Not The First Rodeo – Let’s Hope It’s Not The Last

As I write, America and her international audience are anticipating an election that – regardless of how the numbers work out – is certain to decide nothing. Well, I suppose after some kicking and screaming and not a few riots (complete with gunshots), some old white guy will get to sleep in the presidential palace for four years, if he lives that long. And, there will be many more books published – and much hand-wringing on CNN – by the faithful who still believe in American exceptionalism and the oft-repeated mantra, “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

The trouble, of course, is the people. In his 1953 novel In The Wet, British novelist Nevil Shute has a protagonist explain the following: “I doubt if history can show, in any country, in any time, a more greedy form of government than democracy as practiced in Great Britain in the last fifty years… The common man has held the voting power, and the common man has voted consistently to increase his own standard of living, regardless of the long term interests of his children, regardless of the wider interests of his country.”

An ocean away, and not a century earlier, Abraham Lincoln delivered that “government of the people, by the people, for the people” mantra to an audience of dead neighbours at Gettysburg. And here we are, a century and a half later, watching the folly unfold once again. “The people,” we moan, “are letting us down! They are uneducated, lazy, greedy. They don’t trust the media, they don’t trust the science. They’re going to riot in the streets if they don’t get their way. They’re too stupid to understand…”

Excuse me: of course they understand. They understand all too well. They understand that at least fifty percent of the population considers them “the deplorables” and refuses to pay for the education they need to succeed, the health care they need to survive, and the environment and infrastructure they need to thrive. They don’t care to hear promises about searching for solutions and working to fix problems… they need their “government of the people” to cough up the damn money and actually fix the problems by enacting the solutions, one of which would be to train and pay them properly to work on the things that are important to our shared society.

Making it to the next rodeo will mean that we cannot adopt Nevil Shute’s somewhat nihilist view of “the common man” and allow our society to shrivel into at least an oligarchy or at worst a full-blown dictatorship. Democracy may seem to be an imperfect tool for governing a state, but for it to have any chance at all of success we must pay more than lip-service to maintaining a healthy, educated and prosperous common society.

Neither is democracy a meritocracy; embracing it means we must accept that every single human being has exactly the same rights and responsibilities as every other single human being at every stage of life. If we do not rise to that call, we will forever receive exactly what we deserve: government by the greedy.

pgk

… so many friends

It’s October, 2020, and I feel ancient. I have so many friends.

These have been my friends:

The young Indigenous man who gently undertakes a ceremonial fast in front of a provincial legislature, fighting not the noisy battles of treaties and nation-building, but a quieter battle to support mental health in his community.

The cop whose idea of a perfect day is one spent caring for the community he loves before returning home and being cared for by the family that loves him.

The young reporter who lies violated and charred in a ditch in a faraway country, executed for the crime of investigating corporate malfeasance.

The apprentice mechanic with first aid training who requested two hours off this afternoon to take the town ambulance to a high-school game.

The Sailor First Class who has been deemed emotionally unfit for service and discharged for having the temerity to report her own rape by a senior officer.

So many friends. They blur together with the passage of time. How did I meet them? Did they turn up in the bar one night, like the cute little babe with the nice boobs and the red hair? Or – wait a minute – maybe that one turned up on page 312 of my second novel. Or maybe not. I think she was in the second chapter of the first book. If it’s her, she was more blond than red, but whatever.

Never mind. They are all my friends. Well, maybe not all of them. Some of them were downright evil, no friends of mine. Killers, thieves, misogynists. Nobody would call them friends, not even I. But, after all, I am a writer and I need friends, so I’ll just write about them differently: soldiers, politicians, priests! There, that’s better. So many friends.

Do you remember the old guy at the garage, the one who could fix anything as long as it didn’t have a computer in it? I do. And I remember his wife, too… the one with the sad eyes. They didn’t have kids, but there were rumours that long ago they had a daughter. There had to have been a story there, but I never did find out. Or maybe I ran out of space. So many friends.

In 1637, or maybe it was 1644, French philosopher René Descartes wrote I think, therefore I am. (Latin scholars amongst us will have first heard it as Cogito Ergo Sum, but it means about the same thing only plainer in English. Actually, Descartes was French, so at first he actually wrote, je pense, donc je suis but in the interest of maintaining a snooty sense of clarity it is most often quoted in Latin. Really.

In any case, for me it is a piece of crap wrapped up in a pretty language, apparently for the sole purpose of reinforcing a false distinction between different classes in society… between all my friends, in fact. Hell, horses think. Even cows think, only slower. Not even counting the four-legged ones, all my friends think. But the thing that makes them unique is how they feel. How they feel makes them who they are. Indeed, some of my friends may not even think as well as the dumbest of cows, but they all feel, and therefore they are.

These have been my friends:

The coastguard officer who retired early to start his own business at a village in cottage country.

The brilliant young biologist who is passionate about birds and wild places, wrestling with greedy politicians and bureaucrats in an effort to measure the harm human beings inflict on our tiny globe.

The oilfield truck driver with a somewhat warped sense of justice but a heart of gold.

The elderly lady who took a young man to bed one night, sharing wisdom and comfort.

It’s still October 2020, but now I feel even older as I realize that some of my friends may have physically moved on, even as they linger in my soul, or on my pages, or both.

I feel them close, therefore they exist.

pk