Sing it, Neil

He’s one of our National Treasures.

I dare you to challenge that.  The man has a body of work that runs the gamut from inspirational and incredibly harmonic, to silly rockabilly, to political commentary that can strip paint with its caustic words.

The night before last he showed up in town to kick off a very important journey.  He’s putting the boots to our current federal government and defiantly and loudly– in that signature growly voice of his- taking them to task for their irresponsible governance and stewardship of this great land of ours.

He’s done this sort of thing before, of course.  Way back when, he wrote a couple of tunes about racism and its continuing evils that resulted in something of a ‘song battle’ with one of the stalwarts of Southern rock.

And then there was this one- critiquing the politics of George  H. W. Bush.

Seems Stephen Harper fancies himself something of a musician.  He’s serenaded those who follow his party line a number of times now.  You’d think he’d have some level of respect for someone who has conquered the musical world to a rarified degree while participating in raising awareness about things that impact or concern him greatly.

Evidently not.

I started this post yesterday on my lunch break and intended to finish it once at home and settled in after some dinner.  But while prepping said dinner I tuned in to Evan Solomon on the venerable CBC to hear him lead the convo about Power and Politics.  Topic?  Should Neil Young be talking about the tar sands?  So.  I listened intently- and with anger and frustration, per usual, as the Conservative ‘analyst’ worked her rhetoric into a full head of steam- and then thought about what was said over the course of the rest of the evening.

Do I like the tar sands?  Not so much.  I have a few close peeps who have been involved in natural resources industries- some of them for decades– and I have formed my opinions regarding things like fracking and the tar sands (interesting that they call them the ‘oil sands’ these days- new lingo for a new, positive spin.  We NEED oil– ‘tar’ has a much more ambiguous association, and the most accurate descriptor- ‘bituminous sands’- means nothing to anyone) based in discussions with them and my own readings about the ways in which we ‘withdraw’ our resources from our collective Canadian Bank.

My opinion about this stuff isn’t really the point of this post though.  Nor is Neil’s, if it comes to that.  It’s all about the ability to speak up and create awareness that a single perspective- in this case, that of Harper’s government- shouldn’t be accepted without reflection and analysis.

Do I concede the point that we live lifestyles that are reliant upon fossil fuels?  I do.  Do I also believe that this is an unfortunate and unsustainable reality?  Yes.  The production of new, cleaner forms of energy has to become a priority, but our current federal government is not on the same opinion page as I am, as far as that goes.  And that, for me, is at the heart of the issue that Neil has brought to the forefront for discussion.

His focus- which is being supported by his current tour- has to do with government violations of First Nations land treaties in the on-going quest for fossil fuels at any cost.  I respect that- and his dedication to a cause that he feels strongly about.  The issues- both environmental and cultural- are myriad and often-complex and all deserve a fair hearing and examination.

Harper’s Conservatives have a pretty singular line of defence/purpose in their approach to the extraction and production of natural resources: the economic bottom line.  They have to push for this straw as a means of maintaining a grasping hold on the idea that Canada has weathered the worldwide financial crisis and is doing just fine, thank you.  Despite a falling Canadian dollar and rise in unemployment numbers.

One of the commentators last evening made the point that the two things- the environment and the economy- needn’t be presented as an inescapable dichotomy- but this is exactly what Harper’s Conservatives are doing.  Oil-at whatever cost- or no economic growth.

Anyway- I didn’t intend for this post to become a political rant (you can find those all over the place today).  I was spurred to write this because I, unlike what’s-her-name-the-Conservative-pundit-from-Evan’s-show-last-night, think that Neil has done veryvery good- leading this charge and creating discussion.  While she would maintain that sure, debate should take place, she questions his methods and means of bringing the issue to the surface (his own version of ‘fracking’, if you will).

I maintain that someone who has earned a voice- through his decades of social commentary and activism- and who is inherently entitled to express that voice- by virtue of his Canadian-ness- has every right to use whatever means he can come up with to present his message to any and all among the electorate that might take the time to listen to him.

Anyone who can shake said electorate out of our apathy/complacency/laziness and make us pay even cursory attention to something important, has my full support.  If even a handful of people- who otherwise wouldn’t have bothered concerning themselves with anything going on out there in those Alberta tar sands- take even a small portion of Neil’s message as a starting point to learn more about the situation?

Bravo, Mr. Young.

It seems that something pretty substantial (read: catastrophic) has to happen these days to get people off their butts and invested in anything other than the Golden Globes or Game of Thrones.  I, personally, applaud anyone willing to do some homework and take a stand on something they believe in strongly- whether they are a scientist, a teacher, a student, a Parliamentary Page, or an enduring and important Canadian musical voice.

Neil Young is not claiming to have all the answers.  He is sounding an alarm asking those who might listen to him to wake the hell up and look into these things a trifle more deeply than they might otherwise be wont to do.  And THEN form an opinion regarding which perspective makes the most sense.  He certainly isn’t expecting- like the Conservatives seem to be- that Canadians will continue to ignore the systemic dismantling of scientific institutions and projects that maintain the environmental standards that allow for the protection of all our natural wonders and the violation of executed treaties with our First Nations all for the furtherance of a politically-expedient economic bottom lineAnd the votes of those in the petroleum industry that might help them retain their somewhat-tenuous hold on the federal government.

This is what we all need to be doing.  Whether our audience is in the millions- like Neil’s- the thousands, or, as in my case, the 398 followers of this here little blog, voicing our concerns about negligence, corruption or tunnel vision among those elected to determine the future of this incredible country of ours is a responsibility of citizenship.  Too many of us have abrogated that responsibility lately.  Neil has not.

