Monday, October 09, 2006

Interesting piece by Robert Manne in The Age today, "In Search of Howard's End". These remarks seemed particularly pertinent:

"In comparison with the security and serenity of citizens in the postwar boom, what is unusual about our own time is the curious combination of well-being and anxiety. Very many Australians are aware that they have never had it so good. Because of the unprecedented levels of private indebtedness, however, the high vulnerability to interest rate rises and the increasing levels of job insecurity, many are far from convinced that the good times will last.

The preoccupation of large numbers of citizens is now individual and familial well-being. The main aspiration is to acquire, or at least to hold on to what has been gained. Politics is accordingly even more thoroughly reduced than usual to judgements about the economic competence of governments."

It struck me that this paradoxical combination of contentment and anxiety - a happiness that is too reflexive, too aware of what factors have gone into producing our materially comfortable life, bristlingly sensitive at its edges, where it touches the fear that all this may be gone tomorrow - links to the phenomenon I discussed in passing, rationalised contentment. As I described it at the time, this is the sort of compulsion that is found in reflections on our current mode of life to state again and again that we are happy. A suspicious statement to make and reassert, as I mentioned my linked post.

I think Manne's comments on middle-class Australia's hyper-awareness of 'how good we have it' provides some insights into the material preconditions of this paranoid rhetorical mode. Rather than feeling of truly prosperous and abundant, we have these constant reminders of our precarious situation thrust at us from all sides.


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