On a morning when, having slept fitfully despite being sleep-deprived, I woke early and started the day by walking my faithful hound Bosco around one of our local picturesque woods, I sat down at around 0900 hours (can you tell that I used to be a police officer?) in a somewhat less than contented frame of mind, and began to trawl through the BBC and CBC news websites. As some of you may remember, this is how I choose to obtain my updates on the craziness that surrounds me, having some time ago given up on local TV news programs, which typically kick one local and one international news story to death, and then for the rest of the program follow up with a series of 'human interest' pieces (I won't call them news stories) which are little more than neighbourhood tittle-tattle. My 'poor ickle puppy-wuppy' threshold having been overwhelmed, I now pick and choose news items which interest - or even better intrigue - me.
This strategy also has its pitfalls, as I have a very bad habit (which, as you may also remember, I've touched upon before today) of scrolling down the page and starting to read reader's comments. Having dealt with a great many traffic accidents over the years, I have little interest in gawking at such things at the roadside (and zero tolerance for anyone who does wish to do so), and I'm coming to the conclusion that this is my substitute for that distressing habit. I know I'm going to dislike what I see, but I look anyway. Needless to say, today was no different from any other, and within a short time, I had graduated along my personal scale of pissed-off-ness from a starting point of 'Mildly Grumpy' (level two on the 'Pissed-er Scale) to a state of 'Irritated and Fidgety' (level four).
It was in that condition, therefore, that I happened upon a small story from Ontario, where a woman has come from vacation to find that her garden - which she was (somewhat defiantly) growing as a wildflower meadow in order to attract insect and small wildlife - has been mown down to a lawn by persons unknown. Level five, based on those facts alone...
This lady, going to battle with her municipal authorities, had come to an agreement/compromise with the local conservation/environmental folk which allowed her to keep a portion of her garden as wildflower beds, so long as she mowed around them. In the interim, somebody (apparently NOT the municipality) has mown the lot, creating a lawn that she had no desire to have, on her own property. A solution had therefore been agreed upon, yet someone in her neighbourhood was still moved to take matters (the 'matters' in hand being wildflowers) into their own hands and destroy what the lady was trying to create. You can probably guess how I feel about that, since we grow nothing but a permaculture-style vegetable garden on our steeply-inclined property. If you still can't guess how I feel, hopefully this will help:
Leaving aside for a moment the smaller issue of gardening preferences and conventions, I find myself increasingly alarmed by the apparent need of many people - and so often the people with the loudest and most obnoxious voices - to have everyone conform to their idea of 'normal' or even worse: their version of 'nice'. People use the word 'nice' as some kind of objective measurement of acceptability, but I have yet to find a standard level of niceness, even among groups of white-haired little old ladies who sip tea from 'nice' china tea cups and saucers inside 'nice' tea rooms, and quietly, discreetly make their sinister plans to control the hearts and minds within small municipalities like my own, in order to make things 'nice'. Somewhere, I fear (perhaps hiding behind Jupiter) there floats a 'nice' Death Star, made of Victoria Sponge and encircled by a ring of lace doilies, it's 'nice' ray at the ready and pointed at the earth in the event that the undercover agents of lace and tea and false teeth (little old ladies) should fail in their mission to brainwash us all.
Why must we all conform to this mystical, completely arbitrary notion of 'nice' or 'normal'? One of the most abused words in our language at the moment is the word 'freedom' (you thought I was going to say 'nice' again, didn't you?). Our politicians, in the midst of telling us all what we really want - and curiously enough, that never seems to be what I was actually thinking about - frequently wave the 'freedom' thing in our faces, as if to suggest that we all already have it, we all cherish it, and we should all vote for that particularly slimy twerp if we want to keep it.
It seems to me that in a country where freedom is such a fundamental principle (at least in theory, and politician's speeches), it should not be impossible for a person to grow a wildflower garden on their own property, even if it is to the distaste of their up-tight neighbours. The neighbours don't like it? So what? Why do the neighbours have some kind of entitlement in such a matter? If you're scared of seeds spoiling your lawn, pick the bloody things up or even better, weed your lawn! People face similar challenges with regard to growing - whether in regimented, amazingly ordered rows, or like us, more haphazardly - their own food on their own land. Apparently, doing so in a suburban setting is offensive to some people. Again: so what? In fact, so fucking what? Why are flower gardens (filled with imported species) acceptable, and other things not? Why are water - soaked grass lawns (a completely unnatural landscape, maintainable only by excluding native species, either by chemicals or fastidious labour) acceptable, yet wildflowers are not?
To me, it seems like insanity, and worse: it's a symptom of our modern western society's need to have everyone - everyone - conform to some kind of vague 'nice' ideal. Since that is an entirely subjective concept, what's the betting that 'nice' begins to change over time, and will eventually become the preserve of the most powerful groups within our society? I want to be able to preserve my version of life - that's my freedom. I want to be able to live quietly, without bothering anyone, and without them bothering me. That doesn't mean that I can take any measures I choose to make that happen, but it does mean that I am responsible for finding my own happiness, rather than expecting others to create and/or maintain my ideal world for me. My choice - and the clock is counting down on making this happen now - will be to find a few acres somewhere nowhere near anybody else, fix up the house (which, by virtue of what we can afford, will probably be on the point of collapse) and grow as much of our own food as we reasonably can.
One thing that the internet illustrates to me every day is the depth of intolerance for difference. The degree of antagonism, belligerence and downright viciousness directed at people with a different point of view is frankly alarming. It's true that the overwhelming majority of this behaviour is conducted by cowards who have probably (to use my dear old dad's phrase) never tasted their own blood, and who would never dare speak to anyone in the same way face-to-face. However, words can be powerful weapons: they coalesce into ideas and soon become conventions and accepted norms if they go unchecked. We are living in a world where anyone can say almost anything and hide with no likelihood of being made to face consequences for their actions, where cowards have voices that they do not deserve, and where difference - contrary to the mush that we're fed through the TV every day - is rarely celebrated or even accepted, but is consistently trashed.
I worry about what this means for the future - in particular for my children and my grandchildren. It bothers me that every kind of extreme view can be spread so widely, and with such hate behind it. Hate does not deserve a wide audience, and neither does intolerance, bullying and discrimination. The problem we face right now is that all those destructive attitudes are free to proliferate among the (distressingly) uneducated, ignorant and the plain stupid members of our society.
Is, I wonder, the genie permanently out of the bottle?