Leaning in for a Throat Punch


The Travelling Insect.

I overheard a conversation between two guys earlier today. They were talking about travel and one said to the other with more than a paltry smack of boasting, “I’ve done Switzerland, three times!”

Now, aside from the grammatical implications of speaking about a country as though it were a thing that could be completed – like say, a cartwheel or a poetry reading of ‘Ode to the Douchebag’, it reminded me of a certain attitude you bump into every now and then from people who blitz around the world in their twenties and then consider themselves enlightened by default.

Dear Mr “I’ve done Switzerland, three times!”, if only you’d told us Switzerland was ‘done’, we would have blown it up years ago! Oh, but before we do, are you absolutely certain it’s completely done, finished, depleted, exhausted, stitched up and settled?’.

I can’t tell you irritating the conquering tourist schtick is to me. As with so many people, it’s about how many places they’ve been to, not HOW they spent their time there. It gives me an idea for a book title, called ‘Quantity over Quality: A tourist guide to being a know-it-all wanker’.

Travel is supposed to give us an opportunity to dine upon the juicy marrow of the present; to forget the the gnawing past and the dreaded future for a while. Hopefully you learn a thing or two about yourself and then return home and attempt to be one-tenth less of an arsehole than you presently are, and maybe even encourage someone else to discover some far off land on their own.

I commend people who travel far and wide, and I implore everyone to hurl themselves against another culture, to get foreign dirt under the finger nails. But please don’t assume that spending three weeks, or even three years, in Zurich will hold any weight with anything.

Fuck Di Morrissey

When I sit down to write I always come on too strong. Each time I am a virgin in bed with a beautiful woman—all elbows and clammy feet. I am too eager to please. Too concerned with how I look to her. Too bewildered that this time might mean something or everything. Too afraid that it might mean nothing. I await brilliance like a fool. I forget that the best possible outcome are good words, and in between, a multitude of bad ones strung up like panicked chickens run through an abattoir—millions of ugly words awaiting slaughter.

When I sit down to write the world shrinks into sentences and I live line by line. To look beyond a few words is insanity. To think ahead is impossible. I remember Di Morrissey’s writing advice about parking on top of a hill at night so that you have momentum the following morning. I go to sleep atop Mount Fuji and wake to find my words broken and bled out at the bottom having rolled down while I slept. Fuck Di Morrissey.

Writing is not pouring a big cup of tea. It is not warm lighting, a room with a view, a shawl wrapped around your shoulders, an ignored cigarette wedged in the corner of your mouth, Brainyquote, or a cluttered desk of well-thumbed classics. Writing is a nursed laptop on the couch, the drone of angry traffic outside, the film of instant coffee in your mouth, bad posture, the urge to stop trying. Writing is a bad mood, a full bladder, a fearful push against fear.

Glenn McGrath: On Killing an Elephant.

Anyone who knows me, knows what a massive tree-hugger I am—a Level 10 nature poet who acquires a very goofy look of childish wonder when amongst a patch of greenery. So, when photos like the ones of Glenn McGrath sporting fatigues, a rifle, a proud smile, and a discernible hard-on in front of some recently killed exotic animals (including: an elephant, a buffalo and two hyenas) it really does twist a knife in my heart and form yet another white ball of rage in my mind, which I don’t really know what to do with.

The photos, which you’ve no doubt seen by now, were taken in 2008, a short time after the death of McGrath’s wife and this is basically the thin and predictable line he has chosen in his Twitter apology, stating that it was an “extremely difficult time”. In the ordinance of ‘self-destruction under grief’, this definitely seems like a strange reaction and makes me think that Glen probably enjoyed the thrill of killing with or without a dead spouse and that standing alone in the quiet dusk of a golden career makes a whole lot more sense for thrill-seeking behaviour than a deep desperation brought on by mourning.

What makes things difficult in my life is that I feel both united by the public outrage, and also angered by it. A lot of the public are ready to completely right off the Australian hero/ultimate dad/stoic widower Glenn McGrath and cast him out as a despicable brute that relishes the killing of beautiful animals. Right? Not quite. The truth is, although Glenn did something that is totally wrong by our better moral expectations, he didn’t actually do anything illegal, and by comparison to some of our everyday behaviours that swing on the same notion, he really didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. It goes largely unnoticed that moral issues are usually made sense of by either consensus or law. Usually we get it right, sometimes we get it really, really wrong.

