Go on, admit it; just when you thought it was safe to go back to the pub, or the office, or the gym, you found you didn’t want to. It’s only two weeks since Gladys tossed us the keys to our front doors, and then tossed young Dominic the keys to the bus, but there are already signs that Freedom Hesitancy may act as a significant brake on the road to economic recovery along which Mr Perrottet must now drive us. Which is in some ways understandable. For those lucky enough to have a job which can be done remotely, and a back yard to do it in, and who either have children they quite like or – better still – no children, lockdown has not been charmless. For the best part of two years they have not suffered the bovine indignity of commuting, or bickered over the equitable division of restaurant bills, or hugged people they don’t like. And most of them can’t remember the last time they caught so much as a cold. Hardly surprising, then, if their current mindset is not unlike that of the funnel-web spider which, having fiercely resisted being coaxed into a bucket in your kitchen, clings to the sides of that bucket when you try to tip it over your neighbour’s fence. ‘Okay, I will go,’ it seems to be saying, ‘but the bucket gig wasn’t half as bad as I thought it would be. Sure, the scenery didn’t change much, but it was warm and dry and I didn’t have to worry about blue tongue lizards and magpies and leaf blowers. So enough with the tipping; I’ll come out when I’m ready.’
As far as bipedal hominid Australians go, though, I suspect there’s more to liberation lethargy then the complacency and stupefaction which 18 months of governmental largesse and bureaucratic bossiness will engender in any society. At the risk of offending Speccie reader sensibilities I also suspect that Australians of every socio-economic stripe may now be starting to think that freedom – that cornerstone of democracy they’ve been told their forefathers fought so hard to establish – may not be all it’s cracked up to be by people like, well, people who write for this magazine. And even that the suspension of certain freedoms, under certain circumstances, may not be such a bad thing. We can learn a lot from China here. More specifically, from Chinese restaurants. We’re often told that one of the worst things about living under a communist regime is the absence of choice. How is it, then, that the menus in most Chinese restaurants are longer and more exhaustive than the menus in any other restaurants? And don’t imagine that the menus of Chinese restaurants in Australia offer more choice than their Beijing or Shanghai counterparts. Indeed, in addition to all the usual chicken, pork, lamb and seafood variations we see, Chinese diners also have to scroll through pages of bat, pangolin and tiger penis recipes. Don’t imagine, either, that Chinese people find this menu experience any less daunting than we do. It would have been very easy for Mao or one of his successors to make this part of Chinese life less stressful. But Xi Jinping, a Maoist from way back, wouldn’t dream of it. Because he knows what these menus are really saying: ‘You see how intimidating just choosing a meal can be, little brother? Imagine how stressful your life would be if you were faced by the same bewildering choice in every other aspect of your life. Imagine having to choose from 300 different careers, or decide which of 200 different social media platforms to join, or select one of fifty different religions to belong to. Whatever you eventually choose from this menu, little brother, do not forget the little taste of democracy it has already given you’. Xi Jinping may also know that whatever Western leaders say about freedom in stump speeches and press conferences, the majority of their audiences, like the majority of his, are quite happy for most of those freedoms to be suspended if it doesn’t greatly inconvenience them and doesn’t interfere with their streaming service. Could it be, in fact, that what was cooked up in the laboratory in Wuhan gave Australians an amuse bouche of the totalitarian main course which Xi Jinping dreams of one day serving to us all. And that rather too many of us enjoyed it.
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