Gene-y In A Bottle


astrology chartHow gullible are consumers? Good marketing seems able to sell us anything, up to and including a president. So, I’d say we’re pretty darn gullible.

The first time I saw commercials for companies that would test people’s DNA … for a hefty price, of course … I laughed out loud. It was clear from the start that this testing was essentially the 21st century equivalent of having your astrological chart done; fun, something to giggle about with friends, a fad that would come and go with varying success over the decades.

I grew up knowing that I’m French and American on my dad’s side, and Irish and British on my mum’s side. My sense of who I am, and who my people are, came from learning the language, foods and customs of these groups, and I have a certain allegiance to all of them. If a DNA test were to show that I’m actually 98% Italian, I’d eat a little more pasta – as if that’s possible! – but it’s not going to change who I am, where I came from, or how I feel about my family. Nurture over nature if you will. I’m gonna dance with the one that brung me.

I’m not saying that DNA testing is a game .. it has it’s place in science, in research, and in the courts. However, attempting to define your place in the world by discovering where your DNA may have been at different moments in time? that’s where the science falls down.

FamilyTreeDNA, 23and Me, Ancestry, MyHeritage… even National Geographic is getting into the act. The trouble is, every company is dependent on the data sets they’re already decided upon, and the algorithms which change based on new information prioritized by the company.

Think of this testing as akin to the blood tests your doctor orders; he decides that the lab will check for certain substances or changes in your blood by asking them to look for those subsets. If he has not asked, for instance, that your blood be checked for anemia, it’s not likely that they’ll either test for that, or find it.

Same with these DNA kits. The companies are looking for certain data subsets of which they are already aware. They are basing what they find on what they have previously found.

So, for instance, if a lot of their customers have a set of genetic markers indicating that their ancestors came from Scandinavian countries, then a lot of the incoming tests will miraculously find a whole lot of distant cousins arriving in the next week’s mail. The companies may be using as few as 115 data sets to define the genetic markers they’re searching for in new samples.

There is no one specific gene that denotes your ancestors exact heritage. It’s all subsets, billions of sets of genetic markers that might indicate where your ancestors were at some point in time. And even within your own biological family, not everyone will have inherited the exact same markers .. which is why testing of identical twins, triplets, etc with identical DNA, may still show different results.

The science is not inherently bad, it’s inherently imperfect. We want to see the testing as a sort of magic, that will tell us where our ancestors came from, and what that means to us in the present. But unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely to bear much resemblance to reality.

My husband thought it would be fun to buy me a kit for my birthday, since I had commented on the commercials that were ubiquitous last year in the months leading up to the holidays. I received it in December, and got my sample result this week.

In order to believe the results they’ve sent me, I’d have to accept that my dad’s mum had a “Bridges of Madison County” encounter prior to his birth, because it seems that the Tellier family’s five hundred year stint in France didn’t make the subset marker cut.

But the data markers used in this testing found that I am 53.5% Irish, Scottish and Welsh, 34.7% Scandinavian, 10.6% Sardinian, and 1.2% Nigerian.

swedish chefThis might explain why I hanker to sing the Swedish Chef blues. Bork Bork Bork!

It’s immaterial, anyway. It’s a fun pastime, something to make you smile, and maybe marvel at the way we’re all interconnected, at least on a genetic level. There was a viral video going around a year or so ago, that showed people of all ages, creeds and colours having their DNA tested, and discovering that they had things in common with people they would never have encountered were it not for the making of the video. Finding out that we have more in common with each other than we know … seems a little sad that some people have to see a DNA test’s results before they can ‘get’ that.

dna testing a racist. jpg

It’s life. It’s all of us being busy spreading our genes all over the planet, every where and all the time. And all of us being, despite how it may appear at the outside, very much the same as each other on the inside.

But there is a good use for DNA testing. DNA tests can be used for testing if you carry certain diseases, especially those that you might not want to unwittingly pass on to your own children.

genetic testingCaveat here, though, is that having a gene marker for a disease does not 100% confirm that you will get that disease, only that you are more likely to do so than others without that marker. You are at risk, but other factors – age, diet, exercise, medications, lifestyle choices – may have a stronger impact on whether or not you’ll succumb to the disease.

