Australians All Let Us Rejoice,
For we are stratified.
I noticed that a reasonably famous 4th cousin of mine who lives in the UK, got a top award - an AC. Congrats, Richard. I feel famous by association.
For an allegedly classless society, the Australia Day Honours list represents rather more than an anachronism. It's also a contradiction. Why this seeking after arbitrary honours in a society in which there is supposed equality? Isn't everyone as good as their mate? Aren't Gen Y teaching us anything about how to puncture self-importance?
Anyway, enough of these rhetorical questions from yet another worthy who was never asked if he would accept an Australia Day Honour ... let's look at some interesting facts. Take a look at this nice map courtesy of "The AGE" newspaper (possibly on the SMH site too).
You'll notice that there are some interesting correlations between the number of awards and postcode. Postcodes with higher socioeconomic numbers have more awards. Four in Potts Point: None in St Marys, Prospect or Auburn (or a dozen other not so salubrious places to live). Likewise in Melbourne. Five in Toorak, two in South Yarra: Zero in the great working man's arc from Bayswater through Dandenong to Frankston.
Also, as has often been observed, higher awards (AC, AO,) go to richer and more famous people (with the occasional splendid and useful exception), while lower awards (AM, OAM) go to mostly unknowns (without exception?).
Of course, the awards are not actually hierarchical. Of course. They just recognise meritorious service to humanity at different ... er ... levels. You know, "humanity at large" means the higher awards. And service to the local footy club ... well, that's ... well ... local.
But not heirarchical, not setting AC above OAM at all. Just like the Gold Medal doesn't mean you are better than everyone you beat to the tape. If you believe this, I have some swampland in Corio I'd like to sell you.
Ironically, the Australian Honours System is an inevitable antidote for a society in which people are created free and equal. In such a society there should be no such arbitrary differentiation, right? But this is part of the human delusion (thanks to Dave Hughes for the phrase). Rene Girard puts it this way:
"Snobbery requires equality. When individuals are [genuinely] inferior or superior to each other, we find servility and tyranny, flattery and arrogance, but never snobbery ... [which] begins with equality. ... The snob bows before a noble title that has lost all real value, before a social prestige so esoteric that it is really appreciated by only a few elderly ladies." Rene Girard in Deceit, Desire and the Novel p.70.
In Olde Times, the granting of a noble title was completely arbitrary. You inherited it, or the monarch, whose power to award it was similarly derived by inheritance (or God), offered it. One might expect that modern democratic undifferentiated classless societies would have no use for such things. Indeed, in doing away with Imperial Honours, Australia recognised them as anachronisms.
And immediately replaced them with a "democratic" system of honours presided over by the Governor-General and an awarding Council of public officials and community members appointed by the GG on the advice of the Prime Minister. Truly independent.
Few writers see this more clearly than Marcel Proust as he remembers lost times and describes the post-Revolutionary French democracy in which the nobility without their inherited right to honour simply pursued the middle-class values of work and reward, converting nobility and its related titles into mere awards for a job-well-done.
Would not we all like to be a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC)? Would we not all like to be recognised as superior to all the plebs around us? Honestly? I would. But then, I'd be so embarrassed if anyone actually found out. My name on a list might be a giveaway.