Merely the Facts are Missing

It’s now blatantly obvious that the majority of contemporary North American were raised by wolves.  I have nothing against wolves per se or their interspecies parenting skills (they did a decent job with Romulus and Remus) but their grasp of the complex social, economic and political structures of the 21st century is limited.  As cultural teachers, Canus lupus is not your ideal choice — unless you’re another wolf.  I’m not saying that everybody is walking around Darwin Award stupid, but there is now a noticeable understanding gap in our society, and like the financial equity gap, it’s widening.  Here are a couple of examples.

As the protest season comes to a halt, right on schedule, due to inclement weather, and the Occupy Whatever! Movement goes into hibernation until the sunny summer returns, there are still people around who believe those donuts were a positive force for change.  They’ve been favourably compared to Nelson Mandela and Mohandas Gandhi.  As the risk of sugar coating it, that’s crap.  The Occupy Whatever! Movement hasn’t done a thing but prove that our society is so wealthy we can afford to have some people make a career out of being a pain in the ass.  Their only achievement was to inconvenience the very people they claimed to represent.  Their only accomplishment was to force our cities to spend a lot of extra dollars that should have been used someplace else.  And their only legacy is that money is gone.  However, there’s a ton of rhetoric out there that says the exact opposite.  The apologists maintain the Occupiers were noble crusaders, keeping the beacons of freedom burning in a time of darkness.  Go figure!  The only thing I see changed is a lot of trampled grass and an extra couple of tons of garbage headed to the landfill.

Meanwhile, in another part of the crisis, our collective debt is climbing.  We owe so much money even King Midas is worried.  Yet, as our ability to pay for our wastrel ways steadily declines, a whole segment of our society wants to borrow even more money.  I’m not an economist, but it strikes me that when you’ve just gotten the foreclosure notice from Standard and Poor, the last thing you want to do is buy recreational property on the No Money Down plan.  It’s a good thing the American government doesn’t know there’s a number after trillion, or they’d be funding billion dollar programs to find out what it is.

Apparently, a whole pile of people have never had a household budget.  They seem to think that money, although it doesn’t grow on trees, comes from a magical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or something.  They simply don’t understand that debt works the same for everybody: you have to pay it back!  Nobody — not you, nor I, nor the US government, nor even Sauron’s evil land of Mordor can borrow itself out of debt.  It’s fiscally impossible but there are still people around recommending it.

These are just two examples of how people simply don’t understand how the world works.  There are hundreds more.  And the real problem is this isn’t a distortion of the facts; it’s a dismissal of them.  We have now traveled beyond the realm of spin doctors shaping the facts to suit their argument.  These days, facts don’t even matter.  People are jumping on the bandwagon of outrageous nonsense and acting as though it deserves serious consideration.  Then, when confronted with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they simply disagree.

It’s absurd, but it’s true.

Modern Times and the Lord of Misrule

In medieval Europe, there was a festival held every year in the run up to Christmas.  It went by a number of different names and a number of different shapes, but essentially it was the same all over the continent.  If I were an anthropologist, I would tell you that it was a mutation of the old Roman celebrations for the god Saturn, hijacked by the early Christian church.  And that it was also tied to the even earlier local animistic rituals connected to the Winter Solstice.  However, I’m not an anthropologist, so to me, the whole thing was just a drunken bash.  The Medievals would get together just before the onset of real winter and party – mainly because they weren’t sure if they were going to make it ‘til spring.  They’d eat and drink, gamble and chase women (or men, depending on which side of the bar wench you were on) until after the Solstice and the solemn occasion of Christmas.  Then they’d hunker down and try to survive for another year.

In England, this was called the Feast of Fools or Topsy-Turvy Time.  For twelve days (probably the 12 days from our Christmas song) the natural order of society was suspended and turned upside down – the more ridiculous, the better.  People wore their hats backwards; shepherds carried their sheep.  Peasants stopped toiling and went to the bar; servants were served by their masters, barmaids were treated like ladies, and on and on.  The whole thing culminated in a drunken ceremony on the steps of the handiest church or cathedral, where the unruly crowd grabbed the dumbest Dumb and Dumber oaf among them and crowned him the Lord of Misrule.  He presided over a feast that ate and drank into the early morning.  Over the centuries, these parties got wilder and wilder until they were finally banned, in 1512, by Henry VIII, a guy who knew how to party.  (That just tells you how crazy it got.)

