Saturday, February 18, 2023

When the end-of-days feelings get you down, choose up

Indri Robyy, Pixabay

Doom-scrolling is real, and I know to try to avoid it for fear of entering that hyper-vigilant, chronically worried state that can set in when your adrenal system gets worked up. But these days it's hard to find a news feed of any kind that doesn't feel like doom-scrolling. 

Historians hasten to put such gloomy thoughts about "these times" in perspective. They rightly note that in fact, many grand woes of the world are actually lessening. We have less poverty. Fewer nuclear warheads. Less global terrorism. We live longer, having invented cures, treatments and vaccines for many things that used to kill us.

All of that is good news at the big-picture level. But it isn't actually of much comfort to those who are alive in this moment and living in this destabilized state, when flu-stricken birds are falling out of the sky and the Earth is splitting open and every season heralds a new round of record-smashing extreme weather somewhere in the world.  

It's hard to appreciate your moment in time in the Big Picture when your Small Picture is scaring the hell out of you. 

Some of us are living in hellish situations of war and natural disaster while others are just stressed from reading about it, and I don't mean to compare the experiences. But I'd venture that all eight billion of us are feeling the heaviness of these times in one way or another. 

We all need to find our own ways of coping. Some people "check out" and simply don't take in the news, a tempting thought if only our collective alarm wasn't urgently needed to drive change. Nothing gets fixed when people check out. 

Others focus on the here and now. There's no earthquake in Victoria right now, is there? There's no balloon waiting to be shot down in our skies. No sabre-rattling super power getting jacked up about Canada. There's just you and the calm seas and the pretty paper whites, on a mild winter day on a coveted West Coast island.

I like "being present" myself, though I did discover on a road trip last year through California's drought-slammed former nut orchards that it also means bearing witness to whatever is playing out in front of you. 

Driving south through lands I once dreamed of living in only to be confronted with the realities of modern-day California - so, so different from my shiny young-person memories of thriving agriculture as far as the eye could seen and a full-to-the-brim Lake Shasta packed with happy house boaters - was an eye-opener that I haven't been able to shake.

Nor will being present lower stress levels when it involves passing through the pockets of poverty and human suffering that have developed in all of our communities. But it couldn't be more important to be present in those moments, because this hand-wringing state we've been in about social decline for pretty much 30 years now will end only when we shake ourselves awake and act. 

Another reaction to these unsettling times is to go all in, spiralling into an increasing state of rage and paranoia over whatever subject a person has ended up fixated on. 

With so much to fixate on, there are many ways to rage these days. I'm sure we all know someone who has fallen into obsession (and whose company we want less and less of as a result). I know a COVID rager, an anti-vax rager, several Trudeau ragers, and even a few pro-Trump ragers who ignited a few years back and can't seem to cool down.

Unfortunately, there's no problem-fixing going on when people are in a state of rage. That's just a time when we want to break things and yell at people. If you're stuck in a rage state, best to get some help with that. It's costing you friends and your personal health, and not changing a damn thing about whatever has you riled.

How does one go about feeling better in gloomy times? Personally, I seek out news stories about things that are making a difference on the issues facing us. A recent read reminding me that the world did successfully address acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer through collective action was heartening, and important to hold onto in times when all the doom threatens to paralyze us. 

Also good: Buy a copy of The Economist every now and again and get caught up on world news  presented with careful balance, research and thoughtfulness. So different than the hyped-up headlines that a Google News search pulls up.

Speaking of news, I highly recommend severely limiting your intake of that which calls itself "news" in these over-saturated times. 

Back in the day when newspapers were still a thing, I read two a day, mostly limited to goings-on in Victoria, BC and Canada. Now, every bit of bad news going on anywhere in the world is as close as a right-hand swipe on my phone. 

It's so easy to do that swipe in a distracted moment, just like I once used to mindlessly light up a cigarette to pass the time in between this and that. But just like those cigarettes, it's so bad for me. I can feel the worry and the outrage building in me almost immediately, even if I was having a perfectly OK time just minutes before. 

