Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Power of What If

On Clusterfuck Nation by James Howard Kunstler, an American blog that makes no bones about the economic and environmental threats created by the uniterrupted globalized consumer society if there ever was one, (and which I highly recommend), this particular comment from a reader of the last posting stuck with me -

"Hey, just so you know: there are plenty of people doing something more constructive with their lives than endlessly prognosticating about coming shitstorms. No matter how eloquently stated, what use is more fear and trepidation? Yes, the world (as you know it) is coming to an end. Isn't it time to get over it and move on to doing, or at least talking about something else a bit more positive and productive?"

Whoever and wherever you are, sir or madam (I suspect sir), I commend you on your extremely well-stated and thought provoking comment. Couldn't have said it better myself. Millions of MSM, Status-Quo toutin' columnists have already responded to millions of loser serf bloggers warnings of the apocalypse with less eloquent and more indignant versions of this self-evident truth. We get it. We know. We're fucked. Now stop thinking you're so smart and acting as if you're changing the world or accomplishing anything and fuck off. You're depressing the shit out of everyone.

Certainly anyone in "the remnant" who doesn't have a complete tin ear for irony and a sense of humour could stop taking themselves seriously for a moment and agree. If we harbinger-of doom-bloggers were so sure of ourselves, wouldn't we be enjoying the last few precious days, weeks, months, years, decades or whatever's left as best we could? Would this small amount of time really be best spent hunched over our laptops, burning the midnight oil, poring over the news sites? If so many people don't care, and we can't make them, then why should we? How do you expect people to change when the prognosis is so severe? As Margaret Wente has stated, and I do tend to agree with her on this, people's reaction to constant severe warnings is to become dull and de-sensitized to them. And, as I've stated before, there is a wider variety of more great things in the world, past and present, at our fingertips' access, than ever before. Don't we owe it to ourselves to take advantage? We've been dead wrong all along!

Hey, wo, wo, wo.

Just a second.

In case you think you are witnessing me hang my hat, suspend my disbelief indefinitely, and joining up with the apathetic bonehead army who is never short people but always looking for new recruits, I can assure you that I am not. I am responding here to criticism which is justified, yes, but often comes from well meaning folk advocating another dangerous extreme. One that appeals to many, which is: Instead of bitching about everything, why don't we just do nothing.

This is where the title comes in: I want us to share the empowerment that comes with asking ourselves the question: What if?

No, this isn't Imagine or Heal the World or We are the World or the Bono magic Africa brow beating hour. This is asking some simple, concrete questions in a province in a country in a world where too often the response to overwhelming problems is, well, they're too overwhelming so let's just do nothing.

Here are some examples:

What if Torontonians took the initiative to build toll gates and pay and collect tolls as a public resource? Instead of sitting around waiting for the federal and provincial governments to cough up money that they have no intention of coughing up and in any case is not theirs to cough up, why don't people accept responsibility for the city's traffic and air pollution and do something about it themselves? What if some entrepreneurs took that idea to the city, which would then build the transit that government has refused to build? Royson James discussed this recently in the Star, a proposal in mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson's platform (who of course doesn't get taken seriously). Of course people will yell and scream about "new taxes" and how "it's not their problem". Well, what if I told you that as a resident of this city, it is your fucking problem. I'd offend you. But I'd have said what I believe.

What if unionized public servants across the board in Ontario were obliged to contribute a modest amount to a fund - $5 per paycheque - to help retransform this moribund economy whose manufacturing sector will not be providing much of a tax base for their 80k salaries soon. What if, instead of bitching about their salaries and entitlements in the pages of Sun Media, we removed the sacred cow bubble around the question of where their wages come from and actually figured out how to have a dialogue that is not based on "fire them all rhetoric"?

People complain about not being able to water and pesticide their lawns. What if we had a real, hard, adult conversation on how useful lawns and grass are? What if we incentivitized growing one's own food on their front lawn, even just a few veggies a year?

What if everyone made a more determined and conscious effort not to buy shitty products from China, except when they really needed to?

What if people had to start saving money for things again, or at least, say, 20%. What if we outlawed no money down on all products?

See, the changes I am proposing, or rather adult conversations about possible changes, are not some smug solution sermon delivered from atop of ivory tower mountain and imposed with a punishment of death for violation. And they are not going to be justified by immediate desirable outcomes such as reducing carbon to 350,000 ppi in the atmosphere, saving coral reefs and photoplankton and bees, or making the stock market permanently go up so everyone could get rich. At best they would represent small, incremental improvements that could be realized through good organization and collective participation and effort. They are changes that I would be or have been willing to make that could make a difference. And there are thousands more potential ones.

Realism is helpful and a thirty year, two pack a day smoker probably cannot quit cold turkey tomorrow. Their nerves might be so acutely affected that it might be unadvisable. But we could probably gradually get them down to one pack, then half, etc.

The recent story in BC of the guy who asked to be placed on the not allowed to gamble list only to gamble without hindrance anyway then denied his earnings by the provincial lottery corporation is interesting and funny, sure, but the guy was clearly not ready to quit gambling anyway. Why don't we get people on a visit limit or cash amount budget that makes reductions in their time available to pursue their destructive habit, rather than stigmatize them for not wanting to go on full abstaining recovery right now?

There is nothing that prevents a person from going through multiple bankruptcies - why aren't saving and living within means more encouraged and enforced by society?

You don't get a smoker or a drinker or a gambler or a heavily indebted debtor to think about positive changes they need to make in their life by berating them and making them feel like shit, because a) they probably do already b) they've already made the decision to turn to this to escape hard/unpleasant reality they don't want to deal with. Sound like a phenomenon were familar with called the human race? Well, let's get addicts to use their imaginations to ask simple questions which make them realize not how their lives would be better without addiction, that is too overwhelming and surreal, but how their lives might be a little better with consistent efforts to reduce deadly consumption. This is all I want to do. Make little suggestions and use my imagination. People massively avoid "endless prognostication" for a reason; it's about as fun as it sounds.

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