On Complacency, Apocalypse, and Revolution
Conversations with my brothers are always interesting. The middle brother, the scientist, has strong opinions and is known for declarative statements like, “The internet is the most powerful tool ever invented!” “There is no way we’ll all be wiped out by climate change! Somebody will survive.”
That’s not to say he’s denying climate change exists. But I’m an apocalypticist. I spend many of my waking moments thinking about the end of the world, which I’m convinced will happen during my lifetime. I keep that part of me mostly quiet (unlike the characters who populate Bart Ehrman’s book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium), but it’s on my mind when I put a pea pod in the garbage bin instead of the compost, or the subways stop during a storm and everybody fills the streets in commuter panic. I’ve had a few apocalyptic boyfriends (is that a type?) who do their part in educating (scaring) me, and in refining my habits.
(An aside: I was at a concert a while back, sitting through a fairly dreadful song that used every possible relationship cliché, thinking to myself, stop writing about your fucking breakups. There are so many more interesting things to write about – for example, that story of Elvis karate-chopping a pistol into Chip Young’s new guitar in Studio B. Right? But I think our relationships are our own mini-apocalypses. When the end of the world is too scary to consider, we revert to our personal mini-endings, seeing each blow-up as scary enough to right our ways. Or not, as the case may be. It must somehow be easier to write about our feelings than to tell stories about what will kill us all, right? Also, maybe easier to get a record deal with that material.)
Anyway. I spend most of my time thinking about what we’re doing to foster the rapid approach of the end of the world. In my mind, it’s either going to be a complimentary deep bath offered by the oceans to not just coastal, but inland, inhabitants, or it will be a desperate uprising of the growing lower classes in retaliation against tax-evading rich conservatives, or possibly a giant freeze-over (or heat-up?) of the planet, making it impossible to exist outside anywhere. If you’re not scared of climate change after storms have wiped out power in Toronto, Quebec, Newfoundland, etc., over the last few weeks, threatening to end civilized living as we know it (aka straightening our hair and charging our ipads), then you should do some reading on the government denial of climate-related research or for god’s sake, just treat yourself to a bit of Naomi Klein, my forever hero.
So I’m at home, talking to my brother about the end of the world, and he, who works sorta indirectly for the oil industry as an environmental scientist and is well-educated on such matters, tells me to stop being ridiculous because governments have long-ago established bunkers and methods for heating or cooling the world and making it inhabitable when the end is nigh, and I start to get a glimmer of what I’ve thought Alberta is all about. He’s somebody who was born and raised in Alberta, and is using his background and education to create change. This developing way of thought in the province became clearer after I went in search of my favourite magazine, Alberta Views, and spent time listening to my favourite radio station, CKUA, while at home.
Here’s what’s going on: Alberta and much of its population can be caught up in wealth-gathering, consumerism, and defending its bad habits via discourse like “I worked hard; I deserve it”, which has, to some extent, created a culture of complacency and denial. Who cares that we’re ripping up the boreal forests for oil extraction, when I’ve only got another 20, 30, 40 years to live. The next generation can deal with it. Meanwhile, I should be allowed to live in my big, heat-gulping house and drive my gas-guzzling SUV. Anyway, I eat local food (uh, not really, do you know how much food Alberta actually grows? Your pineapple and mangos are not local.), and I recycle. When it’s not too gross. This is a way of life certainly not limited to Alberta, but becomes more obvious to me when I go home and hang around the suburbs of Calgary.
This culture of complacency is the only one in which alternative viewpoints can really flourish, when liberal publications like Alberta Views and media outlets like CKUA and revolutionary ideas can gain traction, because people are in a comfortable enough position to make it happen. You don’t give up your $8/hour job sweeping floors at McDonald’s to write an alternative zine or start up protests because you’re probably also working another shitty job to get food on the table for your kids. But if you’re college-educated, privileged, with available leisure time and a wealth of knowledge behind you, you might be inclined to look at the world around you in disgust and try to change it. In other words, you’re not going to find the same kinds of media outlets in harder-hit provinces in Canada, despite the fact that, as Alberta Views recently noted, 90,000 Albertan children still live in poverty – in what might be the richest region, economically and in resources, in the world.
What has always fascinated me about Alberta, particularly after I left the province, was its rampant contradictions. As much as there might be horrific levels of consumption and urban spread, as much as there might be a self-absorbed, myopic view of what one “deserves” or not, there’s a parallel, growing stream of people who eschew their comforts in the interest of the greater good. This happens at the individual and institutional level. Moreover, no matter what your fiscal or political views, if you’re Albertan, you tend to be community-minded, helpful, and friendly.
I’m not really saying anything new. Prior revolutionary periods either stemmed from comfort or extreme discomfort. French Revolution? Those people were generally not comfortable – but it certainly took the educated class to assist in spreading ideas of equality to those who ultimately revolted. 1960s counterculture? Again – many not comfortable, especially non-white Americans, but it did take the force of the baby boomers who were the first generation to have an extended youth, leisure time, and college education to turn a grassroots movement into mainstream thought.
That might be best illustrated by the change that happened in big pop music hits over a period of about 13 years:
Don’t call me out for the inconsistencies in style here – I know that I can’t really draw a genre or ideological line through these examples. But between 1959 and 1962, a relatively quiet period in pop music history, not much was happening. Everyone was fairly calm. Music wasn’t all that interesting, by extension. And as people shifted their belief systems over the following decade, music came along with it.
To me, Alberta is the best place for the beginning of what might be an overhaul to the way we live and think. The population has the time, the money, the privilege, and the education to really change the world. Or maybe I’m just all new yearsy and hopeful.