Monthly Archives: July 2011

Riotous Living

Coming at things a bit late – no surprise there, particularly in the summer when I teach and run around like a crazy person – so it’s taken me a bit of time to get to that Stanley Cup riot thing.

Fahrenheit 451?

Like a lot of people I watched it evolve with fascinated horror on CBC television; struck by the  destruction and sheer, wanton glee in those fires and general mayhem.  The restraint shown by the VPD also impressed me – and since I have been critical of heavy police presence in the past this did strike me as … civilized.  A camera crew caught one particular young man in mid rant as he poked and yelled at a couple of cops who calmly ignored him. Poke the bear with a sharp stick why don’t you, I thought. Later, quite a bit later actually, I saw him being arrested. Frankly, I’d not have displayed such forbearance with a drunk kid having a tantrum if I was holding a baton.

Restraint aside, one did have to wonder why nobody seemed to even consider that this was a a problem in the making, A Situation, what with the number of people downtown, the amount of alcohol consumed and the sheer intensity with which this city greeted that Stanley Cup final. Feelings ran so high that last week you could cut the air with a knife, even in stores just going about your business, as I was. And it didn’t occur to anyone that trapping a whole bunch of people in a five block radius might be a bad idea? Just asking.

Then the immediate analysis that of course it was really a vile bunch of outsiders, no doubt lurking in the wings waiting for their chance to wreak havoc. Like movie extras, just waiting for their five minutes of fame (and a chance to wear those balaclavas).

Ah yes, the outsider theory. Which, as anyone who’s ever read an Agatha Christie knows, is never the case. For in the immortal words of whatshisname, we have met the enemy, sir, and he is us.

But we are fond of that notion of the outsider and hate to give it up, be it in terms of disease or terrorism or anything else. We don’t like thinking that our friends, neighbours, colleagues and those nice people living around the corner have it in them to behave so badly. Most importantly, we don’t like to believe that we have it in ourselves.

Yet that’s why we have police and judges and juries and international courts. Individuals, once tossed into a group, lose all decorum and – for the most part – are reduced to their lowest common denominator. And that all too often is all that is loutish, cruel, and bloody inelegant..

As with disease we prefer to think of the problem as somehow external to us, not our own cells turning rogue, with cancer, or our own immune system becoming destructive as in rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Far better to believe in the metaphorical infectious disease, the tuberculosis bacterium, the smallpox virus, the malaria parasite transmitted by mosquito. Even swine or bird flu. Identifiable and on the outside, attacking and therefore something we can attack, mobilize forces against, fight – be it through an analysis of its genome or killing it with chemotherapy.

Comforting thought that – that we can somehow protect ourselves if we just put our minds to it. The problem is that it’s not the way even a microbial disease behaves, given that a virus or bacterium or parasite is always, in epidemiological terms, necessary but not sufficient. The immuno-competence of the host, his or her life, diet, life circumstances and a host of other factors go into determining whether or not we get ill.

Think on that the next time you try to “fight off “ a cold or hear someone say they won’t let the cancer win. There are no winners or losers in physiology, any more than there were any winners in that Vancouver riot. We all pay for the broken windows and stolen property and we all have to deal with the moral, aesthetic and social consequences.

Maybe if we recognized that to begin with we’d be better equipped to face it in the first place. And wouldn’t have to run around setting fires and losing our heads.