I’d feel a lot better if the DNA testing kits on the market which claim to reveal your heritage were labelled truthfully – as entertainment. While they might occasionally hit on a set of data subsets that matches with a customer’s, overall, their ‘science’ is about as scientific as predicting the weather by chicken entrails.

I’m filing my test results with the astrological chart my mum bought for me when I was 12, and my books on numerology and tarot. It’s all fun stuff, but I’m not taking any of it to the bank.

 

Of Time and Tides


not ready for growingupNext week, I’ll be heading to British Columbia to visit my daughter, granddaughters, family and friends. My husband gifted me the fare; he knows I’ve been aching to see the girls. I’ll be there for my daughter’s birthday, and to reacquaint myself with my granddaughters, who are teetering on the brink of their teenage years, at ages 11 and 13. My daughter will have her hands full for the next decade with these two little minxes.

I, on the other hand, have ‘grandmother privilege.‘ I get to see them when they’re on their best behaviour, and to leave the room for a nap or to visit friends when they’re acting up. Life is good!

For years I was unable to travel. A weird combination of finances and bureaucracy kept me from obtaining the necessary identification to board a train or plane. My clever friend, Barbette Kensington, steered me through the morass of paperwork, and now … I am a genuine, legally viable, traveling person!

So I’m looking forward to this trip, for many reasons, and despite my insane fear of flying. It’s a joy and a privilege to be able to travel, and one that I’ve not been able to do in over 16 years.

Getting older is a privilege as well, although many of us hate to think about it. As our loved ones, idols and contemporaries succumb to time, it starts to seem like the world we once knew is fading away, leaving us adrift in an altered space.

Coming to grips with aging looks a lot like getting thru the stages of grief. You’re gonna have to go through denial, anger, bargaining and depression before you finally come to acceptance.

I have my own theory on how we deal with getting older; I think I read it somewhere, but it’s mine now. Basically, there’s three stages.

In the first stage, you feel pretty much like you always did. You still want to do all of the things you used to do, and for the most part, you are able to socialize, travel, and maintain your hobbies with maybe a little more resting time needed than before. But you’re still a you that you recognize, and if you’ve got a few bucks, you can finally relax and enjoy life.

In the second stage, something goes wrong, either physically or mentally. Maybe you break a hip, or have a stroke. Now you’re wishing you had gotten in that trip to Peru before your lungs decided high altitudes were no longer an option. You get a little angry that your social calendar looks barer than it used to, and you might start to tell people that you’re “not as young as you used to be,” in order to get out of doing any sort of strenuous movement … like walking up the stairs.

do not regret growing olderIn the third stage, you can’t do very much at all, and there isn’t much you look forward to anymore. That’s the last bit of the human journey, and probably the least anticipated.

Aging is inevitable, and few would prefer the alternative. Ready or not, at some time in your late fifties or early sixties, you will realize that you’re nearing, or in, that first stage, and that you have no idea when exactly the second stage will kick in.

We live in wonderful times. While we can’t turn back the clock, we can be grateful that medical science now allows an array of options for dealing with aging bodies. Hip surgeries and knee replacements are commonplace. Who knows what miracles will be available as we age and need a few more drastic nips and tucks?

laser surgery. jpgWe simply can’t anticipate what the future will hold, for good or ill. As a kid, I never dreamed that there would someday be a surgery available to correct vision … I had just assumed that I’d eventually lose my sight entirely, as both of my grandmothers had. Thanks to lasers, I had two decades of perfect vision. One of these days, I’ll have more laser surgery, and that will correct the effects of aging as well.

It would be great if there were big advances in cancer treatments. Cancer is a cruel bitch, and she’s taken away too many of my loved ones. Last fall, I had to finally admit that it was time to stop smoking, and I quit cold turkey. I’ll be dealing with the damage that I did to myself from here on in, and keeping my fingers crossed that I escape the Big C.

