Australian author Tim Winton argues that misogyny, like racism, is one of the great engines of intergenerational trauma. Photograph: Lynn Webb
In an excerpt from a speech about his new book The Shepherd’s Hut, the author says it is men who need to step up and liberate boys from the race, the game, the fight
TIM WINTON Mon 9 Apr 2018 The Guardian
I don’t have any grand theory about masculinity. But I know a bit about boys. Partly because I’m at the beach and in the water a lot.
As a surfer you spend a lot of time bobbing about, waiting for something to happen. So eventually, you get talking. Or you listen to others talking. And I spend my work days alone, in a room with people who don’t exist, so these maritime conversations make up the bulk of my social life. And most of the people in the water are younger than me, some by 50 years or more.
I like the teasing and the joking that goes on, the shy asymmetrical conversations, the fitful moments of mutual bewilderment and curiosity. A lot of the time I’m just watching and listening. With affection. Indulgence. Amusement. Often puzzled, sometimes horrified. Interested, but careful, of course, not to appear too interested. And the wonderful thing about getting older – something many women will understand – is that after a certain age you become invisible. And for me, after years of being much too visible for my own comfort, this late life waterborne obscurity is a gift.
There are a lot more girls in the water these days, and hallellujah for that; I can’t tell you how heartening this is. But I want to focus on the boys for a moment. For what a mystery a boy is. Even to a grown man. Perhaps especially to a grown man. And how easy it is to forget what beautiful creatures they are. There’s so much about them and in them that’s lovely. Graceful. Dreamy. Vulnerable. Qualities we either don’t notice, or simply blind ourselves to. You see, there’s great native tenderness in children. In boys, as much as in girls. But so often I see boys having the tenderness shamed out of them.
Boys and young men are so routinely expected to betray their better natures, to smother their consciences, to renounce the best of themselves and submit to something low and mean. As if there’s only one way of being a bloke, one valid interpretation of the part, the role, if you like. There’s a constant pressure to enlist, to pull on the uniform of misogyny and join the Shithead Army that enforces and polices sexism. And it grieves me to say it’s not just men pressing those kids into service.
These boys in the surf. The things they say to me! The stuff I hear them saying to their mates! Some of it makes you want to hug them. Some of it makes you want to cry. Some of it makes you ashamed to be a male. Especially the stuff they feel entitled or obliged to say about girls and women.
What I’ve come to notice is that all these kids are rehearsing and projecting. Trying it on. Rehearsing their masculinity. Projecting their experimental versions of it. And wordlessly looking for cues the whole time. Not just from each other, but from older people around them, especially the men. Which can be heartbreaking to witness, to tell you the truth. Because the feedback they get is so damn unhelpful. If it’s well-meant it’s often feeble and half-hearted. Because good men don’t always stick their necks out and make an effort.
True, the blokes around me in the water are there, like me, for respite, to escape complexity and responsibility for an hour or two, to save themselves from going mad in their working lives, but their dignified silence in response to misogynistic trash talk allows other messages, other poisonous postures to flourish. Too often, in my experience, the ways of men to boys lack all conviction, they lack a sense of responsibility and gravity. And I think they lack the solidity and coherence of tradition. Sadly, modernity has failed to replace traditional codes with anything explicit, or coherent or benign. We’re left with values that are residual, fuzzy, accidental or sniggeringly conspiratorial.
We’ve scraped our culture bare of ritual pathways to adulthood. There are lots of reasons for having clear-felled and burnt our own traditions since the 1960s, and some of them are very good reasons. But I’m not sure what we’ve replaced them with. We’ve left our young people to fend for themselves. We retain a kind of indulgent, patronising, approval of rites of passage in other cultures, including those of our first peoples, but the poverty of mainstream modern Australian rituals is astounding.
What are we left with? The sly first beer your uncle slips you. The 18th birthday party where the keg is the icon. Maybe the B&S ball, if you live in the bush. First drink, first root, first bog-lap in your mum’s Corolla. Call me a snob, but that strikes me as pretty thin stuff. This, surely, is cultural impoverishment. And in such a prosperous country. To my mind, that’s salt rising to the surface, poisoning the future.
In the absence of explicit, widely-shared and enriching rites of passage, young men in particular are forced to make themselves up as they go along. Which usually means they put themselves together from spare parts, and the stuff closest to hand tends to be cheap and defective. And that’s dangerous.
Toxic masculinity is a burden to men. I’m not for a moment suggesting men and women suffer equally from misogyny, because that’s clearly and fundamentally not true. And nobody needs to hear me mansplaining on the subject of the patriarchy. But I think we forget or simply don’t notice the ways in which men, too, are shackled by misogyny. It narrows their lives. Distorts them. And that sort of damage radiates; it travels, just as trauma is embedded and travels and metastasizes in families. Slavery should have taught us that. The Stolen Generations are still teaching us. Misogyny, like racism, is one of the great engines of intergenerational trauma.
A man in manacles doesn’t fully understand the threat he poses to others. Even as he’s raging against his bonds. Especially as he’s raging against his bonds. When you’re bred for mastery, when you’re trained to endure and fight and suppress empathy, how do you find your way in a world that cannot be mastered? How do you live a life in which all of us must eventually surrender and come to terms? Too many men are blunt instruments. Otherwise known, I guess, as tools. Because of poor training, they’re simply not fit for purpose. Because life is not a race, it’s not a game, and it’s not a fight.
Can we wean boys off machismo and misogyny? Will they ever relinquish the race, the game, the fight, and join the dance? I hope so. Because liberation – a process of disarmament, reflection and renewal – isn’t just desirable, it’s desperately necessary. In our homes, in business, and clearly, and most clearly of all, in our politics.
Children are born wild. And that’s beautiful, it’s wondrous, regardless of gender. Even when they’re feral creatures, kids are reservoirs of tenderness and empathy. But some do turn into savages. And sadly most of those are boys. They’re trained into it. Because of neglect or indulgence. And when we meet them in the street, and have them in our classrooms, and haul them into the courts, we recoil from them in horror and disgust. Our detention centres and jails are heaving with them. These wild colonial boys, they’re a terror to Australia. Real and imagined. But I worry about our revulsion for them, our desire to banish them from consciousness for their noncompliance, their mistakes, or their faithful adherence to the scripts that have been written for them.
Boys need help. And, yes, men need fixing – I’m mindful of that. Males arrive in our community on the coattails of an almost endless chain of unexamined privilege. I don’t deny that for a second. But patriarchy is bondage for boys, too. It disfigures them. Even if they’re the last to notice. Even if they profit from it. And their disfigurement diminishes the ultimate prospects of all of us, wherever we are on the gender spectrum. I think we need to admit this.
But before we even get to that point, we have to acknowledge the awkward, implacable fact of their existence, especially those who most offend our sensibilities. We should resist our instinct or our ideological desire to cross the street to avoid them, our impulse to shut them down and shut them out and finally lock them up. We need to have higher expectations of them. Provide better modelling for them.
But before any of that is possible we need to attend to them. Yes, boys need their unexamined privilege curtailed. Just as they need certain proscribed privileges and behaviours made available to them. But the first step is to notice them. To find them worthy of our interest. As subjects, not objects. How else can we hope to take responsibility for them? And it’s men who need to step up and finally take their full share of that responsibility.
In a first-world country like Australia, wholly preventable sexually transmitted diseases are rampant in indigenous communities.
April 2nd, 2018 The Australian
There is no reason it should have happened, especially not in a first-world country like Australia, but it has: indigenous communities in the country’s north are in the grip of wholly treatable sexually transmitted diseases.
In the case of syphilis, it is an epidemic — West Australian Labor senator Patrick Dodson described it as such, in a fury, when health department bureaucrats mumbled during Senate estimates about having held a few “meetings” on the matter.
There have been about 2000 syphilis notifications — with at least 13 congenital cases, six of them fatal — since the outbreak began in northern Queensland in 2011, before spreading to the Northern Territory, Western Australia and, finally, South Australia.
What’s worse, it could have been stopped. James Ward, of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, wrote in mid-2011 that there had been a “downward trend” over several years and it was likely at that point that the “elimination of syphilis is achievable within indigenous remote communities”.
But governments were slow to react, and Ward is now assisting in the design of an $8.8 million emergency “surge” treatment approach on the cusp of being rolled out in Cairns and Darwin, with sites in the two remaining affected states yet to be identified.
