I Just Say No!

The world is large and it’s full of wonder, but it’s also an obstacle course of nasty.  This is the stuff that we know is unfair, stuff we know is a scam, stuff that insults our intelligence and our integrity.  In general, we just have to put up with this crap – or spend our entire lives cultivating an apoplectic ulcer.  However, there is one way to survive without being totally pissed off all the time: that’s to stop, take three deep breaths and refuse to participate.  Here are just a few things I refuse to do.  (Some of them are more serious than others.)

I refuse to use Gillette products – A while ago, the multinational boys at Gillette made a video that called me (and every other man) a bad friend, a bad father/brother/uncle, a bad role model, a bad mentor, generally a bad person, certainly a sexist and quite possibly a … anyway … you get the idea.  Their only purpose, as far as I can see, was to cash in on trending “toxic masculinity.”  So be it.  Well, I’ve been called a lot of names over the years, but I’ve never paid anybody for the privilege – and I’m certainly not going to start now.

I refuse to wear short pants – I know it’s uber-fashionable, but in ten years, we’re all going to laugh ourselves stupid at the photographs.  Here’s the deal.  Unless you’re a swimmer, a diver, a runner, a pole vaulter or an ice hockey player (think about it!) there is no logical reason for a grown man in the northern hemisphere to wear shorts to work.  Just sayin’!

I refuse to Tweet – My only mission in life is to communicate, and Twitter is the poster child of communication in the 21st century.  So what’s the problem?  Quite simply, Twitter is the meanest, nastiest, most judgemental, disrespectful, petty form of communication since Grog the Caveman grunted obscenities at the Neanderthals down the road.  History is going to look at our time and conclude most of our problems came from the horrible way we talked to each other – and I’m not willing to be part of that.

I refuse to eat liver – I have no philosophical quarrel with liver, but I ain’t going to eat it.  (This is my mother’s fault.)

I refuse to give money to charity — Sounds hard-hearted and it is, but in my defence, I’ve donated tons of clothing, furniture and food over the years.  I’ve recorded radio programs for the blind, cooked pancake breakfasts, swept floors, washed dishes, picked up garbage, sold raffle tickets and taught public speaking in a federal prison – all gratis.  When I get to the Gates of Valhalla, I’m not going to have anything to be ashamed of in the good works department.  My problem with giving cold hard cash to charity is there’s always a middleman somewhere, and no one is ever willing to tell me how much he’s taking off the top.

And finally

I refuse to be lectured by students – I’ve always worked on the premise that the ideas of young people are fresh.  They look at the world with an untrained eye, which gives them a lot of latitude — and that’s a good thing.  However, I’m not interested in being berated for my many failures by someone whose biggest accomplishment so far in life is mastering puberty.  The notion that kids bring just as much to the table as the experts who’ve studied the problem for years is ludicrous.  Here’s how it works: if your kitchen is flooded, who are you going to call to fix the water pipes – some child fresh out of Cultural Studies 101 or a professional plumber?  The choice is yours, but I’m going with the plumber.

Bill Hickok and my BFF

grouch1As you may have noticed, I spend a lot of time being grouchy in these pages.  It’s gotten so bad that a while ago one of my relatives said, “Hey, what’s the deal?  You’re not that crabby in real life.”  Actually, this is true — I’m not.  As Bill Hickok once said to Poker Jenny, “I am a man of comedy.”  (It should be noted that neither one of them saw the irony of the Navy Colt pistols stuck in Hickok’s sash.)  Unlike Hickok, though, I don’t have a quick temper.  Hickok did (which accounts for the pistols.)  However, like Wild Bill I enjoy my time.  I think the 21st century is tres cool, especially here in North America.  We live in a wonderful world   I might carp and bitch about it but that’s only ‘cause I’m worried we’re not going to “know what we got ‘til it’s gone.”

For example, right at this very moment (it’s after midnight) I can wheel on down to the local McDonald’s grab a couple of Happy Meals™ (Hey! Don’t forget my free toy!) come home and watch Dude! Where’s My Car? in HD.  Why?  Just because I want to.  This may sound frivolous because it is.  However (and this is the important bit) this is the very same society which will, if I choke on the extra pickles, send a couple of paramedics over to my house at top speed to save my life; with, I might add, enough time left over to watch Ashton Kutcher ride off into the sunset with… Demi Moore?  Not bad, considering there are some parts of this world where pickled anything is a luxury, Happy Meals™ are the stuff of legend, and the only time the paramedics show up is when the boys over at the UN finally get off their asses.  Life is good in our neighbourhood.

I don’t have enough time to list all the good stuff our society has on offer.  Nobody does; there’s far too much.  Suffice it to say that the operative word is benevolent.  Despite what out of power politicians and professional malcontent activigrouchsts tell you, our society is not the enemy.  In fact, it’s probably our best friend.  It allows us the freedom of choice to metaphorically indulge ourselves in Happy Meals™ any time of the day or night, and then, when they try to kill us at two o’clock in the morning, it comes running to the rescue.  We can be as fat, dumb and lazy as our minds and bodies will allow, squander our resources on techno-junk and even endlessly dis our social institutions – to their faces.  Our society doesn’t care.  It doesn’t get all pissed off and send in the jackboots like they do in other parts of the world.  It just keeps chugging away, fixing the street lights, repairing the sewers, trying to educate our young people and protecting us from ourselves and others who would do us harm.

I realize it’s a long way from this place to Utopia and our social, economic and political problems are multiplying faster than Norwegian rats in a New York sewer.  However, let’s be honest: what other time and place on this planet has what we’ve got?  For my money, our biggest problem is we’ve settled on the inconceivable (but very convenient) notion that society itself is the bogeyman.  We take all that we’ve built for ourselves for granted — as if it happened by accident.  We fail to understand that the institutions we ignore or malign, depending on our mood, are the very things which give us the time and leisure to do so.  But there I go being all grumpy again.  I suppose, like Hickok, Friend Cody, Texas Jack and the rest, I simply can’t abide a bunch of all-hat cowboys badmouthing my BFF.

The Necessity of Success

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.”