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Letters from Downunder

Here's Hoping

Submitted by Lindsay, Melbourne Australia!

In the factory we make cosmetics.
In the store we sell hope.
(Charles Revson, American business man,
quoted in Fire and Ice by A Tobias, 1976)

(3/12) The last thing left in Pandora's box, that fabulous container of wonders and terrors, was hope.

The reason, of course, is that we are taught to yearn for what we do not have; and, in the worst of times when everything else has gone, hope is the only thing we have left. Hope has been the mainstay of unfulfilled desire, deprivation, incarceration and abuse since we were able to come up with the idea. Do animals hope? I doubt it - it is a human trait alone, and there's a huge amount of it around today.

We do not hope the sun will come up tomorrow morning, or that the world will continue to spin on its axis; these things are general certainties, and there's lots more like them - but here's some other important things that have a large percentage of hope built into them:

That there will be resolution of the European, American and other monetary crises; that there'll a continuing supply of oil and gas; That there will be sensible resolution of the Middle East/Chinese/ Korean/African/Pakistani/Afghanistan crises; that the American financial system will not be downgraded; that reversal of global warming will happen, there'll be an enormous increase in humanitarian aid, and that China will continue to grow, consume, and be more benevolent, and that somehow war will be avoided.

Oh, yes, and there will be a president of The United States Of America who can see beyond the next election, who understands that money cannot be printed ad infinitum without something real to back it up and give it value, who is prepared to balance the books, will ensure the gap between rich and poor is narrowed, and is prepared to concede that Ronald Reagan and G. W. Bush between them destroyed the economy.

Some hope, eh?

It's also interesting - and distressing - to see that Americans have the highest percentage of obesity in the world, that it is endemic, and that nothing is being done about it apart from the promises that keep getting less believable. It reflects, as no other statistic can, the by-now built in desire to be satisfied and replete all the time. 'I want it now because it will make me feel good' is greed's mantra. It's part of the dark side of capitalism, the ferreting out by manufacturers and marketers of ways to make us buy more and give them greater profits, without regard to the welfare of their customers, or indeed the nation as a whole. Tobacco has the same strategy, now a bit more discredited, but still the scourge it will always be.

And it is equally distressing to know that one of America's biggest retail chains, Woolworths, derives the majority of its considerable Australian business profit from gambling. Yes, I know you have casinos, betting shops, and the like - so do we- but we have something you don't: Pokies by the hundred in the great majority of clubs and pubs in the land. These, the latest electronic versions of one arm bandits, are the single biggest cause of suicide, marriage breakup, penury and grief ever developed. It is easy to lose $1,500 per hour at this godforsaken activity, and there are over 200,000 of them here. That's about one hundred times the per capita ratio compared to the United States, and in 2010 over ten billion dollars went to the owners of the machines. Safeway reportedly own about two thirds of them. Better than selling groceries, eh?

And reform? That has just been scuttled by our government, unable to cope with the pressure of such giants of business and their allies, the conservatives. Of course, the fact that the government derives many billions themselves from the taxes they impose has no influence. I wish.

Things like this are often defended by saying ,'Well, people can say no. It's their decision, we just provide good food, great leisure pastimes,' and so on. Say no to self-indulgence? Let the other guy have more than you? Practice self-discipline? Forgo the chance of a fortune? Well, we can always hope, but it's not a likely outcome.

There's also a striking parallel between fat bodies and fat heads. Self-indulgence saps the will - ask any junkie - and it does not matter which of the many indulgences we mean. Self-indulgence is a habit that's very hard to break.

But, given the basic necessities of life plus a bit more for comfort, going without is often better for the whole person than not going without. I know that quite a few among you are volunteers - doing things for no pay that are rewarding, even if only in small ways. Looking after grandkids, supervising play groups, helping a neighbour, seeing to the poor and needy, supporting youth groups, and many more such deeds - all these are good because they get us out of ourselves, reduce our dependence on hope, and make reality just that bit better. It also builds up the indispensable component of living in today's world: Social Capital, an item that is not the product of politicians. The more we have of that the better our community will be, and thus the better will it be for detecting the ripe odour of political legerdemain.

Yet promises, promises now fill the ether in this time of the pre-selection madness you call caucuses, playing on your hope for a return to the good old days and grand old ways. If one cuts though the rhetoric the old message does, in fact, emerge: The poor will win the lottery if they support the rich. They will remain happily obese and self-indulgent, powerless to stop, and they will breed. I also see that the richest candidate has won the nomination for South Carolina - a bible belt conservative area, I'm told - a person who will ensure that hope will be the best currency with which to survive.

Lindsay, hoping like Candide for the best of all possible worlds.

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker