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Dystopia and the temper of our times

The prospect of being without work in addition to this general malaise of world-weariness causes people to look for radical solutions.
Michael Atkins, president, Northern Ontario Business

OK, we are showing off a bit with ‘dystopia’ in the headline. It's cropping up a lot these days, so let's start with what it means. 

“An imaginary place where people are unhappy and usually afraid because they are not treated fairly.… A society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease and overcrowding.”

It's Greek.

Think back to high school and George Orwell’s “1984” or Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” More recently, Margaret Atwood's offering, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which made it to the Bravo TV network this year and has already been renewed.

Since the election of Donald Trump these books are flying off the shelves again. People are unnerved about what it means to have such an odd, inexperienced, Bully President running off at the mouth daily on everything from chocolate cake to North Korea without coherence or discernible understanding of the consequences of his actions. Fake news leavened by a Fake President.

It could be expensive for us. Softwood lumber is nothing new, but “America first” manifestoes, border taxes, slashed corporate and personal taxes in the United States, the scrapping of NAFTA, along with potential nuclear destruction — well, it does not bode well.

It is going to take extraordinary dexterity to find stability in these crazy times. America is having a nervous breakdown and we are going to suffer. Not far behind will be Britain, which is getting a divorce without a clue of the penalties. There is no prenup.

This behaviour is unusual.

To me it is not just economic uncertainty driving these times and choices. It is rage — a disconnectedness between genders, between classes, between generations and between nations. We are connected to one another through Facebook and apps of our choice but often without purpose. It is soul-destroying.

The prospect of being without work in addition to this general malaise of world-weariness causes people to look for radical solutions. They want something different to fix what ails them. Often it is some kind of strongman who acts out their frustrations in some satisfying manner. He may not get them a job, but at least he hammered the media and insulted protesters.

In Germany, it was the humiliation of the First World War that left the population vulnerable to horrific manipulation. In Britain, it is immigration that is the tipping point. Odd for a country that marched around the world into other people’s backyards to tell them how to live and where to send their bauxite. 

Canada is relatively unique. We have welcomed millions of people from around the world without huge social dislocation.

We're lucky. We have space. We have resources. We have water. We have three oceans protecting us from inconvenient levels of attention.

We forget that, 40 years ago, we implemented the War Measures Act without a peep from most of English Canada. There were tanks on the streets of Ottawa, Québec City and Montréal as a result of one kidnapping and one death of a cabinet minister in Québec.

For a time, Canada loved their new strongman, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. We revelled in his toughness and gave scant thought to the innocent people we were rounding up whose crime was their political view. No doubt, from English Canada’s point of view, it was less inflammatory as it was Québecers  who were being arrested.

We forget how easy it is to identify with a strong leader and suspend our judgment on the rule of law and civility. It can happen anywhere. It did happen here.

Pierre was no Donald Trump and our Parliament was no corrupt Congress, but it took us a while to back up from an excitement that was unbecoming and nearly cost us the country.

It’s easy to lose your way. We are human. We are capable of great love and stupefying ignorance and violence. Sometimes it is just luck that keeps us on the straight and narrow — neither dystopia nor utopia.

Hang on to your four-leaf clovers.