No matter when we listen to the news, watch TV, or browse social media, the pervading emotion in so many items is anger, unremitting anger
We see it in the wars in the Middle East and among terrorist organizations. We are told it is what motivates individual terrorists.
Social commentators insist it is what motivates gangs of youths to invade homes, terrorize families and steal luxury cars in our big cities. It is prevalent within our indigenous communities.
We see it among the protesters in US cities where police officers have gunned down black people, and affronted citizens have retaliated by shooting police.
We see it in America where support for the mavericks Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is attributed by political commentators to intense anger within the electorate directed towards the political establishment, which is seen as not listening to voters’ pleas, unaware of their plight, indifferent to their needs, out of touch with ordinary people, simply focused on its own agenda and power struggles.
People support Trump and Sanders because they are angry with Washington, angry about the way it goes about its business, angry that they languish while politicians and their wealthy backers prosper, angry because the politicians don’t seem to care. They want a voice, and they want the politicians to listen. It’s Trump’s and Sanders’ anti-establishment stance that attracts people to them. They promise to change the prevailing culture, which is what the voters want, now more than ever. In his acceptance speech at the recent Republican Convention in Cleveland, tellingly Trump shouted: “I am your voice”
George Lakoff has penned a fascinating piece: Understanding Trump
. Addressing the question of how Trump has managed to become the Republican nominee for president, he says: “There are various theories: People are angry and he speaks to their anger. People don’t think much of Congress and want a non-politician. Both may be true. But why? What are the details? And Why Trump?”
Lakoff goes on, in the words of a linguist and cognitive scientist, to elucidate. His long article is well worth a read. Using the language of framing, he develops his argument around his ‘Strict Father’ model of parenting
, which he demonstrates Trump is using to appeal to conservatives.
We see anger in our cities here in Australia. Some are angry about immigration, particularly Muslim immigrants; others are angry about racism. Some are angry about 457 visa workers taking Australian jobs. Others are angry about politics, policies and politicians.
We see anger in our parliaments too. Political opponents attack one another venomously. What the opponent suggests or does is always wrong, stupid, self-serving, or poorly thought through. Adversarial discourse overwhelms any talk of cooperation; indeed, an offer to collaborate, such as was made post-election by Bill Shorten, makes it into the breaking-news headlines!
We see anger in our institutions where conflict too often despoils the worthy agendas they are pursuing.
We see it among disadvantaged groups: the homeless, the poor, the unemployed, young people unable to afford a house, parents of students at underprivileged schools, the LGBTI community, indigenous people and communities, all of whom feel left behind, excluded from the privileges and bounty this rich country affords so many others, disenfranchised with no voice to protest, with no power to effect change.
It is social injustice that is the root of all of this. Inequity, unfairness, disadvantage, the over-abundance of have-nots in our wealthy society, and the experience of marginalisation that induces anger, and in extreme cases radicalisation and violence.
In April I wrote Inequality will be a hot button issue at this election
. It was not apparent as a strident issue during the campaign; instead it manifested itself as simmering anger about the emptiness of the Coalition’s policy of ‘Jobs and Growth’, predicated as it was on giving a tax break to big business. The ordinary folk were sceptical that any benefit would trickle down to them.
They were angry that the beneficiaries of the corporate tax cut included the big banks, whose unethical behaviour is well known to us all, and the multinationals, whose tax avoidance is legendary. They remembered the ‘Panama Papers’ that exposed the tax havens so many use.
They were angry that the big boys were to get the breaks they did not need or deserve, while the little man in the street had to wait, hoping some of the oats the horses were to be fed would eventually end up in the manure on the street, from which they might take their pickings.
They realised the ‘Jobs and Growth’ mantra was a fraud. They were angry that PM Turnbull, Treasurer Morrison, Finance Minister Cormann, and all the ‘little Sir Echoes’ in the Coalition, were selling them a pup
They showed their anger by voting for other parties and independents to the point that the LNP just scraped over the line ahead of the others; unable to legitimately claim it had a mandate for the tax breaks. In all likelihood the best the LNP will achieve is a tax cut for genuinely small businesses.
The rush to support independents, particularly in the Senate, was another sign of the voters’ anger with the major parties. They were determined to put roadblocks in the way of the unfair legislation proposed by the Coalition. Even Coalition members were angry with some of it - the superannuation changes – that they saw as unfair to their constituency. They are threatening to force amendments on a PM and Treasurer unwilling to forego the revenue the changes would generate.
The anger among Coalition members extended to the marriage equality issue, which the arch conservatives want to abort and defeat, and also to what they saw as under-representation of the conservative clique in the ministry.
Anger is everywhere. It derives from a sense of injustice, a feeling of unfairness, a perception of inequity.
