Watching the film "The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers" was the first time I realised my private doubts about society were shared by others. The story described the secret replacement of real people by imitation alien vegetables. These counterfeits, who took over from murdered individuals, looked and acted like people, but were essentially mindless morons just going through the motions of human activity. Though they went to offices they did no work, only pretended to be usefully occupied; fiddling with bits of paper, banging on key-boards, attending meetings and sharpening pencils until it was time to go, when they all rushed home. This absurd view of the community was too much like my jaundiced viewpoint; the author was not inventing a new world, but trying to explain the state of the existing one.
How could our community be infiltrated by a growing number of incompetent and inept people, unless it was some bizarre plot? It contradicts the basic belief that success in the community should only be the result of enterprise and ability, for throughout society promotion and reward are based upon competition. In the struggle for the best jobs, more money and social recognition, the able must win over the less able. The prestigious classes at school are made up of those pupils who are clearly better at their studies than their peers. Universities are the natural progression of this process, with the academically gifted being rewarded with a place. Obtaining a university degree being a stepping stone to a career in commerce or the public service. The whole process providing a society where the most capable rise to positions of authority, while the rest are automatically prevented from following. Though there may be exceptions, power is won and wielded by those most deserving.
Nevertheless, the author of the film and I perceived a very different result. We witnessed the opposite occurring. It is not the most, but the least, talented who are promoted. The qualities rewarded are not the virtues, but the vices. Conceit, stupidity, greed and laziness attract success while modesty, intelligence and hard-work win only penalty.
The idea that something was fundamentally wrong with our community did not occur quickly. Such concerns always seemed to belong to religious fanatics or the clearly unbalanced. The notion did not even immediately register after seeing the movie. The film only became significant in hindsight, when trying to make sense of my experiences.
Events in life are often not fully explained. We attempt to understand what has happened from limited observations, previous experiences, rumour and gossip. We are rarely privy to all the pertinent information, and so have to rely on empirical information; that is, after experiencing many similar events, we begin to detect patterns that allow prediction of the outcome.
The dismissals from employment I witnessed seemed to bear out a simple rule —Fire The Best, Keep The Rest. Despite popular belief to the contrary, the employee who seemed to get sacked was not the worst, but the best. Observing glaringly incompetent officers escape retribution, while gifted, capable officers win instant dismissal, creates a strong impression. It requires but few occurrences to suggest such a rule, then fewer still to turn suspicion into certainty.
Adopting such a law has ramifications, if the best are sacked, who inherits the reigns of authority? Their identity is defined by my second rule: "The Scum Rises To The Top." Claiming such a rule is dangerous, as it immediately criticises all senior executives. Once when working for Queensland's Logan City Council the chief accountant was told of my belief and hauled me up to his office for an explanation. Unpleasantness was avoided by claiming the opinion covered only politicians, a view which was enthusiastically accepted.
Despite having obvious connections to the first rule, the idea that the worst people are promoted to the highest rank was formed independently. Promotions are important to most of us, and usually engender strong emotions. It is unpleasant to discover your high opinion of your worth is not shared by others. To have this hi-lighted by enforced subservience to a successful rival has a lasting effect, it creates a desire to believe in the rule the scum rises to the top. Nevertheless my endorsement was prompted by a different experience — working with managers, the people who have been favoured by the selection process.
Earning my living by designing computer systems meant working closely with senior executives. It was like working behind the scenes at a studio, and discovering the real people behind the smart clothes and imposing manner. Indeed these important decision makers seemed very like actors, intent more upon creating a credible facade of efficiency than about actual achievement. It appeared to me that the more senior the manager, the greater the ego, the more imposing the charade, and the less the ability, for they regularly revealed to me an unusual incompetence that should have disqualified them from any position of authority. Nevertheless their selection meant they had been the choice of successive committees, who had been convinced by something. Obviously these executives had an ability to create a good impression, even though the reality was somewhat different.
The methods used to select people for promotion are undoubtedly arbitrary. The bits of paper representing certificates, diplomas and degrees are just that, bits of paper. A qualified fool is still a fool. Unless selection has been based on an open exam, the choice will only be a reflection of the prejudices of the selection committee; this must tend to advance people who are good at detecting then playing upon these feelings. People who are good at doing their job are not necessarily good at presenting an imposing image of themselves. Individuals capable of singing their own praises are not generally regarded as being the best at making real achievements, though it is often true that the least competent are the most practised at lying to create a good, though false, impression of their abilities; thereby providing a ready explanation for my observations. It could be that we are enjoying a selection process that rewards the incompetent and penalises the able.
It has become clear to me that there is a decline in the quality of the goods and services. The resentful and unwilling shop assistants, the bank teller who seems to take delight in thwarting the customer, telephone enquiries answered by people unable to speak fluent English, the reduction in range of goods available, the new car that is continually breaking down, the new block of flats that requires repairs before half the flats are sold. The list is endless and growing. Matters only worsened by continual rise in prices despite the deterioration in quality. It is rarely officially acknowledged but personal experience is relentless.
