Nostradamus. In the intervening years between the Middle Ages and the modern age, many an expert has interpreted the words of the medieval sage to predict the world is going to end in their own day; but the techniques they leveraged were tantamount to taking the words of Shakespeare, rearranging them or substituting new ones, and then concluding that this was what the great bard really meant.
Still, withal, our own generation might not be remiss in thinking we may be in the end times -and not because our own experts on Nostradamus say so. It is enough to consider the state of the environment and human-induced climate change, the progress of desertification, the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, the rate rainforests are shrinking, the ubiquity of extreme violence and war -within and among nations, the irrational allure of terrorism for young people reacting to a forbidding status quo at home; the global economy…. crises seem to be emerging faster than you can thumb “wtf?”
The fact I have none of Nostradamus’ gift, and even less of Shakespeare’s, hasn’t kept me from concocting my own list of signs. I think the world of humankind could end; but I believe that we still have time to change things and effect a 180-degree turnaround. The following list of signs of the end times highlight features of today’s world which, if we do not fix them, will almost certainly appear on humanity’s tombstone one day…
The First Sign: Global disaffection with the status quo -Arab Spring, Jihadism,[i] and the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the most powerful nation on Earth. Each one, if taken as a measure of societal discontent, shows things are pretty bad indeed. Canada is becoming economically polarized, in keeping with the rest of the world. The ‘middle class’ is being replaced by a Fantasia-like black hole – the rift between haves and have nots continuing to widen. That means potentially one-half of the world’s population is living in, or bound for poverty.
One-out-of-four of our fellow Torontonians live in poverty. It is much more likely to be the denizens of the below-median income tier who are protesting in the streets or being dragged through the courts. Precisely because they are poor, they cannot afford lawyers. The state generously provides them with someone who is enthusiastic and sincere, certainly; but who is oftentimes still learning the ropes. Society cannot, therefore, guarantee that this person will receive the same justice as someone who can hire a seasoned lawyer out of their own pocket. The primary reason that the poor are over-represented in the criminal and healthcare systems is chronic insufficiency of opportunity to progress beyond the 1st level of Maslow’s Pyramid. The reason for the dearth of opportunity is simply material -when one is obliged to see to the needs of one’s family, they will continue striving until satisfied the family’s needs are met; even before they look to their own needs, or their neighbours’ needs. The problems arise when an inordinate amount of time is consumed with taking care of your first obligation –your family. Worse still, if providers never get to the point of material satisfaction for their dependents, they can surely forget about giving time and money to their community, their society, their world – not to mention being ‘all they have it in themselves to be;’ that being our true potential, the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy, and I am certain, the Creator’s hope for everyone.
The Second Sign: A pervasive sense of hopelessness -At least half of the world’s population must feel like hamsters in a wheel. No matter where you live in the world, you are a member of the wealthier echelon, or you are not. If you are not, then you are likely to be struggling, worrying, anxious about your ability to keep up with the demands of making a living, providing a good home for your children, and finding time in all of this to recharge. Despite your best efforts, you feel as though you are getting nowhere. You lack proper exercise and quality time with your family; the opportunity for these things having been reduced to Saturday and Sunday, with maybe an hour each weekday to spend with your kids. This chronic state of insufficiency, which claims for its own at least half of Canadians and a much larger percentage globally, means we will never feel fully accomplished in our roles as provider, parent, sibling, or community member.
Since God appears to have designed things such that the only way we can acquire a lasting sense of self-worth is through the provision of service to others – our family, our community, our city, our country, our world – we will never experience sufficiency, and always feel inadequate -save for the times we are distracted by things that are of no value to our families and communities: watching television or passing the afternoons and evenings chilling with our pals in the neighbourhood café or bar, say. For a little while, we forget about our cares; but this does nothing to improve our situation…
The Third Sign: Extreme wealth inequality and anemic economic growth : These two, in combination, are socially destabilizing. There is no moral judgement being imposed upon the wealthier members of Canada and the world here -the reason we are in for a big collapse is thus: our nation, indeed our world, is capable of generating only so much income in a year. This income comes in the form of wages and returns on investment. A dangerous phase ensues, if, over several years of low GDP growth (say, less than 2 per cent annually) the rate of return is higher than GDP growth.