It will be an aggressive strategy — under previous guidelines, you had to have been identified during a health check as an active carrier of syphilis to be treated. Now, anyone who registers antibodies for the pathogen during a blood prick test, whether actively carrying syphilis or not, will receive an immediate penicillin injection in an attempt to halt the infection’s geographical spread.
This is key: the high mobility of indigenous people in northern and central Australia means pathogens cross jurisdictions with impunity. Australian Medical Association president Michael Gannon calls syphilis a “clever bacterium that will never go away”, warning that “bugs don’t respect state borders”.
Olga Havnen, one of the Northern Territory’s most respected public health experts, points out that many people “will have connections and relations from the Torres Strait through to the Kimberley and on to Broome — and it’s only a matter of seven or eight kilometres between PNG and the northernmost islands there in the Torres Strait”.
“This is probably something that’s not really understood by the broader Australian community,” Havnen says. “I suspect once you get a major outbreak of something like encephalitis or Dengue fever, any of those mosquito-borne diseases, and that starts to encroach onto the mainland, then people will start to get a bit worried.”
But it is not just syphilis — indeed, not even just STIs — that have infectious disease authorities concerned and the network of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations stretched.
Chlamydia, the nation’s most frequently diagnosed STI in 2016 based on figures from the Kirby Institute at the University of NSW, is three times more likely to be contracted by an indigenous Australian than a non-indigenous one.
The rate was highest in the NT, at 1689.1 notifications per 100,000 indigenous people, compared with 607.9 per 100,000 non-indigenous Territorians. If you’re indigenous, you’re seven times more likely to contract gonorrhoea, spiking to 15 times more likely if only women are considered. Syphilis, five times more likely.
As the syphilis response gets under way, health services such as the one Havnen leads, the Darwin-based Danila Dilba, will be given extra resources to tackle it. “With proper resourcing, if you want to be doing outreach with those people who might be visitors to town living in the long grass, then we’re probably best placed to be able to do that,” she says.
But the extra focus comes with a warning. A spate of alleged sexual assaults on Aboriginal children, beginning with a two-year-old in Tennant Creek last month and followed by three more alleged attacks, has raised speculation of a link between high STI rates and evidence of child sexual assault.
After the first case, former NT children’s commissioner Howard Bath told this newspaper that STI rates were “a better indicator of background levels of abuse than reporting because so many of those cases don’t get reported to anyone, whereas kids with serious infections do tend to go to a doctor”. Others, including Alice Springs town councillor Jacinta Price and Aboriginal businessman Warren Mundine, raised the spectre of the need for removing more at-risk indigenous children from dangerous environments.
However, Sarah Giles, Danila Dilba’s clinical director and a medical practitioner of 20 years’ standing in northern Australia, warns this kind of response only exacerbates the problem. She is one of a range of public health authorities who, like Havnen, say connecting high STI figures to the very real scourge of child sex abuse simply makes no sense. They do not carry correlated data sets, the experts say.
“One of the things that’s really unhelpful about trying to manage STIs at a population level is to link it with child abuse and mandatory reporting, and for people to be fearful of STIs,” Giles says. “The problem is that when they’re conflated and when communities feel that they can’t get help because things might be misinterpreted or things might be reported, they’re less likely to present with symptoms. The majority of STIs are in adults and they’re sexually transmitted.”
Havnen says there is evidence of STIs being transmitted non-sexually, including to children, such as through poor hand hygiene, although Giles says that is “reasonably rare”. And while NT data shows five children under 12 contracted either chlamydia or gonorrhoea in 2016 (none had syphilis), and there were another five under 12 last year, Havnen points to the fact that over the past decade there has been no increasing trend in under 12s being affected. Where there has been a rise in the NT is in people aged between 13 and 19, with annual gonorrhoea notifications increasing from 64 cases in the 14-15-year-old female cohort in 2006 to 94 notifications in 2016.
In the 16-17-year-old female cohort the same figures were 96 and 141 and in the 12-13-year-old group it rose from 20 in 2006 to 33 in 2016. Overall, for both boys and girls under 16, annual gonorrhoea notifications rose from 109 in 2006 to 186 in 2016, according to figures provided to the royal commission into child detention by NT Health. Havnen describes the rise as “concerning but not, on its own, evidence of increasing levels of sexual abuse”.
Ward is more direct. Not all STIs are the result of sexual abuse, he warns, and not all sexual abuse results in an STI. If you’re a health professional trying to deal with an epidemiological wildfire, the distinction matters — the data and its correct interpretations can literally be a matter of life and death.
Indeed, in its own written caveats to the material it provided to the royal commission, the department warns that sexual health data is “very much subject to variations in testing” and warns against making “misleading assumptions about trends”. Ward says: “Most STIs notified in remote indigenous communities are assumed to be the result of sex between consenting adults — that is, 16 to 30-year-olds. Of the under 16s, the majority are 14 and 15-year-olds.” He says a historically high background prevalence of STIs in remote indigenous communities — along with a range of other infectious diseases long eradicated elsewhere — is to blame for their ongoing presence. Poor education, health services and hygiene contribute, and where drug and alcohol problems exist, sexually risky behaviour is more likely too. The lingering impact of colonisation and arrival of diseases then still common in broader society cannot be underestimated.
But Ward claims that an apparently high territory police figure of about 700 cases of “suspected child sexual offences” in the NT over the past five years may be misleading. He says a large number of these are likely to be the result of mandatory reporting, where someone under 16 is known to have a partner with an age gap of more than two years, or someone under 14 is known to be engaging in sexual activity. Ward points out that 15 is the nationwide median sexual debut age, an age he suggests is dropping. At any rate, he argues, child sex abuse is unlikely to be the main reason for that high rate of mandatory reporting in the NT.
Data matters, and so does how it is used. Chipping away at the perception of child sexual abuse in indigenous communities are the latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showing the rate of removals for that crime is actually higher in non-indigenous Australia.
According to a report this month from the AIHW, removals based on substantiated sex abuse cases in 2016-17 were starkly different for each cohort: 8.3 per cent for indigenous children, from a total of 13,749 removals, and 13.4 per cent for non-indigenous children, from 34,915 removals.
Havnen concedes there is a need for better reporting of child abuse and has called for a confidential helpline that would be free of charge and staffed around the clock by health professionals.
It’s based on a model already in use in Europe that she says deals with millions of calls a year — but it would require a comprehensive education and publicity campaign if it were to gain traction in remote Australia. And that means starting with the adults.
“If you’re going to do sex education in schools and you start to move into the area about sexual abuse and violence and so on, it’s really important that adults are educated first about what to do with that information,” she says. “Because too often if you just educate kids, and they come home and make a disclosure, they end up being told they’re liars.”
These challenges exist against the backdrop of a community already beset by a range of infectious diseases barely present elsewhere in the country, including the STIs that should be so easily treatable. It is, as Havnen is the first to admit, a complex matter.
Cheryl Jones, president of the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases, says the answer is better primary treatment solutions and education, rather than trying to solve the problem after it has occurred. “For any of these public health infectious disease problems in remote and rural areas, we need to support basic infrastructure at the point of care and work alongside communities to come up with solutions,” she says.
Pat Turner, chief executive of peak body the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, is adamant about this. “These (STIs) are preventable diseases and we need increased testing, treatment plans and a culturally appropriate health education campaign that focuses resources on promoting safe-sex messages delivered to at-risk communities by our trained Aboriginal workforce,” Turner says.
The Australian Medical Association has called for the formation of a national Centre for Disease Control, focusing on global surveillance and most likely based in the north, as being “urgently needed to provide national leadership and to co-ordinate rapid and effective public health responses to manage communicable diseases and outbreaks”.
“The current approach to disease threats, and control of infectious diseases, relies on disjointed state and commonwealth formal structures, informal networks, collaborations, and the goodwill of public health and infectious disease physicians,” the association warned in a submission to the Turnbull government last year.
However, the federal health department has rebuffed the CDC argument, telling the association that “our current arrangements are effective” and warning the suggestion could introduce “considerable overlap and duplication with existing functions”.
