Another Word About the Minister Of Silly Thoughts (the M.O.S.T.).

Posted by: Scott | December 30, 2011

This so-called Reality

I had a strange dream the other night. That I had a strange dream is not unusual – nearly all my dreams are strange or surreal in some way – it’s just that on this occasion I made a conscious effort to remember what was unusual about it.

I’ll quickly summarize the plot: I need to retrieve binders from two different places and insert something into them, like a photograph or a news clipping. What’s unusual here is that at each place I go to I meet someone who in my real life I’m familiar with. I know what they look like, and what their voice sounds like, and yet in the dream they look and sound somewhat different, taking on characteristics that belong to other people I know. At the first place in particular, I meet and recognize a woman whose face and voice I know really well. I’ll call her “Paula” (not her real name). At least she looks and sounds like the Paula that I’m familiar with. But here’s the thing: Paula also looks and sounds like “Jane” (not her real name either), my philosophy professor from my community college, who, incidentally, looks and sounds like what an older version of Paula might look like. However, Paula in my dream also reminds me of an unrequited crush I pined after in high school. An unrequited crush who looked neither like Paula nor like Jane! Confused? Read on; I’ll (hopefully) make sense by the end of this post.

That I found or find each of these women attractive is not the point. I’m not looking for an analysis of my notions of potential mates. The reason I bring this up is that in dreams (or at least in my dreams), no person or place, however familiar, looks exactly as they do in real life. The woman I meet in my dream I identify as “Paula”. And yet Paula is also “Jane” the philosophy prof, and she is also that unrequited crush from high school!

And it isn’t just people I dream of this way, but buildings and streetscapes, too. Places and things I’ve known all my life I recognize in my dreams as familiar, even when in those dreams they look wildly different, taking on characteristics they’ve never had. Am I projecting some personal notion of what may be with ‘reality’? I guess that’s possible with places or things, but with people, too? And why do the details change, when I know exactly how these people and things appear in ‘real life’?

Surely, I can’t be the only person who dreams like this!

You’ve probably noticed the single quotes I’ve put around ‘reality’ and ‘real life’. That’s because I’ve started to wonder if my dream-distorted perception of reality might also be how an impressionist painter, for instance, sees the world on a regular basis. (And no, I don’t paint, or sculpt, or make music.) In a movie that I remember, one character describes impressionism to another:

“It’s not about how you see the world. It’s how the artist sees it.”

Perhaps artists perceive multiple expressions of ‘reality’. Maybe they live with a kind of doorway in their brains to a parallel universe – one just as real as ours – where what would appear to the rest of us to be a distorted expression of reality is in fact the reality: our world, as it actually exists in that parallel universe. One where our notion of the colour ‘blue’, for instance, is to that other universe its notion of ‘red’, or ‘green’. Crazy? Well…

Recently, a special series of “Nova” episodes on PBS have focused on how our present, established notions of time and space are being challenged by new scientific discoveries. Physicists are starting to wonder if maybe time – past, present and future as we think we know it – is merely an illusion to compensate in our brains for otherwise simultaneous events. And that maybe our universe is only one of many, where other possible expressions of our ‘reality’ exist. Science fiction writers have posited these notions for decades, and maybe their hunches were right all along!

And so from my dream arise the following questions: could this alternative-universe expression of our ‘reality’ be the reservoir from which the Picasso’s, Godin’s, Bradbury’s, Verne’s and Rowling’s of the world draw their inspiration? What kinds of higher lessons about our ‘reality’ could be learned from looking through an artist’s doorway into that other ‘reality’? And perhaps most importantly, how do you test a hypothesis like this?

I just love it when my dreams cause me to have mind-fucks like this!

Posted by: Scott | August 24, 2011

Love, Hope & Optimism – Thanks, Jack

Word cloud of Stephen Lewis' Eulogy to Jack Layton

“My friends,

Love is better than anger.

Hope is better than fear.

Optimism is better than despair.

So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.

And we’ll change the world.”

                                    Jack Layton,

                                    1950-2011

Posted by: Scott | June 24, 2011

A Kiss in the Chaos…

What's it take get yer guy to kiss ya? Rich Lam - Getty Images

I didn’t mean to go three months without posting, honest. I could blame it on a lot of things – a dead computer at home, playing parent to a parent, etc. – all legitimate excuses, but no. I blame it on the hockey.