Imagine an apple as one year’s national income. The apple is shared between investors (investment income) and wage earners. If the rate of GDP growth is less than the rate of return on investment over the long term, then the investors’ share of the apple gets larger and larger, while the earners’ share grows smaller -the apple is not growing as fast as the investor’s portion. As a result, over time, our nation’s wealth and national income will concentrate in fewer and fewer hands. As less and less of the apple remains after the investor bite, more and more wage earners are obliged by circumstance to join the lower economic tier, and the demand for work will increase; while the supply of livable-wage jobs continues to decrease. Left to the devices of the fabled ‘self-regulating’ free-market forces, the result will be an inadequate wage structure; while at least half of all Canadians -much more globally- will never experience an opportunity to proceed beyond the first level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs –no matter how hard they work.
This is very bad for individuals and families. It is also very bad for wealthy Canadians because any pyramidal structure founded upon an enervated base is bound to collapse. If you doubt this, please read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. He clearly shows the ‘lay of the land,’ just before WWI. Europe was in much the same situation we and the world find ourselves in right now, and no one needs to be reminded of the misery which rained upon millions and millions of men, women, and children then. This is what happens within nations when what is left of the apple grows too small for the number of citizens the nations must support; or what happens among nations when one or more of them feels they deserve a bigger bite. WWI was avoidable. The great war and its sequel resulted in misery off the scale for millions. Governments that do nothing to regulate wealth inequality or the ‘virtuous’ free-market forces are why we end up in wars.
The Fourth Sign : A world becomes polarized along every dimension in which humans are involved: the environment, wealth, ethnicity, faith, the global divisions of ‘East’ and ‘West’ -upon nearly every important consideration, we are divided. No rope can be characterized as cohesive if it is comprised of two separate cords –what is binding them together so that they act as one? The very idea is silly, yet societies around the world behave as if they believe cohesion in a polarized society is possible. Diversity is not polarizing; it models respect and collaboration.
The Fifth Sign: The pre-eminence of ego/the egoic failure among people and their leaders to recognize the obvious -Although the writing is on the wall, governments continue with a definition of growth that has already put Canada and the world into a big mess. We simply cannot continue to grow, grow, grow. A global and protracted period of negative GDP is inevitable and necessary. This must parallel a global population reduction to less than 1 billion souls – hopefully by attrition. If we continue to ignore this, we will end up making war upon one another for the little that our activities still allow Nature to provide us with. Great misery will be our final reward. If the governors of the world do not see for themselves what is plain, then they should not be in government, and we should elect people who will accept the obvious, rather than continue trying to baffle us with…well, you know…
The world can no longer afford to tolerate governments only paying lip service to ending poverty, inadequate housing and crime. Wealth cannot be allowed to continue concentrating in the upper tier, for it will further weaken the lower tier. As it is, we are removing bricks from the first floor in order to strengthen the second. Social services, healthcare, policing and national security will eventually collapse under the burden placed upon them by the swelling ranks of the impoverished.
But do not worry! Our Ontario provincial government thinks they have the solution: they would just yard-sale public property (what you and I, and past (but no longer future) generations of Ontarians own in common, to those who can afford it, anywhere in the world. The cash the provincials earn from the yard sale will help them to balance the budget – a promise that is all smoke and mirrors anyways. For now, they have solved the economic growth problem as it affects those who can invest and reap the rewards of investing: by selling off public interests -even the provision of social benefits. People are investing in the provision of social benefits? Hello? What happens if the profit margin is too little? Are the private administrators not obliged by the profit motive to either: a) reduce expenses, or, b)increase what they charge for coverage?