The decay is not limited to goods and services, but can be observed in almost every aspect of life. In the last twenty years there has been a collapse in morality. Behaviour that once earned general condemnation is now considered normal. As a child, during the 1950s in the north of England, I recall the general community horror at the actions of a Jean Foley. She was the subject of gossip for the area, conversations would stop when she entered local shops and neighbours would snub her, because she chose to have a baby without getting married. Nowadays (circa 1990), bearing a child out of wedlock is considered unremarkable.
During the same period, my mother had a friend who felt her life had become blighted by the stigma of divorce. She felt compelled to move away from the area where she was known, and adopt the pose of a widow to avoid social persecution. The penalty that divorce once earned has evaporated, along with consideration that one of the partners must be to blame for marriage failure. Divorce is now so common that the institution has lost most of its meaning. The community no longer enforces a strict code of behaviour; it has lost it sense of morality.
This disintegration of decency has been accompanied by a disintegration of freedom. A wide spectrum of conduct has now become the subject of strict state control. Acts commonplace in the 1960s such as driving without a seat belt, cycling without a helmet, wolf-whistling at pretty girls, or smoking in the office, now bring harsh penalties. There seems no activity that is free from the invasion of rules and regulations.
Even language has become subject to restriction with spontaneity inhibited by pompous criticism. It has become unfashionable to use words that imply gender, real or imagined. 'Spokesman, chairman, salesman' have become unpopular and replaced with 'spokesperson, chairperson, salesperson'; 'fat' is now (1996) 'horizontally challenged' — clumsy expressions that require more syllables while reducing meaning. Indeed the inspiration behind such censorship is to sacrifice clarity on the altar of obsessive diplomacy; do not be blunt, be circumspect. A contradiction of the purpose of speech, which, above all else, is to make oneself understood. Comprehension demands short simple clear words, not multi-syllable, all embracing, neutered epithets, which erode understanding.
Communication is becoming increasingly long winded while conveying shrinking meaning; "At this moment in time" instead of "now", and "The state of the art" instead of "Latest". Words like "situation" are added to pointlessly extend the text, with "A riot" becoming "A riot situation". The emphasis on communication is now shifting from the meaning to the manner, in line with contemporary preference for appearances ahead of reality.
Sir Kenneth Clark, author of Civilisation, believed that a culture could be judged by its art, the more intelligent and capable the society, the more impressive the paintings and artefacts. This was not to suggest that some races were biologically cleverer than others, only that some cultures managed to utilise the same brain power to better effect. Thus the sophistication of the Ancient Roman culture, compared to that of Australian aborigines of over two hundred years ago, could be judged by their respective art. The difference between primitive cave paintings and ancient Roman mosaics revealing the difference between a primitive Stone Age understanding and the ancient Roman understanding.
Naturally the intelligence of a people is expressed not just in their art, but in everything they do and everything they say. Beautiful paintings and clever inventions reveal an intelligence that must pervade the whole community, and underlying all other expressions are those of thought. Before anything can be made, it has to be first imagined. And the richness of ideas must be reflected in the richness of conversations, which are the verbal expression of ideas. Public discussion is the crux of a culture and a direct reflection of its intelligence — which in our society is the media.
As a young man I became aware of some older men who had trouble reading newspapers. This was not because of failing sight, but they seemed upset by the content. This condition seemed to prevent them from enjoying what they felt drawn to purchase. My perusal of the same revealed nothing, and I attributed such responses to being middle-aged. Now that I am twenty years older I encounter the same difficulty, and find unpalatable the nonsense paraded as truth. My sensibilities are upset to see a villain portrayed as a hero, or a hero portrayed as a villain; to observe the stream of lies and distortions that go unchallenged, in contrast to the few words of sanity that are derided from all sides. An extra two decades of experience have made me aware of the abysmal quality of reporting and its absurd bias. This trend is now recognised as political correctness — the media has become politically correct.
Newspaper articles will not identify the colour, or race of criminals (1996). Reporting of legal action regularly omits the names of persons involved. Moral condemnation is no longer reserved for law-breakers and charlatans, but it is directed towards those who contradict fashionable opinions; then these unfortunates become ostracized by slogan —they are denounced as "racist", "fascist" or whatever.
Nothing excites public outrage more than the telling of a joke, as Arthur Tunstall, a member of the Australian Olympic bureaucracy, discovered. Pauline Hanson learnt that expressing an honest, sincere and rational opinion could bring censure and criticism of the most extraordinary level. Her maiden speech in Parliament united the major parties against her, like a national disaster or war, despite the complete impotence of her position. She lacked any political influence, she had no commercial support, and she could not alter or delay any piece of legislation.
"The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers" is only half invention, our community is not being taken-over by evil vegetables but blundering selfish incompetents, whose influence is destroying public reason and causing our community to sink into chaos —or so I began to suspect.