As a child I had a version of OCD called Just Right syndrome. This doesn’t mean I lived entirely on one brand of breakfast cereal. It means I found it hard to progress from situations or activities which were in some way unresolved or incomplete. It was annoying rather than distressing and expressed itself in interesting ways. I couldn’t leave a room before the ceiling fan or the turntable on the record player had come to a complete stop, for example, or until the second hand of the clock had reached twelve.
Like many OCD sufferers I suppressed my condition as I got older. But I can’t be the only one to have experienced a relapse during Covid, which has normalised many behaviours previously deemed eccentric. Only two years ago, washing your hands twenty times a day in Australia would have been frowned on as a waste of a precious natural resource. Now it is something governments prescribe. Likewise, wearing a mask and avoiding other people would have been considered borderline sociopathic; now it is public-spirited. No, there’s never been a better time to be obsessively compulsive. And if you don’t believe me, check out the OCD page on the American Psychiatric Association’s website. Topping the list of symptoms is ‘Excessive or ritualised washing of hands’, closely followed by ‘Fear of getting contaminated by other people and/or the environment’ and ‘Repetition of particular numbers or number sequences’ – a key component of track and trace. And we’ve not just become obsessive about our own behaviour. We harrumph and tut if an unmasked person sits down in front of us on the bus, or if the person behind us at the checkout doesn’t stay on his or her dedicated floor tile.
It’s a good thing mental disorders can’t spread like viruses. If they could, as well as worrying about South African and Brazilian Covid variants, the populations of five Australian states and two territories would be on their guard against an outbreak of the Just Right OCD which got Anzac Day weekend cancelled in Western Australia. For quite a long time WA’s Covid infection rate was on a par with Jupiter’s, so one explanation for Mr McGowan’s imposition of a three-day lockdown after just two people tested positive could be Fear Of Missing Out; he merely wanted to boost our chippiest state’s deprivation credentials. It certainly made no more sense than the OCD child who, having walked all the way down the street without stepping on a crack, feels compelled to go back and start again if one of his toes brushes the edge of the last paving stone.
But politicians only behave as irrationally as we allow them to. And in the last year Australians have become depressingly compliant with knee-jerk authority diktats and depressingly willing to surrender the freedoms their forebears fought so hard for. It may be a long time since wool was our biggest export, but as a nation we’ve never been more sheep-like. And if we don’t have the spine to stand up to our elected leadership on civil liberty issues, what chance against a real enemy – with guns. Our Home Affairs Secretary’s reference to ‘the drums of war’ may have been the diplomatic gaffe of the year but it made the additional mistake of not ringing true; the pugnacious Anzac spirit it harked back to more likely to engender shame than pride for many modern Australians. Our military heritage used to be a no-go area for pollies and Anzac Day itself a 24-hour ceasefire during which lifelong enemies stood shoulder to shoulder to honour the memory of old soldiers and to salute their successors. But just as Australia Day’s been weaponised by the Left, attempts are now under way to conflate Anzac Day with colonialism, and school teachers have already been briefed to call it a ‘contested’ public holiday.
If Michael Pezzullo was right about those drums, and Scott Morrison is right to be beefing up our defence budget, perhaps the rest of us should do our bit for national security by rediscovering the politically incorrect virtues which made this a country worth defending. Instead of fetishising victimhood and diversity, for example, perhaps we should choose as our next Australian of the Year someone who’s done something that simply required extraordinary physical courage. Someone Like Lauren Tischendorf, the Sydney schoolteacher who recently swam round Lord Howe Island in thirteen hours, notwithstanding a two metre swell and the relentless attention of tiger sharks. If Xi Jinping believed the Pacific Ocean was full of people like Lauren, he might think twice about Taiwan.
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