Monday, May 26, 2003

On Debt and Repression (“Clive Hamilton gets into bed with Fred Nile again”, 25 May 2003)

Poor Clive Hamilton – a man who can write a serious book with the title “Growth Fetish”, while running an intermittent anti-porn crusade before, during and after the book, mustn’t know quite which way to look most of the time. Look left, and it’s all too titillating. Look right, and it’s a frenzy of consumption. Look ahead, and it’s probably both. Behind you, Clive – look behind you.

I’ll give Clive credit for being half-right, though. Economic growth – just like priapism – is not a simple, no-strings-attached good. In particular, most of Australia’s supposed economic “growth” in recent years has been debt-driven, with the house-price bubble allowing the bulk of this debt to be dressed-up as something relatively benign. The artificiality of this growth, however, is where the analogy between the economy and the phallus breaks down. Debt is not akin to Viagra, or any other aide or supplement – debt is, in fact, the main game. If there is a valid sexual analogy here, then, it involves the debtor being the receptive partner.

But no matter about that, anyway, because there is a more important, much shocking-er truth – debt should be kept casual and promiscuous.

Marrying debt, more or less for life – for richer (= equity redraw for spoiling oneself) or poorer (= frantic consolidation) thus goes against the grain of human nature. Which is not to deny that long-term debt monogamy is extremely common in Oz in 2003 – but hey, so too was sexual repression once the norm. Long-term, monogamous debt is just another species of repression, then. It hardens those organs that are at their best softened, and vice versa.

Most especially, being married to debt cuts out the possibility and practice of moderation. Casual debt – like casual sex and casual pay parking – is habitually (or if not, best) kept short and sweet. Repression, on the other hand, just goes on and on – a space ever revolving, rolled on, and rolled over.

And if Sigmund Freud were alive today, he’d have no trouble seeing the physical incarnations of all this accumulated repression – 4WDs. These are cars that have been perversely de-casualised – clunky, dangerous and sexless (4WDs are the only class of car which appeal equally to both male and female buyers). They eschew moderation, coming in only two sizes: guzzler and guzzlier. They profess family values, but they bugger the planet and its children.

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