I relax in the forecourt of my favourite café, the Green Bean, on the south, and most often at this time of year, sunny, side of what the municipality, and most of the rest of us, call the town square, and while sipping, contemplate the calmness of this cloudy cool evening, with its hints of October snapping at the heels of our t-shirt ‘n sandal September, another in a long line, at least by my calculations, of near-perfect unveilings of autumn. Normally there’d be a smattering of five year olds chasing about and squealing from ill-judged handstands gone horribly wrong, but the threat of rain has put paid to that.
I peruse the Guardian’s coverage of the United Nations confab and the now famous Scottish referendum, its many tendrils swishing about in the tide pools of Europe’s, shall we say, very flexible future. And, as several voices suggest, see that things are more than bit messy right now. More than enough plagues, wars, rumours of wars, spiritual wickedness in high places and environmental degradation to get even the most mousey of biblical punters revved up with brimstoney verve.
Yet, I clearly recall several stage sets of similar looming disaster scenarios from the last five decades. Determined genocides, floods, droughts and plagues,… the Bangla Desh famine, the self-strangulation of Cambodia, anyone? The gorgon headed monster raises its visage with sanctimonious regularity. That’s the great thing about apocalypses and the like: their eager proponents can keep repeating variations on the mantra, gaining traction with each headline and sober analysis, despite the obvious historical verdict: the shit never fully hits the fan. The rubble always reasserts itself in new and vibrant forms. Human cultures, like the natures they imitate, know nothing but extension and exfoliation. Weeds sprout from cracks, poetry from cruelty, species in the spaces left by extinction.
Canada, our home and native land, as we often sing, despite most of us coming from elsewhere, is a well-seasoned perch to watch it all unfolding. With our policies over the years the traditional waspy tilt of the nation has become so multi-ethnic as to be a veritable united nations. When I take my evening lakeside stroll (that’s Ontario, of the ‘Great Lakes’) I hear many more foreign than local accents, and can regularly see a smattering of burquas and hijabs amongst the candied children and puppies. Oakville, near the Toronto of Rob Ford’s scandalous clowning, is host to some pricey real estate, to which not everyone can lay claim, but the lake and its parks are open to all.
Very Canadian that, open to all. Although we don’t make the song and dance that the Americans do, we are very welcoming to the stragglers of the planet, though some cynics would chime that a chubby wallet never hurt anyone’s chances. If you can take the winters, and we’re talking -20c and months of big snow, you’ll love it. I do, and that’s a passionate Glaswegian talking. Mind you, typing away on my netbook and listening alternately to Haydn and Hendrix, I could be anyone anywhere, right?
That notion of universality, of seeing oneself replicated around the globe, one’s thoughts, attitudes and actions, is not only an aspect of one’s growing enlightenment, but a direct result of the seemingly limitless reach of digital media, which allows us, its users, to access and implement the actionable intelligence pushed at us continuously. Actionable in the sense that we can always, if we so choose, not take it at face value, and analyse its native propaganda value by comparing and contrasting it with other sources, other ethnic and geopolitical sources who are just as contaminated by surreptitiously secreted disinformation and spin. We can see that we are all, more or less, in the same boat, manipulated, and oft-times enslaved, by governments, corporations and religions.
Obviously some of us are materially much better off than others and more than able to access the safety nets, support systems and tools of self-improvement lining the corridors of our societal maze. But to clearly see the tribal structures and gods of the illiterate peasants spotlighted by our pity is to understand the societal structures and gods of our own consumerist materialism. Or at least it can be.
Canada is not the only sovereign nation beset by disgruntled immigrants turned would-be jihadists, that is obvious. Every country seems to have its share of fighting mad idealists who would quickly trade the comforts of home and hearth for a paradise which requires fighting over. Sometimes it seems as though the world is divided between those who would fight to defend the freedoms and comforts of modernity and those who who destroy to defend the traditions of faith, piety and obedience.
The old resisting the new, can it really be that simple? The right fighting the left? The individual squirming in the restraints of society? The sun trying to melt the snow? The young pushing against the old? Certainly when I look at the scruffy jihadist and the uniformed soldier, I seem to see the same kicking against the oppressive, cleverly orchestrated by the aging representatives of the other oppressive.
Some weeks ago two of our resident jihadists, observed but not restrained by the security services, killed two Canadian soldiers, one in uniform, one off duty. Despite the geographical sprawl of our country, the upset was immense and immediately palpable. Our democracy had been irreversibly threatened, our parliament buildings attacked in broad daylight, much of our cabinet only doors away from destruction by one maddened rifleman. We ricocheted off the shock for days, spinning this way and that, all the while knowing that our status in the world had changed irrevocably.
It was one thing to have idealistic young men return from the Balkans, in their time of dying, and commit suicide, depressed from all they’d witnessed. It was another to have numerous soldiers blown to bits by roadside IED’s in Afghanistan, we were at war after all. But to have an enraged faith based idealist attack us on our own turf and lunge a spear right at the heart of our cherished democracy, that was a terrible symbol we could not reduce by reasoning. Baptism by fire and all that. Even the prospect of another young man tried and sentenced for his sniper style killing of three police officers months before seemed not to reduce our horror.
Fortunately, the proper respects and grieving behind us, a sex scandal saved us from further self-recriminations. Out of nowhere we had a sacrificial victim to pillory and sacrifice on the altar of our disgust. A sexually abusive man with an alarming track record of bruised women in his past, all now suddenly emerging from the shadows of their fear, and what’s more, a young and still fairly handsome media star, a national charmer until about ten minutes before, what a perfect sacrificial lamb for our national anxieties! Particularly since our scallywag Toronto mayor, previously number one on the national shit list, had to be retired to the sympathy ward with a serious looking cancer. How neatly symmetrical are the tides of public opinion!
But that was then and this is now, we’ve got Bill Cosby to abhor this week, and several uniformed Canadians, freshly flushed from the Afghanistan conflict, all set to show the Kurds how real men fight oppression. Our minister of public safety says Canadians are free to go anywhere and join any force they wish. As long as it does not threaten our national security. Just strangle the right shadow, will you?