The vet thinks our pups are healthy but….

….”they are huge!” Seems Gus is projected to now top out at over 100 pounds and Daisy will be 80 to 90. That is 40 to 50 pounds of dog MORE than we anticipated at the outside, wildest, full-grown ‘advertised’ weight! Worst case was supposed to be 160 for both. At 7 months plus a week, Gus is 75 pounds, Daisy 65.

And our routine is still full-on puppy chaos starting around 6:00 in the am. Sal usually gets up with them and sits on the outside wicker chesterfield as they lick and jump on her for at least five minutes every morning. “It’s a puppy attack!” she shrieks every time. That was mildly amusing but Sal weighs under 130 and they now weigh a combined tonnage of just over 140.

They are progressing nicely despite their recessive Wooly Mammoth gene starting to show. Gus is actually swimming. And he has such thick and curly hair, he seems to float a few inches above the water like a dry log or maybe a basking Orca. He can really move. Daisy? Not so much. She’s been in. She gets wet. But water is not her thing. Not yet, anyway. She’s just not keen. The irony is that, despite being more athletic than Gus, she has fallen in about five times and, of course, she swam until she was hauled out. Gus has not fallen in at all but he still does a face plant every day in some activity – just on dry land instead of the dock or from a slippery rock. He is kind of a Goofy Gus, still-a-puppy-clumsy but his athleticism is improving.

Both dogs are slowly changing colour (that was predicted) with Gus getting a dull-brown effect on his mid-to-back end and around his muzzle. Daisy has a sexy silver thread thing going on with sprinkles of silver-white all over her back – kinda like a canine version of wearing diamonds. Very pretty.

They are eating a ton! And neither has an extra pound to spare. NOT fat at all. They are just growing! Having said that, Gus has loose skin……I do not know any other way to put it. If I grab some loose skin on his left side (say, mid-torso) and swivel it to the right, I get no real resistance until that handful has rotated over to the other side. His skin swivels over half his body girth! We really hope he doesn’t grow into it. If he does, he will weigh 150.

They are very gentle and Sal calls them ‘chill’. They do not bark much. They never get angry. They socialize fabulously with everyone and with all the local and visiting dogs save a couple they encountered on a walk a few weeks ago. Those two ‘bad’ dogs were just protecting their property and Gus and Daisy were chased right back all the way to the boat. One of the ‘baddies’ even jumped on the boat to drive the point home but that was an error in judgment. My daughter was on the boat and she is not afraid of dogs – even charging, barking ones. She moved to intercept and, in that move on a rocking boat, her head and the ‘bad dog’s’ head collided. In effect, my daughter head-butted the bad dog off the boat. Problem solved.

Gus’ head is bigger than Sally’s!

On another note, the propane fridge is flagging. Not as cold as it should be. So, we took it out and cleaned it all up and flipped it upside down a few times to ‘burp’ it and, when we put it back, it was worse! Consequently, our kitchen ceiling sooted up and cleaning it just made a mess. We needed to paint the downstairs, anyway. Sheesh.

So, Sal wanted a new fridge before this ’cause propane fridges are NOT self-defrosting. We ordered an LG 12 cu. ft unit (2 cu.ft larger than the propane one) and it is now ‘on order’. ‘On order’ means we may get it sometime in September. Maybe. An all-too-common fridge is almost 3 months away down the supply chain debacle (SCD)! I mention this only because everything, it seems, is screwed up due to the Covid/SCD. Get this: I ordered two galvanized plumbing pipes six feet long. No one had ’em in Campbell River. “We can order them in for ya but most things are taking a few weeks and that is if they are in the province!”

The SCD is manifest even when there is NO SUPPLY involved….a friend has a friend who wants to come to Canada. That effort has been stymied for closing on THREE YEARS!!! Bureaucrats in Canada are in short supply, I guess, or else they are on stress leave….whatever….. We have gone from a working economy that was annoying enough in good times to a weird, delayed, insufficient, very expensive economy in the space of those three years and there does not seem to be an end in sight.

So, my blog is primarily about dogs today. So much more pleasant than most other topics on the go (like Trump, January 6th, etc.). And I also mention the fragility of the system in matters economical. So much of the news is unpleasant. I could include the BC Ferry system, the Health system, and, of course, the airline industry…..a whole new level of schmozzle, but I’ll leave it at that. Not so interesting a blog, I suppose, but it does kinda tell you where our heads are at…..

I am having some trouble wit’ Mericans right now….

….and, I must admit, this blog is yet another rant about a basic non-issue. No one deserves that. But, whattayagonnado? I have a near-to-bursting spleen to vent and this is it.

I am having some trouble wit’ Mericans. I guess we all are. ‘Cept for the ‘Mericans themselves, of course, but 60% of them are having trouble with the other 40% (and vice versa) so the ‘Merican problem is spread deep and wide – even internationally speaking. I have avoided the topic because, well, it is all being played out front and centre and on the news everywhere so what can I possibly add? However…….

Yesterday, CNN added an element that simply blew my mind. A reporter called Klepper goes to a Trump rally in Mississippi……………

And, of course, you will be shocked at the insanity in that video clip. But one interview shocked me enough to write this blog entry: Two young women (late 20’s), attractive in an American kind of way, are asked about the January 6 riot and the resulting Congressional Hearings. They looked completely blank. Keppler said, “You know, the riots at the Capitol?” The ‘pretty girls’ just look confused. When asked about it, they said they had no idea what the reporter was talking about. No idea that a riot had happened and no idea what Hearings he was talking about. And yet, they were in attendance at a Trump rally.

