The Big Issue : Edition 476
THEBIGISSUE23JAN–5FEB2015 13 Of course, some of the time it may be true that things were better in one’s own day. Let’s take, for example, the case of industrial practice. Once, Australians worked shorter hours with greater job security and a better living wage. Now, most of us work to five-minute contracts under human clocks who talk a peculiar language of ticking nonsense about ‘drivers’ and ‘key performance indicators’. I mean, for the sake of all that is creditably sane: is it not enough that I turn up to work every day and execute my responsibilities? Must I now sing a corporate hymn about the importance of making money for other people as well? You can take your mission statements and your lack of holiday pay and shove it in your key performance indicator. Things weren’t like this in my day! Here, a reference to the relative security of the past is not made entirely without cause or potential result. Sometimes, it is good to remind others that things are not now as they have always been. And sometimes it is good to remind others that not all things are getting better as we generally suppose that they do. If such observations are made in a historical way, I believe they can be quite useful. For example, young people need to be reminded that Russell Brand is not, in fact, a brave intellectual radical, but would have been kicked out of the 1970s for being too stupid and conservative. And I suppose it is okay to remind young people that milkshakes used to be much larger. Such things are observations of change and if they serve to remind others of the fact that change is both possible and inevitable, that’s good. But, it is when we come to observations that are less about the state of things and more about the character of people that I want to treat my complaining age mates like aphids, ie with a non- residual pesticide. “Young people are just not grateful” or any such declaration about the moral character or the musical taste or choice in furnishings of young people is the opposite of observing change. Really, it’s just a cry to preserve the past in the cloudy fat of one’s own vanity. When we say “the world has changed for the worse” and provide evidence of this, we are amateur historians who are starting a useful conversation. When we say “you have changed for the worse”, we really should just learn to shut up. There is so much in the world that changes and it is valuable to acknowledge that it does not always change for the better. But, one of the things that has not changed in some time is that it is populated by people. And these people do not change that much. We’ve got a bit taller and we now make more use of our thumbs, but apart from that we’re the same stinking animals we were Back In My Day. The world changes. Our reactions to it change. We, however, don’t really. But it would be nice if we could change the habit of telling young people that they’re just no damn good. “You can take your mission statements and your lack of holiday pay and shove it in your key performance indicator.” RAZER For Better or Worse PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND IF THERE IS one thing that provokes more rage in me than aphids – and I am a gardener so you must not undervalue the intensity of this hate – it is people banging on about how It Was So Much Better In My Day. I am never sure what such a declaration is intended to inspire. Envy? Instruction? An effective means for travel to different points in time? Barking at the tendency of history to keep unfolding is a bit like howling at the moon. Except, of course, that you are a human and not a dog without a reality principle. I can only excuse you for pointless wailing at inevitable things if you are adorable and covered in fur. » Helen Razer is a writer and budding historian with a keen interest in the origins of reverse parking.