Saturday, April 30, 2011

They ruin your life

 Man, I wish I had a buck for every time a heated political argument amongst long-time friends was silenced with phrases such as, "Well that's all very well and good for you, but I've got kids, and I need to think about their future".

Compared with the majority of my peers, I was a bit of a late bloomer in the Family Expansion Department, and it always pissed me off when the same people who I'd grown-up with in the outer suburbs, who I'd gone to school with, who I'd rebelled against familial and social stereotypes with, who I'd moved into inner-city doss houses with, who I'd drank in the same inner-city pubs with, and with whom I'd debated politics and popular culture, would suddenly (coinciding with marriage, offspring and an exodus back to the Outer East) execute a complete 180 and change their age-old lines of argument and values in favour of bog-standard, Channel 9-like conservatism.

This particularly hit home to me about ten years ago when one of my friends who had pursued many social and environmental causes over the years (including a two-year stint being abused by errant teenagers while inside the Wilderness Society's koala costume) informed us all during one of his rare nights-off from familial duties, that he would be voting Liberal in the forth-coming federal election because only 'The Libs' were offering to extend the Eastern Freeway!

Of course, this ridiculous misunderstanding of state versus federal political responsibility was immediately and enthusiastically leapt upon by our gathering, and before long, this once politically-savvy and proud crusader for human and animal rights informed us that we all needed to grow-up and take some responsibility for ourselves if we ever expected to live in homes without cracked walls and warped floor boards.  He added that neither of us had any significant life experience upon which to make informed decisions about future generations, and until we did, we should keep our naive political opinions to ourselves.

Of course this aggressive challenge would never do, and the conversation became increasingly heated before it concluded with my old friend jumping to his feet, gathering his coat and letting fly with, "Until you guys have kids, and have to think about their future education and employment opportunities, you'll never have any idea about the political and economic realities of the Australian electorate".  Following which he stormed out of the pub.

So that's it, hey?  Kids change everything ... or is it just that the kids were the factor which 'forced' him back to his politically-affiliated, geographical roots?  Isn't it telling how your life circumstances can dramatically alter your values and beliefs?

It's true.  We all know the cliche of the mate who's out with you and your other mates six nights a week, getting drunk and trying to pick-up women, until on one rare occasion he happens to be successful with the latter and immediately his drinking pursuits are replaced by rom-coms and flower shows, and his mates never see him again.  Clearly that guy's circumstances changed his views on what was important; his priorities had altered from his mates and beer in favour of companionship, love or at the very least, getting his end away on a regular basis.

I can relate to this a little (well, not that last bit, obviously).  I used to be right into outdoor packsports, and nature and wildlife conservation; for a good while I much preferred heading off into the bush with everything I needed for a few days and sitting alone on a rock all afternoon contemplaying myself and my surroundings, rather than attending garden parties and making polite small talk with friends and their new girlfriends.

When I finally did meet the love of my life, my rugged, outdoor pursuits were promptly replaced with rather more sedate, beachside loitering, and before long, I was no longer pining for the deep solitude of the remote wilderness.  So it would indeed seem as though chicks change everything!

Interestingly, in those days of being a vocal advocate for wilderness protection, I harboured a visceral hatred for zoos.  I recall being physically ill once while visiting the zoo with my nephew, and watching in horror at the dilapidated, Victorian-era surroundings that the seals had to parade around in before crowds of jeering, screaming children.

I stayed away for many years after this, and only recently returned to the zoo with my son, Hambones, thanks to one of these annual subscriptions which allow you to visit as often as you like.  I have to admit, I love it!  I find the enclosures much more respectful of the animals than I remembered, and as long as I don't think too hard about the climactic differences between a Bengal Tiger's natural habitat and Melbourne in May, I usually come away feeling OK about the experience.

So I guess it's not quite that cut and dried.  Is it chicks?  Or as stated by my friend of old, perhaps it really is kids who change everything.

In my newfound enthusiasm for caged and tethered wildlife, which has seen me visit the zoo about three times a week since we got the membership pass (gotta get me money's worth – my notorious tight-arsedness is one entrenched value I suspect is never going to change), I decided to take Hambones along to the Adelaide zoo over Easter, and there found myself almost winded by what I saw.  Clearly my decade or so of avoiding the zoo was time enough for the Melbourne zoo management to get their stuff together towards a more humane approach to caring and providing for their animals such that I am no longer horrified by what I encounter.

Not so the Adelaide zoo, at which some of the exhibits appear not to have changed very much since families ventured-forth on Sunday afternoons in top-hats, tails, bonnets and holding sticks with which to poke the frightened animals through the bars of the minute cages.  This place was terrible!  A real throw-back to a bygone era in which there was absolutely no ambiguity over who was the real king of the jungle.

To look at Adelaide zoo on its own, I would again advocate for the abolishment of such institutions throughout the world.  However I also understand the work that better zoos, such as Melbourne's, are doing to protect endangered species, and to educate the community about the factors which threaten their survival, and importantly, what can be done to address these.  I think zoos have their place, but standards need to be developed and adhered to.  And Adelaide, you certainly do not cut the grade!

What all this has taught me is that using kids, or partners, or indeed any other life circumstance as an excuse for changing your long held values and beliefs is nothing other than a selfish, ignorant and lazy sell-out.

I am working on a new bumper sticker, which at the moment goes something like this; "I have a wife, and a child, and I live where I want, and I believe in protecting human and animal rights, promoting social justice, and protecting the environment for my children's children's future".  The only catch is that I'd have to completely sell-out and buy a Merc with a bumper bar big enough to stick it on.

South Australia: A Brilliant Blend (of Dickensian animal rights and modern-day admission prices).  Pic:


Polly said...

I think it's something that happens to both men and women - life, relationships, ageing inevitably change us and mostly I'm fine with that. It's more disturbing when people display chameleon like qualities, their opinions and beliefs changing depending on who they are with, but we probably all do a bit of that too, sometimes to fit in, sometimes to keep the peace.

One of my oldest friends who always considered herself a socialist, married quite a right-wing guy and when he was ranting away, she would just smile indulgently and never argue against him. It always sat uneasily with me and has never been something I have been able to do in a relationship. And he was one of those guys who was somehow an authority on the 'real world' because he had a mortgage. They seem to think it's a sign of immaturity to not grow out of your beliefs as you get older.

I've always had really strong opinions about private education and no amount of people telling me that "it's different when you have children", besides making me slightly terrified of the mind-altering affects of becoming a parent, have ever been able to provide a good enough argument to challenge my beliefs. But I do listen a fair bit more than when I was younger and I'm less inclined to jump straight into an argument at the expense of personal relationships. God, I'm getting old :)

I've lost my thread a bit but enjoyed reading your post, Donkey!

DonkeyBlog said...

As I have enjoyed reading your comment, Polly (I love the "new" name, too).

I agree with you that the kind of folk who change their opinions to suit an audience are probably worse than those who change their values and beliefs .. at least the latter have some convictions (even if the rest of us feel they are misguided).

But the former are not great. I much prefer the approach of simply sitting back and letting them rant, and saying nothing as a peace-keeping intervention (although I reserve the right to rant on this blog thereafter - Ha!)

I appreciate your reading, and especially for trying to work-up some debate with your comment. Will drop-by Bad Librarian over the weekend and catch-up