Sunday, October 09, 2011
It's the Sound of Cracking Ice
Growing up in Ontario back when it used to have winters, young boys gravitated to frozen ponds, streams and lakes. We'd skate or play hockey or sometimes just marvel at walking across expanses of frozen water. One sound that instantly commanded everyone's attention was the sharp crack that signified shifting, perhaps even breaking ice.
I think I'm hearing that sharp cracking sound again. The truth is I've been expecting it, wondering "when" not "if." This time it's not ice that's cracking but complacency and submission and acquiescence. What is breaking is the mantle on which a mountain of inequality has been built even at the cost of the health of the environment itself and the mutilated future of millions, probably billions of people around the world.
I knew the moment would come, it had to. It is absolutely inevitable. It is the hellspawn that emerges from the incestuous coupling of the unstoppable and the unsustainable. This is the candle fiercely ablaze from both ends.
What has been puzzling has been our refusal to see this coming. We seemingly sought security where none was to be found by compelling ourselves to look the other way. We opted for a false sense of security rather than reach for the real thing.
This sound we're hearing even comes with its own awkward name, "Occupy Wall Street." OWS, as pointed out by Naomi Klein and others, isn't really a protest but something far greater - it's a movement that seeks not merely to object but to demand change, a new order, new values and rules to serve mankind in the 21st century, not to defy the 21st century.
This may sound like a mighty bold prediction, a real longshot, but it's not. What is beginning is a process as essential to life as breathing. If we as a civilization are to keep breathing we have no choice but to abandon 18th century economics, 19th century industrialism and 20th century geopolitics, the very models that have propelled us to the edge of this abyss.
We need new models crafted to adapt to reality. The first of these, the governing reality is that we live on a finite planet within a very finite biosphere. The second reality is that whatever economic, political and social models we devise must operate sustainably within the scope of the governing reality. This is not revolutionary, merely rational.
We can no longer rev our economic engine past the red line. That engine is about to blow. We need to replace the component we removed to go faster - posterity. We need posterity - regard for the future, for generations yet unborn - we need it badly and we need to give it priority in our policy decision making. Posterity is the governor that keeps the engine from destructively over-revving. If your priority is to provide for the future as well as the present, you ratchet back the throttle.
To abuse a line from Mackenzie King, revolution if necessary but not necessarily revolution. Indeed, as we're already seeing in the Arab world and elsewhere, the 21st is already emerging as the Century of Revolution. Canada is not Tunisia or Syria or even the United States. If we are wise, if we make the right decisions, if we act in time, this troubling century will go far easier on us than just about any other place on earth. If we turn our back on change, if we yield the initiative and dig in our heels, this century could be much harder on us and those who will follow.