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.”