We like to think that we forge our own opinions or develop them through critical thought. But history tells a very different story and from petty thievery to genocide, it is often the question of legality and social rationalisation (are enough other people doing the same thing that I won’t be singled out), rather than critical thought and a sense of moral justice that we rely on in order to shape, and make permissible, our behaviours.

What do things like Glenn McGrath’s apparent desire to kill teach me? Simply, that it is possible to hold two conflicting ideas in your mind—to believe yourself a good person and to sometimes act like a shitty one. This is a painful lesson I’ve had to learn over and over. As frail creatures doing our level best not to panic we are irrational and prone to intellectual laziness equally as much as we are capable of an impassioned cri de coeur in the face of injustice.

I’m sure Glenn enjoys seeing his labradoodle skip around like a moron. I’m sure he believes it has feelings and that’s probably why he named it ‘Paul’. I’m sure he enjoys buying free-range eggs as much as he enjoyed killing that elephant (although I have noticed that cartons of caged eggs are often swathed in sponsorship for the McGrath Foundation, so maybe Glenn really doesn’t give a fuck about any other animals except the upright ones who cheered his name on the pitch).

I am not suggesting that you’re are an evil bastard if you eat meat. But your participation and consent is worth consideration—almost everything you take for granted is. If you are morally and emotionally okay with the slaughter of billions of animals and the inherent human error and fuck ups that result in torture, suffering and the unimaginable waste of life then maybe you don’t have as much right to be angry at Glenn McGrath. He insulted your better moral expectations only so far as you have yourself. Everything in you might feel like you have a big gigantic right to be mad, but the Steggles crumbed chicken breast on your plate says you’re full of shit.

No one is going to convict you as an accomplice if it is discovered that the bird you ate had it’s legs and wings broken by a farm hand who decided that its uncooperativeness of being stuffed into a trucking crate might be dissuaded by thrashing it to the ground and stomping on it. No one would even suggest you lose sleep over it. However, if you held a man’s coffee while he beat his dog in the street for not sitting at the traffic lights you might just be frowned upon a teensy bit. Sure, one act is tacitly aware and the other is not, but in the age of information, ignorance does not redeem you of complicity.

Knowing this doesn’t allow for a kind of moral superiority, I just tend to spend more time feeling sad, angry and confused, unable to shake off the feeling that as with the animals, our humanity gets trucked to the abattoirs as well.


It’s almost Christmas, which for me, has typically meant a ratchet’ing up of my Grinch’ian persona, who although doesn’t try to steal Christmas, becomes particularly enraged by annual retail psychosis and consumer stuff-lust. Each and every December, my usually pleasant trips to the local shops become ghastly assaults on my person and senses where I subsequently play out fantasies of ploughing my trusty bicycle into cars outfitted with Rudolf antlers, feeding baubles to store managers and hanging myself with tinsel in a communal nativity scene.

That should give you an idea of the type of crotchety jerk I can be, but this year—in the spirit of personal growth…. or something—I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to get involved with things that I reckon Christmas ought to represent; things that come a distant second to the haemorrhaging of money on insincere, barely thought-out gifts and the wasting of food on a collective scale that could feed small nations.

When you first see through the gimme’ gimme’ gimme’!! consumer blitzkrieg, Christmas becomes something so easy to reject and despise, but that attitude now feels exactly like the kind of me-against-the-world banality that looks ridiculous on a twenty-seven year old.

I’ve realised that under all the rubble and vacant ‘Merry Christmas’ upchucks lay a few ideas still worth the mental exertion and a few thousand causes still worth rolling up my sleeves for. This year I’m trying to set a precedent for how I intend to ingest Christmas for the remainder of my life, by basically shifting myself from the centre of the universe and nudging on that thing they call ‘altruism’.

Consider it a Dickensian awakening.

Russell Brand’s Revolutionary Road

Russell Brand’s recent fisticuffs interview with BBC politician-slayer Jeremy Paxman, in which he passionately pissed on current democratic systems while championing for some kind of socialist-leaning proletariat revolt, was received with standing applause from millions of people who although adept with GIFs, arguably possess a toast crumb of political nous and routinely demonstrate genuine desire for social revolution that drops off somewhere just beyond the shallow waters of a Facebook ‘like’ – sinking to a continental shelf of indifference.