It has stuck me recently that we live in Topsy-Turvy times — except for us they’re all year round.  The natural order of our world has been bent to the breaking point and little or nothing we do makes sense anymore.  For example, our cities are spending tons of money every day, trying to accommodate the needs of the ubiquitous Occupiers: things like extra police, fire and paramedical personnel, sanitation facilities and the essentials of water and trash removal.  These things cost money that our cities wouldn’t normally be spending.  Yet who’s complaining about these extra expenses?  Ordinary taxpayers!  This is exactly ass-backwards.  Let me explain.

Normally, aside from walking on the streets or calling the city to complain about potholes, ordinary people don’t have much contact with their civic government.  They go to work, come home, rake their leaves, lock their doors at night and shut up about it.  Come election time, they vote (in ever decreasing numbers) and once a month, they pay their rent or their mortgage, and that’s about it.  The majority of people in any city don’t even know what services, aside from garbage pickup and community centres, their cities offer.  They don’t need to; they don’t use them.

On the other hand, in every city I know of, there’s a group of people (and it’s getting larger by the minute) who not only know what services are available but actually need them to survive.  These folks, on the bottom end of our social order, are in dire straits.  They need homeless shelters, drop-in centres, clinics, paramedics and way more police protection than the rest of us.  Their very lives depend on the money the city passes around to the various and sundry agencies and institutions dedicated to helping them.  If that money is being spent someplace else, it has a direct impact on their quality of life — such as it is.  Thus, money spent on Port-a-Potties for political activists is literally being taken out of the mouths of the homeless.

It doesn’t make any sense for ordinary taxpayers to complain about the whack in the wallet the Occupiers are giving us.  That tax money is allocated long before we ever write the cheques, on stuff we’re never going to see anyway.  The city managers could just as easily take it down to the local casino and drop it on 14 Red at the roulette wheel, for all we know.   For example, thousands of dollars in my city was spent to encourage children to grow wheat in their backyards.  That didn’t impact my quality of life one bit.  I didn’t get any wheat, but that’s okay: I wouldn’t know what to do with it in the first place.  My point is the money’s gone, folks, and Occupiers or not your tax assessments are going to go up next year.

However, the people who should be bitching, loud and long, are the disadvantaged among us who have a long, cold winter ahead of them.  The money the city is spending on aid and comfort to the Occupiers is all immediate costs.  If nothing else, overtime has to be paid, and that’s real cash – dollars and cents.  At some point, city services are going to suffer — just to make ends meet.  After all, that annual tax increase isn’t going to come until late next year, which is a little late when the snow’s gonna fly in January.  Personally, if I was digging in a dumpster behind KFC, trying to find breakfast, I’d be a little tight-jawed to see a $20.00-an-hour city worker getting time and a half for extra clean-up at the local protest.  A couple of thousand dollars a day is big money when food and shelter are an occasional luxury.

So here’s the deal.  The people who are going to take the biggest kick in the groin from the uber-extra city expenses are oddly silent on the subject — whereas they should be the ones howling, to claw back some of that money, as if their life depended on it (which, in fact, it does.)  Meanwhile, the folks who really aren’t affected by what the city spends (because they have to pay for it, regardless) are roaring away like a lion with a thorn in its paw, just as if somebody at the other end was actually listening.

Me, I want a spot in the front row, when we finally get it over with and crown the Lord of Misrule.

Occupy Wall Street or Whatever!

I’m old enough to remember when Monty Python swept the neighbourhood.  It was too funny!  You just had to talk about it, and it kept getting better and better.  That’s the way I feel about the Occupy Wall Street movement which has rapidly turned into Occupy Whatever!  I simply can’t stop talking about it.  Every time it comes up on the panel, some new absurdity raises its lovely head and I’m caught between laughing my haunch off and saying to anybody who’ll listen. “Did you see that?”

