Monday, August 4, 2008

The Last Days of Pompeii

I was walking down the street recently in downtown Montreal, and instead of being satisfied and relaxed there were images that I could not get out of my mind. There were panhandlers, sometimes 3 deep on the sidewalks and people sleeping in every available stairwell. The thing that struck me most is that people are so immune to it now, it is commonplace to see this and does not affect people any longer. Today for some reason it affected me. For some time now I have been willingly part of the herd, always looking to improve my existence with the newest gadgets and to choose style over substance. I think that thought process is coming to an end for me. The thing is that I have no way to know how to start. If I start preaching about the perils of overindulgence then I will be dismissed as a socialist who feels that we should all drive 1982 Toyota Corollas and take public transit and work for a government wage. If I don’t say or do anything, I feel that I will be leaving a terrible world behind for my children and for any generations that come next.

I feel like a resident of Pompeii in the last days, watching with gloom as Mount Vesuvius thunders and knowing the end is coming. In our Pompeii, the government is telling us that it is all okay. That they are implementing plans for the next 20-50 years to stop the eruption. That no action is required, in fact most in power don’t believe that Vesuvius will erupt at all. I look at my city with its crumbling infrastructure and social services stretched to the limits, creating cracks so large that our most vulnerable are falling through it. I see an apathetic electorate and our houses of government embroiled in petty partisanship preventing any consensus or bridge building that could benefit the whole rather than certain constituencies or special interests. I see our elected officials unable to talk unless it is from pre-arranged talking points or a 10 second sound bite. I see the people being talked down to, rather than participating in a public conversation about how to best proceed. I see governments ruling by religious and dogmatic beliefs rather than what might be best for society as a whole. The sad thing is, this isn’t Pompeii, this is today in my own city and in my own back yard.I have no idea how to start the change.

Is it too late to slow or to change the direction? I feel bitter about this. Where is the just society we were promised, where is the society where we are to be judged only by the content of our character? Where is the society that should feel moved to action when fellow humans are sleeping in streets and stairwells and suffering in third world counties when we know we have the means to correct this? And yet here I am sitting in a 4 star hotel in Montreal typing this on my laptop, feeling I am barely getting by. Still following the herd I guess. But I do know that I started my change today by at least noticing the world around me and letting for even a moment what I saw affect me. As uncomfortable as that is, acknowledging that as a society and in my own life amends have to be made for our ignorance and overindulgence is even more difficult but necessary. I realize that some will dismiss this as the ranting of a hypocrite liberal socialist, but for me the first step is admitting that we are going nowhere fast unless we at least open our eyes and take an objective look.

“We've got the means to make amends. I am lost, I'm no guide, but I'm by your side.”

Eddie Vedder, Leash