m sure that many anti-vaxxers would claim it’s just this that they’re protesting against in their misguided way. I think Jung captures very well why people flock to such beliefs in the first paragraph. But it’s true in general of human nature, I think.

It’s understandable, and if we’re aware of it, then the danger of it, the ‘evil’ as Jung calls it, is somewhat mitigated. We rarely have such awareness, however. It’s a condition of this delusion that we become blind to all else.

Jung goes on:

Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself.

He goes on to say how unlikely and difficult that is, and gives some convincing reasons why. I accept that man is an imperfect being. We’re torn in different directions and have forces, both internal and external, constantly at play upon us. The fact that we need the comfort of the mass is one explanation of that.

In my view, we need only ask questions and maintain an open mind. Easy peasy! What is an open mind? Who’s to judge an independent faculty? Even critical though – much out of fashion these days – is subject to hidden bias, I would think.

As said, we’re imperfect. We have flaws. All I can suggest is that we attempt to rise above mass thought and reaction. And maybe read the book. Knowledge is a good thing, and the more we understand ourselves the healthier our society will be.

Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid – The Atlantic


It’s not just a phase.
— Read on www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/05/social-media-democracy-trust-babel/629369/

Fascinating article, but sure to be controversial. Ironically perhaps, it, and the author, are now likely to be subject to the sort of rabid censure he describes. I find little in this to disagree with.

I had an old friend visit yesterday from interstate. We spent about three hours discussing politics and ethical dilemmas and the state of society. This has been typical of our discourse always, and it was nice to sit with someone I could have these discussions with.

A lot of what we spoke about alluded to behaviours and modes of thought that are discussed in this article, sometimes explicitly. He has a brother – a pleasant, intelligent man in my experience – who has become a fanatical anti-vaxxer who spouts ludicrous conspiracy theories and appears to have gone down too many rabbit holes. How did this happen?

Whatever the reason for it, he’s drunk the cool-aid propounded by that fringe group of ratbags. Even the most preposterous can seem reasonable when you believe enough. The thing is, as I told my mate, the cool-aid comes in different flavours.

It’s easy to mock and dismiss the absurd, but not all of it plays as extreme. And, as I reminded him, sometimes we can be prey to it ourselves.

It’s why you hear me repeat the notion: be yourself. As this article outlines, much of society and discourse has been utterly warped by the power and misuse of social media. My conjecture is that social media has taken people away from their true selves in the search for approval, the fear of rejection and, often-times, the desire to belong.

I’m careful that I’m not easily labelled. I’m not much concerned with what people think of me, approval, rejection or belonging. I’m always urging that every issue should be considered on its individual merits, and not checked against the prevailing orthodoxy. What do you think? Forget about the mob.

That’s rare these days. Social media is blamed here, with good reason, but I think our education system has contributed to this, as has much of our media, which is neither as independent as it once proudly proclaimed, nor nearly as capable and critical, as it should be.

We’re left with the individual. To rise above this and think independently requires an open mind and a critical faculty. Question, examine, compare.