Letters from Green Island

Oct 30 2007

Why the apathy?

Editor,
Re: Climate fears will demand our response Oct 30, 2007

(original story also copied at the end of this letter)

Hi Jim,

I suppose you'll think I'm a crank or conspiracy theoriest or something, but I read your columns regularly and agree with most of what you say, so I figure I'll just take a few minutes anyway and tell you what I think about some of the things you write in your latest column, Climate fears will demand our response .

I think that although what you write is, as usual, pretty much on, you're not quite seeing the whole picture, and thus are not quite getting the whole answer.

For instance - you say such things as -

"..Real horrors often freeze-frame us in uncertainty instead of stirring a response or even a scream..."

"... Not even Stephen Lewis's baroque eloquence made a lasting dent in the collective consciousness of a rich country unnervingly content to let those in the poorest die.

"..Having apparently learned little from Rwanda, we now let "never again" fade from a commitment to an empty phrase..."

- and other related examples, pointing out that although there are various very serious problems in the world, and in Canada in our own way, the collective 'we' seem more or less uninterested in doing anything real about them, aside from sympathetic noises before going back to our more pleasant lives.

You offer some reasons for this apparent lack of true care, such as "..impotence weighs us down unless leavened with proof that progress is possible..." or :..we are anesthetized from evil by distance and, more powerfully, by abstraction..."

And then you go on to make your central judgement that ".. Addressing the causes requires rethinking how progress is defined and wealth measured..."

Which is where I come in.

The problems are obvious and great, as is the apparent effective disinterest with which most Canadians appear to regard them.

But I think the solution requires not a rethinking of how progress is defined etc, but a closer examination of WHY Canadians appear to care so little.

And I think any honest examination of that is going to get you looking a lot closer into a mirror than you appear to have been. I think your heart is fine, and you write honestly - but I also think you are, unknowingly probably, actually living in the belly of the beast itself, and working for it.

I think the reason the Canadian people are so (apparently) apathetic to so many evils is because they have been indoctrinated to be so through a life spent in front of the television for most, and reading the Canadian media or even listening to the CBC for those few who actually take a deeper interest, and the propaganda continues to keep them that way - that they show the limited amount of concern they do is actually a testament to their caring, because humans are naturally concerned about other humans, and if Canadians were really running their government, and the wishes of a true majority of Canadians were being expressed through the actions of their government, a great deal more would be being done about these problems.

When the media wants Canadians to be thinking about something, there are stories about it every day, in every media, news and commentaries making sure these things remain front and center in people's minds - and with the spin that the people controlling the media want spun (yes, there are a smattering of stories or columns from the 'other' side, but the desired POV of those running the media is always evident, and there is nothing remotely describable as 'balance'). If the people truly running Canada (who also control the media of course) were truly interested in stopping global warming, the presentation of the situation would be much stronger, and the solutions presented in a much different way, with stories promoting solutions day after day - solutions are there, if the political will was there to match them, which it very obviously is not. If the people running the media were truly concerned about global poverty or HIV-AIDS, again the presentation would be a great deal different. And etc.

Why are so many more of those 'average apathetic people' interested in the latest sports scores every day than in doing something serious about world problems? Which is given more space in the newspapers every day? If you judge importance by media coverage, where would you rate the World Series, the NBA scores, NHL scores, etc, vs the 10,000 children who die every day from preventable diseases and poverty? Even the much vaunted CBC is no different - every frigging hour I get 7-8 minutes of the latest really important sports scores, and stories about paticular 'most interesting!! yaya' games - but stories about children dying from poverty? Pretty rare. What if that situation was reversed?

I would offer the example of Afghanistan. The people running Canada want Canadian troops in Afghanistan, for whatever reason, no matter what most Canadians want - and every day we hear or read stories about our brave soldiers, about supporting the mission, about young girls getting educated and democracy coming and how sad the families of the slain Canadian soldiers are, how terrible 'the Taliban' are (= Nazis, Klingons, pick-yer-bogeyman, anything done to stop them is a good sacrifice, etc etc). etc and etc and etc and etc.