“I think it (the CDC) might have some merit, if it helps to advocate with government about what needs to happen,” Havnen says, “but if these things are going to be targeted at Aboriginal bodies, it needs to be a genuine partnership. It’s got to be informed by the realities on the ground and what we know. That information has to be fed up into the planning process.”
During briefings as a patrol officer, I scanned the crime reports from the prior week, looking for patterns, trends and changes. If, for example, I discovered an increase in car burglaries on the west side of town, I would ask the simple question: What shifted in the past few weeks to account for the additional crimes? More robberies on the east side? What’s changed? Did someone new move into the area? Did some group of offenders decide to target our city?
Now, as a cold-case detective and author, I apply the same approach to a new crime phenomenon: the increase in mass school shootings. What’s changed in the past twenty years that might account for this? What cultural shifts lie behind the shootings?
An Increase in Social Media Use
Young people are more influenced by social media than any other generation. In a recent survey, teenagers reported that they often feel bad about themselves (or their lives) when viewing the social media posts of their friends. More importantly, teenagers said they are often bulliedon-line. That’s important, because the killers in each school shooting were also said to have been criticized or ostracized prior to the crime. While bullying is not new, the way young people bully each other has shifted. Social media intensifies bullying because it increases its severity, proximity and consistency. We are far harsher when criticizing others on social media. Worse yet, in a smart phone culture, the bully is as near as your phone. Those of us who were bullied in the past could at least find solace and protection in our own homes; bullying stopped as soon as we left the school grounds. Not so today. Bullies follow their victims home every night and sleep next to them on their nightstands. The way people interact has changed, and this shift is seen in the lives of school shooters. Many have been harboring growing animosity stoked by social media.
An Increased Dependency on Prescription Medicine
Parents are medicating their children today more than ever before. While it’s true that many of the school shooters were using (or had recently stopped using) prescription drugs, I’m not suggesting that this form of drug use is contributing directly to the increase in shootings. In fact, I have seen many families incorporate ADHD/depression/anxiety medications with great success. But, in a recent PBS special, Medicating Kids, Dr. Lawrence Diller made two important and insightful observations. First, he observed that we “as a culture – more than any other culture – seem to have accepted biology and the brain as the reason for maladaptive or poor behavior.” In addition, Dr. Diller observed, “we have a continuing erosion of parental discipline…” Some parents have now shifted toward prescription drugs that target the physical brain and away from traditional, time-consuming approaches that address behaviors. As a result, fewer children – including shooters – have extended interaction with their parents.
An Increase in Single Parent Households As a Gang Detail Officer in Los Angeles County, I had the opportunity to spend time with young Hispanic, African-American, Caucasian and Korean gang members. They came from different socio-economic and racial backgrounds but had one thing in common: lack of dad. Some never knew their fathers. Others had dads who were in jail. Some had fathers who were disinterested alcoholics. Others had dads who were workaholics who rarely ever came home. The percentage of children under the age of 18 in the United States living in single parent households has increased dramatically – during the same time that school shootings have multiplied. In addition, many young men are being raised in what is effectively (if not statistically) a single parent household. Men have a responsibility to raise up their boys, and when they shirk this responsibility we see tragic results. Family structures have changed; several of the high school shooters simply didn’t have an effective male role model who could help them navigate their teenage years.
Every cultural change holds both a promise and a threat. We either shift toward something worthy or worthless. The sooner we recognize what’s changed in America (and admit where the change is leading us), the sooner we’ll be able to address the increase in school shootings.
Too many Australians today do not appreciate how their country has been shaped by the Bible in myriad indelible ways
Roy Williams The Australian 31 March 2018
It’s worth recalling this Easter that the Bible is by far the most consequential book in Australian history. One hundred copies arrived on the First Fleet, and every subsequent vessel brought lots more.
Serious Bible-reading probably peaked here in about 1880, but there was a still a well-thumbed copy in nearly every home until the 1970s. That decade saw the start of a steep decline in Australia of Christianity’s heft and influence, at least measured in terms of churchgoing believers as a proportion of the population.
Even so, in 1976-77, The Good News Bible sold a quarter of a million copies, a record at the time for any new title. Kel Richards’s The Aussie Bible sold 100,000 copies as recently as the early 2000s.
There remains a strong market in Australia not only for the Bible but Christian books in general. The flourishing Koorong chain of stores, and equivalent Catholic outlets, are proof enough.
Yet most of our “mainstream” bookshops offer a woefully thin selection of religious titles. Why?
The underlying reason seems to be a perception that the Good Book and its offshoots are irrelevant nowadays to anyone bar “people of faith”.
Sydney-based historian Meredith Lake challenges this canard in her superbly engaging book The Bible in Australia.
Put aside — if you dare — ultimate metaphysical truth.
There are, Lake contends, several other reasons why any thinking citizen should take the Bible seriously. For a start, “the world in general remains highly religious”, and Christianity is the most practised faith across the globe.
As far as Australian public-policy discourse is concerned, most would also agree with Lake that “a confident, robust pluralism requires tolerance of religious voices, including Christian ones in all their diversity”.
But she insists there is more at stake than mere tolerance, for “an intelligent pluralism requires good historical memory”.
Too many Australians today do not appreciate how their country has been shaped by the Bible in myriad indelible ways. As Lake observes, “it has a history here that, while complicated, is difficult to outrun”. She posits three main ways of regarding the Bible — each for good and ill — and provides convincing, engrossing examples.
First, it has been a “globalising” force.
“European imperialism introduced the Bible to Australia” with traumatic consequences for the indigenous population, she observes. The legal fiction of terra nullius was based on a quasi-Christian idea of John Locke’s. Genesis 1:28 (King James Version) enjoined human beings to “replenish the earth, and subdue it”. In the eyes of most British colonists, non-agrarian indigenous peoples had not done so, so the land they occupied was ripe for the taking.
It was not until the High Court’s Mabo decision in 1992 — based, in significant part, on Thomist notions of natural law (cf. Romans 2:14-15), to say nothing of Jesus’s Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) — that a better, more authentically Christian view held sway.
Indigenous Christians had long pointed to verses such as Proverbs 22:28 (“Do not move an everlasting boundary stone”).
Lake reminds us that the Bible has also been a globalising force in Australia as a basis for encouraging immigration on a large scale. As far back as the 1830s, powerful figures such as John Dunmore Lang invoked the story of Israel as a model for populating the antipodean “land of milk and honey” (cf. Deuteronomy 31:20, Genesis 12:1-2). Catholic historians including Edmund Campion have shown that the church facilitated the nation-changing waves of European and Southeast Asian immigration after World War II.
Lake’s second way of assessing the Bible’s influence is as a “cultural” force.
Aside from its ubiquitous presence in everyday speech (“lamb to the slaughter”, “writing on the wall” and so on), she emphasises its role as an inspiration to local artists in all genres. Henry Handel Richardson, Arthur Boyd, Paul Kelly, Helen Garner, Christos Tsiolkas — these and many other creative giants, a lot of them unbelievers, could recognise a masterpiece when they encountered it.
But it is in the Bible’s third guise, as a “theological” force, that its influence has been most profound. For almost two centuries after 1788, a good number of our key opinion-makers — in politics, business, science, journalism, education, you name it — believed the Bible to be nothing less than the self-revelatory Word of God, a text “alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12). Accordingly, in Lake’s expression, “it was the unrivalled starting point for knowledge, the framework for understanding the world and its workings”.
Ranging widely, Lake demonstrates that the theological Bible has been, as often as not, a force of “dynamic altruism”. (The phrase is historian Alan Atkinson’s.)
The NSW Church Act of 1836, for instance, later copied in other colonies, established the principle of equal treatment for all Christian denominations. This reflected governor Richard Bourke’s vision of a people “united in one bond of peace” (see Ephesians 4:3).
In the longer term, despite outbreaks of sectarianism, religious equality helped foster a much greater degree of socio-economic equality here than in Britain.
Likewise, the movements in the late 19th century towards votes for women and Federation were energised disproportionately by devout Christians. A favourite verse among champions of both causes was Proverbs 14:34: “Righteousness exalteth a nation.”
It is to be remembered, too, that in those days leadership of the trade unions and the Australian Labor Party was dominated by earnest Protestant men.
Perhaps Lake’s best historical examples are in the field of race relations, a strength of her work. From the earliest decades of frontier violence against the indigenous, through the citizenship and land rights campaigns of the 20th century, to recent debates over refugees, the most rigorous pleas for generous treatment of darker-skinned people have been made by conscientious Christians.