When your home team (in my case, the Canucks) goes on a rare playoff run as deep as the one just finished, you want to savour every shot, every goal, every save and every blocked shot on the way to a championship… well, almost a championship. For those of us long faithful to the blue-white-and-green (let’s just forget those other colour combinations), these opportunities just don’t come around often enough. Thrice in my lifetime, that’s all.

The best part for me was getting to watch the games while getting paid. The CBC (of “Hockey Night in Canada” fame) set up a family zone from which fans could come and watch the game together on a large outdoor screen. Emphasis here is on ‘family’, not drunken knuckle-dragger. More on that later. I worked there as a kind of crowd marshal, setting up the seating area, keeping aisles clear, giving directions to the food carts, washrooms, etc. The family zone was such a great idea that it unfortunately became a victim of its own success. The deeper the playoff run went, the bigger the zone got. The bigger the zone got, the more room for pre-pickled party-crashers to make a mess of things. That, and not enough pro-active policing to keep it all sane.

You’ve no doubt heard how it all went sideways after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. The riot I mean. Yes, there were some anarchist types, trying to instigate things. But, sadly, when it comes to sports, there is a certain constituency for whom sports appeals to their inner Barbarian. Their inhibitions turned loose with copious amounts of alcohol, they can go on a wrecking spree with little incentive other than “Well, other people are doing it.” Sports as a lower-order form of combat? Maybe George Orwell was right.

I witnessed much of the spectacle three floors up in the CBC station. Not a proud moment to be Vancouverite. It’s not that it hasn’t happened before; I just thought we had learned from the experience of last year’s Olympics to party responsibly. And it’s not that I have a lot of sympathy for big retail corporations, either; it’s that with this kind of mob hysteria and mayhem, violence towards both property AND people go hand-in-hand.

But then, in the midst of all the chaos, a series of funny things happened. First, there were people who went out of their ways to slow down the madness. Often at considerable risk to their own safety, they tried to block the destruction of shops and parked cars. They intervened to prevent people from being beaten up. One of my co-workers provided first aid for a beating victim before we had to dash for safety. From inside the TV station, we watched this one guy who stood in the middle of Georgia and Cambie Streets, smoking a cigarette (or was it a doobie?), standing his ground between rioters and the police. A point of stillness in the tension, every time rioters knocked over a pair of traffic barriers, he calmly put them back up. He did that several times as the crowd around him slowly gave up and dispersed.

There were other surprises, too, in response to the riot. A massive volunteer-led cleanup the morning after. The Facebook ‘name and shame’ board set up to find those responsible. And the ‘apology walls’ – notes on boarded-up store windows from citizens and hockey fans ashamed and dismayed by the actions of our lowest-common-denominator subset. A communal spirit-cleansing, if you like, amid the fearful recognition that there is a little Barbarian in all of us. A struggle to make sense of the seemingly senseless.

And then there was ‘the kiss’. No, I didn’t see it happen, but a moment like that doesn’t surprise me, with all the other unusual moments in this latest of riots in Vancouver. (Like all big cities, we’ve had our share.) Is it possible that the image of two people kissing between lines of riot police could overcome the images of violence and destruction? Not for a while, probably. But it would be nice to think that the most enduring image of a dark moment in a city’s history would be not what was destroyed, but of the several positive reactions mentioned above. If not those, then perhaps the image of a guy kissing his distraught girlfriend to comfort her amid the chaos swirling around them?

A kiss to remind us all of hope, of love, and life, with or without the Stanley Cup. At least until next year.

Posted by: Scott | March 25, 2011

The Great Fukushima Legacy New Energy Contest

It seems every time I want to write about something I think is important, another thing I think is important comes along and grabs my attention. Thank you, inventors of television advertizing, for my short attention span. But I digress…

The shocking images from Japan’s earthquake/tsunami/reactor failure should remind us living on North America’s Wet Coast of two things. First, we are inevitably due for similar treatment from Mother Nature. We just won’t know when and where until she’s ready spring it upon us. Second, we are nowhere near as ready to handle that kind of disaster anytime soon. Certainly not as well the Japanese have so far. Do you have a disaster kit? I don’t.

