I catch myself thinking about privilege quite often, a natural side effect of having a strong belief in equality, I suppose. Why are some animals more equal than others?
The truly privileged like to propagate the belief that only a few can win, and that’s as it should be. They warn you: for someone to gain, YOU must lose. Migrants will take your jobs. Muslims will take your lifestyle. ‘Their’ men will take ‘your’ women. And so we see Pauline Hanson rehashing her maiden speech from 20 years ago, this time warning we will be swamped by Muslims, when 20 years ago it was Asians.
In truth, it’s the privileged that are on the take. “We must tighten our belts”, they cry, “the age of entitlement is over,” they bellow, as they stuff their bank accounts with our taxes.
Those who govern us are immensely privileged. Their base salary alone is at least 5x the average wage. Cabinet ministers can earn as much as 10x the average wage and then they all get expenses on top of that. The allowance an MP gets per night for accommodation is more than an unemployed person gets in a week. Pauline may have started out as a humble fish and chip shop owner but 20 years later she’s a wealthy media personality with powerful friends and political influence. She’s as much an ordinary Australian as billionaire Donald Trump is an ordinary American. The only interests either of them really serve is their own (the news Hanson has hired one of Trump’s advisors is telling!)
I firmly believe that the first responsibility of government is to secure the wellbeing of the population. They are obsessed with the economy, but the purpose of a strong economy is to fund the wellbeing of the people, it is not an end in its own right. What’s the good of a surplus when we have communities without clean water, and old people and children go without food and health care?
On a global scale, I am tremendously privileged. You and I are both are, reader: check out the chart, the mere fact we own a computer makes us part of the global elite. I have water, sanitation and power. I am safe in my home, and on the street. No bombs rain down where I live. I enjoy many freedoms, including the choice not to marry or to have children, to drive, to vote, to express my anger at my government. So many in the world have none of these things.
Even here in relatively affluent Australia, I am amongst the privileged: I have postgraduate qualifications, and I have a secure job where I earn above average wage. I’ve travelled internationally, experienced the best of the world’s art and culture and nature.
And yet…My life is by no means easy. My household has experienced extended periods of unemployment and for a long time I was the sole provider. In fact it’s been years since both my partner and I were employed full-time at the same time, now that I think about it, despite our qualifications and experience. Things have changed recently but we’re catching up, not getting ahead. Both of us have our share of the apparently unavoidable ailments of middle-age and I’m grateful some of the care can be bulk-billed. Despite Medicare’s help, we still spend a huge amount of our budget on medical and dental treatments though. I’m counting on my crumbling teeth holding on long enough until I can afford root canal. We have a 15 year old car and stupid-money debt and no assets and second-hand furniture. I fret for our future: we won’t have ‘enough’ super. We’re resigned to working until we die. Life feels precarious. One accident, an illness…we could so easily be in dire straits.
I’m not complaining, I know I’m lucky, but when someone as relatively privileged as me is unable to be secure in our society, isn’t there something terribly wrong? I know I’m not alone.
When someone as relatively privileged as me is unable to be secure, isn’t there something terribly wrong?
Many of the people who voted for Pauline Hanson are less privileged than I am, and doing it tougher. They rightly fear for their futures, because their present is already hard, and they can’t see any relief in sight. They’re not necessarily racist, they’ve been told to believe that the cause of their suffering and insecurity is Brown People, especially Muslims.
Here’s the thing: those who are hogging the wealth want the rest of us to be insecure, so they can continue to hoard wealth instead of making it a priority to ensure everyone’s basic needs are met. By making it seem like it is a competition for scarce resources, they pit us against each other, so we’re too busy spitting hate at people who look a bit different to us to notice that our leaders are robbing us. The budget bill, which takes resources away from those with the lowest incomes to benefit those on high incomes—including all our MPs—is a perfect example.
Pauline Hanson is a tool of the political elite. She says the unsayable, and they repeat it, on the excuse ‘the people’ have spoken. Witness the hug from Michaelia Cash, the handshake with Tony Abbott.
Muslims have been part of Australia since the earliest days. They are not some ‘other’, they are people just like us. At 2.2% of the population they are not swamping us. Many of them are struggling right alongside Hanson voters, in the outer suburbs, in uncertain employment, without enough hours. The thing most likely to radicalise their youth being denying them opportunity while telling them day-in and day-out that they are a threat and a burden. ISIS is remote, outside their experience. Pauline Hanson, George Christensen, George Brandis and the rest are broadcast into their living rooms every night.
One of the tricks politicians use to divide people is to pretend that people get what they have from merit. So: they have a great deal because they are a great deal ‘better’ than us. The poor, therefore, have little because they, due to some deficit, deserve little. This is bullshit. You only need to look at the utter mediocrity of the Liberal front bench to see what a lie that is. They are barely competent, much less superior.
Some animals are more equal than others because they work hard to deny the rest of us the comfort of adequate resources. Things could be different, but only if we look for leaders who really represent the interests of the many.
Watch If the World Were 100 People – a persepective on affluence