Of course, each of us as citizens of the world also need to be stepping up right now. Avoiding the bad news overload is one thing, but taking action where you can must never be avoided. If you've got anyone you care about who is still going to carry on living after you're dead, surely that's motivation enough to do your part right now to actually address problems where you can rather than just worry about them.

Find the news you can use, and use it. May the rest of it roll off you.

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Don't let them mess up your face


This is me, age 66. The rock star Madonna is two years younger than me, and I am stunned to realize after her appearance at the Grammys on the weekend that I now prefer my face to hers, so altered has hers become from years of cosmetic surgery and treatments.

This face of mine has been creamed, scrubbed, exfoliated, masked and otherwise fussed over for a very long time. I am as disappointed as any person who comprehends the social capital of physical attractiveness to be experiencing the unwanted changes that aging brings. 

But having watched one beautiful celebrity after another succumb to the disaster of costly and invasive "anti-aging" procedures, I concluded many years ago that I will never do anything beyond the superficial to try to appear younger. 

It's not out of any noble belief in being my "natural self." As you can see from my photo, my hair is coloured, and I am pretty sure it will be until the day I die. I wear eye makeup and have since age 12, and don't even leave the house for the morning dog walk without it on. I got my eyebrows tattooed in 2009 and love them. You'll never catch me singing the praises of a natural look. 

Nor is it out of a determination to grow old gracefully. If I could take a magic pill guaranteed to firm up my neck, jawline and eyelids with no side-effects, I would be seriously tempted, and admit to moments in front of the mirror in which I pull my face skin tighter and lament out loud about how much younger I look.

But here's the thing about invasive cosmetic procedures, as Madonna's 2023 face so tragically reminds us: It's a pact with the Devil. You're going to trade off your future old face for an "improved" face now, and you're going to do that repeatedly as the relentless aging process drags your skin lower to the ground no matter how many procedures you throw at it.

And then one day, you cross some line of having had way too many procedures, and there's no way back. Alas, you still don't look young, you just look like an aging woman who has had way too many cosmetic procedures. 

I get that celebrities must feel the pressure to keep up their beauty, though I would have thought more of them would have noticed by now that the work really dries up once your face starts looking altered (Melanie Griffith, I'm talking to you.)

But why I am seeing so many non-celebrities - and so many young women - getting sucked in? Don't they have eyes to see all the wealthy celebrities with their ruined faces? If famous, rich people with access to top-of-the-line surgeons still end up looking like unrecognizably bizarre cat-people with painfully distorted lips, isn't that a pretty blatant warning to any of us to just stay away from this crap?

We fight very hard to look younger than our age, as evidenced by a global anti-aging market now valued at $62.6 billion US and a $67 billion cosmetic surgery market. There are many theories about why that is so, from evil marketing strategies and ruthless capitalists to the patriarchy.

I know from my own experience that an aging woman no longer draws the Male Gaze (a sad-happy loss for me), and that ageism in your work life is a real thing. The world does view you differently, and makes many strange assumptions once having registered you as "old." I clearly remember the grand insult I felt back in my 50s when some twerp salesman at the computer store leaned in close to ask if I knew what a flash drive was.

But to cut, inject and fill your face with weird chemicals and poisons in reaction to the social realities of aging? And all of it to end up with a face so obviously distorted that you're literally the poster child for aging really, really poorly? What theory explains that?

If you are a younger woman reading this, and I hope you are, I will tell you straight up that it's painful to experience your physical beauty fading. Not to brush off the years of catcalls, unwanted attention and outright sexual harassment as an easy time for women, but being attractive does have its privileges. As someone who for so many years counted on turning heads to get me feeling good about myself, I've found it hard to relinquish the dopamine rush of being checked out.

But all the cosmetic procedures in the world won't change any of that. In fact, they only make things worse, because soon enough you just look like a freaky-faced woman with too much disposable income who is desperate to not look as old as you are. Who wants to be that person?