The Japanese reactor failure should also remind us just how reliant we are on a very limited range of energy options. Most of the industrialized world still relies overwhelmingly on fossil fuels to run everything cars to factories to whole cities. There are alternatives, but like fossil fuels, they all have some limitations. A quick checklist of popular renewables:

Solar – clean and cheap, but less efficient where there’s less sunshine. Great in Medicine Hat, Alberta (Canada’s Sunshine Capital); not so much in Prince Rupert, BC, where people with sun allergies actually go to live).

GOOGLE IMAGES

Wind – clean and cheap, but visually distracting for some. Plus, they are dependent on area wind patterns, which means optmum location weighed endangering birds and overcoming NIMBYism.  

Wave – very effective in coastal waters with high tide variations (think Bay of Fundy). Availability of water, much less high tides, is crucual.

Hydro – cheap and clean, too, but costly and time-consuming to build. Plus, dams eventually have to be decommissioned for safety. And then there’s the damage to pre-existing ecosystems, making the impact of wind generators seemingly irrelevant by comparison.

Geothermal – great in places with access to volcanic hot spots (Hawaii, Iceland), but again they’re location-dependent.

And then there’s nuclear: clean, powerful and… dangerous as Hell! Okay, I know that open-air nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s and 60s exposed our parents to far more radioactive fallout than Fukushima, Chernobyl or Three Mile Island ever could (which might explain some of our parents’ strange behavior). And, I know reactor accidents are rare. But when things do go bad at a nuclear power plant, they really go bad.

With that sobering thought in mind, you’d think we’d all be demanding our political leaders to kickstart the search for the next big thing in energy.

And, you’d think that with the torrid pace of advancement in information technology that we’d be making similar strides in developing new forms of energy that could power all this stuff we really don’t need. But no. Granted, increnmental progress is always being made in making existing energy systems cleaner and more efficient, but where’s the push for something new?

Incentive seems to be missing. Why? I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories (anymore), but too many greedy people seem to think that the world can live on oil, coal and natural gas forever, or at least as long as they’re alive and collecting rich dividend checks from Exxon-Mobil and the like.

In terms of new energy ideas, there’s certainly lots of talk. (Just read the online debate about whether developing power from dark matter violates the laws of quantum mechanics.) The apparent problem is no one seems willing to take the risk of investing long and deep enough to ‘walk the talk.’ Thus, we have a catch-22: we can’t know what works and what doesn’t unless someone actually builds a new energy test platform, but hardly anyone seems willing to risk money (and potential ridicule) in building something that might not work. I think we’ve become too careful.

It’s only a matter of time, though, before one person’s ‘silly idea” becomes someone else’s innovation and society’s accepted reality. Just think of the airplance. It, too, was once a silly idea before two brothers took a chance and persevered through lots of ridicule to make their silly idea a reality. Could it happen again? Why not?  

This has me thinking: back in the early 20th Century, we had competitions for just about anything that involved new technology. Who could drive a car the fastest or the farthest. Who would be first to fly from here to there, and then in the least amount of time. There were trophies, yes, but there were also monetary prizes for the winners. Inventors were treated like celebrities. But now there is so much focus on corporate research and development and patent protection to know just who’s behind our new toys. How many of us know who actually invented the laptop computer, the LCD flat screen TV, or Viagra? Was there a competition for the pill that develops the fastest and longest erection? I never heard of it.

So here’s my silly thought: an international competition to develop a working new energy system viable at various scales, from the vehicle/household level to that of whole cities. A competition not unlike the Nobel Prize, but one which involves far more money. Billions, in fact, to those who can build a provable energy system that is safe, reliable and can produce large amounts energy anywhere in the world, using mostly (if not wholly) local inputs.

The inventor(s) would not receive patent rights but money and recognition in exchange for allowing the new technology to be universally accessible at minimal cost. In that way, any city, industry or national government in the developing world can begin to address its social development issues without adding to the planet’s already oversized carbon footprint, while post-industrial states can put their fossil fuel legacy behind them, once and for all.

The prize money could come from sources like the seized assets of criminals or political despots. Obviously, we’re not all billionaires, but individuals could donate to the fund as well. A UN or other well-recognized and respected international agency would have to look after the prize and research grant fund, supervise the competition, and develop what the criteria for determining the winner(s). A multi-billion$ prize is necessary to ensure maximum benefit to humanity; otherwise, the profit motive could kick in and any research-related patents would fall into corporate or military hands. The stakes are already too high now for a good idea be cast aside for the sake of profitability or “national security.” Conservation and renewables alone will not solve our global energy needs. Something else is needed to erase the gap between the energy haves and have-nots. (That’s how we achieve “international security.”‘) We owe it to futurte generations to be as bold as those who thought that nuclear power was the answer. Okay so they got it wrong. That doesn’t mean we will, too. It doesn’t mean we shouln’t try.

