You Get What You Give


neanderthalReally drastic times always have both positive and negative aspects. History is filled with major events that altered the path humans were on, and brought about new developments. The Black Plague. The Renaissance. Evolution itself, for that matter. We’re all happy homo sapiens now, but I’ll bet the Neanderthals weren’t too joyful when that branch of the family tree was sawed off.

We often bring on the catastrophes all by ourselves. I believe we’re bringing on some pretty serious alterations to our planet through climate change, and knowing that we did all of that environmental damage just by refusing to clean up after ourselves doesn’t make it any easier.

Sometimes the big bang that changes things illuminates how emotionally fragile humans really are, and how little they enjoy change of any kind. Oh, they say they want change, but actually dealing with alterations to the status quo gives them the heebie jeebies. They’ll second guess themselves into oblivion.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick to death of hearing about how scared and confused American voters were, when they chose to elect a known – nay .. renowned! TV certified! … con man to run their country. How freakin’ delicate do you have to be to believe that someone, who has spent his entire life gleefully and repeatedly fleecing the rubes, really does have the answer to America’s problems? How emotionally unstable do you have to be to believe that a guy, who has nothing in the way of ideas or a proper platform, or experience in any form of politics, who has nothing but disdain for previous administration, will know how to deal with complex diplomacy? How incredibly naive are you to take the word of someone who promises to ‘repeal and replace’ the only health care insurance some have ever known, who claims that he, and he alone can ‘fix’ a broken America with a wave of his magic wand …. You wanted to be fooled, and you were.

What happened to that vaunted American Exceptionalism? When did it become more fashionable to play the victim than the victor?

Gimme that ol’ time religion ….

 

doug ford pussyDon’t get me wrong, I am well aware that it’s not just Americans who are that naive. There’s more than a few of these strongmen and wannabe or actual dictators scattered around the planet. Ontario may well be the next launching pad for another contemptible bozo who wears his racism, sexism and xenophobia proudly on his sleeve. Listen – I get it. You’re angry at Wynne, whom you feel has screwed up her time at the helm. So angry that you’ll throw away any progressive growth in the province in favour of a man who is the walking, talking embodiment of NIMBY?

You’ll get what you deserve, as the people always do. It’s not about electing the least offensive option, it’s about caring enough about your city, or province, or country to nurture safe, sane growth, while keeping those in charge accountable. You can’t wake up forty years down the road to ruin and ask, “wha’ happened?” We built this city and this country by turning a blind eye to suspect deals, cronyism and corruption, with each successive governance going further down the wrong path, and piling on more debt for our kids and grandkids. How many shady politicians have walked away from positions of power with full pockets and zero accountability for screwing over the electorate?

bullies on campusWhat you get instead of good candidates are guys like Trump and Ford, who are basically those asshat Big Men On Campus that you had to endure in senior high school or college. The big bullies who swagger down the corridors with their buddies, all of whom are both a little afraid and a little in awe of Biff’s cruelty, but who are far more afraid of getting on his bad side and having him lash out at them.

So they laugh when he shoves that kids with the glasses into a locker, or trips that nerd with a full tray in the cafeteria. They’ll guffaw when he spikes the punch, and talks smack about the cheerleaders, and leaves one or two of the girls pregnant. Because he’s got the power, they’ll go along for the ride, and reap what benefits they may from the scraps he leaves behind.

Of course, this kind of governance leaves behind damage far beyond Biff’s years on the football team, or Trump’s time in office. We’re still trying to get the science teacher’s Volkswagen down from the roof of the gym, and we may never get all that coal detritus out of America’s rivers.

new yorker quote Trump end daysAnd that’s assuming Biff leaves the building willingly …