Typically their arguments have been based on scripture, one passage in particular.
According to Acts 17:26, “[God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth” (KJV).
Secular Australian bookshops should give this book the prominence it deserves.
Roy Williams’s books include God, Actually.
The Bible in Australia: A Cultural History By Meredith Lake NewSouth, 439pp, $39.99
A New Story for an Old Land: 200 Years of the Bible Society in Australia
John Harris ABC Religion and Ethics 7 Mar 2017
As the Bible seemingly drifts into irrelevance in our increasingly secular society, the Bible Society remains convinced of the need to put more Bibles into people’s hands, minds and hearts.CREDIT: MIKDAM / GETTY IMAGES
Kathleen Cormier is trying to instil a sense of gratitude in her sons, aged 12 and 17. But sometimes she wonders if other parents have given up.
Some of her sons’ peers, she says, are lacking in the basics of gratitude, such as looking adults in the eye to thank them. The saddest part, she says, is that many parents don’t even expect their children to be grateful any more. They are accustomed to getting no acknowledgment for, say, devoting their weekend to driving them from activity to activity. There is “such a lack of respect”, she says.
Every generation seems to complain that children “these days” are so much more entitled and ungrateful than in years past. This time, they may be right. In today’s selfie culture, which often rewards bragging and arrogance over kindness and humility, many people are noticing a drop-off in everyday expressions of gratitude.
In a 2012 national online poll of 2000 adults, commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation, 59 per cent of those surveyed thought that most people today were “less likely to have an attitude of gratitude than 10 or 20 years ago”. The youngest group, 18 to 24-year-olds, were the least likely of any age group to report expressing gratitude regularly (35 per cent) and the likeliest to express gratitude for self-serving reasons (“it will encourage people to be kind or generous to me”).
“In some communities, specifically among the white middle and upper-middle class, there’s good reason to believe that kids are less grateful than in the past,” says psychologist Richard Weissbourd, faculty director of the Making Caring Common initiative at Harvard’s graduate school of education. He places much of the blame on the self-esteem movement.
As Weissbourd sees it, parents were fed a myth that if children feel better about themselves — if parents praise them, cater to their every need and make them feel happy — it will help them to develop character. “But what we’re seeing in many cases is the opposite,’’ he says. “When parents organise their lives around their kids, those kids expect everyone else to as well, and that leads to entitlement.’’ And when children are raised to feel entitled to everything, they are left feeling grateful for nothing.
A growing body of research points to the many psychological and social benefits of regularly counting your blessings. The good news for parents: it also suggests that it’s never too late for their children to learn the subtle joys of appreciating the good in their lives. Gratitude can be cultivated at any age, whether it finds expression as a mood, a social emotion or a personality trait.
Researchers find that people with a grateful disposition are more thankful for a wider variety of things in their lives, such as their friends, their health, nature, their jobs or a higher power — and that they experience feelings of gratitude more intensely. For them, gratitude isn’t a one-off “thank you”. It’s a mindset, a way of seeing the world.
“Gratitude is also a spiritual emotion, whether it’s implicitly or explicitly expressed,” says David Rosmarin, director of the spirituality and mental health program at McLean Hospital and an assistant professor at Harvard medical school. Almost every religion includes gratitude as part of its value system, he says, citing familiar practices such as prayers of thanks or blessings over food.
In a study led by Rosmarin, published in 2011 in The Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers surveyed more than 400 adults online, assessing their religious and general gratitude, religious commitment, and mental and physical wellbeing. The researchers found, in keeping with past studies, that general gratitude was associated with less anxiety, less depression and greater wellbeing. They also found gratitude towards God was associated with further reductions in anxiety and depression and increases in wellbeing.
It can be difficult to remember to be grateful, for adults and children alike. Kristen Welch, a mother of three children between the ages of 11 and 18, lives outside Houston and is the author of Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World. She admits she was once “constantly comparing myself and my home to what others had”. If she visited a neighbour who was remodelling her kitchen, she would want to redo hers too, although it didn’t need it. She noticed a similar attitude in her children. “Whenever I’d give them something, it was never enough. They always wanted more,” she says.
Most of the research on the benefits of gratitude has been focused on adults, but researchers are turning their attention to how gratitude can better the lives of children, too. They’re finding that the experience of high levels of gratitude in the adolescent years can set up a child to thrive. Gratitude initiates what researchers call an “upward spiral of positive emotions”. Adolescents who rate higher in gratitude tend to be happier and more engaged at school, as compared with their less grateful peers, and to give and receive more social support from family and friends. They also tend to experience fewer depressive symptoms and less anxiety, and are less likely to exhibit anti-social behaviour, such as aggression.
Counting your blessings may provide a built-in coping strategy, as research among adults suggests. Grateful people experience daily hassles and annoyances just like everyone else, but they tend to view setbacks through a different lens, reframing challenges in a positive light.
Weissbourd gives the example of one of his students, who comes from a low-income community in South America. “We were talking about gratitude, and he said that whenever he gets frustrated about waiting for the bus, he reminds himself that where he’s from most people have to walk,” he says.
For a study published last year in The Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers tracked the role of gratitude in the lives of more than 500 adolescents from an affluent area of Long Island in New York across the course of four years, as they moved from middle school to high school. At four different points, students filled out questionnaires, rating on a scale of 1 to 7 how strongly they agreed with statements such as “I have so much to be thankful for”; “If I had to list everything that I felt grateful for, it would be a very long list”; and “I am grateful to a wide variety of people”.
The researchers also measured anti-social and pro-social behaviours. They asked the students to rate how often (never, sometimes, often) they “stuck up for another kid who was in trouble”, for example, or made “a kid upset because you were mean to them”. The researchers also looked at the students’ satisfaction with different aspects of their lives (school, self, family friends), how much support they received from family and friends, and their levels of empathy and self-regulation.
The study found that a growth in gratitude across the four years not only predicted a growth in pro-social behaviour, it also predicted a decrease in negative social behaviour compared with students whose gratitude levels stayed level or decreased. Being grateful may “undercut the motives for acting antisocially among adolescents”, the researchers suggest.
Students who were more grateful also were better at managing their lives and identifying important goals for the future, says lead researcher Giacomo Bono, an assistant professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills. “When adolescents regularly express gratitude,” he adds, “it’s a good litmus test that they’re thriving.”
Grateful adolescents enjoy stronger relationships with their peers, in part perhaps because their positive disposition makes them more attractive and likeable. In a 2015 study published in the journal Emotion, researchers conducted an experiment with 70 undergraduate students. They found that acquaintances were likelier to want to stay in touch with a student who expressed gratitude toward them (in writing) than students who didn’t show appreciation. Grateful students were perceived by peers as having a warmer personality and being more friendly and thoughtful.
As parents, we do our best to teach our children to be grateful, by doing things such as nagging them to writing thank-you notes. But experts warn that our best efforts can backfire and become a barrier to genuinely experiencing gratitude. Children need to learn how to think gratefully, they say, not just to mindlessly go through the motions of giving thanks.
Cormier says she has worked hard to make gratitude a family habit since her children were little — and now it has become the norm. She encourages finding gratitude in the “everyday stuff”, she says, not just in response to birthday and Christmas presents. She also tries to teach gratitude by example. When her children help out around the house, such as noticing when the bin is full and taking it out, she thanks them. And now, she says, “my kids thank me every single time I put fresh sheets on their bed”, chaperone a field trip or make them dinner.
In a paper published in 2014 in the journal School Psychology Review, researchers describe an educational program they developed to train primary school students, aged eight to 11, in gratitude. More than 200 students participated. Half were assigned to a control condition, while the other half were assigned to the gratitude intervention, which some received for one week and others for more than five. The program’s lessons included, for example, reading The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and asking students to write down one thing they would do to show the generous tree in the story that they were grateful for what it had done.
Researchers found that students who received the training, even for just one week, were not only better at thinking gratefully, they also reported experiencing more grateful emotions and greater increases in positive social behaviour (such as writing thank-you notes) and emotional wellbeing than students in the control group. When researchers followed up five months later with students who had stayed in the program longer, these positive effects had continued to grow. With intentional practice, experts say, gratitude can move from a fleeting state to a habit and eventually can become a personality trait.
