Thursday, August 30, 2018

Opioid crisis: Those who manufactured it should pay their share

I like a good analogy for figuring out complex problems with moral overtones. I got to thinking about which one might work for understanding the opioid crisis after I saw the comments from my Facebook post today linking to the BC government’s announcement of a class action law suit against the opioid manufacturing industry.

How’s this: Reimagining the issue as if it were the use of pesticides.

Like the opioid manufacturing industry, the pesticide industry is both a help and a harm. It makes no sense to just demand the elimination of pesticides, or to expect that people who really want pesticides aren't going to find their way to them whatever you do. Besides, if there’s money to be made selling pesticides to desperate farmers, there are going to be companies selling it.

But at the same time, you can’t just leave the industry without responsibility for the harms it causes. Corporations don’t innately have morals (you HAVE seen “The Corporation,” right?). Unregulated, unfettered industry will always go for the biggest profit. It’s what they’re born to do.

OK, let’s picture Farming Community Z (FCZ), which for all kinds of reasons is struggling to keep things going. They’ve had drought, floods, bad soil and not enough food on the table for a long time, and all of a sudden a plague of aphids has hit. Pesticides aren’t the long-term answer, but they sure look good in the short term.

Sad days in FCZ, but the sorrows and struggles going on there in fact affect many other neighbouring farming communities. The impact of pesticides is felt far beyond the farms where it’s being used. Making things considerably worse, the people in FCZ are dying like crazy, because they are the ones living right in the midst of all that pesticide, and the grief from those who loved them, helped them, or tried fruitlessly to get them to quit using pesticides is reaching unbearable proportion.

Who’s to blame? It’s complicated. Personally, I wouldn’t waste a lot of time looking for who to blame, because there are an awful lot of factors years in the making that have laid the groundwork for what’s going on in FCZ. Maybe laying blame could be an exercise for another day, when people aren’t dying.

So…if you were a bright and progressive society like Canada, what would you do?

First, you’d acknowledge that whatever you’re doing now really isn’t working. The evidence is pretty much insurmountable at this point. So maybe you would take one of those political walks in the snow to reflect on all those reports, royal commissions, analyses, studies, and research done on pesticide use over the years, and wonder how it is you’ve still never acted on their remarkably consistent recommendations.

You’d get to work pulling apart all the pieces of the puzzle and you’d identify that:
  •  The people of FCZ need help that starts all the way back to fixing that damaged soil, and accepting that some are never going to be able to manage without pesticides; 
  • Every level of government and all kinds of people are being harmed, drained of money, and otherwise suffering because of the situation in FCZ, regardless of whether they live there; 
  • Pesticides have been around for a really long time, but something has clearly changed in their availability and lethal quality for this level of harm to be occurring; 
  • The only notable exception amid misery in all directions is the pesticide industry, which is profiting from the crisis; 
  • It’s way past time to follow the money. 
Analogies aside, here’s the one absolute truth of the opioid crisis: The pharmaceutical industry is profiting mightily from it. Everyone else is being harmed, but that industry is making money.

There is a direct line from opiate-induced misery to the pharmaceutical companies that make those drugs, and the clever bastards are pocketing even more now that we’ve been convinced that the solution to the damage caused by their increased opiate sales is to arm the population with anti-overdose drugs, which they also sell.

I think the government’s class action suit against the industry is brilliant. If we all must suffer, then certainly the corporations making these drugs ought to suffer along with us. They make their money from sorrow. The least they can do is pay their share.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Don't you be calling me adorable: A reflection on ageism

These are times of calling people on their shit. So I’m going to call out ageism, and more specifically that insidious kind I think of as “compliment-based ageism,” which I’m now experiencing in my own life.

Some recent examples: I scrambled up the rock at my favourite Upper Thetis swimming hole a few days ago and a woman watching me from the top told me what a good climber I was. When travelling, my partner Paul and I notice that younger travellers have taken to praising us as “inspiring.” Last night as I was cycling up a hill coming home from work, a woman walking past called out, “Good for you!”