Took me too long to realize that you only need to change a few letters to go from ‘excuse’ to ‘exercise.’ A regular exercise program makes me feel a lot less stressed. Maybe the aquafit will also help me lose a few pounds. Couldn’t hurt. For sure it’s refocusing my attention on how good it feels to be able to stretch without pain.

The first stage of aging can be a bit of a shock – it’s almost as though our bodies are betraying us. After years of doing pretty much whatever was asked of them, our bodies have gone mutinous, and are demanding that we treat them with more care.

There’s several reasons for these changes, but they are all inevitable, so you may as well get used to them.

” Two biological phenomena appear related to the aging process:

• Accumulation of waste products in the cells
• Loss of elasticity of the connective body tissue

These changes, sometimes called nongenetic, occur at the cellular level. They have a direct bearing upon many declines we experience in our physical and sensory capabilities.

Many bodily changes take place over the entire lifespan— some beginning with birth. They are part of a relentless, post-maturational phenomenon called senescence (biological aging).

Senescence results in a decrease in the physical capacity of an individual, accompanied by an increase in a person’s vulnerability. As a result, any product or environment may become less friendly and less supportive for some people while adequately providing support for others.

Most of the changes that characterize senescence occur slowly. As they occur, individuals adapt to them. For example, people with arthritis may select utensils with larger and softer handles to ease the pain and enhance their grip.”

http://www.transgenerational.org/aging/aging-process.htm)

While the changes are inevitable, how we deal with them is up to us. Denying the realities of aging only leads to a more rapid decline, and if we try to force ourselves to perform at the same level, mentally or physically, as we did in our prime, we’re doomed to failure, and to setting up a negative feedback loop that tells us that it’s no use to even try for what improvement we can rationally expect.

What we really crave is a happy aging experience, and that’s easier to get to when we aim for smaller goals, with less dramatic gains, but gains that are progressive and ongoing. In a positive feedback loop of self-reinforcing and self- energizing behaviours, we can find the sweet spot of feeling comfortable at any age.

those who love deeply never grow old. jpgThere’s got to be joy in our lives. That’s what really motivates us, and leads us to the healthy actions and interactions that make getting up every morning something to anticipate rather than dread.

We need ‘fresh air and friendly faces,’ people that we care about and people who care about us. We need to love and be loved, and to hold dear those whom we treasure for the good impact they’ve had in our lives.

We need to appreciate where we’ve been, and what we’ve done, while embracing new experiences that stretch our abilities. And sometimes we need to get on an airplane even when we’re terrified of flying.

There’s no sense in denying your ‘golden years;’ there’s only the reality of how you’ll choose to live them. My choice is to make the rest of my life, the best of my life.

mark twain on travel

 

To Boldly Go …


Thintelligence: “The state of mind where a person does something without considering the consequences. The idea may seem brilliant at first, but the after-affects usually prove to be deadly. This phrase was invented by Michael Crichton in his 1990 book Jurassic Park.

JurassicPark glasses

“They don’t have intelligence. They have what I call ‘thintelligence.’ They see the immediate situation. They think narrowly and call it ‘being focused.’ They don’t see the surround. They don’t see the consequences.”

While it might be possible to reanimate a dinosaur from it’s DNA, what real purpose would that serve in a world where a dinosaur would be just another endangered species?

Most of us are eager to jump on hot new technologies that promise to improve how we experience our lives, while rarely considering what the lasting effect might be on current technologies. The invention of the car put an end to all of the industries previously surrounding the care and comfort of horse drawn carriages. obsolete techDigital photography killed most of the industries that provided material to those who preferred film. Cassettes replaced vinyl, and then were themselves replaced by CDs.

If it’s new, it’s cool, and we can afford it … we want it. Now.

This is the world we have created, bit by bit, as we embrace what science and technology have helped to provide for our entertainment.

Without realizing it, and without ever technically agreeing to these changes, we have slowly awoken to a world that greatly differs from the world in which we once lived. Most of us just buy into whatever becomes the new standard. How we live within our world subtly alters, and we barely notice.

When I was a young woman, social contact with other people was my primary focus. When I couldn’t be with friends, I had a slew of hobbies to keep me busy. Now, I can’t remember when I last pursued any of those crafty pastimes.