We saw hard evidence of inequality last week in the ’HILDA’ report The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: (2016)
. The data-rich report in pdf format can be accessed here
It showed that the wealth of the over-65 year olds had increased over the last decade while that of the young had remained static. The wealth gap has widened. Here’s what it said:
“Wealth typically accumulates over the lifecycle (at least up until retirement), so it is unsurprising that there are large differences in median wealth by age group. In all four years in which wealth data has been collected, median wealth is lowest for the youngest age group, and increases in age up to the 55–64 age group. Prior to 2014, the median wealth of people aged 65 years and over was less than that of those aged 45–54, but in 2014 the median wealth of the 65 and over age group had overtaken the median wealth of those aged 45–54.
"This reflects the very strong growth in median wealth between 2002 and 2014 for the 65 and over age group, with the median increasing by 61.2%. Growth was also strong for the 55–64 age group (39.1%), but much weaker for the younger age groups.”
In recent times, fewer young people have been able to acquire a home. It is predicted that soon less than half of Australian families will own a home. Here are the details:
“…the decline in home ownership has been concentrated on those aged under 55. Home ownership among persons aged 25–34 declined from 38.7% in 2002 to 29.2% in 2014, with much of the decline occurring between 2010 and 2014. Among persons aged 35–44, home ownership declined from 63.2% to 52.4%, and among persons aged 45–54, it declined from 75.6% to 67.4%. There was also a slight decline in home ownership among persons aged 55–64, from 75.1% in 2002 to 72.9% in 2014. There was essentially no change in home ownership among those aged 65 and over.”
When it came to investment housing, the statistics were stark:
“… owners of investment housing are predominately in the top two income quintiles… In 2006, 70.3% of owners were in the top two quintiles and a further 14.5% were in the middle quintile… Over 50% of owners are in the top wealth quintile, and over three-quarters are in the top two quintiles. Thus, the evidence from the HILDA Survey is that owners of investment housing are relatively affluent from both an income and a wealth perspective.”
Increasing inequality is a cancer in the body of our society. Unless it is reduced, anger and dissatisfaction continues to grow. Like cancer, it spreads. Joseph Stiglitz has written about inequality for years. His book The Price of Inequality
is a classic. He advances hard evidence that increasing inequality breeds anger and social disruption.
Much of the anger and aggression, much of the terrorist activity we see abroad, and sadly much of the antisocial behaviour we see in our own country, is a direct result of feelings of inequity – about income, wealth, housing, unemployment, opportunity, and social justice.
Here is what the HILDA study reported:
“There is a clear and unsurprising ordering of deprivation by labour force status, with the unemployed faring worst and the full-time employed faring best. Likewise, deprivation is strongly ordered by income quintile and is strongly connected with receipt of income support.
“Indigenous people have very high rates of deprivation...and…there is a very strong relationship between disability and deprivation, which is highest for individuals with a severe work restriction and lowest for individuals with no disability…”
Those who are unemployed, disabled, or feel deprived and dispossessed, who feel left behind, who feel they are swimming against the tide and getting nowhere or going backwards while others get the goodies and prosper, justifiably feel angry and seek to reverse their disadvantage.
Too often the system thwarts their best endeavours. Eventually they revolt as anger and frustration boils over. Then the ‘authorities’ come down on them heavily, thereby exacerbating their anguish. The ‘law and order’ advocates see more punishment as the solution, whereas what is really needed is more equity, greater fairness, better opportunities, more empathy, and consistent encouragement and uplifting. It is telling that Trump now styles himself as ‘the law and order’ presidential candidate!
How can we achieve equity and fairness in our Australian society, one so blessed with riches and opportunity?
Not through legislation that advantages those who have the most at the expense of those who have the least, not by bolstering the top end of town, not by keeping the poor and disadvantaged in their inferior position.
Only when the needs of all our citizens are acknowledged, only when income, wealth and housing are more evenly distributed, only when opportunity is available to all who can benefit, only when inequality is minimised, will the anger gradually ease, and its effects become less violent.
If we want to live in a tranquil tolerant society, free from the fear of unrest, social disruption, violence and terrorism, where we can feel secure and cared for, our governments will need to abandon ideologies that promote disparity and division, and adopt those that foster equality and a fair go for all. They will need to create an agenda that takes care of all our citizens; they will need to focus on values and show empathy for all. Lakoff puts it well in his conclusion
: “Values come first, facts and policies follow in the service of values. They matter, but they always support values: empathy, devotion, love, pride in our country’s values…
With the world in the turmoil it is in, is this a vain hope? Maybe, but only we, the ordinary folk, can make a difference. The establishment is a formidable barrier, but it cannot oppress us indefinitely. It is up to us.