What kind of an ignorant, ill-informed life must a person live to NOT EVEN KNOW that January 6th was an historic American/world event!? How is that even possible? January 6th has been in the news for 18 solid months!

OK, maybe you are just another air-head and you do your nails and hair and giggle all day. Fine. And, of course, you graduated from some Red state school with a degree in cheer-leading and do not have job or a desire to get one. Maybe in a beauty parlour…..and you just LUV Kim Kardashian. You are on Facebook all the time. You are a bona fide ditz and do not even know about Roe v Wade and the SCOTUS decision… are an American woman (Stay Away From Me! The Guess Who/Burton Cummings). And you are so stupid, the reporter’s brain hurts.

Sally said: “I hate this. It makes it sound like women are stupid!”

My response: “I am saying ‘Merican women are stupid. But, in a way, you are right. Those other interviews made all the men sound stupid, too. I am jus’ saying’ those two young women seemed stupider than I could ever imagine. And I am not changing this blog.”

There is a lot wrong with ‘Merica but nothing wronger than that! Too many ‘Mericans are too stupid for words. You cannot have a country populated with idiots lead the world in anything (well, except gun ownership, I guess).

Lest you think I am overreacting, take a listen to Marjorie Taylor Green or Lauren Boebert (any topic), two ELECTED congresswoman!! Or that other super-ditz, congresswoman Mary Miller, declaring the SCOTUS reversal a victory for “White Life and the second amendment”!

In sum, I am having trouble with the incredibly super-dumb and they seems to be ‘Ever-present, everywhere‘ (Van Morrison). Is this how Teotwawki happens? By way of an Idiocracy? Is this the gestation period for real Zombie-ism?

The winter firewood is almost in…..

… a few more rows to go.  In total we have a bit more than three cords.  Ten rows. Three hours to split and stack a row. We will go to four cords (12 rows) if we have the logs.  Sally and M, the one-week-stay Woofer, will finish it off as soon as I cut the remaining logs into rounds.  That chore goes much quicker with three people.  And Sal and her helper get faster as they go – they get into a rhythm. Split-stack, split-stack, split-stack. 

I’ve been using my new-ish, small Stihl 271 for the past two years and it is a good chainsaw.  Well designed.  But the best part of the Stihl line, in my opinion, is their new sharpening file.  It is really good.  It takes a lot of the guesswork and skill (that I never had) out of the equation.  A few strokes of the new file and the teeth are sharp.  The only challenge now is to get ‘er done before our backs give out.  It is gonna be close.

A Woofer is almost always a treat.  M is no exception.  She is 23, from Germany and very pleasant to have around.  We like her.  But the dogs love her!  Yesterday, I taught M how to use the dog clippers and she and Gus had a spa-session and he was content and almost fell asleep as she mowed the thick lawn that is Gus’ coat.  That guy can really grow hair!  Daisy had a go at it, too, but she remains somewhat impatient with the whole process.  As a consequence, Daisy is only ½ done and even Gus has a few bushy patches.  They look a bit lopsided. Today or the next we will finish that chore off. 

The electrics on the boat are now done.  That is good.  There is a bit more to do overall but I have to build a roof and windshield over the helm next and then put a solar panel on that roof before the last of the electrics are completed.  And lots of details still need doing.  The boat is not finished but it is completely functional right now and I returned some visitors with it yesterday.  The boat does not have two hours of use on it yet.

The garden has ‘caught up’ somewhat.  We had so much rain and cold this Spring, the garden didn’t get started until about June 1.  Now, three mostly sunny weeks later, the beds are getting full and salad produce can be harvested soon.  We are gonna be OK. 

T’is Guest Season and Sal informs me that we will have four free days near the end of the month.  “What about Mike?”  “Oh, yeah.  Make that two free days near the end of the month.” 

This has been an odd year.  Mostly bad and unusual weather.  Few whales (about 25% of the usual traffic).  Maybe one sea lion.  Only one squirrel! Even the ravens are staying away (altho the dogs kind of explain that).  The sea star/star-fish population still has not shaken off their ‘wasting’ disease and so we don’t see much of them either.  The commercial prawn guys even had a shorter season.  And tourist boat traffic is easily down 50/60%.  Only ‘Mericans moving big yachts. The fauna seem very much reduced in presence and we assume that means much reduced in numbers but we do not know.  It does seem as if this is the year that just did not quite get off the ground.  Not yet, anyway.

June 21 and it is raining again – Sal just took M back to the ferry.  We’ve had sun but we have also had record rains.  It is a very odd year – in so many ways.  Politically, economically and climate –wise, this is the year when nothing seemed quite right.  Right on the heels of two years when nothing WAS right!  And we still have pandemics to contend with, wars, shootings and all the usual ‘concerns’.  We feel somewhat shaken AND stirred. 

I confess to anticipating some ‘shaken’ times (Pre-Teotwawki) but I never quite envisioned what it would actually look like (well, except for the zombies, of course).  And I do not know if these past few years are going to be the new normal or if this last three year period was just an aberration.  One thing is for sure, our collective fragility, vulnerability and sensitivity has been revealed and we are not really ready for much more change.  So, we’ll see.  From now until 2024, it looks like the natural order of things is NOT natural, normal or predictable. 