So embrace yourself as those visible changes creep in and get over it. We don't expect an old dog to look like a puppy. Stay fit, don't smoke, keep the alcohol to a minimum and drink lots of water. Spend some time contemplating the old women all around you and you'll see that it's possible to look good AND old at the same time. 

And let me assure you, there are a lot of perks to growing invisible. Count that one as a secret aging super-power.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

BC's decrim experiment: One giant step for governments, one really tiny step for fixing the problem

Credit: No Name 13, Pixabay

The BC government doubtlessly had to work very hard to get the OK from the federal government for a three-year test of illicit drug decriminalization. 

It's a good thing to have fought for, even if the pilot is so hamstrung with exceptions and rules that it can't help but be of minimal impact. We are so lamentably, tragically overdue to move on this problem of poisoned street drugs killing thousands of British Columbians every year that virtually any glimpse of a different future must be welcomed with enthusiasm. 

But just to be clear, the vast majority of people who use illegal drugs will not benefit from this pilot. Nor will it stop the endless tide of deaths.

That's not to say that any move toward decriminalization isn't to be treasurered. But we do need to go into this teeny, temporary change in our senseless and destructive drug policies with the understanding that it's a flea on a fly compared to the complex issues that are actually driving BC's illicit-drug miseries.

The pilot will have no impact, for instance, on the disturbing reality of some 2,300 British Columbians dying year after year due to a toxic drug supply, almost all of whom are men

What the pilot will do is instruct police not to charge people if they find them carrying small amounts of four specific drugs, none of which can have been cut with any other drug. (Alas, anywhere from 20 per cent to more than half of BC's confiscated illicit drugs in 2022 were found to be cut with benzodiazepines, so there's a rather major stumbling block right there.)

The toxic drug crisis, on the other hand, is about illegal drugs being cut by sellers with all kinds of other stuff because it's cheaper and more readily available, and people dying because virtually nobody knows what they're getting anymore. 

Fixing that big issue is about figuring out how to ensure people know what they are purchasing and how to use a particular drug combo safely if it's that or nothing. It involves a full understanding of how drugs come into our province, and how and why they are altered once here. 

That would require consultations with the importers and the sellers, as would have happened long ago were it any other product. But an opportunity has been missed again, with sellers dismissed in the usual way as "predators" in the government's latest messaging.  

One of the most significant insights we've had into the workings of BC's bustling illicit-drug industry comes from a lone seller featured in a research paper published in the January 2021 BC Medical Journal.

"When asked about selling a bad batch of drugs and people overdosing, he said, 'If it’s a bad batch, I’ll probably still sell it because I don’t want to waste it and lose profit. That’s just the truth and the reality,'" noted the researchers who interviewed the anonymous John Doe.

A small exemption on possession charges will have no effect on the illicit-drug industry. As John Doe points out in the paper, the industry is a masterful example of unfettered capitalism that can quickly turn any disadvantage into opportunity, including the supply-chain disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nor will the pilot do much to move people toward treatment who weren't already well along on the arduous journey of wanting treatment.

Being charged with drug possession is arguably pretty low on the long list of worries for British Columbians trying to access treatment, starting with how impossible it is to find it in the first place for anyone without major resources; the reality of having to wait months for a spot while magically staying "clean"; an absence of other problems like poor mental health; and the ability to put your life on hold with no support for weeks of residential care.

Even John Doe understands that people use drugs for complex reasons that are often rooted in trauma and pain. “It would be hard to treat someone with just their addiction and not treat their mental health," he told researchers. 

Now there's the kind of guy whose insights would be useful if the day ever comes when we get serious about all of this.

I wouldn't even expect that the pilot will stop many people from being charged with possession. The small amount of drugs a person can possess under the pilot - 2.5 grams - and the requirement for those drugs to be pure, are pretty much impossible scenarios in the current drug scene. 

But as Premier David Eby rightly notes, it's vital to do something. 

