Post 367

The Movement We Need

It was only recently that my eyes were opened to the significant amount of regional discrimination in Canada. Those living in certain regions look down upon others living in other regions. I knew there were jokes sometimes, but I didn’t think about it much at all. As I put my mind to the issue, however, I can gather enough scraps to say that it seems to be like this:

Ontario and Quebec, who have an uneasy alliance, feel superior to the prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) and to the Maritimes.
B.C. feels superior to all the provinces except Ontario.
Alberta feels inferior to and superior to B.C. at the same time.
The Maritimes feel forgotten.
The Territories are forgotten.

It reminds me of the Bible line, “Could anything good come from Nazareth?” People hold prejudice against not only people from other countries but also against people from other regions within the same country. Of course, not all people from a given region feel this way — do I even need to say that? — but there are patterns here, observable patterns.

Like all types of discrimination, this regional ego is almost a subconscious thing — a certain set of notions, such as “The important people of Canada live in Ontario” are allowed to live in someone’s head unchallenged. And we all know that there are many forms of discrimination. In today’s world, we are on a crusade against discrimination, but it’s a selective crusade. These days, on social media and in the larger cities of the United States and Canada, the focus is on rooting out discrimination based on gender identity. Arguably tied for first place is the goal to eliminate discrimination based on race, but primarily it’s about eliminating discrimination against blacks, not hispanics or Asians, for instance. In Canada, in light of discoveries about the residential school system, there has been a concerted effort to understand and pay more respect to the experiences and wishes of indigenous groups. Yesterday’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was about that.

Unfortunately, only a few movements or causes are given much attention and energy at any given time. I think that in the past, movements were sparked by charismatic speakers and persuasive writers who became the leaders of the cause, but nowadays these movements usually do not have an obvious leader. Nowadays, it goes more or less like this:

– A very interesting and dramatic incident or discovery of particular facts is reported by mainstream media or social media.
– It seems to be an egregious (=shockingly bad) instance of a powerful group hurting a weaker group.
– Supporters are going to stick up for the weaker group from now on, with the goal that the powerful group will no longer hurt the weaker group.

So far, so good, though you will notice that I am already pointing out that only certain incidents will make the cut, in the same way that only certain stories of manslaughter or missing people captivate public attention. I am also pointing out that the situation might be more complicated than it seems to be.

In any case, that’s the broad outline. Those who support the movement cannot be classified easily because the motives are completely all over the place, and not at all in keeping with outward behaviour. Let me introduce to you six people:

Mabel is 45 years old and she has her hands full with toddlers and a new baby. She has heard some of the stories that led to cause XY and cause YZ, and although she doesn’t know much about them, she supports both of these as well as other movements, but just doesn’t have time to drop her responsibilities to look into them more.

Denise is 51 years old and she is the first to find such stories and pass them along to her contacts. She is alert and socially savvy. She does sympathize with the victims, but her main goal is to be seen by her friends as up-to-date and passionate about the right things. She will wear the t-shirt if there is one, but only until another cause takes its place.

Troy is 22 and cares deeply about the environment. He puts up posters and attends any talks that he can. He feels that it is his personal mission to do what he can to stop pollution, especially related to Lake Ontario. He has heard about these various movements, but he isn’t involved in them because he doesn’t want to get distracted from his main focus.

Darwin is 29. He has become very active in several of the major movements, but it’s not what you think. He loves the feeling of power that he gets when he is able to catch someone saying the wrong thing. Both on social media and in person, he is keen to shame those who, in his view, deserve it. One time, he was able to get someone who is more than a little famous to issue a public apology — wow, that was a big win! Ironically, Darwin has a reputation for tremendous compassion.

Cheryl is 66. Cheryl is quite thrilled to have amassed a sizeable online following. She wonders why she didn’t think of this sooner. By identifying herself with the cause YY, she finally gets the attention she so desperately craves. Like Meghan Markle and Harry, popular movements are juicy opportunities for more attention.

Gordon is 19. He has started a new job, and he has noticed that his female boss’s Instagram page is all about Cause XYX. He wonders if it would be best to also show his support. He hasn’t forgotten what happened to his friend who lost his job after making a racist comment. It’s always best to play it safe.

My point is that there are so many variations here. Some people seem to ignore a movement, but the truth is that they do care, while others seem to support a movement, but they are seeking only their own ends. Support for any given movement may appear to be like a solid wave of like-minded thoughts and sentiments flooding the internet, but it’s not like that at all. It’s really a jumbled mess of hidden motives, where many of those present are absent, and many of those who seem absent are present.

