“Try to live near a subway entrance”

October 10, 2010

Over his career author Douglas Coupland has playfully changed the way North Americans think.  In 1991 with Generation X Coupland became the spokesman for the lost generation sandwiched between the aggressive Baby Boomers and their overly-entitled progeny, the Generation Y kids.

Coupland will deliver this year’s series of Massey Lectures, reading a series of five excerpts from his novella, Player One.   Saturday’s Globe and Mail ran a set of his notes entitled A Radical Pessimist’s Guide to the Next 10 Years.  The ideas were too good to resist, so here are a few of his suggestions:

“Try to live near a subway entrance.  In a world of crazy-expensive oil, it’s the only real estate that will hold its value, if not increase.”  Coupland riffs on the end of oil for much of his lecture.  If you stop to think about it, our current way of life is entirely dependent upon cheap oil, and the only thing keeping it cheap is our collective belief that prices can’t rise much or the whole economy will collapse.  It’s hard to bank on that assumption, so…

“Enjoy lettuce while you still can. And anything else that arrives in your life from a truck, for that matter. For vegetables, get used to whatever it is they served in railway hotels in the 1890s. Jams. Preserves. Pickled everything.”

To think we threw out a trailer-full of jumbo Mason jars when we moved to this house!  Then we started buying them back to hold maple syrup.  Now with hydro bills passing $200 per month, the freezer is becoming an expensive luxury:  perhaps canning will come back as an efficient way to store food.  The garden has progressed from “another one of Rod’s projects” to a useful and reliable source of food.  Maybe it’s time to allow some chickens and a sheep or two onto the property, as well.

“North America can easily fragment quickly as did the Eastern Bloc in 1989. Quebec will decide to quietly and quite pleasantly leave Canada. California contemplates splitting into two states, fiscal and non-fiscal. Cuba becomes a Club Med with weapons. The Hate States will form a coalition.”  Notice how Coupland sneaks changes into the language?  Hate States.  This one’s going to stick.

“The future of politics is the careful and effective implanting into the minds of voters images that can never be removed.” This is truly frightening.  Does this mean that democracy is doomed to become a shell of itself, manipulated by incumbents with the budgets to buy the latest in mind-control technology?  What can we do?

Mobilizing citizens to get out and vote may be the best antidote to this decay.  First step?  Take the cameras out of the House of Commons to eliminate that daily mud-wrestling display they call Question Period.  It disgraces Canadian politics and discourages potential voters, particularly the young.  It feeds the politics of division where a solid voting block’s power is leveraged by the systematic reduction of overall voter participation.

But the anti-prorogation rallies last winter came as a surprise to most everyone.  Thousands of Canadians looked around and simultaneously decided that enough was enough and hit the bricks on a cold winter day.  Coupland assumes Canadians won’t take the initiative to save their system of government, and the only direction the elevator can go is down.  He’d likely be delighted if we proved him wrong on this one.

“You’ll spend a lot of time shopping online from your jail cell. Over-criminalization of the populace, paired with the triumph of shopping as a dominant cultural activity, will create a world where the two poles of society are shopping and jail.”  I guess we deserve our lumps for our fondness for shopping, but I hope that the mania for building more prisons goes away in the next year or so.

“Getting to work will provide vibrant and fun new challenges. Gravel roads, potholes, outhouses, overcrowded buses, short-term hired bodyguards, highwaymen, kidnapping, overnight camping in fields, snaggle-toothed crazy ladies casting spells on you, frightened villagers, organ thieves, exhibitionists and lots of healthy fresh air.”

This is an interesting one.  Roads are dependent upon oil.  Asphalt needs constant upkeep.  Distances are vast.  Railways are few.  This vision of a new medieval era sandwiched between sci-fi connectivity and political breakdown may emerge as the new model for the future of Canada and the world.  I hope not.

“You’re going to miss the 1990s more than you ever thought.” Hey, we miss them already, but Internet is way better now.  Coupland suggests finding a place to live on a west coast so as to avoid the blazing heat and “cryogenic cold” resulting from climate change.  But this was the first summer in my memory that vegetation has remained a constant green through to Thanksgiving.  Young trees had a great season.  Corn crops in the area are unsurpassed.  The hay was pretty good, too.

Coupland’s prediction that “Stupid people will be in charge, only to be replaced by ever-stupider people,” takes on some currency with the current mayoral race in Toronto.  And energy shortages are a worry.  But all in all, on this Thanksgiving Sunday in 2010, as I look out the windows through crystal air at the brilliant maples and the emerald turf below them, the world doesn’t seem such a bad place.


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