“When you talk to parents who have lost a kid who thought they were taking party drugs at an event, and end up taking fentanyl and dying, you understand how serious this issue is and how it crosses partisan lines and how we all need to work on solutions,” he told CityNews last week after federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilevre called the Downtown Eastside a hell on earth and said all the usual uninformed stuff about drug use.

And if this pilot turns out to be the way to crack the door open on decriminalization overall, hurrah. Until then, it's just the smallest of stepping stones at the edge of a raging river.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Sometimes a good shaming is all you've got

It's hard to talk about Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. 

I fully believe that the right thing is happening to her as she is held up to the searing light that the CBC's Geoff Leo has shone on her fictions. Pretending to be someone you're not feels especially egregious when high-privilege people fake low-privilege backgrounds. 

I am completely on the side of the betrayed Indigenous women who have had to experience a champion from within turning out to be nothing of the sort. All the worse that Turpel-Lafond purported to speak for them, and to have walked that same difficult road to success that Indigenous people so routinely have had to walk.

But it's still hard to watch. For a settler like me, it's also hard to talk about with my settler acquaintances. I can feel the grand discomfort we feel at watching a person whose past work we still admire experiencing a profound public shaming. 

We engage on the subject ever so carefully, tip-toeing around the astonishing betrayal and in the end, not saying much at all. I have exactly one non-Indigenous friend who I can fully engage with on the shocking subject of Turpel-Lafond, and we put our heads down and talk in low voices as if to hide that we've got strong thoughts on the matter.

And yet, these modern versions of a public stoning are important things to bear witness to. We do need to publicly shame those who engage in such blatant frauds. We do need to talk about the massive betrayal, and to reflect on and share the pieces that Indigenous women are writing about how this has impacted them.

Humiliation is both the way we punish and the way we deter when it comes to faking. It's literally the only way to punish those who come from privilege and fake an underprivileged back story - surely one of the most offensive kinds of fakery, given that the faker lays claim to space, key positions, prestige, money and air time that are routinely denied to underprivileged groups. 

And aren't there just a lot of fakers? That's what is really sinking in for me lately. Fake nurses, fake experts, fake college degrees, so many scammers. Grandparents scammed by fake grandsons. Whole police departments duped by modern-day snake-oil salesmen selling fake post-traumatic stress credentials.

Not that I think of Turpel-Lafond as a scammer. Her fakery feels so bizarre and recklessly self-destructive that my thoughts go toward her mental health instead. I have met people in both my personal and professional lives who have told themselves a made-up story for so long that they somehow come to believe it. 

I don't know if that's the case for her, but what else can explain the crazy risk she took by creating a persona and credentials that didn't belong to her? Did she think about this moment, when it all would fall apart and suddenly all would be revealed? 

Now we are left to reconsider everything Turpel-Lafond accomplished in her many significant years in high-profile positions. None of it is work that should be discounted automatically now that the truth is out, but I can't help but wonder how all of that work might have turned out had a real Indigenous person done it.

It's obvious that Indigenous people are struggling to talk about this one as well. The Union of BC Indian Chiefs issued a statement last fall confirming their support for Turpel-Lafond, who they described as a “fierce, ethical and groundbreaking advocate for Indigenous peoples for decades.”

They contended that issues of First Nations identity are for Indigenous peoples, families and governments to sort through based on their laws, customs and traditions, and condemned the initial CBC stories as “digging into private matters.”

But as other Indigenous people have repeatedly emphasized, she could have been that same fierce advocate without faking her background. Being a fierce advocate for Indigenous rights does not require that one pretends to be Indigenous.

Which Indigenous people went uncelebrated for their own contributions while Turpel-Lafond was receiving 11 honorary degrees under false pretences? 

Who might have authored the report into systemic racism toward Indigenous people in BC's health care system had that prestigious and well-paid work not gone to Turpel-Lafond? 

Who might have been the genuinely Indigenous representative for BC children and youth in a province where Indigenous children continue to be vastly over-represented in child apprehensions? What might they have done with a decade of their own in that vital position? 

What important perspectives from lived experience have been missed entirely in all of her work? What depths of wisdom went untapped because privileged space was taken up by somebody who hadn't had the life she said she'd had?

