Yes­ter­day’s he­roes

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - Society - By BernarD salT

Anew phrase has en­tered the na­tional lex­i­con. I sus­pect it has been im­ported, al­though surely we could have come up with some­thing sim­i­lar. The phrase to which I re­fer is “so­cial li­cence” and it seems to be linked to the no­tion of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. It is the idea that some­thing is per­mit­ted not so much by gov­ern­men­tal de­cree but rather by tribal (or so­cial) agree­ment.

His­tor­i­cal ex­am­ples in­clude tobacco com­pa­nies, which might be le­gal but long ago fell out with the pow­ers that be on the So­cial Li­cence Re­view Board. It is now quite ac­cept­able to round up smok­ers and herd them into en­claves where th­ese un­touch­ables may, if they must, prac­tise their vile habit with­out af­fect­ing the rest of hu­man­ity. And so, armed with the im­pri­matur of the SLRB’s judg­ment, we hap­pily and ea­gerly par­tic­i­pate in the marginal­i­sa­tion of the en­tire smoker race.

Re­cently, fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions’ so­cial li­cence to op­er­ate has come un­der re­view. The so­cial li­cence of the church – specif­i­cally, Chris­tian churches – is also un­der scru­tiny, largely be­cause of the heinous be­hav­iour of many in­di­vid­u­als who op­er­ated un­chal­lenged for years within the in­sti­tu­tion. Fair enough, too.

Oddly, in other cir­cum­stances the SLRB is care­ful to en­sure that the ter­ri­fy­ing be­hav­iour of er­rant in­di­vid­u­als not be con­flated with the be­lief sys­tem to which they be­long. The board has yet to ex­plain this anom­aly and even more oddly it re­mains af­fronted by the ques­tion.

I don’t know who is on the board, but they have a back­log of cases to re­view. There’s the live sheep ex­port trade, and the rice-grow­ing and cot­ton in­dus­tries (water us­age is­sues, ap­par­ently). The coal in­dus­try’s case was first heard a decade ago, and I think we all know that out­come. Not-so-quaint house­hold habits such as burn­ing au­tumn leaves in the street, burn­ing rub­bish in back­yard in­cin­er­a­tors and hos­ing down con­crete drive­ways all had their li­cence re­voked a gen­er­a­tion ago. I sus­pect that within a gen­er­a­tion, meat-eat­ing and gam­bling will also fall foul of the SLRB.

There is an­other group whose so­cial li­cence is likely to come un­der re­view. Ac­cord­ing to the min­utes of the SLRB’s most re­cent meet­ing, all rich peo­ple can only have en­riched them­selves by ne­far­i­ous means and via the ex­ploita­tion of oth­ers. Among the most marginalised peo­ple in this na­tion are work­ers earn­ing $181,000 per year – just enough to get into the top tax bracket, be ex­cluded from any form of sup­port or con­ces­sion and be on the re­ceiv­ing end of the com­mu­nity’s op­pro­brium, but not nearly enough to live a re­ally rich life­style.

A sub­com­mit­tee of the SLRB ad­ju­di­cates ap­pli­ca­tions for new swear-word li­cences. The f-word was brought in from the cold a gen­er­a­tion ago and given free li­cence to op­er­ate in any so­cial sit­u­a­tion. How­ever, by the 2030s the li­cence to use the term “fat” will be with­drawn. In­creas­ingly of­fen­sive terms such as “old” and “re­tired” have also been sub­mit­ted for re­view but as the pro­po­nents are age­ing baby boomers, the sub­mis­sions aren’t likely to suc­ceed.

It’s not so much that the terms aren’t dis­crim­i­na­tory, more that the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of a with­drawal of their so­cial li­cence, the baby boomers, are them­selves the sub­ject of a li­cence re­view.

Ap­par­ently, there’s a move to po­si­tion baby boomers along­side smok­ers, and pos­si­bly rich peo­ple, as so­cial pari­ahs due to their his­tory of pay­ing mort­gages in or­der to ac­cu­mu­late wealth. The key skill in be­ing ad­mit­ted to the SLRB is be­ing able to see and nur­ture di­vi­sion that oth­ers can­not or will not see.

◖ mag­a­zine­feed­back@theaus­tralian.com.au ◗

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