A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I’m tired of success not being an option. There’s a gathering idea in our society that, no matter what we do, there are certain things we’re just going to have to live with. This attitude has been floating around our world like an airborne social virus for some time. However, recently, like its contagious cousin the flu, it’s become a regular feature of our everyday life. (Remember, not so many years ago, when we didn’t have to make the annual pilgrimage to get stabbed against a recurring seasonal disease?) My point is that more and more people are thinking that successful solutions to our problems are just so many Chimera, wandering in herds in the distance. We can vaguely see them out there, but we don’t actually believe they exist.
For example, my city has an outrageous drug problem. I’m not talking about Carol, Bob, Ted and Alice getting together, rolling a joint after dinner and watching The Hangover on Blu-ray. The stuff going on here is life threatening. It’s destroying people — wholesale. Entire neighbourhoods are falling down stoned, and they can’t get up. It’s a complex situation that just begins with a Hydra-headed set of problems and then gets worse. But the major obstacle that prevents us from reclaiming our city and its people from drug dealers and criminals is our own attitude toward drug abuse. The prevailing wisdom is that there will always be people who abuse drugs – full stop. Therefore, any strategy (we don’t even call them solutions anymore) we attempt to deal with our drug problem has got to be based on that one overwhelming fact. And make no mistake: that fact does overwhelm us. We have never taken the long-term view that we must focus our energies on eradicating drug abuse and the soul eating misery it causes. Instead, year after year, we expend our limited resources trying to mitigate the here and now effects of individual drug use. We do this because there will always be people who abuse drugs – full stop.
Similarly, because of our mild climate, my city has more than its fair share of homeless people. I live in one of the most affluent countries in all of history, yet as incredible as it seems, we still have people — who are, but don’t want to be — homeless. Meanwhile, across the street from Shopping Cart Estates we’re building six-storey condo units, as fast as we can pour the concrete. We have the wealth, equipment and expertise, yet our chances of solving the homeless crisis in this country are as bleak as a northern Manitoba winter. (No offence, Herb Lake.) Why? Because once again, we simply don’t have the will to solve the problem. It’s long since been decided that the destitute among us must be warehoused in urban atrocities called “social housing”; either that, or they will naturally remain part of the landscape. So, since there’s never enough “social housing,” the attitude (although nobody ever out and out says it) is, “Ain’t it awful! You can come and see us for some blankets next winter, but sorry, buddy: you’re on your own.”
In that same vein, there is more poverty in this country now than ever before, but instead of helping poor people get on the Gravy Train, we’re throwing money out the window at them, as we go by. And the kicker is, after forty years of The Just Society, we know it doesn’t work. Our attitude seems to be that people who have enough to live on have somehow taken that money away from people who don’t, and they must give it back. This is not a solution. We’ve just hired a bureaucratic Robin Hood to maintain the status quo and perpetually keep the poor on the cutting edge of down and out. It’s an unfortunate fact, but robbing employed Peter to pay unemployed Paul is only good in the short term. Eventually, given that trickle down, neither one of them is going to be eating regularly.
These are just three examples. There are hundreds more.
The problem is, as a society, we no longer believe we can succeed – at anything. We don’t think we can identify a problem, agree on a solution, turn our collective strength to that purpose, and with resolve and hard work, solve it. We are becoming convinced that our problems are permanent and our best course of action is to throw money at them promiscuously in the futile hope they won’t get any worse. That’s why, for example, we waste our time and resources looking for terrorist bombs instead of terrorist bombers. We don’t believe we can win the War on Terror, so the next best thing is to minimize the damage. It’s why our kids have become fat, dumb and unhappy. It’s why we’re choking on our own waste and why Climate Change is going to make Armageddon look like a Wiener Roast gone wrong. And it’s why, if we don’t change our attitude tomorrow, over breakfast, things are going to get a lot worse.
Here’s the deal. We’re it. We can’t shuffle our problems off anymore and there’s nobody left to download them to. We need to succeed because, if we don’t, the consequences will be terrible. We can do this. It’s not hard, but success must become our first choice again. As Galadriel said to Frodo, “This task was appointed to you, Frodo of the Shire. If you do not find a way, no one will.”