Sadly, there are many situations of discrimination, injustice, or oppression which are not currently in the spotlight. Sexism against women continues to be a big problem and here I am not speaking merely about wage equality. It’s such a subtle thing. I’m talking about how women’s observations and words get discounted, for one thing. And the current hurry to recognize and make room for non-binary gender preferences often comes at the cost of sidelining femininity. When mediocre formerly male athletes are allowed to compete against women and take their medals and prize money, at least 99.5% of people in the world would agree that there’s an injustice here — yet only a few will say so.

Ageism is a huge problem, and I think a lot of it has to do with the school system, which is more about segregating people by age (herding and managing all the people who aged 4-18 so that the parents can work) than about education. The desperate pleas from society to reopen the schools during these pandemic times has been more about child care than about education. And then all students are subdivided into rigid groups by age within the schools. Nowhere else in society is your age the be-all-and-end-all. The single room schoolhouse was more natural because children progressed through different books according to their ability. One of the unfortunate effects of this segregation is that people just don’t realize what amazing things can be done by people at any age, and so the world underestimates the goldmine of talent being suppressed in schools day in and day out. A few young people do break free and show up on TicTok or YouTube or at the Olympics, but that’s not enough to show you that I’m right. The world just thinks that most ‘kids’ are ordinary because they’re ‘just kids.’ It’s not like that. Given proper love and freedom, they could accomplish so much more. So the entire school set up contributes to ageism against the young.

Long ago I spoke with Andrew Pudewa, whose daughter began university at age 16. I asked him if he was worried about her being so young. He said that university students who are a couple of years younger or older than their peers don’t need to worry about peer pressure because their peers will avoid them. College students are still thinking along school lines: the only relatable people are those exactly your own age. So that’s one of the main things taught by our school system.

Ageism continues even after university. I remember when I was in the workaday world, I wished that I looked 45 during the day and 23 in the evenings. I knew that the older looks would give me more credibility.

Mind you, back then, I wasn’t thinking about everything else I was up against. I wasn’t fully aware of the impact of the other prejudices. That’s because as you get older, the people around you also get older, and they stop calling you names based on your appearance. They learn to hide it better.

I suppose soon I will be greeting ageism on the other side. It will be a new experience to be old. I’m 51, so that already makes me old in a lot of fields, such as chess and sprinting and dance. Being old means being dismissed, and everything about you gets flattened into a pancake — a woman is now a Nice Little Old Lady and the man is now Nice Little Old Man. Humans like to simplify things, don’t we? But oh, it’s so not like that! In the first place, very few of them are actually nice. Their voices may be weaker, and they may be smaller and frailer than they used to be, but don’t be fooled. They are still the opportunistic and sneaky children they always were. If you magically set a control panel in front of them with which they could control the world, you would see that the nice grandma with the sweater on her knees has some vendettas she’s going to pursue, now that she can. “Oh look at that: I think she just flooded her sister-in-law’s town!” “Hey, she just redirected all the bank funds to her own account!” Greed doesn’t disappear when you turn 65, and neither does envy, lust, or pride. Pride is a big one, and many people go to their grave playing games of one-upmanship and comforting themselves with their own superiority.

And in the end, that is, I guess, the very root of all of these types of discrimination: pride. People convince themselves that they are better using as many forms of discrimination as they need. Well, at least I’m not old, like him. Come on, don’t be childish. Grow up! Hey, at least I know how to speak English, not like those people. Go back to wherever you came from! I’m educated. I work for a living; I don’t take handouts like those people do. I eat right; those people are fat and unhealthy. I’m a good person, not like those anti-vaxxers. I’m a Republican. I’m vegetarian. I’m a Democrat. Well I’m a vegan. I have more followers than you do.

How can we break through all this nonsense? How can we break through these artificial barriers and notions of superiority? Is a person from Toronto better than a person from Grande Prairie? Is a person from Vancouver better than a person from Saskatoon?

At the end of the day, the solution will not come from any short-lived movement. Even though many such movements do achieve some good things, and I encourage people to support them for the right reasons, they are not enough. People being people, new forms of discrimination will pop up all the time. The only remedy is to understand that we are all children, and the difference in who we are is so slight as to be not worth counting. I hesitate to bring God into this, but really, when he looks at us squabbling about who is better, it must seem so pathetic. It’s one blade of grass telling the other blades of grass that he’s a better blade than they are. If the nonsense wasn’t based in pride, the squabbling would be almost funny.

Ultimately, the biggest difference between us lies in our hearts, by which I mean in our intentions. It’s not really about what we do, but about why we do it. We must intend to do what is right for each other and we must intend to do what is right in general. The key thing is that we must want the best for each other. Only in cheering for each other will we be able to overlook (and ultimately celebrate) our differences in appearance, stage of life, interests, tastes, and backgrounds. Paradoxically, in looking out for and helping each other, we find our ourselves. We find our best selves. That’s the movement we need.