Without poles who needs a compass?


My addiction finally got the better of me at the Superstore. As we rounded the last isle I walked over, scanned the rack and grabbed a copy of The Atlantic, The New Yorker and Canadian Geographic.

Like any addiction the anticipation is better than the fix. I learned about a single mom taking her toddler on a trek across the Middle East, Florida’s sex offenders living together, Brazilian cowboys taking over the US rodeo circuit, preserving old video games, and the “black hearted” misogynistic writing of some old French writer, one Henry de Montherlant.

The collective theme of the first two magazines seems to be the absence of right or wrong—there’s only embarrassing or not embarrassing. The end result is an intellectually correct and polished point of view.

I turned to Canadian Geographic. Enter “The Cryosphere Kid”, Robert Way, a movie star-handsome 20-year-old science exchange student from Labrador working on glaciers in Norway. We don’t learn much about the major leading science in this field, but only in Geographic do we get an environment worth saving and a moral compass.

Moral relativism is a permanent feature of our age. When I tuned into National Public Radio this morning I caught a discussion on the elections in Iraq. While the experts dissected the ongoing struggle between the Shi’as and Sunnis it struck me that, as the graffiti spray-painted on a wall so aptly asked, “how did our oil get under your sand?” Funny that the American media doesn’t seem get the obvious.

Since the death of religion and the rise of political lobbying, the hijacking of the moral ground is a media enterprise. But instead of clarity the result is getting ever fuzzier.

Interestingly, we live in a place where the moral sightlines are, by comparison, overly well defined. Unlike big city churches, our churches are well attended. Our local newspaper religiously reports court cases, publishes the names of offenders, and offers editorial advice on the situation.

A recent editorial addressed one offender’s excuse for theft by suggesting that there was a shortage of good jobs down here. The editor took exception to this, stating that there is plenty of opportunity for “menial work” in the area. I would have to agree with that. But it isn’t the whole story.

Whereas the moral poles of right and wrong have become much less distinct out in the world, the poles are quite a bit more fixed and rigid here. Here the moral compass is pegged due north and south.

Crime here is multi-generational. Having the wrong last name is a lifelong liability, as much as having the wrong accent in England banishes one to the lower classes. Instead of harsh punishment of the generational poor, the better answer to fighting crime is a more equal, less vertical society. Why? Because a greater proportion of these citizens are likely to have personal pride, and fewer forced to consider their work as “menial”.

Canada has long been viewed as a country of equals. But a 2007 study conducted by Stats Canada pointed out that while the top 10% of the population saw their incomes rise by 22% over the past 15 years, the bottom 10% saw their incomes fall by 11%. And all the while the middle class keeps slowly shrinking.

Reports also show a growing gap in the incomes of rural residents versus urban residents, and between regional and ethnic groups, native Canadians and northerners being hardest hit. It doesn’t take a forensic scientist to connect the dots.

It’s a confusing time. On the one hand there’s a global levelling of morality taking place while at the same time there’s a national hardening of values on crime and punishment—even though by 2007 our national crime rate fell to the lowest point in 30 years. Prison populations have declined, yet oddly the number of suspects remanded into custody (waiting for trial) has increased dramatically. And Canada’s Aboriginals account for a wildly disproportionate number of prisoners.

There are only two conclusions. One, that income inequity is a leading cause of social dis-ease. And two, timely and accurate information is needed to set our collective moral compass.

Both have everything to do with clear perspective—and what’s most clear is that our political and media compasses aren’t functioning all that well. Disinformation is alive and well.


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