Good for me? I’ve ridden that hill I don’t know how many times, with nobody applauding my tenacity. I’ve scrambled up those rocks for almost 30 years, and nobody’s ever called me a good climber before. I’m still travelling the way I’ve always travelled, which did not attract attention as inspirational until recently.

What’s changed? I passed some invisible line where people started to see me as old. It started in the runup to turning 60, so the last couple of years. Maybe the neck wrinkles got to be too much, the thicker torso – I don’t know, but it was like somebody hung a “Plucky old lady!” sign on my back, and all of a sudden everything got weird.

We think of ageism as affecting employment and how we’re viewed as workers, and you’ll get no argument from me about that. But having people say kind things about you that are nonetheless distinctly ageist is really no better. Those kind words lay the foundation for a damaging belief: That people become less able, less engaged, less interested in the world as they age, and thus we should celebrate the rare older person who is the exception proving the rule.

You might be thinking, “Come on, Jody, now you’re going to crab at people for saying nice things, too?” Yeah, I guess I am. I’d make the case that they’re not actually saying nice things. What their comments make me feel like is that they’re observing me as spectacle - an aging woman acting against type, like a dancing bear. It’s not a good feeling.

I posted a photo on Facebook of Paul and me at an event on behalf of sex workers’ rights a few months back, and somebody called us “adorable.” I took it like a blow.

Adorable is a cute word for babies and toddlers, but for someone who’s still very much engaged in trying to change the world, it’s a kick in the pants. Does anybody change the world by being adorable? I don’t think so. Adorable is toothless and dear - a sweet old geezer who nobody needs to listen to anymore, an endearing example of a harmless oldster looking “cool” by standing up for edgy causes.

(Nobody has yet used “feisty” to my face so far, another old-person-specific word, but I’m bracing for that to happen as the years accumulate. That first feisty is going to be grim.)

There is an easy solution here: Cut it out. People in this modern day know how to catch themselves on thoughts relevant to all those “isms” that are (rightly) no longer tolerated. Ageism has been on the list for quite some time, but we clearly need more work on the sneaky kind that wears a friendly face.

Please, allow me to help.

For one, don’t ever tell anyone they look good for their age. In fact, strike “for your age” right out of your vocabulary. If they look good, just say that, and say it to other people of any age if they look good as well.

Any compliment that ends with “for your age” is both a back-handed insult to the person receiving it (“Wow, I’d expected you to look like a wreck at your advanced years!”) and a direct insult to anyone in the maligned age group used for comparison. Also, stop if you hear yourself telling a story and saying something like, “So then some grandma type comes along and says…”

Compliment people for what they do, of course, as you might at any age. But if the only thing striking is that they’re old doing a “young” thing, either ignore them entirely like you would anyone else or just give a friendly nod and say something neutral, like, “That’s quite the hill, isn’t it?”

Don’t presume to know what old people are like. Isn’t that the principle underlying every “ism”? We have visible differences, but they don’t explain the person within. We work to train ourselves not to “see” a person’s exterior in matters of race, religion and gender; we need to think the same way when looking at older people. I am still the same person I always was – it’s YOU who think me different, and for no reason other than my appearance.

If you are older yourself, don’t allow words of self-denigration to come out of your mouth. Every time you attribute anything to growing old – aching joints, inability to do a somersault, puzzlement at all this new-fangled technology that the kids are using these days – you confirm the cultural belief that older people are doomed to become useless (albeit adorable) shells of the vigorous, competent people they once were.

Joints can ache at any age. I was never good at somersaults. We must not let the stigmatizing view of older people – powerless, ineffectual, weak, a burden - colour how we view ourselves.

So if you compliment me on my form one day as I cycle past and you think you hear a muttered “Fuck off!” in response, at least now you know where it’s coming from. Just chalk it up to me being feisty.