We all must take responsibility for allowing the Biffs of the world to come to political power. We have to root out and trash the idea that the bullying, entitled, ‘big swinging dicks’ of the world have anything to offer the rest of us. They sneer at us, and view us with contempt. We are just the sheep they seek to fleece and lead to slaughter. They are the spoiled, the entitled, the corrupt, and they seek to profit from our naiveté. The tools that elect fools and criminals to office are our insecurities, fears, and prejudices, along with our willingness to let anyone else who’ll volunteer, to do the heavy lifting of keeping an eye on those who are supposedly running countries for the good of the people, and to make sure that they are not simply working for their own gain. These faults are what elect terrible people to the White House, or Parliament. Bad politicians are the reflections of our worst flaws.

bad choice worse choice. jpgIf we want better, we need to deserve better. And deserving better means actually caring about who is running your government. It means doing the research, understanding basic civics, having an opinion, and demanding that our elected officials listen to all of the electorate, not just the part that greases their palms. Elected officials need to be scrutinized as severely as any other public servant, because they ARE your servants, and they are well paid to do the will of the people. If we, as citizens, can’t be bothered to learn what it takes to run our cities or country, if we find it all too boring, and unimportant … then we’ll continue to be asked to choose between two or more terrible choices to lead.

Social media teems with trolls, rants, memes, and the lashing out of frustrated, angry people. It feeds the divisiveness and lack of empathy that will tear our worlds apart. Everyone has an opinion, but opinions are not facts. We now have solid proof that neither your drunk uncle nor your favourite armchair politician are actually the smartest, or the best qualified, to make the intellectual, diplomatic, decisions that enable countries to run smoothly.

We are not enabling our ‘better angels’ when we choose those who will control our governments by Facebook polls. If citizens truly want to have a say in how they are governed, they have to put in the work to be better citizens.

i love the poorly educatedAs George Carlin told us so very long ago, ” If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re going to get selfish, ignorant leaders. Term limits ain’t going to do any good; you’re just going to end up with a brand new bunch of selfish, ignorant leaders. So, maybe, maybe, maybe, it’s not the politicians who suck. Maybe something else sucks around here… like, the public. “

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Boom Times in the Big Smoke


It’s Boom Town for realtors in Toronto these days. 243,400 houses were sold last year, and as of April of this year, the average residence in the city had a starting price tag of a cool $921,000.

378 East Sept 2016My old house in Scarborough, which we sold last July, was re-sold twice more by speculators before the year ended, each time jumping another $100K or so in price. It’s now been demolished and rebuilt as a monster home. I wouldn’t recognize the place, they tell me.

Fine by me. We sold, we moved, and I can barely remember the person I was when I lived in my big, old bungalow. Turns out it’s great not to have the onus of house maintenance, and the constant waiting for the next expense to drop. Renting, after 30 years of owning, may not lend the same sense of autonomy, but it also comes with a lot less responsibility and chores.

Taxes can be a burden on the home owner as well, since your residential tax is based on current value, not what you paid for the place at the time of purchase. If you lucked out in the eighties and bought your dream home for around $100,000, you might be considering a second job just to keep the taxes paid and the utilities flowing.

hawkstone-manorGood ol’ Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins has his big estate, Hawkstone Manor, up for sale. Again. He tried to sell it for $14.9 million back in 2013, and failed. But it’s up again, this time listed at $4.3 million. If it goes to a bidding war, which is not out of the question, he could still get closer to the $10 million mark.

From the Toronto Star, April 2013:
“It’s a $100 house on a million-dollar property.”

The nine-bedroom, five-bathroom home is really only notable for the lifetime of memories that line its orange living room walls. A buyer would likely bring in a bulldozer.

But the house sits atop a rare piece of prime Kawarthas real estate — 165 acres gently sloping down to almost 4,000 feet of waterfront that, on these sought-after shores of the Trent-Severn Waterway, can go for $5,000 a foot.”

The Order of Canada recipient is 82, and not in the best of health. Whatever the final price, he and his wife will be able to cash out big and find somewhere a lot cosier to shelter them in their golden years.

sold over asking. jpgAnd that’s the ideal situation to be in, in the market right now. If you’re selling and have to purchase another place in the city – good luck to you. They want ridiculous money for so much as a garage, without a house attached. It’s madness. Tiny bungalows, like the one I’m renting, list for $800K and sell for over a million.