The research points to several ways that parents can help children to think gratefully. Parents can spur their children to appreciate and reflect on the time and thought behind the gifts and kindness they receive, as in: “Jack really knows how much you love football. How thoughtful that he gave you a jersey of your favourite team” or “Wow, Grandma just took a five-hour train ride to come and see you perform in that play!”.
For some parents, a good starting point is simply to set a better example themselves. In the Templeton poll, less than half of respondents said they expressed thanks or gratitude daily to their spouse or partner.
It’s also important for children — and adults — to notice and acknowledge the larger circle of people who benefit their lives, such as the school secretary or janitor, says Weissbourd. “In a society that has become so splintered and self-focused,” he says, “gratitude is a common bond and offers one of the best ways for us to connect with one another.”
We don’t have a youth problem on the Right. We have a language problem. No one understands what we’re talking about anymore.
If you’re 47 or under, you’re more likely to vote Labour than Conservative. I hate to break it to you Telegraph readers, but the generation born in the 70s and 80s are now comfortably middle-aged. We aren’t young anymore. It’s time to stop waiting for us abandon the folly of youth and come to our senses; we’re not going to.
The benefits of free-market capitalism are not self-evident.
It dawned on me recently, when I was preparing a speech making the case for free markets and conservatism to young people, that those of us on the Right don’t even understand each other anymore.
I asked two of my staff members what they thought of the increased enthusiasm for Corbyn. Separated by 30 years, I listened to these two Conservatives, argue about the problem with young people. It was illuminating.
My head of office vividly remembered going hungry every time there was a strike and her father lost his wages. The 3-day week, waiting months for a telephone line and how terrible British Rail was. The carnage after a Left-wing government was obvious. She had seen socialism fail, again and again. “Look at what’s happening in Venezuela!”. I watched my 23 year old researcher’s eyes deaden as she said that.
“Yeah, what about Venezuela?” he asked. “I don’t care about Venezuela. I care about what’s happening here. Yes, you waited 6 months for a telephone line, but my family’s been waiting years for a mobile phone signal in my house, the trains are still late but more expensive and I still live at home because a cheap flat is ten times my salary”.
The generational and political divides have never been wider, and some of this can be explained by how the Right uses language.
Pointing to Venezuela and thinking we’ve successfully won the argument defending capitalism against socialism doesn’t work. It was easier when people had lived through both.
My researcher was 3 years old when Tony Blair became prime minister. That’s the only left-wing government he’s ever known and it really wasn’t that scary. Arguing about the wonders of capitalism and the dangers of socialism seems a bit overblown in that context.
The benefits of free-market capitalism are not self-evident. In fact, it would be nice if we emphasised that free markets and capitalism are not the same thing.
You would have to be nearly 40 to have been an adult under John Major’s government, let alone Thatcher’s CREDIT: PAUL HACKETT/REUTERS
You would have to be nearly 40 to have been an adult under John Major’s government, let alone Thatcher’s Credit: Paul Hackett/Reuters
I’m a free marketer, but I cringe every time I hear the word “deregulation”.
When I ask anyone under 50 what they think “regulation” means, I get the same answers: “protection”, “safety nets”, and “rules”. I’ve heard business talk positively about deregulation, as if the meaning is obvious – getting rid of red tape, removing barriers to entry, that sort of thing.
Unfortunately, what the average person on the street hears is “getting rid of protections for me, so that crony capitalists can make as much profit as possible”.
“All taxation is theft!”. I remember the first time I heard this at an event for libertarians. As a healthy 25 year old with no obligations to anyone, I was inclined to be sympathetic. Less so now, as a 37 year old mother of two and one near-death experience in a maternity ward under my belt.
When people believe that more government is the solution to every problem, a small state isn’t an efficient one
As an MP, I have to be even more careful when talking about a small state and low taxes. Some of my constituents, think I’m talking about taking away their benefits, their safety nets, funding for their children’s schools and all the things that make their lives pleasant, bearable even.
How can I explain the benefits of low taxes to people who believe that the only reason some people are wealthy is because they’re not paying their fair share?
In a world where people genuinely believe the fixed pie fallacy – that a penny more for you means a penny less for someone else, that wealth is not created but distributed – policies to reward wealth creators make no sense. In fact, it’s not tax that’s theft, but wealth.
When people believe that more government is the solution to every problem, a small state isn’t an efficient one. It’s a lazy one.
Please don’t think this is yet another article about what the Conservative Party needs to do to win voters. The problem is much deeper than that, and the centre-Right is a movement much bigger than any political party.
It isn’t just young people who dig Jeremy Corbyn
It isn’t just young people who dig Jeremy Corbyn
I wish the private sector worked as hard at explaining its importance as much as the public sector.
Every party conference season, I’m struck by how much is spent on lobbying by the public affairs industry. All of it spent talking to politicians rather than to the public. If only, some of those big corporates spent a fraction of this talking to their millions of customers about the social good they do, instead of trying to get meetings with MPs to do that job for them.
Imagine if multi-nationals spent more time explaining that the majority of their shareholders are pension funds, and that many of the people criticising them have invested their futures in and are indirectly owners of the very companies they want closed down? Reducing taxes makes a lot more sense if you know it means more money going into your pension.
I believe the Right has the answers, but we are not properly explaining why the other lot have got it wrong.
We need to be seen to be offering something, not just attacking the idea of change
The key to future electoral success lies in change. Not just change in my party and its approach to campaigning, but change in the country and how the story is told.
We know that there are now more doctors, more houses and more outstanding schools than ever before but if that isn’t communicated effectively, especially to younger people, the dangers of facing a generation in the political wilderness are real.
When talking about Venezuela, Jeremy Corbyn’s questionable track record, free markets and so on we assume that people know what we mean without any explanation or comment on how we could do it better. These assumptions switch people off and dilute the message. Ditch them, I say.
We need to be seen to be offering something, not just attacking the idea of change. Simple language, simple ideas and a positive vision for the future – this holy trinity holds the key to unlocking the next generation.
Kemi Badenoch is the Conservative MP for Saffron Walden
The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, is apparently proposing radical measures to change public perception of the Government, notably among the young. Ahead of his Budget next month, he is courting ideas. Here, Rob Wilson, former Minister for Young People, offers some tips:
I am pleased that you are continuing the tradition of your predecessor and asking backbenchers for Budget ideas. As the first Budget in a new administration I know this one is particularly important; it will set the scene for economic success or failure over the period of this Government.
I am delighted that you have specifically asked MPs for their ideas about young people. The 2017 General Election result has finally created a healthy interest in this section of the electorate and a desire to find attractive and deliverable Conservative policies.
This is not surprising as it was very clear in the way they voted that young professionals and students have a very negative view of the Conservative Party.
Tax raids on the pensions and homes of older people would be an extremely bad idea that could finish this Government
My advice, Philip, is that you need some radical ideas for under 35s that reconnect to core Conservative philosophy.
These ideas need to deliver greater enterprise, a stronger more dynamic economy, home ownership and decent housing, while at the same time reducing the burden of debt on the young.
In essence Conservatives need to offer a new and fair deal for young people.
Unfortunately the ideas announced at conference failed to do so. I would also warn you that tax raids on the pensions and homes of older people would be an extremely bad idea that could finish this Government.
As a former Minister for Young People, Philip, I can tell you the first thing to understand about young people is that they are rarely party political and care about the same things as the rest of the UK electorate, although perhaps in a more idealistic way.
Please don’t make the mistake that Conservatives policies should simply focus on higher education. Young people want to understand Conservative values and have a positive uplifting view of why they should vote for the Party.
Decades ago, by winning the arguments over business, enterprise and entrepreneurship, Margaret Thatcher enthused a generation of young professionals and this is where you, Chancellor, in your budget can make the biggest difference.
Let’s begin with entrepreneurship. So many young people have great ideas and want to start their own business, but lack of capital and other very basic resources stop them ever getting off the ground. Your response should be, as part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, that every major town and city should have an Enterprise Centre. It should offer free kitted out offices and meeting spaces: desks, computers, internet access, telephones. Business support and advice specialists should be based in the same building giving under 30s two years free support to get their idea off the ground. Fund it through existing LEP budgets or get big companies to sponsor it – it’s an attractive proposition and the economic dynamism unleashed would mean it pays for itself many times over.
