This kind of analysis really is a disgrace: Coronavirus: The West’s civil disobedience — it’s a trend to die for. There is a social divide in the West between left and right, authority and freedom, Pelosi versus Trump. It is having grave consequences for our ability to govern ourselves according to the liberal values that have made the West great. That said, this is how Kelly’s article opens:
For 50 years, popular culture in Australia and the West has mocked authority, glorified rebellion, sanctified the individual’s quest for ever deeper self-realisation and told us that Western governments are dishonest, corrupt, wicked and primarily act as agents of racism, colonialism, sexism, economic exploitation and environmental despoliation.
All this is reinforced by academic culture, which sheets all these sins home not only to Western governments but to Western civilisation generally.
Is it any wonder that these societies are having so much trouble in the coronavirus crisis responding to essential lifesaving directions from their respective governments?
That is, because we are a society whose ethos is based on individual freedom, there are many amongst us who will not immediately do whatever the government tells them to do. Oddly, in his analysis he does not mention China. This is so simple-minded that it is frightening.
The most successful societies in tackling COVID-19 through social distancing and similar suppression measures are Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. The widespread elements of their success are well known — large-scale testing, contact tracing, tough travel restrictions, strict social distancing, strict isolation for those infected or possibly infected, and above all co-operative societies that take what governments say seriously.
Here is the centre of his concerns about our wayward independent ways in the West:
Popular culture in Anglo-American societies, and in most of Western Europe, demonises every traditional institution and demonises government itself, while glorifying the existential rebellious individual who makes a heroic stand, typically against a designated set of pantomime villains: government agencies, corporate greed, property developers, organised religion et cetera.
If you want a tell, here he is quoting David Brooks from The Atlantic. To someone from the more conservative side of the fence, you could not choose a name and a magazine I’d be more ready to ignore than these two.
In a brilliant piece in this month’s Atlantic magazine, David Brooks describes how the American family has collapsed in the past 70 years. Its collapse doesn’t hurt rich people too much because they can buy replacements for family — therapists, carers, tutors. And they can buy assistance to keep their own small families functioning. But it has been a disaster for poor people, who are left with nothing. Brooks argues that over the past 70 years life has become freer for individuals but more unstable for families, better for adults and worse for children. The move from big extended families to ever smaller nuclear and sub-nuclear, so to speak, families has meant the poor have fewer people to help with bad economic times, rough psychological passages, the ups and downs of childhood. Rich folks buy this assistance. Families are also sources of authority and social capital. When they go, the authority and social capital go.
Here’s how he ends.
One difference with Confucian societies is that their governments do everything they can to support families and to promote traditional family structures. Both sides of politics make this impossible in societies such as Australia. The left hates tradition and works to destroy it, the libertarian right can’t stand anything that smacks of government social engineering.
I am inexactly connecting an immediate crisis with long-term cultural trends. But the inability of large numbers of its citizens to accept and yes, obey, simple government directions that are literally lifesaving is a sign of a relatively recently acquired, grave weakness in our culture.
We don’t OBEY government directions. Our cities are ghost towns. If you wander over to the supermarket, everyone you pass, which is hardly anyone, shifts to their side of the pavement to the greatest extent possible. I would not expect anything as stupid in The Age, but for now I am going to spend some time finding out.