And when the interest rates rise in a bit, it’s gonna be even crazier. How can the average person buy so much as an entry home in the city, without a family income somewhere in the $300K a year range? It’s nuts. Rock, meet hard place. Rock musicians … move to Hamilton.

Funny thing, though, about this real estate madness – with hundreds of thousands of properties changing hands in the last two years, there have never been more paper millionaires minted in the city than it’s likely seen in it’s history. scrooge_mcduck

Not just millionaires – multi-millionaires. If you’re one of those lucky enough to have pretty much retired the mortgage, and are ready for retirement yourself, you could be walking away with more money than you ever dreamed you’d have. (Not me, I hasten to add – we did alright but didn’t hit Scrooge McDuck status. We’re barely McDucklings. We’re Ova McDuck, if anything.)

Barring a lotto win, which is unlikely, since I keep forgetting to buy a ticket, I’ll probably spend the rest of my days in rental properties, of decreasing proportions. Part of me would love to be a home owner again, but the rational, sensible part of my brain is quite comfortable with letting someone else worry about the roof, the septic tank, and the tyranny of ‘keeping up with the Jones.

I’m liking this downsizing, says the unrepentant hoarder. I’m liking trying to fit everything that once overflowed a 4000 square foot sprawler into this teensy tiny, less than 1000 square foot bungalow. It’s given me the chance to actually sift through all of these souvenirs and memories, and sort the metaphorical wheat from the chaff. I’m culling the hoard. It’s great to tear willy nilly through the detritus, and toss out the junk. It’s fun to put boxes of odds and ends on the lawn, under a big sign that says ‘Free!’ and watch cars screech to a halt, their drivers eager to find some little treasure to haul home.

1 800 got junkIt’s really heartening to go through all of the boxes of clothing, shoes, books, craft items, and linens, choose what can be redistributed within our family and friends, and then pass on the overflow to people who will appreciate what we’ve donated. There are so many who have so little, while others have three of everything. Distributing some of my bounty to those who can use it liberates my home AND my heart.

I didn’t need three apple corers. In fact, I have never even used one of them, not even once. Ditto the cherry pitter.

For the first time in my life, I’m no longer buying stuff ‘just in case,’ or with a view to some future purpose, because my future is now, and I want to be present.

I’m happy for those who are selling their properties for a tidy profit. I’m happy for those who are finding their dream homes. I worry about Torontonians who missed the real estate roundabout, and are now trying to find something affordable to rent. But this is all going on around me, and like you, I have very little say in what the Toronto of tomorrow will resemble.

Owning a home is not for everyone. It’s a very nice thing, and can certainly be wise and profitable in midlife. But when it comes time for retirement, home ownership is more like an anchor around your neck, keeping your proverbial boat stuck in one place. To enter new waters, you’ve got to haul up that anchor, and unfurl the sails, letting the fresh breeze take you somewhere new and exciting.

Avast, me hearties … I’m bound for uncharted shores!

 

With No Direction Home


When we first sold our house, worrying about finding a space that would be safe, affordable, and have amenities nearby didn’t seem like such a big deal. Really, we reasoned, how hard could it be?  I, for one, thought that our biggest problem would be agreeing on location.

Wrong.

welcome to the jungleSince our search for housing has begun, I have passed through all the stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I now accept that my entire life is on hold, and that I will be a quivering mass of anxiety and frustrated tears until this home hunting issue is resolved. Or one of us kills the other.

I had no idea that so many of the baby boomers who had dutifully bought their suburban homes during good times would all be taking advantage of a seller’s market, with an idea of moving back into the city where they could enjoy their golden years. The hive mind’s plan was to sell before the real estate bubble burst, find a little place to squat until the madness calmed down, and then decide what to do next, secure in our gains and pensions.

Our lovely little bungalow was snapped up, and flipped again within the month. A friend just sent over a photo of it being demolished. East Ave demo Apr 2017As glad as I am that we are now ‘Former Scarberians, ‘ I did feel a pang at the sight of the rubble.

