The language of the Howard Government on religious minorities and refugees has resulted in a generation desensitised to the very human realities and manifestations of global inequity and ethnic difference. When Howard talks of "queue jumpers" and "illegals" to describe refugees, there is a knee-jerk tendency among young people to apportion blame rather than feel empathy. This is a state of affairs that Howard has personally overseen, a significant paradigm shift that entrenches a deep and pernicious ethos of social hierarchy and privilege.
Simultaneously, there is a tendency of young people to flock to evangelical religious movements in the past five years, particularly in the outer suburbs of our capital cities. Without wishing to speak disparagingly about young people seeking spiritual depth, we can say that within these new popular religious movements disengagement with mainstream political reality is fostered. To many of these groups, "family values" becomes a code for being anti-gay, anti-euthanasia and anti-abortion. It is alarming to hear how frequently young people today embrace this kind of neo-conservatism, almost like a race to see who can be more right-wing.
Moreover, with Howard's constant talk of a very white-bread brand of traditional family values being paramount to a good society, we have seen a sudden rush of young people to get married early, get a home loan and shift to the suburbs at the first opportunity. This obsession has even extended into the gay community, which after fighting for 30 years to keep the government out of the bedroom, now appears to be fighting for the approval of Howard for their relationships.
Coupled with this, we have witnessed in Australia a new kind of hyper-consumerism. The social centre of town on any given evening is now the local shopping centre. Young people are all too eager to get the biggest credit limits possible, and max their Visa cards out with the casualness of a walk in the park. Indeed, the Howard era has brought us closer to US style ultra-materialism, where "retail therapy" is the new buzz word. Feeling bored or depressed? Better get to Chadstone shopping centre. The so-called metrosexual male has become little more than a crass marketing ploy.The lack of empathy, hyperconsumerism and devil-take-the-hindmost mentality could be the same Hobbesian muscular nihilism witnessed in the United States. Though the rise of US-style right-wing evangelical churches and acceptance of conformistic ideas of "family values" is more alarming, especially coupled with the thread of intolerance for difference hinted at. Australia may be changing, on a deep level, into one large Red State, one in which nonconformity is something to be punished and straightened rather than embraced.
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