PUSHING OURSELVES UP THAT GREAT BIG HILL OF HOPE, FOR OUR DESTINATION: OUR CRISIS TIME LEADS US TO ASK: ‘WHAT’S GOIN’ ON?’
In 1992 a group called 4 Non Blondes released an album which contained a single called ‘What’s Up?’ which was released later on in 1993. Many people thought the song was called ‘What’s Goin’ On?’ because that was the phrase which was sung in the refrain and it was very catchy and got a lot of airplay that year. But the industry did not want the song being mistaken for an earlier hit in 1971 by Marvin Gaye also called ‘What’s Goin’ On?’, so the name was changed to ‘What’s Up?’
I remember the song well, I was working at the Québec Citadel that summer of 1993 and it was playing on the radio all the time at work and in whatever car I’d happen to be driving in at the time in the beautiful summer weather. That summer was an important turning point for me in my life. I’d just gotten over an episode of Psychosis the year before and had been sick almost all of 1992 and had failed my year of studies at Laval University. Early in 1993 I’d recovered enough to contemplate a return to the workforce and had even begun to do a little bit of freelance translation on the side in late 1992 on an old IBM Selectric typewriter.
I’d met a new lady friend and we’d begun dating so I felt I was on a role. I did a little dinner theatre, which is where I met her, and so got a little semi-professional acting experience under my belt. I then applied to the University of Ottawa in Canadian Studies and got accepted after initially getting rejected then appealing and then getting accepted on probation. For the winter of 1993 I taught ESL, and then got a great job as a Tour Guide at the Citadel for the summer.
This for me really marked my ‘re-entry’ so to speak into mainstream society, after being in and out of doctors’ offices and hospitals for most of the previous year and now I was working at a nice, clean historic site where the subject matter was right up my alley, as opposed to doing manual labour jobs like I’d done before and feeling totally spiritually destroyed by the experience. The weather was nice, my colleagues were cheerful, young and energetic, full of intelligence and hope, just like that song.
I listened to it all the more and I felt that it was very suited to the times we were living in then, and still are all the more now. The singer sings about trying to get up ‘that great big hill of hope, for a destination.’ She also talks about a ‘brotherhood of man… or whatever that means.’I feel that she’s talking about the Post-Cold war era of the day which many people felt or at least were hoping would lead to a better and more peaceful world. When Communism fell in the late 1980s and early 1990s, many people spoke of a ‘Peace Dividend’, as defence plants and military bases in the USA briefly began to shut down.
It was as if we didn’t know who the ‘them’ was anymore in the famous ‘us and them’ phrase in Pink Floyd’s song of the same name off of the famous ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ album. We needed to find a bad guy to give meaning to our Empire so as to justify our own ‘Arsenal of Democracy’, otherwise, the Peaceniks would start demanding Unilateral Disarmament again and we’d be up to our eyeballs in street protests and internal dissent and the whole social order would begin to teeter on the brink of collapse. Luckily for all of us here in the west, the good folks at the Pentagon put their heads together and did their homework and identified radical Islam as the new threat and eventually by hook and by crook, so to speak, got it to stand up and fight us openly.
So where does that leave us in our push up that ‘great big hill of hope, for a destination?’ I think the 20th century wrought some of the fiercest, greatest and most awesome and also most destructive changes in the history of humanity. My generation at the tail end of the Baby Boomers, (I’m 49, born in 1964, the before last year of the boom, demographically-speaking), came of age right at the beginning of the end of what can only be described as the greatest period of economic and social progression ever known in the history of civilization. JFK is quoted as saying something to the effect that we had now created the ability to abolish all forms of human hunger and disease as well as destroy all forms of human life, when he was speaking of the great strides in scientific agriculture, medicine and nuclear weapons technology.
When I graduated from High School in 1981, it was exactly the year in which Ronald Reagan was sworn in at the White House in the midst of one of the greatest recessions ever in the history of America and Canada as well as the entire western alliance. Essentially, the 1979-82 recession marked the end of the Post WWII economic boom, with its continuously-expanding consumer markets, economic growth, population growth, improvements in standards of living for the average worker, the closing of the gap between the haves and the have-nots, etc…
From there on in, Reaganomics advocated as well as implemented massive cuts to social spending, tax cuts, which allowed those who could take advantage of them, to become wealthier, while allowing companies to offshore jobs overseas and get rid of well-paying unionized blue collar manufacturing jobs which had existed for almost a century. These jobs weren’t necessarily unionized at first, but many of them eventually became unionized after the two World Wars, as unions made headway in the west. Many people took advantage of looser regulations on the financial markets and speculated in a lot of non-manufacturing based financial/debt-based instruments which caused a huge bubble to occur in the markets, which eventually burst, along with a whole plethora of toxic assets such as sub-prime mortgages.