What we did not fully comprehend was that as the price of real estate rose, so did the greedy little hearts of landlords seeking to cash in on square footage. We’ve had rent control in Toronto for decades, but that only covers units built (or occupied) before 1991. The easing of rental controls was meant to encourage new rental units to be built, but was not acted upon – in the decade between 1996 and 2006, 95% of all new housing built was private residential ownership.

But having committed to the house sale, we established an east end home base, with an eye to sorting ourselves out before finding a ‘forever home.’ Unfortunately, when your stuff is in boxes, in storage spaces, and scattered to the winds, a sort of inability to move forward takes over … when you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t see any road ahead. Easier to lie back in the poppies like Dorothy than to sort through hundreds of cryptically labelled boxes to find the potato masher.

Toronto subway systemWe made up a wish list of what we could and couldn’t accept in housing. Accessibility to amenities, shopping, libraries, etc was priority number one, since I don’t drive. So this palace had to be close to the subway line, and roughly west of  Woodbine station, and east of Ossington station.

High rises were just out, right off the bat, after hearing countless horror stories about tenants battling cockroaches and bed bugs. Low rises were a low priority – still so much noise and too many neighbours!

A three bedroom would be best, a large two bedroom acceptable IF there were separate dining and living rooms. Parking would be great, street permit parking would be considered. A little back yard for the cats, or at the least, an enclosed balcony, was also on the list.

We established a maximum monthly rental cost  that we could comfortably afford, with the knowledge that rental costs would inevitably increase yearly. If we needed to include utilities in the costs, electrical heating could not considered if we were to be able to afford both heating and eating.

Oh, how the Gods laugh, when humans list what they will and will not accept!

housingOur first forays into the rental world were fun and interesting. Thirty years of home ownership had us lulled into a false confidence. Hours were spent burning out corneas, sifting through Kijiji, Craigslist, ViewIt, and countless other rental sites. We were ready and willing to explore what was out there.

Preliminary research done, it was time to inspect what was available. We saw apartments, condos, tiny houses, and lofts. We looked above stores, under stores, and at underground parking.

And every time we’d find something that was either ‘just perfect!‘ or ‘close enough to be almost perfect!’ we’d be scooped by some other renter frantically trying to avoid homelessness. Everything, it would seem, was fair in apartment hunting … lies, bribery, tantrums …

evil landlordLandlords today are the Gods of the past. They can drive a grown man to tears, never mind a small French girl. They are merciless. They can not only demand more private and confidential information from you than your doctor will, they can gleefully skip over rental/tenants agreements willy nilly, banning everything from smoking, to small pets, and cooking smells. They can demand thousands of dollars in certified cheques be handed over, before they’ve even looked at your 11 page rental application.

It is to weep.

Over and over, we’ve been told, despite having responded to an ad only two hours old, that there were several people who’d seen and applied for occupancy before us. Our impeccable credit ratings meant nothing, if another applicant fanned a wad of cash in front of the landlord, and agreed to pay hundreds more than the stated rental price. It is back to the dark old days of ‘key money,’ and laws and legalities be damned.

living in a boxI no longer look forward to viewing living spaces, nor do I mentally dress them in my mind. I have no reason to expect that finding anything more than four walls and, hopefully, a roof, await me. To quote an old Monty Python sketch, I’m beginning to realize that I may soon be living in a cardboard box in the middle of a busy street. In the game of apartment hunting, I have had my tenant heart broken.

When the hunt for a home resembles the worst of the Wild West, it’s a lose/lose game for both the renter and the rentee,. Those who finally win a place to live at any price feel no joy in the victory, no loyalty to the landlord, and no need to be a responsible tenant, if that success has come at a cost that will prevent them from enjoying the rest of their lives.