Still, it is all naturally beautiful, the dogs are fun and Sal is keeping the world-we-call-ours in good shape. 

Stupider and stupider or is it something else?

Some recent British study concluded that most of us feel overwhelmed, sad and confused these days but it was not – so much – the evil times in which we live but rather it was the disruption to our way of cogitating. We no longer think in the same manner as our species has for centuries. We now ‘process’ differently and that difference is resulting in a fragmented collective mindset in the larger society.

Put more succinctly, we are having a harder and harder time thinking, concentrating, focusing. No one, it seems, really truly multi-tasks more than two thought processes at a time and even two is uncommon. When we claim we are multi-tasking, we are really focussing on one thing for a short time and then focusing on the next thing for a short time before going back to the first thing to see how it is doing. A chef might look like he/she is multi-tasking but, really, they are tasking only and focussing on one thing while the other dishes simmer on the stove. In other words, we are not multi-tasking so much as quick-shifting-focus. And, while that, in itself will not make a short-order cook or a juggler depressed and confused, it will do that to them if they then spend every other waking moment on their phone accessing FaceBook, Twitter and such.

Our brains are not getting enough downtime.

It seems we are being subjected to too much stimuli and just can’t get away. Some people seem to handle it but the researchers say they are anxious and unhappy. It seems some people know that is a problem in their life and attempt to reduce the stimuli but that seems to just result in a bit more ‘down-time’ gained and how do we tend to use that downtime? By accessing our phone, of course.

The ‘study’ laid it all on a bit thick, to be fair. They then bunched in all the other attention grabbers in society from street and store signage to phones, from TV and radio to living on top of one another. You are a limited human-being utilizing 20% of your brain trying to juggle so many balls all at once (some of the stimuli you are aware of but others are playing in the background like MUZAK, lights, sounds) and the result is a lessening ability to focus. Seems people cannot concentrate on any one thing for long anymore….or, better put, not for as long as those people did fifty years ago.

I recall very distinctly – about ten years ago – when I was lying in bed after waking and I just lay there thinking. Sal said, “Want tea?” I said, “No, thanks. I am just gonna lie here for awhile and think. I cannot believe I have not really had a minute these past 40 years to just stop and think…you know? Think freely. Think whatever my brain suggests. Just free-wheelin’ thinkin’. This is an incredible luxury. I am not used to it. I am just gonna lie here and think. I can hardly believe how I was thinking all the time but never for fun, never freely, always with duties, responsibilities and chores. Finally, I can just think.”

Get this: According to research, our attention span has markedly decreased in just 15 years. In 2000, it was 12 seconds. Now, 15 years later, it’s shrunk significantly to 8.25 seconds. In fact, scientists reckon we now have shorter attention spans than goldfish, who are able to focus on a task or object for 9 seconds.Jan 24, 2022

And another source: “COVID led to many people experiencing cognitive overload, whereby our brains become short-circuited due to being inundated with information our brains are trying to process,” says Crystal Burwell, director of outpatient services for Newport Healthcare Atlanta.Dec 22, 2021.

None of this really news-news but, when I stopped to think (that first time while lying in bed and ‘free-wheelin’) I was stunned at how liberating, freeing and pleasant it was. And do not confuse this kind of free-thinking with sitting in your car in traffic waiting for the light to change. That AIN’T IT. I am talking about something more profound, quieter and contemplative. I am talking laid-back, nothing-pressing thinking. I do not do it quite so much anymore (I guess I rested up enough) but I still do it once every two weeks. I really think it helps keep one sane.

For those of you who struggled with the length of this blog, the 8.5 second attention span website is for you:

So, imagine, if you will…..

…..that these really are the END TIMES. I do not think they are, myself, but I do think TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) may, in fact, be nigh. Not imminent so much as near-on-to-nigh…this is what tipped me off a bit…..

Question tangent: If these are the End Times, or maybe if they are just a trifling TEOTWAWKI, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do, bad boy, bad boy?

I have a couple of male friends in their fifties. One is single, the other with a family. One poor and the other rich. Both intelligent. Both good eggs. No major flaws (well, they ARE male, so there is that). Both balanced and healthy. And both NOT media/trend/future watchers. They do not even follow the news. Whenever I mention something current, they inevitably say, “Oh, I didn’t know that. Who are we talking about again?” They are hip in business and smart and observant in their sphere but not ‘au courant’ or even aware of most current affairs. They do not travel internationally.

One of them even likes country music!

But are they, perhaps, canaries in this global coal mine? Both have recently made moves to fix their current points of view on all things which were, up until-now, ignored. To me, that is telling. One is up here looking for property (but he lives in a city) and the other is planning on ‘getting out’ of the city, too, but is maybe a step behind. Regardless, they are both looking outside the urban box. Don’t forget the salient fact: they are just barely in their 50’s.

Neither of these two guys have been subjected to my constant harangue (Get Out! GET OUT NOW!!) — you know, the one that you guys suffer every blog or two (I reserve the badgering for those already so inclined to hear it). Neither think in terms of ‘End of Days’ but they are now thinking of having an ‘alternative place’ whatever that means.

Neither of them reads the blog. They got there on their own.

