16 August 2011 – What does a generation of failed leadership look like?

It depends where you’re looking from.

During World War I, when the leaders sent millions of young men to certain, stupid and avoidable deaths, the war was conducted by generals and politicians better at grinding meat than intellectualising strategic options for saving their warriors.

One of the views during that appalling moment of sustained idiocy came from the mouth of the last surviving Australian warrior of the war.  Speaking of one charge he participated in against machine guns which killed most of his mates he remembered his surprise at being alive at the end of the day, and what he did then.  He combed the meatof his lost mates out of his hair.

The view he might have had in a mirror then, if he had one, was a little different to the views back home in the respective combatants’ countries.  Looking in their mirrors for over four years of slaughter the newspaper editors, the politicians, the citizens saw “heroic” battles and  “valiant” efforts.

Today we Australian’s are living through a moment of failed leadership.  Our leaders, media and society see life in the same, not too distant,distorting mirrors as those held up to themselves by the failed leaders during WW II.

Let me show us as we are.

First, what are we looking at and what do we see?

In the early colonial days of Papua New Guinea’s history, when the white, rich, developed countries, including Australia, first began to unload their goods onto the new wharves of that wild country their world was seen very differently by some of the indigenous men who carried spears.

Seeing the goods unloaded from ship after ship the island men concluded there was a god over the horizon sending gifts to the island.  Some locals would sit on the wharf waiting for goods to be given to them, too.  Thus was born what the white men of developed countries called, a “cargo cult”.

Australia’s leaders, our media and our society’s view today of China is no different to those spear carrying New Guinea men; we are the very model of a very modern cargo cult.  Our future, our refuge even, we hear, is China.

China sends us our wealth in return for rocks we send them from otherwise useless parts of our country.  Smart us.  Good China.

Last week an Australian newspaper brought us words from one of our leaders in China:

“By 2020 China will have 93 cities that are bigger than Sydney,”’ Dr Emerson told Weekend Business yesterday. ”Looking at the cranes on the skyline of these massive provincial cities was a daily reminder of the difference between the financial economy and the real economy.”

Dr Emerson makes another point that is easy to overlook. As China gets richer its consumption patterns will inevitably change. Already it is the biggest buyer of Australian export services, including education and tourism.” (1)

Mr Emerson didn’t speak of it so we may assume he did not take in the view of China’s empty rivers that have been drained to water the cities and along which farmers are suiciding.   The swathe of new desert ballooning across China caused by massive soil losses from poor farming and forestry practices wasn’t in the leader’s view and wasn’t in his report.  Missing, too, was mention of how (if he looked for it) our leader was unable to see the sun in China because its air pollution blocks the view.

What “leader”  thinks anyone can build ten times the number of Australian cities in ten years and have unlimited supplies of water, food, soil, energy and clean air for all?

What kind of mirror does such a person have?

Of all the recent media, the leaders’ statements, and the different views about how Australians view the world I recall only one who saw us clearly and truly in an undistorted mirror.

In the New York Times, Maureen Dowd discussed one of our key leaders, Rupert Murdoch, and his evidence to the English parliamentary committee reviewing his behaviour.  (Not for Dowd was the self-serving excuse our media and leaders served themselves that Rupert’s behaviour in England was different to his behaviour in the United States, or, for that matter, Australia).

Ms Dowd compared Murdoch’s view of the world with that of the Irish and Italian Catholic leaders who for generations have covered up widespread child abuse by its priests.  She lumped them together in her column. (Can you imagine Australia’s media having such backbone?)

When referring to Murdoch’s view of the world as he explained it to the committee, Ms Dowd wrote:

“His most revealing moment was when he volunteered his admiration of Singapore, calling it the most ‘open and clear society in the world.’ Its leaders are so lavishly paid, he said, that “there’s no temptation, and it is the cleanest society you’d find anywhere.”

It was instructive that Murdoch chose to praise a polished, deeply authoritarian police state. Maybe that’s how corporations would live if they didn’t have to believe in people.’ (2)

Now our leaders cling to the China Cargo Cult Solution because it enables them to defer doing anything about what is going on here. (3)

Our media and politicians look in the mirror and don’t see the meat in Earth’s hair.  They don’t see the coming food crisis from lost soils, and the new, permanent chaos we’ve entered because digging up rocks and oil has broken our weather, nor do they see the certain deaths from climate change in the much hotter western Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne suburbs, nor the decline in oil for energy for food, and the unavoidable collapse in our agriculture from lost inland rivers and disappearing fisheries.

Mr Emerson is not alone.

Do you see Minister Emerson sitting on an Australian wharf, Australian media by his side, gazing hopefully out to sea to China, just like the Papua New Guinea tribesmen and women once did?

And, further behind them, do you see in the mirror, unhappy and drugged by “stuff” they buy from China, in a torpor of debt from their property booms, stressed from their four wheel drive giantism, and sickening from their world-leading obesity – can you see the Australian tribesmen and women dependent on those ships coming in?

I do.

(1) John Garnaut, Great  strides and growing pains:https://www.smh.com.au/business/great-strides-and-growing-pains-20110812-1iqsv.html

(2) Maureen Dowd

(3) Yes, this Burr is negative; but for several years there’ve been problem-solving Burrs – how to secure our food, how to sustain our cities, how to solve this and that.  TFE has a beaut search option you can use if you want to find them.