All of these things have undermined both the economic, industrial spiritual and moral underpinnings of American and western civilization in general. A generation such as mine, which was raised and nourished on a steady diet of the secular religion of Post-WWII ‘Progress’, as defined by the political progressivism of technocracy, bureaucracy, universality of entitlement, American pop culture, especially television shows and movies as well as journalism, had initially hoped that the social ferment and dissent unleashed in the backlash of the late 1960s and early 1970s era of secular political and social ‘counter cultural progressivism’, such as feminism, pacifism, the civil rights movement, Trudeau Mania in Canada, peace and love from the Woodstock and Haight Ashbury period, including the expansion of consciousness and liberation of the mind promised by the psychotropic experience of controlled substances, would have led us to a brighter and more enlightened and less conflicted future here in the present.
At best, these changes have wrought a mixed bag of results and have left people such as myself feeling somewhat betrayed and frustrated with the whole notion of ‘progress’ and ‘progressivism’, as defined by the secular ‘progressive’ elite in our increasingly deconstructionist and deconstrued, fractured, fractious, fragmented and frayed post-modern era.
On the one hand, a great deal of pain and misery has been alleviated by virtue of the universal intervention of the secular state. Temporal standards of living have increased dramatically since the end of WWII, even as recently as the late 1960s. Many childhood diseases have been wiped out, most people’s sense of economic insecurity about not having the basic necessities of life are no longer an issue. People know that if they are not eligible for EI, they can go on Welfare and will not starve, whereas before the 1930s, this was not the case. Just about everybody agrees that having universal access to health and social services alleviates a great deal of potential human misery and suffering caused by homelessness, vagrancy, poverty, street violence etc that would be greatly exacerbated if these public services were to be eliminated.
However, on the other hand, while people have become more temporally prosperous, they’ve become a lot more spiritually bereft. More than ever we live in an age of desanctification, desacralization, atheism, agnosticism, Satanism, occultism, black and white magic, witchcraft, Gothism, and so on. The spiritual void left by the retreat of traditional Christian denominations and the economic precarity caused by the decline of traditional social and economic occupations, especially for young men, is very alarming.
Traditionally, a young, working-class man could graduate from High School or even with a grade eight or nine education, get into the mill, foundry or plant and be set for life and his working conditions, through space and time, were to almost always improve, with pensions, benefits and vacations added as unions gained more strength after the war as it became more acceptable to implement the famous ‘Fordist Wage scale’ in private industry as well as the public sector.
This has been a crucial negative factor in the decline of western market economies. Men of money, power, property, prestige and personality as well as now some women I should add, have lobbied successfully to have wages rolled back, benefits cut, vacations cancelled, pensions cut or even eliminated outright, all in the name of making industry in the west more ‘globally competitive’ with the east and the south and to allow ‘wealth creators’ to ‘create more wealth’ so that it can ‘trickle down’ to the rest of us who will undoubtedly benefit from their ‘best enlightened self-interest.’
What this has actually resulted in is that the average working person’s working conditions have deteriorated dramatically. In the name of ‘creating more wealth and being more globally competitive’, more jobs have been assigned as part time, casual, contractual, all in a blatant thrust to be more ‘competitive’ and ‘create more wealth’ (IE make more profits for management and their shareholders and to pay themselves big bonuses for having done so), by paying fewer or no payroll taxes to the government for such things as EI, Canada Pension, Québec Pension, Québec Parental Leave Program, Workers Comp, etc.. In some cases more and more employers are categorizing their workers as ‘self-employed contractors’ and absolving themselves of the responsibility of having to pay ANY payroll taxes whatsoever. In such cases, and I know whereof I speak, because I was self employed for five years so I know the ins and outs of this racket, the worker becomes his own boss, therefore is then considered both the employer AND the employee. So guess who pays BOTH sets of payroll taxes at tax time? The worker does!!! When my accountant told me that after I’d scraped together all my receipts for every last things I’d bought for my ‘business’ over the last twelve months and stacked them into neat little piles on my bed and tied them together with nice neat yellow sticky notes, I couldn’t help saying to myself, ‘isn’t being my own boss FUN??? I get to pay both the employee and employer payroll taxes for EI and Québec pension. Wow!!! I really LOVE all this ‘flexibility’ stuff they sell you when they encourage you to become self-employed:’ ‘Just think of all the deductions you’ll be allowed for your home office, your phone, car, computer, etc… .’ I also realized that I had no protection whatsoever from the labour laws and couldn’t ever take any statutory holiday off.