One called the other day. The other has called almost every week for the last few months! I listened while one of them ranted about the world going to hell in a handbasket. “How long has this been going on!!??” “Well, I said, I have been ‘seeing’ what you are now talking about since the first few years of this century. I got a boost in that point of view when the 2007/08 financial debacle happened in the States. Then there is climate change, Trump, China and the rise of extremism. Then you got your Covid, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and now Monkeypox. Lots of crap goin’ on, man. Very little has happened to dissuade me from my main survival concerns but a lot of crap and chaffe have piled on to muddy my perspective. To be honest, I think it is steadily getting worse. Don’t you? You might be a bit late to the party but better late than never.”

“What do I do?” “I have no real idea. I preach getting out of the city but, to be honest, the impact of climate change will affect us all. A third world war will affect us all. Hell, inflation is already affecting us all. And Covid altered the world quite a bit already. I do not see a real cover-all-the-bases solution. Still, I do not think the city is where you want to be.”

“But, if I sell now, I might take a hit financially….and my wife loves her neighbourhood, my kids go to the school…..what about my business…?” “Good questions. Most people would have to make some hard decisions. But, you are wealthy enough. You can implement a Plan B and ride the current wave you are on for as long as civilization holds together. Plan B may be expensive but you can do it.”

“What’s Plan B again?”

And therein lies my point. Once we build an edifice of any kind, invest heavily in the game-of-the-day, buy into the mainstream, carry deeply our faith in the system, we are not only committing most if not all of our energies that way, we are blind to seeing other things. Ya hafta keep asking yourself: am I all in for this? Am I all in for THIS!?

I am not suggesting one approach is wrong and one is so much more right….who knows? But one thing is clear, these guys have had a comfort blanket around them for the last couple of decades and it is currently making them now somehow uncomfortable. That is a ‘canary’ to me. They are even wondering about a Plan B.

They are where I was back in the early 2000’s.

Interesting, don’t you think?

Bok Choy

She was short, Asian and almost my age. We were in our sixties. And we were side by side at Save-On both looking intently at the Bok Choy. I like Bok Choy but my appreciation of it was limited to ordering Chinese food to go. We didn’t cook it at home. I was thinking of going produce rogue on Sal and adding Bok Choy to the grocery cart. “Excuse me, but I am guessing you know more about Bok Choi than I do.” That intro was delivered with a smile and a non-threatening posture.

She smiled and said in perfectly unaccented English, “Yes. I probably do. How can I help you?”

And so we got to talking vegetables (domestic and foreign) and shopping, the weather and such, you know, in the manner of a ‘pick up line’?

Ang was from Edmonton. She and her husband were on vacation. Seems he had never seen the ocean and this was a dream vacation for him. But, as she told me of their trip (they were only a day or so into it) she seemed a smidge down, melancholy. Her voice seemed a bit weak.

They were staying on Quadra, the island just down the coast from us. Their idea of ‘seeing the ocean’ was to go to the beach at Heriot Bay. He wanted to wade in the shallows of Drew Harbour. And it is a lovely place…..

But, for some reason I said, “Here’s my number. If you and your husband want to experience a bit more ‘closeness’ to the ocean, I’ll pick you up in my boat.” She was speechless. I thought I may have come across like a weirdo. Sal says that happens a lot. But I persisted, “You have to travel up to the end of the road and that is where I get you.” I kinda regretted the last few words in that invitation but I let ’em sit. She didn’t answer. I said, “Gotta go. Call me if you want. You’ll need to set aside a few hours. Takes forty minutes just to get to the dock. If you call, I’ll give better instructions.” And, again, she just kind of looked at me. No answer.

I left her and the remaining Bok Choy and joined Sal at the fruit section. I confessed my impulsiveness. “What!? She’s gonna call the manager. They’re gonna call the police. Let’s get out of here!” I was gonna argue but, some day, that scenario may, in fact, play out. So we hustled out.


Two days later Ang called. She and her husband would like to accept my offer. They drove out and I picked them up. Peter seemed like a nice guy. I drove them around a bit in the boat and, after twenty minutes, we were in front of our house and I pointed it out. Peter seemed to come alive. He was noticeably intrigued. And so, that is how they came to be invited to our house and Sal served a fabulous impromptu lunch. We talked and then it came out…..

“Peter has Cancer. Terminal. They give him days, maybe weeks. As soon as we get back to Edmonton, he goes into hospice. It has always been his dream to see the Pacific and maybe retire near it like you have. He’s dreamed of a cabin like yours.”

We spent a few hours with them. Peter was remarkably sanguine about his fate but, at the same time, he was clearly tasting a bit of his dream. He was happy. He seemed to love every aspect of what he was seeing and what he was hearing. ‘Course, Sal’s lunch was pretty damn good, too. Despite his genuine excitement and pleasure, he did begin to noticeably tire and I took them back to their car when Ang and I shared the right glance. All in all, they had been away from their B&B about four or five hours.

Ang wrote to us a month or so later to inform us of Peter’s passing. She also sent Xmas cards for a few years afterwards as well. We exchanged a few polite e-mails. She said Peter talked about his visit with us and with everyone who would listen. She said we made his dream come true.