As the title of this posting suggests, I propose to name the contest “Fukushima Legacy” – not for the stricken power plant, but for the plant workers and the emergency personnel who have almost certainly shortened their own lives for the greater good. “The needs of the many outweigh those of the few… or the one.” Isn’t that what a certain Vulcan once said? A new energy contest might be just what’s needed for someone to make that all-important breakthrough. I think we owe “the few” a legacy fitting their sacrifice.

Posted by: Scott | December 24, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Bethlehem…

Thinking Outside the Christmas Photo Box

I recently heard again for the first time in years the Chris De Burgh song “A Spaceman Came Travelling” – a twentieth-century take on how the first Christmas might have happened – and it made me wonder about perceptions of reality.

For instance, can you imagine yourself as a shepherd tending to your flock one night, and you suddenly see a new light in the sky, a new star, and a tremendous sounding of what seems like music, coming from that light. It’s something you’ve never experienced before, so how would you possibly interpret your experience to a fellow shepherd?

You: “Well, I saw this light in the sky…”

Other shepherd: “There are lots of lights in the sky.”

You: “Not that big. And they don’t make any sound. This light was so bright and large, it was like…” Your lack of scientific knowledge has you grasping for equivalents, and all you can think of is “…like a blazing chariot.”

You can imagine the other shepherd’s reaction: “A blazing chariot? Buddy, you need to spend more time around people, and a lot less around sheep. By the way, you have water or wine in that sack?”

That exchange would of course have been followed by the experiences of others nearby. People would have also become aware of a new birth, which, combined with the sudden appearance of the lights (or lighted craft), would have been enough to convince many in those days that that child – the future Jesus of Nazareth – was special. His whole life would be observed and interpreted for meaning; hence the various Gospels that have lived to this day, charting the life, words and deeds of a remarkable man.

I got to thinking about this because peoples’ interpretations of reality are largely dependent on prior experience. But being dependent on past experience can cloud your judgment, and even make you fearful. In of one of my favourite movies, ‘Men in Black’, Kay reminds the future Jay just how society collectively interprets things they don’t understand:

“Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the centre of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat. And fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone this planet. Just think what you’ll know… tomorrow.”

Kay was of course was referring those who doubted Galileo and Newton, among others – people who dared to think outside the box of common perception, and who were ridiculed and even persecuted for their original thoughts. Jesus was killed for daring to say that people (Jews) could not be free unless they freed themselves from within. Change is neither easy nor fast because of the limitations of other peoples’ perceptions.

Why is this important to me? I see change in the world, and I look for meaning in that change. In the last lines of his song, De Burgh looks to the future, and reinterprets part of the Christian Book of Revelations:

“And just before the dawn at the paling of the sky,

The stranger returned and said ‘Now I must fly.

When two thousand years of your time have gone by,

This song will begin once again, to a baby’s cry…”

It is claimed by some that Jesus of Nazareth was born in the spring of 24BCE. (Early Christians apparently co-opted a then-popular pagan Winter Solstice celebration to make his birth and life more easily accepted and relevant to non-Christians.) Chris De Burgh recorded and released his song in 1975, which, if you do the math, is almost exactly two thousand years later. You can’t help but wonder if there is something to the idea that maybe the world has been changing so much and so rapidly for a reason, and that maybe another remarkable being is walking the streets of the world, spreading a message of hope. Old societal structures and assumptions are no longer taken for granted. There is a growing cry for justice in the world, in the affairs of governments and institutions. Maybe something big is afoot.

But what, or whom, then do we look for? If what I said above is in any way relevant, then we have to look for ideas and people who challenge the ways we’re doing things right now, people who are warning us of how far we have strayed from the path we should be taking. Just for the record. You don’t have to look far to find such voices. They’re the ones who cry for sanity and wisdom in the wilderness of our meaningless, consumption-drive lifestyles; lifestyles fed by equally meaningless, undignified work. What’s more, they’re the ones trying to do something about it. After all, words without deeds are meaningless.

 Perhaps we should look and listen. We might just see something, hear that song the shepherds once heard, a long time ago. And once again the doors of perception will be blown wide open. Just think what then we’ll know… tomorrow.