Chancellor, you also need to look at the tax regime for young people to help stimulate hard work and dynamism. Due to high costs of housing, higher education and depressed wages, many young people struggle and, as you rightly identify, are burdened with debt. Young people should be better off voting Conservative, so introduce a zero tax rate and National Insurance on under-21s and a 10 pence band for under 25s. This encourages work by making it pay, but should also mean lower debts. It should over time generate higher tax income, but initially it could be funded by fiscal drag at the upper tax thresholds – and, if necessary, you could reduce the £several billion committed to raising the tuition fee repayment threshold to £25K.
Housing is a significant issue for young people and I have offered advice before, Philip. I strongly recommend the ambition of home ownership is brought back to the mass of young people through a Government-backed building programme targeted at under-35s. The Government should offer 40,000 new homes to buy by 2020/21 at the cost of build and then keep recycling the money. The Conservatives must create a new generation of young home owners to demonstrate the Party cares about and will deliver hope for those people often living in sub-standard accommodation.
On Higher Education, by and large the reforms made since 2010 are fair. You should keep interest payments on student debt as low as possible, but the bigger issue is that many students are being overcharged for courses. I would go further and say that in my view, paying £9,000 per year for most University courses is simply a massive cartel rip-off. The Government should not let Universities get away with it. Chancellor, you must get a grip on this unfairness and the reduction to £7500 announced at conference is simply not enough. I would advise that the previous £6,000 cap on annual fees is re-imposed, with up to 20 per cent of courses getting a exemption to £9,000 for courses with special circumstances, such as higher cost of delivery. But Universities would need to demonstrate this for each course to the Office for Students.
Philip, this Budget is your great opportunity to reassert core Conservative values of entrepreneurship, enterprise, fairness and decency to the next generation. If we give young people the chance to be dynamic, to create business and wealth they will take it. It’s time to get back to the values that have served the Conservative Party well.
The insightful blogger who goes by the moniker Spotted Toad has created a series of charts explaining the 2016 Electoral College results as a result of average home price in each state.
The pattern is much the same as it has been in every election since 2000: In states where younger white people can better afford to buy a home, they are more likely to be married, have more children, and vote more Republican. In states where whites are less able to afford a home, they marry later, have fewer children, and vote more Democratic.
For example, the state with the most expensive homes on average is Hawaii, at a self-estimated mean during 2010–14 of $505,400 (according to Census Bureau data). Not coincidentally, Donald Trump did worse in Hawaii than in any other state, garnering only 30.0 percent of the vote.
In contrast, in the state with the cheapest housing—West Virginia, with its mean home value of just $100,200—Trump enjoyed his biggest majority: 68.5 percent.
These aren’t fluke outliers, either.
Trump won the 22 states with the cheapest homes, and 26 of the 27 least costly states. Conversely, Hillary Clinton carried 15 of the 16 states with the most expensive housing. (The most expensive red state was No. 9 Alaska and the least expensive blue state was No. 28 New Mexico.)
Here is Spotted Toad’s graph showing the fifty states, with Trump’s share of the vote on the vertical axis and home values on the horizontal axis. The correlation coefficient for the relationship between Trump’s share of the vote and home values in each state was –0.76, a very strong negative correlation.
The next most expensive homes after Hawaii are in California at a mean of $371,000, where Trump won only 31.6 percent.
California had voted Republican in nine of ten presidential elections from 1952 through 1988, but has now gone Democrat in the past seven elections, beginning with 1992.
“The country will increasingly tend to divide itself up into family-oriented red states with low housing costs and amenity-oriented blue states with high housing costs.”
This reversal is usually blamed by the media on Republican governor Pete Wilson coming from behind in his 1994 reelection bid by endorsing the popular immigration restrictionist Proposition 187. And this explanation that the California GOP was done in by the subsequent anti-187 anger of the Latino electoral tsunami is widely assumed to be true by GOP “strategists” too dumb to notice that 1994 followed, rather than preceded, the turning-point election of 1992 when George H.W. Bush lost California to Bill Clinton by a historic 13.4 percentage points.
In reality, the bigger problem dooming the California GOP was that it stopped routinely carrying white voters by comfortable margins. And this shift was likely related to the massive surge in California home prices. The state’s homes were no more expensive than the national average until 1975, but have since become increasingly expensive as California homeowners have figured out how to manipulate environmental regulations to slow the construction of new homes and roads.
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, I had a front-row seat since the watershed year of 1969 to watch the celebrities of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Malibu learn how to exploit environmentalism to drive up their property values and keep out deplorables from the Valley, such as me. (Simultaneously, the Westsiders denounced Americans who didn’t want to let in more illegal aliens as vicious racist xenophobes raising the wages they’d have to pay their servants.)
Why have richer U.S. states become more Democratic and poorer states more Republican? I find that this phenomenon actually reflects cost of living, driven by residential building restrictions…. By making housing supply less responsive to price, land-use regulation increases house prices in locations that are highly desirable for either amenities or production.
For example, Malibu’s most famous amenity is 21 miles of beaches. But an even better amenity than a public beach is a de facto private beach, so Malibuites such as Rob Reiner have managed to keep its population below 13,000 by severely restricting housing development.
Malibu voters don’t even want you paying to vacation on their turf. By my count, Malibu has only 184 hotel or motel rooms. “Stay out of Malibu, Lebowski!” would make a truthful civic slogan.
Meanwhile, billionaire producer David Geffen waged a 24-year-long legal battle to ignore the state law mandating he provide public access to the beach in front of his house (which he recently sold for $85 million).
One reason that Malibu beach houses like Geffen’s are so expensive is that Southern California housing development can only grow eastward into the hot desert. While an inland Republican metropolis like Dallas can expand 360 degrees, a Democratic waterfront redoubt like Los Angeles can spread only 180 degrees. Blue-state metropolises like Boston and Chicago generally find their suburban expansion hemmed in by oceans or Great Lakes, so their supply of land is much more limited than inland red-state cities like Phoenix and Atlanta.
But, of course, the bigger reason that merely 0.1 percent of the population of Southern California can afford to live in Malibu is because the One-Tenth of One Percent likes it that way. While they may advocate open borders for their country, they understand the advantages of extreme exclusivity for their quiet beach community.
Professor Sorens continues:
High house prices are the most important component of general cost of living. High cost of living deters in-migration of lower-income households, especially those that do not highly value amenities. Holding median household income constant, higher-cost locations will tend over time to attract and keep households that highly value amenities. It is hypothesized that these households will be more Democratic. Accordingly, raising residential building requirements in high-amenity areas should cause those areas to move gradually to the left.
To put this another way, people who value being able to afford the space needed to raise their families more highly than they value amenities will be less willing to pay inflated housing costs. So they will tend to move out of places like California.
And those whose preferences are on the knife-edge between children or amenities will tend to go with whatever their locale makes more available.
For instance, those couples who stay in California will more likely need both man and woman to work full-time to afford the rent, which makes it harder to raise children. And if you are not having children, is it all that important to marry? And if you aren’t married, isn’t the GOP’s family-values rhetoric kind of offensive?
Republican candidates do much better with married voters than single voters. In most presidential elections, the marriage gap is bigger than the famed gender gap. A higher likelihood of being married in states with affordable housing appears to be the prime driver by which low home prices get translated into Republican votes.
This means that the country will increasingly tend to divide itself up into family-oriented red states with low housing costs and amenity-oriented blue states with high housing costs. Not surprisingly, the GOP, as the family-values party, does better in states more appealing to family-focused voters.
What about the country as a whole? If the Republican Party wants to thrive in the long run, it needs to adjust supply and demand to make housing more affordable in order to grow more of the kind of married-with-kids white people who vote Republican. How? The most obvious way is by making it easier to build housing and harder to immigrate.
Want to know the real difference between the elites and the working class? And no, it’s not the money, although the huge gap in income between the two groups has many serious flow-on effects, both financial and cultural.
The differences are far more complex than cash, as US academic and author Joan Williams details in a new book called White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America.
Here’s one. “I was just living in The Netherlands,” says Williams on the phone from San Francisco. “And I show up in a room of people like me and they say, ‘What do you do?’ It’s the first question, and I say, ‘I’m a law professor.’ Well, immediately I have social honour. I’m a person they want to know.
