The Elite

I've had a gutful. There are no elites in Australia — there is only the decided absence of public intellectuals.  

Argument: That it's pointless to look for or blame an 'elite' class for the mess and malaise that Australia is in.


I don't think there is anything so distinct and distinguished as an elite strata of society. There is and always has been an affluent class who get things done in their own way: that is, by not working for it; and there has always been an innate or default ruling class consisting of both evil and farsighted peoples who act on principles that often mirror society as a whole. But any reference to an Elite is usually a misguided or wishful substitution of one of these.

Many commentators and columnists paint vivid portraits of 'Elite' social groups they've shouldered with at one time or other (or want to shoulder) — for example the class previously called Yuppies: those with means beyond the average working bod, people identified by their accoutrements, choice of school, car, and cashflow. And with the continuing expansion of the affluent divide or wage gap (the rich get richer…) these people will continue to buy their way to the forefront of styles, trends and property booms. But it's deeply fallacious to go and imply they're a great class of Elites who've brazenly turned the economic tide their way over the last few decades. Because yuppies exist on a relatively acute perch of the demographic pyramid, one cannot automatically deduce that high spending power actually translates into legitimate political force on the wider scale. They're merely a more active rung, demographically speaking. Society is hardly affected culturally by an increase in sales of gourmet food (even if it is for their dogs).

Sure, the yuppies may all have voted collectively for Howard; they may even be the symptoms of something greater or more sinister which also happens to lie at the root of market forces and the feeling of consumer disempowerment at the lower end (esp. in the face of banks).

Or the situation that on one hand cultivates yuppie spending and manifold general malaise on the other could also reflect the boredom of relative affluence and the general rat-racing of middle-class hunger, the lack of moral systems and models courtesy of Church or nuclear families, the news 'n sports value media, the lack of politically aware celebrities who are also not morons, or the Howard government alltogether, the GST… It's a bloody rich tapestry.

Only an ass would imply there's a single, consistent force or class at work here. There isn't even a center or essential principle of dirty planning and greedy grinning — if anything, the Australian condition today is a default effect brought about by multiple, indistinct elements — each pretty mediocre on their own when contrasted with the mass of society, but all working inanely together in unpredictable synergy. A state of affairs somewhere between mild chaos and getting the government we deserve.

In their hearts, people certainly feel that something is wrong: that we have a lousy, embarrassing PM with a heartless administration (esp. in the eyes of the rest of the world), and that those who gain most from the condition, like some nouveau riche, should get the blame. Like all those Thatcherites drunkenly calling for four more years in the late 80s.

But to point and growl at the yuppies (them that know not what they do) is to become a preacher for the Culture of Complaint, as any elite art critic-historian will tell you. Beyond the basic whinge or poppy-cutting, the whole idea and quality of elite bashing is dilute and misguided. Especially since the real blame should in all probability lie with Canberra — where intelligent debate is an 'interesting notion' and where Howard's style of 'need to know' governance directly helps people make informed decisions for themselves. Not. This need-to-know governance only listens and looks for exploitable crises, for election avenues to ride in full despite their lowest-common paranoia or anti-humanitarianism, when people generally know better. What Guy Rundle in a serious piece on the elite refers to as "trying to manage a vision-free politics of lowered expectations." And of course there's the rhetorical possibility that the whole concept of elite bashing is a deliberate construct of the Howard camp, an encouraged practice of isolation and blame — without rhyme or reality.

And that is part of the problem: citizen-consumers feel disenchanted with their hero-leaders (cf the continuing extreme cult of leadership surrounding Keating) — with the lack of intelligent leadership — and with how little actually separates our choices. Rundle in the above quote attributes this low-grade politics to both parties.

There's more at http://rino.rummage.net.au

No comments: