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The Australian Disease: On the Decline of Love and the Rise of Non-freedom

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Richard Flanagan’s closing address to the 2011 Melbourne Writers’ Festival struck a chord around Australia. This stirring speech has been broadcast nationally on radio and television and published in Quarterly Essay 44. At a moment when the ferment of Tahrir Square has spread around the world to unsettle the status quo, Flanagan’s provocative ideas resonate with a new moo Richard Flanagan’s closing address to the 2011 Melbourne Writers’ Festival struck a chord around Australia. This stirring speech has been broadcast nationally on radio and television and published in Quarterly Essay 44. At a moment when the ferment of Tahrir Square has spread around the world to unsettle the status quo, Flanagan’s provocative ideas resonate with a new mood and a new questioning. Above all, Flanagan says, we need to take our compass more from ourselves and less from the powerful if we are to find hope. "We need to look the disease of Australia in the eye, the disease of conformity that is ill preparing us for the future. Does Australia still have the courage and largeness it once had when it pioneered the secret ballot and universal suffrage? Or will it simply become the United Arab Emirates of the West, content to roll on for a decade or two more glossing over its fundamental problems while brown coal and fracked gas keep the country afloat?" – Richard Flanagan


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Richard Flanagan’s closing address to the 2011 Melbourne Writers’ Festival struck a chord around Australia. This stirring speech has been broadcast nationally on radio and television and published in Quarterly Essay 44. At a moment when the ferment of Tahrir Square has spread around the world to unsettle the status quo, Flanagan’s provocative ideas resonate with a new moo Richard Flanagan’s closing address to the 2011 Melbourne Writers’ Festival struck a chord around Australia. This stirring speech has been broadcast nationally on radio and television and published in Quarterly Essay 44. At a moment when the ferment of Tahrir Square has spread around the world to unsettle the status quo, Flanagan’s provocative ideas resonate with a new mood and a new questioning. Above all, Flanagan says, we need to take our compass more from ourselves and less from the powerful if we are to find hope. "We need to look the disease of Australia in the eye, the disease of conformity that is ill preparing us for the future. Does Australia still have the courage and largeness it once had when it pioneered the secret ballot and universal suffrage? Or will it simply become the United Arab Emirates of the West, content to roll on for a decade or two more glossing over its fundamental problems while brown coal and fracked gas keep the country afloat?" – Richard Flanagan

30 review for The Australian Disease: On the Decline of Love and the Rise of Non-freedom

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    This is the kind of thing that needs to be read by those complacent, smug people that chat about 'the Aussie way of life.' This is the kind of thing that needs to be read by those complacent, smug people that chat about 'the Aussie way of life.'

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mark Buchignani

    Truth and freedom – the only worthy goals are as never before under persistent attack in Australia, so Flanagan writes in the Australian Disease: On the Decline of Love and the Rise of Non-freedom. The book is cast in the form of a speech in which he likens present policy and action to that of Stalinism, which is nothing more than the flip side of the National Socialism. To read this is to hear described an Australia in crisis for its thundering repression, ostrich-like ignorance, and ultimately Truth and freedom – the only worthy goals are as never before under persistent attack in Australia, so Flanagan writes in the Australian Disease: On the Decline of Love and the Rise of Non-freedom. The book is cast in the form of a speech in which he likens present policy and action to that of Stalinism, which is nothing more than the flip side of the National Socialism. To read this is to hear described an Australia in crisis for its thundering repression, ostrich-like ignorance, and ultimately for its attack on personal freedom and truth. All in the name of public protection. And a gold star or multiple gold stars for going along. For conforming. And heaven forbid a spoken contrary perspective. Remind you of other political systems? And what lessons are here for the US, for the people of the US? Let us look only at our election-year politicians obsessed with their entrenched and immovable ideologies, disagreeing with their opponents only because they are opponents. This is conformity in its most hideous: all democrats bow, scrape, and queue behind their figurehead, rarely if ever daring to speak alternatives or compromises, while all republicans seek the holy grail of unification. Why? To conform in their rally against anything and everything perceived of as liberal. What lessons? What ever happened to debate, to airing of possibilities, to hashing results from differences, to true collaborative government by the people for the people? In the US we have two lines: they lead in opposite directions, their members do not (are unallowed to) speak, and they are instructed to vote for one or the other mouthpiece – and in so doing ratify all the line stands for, whether they agree with every aspect or not. Conform left or conform right, and to hell with everyone else. And that in its broadest meaning: heads Stalin wins, tails Hitler does.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Emmy

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. i read this in melbourne and finished it up in darwin. i brought it at readings in the state library while i was hanging out with jordyn and charlotte for the last time while down south. it took me a while to read but i feel like i absorbed it and it was a very interesting. it taught me a lot and gave me some thoughts that hadn't ever crossed my mind before. i really enjoyed it and future emily should read it again and highlight the things that she deems as important in a different colour highli i read this in melbourne and finished it up in darwin. i brought it at readings in the state library while i was hanging out with jordyn and charlotte for the last time while down south. it took me a while to read but i feel like i absorbed it and it was a very interesting. it taught me a lot and gave me some thoughts that hadn't ever crossed my mind before. i really enjoyed it and future emily should read it again and highlight the things that she deems as important in a different colour highlighter and compare it to 17 and 10 month old emily.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Robyn Philip

    Richard Flanagan as always - provocative and thoughtful. The mantra is - don't agree. Like Weary Dunlop, Tom Uren, Bob Brown, and a digger on the Thai-Burma Railway during WWII - Slappy Oldham, don't agree. 'More than ever, in this new age, Australians need once more to recover their voice, and that power of not agreeing with power' (p.54). Richard Flanagan as always - provocative and thoughtful. The mantra is - don't agree. Like Weary Dunlop, Tom Uren, Bob Brown, and a digger on the Thai-Burma Railway during WWII - Slappy Oldham, don't agree. 'More than ever, in this new age, Australians need once more to recover their voice, and that power of not agreeing with power' (p.54).

  5. 4 out of 5

    Chavelli Sulikowska

    I much prefer Flanagan's short and snappy prose to his long, morose tales. In this petite edition, he certainly put his finger on some of the key societal malaises endemic in the contemporary social order in Australia. I much prefer Flanagan's short and snappy prose to his long, morose tales. In this petite edition, he certainly put his finger on some of the key societal malaises endemic in the contemporary social order in Australia.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Craig Hodges

    If the following comment best encapsulates Flanagan's sentiment: "we need to take our compass more from ourselves and less from the powerful if we are to find hope." - then yes, I want to read his thoughts on the subject. Certainly. If the following comment best encapsulates Flanagan's sentiment: "we need to take our compass more from ourselves and less from the powerful if we are to find hope." - then yes, I want to read his thoughts on the subject. Certainly.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nigel Pinkus

    Flanagan argued that many Australians have become smug, complacent and apathetic. We, as a nation, more often than not, but only agree with power and those that make decisions on our behalf. He goes on and says that the problem with this is that often (but not always) political decisions can often be devoid of goodness, compassion and any sort of love. After all, it is all about power and who yields it, isn't it? Indeed, in some circles politics is seen as the opposite of love, the antithesis of Flanagan argued that many Australians have become smug, complacent and apathetic. We, as a nation, more often than not, but only agree with power and those that make decisions on our behalf. He goes on and says that the problem with this is that often (but not always) political decisions can often be devoid of goodness, compassion and any sort of love. After all, it is all about power and who yields it, isn't it? Indeed, in some circles politics is seen as the opposite of love, the antithesis of it. Yet, isn't love, goodness, sensitivity and the ability to actually love someone, with your whole heart, the essence of who we are as human beings? He raises several issues as examples of our as shallow, inept and even callous view of the 'boat people' that have been stranded on Manus Island for up to seven years. He asks why we aren't outraged by their treatment? What has happened to their human rights? Where is our empathy for them? What has happened to helping out the 'Aussie Battler' especially to those who are weak, defenceless and poor? If thirty people drowned in Sydney Harbour, we would be outraged, but we weren't outraged when that did happen off the coast of Australia, didn't it? He goes on and asks what has happened to our independent thought, our courage to speak out and our belief in something that is 'longer than its own future'? This person thinks that all is not lost, though. Many people in Mr. Flanagan's own island of Tasmania are currently speaking out against the state government's plan to build a cable car on Mt. Wellington. They argue, where is the due process? Where is the EIS (Environmental Impact Study)? Where is the cost-benefit analysis? According to their own website the project will 'only' cost 50 million dollars to build? Where, indeed, is the management plan? If the project will be so profitable (not), why hasn't the MWCC (Mt. Wellington Cable Car Company) released a predicted forecast for the price of tickets? Also, there have been grave concerns raised by members of the public about the conditions of the fish farms in some the estuaries in Tasmania. People have noted that many fish farms are over-stocked; Terrible toxic pollution occurs from fish dying and the remaining fish have to then endure the haunting effluent around them; A toxic build up occurs, (and from first hand experience) a terrible stink permeates even through your wetsuit and you need to then, thoroughly wash it off afterwards and shower yourself to remove the smell. It must be a truly terrible experience for for the fish. Yes, we need more independent thought because we shouldn't just blindly follow our leaders. What happens if they lead us off a cliff? Are we suppose to jump? Our freedom is to have an open mind and decide for ourselves what we should or shouldn't do? It isn't just mass conformity, but decisions should be made upon love, compassion and fundamentally about truth. We need to remain in the essence of oneself. Because without love for yourself and for your fellow persons, what are we?

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tracey

    On this short essay Flanagan explores democracy and freedom in Australia and essentially how it is broken. The examples and points of vontrast are well laid out and explored in detail. As you read this essay you muse on what has happened and question whether we have made any progress. A good thought provoking read, no matter what political side you take.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Phi

    This is Richard Flanagan's address at a writers festival in 2011. Read it once, then spoke it. It's perceptive, funny and insightful. I think it should be required reading from our politicians. And it wouldn't hurt a few policy makers as well. Ideas and informed social critique. Loved it. This is Richard Flanagan's address at a writers festival in 2011. Read it once, then spoke it. It's perceptive, funny and insightful. I think it should be required reading from our politicians. And it wouldn't hurt a few policy makers as well. Ideas and informed social critique. Loved it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gay Harding

    A very quick read but resonates deeply with me. A lot went over my head but the message is a basic one. Be true to ourselves and don’t slavishly follow other politics doctrines etc without questioning.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Maha

    Reassuring to read a writer as sane as Richard Flanagan. It’s so easy to be swept up by #auspol bullshit on a regular basis. What a gem he is.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Good essential points, and I agree with much of the content, but it didn't quite make for a cohesive written argument. Definitely a conversation starter, for a much needed conversation. Good essential points, and I agree with much of the content, but it didn't quite make for a cohesive written argument. Definitely a conversation starter, for a much needed conversation.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jodie Warner

    Well, I read this while watching a 4yo do Gymnastics. My head hurts! Thought-provoking but way too intellectual for me to be reading at 11am on a Wednesday morning.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    Teetering on the brink of too highbrow for my feeble Sunday mind, the sentiment around Australia's collapse of empathy was one that struck a chord. Teetering on the brink of too highbrow for my feeble Sunday mind, the sentiment around Australia's collapse of empathy was one that struck a chord.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mateusz Józef

    Everybody should take the (minimal) time needed to read this book. It is an illuminating critique of the Australian tradition of conformity to power and ideology paired with the exclusion of empathy towards others. It is likewise a pertinent exploration of the drivers of democratic governments in contemporary society which extends beyond our shores. (Was difficult to track down in local brick-and-mortars, however, it ships free nationwide direct from the publisher Black Inc.—$7)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sue Lyle

    Powerful polemic on our times from an Australian perspective that can speak to all who care about freedom and truth. Flanagan despairs of what is happening to our democracies and I have to agree with him. He asks what has happened to empathy, and I want to know as well. If The road to tyranny is paved with fear of others we are in serious trouble.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Savage but so on point.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Peter Leonard

  19. 5 out of 5

    Carolynne

  20. 5 out of 5

    Fiona Sibbett

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dave

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tim Steward

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Gebbie

  24. 4 out of 5

    Peter Burns

  25. 4 out of 5

    Antonio

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mark Bolas

  27. 4 out of 5

    Katriona

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sean Clarke

  29. 5 out of 5

    Pauly

  30. 4 out of 5

    Georgia Rose

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