Those in the political sphere, meanwhile, reacted with accomplished scoffs and binned it out of hand as another disingenuous celebrity rambling – possibly one that registered with equal coherency to that of a shirtless and stymied David Hasselhoff being unmercifully outmanoeuvred and outsmarted by a hamburger.

Maybe, like me, you fence-sat, saluting some of Brand’s righteous truths while understanding that this kind of loquacious langue de bois spilling from a mass of carnal androgyny is best admired from a vantage point somewhere south of skeptical. Brand is intelligent for sure, and he probably has some good ideas about how to abate social and economic gulfs that exist between the very few (yacht) boat people and the troublingly many (actual) boat people.

But all semblances of Che Guevara’s angular visage aside, he’s not the best creature to follow down the political path, let alone revolutionary road! However, he is a celebrity who has given you an honest reason to like him.

I’m a Biophiliac!

I found out the other day that I’m a biophiliac. Don’t worry – there’s a good chance you are too, but your before you speed-dial your therapist, you’ll be pleased to know that you won’t require shock therapy or an upped dosage of Xannies.

Biophilia, a hypothesis first defined by the esteemed biologist, Edward, O. Wilson as ‘the innate tendency [in human beings] to focus on life and lifelike process’, could more simply be described as that tingling feeling tree-huggers like me get when we find ourselves attuned, perplexed and altogether aching amid the grandeur of nature, perhaps stood beneath the immensity of a clear night sky or when having our hand mauled by the neighbourhood cat, whose lazy rolling on the footpath lulls us into a false sense of security and awwwww.

To explore the universal phenomenon of biophilia, Sir David Attenborough and Bjork have collaborated in a documentary – I know right, you never saw that coming – which investigates the complex and exquisitely beautiful relationship that binds music and nature. ‘When Bjork met David Attenborough’ was aired on The BBC last month but has graciously been uploaded on both YouTube and Vimeo for the rest of us to enjoy.

Bjork’s album entitled ‘Biophilia’, first released in 2011, was the grandest endeavour for the Icelandic artist, and considering her eclectic and unpredictable catalogue of music and performance, that statement is to assert that the biophilia project was nothing short of bat-shit crazy, challenging, avant and an undertaking that utilised many peculiar instruments and technologies created by MIT nerds in MIT labs in an attempt to keep up with her radiant, somewhat unhinged and most beautiful imagination.

And then there is David Attenborough, who for so many of us, was the tender and paternal voice of erudition, curiosity and wonder throughout our childhood and – for some of us – persists so in adulthood.

Attenborough seems to embody the most wondrous parts about our own humanity, finding splendour in the immense complexity and paradoxical harmony of our chaotic wild world. Though not all of us are fortunate enough (or spirited enough) to carve out a life that would keep our muscles lean, our passports bruised and our adrenal glands primed as we hoof it across the Gobi desert or bash our way through The Amazon Rainforest.

We are mostly too busy with whatever drudgery, sense of responsibility or self-importance we’ve managed to fetter ourselves to. Still, the innate propensity to explore the natural world; to cut ourselves on it; to feel it beneath our fingernails, is a fire that burns sweetly within our bones. A passage from Wilson’s ‘Biophilia’ nicely captures this tug on our consciousness.

“Our sense of wonder grows exponentially: the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery and the more we seek knowledge to create new mystery. This catalytic reaction, seemingly an inborn human trait, draws us perpetually forward in a search for new places and new life.”

This same force also plunges us to deeper depths of introspection and as we dive, so wonderful things begin to break off and tear from us, rushing upward to be given breath: literature, ideas, sculptures, paintings, poetry, scientific theories – and of course, music. And so, depending on where your grappling hook imbeds itself, music exists as a form of expression, escape, communication, catharsis, inspiration, empathy and numerable other things, which elevate it to something transcendental – to Art.

Music itself predates language and when you put it in the evolutionary context of our own species’ history and consider that song making was intrinsic to our distant ancestors, you begin to understand the immensity of its influence throughout time as humanity’s first and most profound attempt to (initially) mimic and then later to comprehend, depict and celebrate the world we inhabit. The idea has been evolving ever since, becoming more sophisticated, complex and inextricably more beautiful as we unravel the greatest mysteries of life itself.

Did You Smile For Cassini?

