Mirror, mirror, on the wall…

| March 5, 2018

The epidemic of narcissism now sweeping the globe seems to coincide with the rise of so-called social media. British medical research scientist Baroness Susan Greenfield, contends that “identity, now, is externally created, not generated from within.

It’s derived from how many hits you’ve got, it’s how quickly you can report on what you’re doing, how many people are impressed by what you’re doing.” Furthermore, Professor Greenfield says modern technology is not only changing the way we interact, it is changing the wiring in our brain.

Equality is one of the essential tenets upon which our society rests. But language is constantly evolving and with it, meaning. What was once good became ‘excellent’; extraordinary became ‘great’ and now recipes or hairstyles can be ‘awesome’. Is it surprising that such corruption of language would produce the relativist notion that all opinions have equal validity?

This view of ‘equality’ has gained wide acceptance, especially with respect to the environment. It is even enshrined in legislation in ways that admit objections to major economic development proposals on quite spurious grounds. For instance, opposition to mining is often based on ideology that seems to accept climate science but rejects hydrogeology without sufficient understanding of either of these highly complex disciplines.

If the ‘Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme’ had been proposed anytime after the 1980’s it would surely have been met by strong opposition from those who now ‘conveniently’ overlook the environmental costs which must always be weighed against the benefits. Political opportunism and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation legislation would render any future scheme on that scale virtually unthinkable.

Health is another policy area where rational action can be seriously hindered by popular opinion, especially when misinformation and disinformation are mistaken for evidence. Billions of dollars are spent on ‘alternative’ medicines by people who evidently accept the claims of medically unqualified people.

The great Australian medical scientist, Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet, paved the way for numerous breakthroughs in our understanding of infectious diseases and the immune system and his work led to the prevention and treatment of diseases, including cancer.

Pauline Hanson is a politician who thinks that government action to promote immunization of children is “blackmail” and “dictatorship”. She said parents had a “right to investigate for themselves”. I suppose this means that anyone can easily learn enough overnight to challenge the great work of Burnet and ignore the entire medical profession.

The complexity and accelerating growth of eco-geopolitical and economic instability is confounding but democratic processes have responded, not by producing and elevating great leaders; they have thrown up reactionary ‘straw men’ and naked emperors who cannot deliver on their promises.

Hawke and Howard agreed in conversation recently that at a time in history when the world more than ever needs great democratic leaders, they are nowhere to be found. Who would presume to be comparable, let alone the equal of Lincoln, Churchill, Martin Luther King, Mandela, Agnes Bojaxhiuor (Mother Teresa), Gandhi, Angela Merkel or Aung San Suu Kyi, to mention just a few truly great leaders?

Our prejudices are constantly reinforced on social and other media by ambitious but otherwise unremarkable contenders for political office. Surely it would be irrational to distrust them. After all, they look just like we do, warts and all.

Why would great women and men want to put themselves forward for leadership in the present era? Political survival now depends not upon visionary ideas but on finding the lowest common denominator and pretending that unlimited wants can be satisfied with limited resources.

I have long thought that Brexit would become an orphan nobody wants to adopt and that the Catalonian independence movement would lead the Catalans back to a future quite unlike the one they were anticipating. In Australia, environmental fundamentalism is as likely to lead to decline as the ecocidal culture it seeks to overthrow.

The founders of the USA did not adequately define or limit the powers of the President in their constitution. Were they mistaken in evidently believing that Narcissus would yield to Nemesis, residing in the people? Will the misled decide the fate of the world as they have done before when they turn upon and try to disown a personified reflection of themselves?