Any day now, I expect to see fashion magazine spreads advising on what to wear to a protest — practical items like Manolo Blahnik boots for kicking in windows ($1,665), a Valentino trench coat with waterproof pocket for a lawyer’s phone number ($3,990), a Fendi tote bag for your mask ($4,600). Protest is so in this year.
All around the world, people old and young have been standing up for what they believe is right. Children throwing rocks were killed in India; a retired United Church minister was jailed in Ontario. It was as if the world were saying, along with Peter Finch in the movie Network, “I’m mad as hell.”
And why not? Any morning’s newspaper is full of evils to be angry about: wars, disasters, callous disregard for creation, political games trumping common sense. Not to mention ads for obscenely expensive wearables.
I’m angry too, for instance, at the slaughter of our fellow creatures; while sharks kill five or six humans a year, we kill more than 100,000 of them a day, mostly by cutting off their fins and tossing them back helpless to die.
I’m angry that we’re buying multibillion-dollar fighter planes to meet the “threats of the 21st century” without any discussion of exactly who is threatening what, or how better we might spend the money.
I’m angry that after having spoiled this planet in our greed and wastefulness, we’re getting set to do the same to the moon. China, Russia and the United States all are hoping to mine on the moon; NASA will send “prospectors” within the next four years to test “in-situ resource utilization.”
I’m angry at magazines persuading us we need “565 must-haves” for winter, when the only “must-have” for 20 million flood-ravaged Pakistanis is a rag to cover themselves.
And I’m angry at politicians who expect us — like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland who could believe six impossible things before breakfast — to accept that they can cut taxes and still pay for the public services we demand. Apparently they are to be funded by the Tooth Fairy.
Yes, I know, it takes cool heads, not hotheads, to make public policy, and you shouldn’t have to set fire to police cars to be heard. Our leaders need to know what we care about and — most important — care enough to pay for.
It’s not that our problems are unsolvable. The world’s nine million children who will starve to death this year could be fed for far less than we spend every year on beer and liquor. Could, that is, if we cared. Perhaps at heart, we’re with Scrooge: “Let them [die] and decrease the surplus population.” So we make excuses for doing nothing. It will cost too much; it’s not a vote-getter; let the Americans do it first.
In 1807, Britain committed to ending slavery. They didn’t say, “We’ll lose competitive advantage” (which they did), or “What we do won’t make any difference until everyone does it,” or “Slavery is our way of life, and you can’t change human nature.” Recently, two American academics calculated the cost. It was a yearly average loss, for the next 60 years, of 1.8 percent of their national income, the equivalent in Canada today of $700 each.
Was it worth it?
Your old men shall dream dreams, said the prophet Joel. Old women can dream, too.
Patricia Clarke is a writer and editor in Toronto.
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