And I honestly can’t remember ever being ‘bored.’ Oh, I’m sure there might have been an instance or two before I discovered boys and booze, but overall .. nope.

I don’t see friends nearly as often as I used to, these days, even though I probably have more free time now than I ever did then. It’s just so much easier and more convenient to keep in touch through social media.

That loss of face to face, hand to hand, contact has had an affect on how we see and treat others. We are quicker to make judgements about other people, for good or ill, and less empathetic to those outside of our social bubbles.

Those tiny steps from there to here were imperceptible. Those of us who now rely on a tablet sized phone to corral all of our communication and computing needs hardly remember the consumer uncertainty and fear that surrounded the advent of the first personal computers.

first pcEarly adapters eagerly coughed up the cost of a new car to have one of the ungainly machines in their home. But for the average consumer, it would be a good twenty years before a home computer became commonplace.

Today’s teens can’t remember a time when they weren’t tethered to their phones. They barely spare a thought for their ability to be in constant contact with anyone, anywhere in the world, and to the informational capability of their device.

UN human rightsIn fact, this access to knowledge has become so universally accepted that the United Nations have now decreed internet access human right, up there beside food, water, and freedom of speech.

Knowledge is Power.” At one time, only the educated and the rich had access to the amount of knowledge now available to every one of us with the desire to be taught, and an internet connection. From the most obscure bit of trivia to schematics for the creation of nearly every machine known to man, any one of us can be experts in as many fields as we wish to conquer.

Or we can watch funny videos of pets being shamed; it’s our choice.

The flip side of the process that lets us do price comparisons online is that it is the same means that allows terrorists, criminals, or sexual deviants, to find online communities filled with like minded, twisted, individuals, and gives them the freedom to access instructions for how to make bombs and other destructive weapons.

pros and consAnd the computer language that allows us to do our banking online is always under attack by those who would use computer made trojans and viruses as a way to steal our money and personal information.

This is the place where the future can be held hostage, in a struggle between the thintelligent and those who rightly wonder what horrors could potentially be unleashed by new technology.

Even the smallest of changes can impact directly on what our future will look like. You do, however, have to have an understanding of how fragile civilization can be, to see what devastation can occur when we fail to take into consideration the impermanence of our past achievements.

Those who would rather argue over who is responsible for climate change, rather than deal with the effects of that change, will suffer the consequences as horribly as those who can see that we have to alter how we treat the planet, or risk not surviving. Those who believe it’s better to put government and corporate resources into sucking out the last of the oil, wherever it can be found, and at a frightening cost to the planet’s ecology, are arch princes of thintelligence, unable to see the consequences of NOT buying into less aggressive and sustainable energy sources.

We are in a time of flux, just as we were when the first cars began to appear on the dirt roads, that would, in good time, become the highways we drive upon today. The biggest difference between the past and present is that we now communicate our words and thoughts much more rapidly. For some, this onslaught of possibilities is exciting; for others, a nightmare.

But we cannot halt the future. Those who vilify a good old daysworld that doesn’t resemble what they believe to have been better times, and who would tear down all that has gone before that doesn’t fit into their memories, be it governance or infrastructure, are naive, and dangerous.

Demolition may be exciting to watch, but the slow and back breaking labour necessary to rebuild can throw up roadblocks that may stymie future generations for decades.

And it takes a great deal more than bravado to create the future. Most of us simply don’t have the intelligence or ability to transform thoughts and words into architecture or proven science.

There’s a middle ground to be found and walked, one in which we honour what we have created, and look to the possibilities some visionaries have proposed. But always with a nod to the unforeseen consequences all change brings to the planet and it’s inhabitants.

Climate Change What Climate Change? … The Aftermath


  • Climate change denial, or global warming denial, involves denial, dismissal, or unwarranted doubt about the scientific consensus on the rate and extent of global warming, the extent to which it is caused by humans, its impacts on nature and human society, or the potential for human actions to reduce these impacts. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change_denial)

Part One: https://frustratedboomers.com/2015/08/12/climate-change-what-climate-change-part-one/

Part Two.https://frustratedboomers.com/2015/08/13/climate-change-what-climate-change-part-two/

It’s been a few days since I wrote parts one and two, and, not surprisingly, there have been those who have taken offense at my stance and my words.

