I caught up with old friends recently. After cancellations of distant dates, we’d decided on immediacy: “Who’s free next week?” Photos show us laughing and talking, as if we have not a care in the world. Perhaps we’d learned the meaning of the term ‘carpe diem’, this time uttered without a note of irony. I wonder whether this is one of the ways we live now, by seizing moments when they arise.
Somehow, my old, ‘normal’ life feels increasingly dreamlike. There is no perfect solution to the world we find ourselves in, but how we adapt to change is a big part of it. For French theorists Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens, “the utopian is whoever believes that everything can just keep going as before” or, in our case, “can return to the way it was before”. They coined the somewhat mocking term ‘collapsology’ to describe the potential downfall of globalised industrial societies.
Their work, presciently published in 2015, got me thinking about some of the ways our old and, we now realise, carefree ways of living have collapsed, and the various ways people now respond. Perhaps, for some, the expectation of our former lives being restored is transitioning an expectation of routine unsettlement and repeated adjustments. Most of us have adapted to the change, in large part because we don’t have a choice – a testament to human resilience.
But this adaptation is more difficult for some than for others. Does society pull together or fray? A bit of both seems to be the answer. Chanting protesters drifting through the streets of our capitals have become a familiar irritation, and they are not always benign. While lockdowns were successful, there has been fallout. When people feel disempowered and a sense of personal freedom is eroded, society frays. As journalist Martin McKenzie-Murray has said: “Fringe parties, white supremacists and other grifters are mining the paranoia of our times.”
Elections are important both literally and metaphorically; a pulse that animates a country.
Intelligence organisations see the infiltration of far-right groups into activist organisations as a domestic threat. Some politicians have been willing to fuel or at least milk unrest for their own purposes.
Other disturbing political, social and economic trends in Australia spring to mind: right-wing media concentration; growing inequality, political corruption, gendered violence, and our position as the worst-performing country in the world when it comes to combating climate change. There are more, but I won’t go on.
For me, this list is a compelling sign that Australia needs a reset. Where to next? How to maintain a sense of hope?
It can sometimes seem that, as individuals, we can’t influence the world we live in. But taking part in elections is a key way to make our voices heard. There’s no greater measure of the power of the individual vote than attempts to suppress them – including in the USA, where Republicans work tirelessly to disenfranchise black voters. Recent calls for voter IDs to be presented at elections in Australia have a similar aim. Around the world, citizens are intimidated, jailed, tortured, even murdered, for campaigning for the rights we accept without question or perhaps even consider a nuisance.
Elections are important both literally and metaphorically; a pulse that animates a country. They are expressions and reminders of social cohesion, connecting us all; and a key way for each of us to influence the direction of our country, state, or council. We agree to the results collectively, even if we also complain.
I can’t help feeling hopeful on election days, even if hope is often dashed. There is something celebratory about the process: whole communities heading out to schools and halls, the cake stalls and sausage sizzles, the serendipitous meetings with people you haven’t seen for a while.
“Here we are,” I think, as I line up at the local primary school my children attended, where I always cast my vote. Having our say. The feeling of life going on.