A chance meeting of a stranger over Bok Choy. A small gesture offered and accepted. A heartbreaking story. Is that an example of what I just wrote about these past few days? Yes and no. Mostly yes. ‘No’ because Ang and Peter hadn’t asked for any help. Help didn’t seem needed. Still, something human prompted a spontaneous gesture and acceptance. And that led to a ‘moment’ and a very close relationship – at least for that time and for a few years – and, in such small ways, community is built. We and Ang don’t even live within a thousand miles of one another but I am pretty sure we would consider each other as members of our community.

In for a penny, here come the pounds….but it is easier that way (part 3)….start small.

It is hard to start this part three but, here goes: for everything to get fixed, we all have to fix what we can.

What that means for most people is starting to emphasize non-judgmental acceptance of others in your sphere of existence. You see same or different coloured folks, same or different languages, same or different presentations, same or different situations and you address them all with respect and help. It is that simple. And never ignore a person in need. Don’t drive by pretending you don’t see. Help everyone you encounter who needs assistance. Every single one. Every time.

A lot of people will read that as ‘Damn, I gotta send more money to starving African babies again? I gotta be nice to drug addicts hitting me up on the street? I gotta bake a cake for the local church charity?’ Absolutely NOT. That level of giving is totally optional and I can assure you that doing it (especially reluctantly) will just burn you out and drain your wallet. Helping in this context means ‘being there and doing something when you are called’. It does not cost anything but real time, personal, hands on time. Money is not required. And the rewards are way disproportionate to any costs.

As Sal has said for years, “You only get out of life what you put in.”

“But I am way, way too busy. I can’t afford to go looking for needy people to help. There are too many of them.” No one said ‘go looking’. Life will naturally bring a number of people in need right to your face. No need to go looking. In fact, as the old saying goes, charity begins at home. Be kind and respectful, helpful and empathic with family and friends first. That’ll keep a lot of people busy enough. Be kind and respectful to neighbours and not just ‘go-through-the-motions’.

“Do you do that?” Of course not. Too busy. Too selfish and too self-absorbed most of the time. But I can honestly say that if anyone seeks my help, I give it. I do not always give what they ask for but I give what I can and I give what I think is ‘the right thing’. I have given away thousands of dollars but, over time, I noticed that giving personal time had better results.

“How will that help build community? How will that build morality?” Good questions.

Not sure of my answer on that either but, again, here it is: If you build it, they will come. If you help your friends and neighbours, they will, in turn, help others. They may not help you and some may just take but, being a good neighbour seems to create a similar energy in others – even those you didn’t help. Community building is infectious. But it is not lineal, not direct. It is more organic and human than that. You do not need grants, assistants, projects or organization. You do not need to wear the right hat. You only need to walk the walk (silently). It will get noticed and it will be be repeated. And you may not even see it……..

There are dozens of definitions of community but most of them are academic, pseudo-science, stereotypes. They seem to extol virtuous goals or approved behaviours. I do not believe that is the way. Those models seem to require that you join something. Give something. Dress a certain way. Do the same activities. Same, same, uniformity…”Find like-minded people”, blah, blah. Kumbaya but with a grant and an office. And I think quite the opposite is true. Trying to make everyone ‘homogenized’ just creates separation. I think we just assume that we are all part of the species (and the planet) and thus we all belong in some way. And, if we/they all belong, then us/we welcome them. We accept them. And, surprisingly, that seems to be enough to build community.

“Really? You see a bunch o’ Crips and Bloods and you accept them?” Yes and No. Accept the sinner. Reject the sin. I have ‘accepted’ Hells Angels, drug addicts, criminals, bullies and thugs and most of the time, it was all just fine. I cannot think of an exception. Those people were in my neighbourhood. Those people were in my clinic. Those people were mediation clients. Some, you just bump into. But any of those people, if in need, I would also assist. Some, but not many, may just take. But most and definitely the vast majority, appreciated it and gave back in some way. That is a mind-blowing phenomena when it shows up in Skid Row.

It is also mind blowing when it shows up buying Bok Choy in a supermarket (but that is another story).

I have a bazillion stories more like this one following: the clinic in Skid Row had hundreds of clients per day. Most of them were deplorable. They were NOT the Trump Deplorables (political). They were just Skid Row denizens deplorable in their own way. Many were violent and crazy. (I really need to tell the story of Conrad someday). I treated them all with respect and politeness at first.

But life is weird and I also punched more than few. But I like to think a well placed punch helped them in some way.

Anyway, forty years later I was in a small town doing a favour for an ex-client at the local Catholic church. I had to give testimony as a witness to their annulment. As I sat in the waiting room and after having introduced myself to the older receptionist, she asked if I used to run a clinic in Skid Row decades earlier. When I said yes, she was all over me with hugs and tears and love. Long story made short: she was a mess back then. We treated her properly and with respect. She recovered and made a good life for herself. Since my name was on the clinic office door, I got all the love. In a weird, indirect way, she was ‘building community’ by way of her church and other selfless acts. Like I said; it is not lineal. It is not direct. But we were part of that, no question. It is real.

My friend, the late John R, did that sort of thing all the time. So do many of my current friends like KB, SD, DG and SH (it seems identifying folks is bad form on the internet but they all deserve acknowledgment). To this day, John’s name resonates with hundreds of people in his town. And those folks have all gone on to do something similar in nature if not in scale. John built community by being a front end mechanic who always helped others. Go figure.

But the key for this was not money-being-spent. The key was not words. There was no ‘key’, no recipe, no goal. John just got in and got his hands dirty. John did the real community work. No grants. John just quietly walked the walk.