The first time I wrote to Carolyn Porco was in response to a group of online sponges who were comment-bar crucifying her for vaguely pointing to an area of the earth during a Ted talk and stating something about the landmass of ‘England’, when it was technically ‘The United Kingdom’ that she was referring to. I wrote a lengthy and sarcastic repost to these chumps detailing how gallant they all were and blueprinting how we could seek revenge on this Ted-talking fraud for making such a grave error. From memory it included something about breaking into “Porco Manor” and stealing the space bar from her computer. I then forwarded it on to Carolyn, with the hope that she would find it amusing. She wrote back later that night – unamused…

It wasn’t so much that she took offence, she simply didn’t register that I was being sarcastic because apparently (and what I learned rather distressingly) she sometimes receives emails that are spiteful and threatening – can you believe a planetary scientist receives hate mail?! We straightened it out and I conceded to the fact that my humour requires a little more… humour, and then I proceeded to follow the work of Carolyn and her team directing the Cassini spacecraft mission with unhindered nerd gusto.

Last Thursday I received an email that brought pretty incredible news stating that Cassini would be turning its lens toward Earth and taking images of our planet from nearly 1 billion miles away – the elegant rings of Saturn in the foreground. If that doesn’t blow your mind, how about the fact that the light from Earth would take about 80 minutes to reach Cassini’s lens, so as the shutter opened and closed in a long and considered blink, what it would be capturing was essentially the past – an image of the earth 80 minutes previous…. fuuuarrrkkk.

For me, the Cassini images are the single most profound realisation of Carl Sagan’s eternal and enlightened aphorism ‘Pale Blue Dot’ and I find myself returning to the staggering self-awareness of significance within insignificance. But these images allow so much more than a plunge into the abyss of existential thought. They reflect everything that is wonderful about us, about our humanism, our inspiration, our curiosity and perseverance. To suspend our world in a frame where it is reduced to a fragile spec of dust, and thus, ourselves reduced to what ever is small enough to shift about on that spec of dust, provokes the inverse sense of infinite wonder and grandeur to life. The deafening silence of the heavens, the sharpness of our loneliness in an indifferent universe is the very thing that compels us forward in the struggle for truth and beauty.

Cassini’s imaging of Earth on July 19, 2013. The bright spot centre-right is home.

Cassini 2

Cassini 1

This, That and The Other.

Last week Ed Husic was appointed Kevin Rudd’s parliament secretary. During the swearing in ceremony with Governor-General Quinton Bryce, Mr. Husic decided to pledge his oath on the religious text of his Islamic faith – The Quran. For some of us, Mr. Husic’s ceremonious gesture of doing his darndest in parliament would have held about as much significance had he placed his right hand on a cheese sandwich and sang Love Shack.

Still, it prompted uproar from certain pockets of our population who were quick to remind Mr. Husic that Islam has no place in Australia. And they did so with all the sophistication of a Neanderthal clubbing a baby mastodon to death, calling it, amongst other things, “disgraceful”.

Firstly, these people seem a little confused as to which country they are living in. If my constitutional memory serves me rightly, freedom to practice a religion in Australia is cool and none of your concern, and if it takes an atheist to bash that fact down your throat, then open wide jerkface.

Encouragingly, both sides of politics were quick to squash the tissue paper-thin tolerance, and dismiss the whole affair as minor pollution to be washed out with the calm low tide. But the backlash thrown at Mr. Husic had that insidious sting of something that seems to keep coming up like bile from the Australian belly – racism.


In light of other recent and rather ugly public happenings, are we witnessing the pustules of a broader and deeper intolerance of ‘the other’, festering beneath the surface?

In the last few months we’ve been treated to more than a few public examples of this strangeness, which is endemic of a soggy multiculturalism that becomes all whiney and pissy when it gets even the faintest whiff of some exotic new odour – apparently we prefer the reassuring smell of stagnation.

The events in question are so black and white atrocious that they almost seem worthwhile if only to expose our egalitarian ideal as a flimsy one and highlight how our best intentions sometimes concede to the simplicity of being an intolerant dickbag.

The Scorecard.

We recently discovered Eddie Maguire’s racist sense of humour – and then we had to endure a long, long minute of excruciating back-pedalling as he tried to Maguire his way out of the seconds-earlier suggestion that Adam Goodes would make for a cracking promotional tool down at King Kong. It was a terrible and undoubtedly regretful comment, which left his overly pink head a few shades closer to ‘Oh Fuck!’ magenta.

