By Geoff Olson
Last Tuesday at 3 A.M., my partner and I awoke to a sound she described as “boulders” rolling down the creek behind our house. We ventured outside the next morning to inspect the damage from the overnight rainstorm. The rumble wasn’t from boulders, but rather immense logs swept down the creek to the culvert at the end of our street, along with a splintered footbridge.
Within a few days a municipal road crew arrived with a backhoe to clear away the mess.We escaped flooding, but homes on other blocks weren’t so lucky.
Cut to a few nights later. My wife awoke to what sounded to her like “an animal dying outside.” It was me in the downstairs bathroom, driving the porcelain bus and feeling this is the way things end, from a barf to a whimper.
One thing I can say in defence of vomiting is that it feels so good when it stops. But on the whole, I can’t recommend food poisoning. I haven’t spent that much time in the fetal position since the Sputnik era.
A West Coast rainstorm and undercooked eggs Benedict: not much in the way of existential threats, as far as the news cycle goes. But a reminder – for me at least – how the optimal living conditions for human beings fall within a very narrow spectrum.
Swollen creeks and spoiled food are nothing: approximately 99.9999999 percent of the universe will kill you dead if you are exposed to it for an instant (outer space is only five minutes straight up in your car, said astronomer Fred Hoyle). On a planet with a biosphere that’s the relative thickness of the skin of an apple, only “extromophile” organisms can survive the atmosphere’s upper reaches and the deep ocean’s thermal vents.
As a species, humans are weirdly defenceless generalists, born hairless, helpless, and able to exploit niches only through wits alone. Ultimately, we can only take shelter in our mental constructions, whether they take the form of bungalows, ballots, bylaws, or antiobiotics.
On a planet of extremes, we have our code of mutual aid to hold things together. When a creek breaches or a diner retches, the code kicks in. These laws and regulations are not built on the belief that my material success is conditional on your failure, but something quite different: my highest potential hinges on you thriving as well. At minimum, a problem for enough hairless generalist apes becomes a problem for them all.
The eight-hour work day, child labour laws, food safety regulations: these were once only ideas in our hominid heads, that generations had to fight for – and sometimes die for – before they were enshrined into law.
Yet in the past three decades some clever apes been clawing back rules and regulations that benefit the many while advancing tricky new ones that enrich the few. And in some cases, ignoring law altogether, as in the militarized mania for “regime change” – with endless sequels – in the Middle East.
According to UN estimates, there are over 50 million refugees in the world today, the highest number since the end of World War II. Most have resulted from the fatuous global wars on drugs, terror, and trade barriers. And here we sit snugly in a continental fortress bracketed by two oceans, relatively free from austerity and uncertainty, while our leaders smugly lecture us about dire threats spawned by religious fanaticism, full stop.
We still have it pretty good on the west coast – sure, it rains a lot, but at least it’s not bullets. Others have taken note of the security and scenery, making the Lower Mainland a major berth for offshore investment. With all the credit washing in, the progressive green agenda of Vancouver’s reigning civic party has lost its shine, at least when it comes to infrastructure development. While Vision versus NPA isn’t quite Coke versus Pepsi, the corporate backing of both campaigns has already left a taste of snake-oil.
The local press is eager to remind us Vancouver is one of the best places on Earth to live, which is as much truthful as truthy. Unlike other spots on the globe, the political environment isn’t poison enough to do you in permanently. But it’s gone off enough to make you gag.
The Vancouver Courier, Nov. 14