“I tell the story in my book of going to my husband’s high school reunion in a blue-collar neighbourhood and he asked one of the classmates, ‘What do you do?’ The guy was extremely insulted and told him, ‘I sell toilets!’
“If you sell toilets you don’t want to be judged on your job. You want to stick around a group of people who know you well, who know that you’re more than your job and you’re a person to be reckoned with. And so while elites tend to pride themselves on merit, non-elites tend to pride themselves on morality. Each group choses a metric. We all chose baskets we can sell, that’s just human, but it means that elites are really different from non-elites.”
For Williams, a distinguished professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law who has written extensively on gender, race and class over decades, these class differences deserve to be at the heart of any analysis of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election.
“Class is not the only thing that was going on,” she says. “Gender dynamics were very important and if Hillary Clinton had been a man, she would have won. But class was very important.”
Indeed, it was Clinton’s failure to speak to the white working class that saw Williams hitting her keyboard on election night. As the “most boring conventional progressive in the world” she has always voted Democrat and worked to get out the vote for Clinton. Desperate to explain what went wrong, she published an essay in the Harvard Business Review that quickly became the journal’s most-read article online. It has been viewed by 3.5 million people. About 800 people posted comments, and pretty soon Williams had a book contract.
Her attack is “quite transgressive of the accepted wisdom in my crowd — that white working-class people are ignorant because they voted against their self-interest, that they are racist and sexist. I’m making a very different argument.
“What the white working class sees is the hollowing out of the middle class in the United States … They think neither Democrats nor Republicans have delivered for them, and their perception is absolutely correct.
“This talk they are voting against their own interests is a contemporary example of the stereotype, the idea they are dimwitted; it’s highly inappropriate.”
Americans have a “convenient deafness” about class and prefer to see everyone as middle class. Williams splits class three ways — the top 20 per cent are the elites, the middle 53 per cent with a median income of $US75,144 in 2015 are the working class, and the remaining are poor. She is unapologetic about focusing on whites rather than people of colour, arguing that their often different cultural attitudes and needs have been ignored for too long.
Lack of awareness around class is a fairly new phenomenon, according to Williams.
“In the 1940s, 50s and 60s we were not so clueless about class,” she says.
“At least liberal intellectuals were very clued in to class, and we had a language for talking about class, it was called ‘don’t be snobbish’. But starting in the 70s, the attention shifted away from class to race and gender and LGBTQ, and we tended to forget about class. And when elites forget to run things through their heads, you have assumptions …”
She cites the emergence since the 70s of television sitcoms, such as All in the Family, where the patriarch (in this case, Archie Bunker) is depicted as overweight and sexist. This demonising is “a consequence of forgetting”, which led ultimately to Trump’s victory.
The forgetting means many people in service jobs — janitors, receptionists, taxi drivers — are invisible to elites, despite the constant cross-class interactions of every day. It’s time, says Williams, for the PMEs — the professionals, managers and executives — to “talk to people without the assumption that because they have a modest white or blue-collar job, they’re dimwitted.”
In her book, a readable volume of just 180 pages (50 of which are indexes and references), she tackles issues from working-class resentment of the poor and professionals, and apparently contradictory support of the rich, to how elites gain self-worth from merit while the working class gains self-worth from morality.
Both groups value hard work but they see it differently: “To working-class members of all races, valuing hard work means having the rigid self-discipline to do a menial job you hate for 40 years, and rein yourself in so that you don’t ‘have an attitude’ (ie, so that you can submit to authority). Hard work for elites is associated with self-actualisation: ‘disruption’ means founding a successful start-up. Disruption in working-class jobs just gets you fired.”
Williams explains how food and religion and even the value placed on talk divide the classes. She identifies stark differences in parenting styles. Elites focus on “concerted cultivation” of children with intense schedules; non-elites are likelier to follow “the ideology of natural growth”. The first is a “rehearsal for a life of work devotion: the time pressure, the intense competition, the exhaustion with it all, and the ethic of putting work before family”.
For the white working class, parenting tends to focus on “clear boundaries” between children and parents, with prompt obedience expected, because this is crucial training for the working class.
Poor and working-class people tend to be more rooted in their communities than the elites — something elites forget when they urge people to move where the work is. PMEs tend to have national or global social networks and a “very broad range of acquaintances to help us out both professionally and personally”, says Williams. “The working class tend to have smaller networks, very local … They have to depend on family and close friends for a lot of things like good childcare or care for grandma. And so one of the things that elites don’t often understand is that they (the white working class) don’t want to move because not only do they have to find a job but they have to find a job that’s so much better than what they have now because they have to pay for childcare.”
Elites who dismiss working-class whites as racist or sexist are truly clueless.
“Racial bias (on the part of elite whites) even against very elite African-Americans is very strong” — she argues Sasha and Malia Obama will be disadvantaged by race despite being advantaged by class — “which is one of the reasons I find it so ironic that some (of those elites) say they couldn’t possibly listen to the white working class because they’re racist. My reaction is, compared to whom?”
Equally, white-collar professionals talk the talk on gender equality but often don’t walk the walk. Blue-collar men may not talk the talk and may have more traditional views on family, but they’re also likelier than professional men to participate in childcare, says Williams.
And because of different family dynamics, gender does not necessarily bind women — some of whom have very limited opportunities and different obligations for their families — across social class. Says Williams: “If working-class white women had just split 50-50 for Hillary Clinton, she would’ve won. High school educated women voted for Trump by a 28 per cent margin. The message for feminists here is that the ideal of equal parenting and both parents in the labour force often looks really different to the elites than it does to the working class and the poor.
“People who are non-elite often look back to the breadwinner-homemaker family with a great deal of nostalgia because of what’s replaced it.
“What’s replaced it, is that the men have often lost their blue-collar jobs and the family is trying to survive on the wife’s ‘pink-collar job’ (such as cleaning or supermarket jobs) and perhaps intermittent work by the husband or else a pink-collar and a blue-collar job or, god forbid, two pink-collar jobs, which means the family has quite a low income.
“They can’t pay for childcare so they’re typically tag-teaming, where mom works one shift and dad works another shift. The families are completely exhausted and the parents rarely see each other. Tag-team families have three to six times the divorce rate of other families.” What’s the solution? Elites should stop arguing that globalisation and automation mean that all jobs are going to be knowledge jobs.
“That is so untrue,” says Williams. “I mean, 75 per cent of the US economy consists of physical jobs and the only question is: are we as elite going to sit by and see the middle class disappear? That’s what we’ve done. We sat by and watched it disappear as we smugly talk about knowledge jobs and how globalisation and automation mean we can’t do anything about it. Excuse me.
We can do something about it. It’s called industrial policy.Germany has done it. We could be keeping high-quality, middle-skilled jobs if we actually cared, which we evidently don’t, and so I think that’s why in some ways we get what we deserve. “
What’s next for the Democrats? “It’s important to mobilise the base and make sure that young people vote next time,” says Williams. “I think it’s important to continue to reach out to communities of colour and Latinos, but we are not going to be able to govern effectively without the white working class.
“There’s a lot of happy talk about how the Democrats can wipe off the white working class and depend on people of colour and young people and college-educated voters. You may be able to squeak by the electoral college but, even if you do, you can’t govern. Because you won’t have the House (of Representatives).”
Impeaching Trump would be a mixed blessing: “If we got Trump out we would be less likely to have a war with North Korea, that’s a good thing, and then we would have a competent Republican administration, and then we would have a clean sweep. So I think they’re equally chilling options.”
She sees a bigger challenge for Americans. “When you leave the two-thirds of Americans without college degrees out of your vision of the good life, they notice. And when elites commit to equality for many different groups but arrogantly dismiss ‘the dark rigidity of fundamentalist rural America’ this is a recipe for extreme alienation among working-class whites … We need to begin the process of healing the rift between white elites and white workers so that class conflict no longer dominates and distorts our politics … These people feel forgotten for a very simple reason. We forgot them.”
Bernie Sanders on the election trail. Until we make it possible to buy a house, young and youngish people in Britain, the US and Australia are going to vote for free stuff.
Helen Dale, The Australian June 17, 2017
This story, like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, begins simply, with a house. The house is something few young or youngish Britons or Americans can afford, despite doing everything their wealthier elders told them to: studying hard, going to university, working hard, not doing drugs, delaying parenthood.
