No places left in a placeholder society


“Sage,” I said. She didn’t think so. So she pulled the old colour sample books. “There,” she said. “Larch, that’s it.” She was right. What a memory. As she mixed the colour we talked about the neighbourhood.

We talked about a new seniors’ housing project being planned for the park across the street, and ironically, how town council is considering building a new park dedicated to dogs—a doggie park—even as it decommissions a provincial heritage park. But we didn’t dwell on it. She wondered about the future of a town filling up with seniors and lacking jobs for young people.

Work was always plentiful back in Ontario—or at least it was when we lived there. Since moving here I’ve learned that jobs or contracts are scarce.

The lack of opportunity explains why someone working in, say, the aquaculture industry, wouldn’t want to criticize any part of that business for fear of losing a good job. That attitude quickly evolves into keeping one’s mouth shut and head down, which gives employers a bit of an upper hand. With employees living in a chronic state of low-level job anxiety, employers call the shots. And with willing workers, established companies can keep on growing. To a point.

With fewer opportunities at home the best and brightest workers leave. Meanwhile the local companies struggle to find skilled workers and how to keep the ones they have motivated. So it’s a vicious cycle. The lack of opportunity keeps the workers submissive. But it also keeps them unmotivated and unproductive, which keeps the companies always on the lookout for new talent.

These aren’t just local issues. The world is rapidly running out of new frontier. New frontier is what America was all about. In North America the natural resources were as unlimited as the opportunities. But somehow those unlimited natural resources are running out. The great cathedral forests are nearly gone, and have been on the East Coast for almost a century. The wild finfish fishery is in decline if not collapse. And out west the best of the light crude oil is gone and we’re starting to scrape out the oil sands—perhaps the dirtiest and most expensive fossil fuel yet.

So where do we go from here? The main bet has always been technology. When anyone talks about the world running out of oil, the immediate response is technical. Humans are resourceful. We’ll always invent something new, so don’t worry about it.

But people at the top are worried. Since 1991 the U.S. has been going to war in the Middle East. The first time was Kuwait. The second was Iraq, ten years later. Now it’s Afghanistan in the east (and where our Canadian soldiers, scheduled to pull out next year, are being replaced by American troops). And in the middle is Iran, which seems to be the target of intense political interest and in the news every other week, especially around its fiery president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is being touted as the next Great Satan.

With more than two-thirds of the planet’s supply of oil, the Middle East is the obvious prize in a world running out of the stuff. In fact, the region is the last remaining great frontier.

So, one has to wonder, how did “we” manage to justify getting into an oil war in the Middle East in the first place. Right. It was the plane crashes into the World Trade Centre. And it wasn’t an oil war that ensued, but a War on Terror, launched by George W. Bush and his backers. What resulted is now history. Osama Bin Laden was never found. Nor were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. By some estimates up to a million Iraqis have been killed. And the rest of the world, especially the United States went into terrorism lockdown.

American constitutional rights were revoked. Homeland Security was created and put on high alert. Thousands of civilians were put on “no fly lists” with no public reasons given. Citizens could be detained without due process. Suspects in other countries could be taken from their homes and detained in places like Guantanamo indefinitely, without rights or due process of the law.

Since then the global economy has collapsed. Jobs in the States are scarce. Opportunities for ordinary people have evaporated. Meanwhile, the bankers who received huge bailouts are back in control of the game. Strangely, the American picture is starting to look a lot like the New Brunswick picture.

So what’s really happening? It’s pretty simple, really. For the first time in human history we’ve run out of new frontier. We’re running out of gas, literally. The game of staying alive will become much more competitive for us and for our kids. And we’re already seeing it. The kids with the best pedigrees and most expensive credentials go to the top of the list.

Holding our own place in line may the best any of us can manage—unless we become a lot more cooperative, creative and involved in our own political destiny.


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