Here’s one response:

suzuki warning“your blog part one is just name calling. It’s like you are standing on a soapbox and ranting. You won’t get anyone to listen to you talking like that. I’m p**sed off reading it, and I’m your friend. I am not convinced that mankind is contributing to climate change. And you call me names because I am still weighing the evidence, looking for proof.

When I was writing part one, I weighed carefully how I should reference those still in denial of climate change, and how humans have contributed to the mess. I settled on “uninformed and part of the problem” as a way to describe this way of thinking.

Call me biased, but I think worrying about someone being offended by my words, while the majority of us are worried about becoming extinct if change is not acknowledged and tackled, is treading a little too close to a world where bruising people’s feelings is more important than facing the inconvenient truth.

jesus I'm no scientist“I’m no scientist, but …” Stop right there. No good comes from continuing that sentence. That’s mindless and lazy, and denies credence to the actual scientists, who are telling you what’s going on. It allows politicians to pander to a base that would prefer not to think about a future less cozy than the present.

Climate change is the most important and relevant issue we are dealing with today. All else pales in the face of drought and starvation, which people in other countries are already experiencing. The fact that we have felt only the periphery of the impact should be appreciated, but should also sound a clarion call for action.

And yet still, after decades of warnings … some are still “weighing the evidence?” On which scale? Who’s got their thumb on which side? And just how long is this weighing going to take, because while we’re weighing, the problem is compounding.

false balanceImagine for a moment that you and 75% of mankind all believed firmly that, based on scientific data and research, a cataclysmic event was about to happen. Imagine also, that there was a chance that that event could be forestalled, if not completely prevented. At what point would you cease to stop talking about the problem, and actually start working to fix it?

At what point do you stop trying to reason with people who’ve had decades to see the reality of climate change and tell them to just get out of the damn way? This is not a win/lose argument, if you winning the argument means all of us suffering, and potentially mankind becoming extinct.

I can assure you, I will not gloat if I am right and you are wrong. If I am right, I’ll be too busy struggling to breathe, or begging for water to say “I told you so.” If you are right, what’s the worst that can happen? whatIfGetABetterPlanetForNothing

As Secretary of State John Kerry said recently,

“If we make the necessary efforts to address this challenge – and supposing I’m wrong or scientists are wrong, 97 percent of them all wrong – supposing they are, what’s the worst that can happen? We put millions of people to work transitioning our energy, creating new and renewable and alternative; we make life healthier because we have less particulates in the air and cleaner air and more health; we give ourselves greater security through greater energy independence – that’s the downside. This is not a matter of politics or partisanship; it’s a matter of science and stewardship. And it’s not a matter of capacity; it’s a matter of willpower.”

Not making a decision IS making a decision; a decision that might well doom the rest of us to not taking a proactive stance in working with the environment.

I understand that the thought that your children and grandchildren will not live in the same world you grew up in is frightening, but denying the reality of the changes around you is not the solution. Mankind is contributing to climate change. We ARE guilty. But we are presumably intelligent and brave enough to accept these facts and work towards solutions.

Those palm forests being grown in the smouldering coals of decimated rainforests throughout Africa, Asia, North America, and South America, are financed and put into place by large corporations who place profit over humanity’s future, while the country’s leaders are bribed to look away from their country’s destruction. orangutan palm forest

Palm foresting is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced, as the land and forests must be cleared for the development of the oil palm plantations. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. This large-scale deforestation is pushing many species to extinction, and findings show that if nothing changes species like the orangutan could become extinct in the wild within the next 5-10 years, and Sumatran tigers less than 3 years.