10 worst tenantsNor does the temporary flush of money, money, money help the landlord when he discovers that he’s rented to someone willing to cough up the extra dough so that the space can be turned into a grow op or a crash pad for six other friends. Good luck evicting bad tenants .. that’s one place where the law not only comes down heavily on the side of the resident, it’s actually followed to a fair thee well. Your squatter may be around for a very long time.

Setting aside the morality and ethics of rental wars, there’s an impact on society at large.

demoralizedAnyone who falls through the cracks, economically, is hopelessly disenfranchised in this battle. Kids in college, or right out of college coping with short term employment contracts, or gawd forbid, unpaid ‘internships,’ are right out of luck, along with the disabled, the elderly, the vulnerable, and those who don’t pass the scrutiny and whims of landlords. Demoralization and often, homelessness, loom in their futures.

When greed rules the markets, lawlessness runs rampant. We cannot balance a Trumpian  ‘smart business practices’ fallacy with a failure to acknowledge that Toronto‘s historically low vacancy rate of 1.3% will have a negative impact upon the social and economic success of the city. Short term gain is never the equivalent of what can be achieved by long term, responsible, financial planning that takes into account the needs of all of a city’s inhabitants.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting to hear if we have been chosen for an apartment that, while not ideal, ticks a few of our wish list boxes. But I’m also getting ready for yet another ‘go see’ of a space that could be made into a cozy space for two to curl up in.

We’re lucky – we have options, although it often seems that our options keep narrowing, and the lines we drew around what is habitable keep getting redrawn. How those without those options will cope is beyond me.

Wish me luck.

Epiphany – Life Changes


We sold our house a month and a half ago … got a good price, and a long lead time, so we’re pretty happy about that. My husband is retiring in December, and I won’t be that far behind him. And this is a fairly large property, that feels too big for he and I to care for. Well, we probably could. We just don’t care to.

Big changes in life are like earthquakes; all that was simmering below the surface is suddenly revealed in the upheaval.

The last six weeks have been traumatic. At first, the relief of selling, along with the funds that will follow, made me giddy with excitement. And then, after the thrill wore off, ugly reality set in. I’ve been a home owner for almost thirty years, and a hoarder for at least the last ten. Faced with the need to evaluate what I value, and what is valuable – two very different things – it was time to finally decide the direction my life will take for the next chapter.

I sank into a paralysis of indecision, tortured by what I would be giving up … my large back yard, and gardens; this beautiful street; the lake at the bottom of the hill. The house, I realized, had never really mattered, but being an owner of a house did. If I decided I wanted to put up shelves, paint a wall, even put a nail in a cupboard to hold my measuring spoons, those were MY decisions, and the consequences mine to answer for.

Renting will be very different. I will have to ask ‘permission’ to do so many things, including keeping a pet. I understand that. Owning property is a big deal. Making sure that property retains value is a big deal. I can’t expect to freely treat a rental unit as I would a home in which I have a financial stake.

However, losing that autonomy is also a big deal. In many ways it feels like a surrender, like going home to the parents after making a stab at liberation. I’m an independent cuss, so that doesn’t feel very good at all.

It also smacks of the other end of life, of the surrendering of independence in pursuit of once more being taken care of by others.

So I am simultaneously feeling like a young bird, leaving the nest, and an old dog, hoping its owners will still appreciate and comfort it as it ages.

 

life-changes-oprah-quote

Under Construction


We are all ‘works in progress.’  Or should be.

work in progressPeople are not meant to be static entities. It’s human nature to constantly grow and change, to take in new ideas and incorporate them into a whirling dervish of a world. We watch nature’s cycles, the patterns of waxing and waning, and STILL we want our own dealings with other actual people to remain constant. Our highest praise to an old friend is that they haven’t changed.

And yet, everyone responds to a continuum of change in different ways. We may begin every one of our interactions with other humans with the best of intentions and the highest of hopes, but not being attuned to each others progress through life can only end in stagnation or regret.