They could do the same about anything. What if the media featured stories every day from a perspective that tended to shine an unfavorable light on the Afghanistan invasion (I could do that easily)?

Well, I have already written longer than I intended, as I know you must be very busy, but I wanted to say this, on the off chance I might offer a perspective you had not considered previously or something, or pull back a curtain on a window you had not looked out yet - such things happen at times. I am sure you know well what I am talking about - the question is whether or not you are ready to step out of the box.

I've put this general perspective together in a short book I call 'They're Building a Box - and You're In It' - and you can see it, if you are interested, at http://www.rudemacedon.ca/dlp/box/box-intro.htm .

Whatever, keep up the good work, Jim, it's obvious you're one of the good guys - and the Star might be part of the belly of the beast now, but I am also old enough to remember when it was one of the good guys. I prefer to think it's just in a sort of 'We didn't know what we were doing!!' phase, and someday - well - someday.

Take care -

=================================

Climate fears will demand our response
By James Travers
Toronto Star, Oct 30 2007

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OTTAWA - A good scare has been good theatre since long before King Kong cupped Fay Wray is his leathery palm. And why not? It's an adrenalin rush stripped of risk, a small thrill without fear of the big chill.

Outside the movies, the catharsis is different. Real horrors often freeze-frame us in uncertainty instead of stirring a response or even a scream.

One example is HIV/AIDS. Not even Stephen Lewis's baroque eloquence made a lasting dent in the collective consciousness of a rich country unnervingly content to let those in the poorest die.

Another is Darfur. Having apparently learned little from Rwanda, we now let "never again" fade from a commitment to an empty phrase.

There are reasons why catastrophes of biblical proportions don't move most of us very much. Africa's problems are so entrenched, the casualty lists so long, that impotence weighs us down unless leavened with proof that progress is possible.

It's true, too, that even in a shrinking global village we are anesthetized from evil by distance and, more powerfully, by abstraction. As U.S. psychologists found in recent research, sympathy, empathy and generosity are more likely to become action when the anonymity of suffering millions is reduced to the personalized pain of a single child, preferably with a name and gripping story.

That's hardly surprising. Some charities tap that donor vein with campaigns made memorable by haunting photos other dismiss as poverty pornography.

More puzzling is our lethargic reflex when the menace is here and we are the victims. Bells tolling for the planet speak clearly to that phenomenon. The latest scientific, peer-reviewed prognosis for the Earth hardly warranted a national capital yawn despite the red-flag warning that the ecological point of no return is approaching fast.

As the genre demands, the numbers in the UN's Global Environment Outlook are as astronomical as the predictions are grim 23 per cent of mammals face extinction, one in 10 of the world's great rivers now run dry every year before reaching the sea and a disappearing polar ice cap will send hordes scurrying for high land.

Those are symptoms. Addressing the causes requires rethinking how progress is defined and wealth measured. But the body politic shrugs as Mother Earth's knees buckle under the impossible load. Now creeping toward two years in office, Conservatives, so like Liberals before them, are doing as little as possible about climate change after correctly, if recklessly, concluding the consensus still falls short of voter critical mass.

An impossibly bright, impossibly young woman put that dynamic in the historical context of sweeping change when the weekend conversation turned to environmental torpor.

With Bay Street law analysis and the sensibilities of a generation destined to inherit their parents' mess, she reached the conclusion that the familiar contest that always favours narrow interests over broad at the beginning ensures the status quo is secure for a while longer.

Tearing down the reinforced walls of calculated resistance takes time, and doomsday scenarios supported by statistics so overwhelming they boggle the mind don't necessarily accelerate the task. It's a brick-by-brick effort at least as dependent on the specific hope of reconstruction as on the repeated warning the building is condemned.

Not just a fright flick, the monster and the scare and scream are real.
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