In total, 50 million tons of palm oil is produced annually, supplying over 30% of the world’s vegetable oil production. This single vegetable oil is found in approximately 40-50% of household products in countries such as United States, Canada, Australia and England. Palm oil can be present in a wide variety of products, including: baked goods, confectionery, shampoo, cosmetics, cleaning agents, washing detergents and toothpaste.” (http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/Whats_the_issue.php

crime against humanityLook, no one is asking YOU, personally, to handle the enormous and expensive clean-up job that we need to do to try and save SOME of our species, and human life. It’s not down to you, personally, to have all the answers to how we continue to feed all the people in the world, or what we’ll do when oil runs out.

But it is down to you, and me, and everyone – every country, every world leader – to acknowledge that we can’t keep putting money over people. Those days, of mindlessly consuming without a thought to where all the goodies are coming from, are gone.

clean up your mess Mother EarthEvery day that passes ensures further compounding of climate change effects. What was once thought to be safely decades or centuries away, now looks to be our problem, not our kids’. (And why were you leaving it to your kids and grandkids anyway? This is YOUR mess .. YOU clean it up.)

The time for dithering over climate change and who’s responsible, is over. It’s now time for action. Let politicians know we will not allow corporations to suck down our country’s resources at the expense of the people. Protest, campaign, work with eco activists. VOTE!.

It would be an awful shame to lose mankind over a fear of causing offense to others.

coping with grief about climate change

For an interesting read on what it means to accept climate change, and all of the fear and sorrow and regret you inevitably feel, I recommend this column.

As the writer says, “To cope with losing our world requires us to descend through the anger into mourning & sadness, not bypass them to jump onto the optimism bandwagon or escape into indifference.”

http://www.ecobuddhism.org/wisdom/psyche_and_spirit/tgg

Running On Empty


It’s minus -21C today – that’s 5 below zero in Fahrenheit – and it’s so cold my cats have cat I has a sadgone beyond being angry and have become despondent, either staring sadly into space or denying the existence of the world with their heads smacked up against a wall. I’m sitting at my desk, wrapped in a black flannel poncho, and wondering where I’ve left my fingerless gloves.

I sprang from my bed this morning, rested and brimming with ideas of ‘great social and political import,’ but instead of researching, I’m waiting for oatmeal to cook – this is not the sort of day you face on an empty stomach.

On days like this I am very grateful for the science and technology that allows me to stay warm. I’m over the moon that I can flip a switch and have light to see by, and flip another switch to start up my computer and read mail and messages from family and friends. I’m really pleased that I have warm clothing that just rests in my closet until I want to wear it, and I’m grateful for the closet being part of a house that has walls and a roof that keep out the worst of the cold.

Silly-HolidaysWe often take for granted what less fortunate people would consider luxuries. We set aside a day here and a day there to give lip service to the giving of thanks, the honouring of lovers, parents, veterans and a host of others to whom we see fit to throw a bone. “Here you go, secretaries. It’s not much, but we’re calling today National Secretary Day! As soon as you’ve read that card, I’ll have a coffee with two sugars. Thanks for being you!”

Our culture has moulded us into people that can never have enough. Everywhere we turn we’re told that we’re missing out on something – a new power drill, an iPhone6, a bigger or tidier home, a more luxurious car, vacations in the sun, and most importantly … money, money, money!

and then we'll get himEven though studies have definitively shown that those with heaps of money are not significantly happier than those with enough to comfortably cover their needs, we’re still told that it is only with the amassing of wealth that we can really be content.

In reality, rich people are not all tanning by their dollar-shaped pools while chatting casually with the men and women we’ve elevated to media stardom. They’re far more likely to be spending their time trying to get yet more money, in any way possible, and are probably more anxious and hostile than you are when trying to decide whether to go with a name brand tin of peas or the generic house brand.

Scrooge-PorpoiseBeing addicted to money is like being addicted to drugs; at first, a small amount gives you a buzz, but as time goes by, you need higher and higher doses to maintain the high. And if money is your drug, that upward spiral contains another component – a need to have more than anyone else, to have it all, regardless of whom it damages. Exorbitant, mindless wealth precludes empathy towards those who struggle to survive on minimum wage or government assistance.

“The peasants have no bread!” “Then let them eat cake,” tittered Queen Marie Antoinette. Her joke, rather than having them rolling in the aisles, soon had heads rolling from the guillotine instead.

