By Rich Bowden
I’m trying hard to be a little less cynical these days folks. I’ve taken on board advice from The Good Lady (the much-loved wife of 27 years) that a little more kindness, rather than distrust, expressed to others wouldn’t go astray. Not a sea change, just a slight recalibration on my part. A tweak rather than a reboot. This is fair enough. As one who believes you’re never too old to learn and change, it’s forced a much-needed and beneficial self-evaluation.
A cynic, in modern terms, is one who sees selfishness in the motives of others, one who doesn’t believe in people’s altruistic actions and is inclined to disbelieve acts of selflessness in folk. Now I am probably not this bad, but I see The Good Lady’s point here. Changing an ingrained habit, as I’m learning in the excellent book “The Power of Habit” by New York Times business editor Charles Duhigg, is a matter of replacing a bad habit (in this case automatic cynicism) with a better one (a bit of generosity). It’s all about cues, behaviour and perceived rewards, according to Duhigg. While not easy to change, it's not impossible either.
So what (I hear you ask, perhaps a little impatiently) has this heroic piece of self-criticism got to do with politics? Well, while my attempts at change have been mildly successful at a personal level, it’s the actions of Australian politicians that make it difficult, near impossible, for me to remove this ingrained habit. I talk here from my observations of the “accidental” Prime Minister Scott Morrison arriving in my hometown in the Central West of NSW last week, distributing largesse and drought aid to needy farming communities as if it was going out of style. Flanked by his “nodders” Morrison has traipsed up and down the drought-stricken land, dispensing subsidies and repeating ad nauseam that his government is acting, and will always act, for the best interests of farmers and their communities.
Drought aid, which in some cases farmers have been requesting for years, has suddenly appeared. And lots of it. Unfortunately, it’s often a case of too little, too late. Grants that could’ve saved farmers if given earlier in the drought cycle are now useless. Now it’s here that I’m torn readers. The natural cynic in me sniffs a combination of dreadful polls for the government and a possible early election. It tells me TeamScoMo is desperately looking for ways to be seen to be pulling out all stops helping people (voters) on the land who desperately need help.
However, the new-found positivist in me says I should ignore the motives of the government. That this isn’t the important thing here. After all, at least money’s going into the pockets of people that so desperately need it. Better late than never. That we should give the government the benefit of the doubt here. But I’m afraid the sceptic wins out here. It reasons if Morrison’s government was serious about helping people on the land, they would do something about mitigating the effects of climate change. At present, Australia has effectively no policy to combat climate change under the so-called “new generation” of leaders led by Morrison. Therefore the sudden and generous dispensing of aid is nothing more than an election stunt. Cynicism 101 or a touch of realism? (I’ll leave you to form your own conclusions here.)
For it is farmers who are seeing the effects of a changing climate firsthand. They are the ones who see the changes, they note how they harvest weeks, sometimes months before their parents and grandparents did in their day because of an out-of-control rising climate. There are instances of cool climate grape farmers having to move to Victoria and Tasmania because of the warming temperatures in more northern parts of the mainland.
Farmers themselves are now banding together to put pressure on the government to lobby for an effective climate change policy. This article by Charlie Prell, a fourth generation sheep farmer from Crookwell, NSW, demonstrates the pain of our fellow Australians who work the land, the understanding that something must be done to combat climate change and the determination to change government policy on this important issue, through the Rural Futures Report.
The article is a standout piece of writing, from someone who understands climate change and its effects on the land and farming methods. You can read the full article here but here are a few paragraphs to give you an idea of the depth of feeling.
“Our prime agricultural land is already grappling with the harsh realities of a changing climate. Our cropping belt is shifting south, our wheat yields are stagnating or declining and our natural capital has experienced decades of decline.
The Rural Futures Report is the product of extensive discussions with experts, farmers and rural Australians. It highlights once again the disconnect between the community and our politicians.
It shows that regional Australians overwhelmingly want action on climate change. We need to stop digging holes in the ground and start planting crops, pastures and trees.
Farmers and all Australians are tired of the failure of political leadership in this country. They are searching for a new direction and new leadership.
Where is the plan from the federal government? It is time for politicians to face reality and stand up for the future of rural Australia.”
Powerful stuff. And it’s obvious that many farmers like Charlie Prell have moved beyond a sense of cynicism to one of, if the government won’t act in their (and Australia’s) best interest, they have to act. This DIY theme is explored in my previous article for The Pioneer Australia.
So to get back to how I started this article/rant. How am I going with my effort to be a little less cynical? The tone of the piece would suggest not very well. That I haven’t lost my natural tendency to cynicism. However, I have come to an interesting conclusion. While a level of kindness is necessary towards our fellow human beings, we do need a measure of distrust with regard to our elected representatives to understand where they are failing us (such as their non-action on climate change). It’s more a sense of realism than cynicism, necessary to protect ourselves from the wiles and manipulations of those who govern us. Like the attitudes expressed by farmers led by Charlie Prell.
So perhaps a more generous attitude towards my fellow man and woman is in order? As long as this is combined with an intense realism towards those who we elect.
Now to run that thought past The Good Lady.
Rich Bowden is a freelance writer, podcaster, family man, coffee drinker and news junkie. He spends most of his time looking puzzled and saying stuff like “you’re never too old to learn” to anyone who will listen. Likes a laugh. Otherwise harmless. Podcasts at Climactic, The Real Food Chain and Permaculture Plus.