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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Fall and Rise of Community

Humans are social animals. Yet today, through decades of targeted American style marketing, people place more value on consumer products than they do on each other. Gone are the days where social capital was the major currency of life, it has been replaced by the cold hard greenback. Now a persons capacity to function in an unspoken reciprocal relationship with their communities is less of a factor of perceived value than their bank balance, what car they drive, and how many plasma TVs they own. It is only natural, after all we have been bombarded with "Buy this, feel good" messages for years. People have become insular, focusing on their own immediate needs and the needs of their family in a materialistic sense, rather than looking at the gains that can be made from socialising with others. But deep down, people need more than this. Reality TV was the first stop gap, why talk over the fence to your neighbour when you can watch them on TV. You can even relate to them by voting them off if you don't like them. And boy, if there was a 24 hour channel of neighbours fighting and police beating up black people then sign me up straight away. But people need more than this. Somehow this Coca-Cola Sony Big Brother lifestyle is not enough, particular in areas where a sense of community used to exist. People need to be reaffirmed and made to feel good about themselves, so what better way to exploit this than for a government to espouse divisive policies. You with your two kids and a dog, you are right, that single parent is less right, the unemployed woman without a DVD player is a bit iffy, and that dark skinned poofta fella is just plain wrong. Don't condone their actions as they are a threat to your way of life. But these policies only satisfy self-esteem, not social instinct. Enter American style evangelistic organisations such as the Assemblies of God! Now people can satisfy that missing urge to be part of a community. What is more, this community reaffirms that your way of life is not only right, but others will burn in hell for eternity. The congregation can gather and get their quick fix of old time community, sing some songs, praise the lord, and if they're lucky maybe that prayer to pay off the mortgage and buy a new dishwasher will be answered. So now everyone is happy, big business is happy because their consumerism has the gold seal stamp of approval from God Almighty, people are happy that they belong and they are right, politicians are happy because they now have an easy to read block of society to peddle their wares to. But unlike traditional communities, membership is highly conditional. First, you have to believe that Jesus is the saviour and that the bible is the word of God - suitably twisted to suit your lifestyle which makes the pill easier to swallow. Second, membership comes at a very high financial price, both at the collection plate (by the way if you're sitting down, let the person next to you sit down if they want to sign a cheque - actual quote from good old Sydney Channel 31 RIP) and through various merchandising that allows you to get closer to Jesus. Once you are in, you are in, and the fear factor of being ostracised from this new home and lose part of your identity makes you buy more. This is not quite the same as the community my dad lives in where he happened to mention a manhole cover was cracked in the driveway, the next day a new one magically appeared! So who are the real beneficiaries of this non-reciprocal arrangement? The people that run the organisation, the pastors, the boards, big business and of course those who inhabit the dark recesses of the market forces political right. And now the "preachers", not satisfied with having a sympathetic ear in the conservative politics, have taken it further by exploiting their one way social-capital to gain political power in the form of Family First. The wave of consumer lead religion and political myopia that has crossed the Pacific from our special relatives, the United States of America, is truly the most frightening phenomena that is occurring here, and in the Western world today. It is a potent force that will not be spent until victory or defeat, there is no room for compromise or collaboration.

In the spirit of balance, read Jim Wallace, an article which has the critical acclaim of both Tim Dunlop, "Jim Wallace should just fuck right off", and Ken Parish, "...fanatical bunch of sanctimonious, narrow-minded, sexually-repressed, god-bothering arseholes who want to impose their stupid, ignorant values on the rest of us decent, tolerant, pleasure-loving Aussies. They should piss off back to the Bible Belt of America, where all this ignorant wankery originated".

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