Their parents, by contrast, have houses. From time to time those houseless young and youngish people are forced to call on their parents to stabilise their own financial position. They do so because real incomes for British residents 60 and older grew 11 per cent between 2007 and 2014, while those 30 and younger suffered a 7 per cent loss. In the US, the share of young Americans earning more than their parents did by age 30 has plunged from nine in 10 for those born in the 1940s to barely half for those born in the 80s.
Deprived of a place in a housing market almost as bonkers as Sydney’s, the young have started voting for free stuff — particularly promises of free university tuition — by way of recompense.
Last week, homeowners voted Conservative by 53 to 32. Renters voted Labour by 51 to 31. British politics, if not in a nutshell, at least in a house — or the lack of one.
They have voted this way in two countries, in support of two candidates: Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, who campaigned for free tertiary education. If you break down last year’s US Democratic primary and this year’s British general election by income, occupation and constituency, you discover it was often young professionals who should be in their first home who supported both men.
Ah, I hear you saying, young people quite like charming older chaps who promise them free stuff. Sanders and Corbyn are avuncular, left, more principled and honest than the average politician.
Leaving aside the fact Sanders isn’t really a socialist — despite protestations to the contrary, there is simply too much America and too many Americans for a socialist to do anything other than be crushed in a presidential election, taking the Democrats down with him — Corbyn at least must now be counted a potential future prime minister.
If we have another election here in Britain, momentum will be with Labour.
These young and youngish are not the truly poor. At least, not yet. They have jobs. They have hope. Nonetheless, arguments that free university tuition is really just a cash grab by the middle class — a means by which the poor and uneducated pay for the exam-passing classes to go to university — cut no ice. They feel they have not been compensated for their efforts, for their long period of student poverty, for their ability to delay gratification. They point out — as credentialism has grown and secure full-time work shrunk — that the economists’ argument that higher education fees reflect higher private returns to graduates is now much less persuasive.
Worse, Tony Blair’s desire to see 50 per cent of the 18-30 cohort attend university pretended anyone, given enough education, could become “above average”.
However, all the below average get is student debt, several unwaged years out of the labour force and then (maybe) a “bullshit job”. Having glimpsed a leisured life of the mind they can never attain, they find there’s no house to be had either.
And there are a lot of them: not just the fabled 18 to 24-year-olds who turned out in their droves last week and flipped Britain’s university towns from blue to red. In electoral terms, age is a new dividing line in Anglophone politics.
For every 10 years older a voter gets, the chance of voting Tory increases by about nine points. The tipping point — the age at which a voter is likelier to vote Conservative than Labour — is now 47.
Never mind “don’t trust anyone over 30”. The new creed is “don’t trust anyone over 47”.
These people do not feel like winners in the game of life. Corbyn and Sanders, however, argued that they could be winners and, more to the point, that their interests should be coeval with those of their moneyed elders. The politically engaged among those under-47s know how to campaign, too, and how to negate the effect of Britain’s famous Tory tabloids and the US centre-left “legacy press”.
Along with Donald Trump’s internet shock troops, the alt-right, Sanders’s Bernie Bros and Corbyn’s Momentum fight their political battles on social media.
Australians have become used to advisers telling politicians to ignore Twitter and Snapchat. If there is to be a social media focus, it’s on Facebook. The Tories did this, and I’ve run similar campaigns myself. Yet Twitter and Snapchat predicted the surge in Labour support — and Hillary Clinton’s unpopularity with the Democratic base in crucial states — more accurately than any pollster. Corbyn on Snapchat — where he presents as a kindly, train-obsessed, tea-loving eccentric — enjoyed tremendous online traction.
The trade-off is simple, like the house where I began. Until we make it possible to buy one, young and youngish people in Britain, the US and Australia are going to vote for free stuff.
Free stuff is an eternal in politics. People such as Sanders and Corbyn mobilise their base by minting victim chips and draw others in by promising cash. I have long disdained “democracy and elections as potlatch” on the basis that potlatch is what countries have instead of an economy.
But the young and youngish really have been walled out, and there are enough of them to reconfigure our politics.
Helen Dale won the Miles Franklin Award in 1995 for The Hand that Signed the Paper, studied law at Oxford, and was previously senior adviser to senator David Leyonhjelm. Her second novel, Kingdom of the Wicked, will be published by Ligature in October.
The drubbing that the Mark McGowan-led Labor Party gave the Barnett government in Western Australia’s recent election will continue the secular slide in public policy.
Pro-lifers Margaret Quirk, left, and Kate Doust
missed out on ministries.
Two ALP pro-lifers, Margaret Quirk and Kate Doust, did not make the cut when it came to appointments in the 17-strong ministry, with 11 of those ministers coming from a trade union background. And Mr McGowan has pledged S1.4 million over the next four years to push the ill-named Safe Schools program into WA secondary schools.
This program, which can only be described as putrid, teaches among other things:
That the terms boys and girls should not be used and that being heterosexual is not the norm.
That they have two virginities, the first time with a boy and the first time with a girl (seemingly a contradiction given that terms like boys and girls are not deemed to be normative).
That homosexuality and transgenderism should be celebrated while traditional cultural, moral and religious beliefs are unacceptable.
A trivialisation of early sexual activity and the risk of STIs.
In short, it is not an anti-bullying program at all but rather a gender and sexual diversity plan and just another example of the Marxist-Gramsci adherents’ long march through educational institutions.
The ALP Left is firmly in control, holding three of the four top parliamentary positions in the Parliament, the Premier himself being the odd man out.
The Deputy Government Leader in the Legislative Council, Stephen Dawson (Environment and Disabilities), is the first homosexual minister in WA.
Ben Wyatt (unaligned) is the first Aborigine to occupy the Treasurer’s position in any Australian parliament. With total public debt heading past $40 billion, the new Treasurer will be sorely tested within a party not noted for restraint. There was little probing of him, and the ALP, during the election campaign by a media that ran dead on the issue.
The far left political action group, Emily’s List, now has 15 (of 23), female ALP parliamentarians as members.
Deputy Premier and Health Minister Roger Cook has already signaled that assisted suicide will be legislated on after a “conscience vote” in the Parliament. As Labor once supported a “conscience vote” on marriage, before it became binding on all ALP parliamentarians to accept the destruction of traditional marriage, one wonders how much tolerance will be shown towards dissenters on the death issue.
It now seems to be conventional wisdom that after two terms a government becomes stale and needs to be changed. While the previous three WA administrations – of Court, Gallop/Carpenter, and Barnett – have seemingly given proof of that dictum, it has not always been so and at present, in South Australia, Labor has been at the helm for 14 years.
There was a lot of pre-poll huffing and puffing over the Liberals’ preference deal with One Nation. Just who were the Liberals supposed to preference: the Greens?
The Liberals refusal in 2001 to deal with One Nation cost Richard Court his government. As it turned out, there was a 40 per cent drift in One Nation preferences to the ALP, thus proving voters can make their own decisions, particularly in parties like One Nation, which are not tied to left-wing orthodoxy.
The Labor and the Greens preference swap was apparently not worthy of mention. As Richard Nixon once said, if you are going to give a candidate (or party) the shaft, at least put one lone reporter on the job to give a modicum of fairness in the electoral battle.
There was no mention of the Barnett government’s achievement, building two desalination plants that have picked up the slack of providing WA with water as dams provide as only 7 per cent of the driest state’s needs.
Malcolm Turnbull also left Barnett in the lurch. Mr Turnbull completely reneged on his promise to fix WA’s GST predicament: WA receives only 34¢ back in every dollar raised in the state.
Mr Turnbull may find that WA voters have turned against him over this issue. If so WA will no longer be the “jewel in the crown” for the Liberals, who currently hold 11 of the 16 WA House of Representative seats at the federal level. The Coalition has a bare majority in the House of Representatives (76-74).
The McGowan Government, despite the big victory in the Legislative Assembly (41-18), will not control the Legislative Council. Labor and Greens (4) have 18 seats in the upper house and the other 18 seats are shared between Liberals, Nationals and three smaller parties.
Mr McGowan had hoped to tempt a Liberal to be council president, which would have given him a floor majority as the president only has a casting vote if there is a deadlock on the floor.
Liberal veteran Simon O’Brien MLC (most decently) refused that carrot.