Then came Menu-Gate, which was a crass and deeply sexist insult to Julia Gillard, both as the (then) Prime Minister, but more importantly, as a woman, which she will continue to be long after the political knife wounds heal over. Menu-gate interestingly surfaced on the same day as Gillard’s speech about abortion rights, but it was nonetheless a sad reminder that even at a blue tie event, Sexism – I stop short of dropping the M-bomb, which Annabel Crabb suitably pointed out has been getting annoyingly misused and overused – can so easily be snuck in to the sounds of laughter and the tinkling of expensive cutlery.

And now, Mr. Husic has become the latest recipient of Australian hospitality, via online bashing from people who seem unable to go a day without satisfying the vocal tic hyphenate ‘un-Ahstrayan’.

It seems that we continue to be at our worst and weakest when it comes to something novel scattered in amongst the social norms and expectations that have been perpetuated from a past that discernibly favoured Whitey, penis-owners and religions with a Jesus protagonist. And whether it be the lingering aftertaste of a White Australia policy, gender discrimination in the workplace, or a susceptibility to post-9/11 media fear mongering that puts you in a palm sweat when sat next to a ‘brown-skinned’ bearded man on a plane – You have to accept that this is the repercussive insistence of our history, shoving its way into the present.

We all inherently relate to what we know and so it takes a considerably big leap to understand ‘the other’s’ history, and an even greater leap and possibly an uphill run and a river crossing to be responsive to that history, especially if it’s in conflict with our own.

William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” This is an important truth and one that splinters in the throat, as it forces us to realise that our history, that all history, is never dead and buried and is in fact breathing and shifting in the ether all around us. It’s the distant echo of Magna Carta as you fend off assertively friendly leaflet’ers when entering your local primary school on voting day, or the melancholic heaviness felt when reading an article paying tribute to Yunupingu, Indigenous artist, former singer of Yothu Yindi and previous recipient of Australian of the Year, who died recently at the age of 56 from kidney disease associated with alcoholism.

We should be unafraid to acknowledge the dark and dreary thread tracing through our past and it’s persistence into the present, while defending our greater inclinations to celebrate diversity and protect individual freedoms from the lingering bitterness of less kinder times. At the same time we should attempt to annihilate destructive and intolerant attitudes, which gush through the centuries-old ravines of racism, sexism, speciesism and homophobia, leaving us a fair distance short of our tremendous potential and somewhere closer to fucked.

If you like rat dogs, we can’t be friends.

We make it our business to fuck with nature; what with modern medicine curing all kinds of once-deathly maladies, the genetically modified food we grow, and the tits we balloon. You might be quick to point out that malformed handbag rat dogs are pretty low on the infringement list of ‘nature goes synthetic’ fuckeries – you’d appear to make a valid point, but then I’d direct you to this, wait for you to clean the puke off your keyboard, compose yourself and continue reading with newfound gravity.

I hate rat dogs. You know the ones I mean – bug-eyed, snorting, yapping little ghouls. They trot along our streets on a fine leash tethered to a diamante collar – a fuckwit on the other end. I see them as something to step on or punt into traffic, and if my kick is mighty enough to launch the leash-anchored owner along with the little shit, all the better.

I actually don’t condone cruelty to animals under any circumstances, but the hardwired Darwinian portion of my brain secretly cannot wait for their demise. And whether that downfall occurs through genetic breakdown and spontaneous exploding in the street, or, whether they are carried off in the jaws or talons of some predatory animal – either way, I’ll consider normality restored.

Because right now, things are not normal, and California’s recent annual World’s Ugliest Dog contest is proof of that.

The event is basically a clotting of strange people baby-talking to their even-stranger dogs. It’s not unlike the American beauty pageants we get glimpses of. It’s just as sad and rest assured that everyone involved is psychologically unbalanced, culturally deficient, and either excessively underweight or overweight, depending on your blend of zannies, failure and attachment disorder.

The dogs on show are utterly repulsive, gawky and physically twisted with compressed spines, knobbly bowlegs, half gnawed-off tongues, fangs jutting through whiskered snouts, and cataract corpse eyes. Some look like they’ve survived a terrible fire, some look like Dobby on a meth binge, all of them have the paralysed expression of something whose brain is simply too big for the mandarin-sized skull from which it has been forced to grow inside.