With respect to the privatisation of Hydro, we will experience the positive benefit immediately: there will be a balanced budget without us feeling any further pinch than we do currently. But sooner or later, we will begin to feel the pinch -more and more because a majority portion of the revenues from the provision of electricity will now be going to investors. Our government will have to find new sources of revenue, or cut further into their ability to provide relief to the poorer tier. I wonder, do the people in the provincial government believe that balancing the budget is more important to children growing up in poverty than their future prospects with respect to making a happy future for themselves and a net positive contribution to Ontarian, Canadian, and global society? IF any government is serious about facilitating a strong society, it will know to shun the ideological bullshit of the right and stick to Piketty and Keynes.
Here are a few of Mr. Piketty’s suggestions, as I understand them, from Capital in the 21st Century:
- Establish international mechanisms facilitative of total transparency in cross-border financial transactions and accounts.
- Institute a progressive tax on capital gains. In my view, such a tax needs to be set against the GDP growth rate; ensuring that capital gains never exceed the rate of economic growth. This will regulate and rationalize the size of the bite taken by investors and earners. It should be a progressive rather than flat tax, so that individuals and small businesses with relatively small revenues and holdings pay their fair share and no more; while corporations and investors, both domestic and foreign, pay their fair share; no more and no less.
- Apply a one-time tax on capital. Because of their size, large holdings simply draw too much of a nation’s and the world’s annual income –they can’t help it.
- I would add: Never enter into an agreement with anyone, if it requires you to sell your own soul. It may be too late for Dr. Faustus, but perhaps there is time for the rest of us to discourage our governments from wilfully entering into trade agreements that include a dispute resolution mechanism establishing the rights of corporations to profit as being of greater importance than the government’s right to legislate on behalf of its own citizens. Governments must legislate on behalf of their citizens, unconstrained by anything apart from bona fide democratic process -how else can governments properly fulfill their raison d’être? Yet, even our federal Liberals broke my heart when they pushed the ratification of CETA recently; non-elected, anti-democratic tribunals and all. If it weren’t for the Walloons of Belgium…
I often joked that our Leafs’ winning the Stanley Cup should be considered one of the signs of the apocalypse –for nearly a half-century, the prospect seemed as remote as ever. Yet, I fear we are much closer to that event -thanks to the vision of the new boys behind the bench, in the office, and on the ice – than we are to having governments which understand that equality of opportunity in societies exists in both causality and direct proportion to equality of wealth. All the world’s governments will have to get it one day, or the end of modern society and its institutions will come upon us.It is the obligation of every person who calls Canada home to contribute to our nation. This is part of the social contract. With respect to voting, our support for our Canadian brothers and sisters who serve in the House of Commons cannot end after we finish casting our ballot for them at election time. We must be knowledgeable of the issues of our day, and keep the dialogue with our representatives current. If we do not uphold our end of the social contract –forever implicit, though oftentimes ignored by wealthy and poor alike –how can we expect our politicians to uphold theirs? If anything goes awry with our government and our Canada, if we go in the wrong direction -away from that vision of Canada and the world that past generations of Canadians fought and died for – we are as culpable as our leaders. The sacrifices of past generations of Canadians, young and old alike, merit more from the Canadians of today than a moment of silence, once a year. We must pursue the values of those Canadians, and keep their dream alive.
Our city has one of the worst child-poverty rates in the country. CHILD-poverty. Think about that for a moment…and then, no matter which walk of life you are from, make it a point to watch A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sim. Our family has been watching the solution to the world’s problems, every Christmas. It is as simple as the movie implies. All that is required is a change in perspective -a simple flick of the spiritual switch, from ego-motivated to non-ego; from, “What am I lacking?” to, “What are others are lacking?” -this inclusive of all species we share the Earth with.
[i] Jihadism is the militaristic and opportunistic interpretation of the prophet Mohammed’s teachings, the same way the crusades were a perversion of the teachings of Jesus.