 Happy Christmas.

We are told over and over again that competition is good, that it is necessary and that it brings out the best in us. We are told that companies, countries, communities and individuals must become and remain competitive, or… what?

We fall behind, that’s what. By this logic, being competitive therefore should translate into getting ahead. Now that all sounds good in theory but what are the consequences of ‘getting ahead’ or ‘being competitive’? Where do you start? Stress, breakdown in family and social cohesion, ecological destruction (to produce more of whatever widget will make some company or country more competitive), to name but a few I can think of without really trying. The nagging questions that enter my mind when I think of this insatiable need to be competitive are: a) by whose standards are we being compared, and how relevant are those standards, and b) is there an alternative, less harmful way for companies, countries, communities and individuals to act?

Standards – if you can call them that – seem to be illusory. The goalposts are always changing. And what’s worst is that those standards are not genuinely focused on improving the lives of the vast majority of humanity. Instead, they are crafted mostly to suit the insatiable need of the speculation-driven: stockbrokers, corporate CEOs, and the deluded politicians who give in to this false paradigm. In terms of relevance, almost seven billion people cannot endlessly compete with each other for the planet’s scarce resources in a perpetual game of keeping up with the Joneses. If we continue down this path, war and social destruction are the only possible outcomes.

If you, like me, believe there has to be a better way, there’s good news. There is a real alternative to endless competition, and it’s called co-operation. When you look at things closely, accomplishing anything of importance takes co-operation, even amongst the competitive. Think about it. Competition may be necessary among individual athletes to get on the team, but once on that team, everyone has to be on the same page or that team will never win a game, much less a championship. Remember the phrase, “There is no I in team?” It’s true. It’s just the same for actors. They compete (okay, audition) for parts, but once cast in their roles everyone is expected to contribute their part. If they don’t, the play or film likely won’t be a success. Co-operation is the only way you get the whole that’s greater than the sum of the individual parts. It doesn’t matter what being attempted – staging a play, winning a hockey game, or building a house – without co-operation, nothing would be accomplished.

National governments in Europe figured this out after World War II: if they wanted to avoid another disastrous war, they had to figure out a way to co-operate with each other. The European Union is far from perfect, but even with its limitations it demonstrates that even self-interested national governments can learn to trust each other, share resources, and co-operate on important matters –most of the time, anyway.

If we really want a safe and stable new world order, the old spirit of fear, greed and competition must be replaced by one of trust, sharing and co-operation. We can learn from the past, if only we choose to.

The biggest shopping days of the year are almost upon us, as well as Buy Nothing Day, an attempt by some to restore sanity to our consumption-driven lives. In  case you didn’t know, Buy Nothing Day this year in North America is November 26th. If you succeed in doing what the name says, I’d like to hear how you managed to buy nothing. It’s not as easy as it seems, but it’s worth a try.

Why do we consume, even when we know we usually don’t have to? Probably, because some really good marketing people have convinced us that we can’t possibly do without that fast food/car/perfume/whatever. (Actually, I can do without the perfume!) And nearly all of us give in to it often enough to keep the capitalist system going well beyond its “best before date”. The people behind the magazine Adbusters and Buy Nothing Day point out that marketers are really good at tapping into our our insecurities, particularly that of going without. Fear, it could be said, produces greed. 

When someone is free of fear, they can follows more creative pursuits. Like art, travel, fostering good relations with family and friends, or writing blog posts!

But, when some people going without, or fear going without, they tend to hoard what they have, and find it difficult to share with others. This of course makes sense with food, but money also affects people this way. My Dad, a product of the 1930′s Depression, is one of those people. And once someone has gone without money, and the ability to obtain what they need or want, they can get mean and greedy. They leave behind a part of their inner humanity.

It has been said that “When you share, you recognize God in your brother.”** What does that mean in a consumption-driven society? By deciding to share, you recognize that that person’s well-being – spiritual and physical -  is just as important as yours. 

Here’s an example. Say a homeless person comes up to you and asks you for change. What usually happens next in our minds is a process of rationalizing why we should not give them any of our hard-earned money. (Don’t worry. I struggle with this dilemma, too.) They might be addicted to drugs, we think, and all we are doing helping them get their fix. That might be true, but do we actually know that for certain? And, who the Hell are we to judge someone else’s behaviour or needs? 