That’s why, even if he had never recorded Harvest (a mandated musical staple for Canadian cottage weekends/camping trips) or hung around with those other guys and produced tunes like Helpless and albums like Déjà Vu, he is one of my  heroes.

Never more so than this week.

I’ll leave him with the last words (from his response to what the PMO spokesman had to say about his tour and its mandate):

“As a Canadian citizen, I am concerned that this government is not acting within the advice of science.  When people say one thing and do another, it is hypocrisy. Our Canadian environmental laws don’t  matter if they are broken.”

Media Goo Goo, Media Ga Ga

Last week I wrote a couple of posts (which will not, for some arcane reason, be linked into this one- Moss Grows Fat… Parts 1 and 2, if you’re interested) that could, in part, be construed as a defence of media- in particular, investigative print (and online) journalism.  This week I honestly feel like rescinding even that tentative support.

Holy cows.

Yes.  A couple had a baby.  They are experiencing the joys of first-time parenthood and seem to be handling it all beautifully.  In this case ‘it all’ includes constant and invasive and ridiculous media presence.

Seriously.

I have absolutely nothing against William and Kate- or the British monarchy, for that matter.  I am Canadian, and I’m okay with our historical connection to Britain and its kings and queens.

My issue lies completely with the media (speaking in BROAD generalizations here)- and the way it is allowing itself to be used by our political establishments.  And since it’s not the first time- even very recently- that this has come up, I can’t not comment on what’s going on.

Even the venerable CBC has spent an inordinate amount of time discussing this child (it was a topic on Power and Politics with Evan last evening.  Sigh).  The morning show on CBC News Network (which is, admittedly, more about headlines than stories with any depth) was all about the Royals going home and the first visit of Her Majesty, Great-Grandma.

Jebus.

Enough already.

A friend of mine recently commented that the media is completely responsible for the fluff that dominates our airwaves these days.  While I would never consider myself a conspiracy theorist, I have to say that there is insidious behind-the-scenes governmental/social leadership culpability when you boil the phenomenon (this domination of non-news in our news feeds) down to its source.

The powers that be- Municipal, Provincial (or State), Federal and religious- ALL benefit from an ignorant populace.  The more that we are sedated by mind-numbingly terrible television shows and junky celebrity magazines, the less attention we tend to pay to issues of any import.

My personal beef is with the fact that no one seems to read anymore.  Granted, complaining about non-readers (and lack of reading comprehension) on a writing site seems counterintuitive at best.  Venting about such things in a forum that features writers -often writing about the great things that they’ve read- does amount to preaching to the choir.  But it is my hope that there are choristers among us who may be in positions to positively influence change in this regard.

Teachers, speakers, political leaders, pundits and writers with a larger readership than little ol’ me can (and should) speak out about the lack of critical reading skills- and, by extension, listening skills (for those who still refuse to look at anything in print format)- and encourage those closest to them to actually think about the stuff they are exposed to (in whichever forum that they prefer).

We have myriad means of communicating with one another.  I have spent most of a lifetime examining the ways in which we communicate with one another, and the ways in which those methods of communication are often controlled and manipulated.

Humanity’s myths are frequently propagandist.  Propagandist techniques include such things as scapegoating and demonizing the enemy (for a full list see that bastion of all knowledge, Wikipedia) Such myths are means of establishing and maintaining order and are designed to be intentional societal scripts.  Some of these stories are self-aware and clear in this intent.  Others are more insidious.  We have to remain vigilant in order that we not fall under the lulling spell of some of our imposed scripts- including the idea that mindlessly watching television programs about hillbillies and rich ‘celebutantes’ is a deserved reward for how hard we have to work each day to keep body and soul with roofs over our heads and food in our bellies.

There are people speaking out about this manipulation of the media as a means of continuing the imposition of willful ignorance that seems to be the norm these days.  Bill Moyers is among my favourite voices crying in the wilderness of this reality.  With Marty Kaplan (the founder and Director of the Norman Lear Centre which studies the impact of entertainment on society) he frequently discusses such topics as media and political systems as ‘Weapons of Mass Distraction’, and how the mainstream media purposely avoids discussions of important issues such as climate change, and the lack of general outcry as the distance and divide between the very wealthy and everyone else continues to grow at an alarming rate.

There are others.  Not all television or journalism is skewed toward the ridiculous or inconsequential in the grander scheme of things.  Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart (and lately, in his absence, John Oliver), Louis C.K., Lewis Black, Rick Mercer, the cast of This Hour Has 22 Minutes… all these good folks illustrate the folly of drinking the Kool-Aid our mainstream media is trying to force-feed us on a moment-by-moment basis.  Our comedians are providing us with more coverage of important local and world events than our news outlets.

We are being manipulated.

Of this there can be no doubt.

We have to pay closer, critical attention to the mythological scripts that are being presented to us, and make informed decisions about what we are willing to stand for from our media and our leaders.  We can’t sit in apathy and complacency while allowing the propaganda to distract us from taking stands and making changes when they are required.

An arguably important baby has been born.  Let’s react to this bit of news by ridding ourselves of the infantilizing effects of media and political propaganda.

Time to grow up.

(All that said, a very Happy Birthday to young Master ‘no name as yet’  (update: George Alexander Louis) of Cambridge.  May he grow up to become a leader worthy of his history and a positive force in the world he will inherit).