Sometimes it can be overwhelming paying attention to the news and what’s going on around us in our country, our continent, and our planet. It often seems as if the end of the world is just around the corner, yet at the same time most of us are just struggling to stay afloat, or rather nihilistically, we are out partying. Entertainment is one of the biggest industries around, and we spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the silly lives of silly people who happen to photograph well. At the same time we have a whole range of significant problems and challenges that just aren’t being addressed in an adequate way by politicians or bureaucracies or boardroom decision makers. Some of these challenges have the potential to vastly alter our way of life and even threaten the planet with mass extinction. The list is long and this just a sample: climate change, deforestation, over-fishing, genetically modified food, nuclear disasters, chemical waste, shrinking aquifers, fracking underground, and chemtrails overhead. We have superbugs that are resistant to our medicines and we are encountering street drugs that have brought what we once naively thought were fictional stories of a zombie apocalypse to real life. As floods, fire and pestilence rain down, far too many of us just shut the front door, grab a beverage of choice and hunker down in front of the TV or computer screen to escape reality, crossing our fingers against the possibility that our senses are actually working. We watch hours and hours of something called reality television which has no connection to the reality outside the door and we hope that the world will stay the same. And outside all those doors, a few brave souls tilt at windmills and fight the good fight. Usually though, they fight alone, or at least their fights are isolated to each particular issue or problem.
When it comes down to it though, there is only one struggle, one fight and one game. It really is as elemental and fundamental as Good versus Evil, and it has been going on as long as our species has been around, and probably much longer. War, disease, slavery, poverty, torture, corruption, exploitation and greed are arrayed against environmentalists, social activists, and the vast majority of the arts community, health care providers and for the most part, scientists.
Mother Nature, so to speak, is pitted against the so-called market economy and the military/industrial complex, as we used to call it. At the same time, mainstream culture creates a distortion effect where we end up not believing the evidence before our eyes because we still have faith in the institutions of a just and lawful society. Yet look around at the failings of the justice system, not just locally but all the way to Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Look at the corruption and mean-spirited conniving at the political level. What else do we see? Environmental and regulatory functions curtailed. Research projects being terminated. Coast guard operations being shut down. Cuts to the funding for archives and libraries. If it isn’t broken yet, it’s falling apart. But we keep on believing that everything is still okay and that it’s all being looked after by the system, that all is right with our world. Sadly, it doesn’t appear that it is.
Everyone plays a role, as either a passive or as an active participant. And every single moment we make choices that have implications for the forces of Good and for the forces of Evil. Of course, it isn’t always easy to keep the battle lines distinct, and most of us lead great chunks of our lives totally oblivious to issues of social justice, community interest or public health, or any of the other theatres of battle swirling about. I can pretty much guarantee that if someone was to examine any of our lives up close, and pointedly our closets and cupboards, there would undoubtedly be some evidence found of complicity with the forces of the dark side. After all, who’s supporting those factories that produce all that cheap merchandise we pick up as consumers? Us. And what about those factories? Well in case you hadn’t heard, there are horror stories aplenty about the violent and terrifying lives led by those factory workers. People working in factories in Latin America, Asia, and last but not least Africa labour in abysmal conditions rivaling the dystopian novels of Huxley, Orwell, and the recently deceased Ray Bradbury. Of course a disproportionate number of the workers die young through neglect and abuse. If one could lead a forensic audit from the factory floor to the consumer, we’d probably learn some very interesting stories that I can only speculate about. These are the factories that churn out our TV’s and tee shirts, our toys, our clothes and even our food. In the Ivory Coast, the centre of world production for the cocoa bean, something like 200,000 children work at various stages of chocolate production. The International Labour Organization’s 2005 report estimates that of these, some 6% are victims of either child slavery or child trafficking. So unless you are buying an ethically produced, fair traded product, and have done so all your life and in all cases we can all unfortunately, assume at least some measure of guilt by association. I used to love chocolate bars, and hence my guilt is visible to the world in my over-large belly.
I’ll always recall one of my profs at university who had been a minor functionary in Chile’s Allende government, who had to flee the country after the assassination of the elected socialist President and the installation, with the assistance of the CIA, of a military junta. He impressed upon us that in the “two thirds” world as he characterized it, artists and musicians did not have the choice to sit on the sidelines and avoid politics. It was a revelation to me that each image, each song, each inspired created object became, in a war zone, a political statement. Double, triple and hidden meanings abound in the art and culture produced in such crucibles. The very absence of a political statement in a piece of art labeled the creator as a reactionary or collaborator.
Thus, the reaction of the Chinese government to Li Wangyang’s poem that added to the call for democracy more than 20 years ago in Tiananmen Square is perhaps not that surprising. As I hope at least some of us recall, after crushing the nascent democracy movement with shocking violence they rounded up any surviving dissidents and locked them away, in most cases for years. The recent news that Li Wangyang has been found dead in rather mysterious circumstances is indeed sad, and for me as someone who finds great creative expression through poetry, it stands as a cautionary tale. Because don’t forget, there is only one war going on, albeit one with many battlefronts. It is obvious and oppressive in so much of the world, increasingly so here in Canada where state sponsored terror tactics, like kettling, are used to counter peaceful demonstrations.
Which brings me to a dilemma most of us have come up against before, where do we marshal our forces, where do we pitch in on this fight? I say forces, but for most of us, when it comes right down to it, we are talking about an army of one. That one can only be the face staring back at you in the mirror every morning. And really what we have to do is make value judgments all the time about practically everything we do. If you have a strong ethical compass, follow it, and if you don’t have an ethical compass, develop one, please.
Here is my gratuitous advice on how to be on the side of Good, offered for your consideration:
It isn’t always necessary to continually join protest movements or to be involved in something that might smack of being a movement in order to fight the good fight. Simple everyday choices can provide an opportunity for being on the side of good. It might be as easy as avoiding fast food and franchise restaurants and seeking out the mom and pop joints that make a town unique. Support charities. Try to understand the sourcing practices of the brands and labels before you add something to your shopping cart. The inter-connectedness of the universe brings the fundamental conflict into plain sight when you understand where to look.
How you join the fight depends on all sorts of factors like your age, your abilities and your interests. Understand that you don’t always have to be on the front lines, but when you are needed stand up and get involved. Go to the Parent Advisory Council meetings at your kid’s school, get involved with the strata council, or wherever else your interests and destiny takes you. Volunteer. Research issues to the best of your abilities before forming opinions. Strong evidence based on facts is better than a heated opinion. Think strategically and don’t spread yourself too thin. Your own health is just as precious as the giant issue you might be confronting so remember to keep your life in balance with exercise, meditation and social networks. Be happy, and practice smiling. Say thank you frequently. Support others in their struggles when possible. Find delight and joy in the world as it unfolds around you. Try to understand any negative emotions you might be feeling and see if they are based on incorrect assumptions or needless fears. Master unnecessary desires. Appreciate art. Read for pleasure. Listen to music. Choose love.
David Trudel © 2012
Mr. Trudel lives in Victoria where he volunteers on a regular basis with several different non-profit agencies.