Would it not be proper to put uourselves in their shoes for a moment, and try to understand the world from their perspective; understand how we would feel and act if we were homeless, regardless of how we ended up that way?

If we believe in freedom of the individual, we must also believe that, by judging someone we take away their freedoms, including the freedom to make a mistake. After all, how do we learn but by (often repeatedly) making mistakes?

Back to the homeless person, and the dilemma of sharing. If we freely choose not to share, that is our right, but with that right come a degree of responsibility for that other person’s actions. (As mentioned in the previous post about fear and trust, we aren’t really separate from each other. I’ll expand on this notion in the next post.) By not sharing, we reduce or elimenate the choices, the freedom to choose, that that homeless person has. Homeless people too often end up addicted – when the help of others could have prevented their descent into despair- in jail, or on a morgue slab, all of which cost us in taxes. So you see, by saying “no” to someone’s request for help, we aren’t really letting ourselves of the hook. We are, in fact, merely delaying the onset of our collective responsibility.

Again, I’m not claiming to any angel of mercy here; I struggle with these decisions, too. What I hope I’m saying is that if we really want to act like responsible human beings, we have to acknowledge that our rights bear responsibilities that we too often forget, and that our consumption-focused business, governance and media environment are all too happy to help us indulge.

How do we change? Maybe we could start by helping out at a local soup kitchen this winter, or by giving away some of those clothes that we haven’t worn for… years? Better yet, send a message to our so-called leaders in the political economy by “buying nothing” on November 26th, and sharing some of our earnings with someone truly in need. Let me know how you do.

** Excerpt from message #82 (September 18, 1979), by Maitreya the Christ. Read the full message (and others) at:

http://www.share-international.org/maitreya/messages/message_82.htm

They can make you think of world events in a whole different way!

What in the world are we so damned afraid of, anyway?

Are immigrants really trying to take our jobs away from us? (They usually make more jobs; if not, then why is there a new ethnic restaurant opening in some part of town each week?) Is there a terrorist hiding under my bed? (By the way, whatever happened to the communist hiding under my bed? I remember being more afraid of really big spiders!) Are we going to Hades in a hand basket? Or are we really just making ourselves crazy for no good reason? Are any of our fears truly rational?

Fear drives our political agendas to be sure, and that results in things like billion-dollar warships that sit rusting, civil liberties being curbed, and too many of us spying on our neighbours, while hoping they’re not doing the same. Where do we end up with? Wasted money and frayed nerves, that’s what.

Where does our fear, particularly fear of the other, come from?

Fear so often has us in its grip because we believe that we are separate from one another, that what we do to others does not happen to us. But are we really that separate from others, and do the things we do to others – good or bad – really happen only to them? Or, are we just deluding ourselves into believing this is so?

If think we about it though, we all share number of essential things without which we could not live. The air we breathe does not recognize national boundaries, nor does the water we drink. We know this, while accepting the insane notion that our divisive political and economic structures are somehow superior? Are we collectively mad? After all, we all need clean air and clean water to breathe, drink, and soil to grow our food in.

Disasters generally don’t distinguish between political geographies, either. If an asteroid big enough to destroy the planet were to hit the Earth tomorrow, there’s no special hiding place for any ‘special people’ who’d be saved from annihilation. And, if we ever engaged in the ultimate of insanity – nuclear war – there’s no hiding place that’d enable anyone to last but for a short time from the radioactive fallout. We may often fear the ‘other’, but the result of our fears overwhelming us is always the same: we all bleed, and we all bleed in the same colour.

Fear in the pre-historical times past was logical; a survival mechanism against predators. Fear of the other in the pre-nuclear age resulted in mass death, but only on a village-by-village scale. The wars of the 20th Century, however, should have taught us that the stakes are now too high to continue to invest in the politics of fear. Besides, we now know that there is no real difference between any one racial or religious group and any other, except the ones we invent.

What can we do instead of engaging the politics of fear? Perhaps it’s time to invest in a new politics, a politics of trust. But, is trust really possible, and where can we find it?

You can find trust all over the place, if you but look for it. We trust our parents to take care of us, for instance, and they usually do. Neighbourhood Watch programs are built on mutual trust among neighbours. Firefighters have to invest in a culture of trust to know their fellow firefighters will have their back when things go bad. People around the world and even national governments have learned to trust in the collective power of international organizations like Medicine Sans Frontiers or the Red Cross (Crescent) to help in times of need. Even the United Nations, for all its problems, is a still a dramatic improvement over ad hoc alliances of the past, built around lowest-common-denominator interests. Peace, however, is in nearly everybody’s interest.