This is all very well and nice if you’re really intent on running your own business. But in this case, this is just another ploy for employers to avoid rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. (Don’t even talk to me about rendering unto God what is God’s; let’s not go there, OK?). What this has done is to cause the strength of Canada’s market economy to erode severely, as well as that of the USA. Men of money, power, property, prestige and personalities are making very short-sighted, short-term decisions which are ultimately causing some of the formerly most economically and socially robust civilizations on this planet to erode very rapidly by undermining the strength of the demand side of the market.
When I was at the University of Ottawa, I took a course in Economic History, tracing the origins of the Canadian economy from the era of the French fur trade to the present day. As a required reading we were given an article to read by a prominent economic historian by the name of Irene Spry. She was in her early 90s at the time and wore her name quite well I should say. She came to speak to us one day in class and I was very impressed by her very dignified Britishness. Her article dealt with that crucial era of the Canadian economy when our country industrialized in the late 19th and early 20th century when we went from being a mostly agrarian society to being a mostly industrial, urban, consumer society.
The thrust of Spry’s article focused on the fact that throughout that crucial period of roughly 1880 to about 1939, there was a chronic over-supply of goods in the Canadian economy and a chronic lack of demand because there was not enough buying power in the economy, that is to say, not enough people who actually earned enough money to actually buy the consumer goods they were producing. Spry spoke of many structurally ideological deficiencies in Canadian society at the time, many of which seem to be creeping back into social discourse today.
One of them was Eugenics theory and the other was Social Darwinism. Eugenics generally dealt with the popular ‘science’ of the day which espoused that society should be trying to breed a sort of ‘Master Race’ and should not allow certain types of people, such as the mentally challenged and so forth, to procreate. Whereas Social Darwinism attempted to explain and justify the then socio-economically unequal social order by comparing it favourably to Charles Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ or ‘natural selection’ theory which espoused that the weaker of any species naturally had a tendency to die off and/or be devoured by the stronger, thereby improving the natural order. This, in these people’s minds, justified not paying better wages to poor workers and not improving their working and living conditions, because, after all, they were of ‘inferior’ stock and therefore why bother even trying to improve their lot, they’d just be wasting their time and money.
However, they were eventually proven wrong, as social advocates, many of them wealthy women spouses of prominent male politicians and businessmen, such as Lady Aberdeen, who founded the VON (Victorian Order of Nurses), which pioneered the profession of public health nursing in Canada, teaching the poorest of Canadian families the rudiments of proper hygiene and cleanliness in their homes by advocating for the washing of hands before and after food preparation, properly disposing of refuse, cleaning food preparation surfaces and generally instructing people about the germ theory of disease, helped many poor people improve their standard of living.
Spry spoke of the reticence of the elite who owned the manufacturing industry in considering paying higher wages to their workers because of these factors and also because of the mistaken belief that there was only a limited amount of money in circulation which could be allotted to only a certain number of people. The original idea behind consumerism didn’t include working class people becoming consumers, which was ultimately its Achilles heel and is coming back to haunt us. How quickly we forget the lessons of history.
It was only once the factory owners had achieved massive profits from having had six straight years of full production and full consumption during WWII that they considered the possibility that perhaps it would be a good thing that the common working person be given certain advantages. After all, the war had debunked Eugenics and Social Darwinism and people had seen with their own eyes the barbarity of Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ in the death camps, which was what, ultimately Social Darwinism and Eugenics , at their extreme, led to in their logical conclusion.
Most people within the elite felt that the human cost had been borne fairly equally this time as opposed to WWI, where many people felt that the common folk had suffered more greatly than others. This time, all segments of society, including the working classes, had contributed to a great victory and, it was felt, should also reap the rewards for their sacrifices, like everybody else. So after the war, when it came time for labour negotiations, usually workers won many major concessions, not after a big fight with management usually, though.
So in many sectors of the private sector, the Fordist wage scale was implemented, and for the first time ever, labourers were able to earn enough money to actually buy the goods they produced, which was Henry Ford’s idea behind his now famous $5.00/day wage back before the war, which was enough for his men to save up their shekels to put some aside to buy a Ford auto, which was good for the workers, and also good for Henry Ford’s and other people’s businesses who reaped the benefits of having those men re-inject a lot of those funds into the economy by purchasing goods and services, which ultimately led to the building up of a very robust consumer market society and human civilization where people felt respected and secure in the notion that their standard of living and security of the person was also not in danger.