I hate the hypocrisy that in an aesthetically shallow society these animals get a free pass, when other ‘ugly’, but far nobler creatures get persecuted. So allow me to digress and to defend a few animals that deserve a fucking break.

Rats: It’s been scientifically proven that they can laugh… Need I go on? Okay, they are very intelligent creatures and despite preconceived ideas, they are squeaky clean. Having been pinned with transmitting the Bubonic Plague, they were considered filthy disease spreading creatures and have been doing it tough ever since. In actuality, it was the fleas who were the carriers of The Black Death and largely responsible for decimating the population of 14th century Europe.

Pigeons: During the first and second World Wars, allied forces used pigeons to deliver important dispatches throughout Europe. The pigeons showed their metal by flying through fanning enemy gunfire with 98% success rate, saving countless lives. Both parents feed milk to their young – no gender stereotypes here. Also, they can find their way home from pretty much anywhere on earth due to an excellent sense of smell, sight, and by tapping into the earth’s magnetic field. If that’s not a desirable superpower when you’re tossed out of a pub, pissed and unsure which direction your fridge is, I don’t know what is.

Cockroaches: Nature’s indestructibles. They can survive levels of radiation that would liquefy your internal organs and blister your lovely visage. They can also live without their heads for a while, which is neat party trick if nothing else. And to be honest I’ve never had an encounter with one that was overly hostile or offensive. I’ve never come home to find a roach had taken a dump on my carpet, chewed my shoes or become the primary token of affection of my trophy wife.

And if it was only that they were hideous with diplomatic immunity… but it’s not. They manage to suck in so many other ways.

Rat dogs are pitiful creatures, generally useless and of no help to humankind in the typical ways a dog might be able to pitch in. They cannot sniff out bodies under a collapsed building, drag a sled through the snow, round up a flock of sheep or take on a burglar in any seriously threatening way. And you’ll have lots of time to consider these flaws while you’re lying gagged and bound on the floor of your bathroom as junkies loot and ransack your house, having detained your gallant rat dog in an empty packet of Doritos.

It is in this way that I expose the utter feebleness of the rat dog, their ineptitude, lack of resilience and style, and be done with the whole fucked experiment in one fell swoop. Despite my warnings, I have a bad feeling that we will continue to tinker with nature to such an extent that these creatures will be crossbred, inbred and sushi-fed into existence, and that bums me out.

Only Fools Are Satisfied – Article

Despite an unparalleled standard of living and the promise of at least fifty seasons of Masterchef (serenity now!), Australians are feeling downtrodden under an unknowable boot. Our older generations view young people as apathetic and selfish, free-spinning in insouciance. Our young people feel undervalued, overworked, and disconnected from the ideals of their parents. It’s relentless and more than a little confusing when set against the plush backdrop of opportunity, convenience and abundance our country enjoys.

Or so the story goes.

Are We Living The Good Life?

In his wonderful new book The Good Life, Hugh Mackay cracks open the bones of Australian society to declare the marrow too sweet: “the Utopia complex” is what he calls it, which could be summed up as the source of our collective unrest. An unconscious that thrashes about like a crocodile in a bathtub, while the conscious self — unsure and atrophied — tries desperately to push the other down the plughole.

Mackay, a social researcher, has spent much of his life investigating Australian attitudes, and argues that we’ve deluded ourselves into spending our short lives out of breath, galloping after Happiness — the inadequate substitute for Wholeness. The Good Life is meticulous in its evaluation of social norms, philosophies, and behaviours, and it’s highly critical of many of the current clichés that underpin the Australian way of life — specifically those that promote a pursuit of hyper-hedonism.

It’s a welcome slap of pessimism addressing the unrealistic expectations of our collective psyche, which has us clacking like Newton’s Cradle from dejection to escapism and back again. And although aimed at a slightly older audience, the book’s relevance to youth culture is fundamental. Having recently been labelled as ‘The Me Me Me Generation’ by Joel Stein forTIME Magazine, we have a lot to gain from a paradigm shift that posits life is not solely about having a good time.

Why Are We So Obsessed With Happiness?

For Generation Y — aka The Millenials, born between 1977-1994 — growing up in Australia was a largely privileged and non-abrasive affair. The only real friction was that between pavement and knee-skin, when attacked by a sudden case of unco while rollerblading down the street. It was a lunch-order life: our bellies were full, and those grubby little hands were sticky with that not-quite-fruit, not-quite-toffee, probably-harmful Roll-Ups residue.