“So, what are you saying? And pulleeez make it succinct!” By accepting and respecting everyone and helping those truly in need to the best of your ability, you will generate community. That community will eventually grow to share the same values. Shared values are what morals are all about. And that is how we restore morality – we act moral ourselves.

“Sorry, Dave. A bit flaccid, ya know? Got something else?” Sure. Easy-peasy. Join something good and already established and help them and leave the hard start-up part to others. No problem with that…..well….I have small, tiny problem with that and it has to do with the nature of institutions. It seems really good, moral leader-types start the institutions but eventually they die off and the institution is then run by people who just needed a job. So, being a bit of an independent, I choose to start-from-scratch rather than inherit a lot of institutional baggage. However, if we are measuring morality and community building both paths work if you are committed to the mission.

In way over my head (part two)

If basic values are all much the same universally and different challenges bring about different morals and laws needed to address those challenges, then where are we today? Have we messed up big-time or are we just in transition? Are we more evil these days or more good?

Let’s first check on what those basic universal values are. I alluded to survival in the last blog as a basic ‘value’ or instinct. But there are more. In fact, S.H. Schwartz’s study concluded there are ten. His list is: power, achievement, hedonism, stimulation, self-direction, universalism, benevolence, tradition, conformity, and security. If you read a bit more on the subject, more ‘definitions’ and words are added depending on the author. But the point is that however they are listed, they are all much the same…..doing the right (and human) thing is a universal value. And that suggests inherent.

Mind you, if you talk in terms of universality, evil seems to manifest that way, as well. Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. They are everywhere. Are they inherent, too? I do not think so. They are learned from experiences gone wrong.

I think that is why the US Declaration of Independence is so magnificent. It addressed the human condition, albeit from just a noble point of view. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

My own list is NOT the same as Schwartz or even the Declaration but that difference is really semantics. My noble-values-only list would likely read: 1. a sense of justice (includes: truth, honesty, peace, conformity, respect and empathy). 2. personal freedom/survival (includes: power, self-direction, life, liberty, achievement, pursuit of happiness) 3. belonging to community (includes: respect, hard work, courage, duty, security, cooperation, conformity, responsibility, loyalty, sharing and empathy) 4. love (includes: universalism, acceptance, respect, compassion, benevolence, kindness, gratitude and more empathy).

Note that ’empathy’ keeps showing up. Empathy – the ability/tendency/feeling/understanding and accepting of other’s experiences. (Oxford: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.) Empathy is likely the next key to building morals – along with building community.

“Unh, Dave, aren’t you off on a bit of a tangent?”

Yes. Sorry. I’ll get to the point…….. The greatest ‘disruptor’ in our moral fabric – the ‘fabric’ being based on the above VALUES – in recent years has been the advent of social media. To be fair, all modern media has rattled the status quo in our everyday morality but social media is the latest and one of the most influential change agents. So, what has it done to us, morally speaking?

(Quick aside: the biggest and still most relevant influence on common morality is/was the church(s) and then it shifted to secular Economics/Capitalism. But the latest big one presenting now is Social Media.)

Social Media has allowed and accelerated the proliferation of lies and truths. It has provided community and succor to disparate/different/deviant elements (i.e. extremism) but it has also built community in the larger one (i.e support for the persecuted, social issues and even Ukraine). It has connected people and divided them. It has taught and it has deceived. Social media is a highway on which good and evil are both traveling (just as before) but they are both going much faster.

Frankly, I am mostly optimistic about it. ‘Truth will out‘, Free speech’, ‘Shine a light‘ and all that sort of thing. But there is no question that the bad guys have a new stage, a microphone and a spotlight now, too. Evil seems to be always front and centre these days. That is a propaganda boost for the bad guys and, as Trump has proven, ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity.’

Regarding the influence on our collective morals from social media? Conclusion: I’d call it a tie for now with, perhaps, the edge going to GOODNESS. Why? Because we/I believe that empathy and community are foundational to goodness. And nothing has done more to promote that than social media.

“So, Dave? That’s it? Your conclusion for a better, moral world is community building and greater empathy?”

When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound like much, does it? But let us summarize that a bit differently. Religion and Economics are still major influences on morality and are in desperate need of updating – they are hoary and rigid and the times they are a changing (as they always do). Social media is a new influence on an old medium and we should skip the hoary and updating step sooner simply because everything is moving faster, especially in that area.

I mean: we should push for more social responsibility in our social media. See values above.

But really, all that structure (religion, media, economics) is a function of community and empathy, (albeit the larger one). Build community and empathy (love one another) and the hoary old institutions will be dragged kicking and screaming along with the improvement.

Suggestion: start small. Big doofuses currently run the larger-now-dysfunctional communities.

“Where does all this nonsense come from?

Well, as stated, I think it is inherent in all of us. I am no exception. But, to stick my neck out like this, I’d suggest that it comes from having been a mediator for twenty years. Mediating is a discipline that not only requires but demands empathy. ABOVE normal empathy! Empathy is the language of love and acceptance. And, as a beautiful by-product of becoming more empathetic, one’s community just naturally builds. And a good community is how we survive and thrive.

OK. But exactly how do I start small?

That’s the easy part. Or, better put: part three.