All of this has since been eroded once more by the short-sightedness of grasping men and women of money, power, property, prestige and personalities, who, in the name of creating more wealth and making us more competitive, are actually eroding the fundamental social, spiritual and economic underpinnings of our western civilization, by making large segments of our countries’ populations fall into a permanent state of economic, social and spiritual precarity, out of which they feel they cannot climb and have no hope of doing either, that the deck is essentially stacked against them and is getting more so every year.
Consumer demand and confidence will only continue to erode as long as this protracted ‘war on the working class and middle class’ continues unabated and citizens are not permitted to aspire to be able to enter into the bonds of conjugal bliss, for wont of economic and social stability, leaving them in even greater doubt as to their ability and desire to start a family on a sound footing, thereby greatly augmenting the continued tendency towards unstable and random romantic encounters, resulting in even more single-parent families, abortions, family violence, poverty, addiction, and so on. This will also be a definite disincentive to our young people in their ability to aspire to own property, a vehicle, and to furnish said property with furniture and appliances and especially, to furnish their home with faith, hope and love and the greatest of these, as the Good Book says, is love.
It’s been twenty years now since that summer of 1993 in Québec City at the Citadel and I still say to myself ‘What’s up’? Or should I say ‘What’s goin’ on?’ I’m still trying to push myself and others up that great big hill of hope. For a destination. Back then I was earning $5, 70/hr as a Tour Guide, now I’m earning $12, 50/hr as a CSR with a call centre company. Which adjusted for inflation is probably about the same thing. So what’s goin’ on? I’m not sure, but I think that men of money, power, property prestige and personality are making more of it and keeping more of it for themselves, at my expense. That’s what they call ‘wealth creation’ and ‘being more competitive’.
Back in Industrial Revolution England, the only thing which spurred the wealthy plutocratic elite into action to do something about the horrific plight of those living in the fetid slums of London, which had no sewers and no running water and were breeding grounds for disease and pestilence, was that one day, during a particularly hot day in Parliament at Westminster, the MPs found it so unbearably hot in the House that they requested that the windows in the Lower Chamber be opened to let in a little breeze to assuage their affliction.
No sooner did they do so, then a providentially well-timed wind blew in the horrific smell from one of the slums nearby, which, because they had no running water or sewers, were compelled to live in the undignified manner of dwelling in their own human waste. The very much dignified gentlemen of the Her Majesty’s Parliament immediately enquired what the devil was that awful smell and where was it coming from, whereupon they were informed that it emanated from one of the poorer districts nearby. Thereupon immediate measures were taken to improve matters and public hygiene and sanitation were improved throughout London, all because the problem had literally reached the highest instances of power and it had begun to incommodate them to the point that they felt sufficiently put off by it that they finally chose to do something about it.
This only goes to reinforce the old adage that timely and significant change only occurs once a plutocratic elite is sufficiently threatened either from without or within. Then and only then will timely and significant changes be effectuated to resolve the issue. Meaning that in the present case, nothing will be done to improve the lot of the average person, until such time as the elite’s own sense of personal security is sufficiently threatened either by underclass violence against them or by some external threat from poor people overseas or at home, that they will voluntarily choose to cede any of their money, power, property or prestige to those below them.
Then and only then will any of us be able to get up that hill of hope to our destination. It just depends on ‘what’s going on’ in the world either here or abroad which compels any body in Toronto, Montreal, New York, Washington, Ottawa, LA, London, or Paris to sit up and take notice of the mere common of mortals earning $12,50/hr in some corner of their corporate feudal empire. Something tells me that we’ll have to fight another REALLY BIG WAR before anybody gets a real break on this planet and the flow of money, power, property, prestige, and personalities gets categorically reconfigured into a new configuration with a clear victor and and a vanquished.
Right now it’s just trench warfare, masturbating with a noose, as Steven Tyler put it on ‘Voodoo Medicine Man’ from the Aerosmith album ‘Pump’. We’re just pissin’ off old Mother Earth. Just wait until she gets real pissed off and ornery with us. Then you’ll see some real poop start to fly. That combined with some ‘Geo Engineering’ (look that one up on Google!), and we’re in for a real hootenanny come 2050. Hold on to your hats folks, ‘cause here comes the eschatological escapades of Father Creator and Mother Nature.
That’s gonna be some tag team match, boy!!!