More and better examples are there to inspire a politics of trust, if we care to feel inspired.

When we recognize that we all share the same air and water and watch the same stars with amazement from the same tiny planet together, our only sensible conclusion can be that there’s no more room for fear of the other in the governing of our lives. If we as a human race are destined to continue living on this tiny planet, then we must recognize that trust is the only course of action. Investing in the politics of trust will enable us to solve our many problems together than we ever could in isolation.

After all, it’s easier to solve our many problems together – as neighbours, cities and nations – than in mutual isolation. And, it’s a hell of a lot less stressful.

Posted by: Scott | October 2, 2010

A Reverent Attack on Violent Irreverence

A few days ago, I was using a computer at my local library (Why? See last post…Murphy’s Law Month). Two kids at nearby terminals were playing a computer game. Some kinda war game. They were about seven years old. I couldn’t help but notice when I overheard one of them brag about “committing suicide” to evade capture by his companion. A seven-year-old, flippantly commenting about committing suicide? Has the idea experiencing violence become that irreverent? With no chastising parent in range, I thought of making a flippant remark of my own, but discretion being the better part of boldness, I held my toungue. 

Okay, okay, I know what someone reading this is gonna say. “Didn’t you play ‘soldier’ when you were a kid?” True, I did. But maybe in this post-Cold War enviroment I’m reflecting that we have to stop promoting senseless, meaningless violence, where there are no consequences or real injury. Because there ARE consequences if we don’t attach meaning to an act of violence. 

I say this because I’m writing a book in which there violence sporadically occurs, and some morbid humour to go with it. But even the humour has a point: to help the reader get by the ugliness of the violence without losing interest in the larger story: the reasons why people kill and what happenss to their sense of self-worth, their soul, if you like. 

Killing yourself isn’t a simple, reversable thing you do in a video game. Even if you believe in reincarnation (and I do), committing suicide is a kind of irreversible thing to do in one’s present incarnation, and should be treated with that kind of  respect. 

Okay, enough with the irreverence with which popular culture treats violence. I would, however like to submit for your attention an opinion piece I wrote for the Burnaby Now in the summer of 2007. The incident was real, and made me look a little differently at all those “Road Runner” cartoons I watched as a 7-year-old kid. Slightly revised, here it is. 

One cannot wonder if we have somehow lost touch with our humanity when we don’t stop to help or regard the other beings with which we share this world and with which we sometimes come into conflict.

On Wednesday, June 6, just before 7pm, I was walking south on Griffiths Drive north of Rumble Street when I witnessed a dark-coloured SUV (a Honda CRV or its Toyota equivalent) run over a little black squirrel as it tried to cross the road. This happened about ten metres in front of me and, when I reached the point where it lay, I discovered that the squirrel was still alive, albeit barely, and not for long. It was not a sight for the squeamish.

Coughing up blood with each breath it took, the squirrel tried to lift its head and shoulders away from the pavement, as if to try carry on its way. It would then lay back on the road and try again a few seconds later. The squirrel tried three or four times in this way to escape its fate before finally giving up.

I wanted to attempt to get it off the road somehow, to drag it onto a patch of grass where at least it could die in something more akin to its natural habitat. Passing motorists, however, would only slow down and swerve just enough to have a look as they drove around the mortally wounded animal before carrying on with their busy lives. The person who struck the squirrel must have been especially busy; they disappeared so quickly that I didn’t see which way they went.

To the motorist who struck the squirrel, I have this to say:

That little black squirrel obviously didn’t know the rules of the road – don’t cross in the middle of the block; look both ways before you cross; don’t play in traffic – but neither do most children under five. Slowing down for a small animal crossing the road is good practice for allowing small, young excited humans to safely do the same. This is an important issue for me as I will soon have a great-niece or great-nephew living in the Edmonds area.

What if a child had followed that squirrel onto the road?

I would like to think that you would at least have the compassion, the humanity, to interrupt your busy life and stop to take responsibility and bear witness to the mysteries of life and death, even if there was nothing else you could do. I would hope you would at least do that for a child, if not for a little black squirrel.

Older Posts »

Categories