Manufacturing Morality (part one)

A reader asked that I address the question of society’s slipping morals. More to the point; how can we improve the overall moral climate in the modern world today?

That’s a daunting task and one that even Jesus did not fully succeed at…so much so, they are requesting an encore from HIM, a second coming, if you will. Given my deep and enduring inherent flaws, I should not even make an attempt. I am likely just to get into trouble. Still, it is an interesting question and one of my foremost flaws is hubris. Forgive me.

One first has to accept that the moral environment is bad and needs fixing. And I think every one currently sees a changing moral climate and definitely SOME of that is bad. But, does changing morals always mean bad? Does the moral climate change for both – good and evil – each time it changes? I think it does.

Secondly, the question assumes that we can change ’em. Given the history of morality (and it is considerable) changing morals comes about from changing circumstances and events, experience and culture. It is rarely a one-person task with again, Jesus and maybe a few others being partial exceptions. I mean, did Ghandi really change morals or just remind us of already established ones? Morals change (like laws and rules) but can we change ’em?

Ya hafta go back……way, way back….to the basic concept of good and evil….and then further back than that to basic human values……and then further back again… basic human nature….at the primal level. We are animals first…and that counts. Start at the beginning……

I have nothing to base this on but I’ll say it anyway: I am of the opinion that every animal and especially humans (because we raise our young for around 20 years) are born with some basic, inherent values and then they morph into morals. Call step one instincts if you must.

Of course, we want to survive first so survival is a basic value building block. And, if raised properly, we know that we are pack animals, social in nature, and so survival of the pack is another initial value (from which laws and morals are derived). In fact, we learn that survival of the pack helps the individual to survive so self-interest and empathy result from that. We LEARN empathy but we probably started with survival.

And therein may lie the first insight. Most of our values (from which more latter-constructed morals, rules, laws arise) are inherent, basic and founded first on self interest and survival. Almost any question of morals stems from either an acceptance of that premise or the perceived threat to it.

In today’s terms, for example, take the changed social attitude towards Homosexulaity. Homosexuality has been present in human history forever but it was deemed immoral for most of that time. Why? Aside from our social and cultural programming, homosexuality ‘felt’ like a threat to the species. “Ya can’t make babies that way!” But at this stage in human history, we have enough people (maybe too many). At the very least, the existential threat to the species is reduced. We do not need to worry about that so much. And, lo and behold, we altered our values and morals to embrace all those who are here rather than criticize those NOT joining the Breeders Club. We became more tolerant as the perceived threat to existence receded.

So morals change with circumstance and experience but values are rooted in primal needs.

“And how does that pedantic little lecture translate into fixing what currently ails us?” I don’t know but it seems that focusing on the symptoms is a bit like putting the cart before the horse. Mass shooters, aggressive dictators, toxic masculinity, unfair systems, racism, sexism, all the ‘isms’ – wherever they show up…..they are the symptoms. The cause is more basic.

Our immorality, from greed to murder, from drug addiction to pedophilia, from mass shootings to bigotry, likely stems from some perceived and unconscious threat of survival to ourselves or to the pack. In fact, a lot of violent acts of misogyny stem from a group that can’t get laid. How basic is that!!?? These guys are called Incels. We tend to focus on their behaviours and words of hatred and acts of violence but, at the roots of all that is their non-participation in propagating the species. They are lonely first, crazy comes after.

So, if current morality is the ‘fashionable’ expression of basic primal values in differing circumstances, then it stands to reason that we have to first understand what those values are and then make sure more people can participate in achieving them.

Dealing with that from the ‘symptom’ level in misogyny that might ‘look like’ more equality, more acceptance and, presumably, more access to the gene pool.

But, as stated, that solution (simplistic and pathetic as it is) is quite obviously wrong because we are trying to deal with symptoms rather than cause. And we know that because, in the example above, the solution does not work. Access to sex (rubber dolls, movies, porn, prostitution, lax sexual behaviours, perversions and crimes) have all increased and there has been no net benefit to the species as a whole and, in fact, there seems to be more harm being done.

Since forced tolerance and availability has not worked on the sexual side, then maybe forced ‘equality’ and ‘acceptance’ won’t work either. Affirmative action did not work well. In fact, ‘forced’ is the key word in this analysis and, not coincidentally, we have all already learned that when you force others to do something, they just do more of the opposite except passively, underground and behind the scenes.

Damn that Free Will, eh?

Another example: if it seems that survival is paramount, survival of the pack is the means and community and teamwork is just more of the same in more detail, then ‘good’ community building is the way to go. If belonging is important than we should belong!

But so many in modern society are alone, isolated, unsupported and made into ‘others’ they belong to the deplorables! Especially ‘Merican society. And there are so many of those who feel and are rejected that the UK sees that marginalized group so large as to constitute an epidemic! The outlaw gangs, persecuted minorities and even otherwise lonely types who identify with other lonely types (Incels) naturally flock together and, as a result, some alienated communities are built at the expense of others. And the MAGA movement saw those even more numerous rejects, those deplorables, those lonely and isolated and gave them a larger tent in which to find community (of the ugly sort). They even got matching hats! Hell, Trump held rallies for ’em. Hitler held rallies for the then-downtrodden, poor, vilified, post WW1 Germans.

Find a bunch of lonely rejects and ya got yourself a group, gang, church? in the making.

