Some readers will have come across a cry from the heart with the title ‘I’m 73, and I’m tired’. I read it with some sympathy, and an appreciation of why someone who served as a State Senator in Massachusetts and had been a Marine would write such a piece. Because I like to be sure that what I’m reading is the real thing, I did some research, and discovered that the author Robert A. Hall is real, and he did write it. He also wrote an earlier version when he was 63, with much the same message, but different details. It has been attributed to Bill Cosby and no doubt to others.
What is it about? Here’s some excerpts. The author says he’s worked very day, by and large since he was 18… Given the economy, there’s no retirement in sight, and I’m tired.
Very tired. I’m tired of being told that I have to “spread the wealth” to people who
don’t have my work ethic…
I’m tired of being told I must lower my living standard to fight global warming, which no one is allowed to debate. I’m tired of being told that drug addicts have a disease, and I must help support and treat them, and pay for the damage they do…
I’m tired of hearing wealthy athletes, entertainers and politicians of all parties talking about innocent mistakes, stupid mistakes or youthful mistakes, when we all know they think their only mistake was getting caught. I’m tired of people with a sense of entitlement, rich or poor.
I’m real tired of people who don’t take responsibility for their lives and actions. I’m tired of hearing them blame the government, or discrimination or big-whatever for their problems.
You get the message. He doesn’t like the Islamic world, either. I was asked to spread the word by the man who had sent it to me. And in a sense I am doing so. But I can’t simply apply what he says to Australia, because our society is different. We have a much higher sense of general responsibility for one another than do the Americans, at least from my own experience. I once lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, whose citizens were admirably involved in the affairs of their small city. But their sense of responsibility stopped at the city’s borders with Washtenaw County, which had little revenue and poor public facilities in comparison. In our country, partly because the State and Federal Governments run schools and hospitals, and the State Governments run the police force and the justice system, we have an overarching sense of obligation to others and a much more even provision of public programs and facilities.
Nonetheless, Mr Hall’s lament caused me to ask, not for the first time, ‘Where should that sense of obligation stop?’ It was that sense of obligation that caused the Gillard Government to introduce a national scheme for disability insurance that has supplanted some of the voluntary work that Australians had involved themselves in and, because it is a national scheme, comes with rules and regulations that actually make things worse for some disabled people, as I know from the experience of my extended family. We can’t afford it, either, but that’s another matter.
The roads and railways of Australia, our postal service, our schools and hospitals, our universities, ports, airports — the shape and look of our society — have built into them that sense of general responsibility. We accept them as part of our life, and pay for them through taxation. So too our social welfare system, our law and order, and our generally civil and honest acceptance of one another. It is these aspects of the nation Australia that make us such a desirable destination while for people who have had to flee their own. And we take in around 12,000 such people a year, more or less.
Some of our number, vociferously, want us to accept much more responsibility for the victims of civil unrest far from our shores, and they want all the people who are in Manus Island and elsewhere to be admitted to Australia. At once. And I ask, where does our responsibility stop? There are some 40 million displaced people, and while they don’t all want to come to Australia we have procedural rules about those who do. The basis of those rules is fairness. Some have been waiting longer than others. Some have been sponsored by citizens prepared to look after the new arrivals, which is an enormous boon to the latter. Some have jumped the queue, for whatever reason.
There is no doubt that the civil unrest in the world is causing mass emigration, from the Middle East in particular, and the EU simply doesn’t know that to do about the hundreds of thousands of arrivals. Most societies in the world have borders which can be crossed, or over which they have other than total control. Australia and New Zealand are fortunate in that they are islands, which gives us a form of natural control. In my view this is a great virtue, and we should not be shy about using it. At risk is our nation state, about which I have written before in a dozen essays, but anyone interested could start here. It is the best means human beings have devised to provide a decent life for the great mass of people, not just the rich and powerful, and it needs defence of many kinds, not only the military form.
Once we cannot make rules about who is to be admitted to our country our ‘nation’ ceases to be self-governing. It is difficult enough anyway to be ‘autonomous’ in a global world, but I believe the autonomy we have is worth protecting. And that brings me back to the ‘I’m 73, and I’m tired’ text. I would feel more sympathetic to the refugee worriers if they were sponsoring people themselves and asking the rest of us to follow their example. I would feel more sympathetic to the climate botherers if they showed the way by not driving cars, flying or using the electricity grid or natural gas. I would be a lot more sympathetic to those worried about the environment who lived in rural rather than inner urban electorates. On the other hand, I am not especially sympathetic to those who don’t want coal-seam gas, or mining generally, in their region, as though their part of Australia, and its possible products, somehow belong to them.
Why? Because so much of what we hear in these areas is irresponsible rhetoric. Irresponsible because those concerned are not showing the way, but just shouting the way, because the full context of these issues is hardly even illuminated, because those concerned often seem to suppose there is a money tree, because many of them seem, to me anyway, to be about the exercise of power or the pursuit of fame and media attention, not about the cause itself.
Ordinarily I would now point out that sorting out these difficult issues is what politicians are for. They are the ones that devise the compromises that work for a time, and get us past these political road-blocks. I don’t feel in the mood for that today. Blame it on this utterly vacuous election campaign. And to think, there’ll be another one in October for me and anyone else who lives in the ACT.