One day, the world is our oyster … the next, it all seems very challenging. Sometimes we love everyone; sometimes the people in our closest circles are growing and changing in ways that no longer meet our needs, or match our core values. To be human is to recognize and respect not just our own need to evolve, but the evolution of each other.

dolly parton quoteI will never understand how some couples can hold strong, solid, passionate political leanings that are in complete opposition to their partner’s. I can admire those couples, but I just can’t imagine that they can be truly mentally intimate. Having to compromise in a relationship is to be expected, but having to suppress words and feelings to avoid pressing a partner’s hot buttons would wear me down to a nub.  Eventually, conversation would become so controlled that you’d be down to hoping that ‘pass the butter’ didn’t unleash a torrent of fury. We are drawn to the politics that mesh with our core beliefs, and that reflect our attitudes on every interaction we have with the world and each other. ‘Politics’ is just another way of defining who we are, and of displaying our team colours to those we have yet to know.

Camus quoteWe can try to alter ourselves to meet the wishes and expectations of others, but that way lies madness. The controller inevitably becomes the controllee, a slave to enforcing a status quo that’s no longer applicable, or even much fun, to either party.

Which is not to say that all of life has to be fun, or perfect, even though that is what we all think we want. A life without obstacles might seem desirable, but stumbling blocks are what strengthens our essence, and makes meaning of our existence. A month of intense heat makes us long for the chill of winter snows. Intense sadness, leavened by moments of great joy, allow us to appreciate the highs, the lows, and the calms in between.

When we try to halt that progress, try to capture a moment in time and make it our only reality, we are doomed to tainting that wonder. You can’t pin a butterfly to a board and expect it to retain its colours and movement … even if you try just to hold it for a time, you’ll likely damage it. Admire the beauty of its flight; a butterfly must be free to enjoy its brief dance in the sun.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder,” he said, “live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that,” he said, “shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.”  ― Ray Bradbury     

walk away from drama meme.jpgThroughout our lives, we will enter into relationships with many people. Some will last for as little as a conversation, others, for decades. All of our experiences, all of our past encounters, combine with who we are when we present ourselves, and how the other person presents to us, and will determine how loosely or tightly we connect in that first meeting.  The longevity will depend on mutual respect, not just for what we think we want, but for who we become in the process.

I often think that life is a dance. The choreography depends on our own internal music, and the steps we’ve invented with our needs and wants. The tempo changes with our reality and perceptions – sometimes life is a tango, other times a waltz.

If you are very lucky, your life may be a Pogo, formed of joy and enthusiasm and the sheer giddiness of really feeling alive and in the moment. And the beauty of joy is that it is always available .. you only have to choose to see it and seek it. No one can give it to you – you have to reach out and take it. From cradle to grave, joy is always just a grasp away.

The dance can be frenetic, like riding in bumper cars, crashing head to head or bouncing off of each other, all great fun in the moment. Some see the dance as a long game, like chess, and carefully plan each move far in advance. The trouble with planning those moves is that we can never assume what the other dancer might do.  All is subject to change. They are dancing their own pas de deux.

Life’s dance can be a solo turn or a chorus line; pas de deuxa Balanchine ballet, a polka or a frenetic Frug. The dancers weave in and out, entering our line of vision, participating in the exercise, enriching or detracting from the show. We can ask the other dancers to accompany us in our dance, and it is a lovely thing when we dance together in perfect harmony.

What we mustn’t do, however, is hobble the other dancers. Each one’s dance is their own, and subject to change. Each of us has a time to lead and a time when we must follow. Every dance has its own beauty and dignity. Every dance and every life is a work in progress.

 

 

(first published July 2016 – bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/roxanne-tellier-under-construction/)

 

Defining Down


no meat on FridaysI grew up in a time when single mothers were scorned, when people who ate meat on Friday went to purgatory, when interracial marriage was illegal in many parts of the United States … My husband’s mother married a black Bermudian, and most of her family refused to speak to her for years. There were few visible minorities.

Gays did not only have no option to marry, they were closeted and lucky if they kept their sexuality hidden, tormented by local bullies, or prosecuted under archaic laws against homosexuality if found in compromising positions.