The title ‘Manufacturing Morality’ then, may be an oxymoron. Morality is inherent in our DNA and cannot be manufactured at will. We may be able to influence, sway and change behaviours over time but we cannot manufacture them. In other words, people with natural values will interpret their situations and act accordingly – usually, generally and healthily in much the same way. Manufactured morals (laws, rules, procedures) won’t do much and, in so many cases, achieve the opposite. To get real change, we must always address survivability and the general climate of existence in good, inclusive communities.

Churches used to do that but, the times changed and, with world connectivity, religion came to be seen as a divider rather than a community. And NOW we enter the age of social media…………(more on that next time).

Let’s address gun control for a second…….

Most thinking people want gun control because well, no one wants to be gunned down at the school, grocery store or place of employment. In fact, no one wants to be gunned down anywhere. We may have a special concern about schools but that is essentially the same thing just writ larger because we have a basic and primal instinct for keeping our children safe first, all children.

So, on the surface, no one wants guns, nitroglycerin, hand grenades and/or lethal poisons all within easy reach of imbeciles and whack-jobs. In other words, we basically just don’t want to die because of a random encounter. We basically just do NOT want to die. So gun control sounds – on the surface – reasonable.

And I agree with the ideal. Mostly. We regulate (control) those poisons and explosives, we control and regulate and even regularly test the greatest killing device in history (the automobile) and we have ‘safety’ rules and procedures to the extent that we even warn about nuts being present in peanut butter. And we have all accepted that the state has a role in promoting safety and safe behavior.

A rebuttal might be: “Well, there are enough maniacs out there that I do not want to be a victim without at least having a chance at defending myself and, if a gun-totin’ fool aims at me, I wanna be able to shoot back!” And I understand that feeling even if it means trying to survive an AR-15 attack with a pea-shooter. You will likely lose but you didn’t die easily. I get that.

But….is that the issue? Is it really? Because, if ‘keeping us all safer’ is the goal, gun control by itself won’t do it. In fact, it just might make matters worse. Here’s why: firstly, there are now 400 million firearms just in the USA, a country with way too many ill-educated, greedy, alienated, toxically masculine, armed-forces-trained, stupid, angry men out there. Even if the US ‘bought back’ guns as New Zealand is proposing, as much as 75% would not be surrendered. And those surrendered would come from the folks least likely to ever use guns (the law-abiding). Nut cases are not going to give up their arsenals. Neither will criminals. Or gangs. The balance of power (such as it is) will shift even MORE right and crazy.

Secondly, most killings are limited to family and coworkers. A real nut can do the average ‘mass’ homicide (which is questionably stated as four) with a knife or something else used as a lethal weapon. There is no doubt fewer would die from bullets, and likely fewer would die overall, but the data (according to experts) suggests the difference would be negligible.

There are some controls that would work: a buyer of a gun must do some ‘basic training’ and that training should have instructors who have the right and obligation to assess a newbie’s attitude and psychological state. That is not a panacea, of course, but it would help. Additionally, no one under 25 (ideally 40) could ever buy or own or use a gun.

Why not? We wait until we can drive, we wait until we can drink alcohol and we have to train to use large machinery. And, maybe we even go so far as to categorize any gun owner with more than six (or whatever) guns as an armourer and that person needs additional vetting and training. Those things might catch a few nut-jobs and may even reduce some accidents but they still will not do the job.

“Why?” Because people who kill others (especially children and strangers) are INSANE (temporary rage-insanity and/or deep-in-the-bones insanity). Insane people do not obey the rules. And, if you watch any YOU-TUBES on stupid ‘Mericans, you’d be astonished and appalled at how stupid so many of them are. It is staggering. So, ya got yer stupid ones and your crazy ones and ya got a toxic culture that glorifies Rambo and MMA and deadly retribution. AND, you market increasingly realistic ‘games’ for kids that make killing ‘the bad guy’ entertainment. The ‘gun’ mentality is complex and riddled throughout society in all sorts of ways.

Bottom line: the AR-15 is, perhaps, amongst the most appealing of the weapons for the crazies and the testosterone-challenged but pistols and single-shot rifles kill more people (just usually one at a time) statistically. And I reiterate: there will be at least 300 million guns in houses and cars around the US even after any attempt at gun control. They will never get that genie back in the bottle again (and it never was in the USA).

They won’t gt the drug problem back in, either. Nor homelessness, mental illness or general crime. Add guns to all that and it’s like trying to stuff a wildcat into a small bag of snakes – and the bag is on fire!

One more point: Sal has a shotgun and a 30.06 rifle. She had one of them for over 40 years. She has never shot them. NOT ONCE. But we live remote. There are bears, cougars, wolves and the odd nut bar around that might, in some way, give us concern. If the police are called, they would take a day to get here and often, when they make the effort, they get lost. Police generally operate on roads. They have not mastered boats, charts, night-time navigation and they really do not like hiking through the forest. We do not have a donut shop or a cop-car on the island either. They do not want to come. Put bluntly, we do not have the time in an emergency for that kind of nonsense.

“So, what is the answer?” The first answer is that there is no answer that will be effective anytime soon. The second answer is that ‘Merican culture overall has to change in a whole lot of ways. The third answer is typical regulatory stuff but none of step three will work until step two has made a seismic shift-change and, even then, people with guns will still kill people in shopping malls…..which brings us back to answer #1.