First of all, let me get serious and clarify.  I’m not opposed to people exercising their democratic right to assemble and protest.  Knock yourself out!  Also, I do believe there is an unholy bond between large corporations and government that needs to be broken.  Okay!  I just think there’s a lot of jawboning going on when the same amount of energy could be put to good use.  If it’s any consolation, when the Tea Party starts yipping I feel the same way – more about that later.  The problem is, to skewer Marshall McLuhan, the movement has become the message.   It seems the physical act of standing, sitting or lying around in a park is of paramount importance here.  The commitment to change is limited to physically being there.  It’s like finding a charity or social cause on Facebook and tapping the “like” icon: it’s a nice gesture, but it doesn’t do any good.  In fact, every inane remark or other bit of nonsense, no matter how small, that comes out of the Occupy movement has the cumulative effect of downgrading what’s really important.  The genuine need for change and all the hard work that that entails has been hijacked by a dog and pony show that closely resembles America’s Got Whiners and it’s playing on Comedy Central.

For example, recently, conservative YouTubers (and quite a few others) were rolling on the floor laughing at a viral video from Occupy Atlanta.  You can see it here.  It’s long and full of boring, but if you check it out for just the first minute you can get the idea.  It shows just how directionless and ineffectual the Occupy Whatever! movement really is.

Spoiler Alert!

Notice the repeat bleating.  Didn’t any of these people read Animal Farm in high school?  Plus the incredulous look on Congressman Lewis’ face is priceless.  I’m not going to put thoughts in the guy’s head, but I don’t think he can believe what he’s seeing.  If you’re tough enough to hang in there to the end the best part is the guy with the microphone showing his commitment to nobody’s democracy but his own and shouting down the opposition.  I am certain that this is not representative of the entire movement.  However, if stuff like this is being passed off as a serious attempt to change society, all I can do is shake my head – words fail me.  And, the scary part is this is the public face of the movement, I’m not creative enough to imagine what goes on when the Smart phones are shut off.

In the same vein, here are some recent quotes:

“As long as these big corporations have a good crony capitalist in the White House, they can rely on DC to bail them out until the whole system goes bankrupt, which, I am afraid, is not very far off.”

“At this point, I don’t see any difference between George Bush and Obama.  The middle class is a lot worse that when Obama was elected.”

“I have children and grandchildren, and I don’t want them to grow up in this world.  I want the world to change.  It can be done.”

“I’m just saying this feels an awful lot like the 60s or 70s when I was a kid.  I mean, you have the same feeling out here that government and nation have parted paths, and the people will bring the government back to the nation.”

“We got sold out!  Banks got bailed out!”

“You leave your country and you expect things to be better in America, a step or two up from what you left back home.  And then there’s this rude awakening: America is just not what it used to be.”

“Republicans, Democrats and independents are stepping up and demanding we put our fiscal house in order.  I think the overriding message after years of borrowing, spending and bailouts is enough is enough.”

Time for a shock: these come from a BBC quiz, and they’re salted with quotes from the Tea Party.  But could you tell the difference?  It’s difficult if you’re not careful, because they sound so similar in tone.  Yet, I doubt very much if Tea Partiers would be welcomed with open arms by the folks who say they represent the 99%.  In fact, I think they`d be met with scorn.  By the way, you can take the quiz here, if you like.

It’s not one philosophy or one action or one quote that has turned the Occupy Whatever! movement into a joke for me.  It’s the incredible waste of organizational skills, time, money and energy.  The people who are part of the Occupy Wall Street movement have shown they can get things done.  They`ve shown remarkable organizational skills and a strong commitment to effect change.  If they were to turn that energy into just one bank boycott or one corporate embargo, the real effects would be monumental.  Unfortunately, I don`t think they realize that democratic change is a long and arduous process; it`s not a montage from an action movie.  It takes long hours and hard work, and while I recognize the need for speed to find a way out of this mess, I’m convinced it doesn’t involve sitting around some park all day.  However, I`ll take what I`m given and enjoy the grins — while I got èm.