Our schoolwork was peppered with gold stars and smiley stamps, and even when we sucked at something we still received a certificate of participation. (I have many.)  Disney’s ‘90s renaissance offered a steady flow of moral tales that had us giddy with the promise of a happy ever after; indeed, most everything in our culture nudged us toward the high idea of happiness — moreover, toward the idea that happiness was paramount.

We’re part of what is now being called ‘The Self-Esteem Movement’ — but with all this good-citizen-sculpting, what wasn’t being detected was the underlying conditioning taking place, reinforcing the dangerous notion that perfectionism and happiness were not only individual entitlements, but ideas to strive for.

So in spite of being wrapped in a downy blanket of reassurance by our parents and teachers — or, perhaps, because of it — many of our elders now argue that we’ve grown into an almost antithetical beast of discontent and selfishness, living it up in an era of prosperity, but still returning home from secure and well-paid jobs to sigh into the sink.

Spoilt Whippersnappers, Or Bitter Old Fogies?

Such groaning may reek of tired ‘back in my day!’ crabbiness, but it’s now a familiar narrative,gathering momentum and evidence that suggests we’re far more likely to be diagnosed withNarcissistic personality disorder than any other generation. A generation of selfie-snapping egotists, falling asleep to fluffy movie dialog and blaring cold comfort from overheating laptops — this might just be our inconvenient truth. (Of course this has prompted counter-attacks from youngsters, as we rush to defend ourselves – what decent Narcissist wouldn’t? – claiming that our selfishness is a result of all manner of forces, nothing to be ashamed of, and essential in discovering our identity.)

The issue appears to be one resentful, broad-brushing online editorial away from descending into full-blown tribalism, which is a shame — because what both the old curmudgeons and young upstarts are displaying is a very perceptive truth of the other, and of the general situation of Feeling Fed Up. For many Australians, both short and long of tooth, a mysterious but burdensome stink of dissatisfaction hangs in the air when it theoretically should be… not exactly new car smell, but something a little more pleasant.

Instead, our personal wellbeing seems to be constantly under threat, and just out of reach — perhaps because we continue to tweeze out these small splinters of happiness as if they hold the essence of a fulfilled life.

So What Can We Do?

When you look at how we get our fill of satisfaction, it tends to occur through self-gratification. Retail therapy, a drunken night out on the town, a holiday in Bali or Europe, a folly of no-strings attached sex – typical, routine ways to alleviate the stress in our daily lives. The undertones all scream give me more! and they all rest on that dangerous and illusory presumption that Mackay warns against: the belief that these things will bring about enduring happiness, and that such a thing is desirable in the first place.

Last Sunday, The Age ran a front-page article warning of the dangers of fanning happiness and positivity as our default, which leaves us unprepared for the inevitable — and sometimes crushing — disappointments of life. As Scientific American argues, we shouldn’t run away from our darker emotions; they’re just as important in adding to the colour of consciousness as the good feelings, and considerably more interesting. Feeling unhappy, if I can put it that cutely, has inspired some of the most profound discoveries about humanity; all those miserable pricks over all those miserable centuries, hacking away at themselves and their societies, and filling our libraries, museums and galleries with immeasurable wisdom and beauty. So that’s something to be cheerful about.

Another thing we shouldn’t do is flatten our spectrum of emotion into a dichotomy of happiness and utter despair, whereby if we have a bad day or week, we self-diagnosedepression via a bottle of cheap red, and a consultation with Google. We all get “depressed”, and usually it’s something that passes through like a flesh wound. Its transience won’t rupture your spleen, but it might give you some time for valuable introspection.

Then, of course, there’s altruism. It’s a simple notion, long-championed by the great Australian philosopher Peter Singer, but it’s one that most of us find difficult to squeeze in, between grumbling for coffee in the morning and yelling at Q and A in the evening. But being willing to look past your own personal crises and help someone else, while remaining unaffected by the prospect of reward, is a powerful and worthy pursuit.

This doesn’t mean we have to give up our shitty-mood inducing jobs and all volunteer at the local soup kitchen. We don’t have to dull down our ambition or abandon lofty dreams, and we shouldn’t shame ourselves for wanting to fulfill personal goals that electrify the static air around us. But we could all gain from burning some of that energy on pursuits that place something else — besides ourselves — in the foreground.

Published on pop-culture site Junkee – 20/06/2013


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