But times have changed. Change happens because you care enough to make a difference, when enough like-minded people decide that the guiding principles they’ve been following either no longer make sense, or are plainly unjust.

It’s frustrating to watch how slowly organizations and governments move to make change. The people speak, and when their voices shake society’s pillars, those who control power acknowledge a possible problem. In order to defer action until it’s decided if the issue is good or bad for those in power, comObamaSignsBillprehensive studies are done, dragging out the questioning still longer. When finally a solution is presented, it’s inevitably a compromise that makes no one completely happy, but which we all hail as a step forward.

There are downsides and upsides to expediting change. While it’s frustrating to wait for the wheels of progress to turn, lore tells us that slow change would be of a “sober second thought.” But in a world that regularly examines and attempts advancements based on new ideas and technological advancements, a less cumbersome process allows opportunities for change that really matters. And if the change is not completely positive, swift movement to curb or perfect that change should occur.

defining deviancyFunny how we absorb change. In 1993, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote an insightful paper on how American society has coped with massive social change. When deviant behaviours – from births to unmarried women, to violent crime, to a simple rejiggering of our attitudes towards pornography – reach a certain level, we soothe ourselves by “defining deviancy down.” By declaring these behaviours normal, we take the stigma and the sting out of the action.

iatrogenic govtHe had another theory, of “iatrogenic government.” This proposes that some social problems may have been inadvertently caused by government; for instance, the conservative contention that liberal policies produce a culture of dependency. (In the medical field, an iatrogenic ailment is one inadvertently induced by a physician or medicine.)

“The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Politics is an argument about the future.

By defining deviancy down, those who prefer to live peacefully are kept lulled by what they are told by authority figures. While they may sense a problem, they are easily soothed when a mainstream media assures them that this is the ‘new normal.’

When it comes to social mores, they can safely quote authorities who tell them not to worry about the stuffy old ways of thinking they learned from their parents and grandparents; that’s ‘fuddy-duddy thinking now. All the cool people know what’s really happening, and it’s all just fine.

storming the castleHowever, there are bigger issues at stake. There’s a surprising lack of dismay over economic numbers that would have given our recent ancestors cause to storm the Capital with pitchforks. Those numbers get massaged until the public can be assured that all is well, despite what they’re seeing with their own eyes.

In the United States, the passing of Citizens United completely changed any sense of a level playing field in a democratic government.

“The Citizen United ruling, released in January 2010, tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads andcitizensunited other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.

In a nutshell, the high court’s 5-4 decision said that it is OK for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate.” (http://www.publicintegrity.org/2012/10/18/11527/citizens-united-decision-and-why-it-matters)

Flash forward just five years, and we have the Koch Brothers, the 7th and 8th richest men in the world, vowing to spend nearly a billion dollars on whomever they’ve decided to back in the next Presidential election. citizensunited 2

Welcome to the oligarchy. Most democratic governments currently in power already appear to be hamstrung by those who have exchanged campaign funding for a say in government policies. Citizens United simply made the manipulation more visible.

(As Katty Kay, journalist and lead anchor of BBC World News America, recently  said, “The Democrats would do it too, if they could. She added, “It is only going to get worse… If I invested $10 million in an election, I would want a return on my investment. I would want to make sure there were votes on the floor.”)

Our cultural instinct is to find those who think like us, a society where we are safe from having to be responsible for caring for all around us, since it’s difficult enough to get through our busy lives. Exhausted at the end of the day, we don’t want to feel obliged to think very deeply about a myriad of issues, each more convoluted than the next.

Our media knows that, dutifully feeding us mere tidbits of real ‘news,’ and filling the rest of the air time with feel good stories and barely concealed infomercials for the products of advertisers who sponsor the show. choose responsibilityWe can choose from a variety of consumer goodies, but are given only a tiny menu of pre-approved opinions and positions on the things that really matter – like how our countries are being run.

Because if we choose, then we are responsible, are we not? Better to define deviance down, to live with a new normal we feel powerless against, than to choose to make changes that matter.