That anecdote is likely only the fabrication of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his autobiographical, “Confessions,” but has been used ever since as a cautionary tale of the perils of great wealth and self-indulgence in the face of social unrest. One would think the lesson would be self-explanatory, but apparently the accumulation of wealth does not always translate to the accumulation of historical knowledge.

In Canada, we can point to arriviste Kevin O’Leary, who, with a net worth of US$300 million that the true 1% would consider pocket change, can’t seem to stop patting himself on the back. When he’s not crowing over his own wealth, he’s exhorting the poor of the world to pull themselves up by their socks – even if they don’t own any socks.

But of course, that’s the dream we’ve been sold since the Industrial Revolution. “Come, work for me, make me wealthy and I will share my largesse. You too can be like me, all you need do is work hard, save your money, and keep your nose to the grindstone.” And we bought it, for decades. We called it the Protestant work ethic, and called anyone who didn’t agree lazy and stupid.

scrooge silly pleasures“The Protestant work ethic (or the Puritan work ethic) is a concept in theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and diligence as a constant display of a person’s salvation in the Christian faith, in contrast to the focus upon religious attendance, confession, and ceremonial sacrament in the Catholic tradition.

The phrase was initially coined in 1904–5 by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” (Wikipedia.org)

We forget that his essay was his observations on the Germany of his time, and not a ‘how-to’ manual. Weber considered himself agnostic. His argument was that Catholicism, with its emphasis on doing good works in the hope of eternal salvation, rather than pursuing wealth for its own sake, impeded the development of the capitalist economy in the West.

Capitalism depends upon everyone in the society believing in the same goals. When the West had a booming middle class, there was room within the prosperity to dream of a country free of traditional constraints. We could reach out a hand to those who needed help, be they poor or infirm, or young or old. That sense of community resulted in government safety nets and a surge of infrastructure building that connected and included all of the people, regardless of their economic place.

North America looked at what they had wrought in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, and found it good. Good enough to not make a priority again until it started to collapse around us.

glittering TorontoIt’s been decades since the roads and bridges and communities were put in place, decades in which the needs of the wealthy became more important in politics than the needs of the tax payer. In Toronto, once Canada’s most glittering city, our highways are clogged with commuters, while our transit system is woefully inadequate to shuttle workers from their homes to their jobs. The local politicians have been arguing about whether to tear down the eastern end of the Gardiner Expressway since the 1990’s. And the majority of our subway system, which opened in 1954, is held together with patches and prayers.

business and politicsThere’s blame enough for everyone at this sorry state. Although we love to complain about ‘the system,’ every aspiring politician has to present a platform that will be seen to not only address community issues, but cost the tax payer less. Once in office, the newly elected official can point to budgetary concerns, and remind us all that there aren’t any funds since he’s cut taxes, just as we requested. Or that they are working on a solution, but we mustn’t hope to see real change until some year in the future where they will hopefully no longer be held accountable for the project and the additional costs incurred during the delay.

Politics on crosswordFor corporations, political concerns are less about the community, and more about expediting the accumulation of more wealth. Despite needing an infrastructure that allows workers to arrive at the work place on time, and roads and other delivery systems to get product to consumers, the emphasis is placed squarely on tax cuts that they have convinced politicians, and even many consumers, will result in a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Corporations spend billions on pushing forward measures that will deny workers fair wages and benefits, and will spend yet more on media essentially blackmailing consumers into giving them what they demand. Health care, no. More tax cuts, yes. Or we’ll take our ball (company, franchise) and go home. Many even believe that we have no other alternative but to agree.

The last several decades of austerity for the general public, but unheard of wealth for the few, is slowly shaping us into a timid, obedient mass, who are only valued as long as we are able to further enrich business through our labour and consumption of goods and services.

hedonic-treadmillThe pursuit of happiness has become a joyless pursuit of money, dooming its followers to an endless treadmill of greed and desperation. You’ll never catch up to the 1%, no matter how hard you try, but real happiness and satisfaction can be had in a life that encompasses empathy, generosity, and gratitude for what you’ve achieved.