These things matter. In an era so fake that we can't even believe the things we see with our own eyes, authenticity of the person has never been more important. 

I feel for Turpel-Lafond in what must surely be an exquisitely painful time. But her deception has shaken the foundations of every good thing she did. We have all been hurt by her fakery, and Indigenous people most of all. 

Here's a November 2022 piece from the same CBC writer, this one on the report from Metis lawyer Jean Teillet on another Indigenous faker, Carrie Bourassa. 

People who pretend to be Indigenous feed off the ignorance of the non-Indigenous population, notes Teillet. "The fraudsters enact stereotypes they know will be recognized by the non-Indigenous audience. There is often silent and resentful recognition by Indigenous people that the performance is a stereotyped image of themselves."

Monday, January 02, 2023

We won't slow climate change with niceness

Extinction Rebellion UK says it will prioritize "relationships over roadblocks" this year and move away from public disruptions as a prime strategy for getting the world's attention on climate change. 

That's a warm and fuzzy statement for a new year. But hopefully they aren't going to get too nice. Nobody's going to solve the climate crisis with niceness. 

Of course, one does want to be strategic when in the business of disrupting. Throwing cans of soup at famous works of art - not the work of Extinction Rebellion; that was Just Stop Oil - and other poorly considered attention-grabbing antics may get your unknown organization headlines, but simply being offensive in a public space is not a strategic protest. (Put away the soup cans, go disrupt a fracking operation.) 

That said, we sure as hell won't move this crisis with niceness. Co-operative behaviour is one component of an effective change strategy, just like acts of protest, but systemic change at this grand scale cannot be achieved without anger, shouting, threats, arrests, financial loss, deaths and a lot of other not-nice things.

In the case of the climate crisis, consider the long list of potential opponents who benefit from the current system, a number of them with deep pockets for dragging this out indefinitely.

First, there's the vastly wealthy fossil-fuel corporations, which have enjoyed almost $3 billion US in daily profits for the last 50 years. Then there are the governments that are absolutely dependent on the revenue and jobs. International energy policies so friendly to industry that countries that sign on have to promise not to make energy policy changes without consulting Big Oil first. 

There are the global investors clamouring for endless returns on investment. The billions of people completely reliant on fuel to heat their homes, operate their businesses, get to work, and wage war on real and imagined enemies. The travellers, the tourists, the legions of individualists who have never had a collective thought in their life and are just fine with riding Earth into oblivion as long as they can be "free."

There are mega agricultural operations spread across mega land holdings to serve a world that eats 350 million tons of meat a year. There are more than 50,000 merchant ships criss-crossing our oceans every day just to feed our hunger for stuff. There are trade agreements in all directions that bind our governments' hands even when they're willing to do better.

Every one of those things and so much more is going to have to change if the end of this global story we're living is going to be remotely happy. We need to have so many big, brave conversations. We need big, brave leadership at all political levels - leadership that gets past the typical political urge to pander and please and treats this issue like the global emergency that it is. 

And while we can strive to be respectful in all of that, we can't expect that any of this is going to be nice. 

Extinction Rebellion says part of its decision to shift tactics is because we live in times in which protest has been criminalized. "Thriving through bridge-building is a radical act," the group says.

But really, what big change has ever come about without arrests and conflict with the law? In the case of global emissions, we're talking about trying to stop activities that make people so much money. They're not going down that road without a really big fight. Read sociologist Frances Fox Piven's eye-opening Poor People's Movements for more on that.

While it's certainly important to get your allies in order and build those relationships, there still has to be disruption in a crisis this big. If XR wants to play nicer, then somebody else needs to step up to be the disruptor. Climate change is a disruptor itself, and those of us who want better for our world are going to have to meet its chaos head-on.

Change this big will be very painful for those who benefit from the current system. That can't be sugar-coated. 

For the sake of future generations, let's just go straight to being tough and skip the part where we all think we can settle this like friends. That's just going to drag out the bloody ending that's coming one way or the other.