A Chronic Inability to Take a Risk

The science-fiction author, Robert A. Heinlein, made the point over and over again in his works that you can have freedom, or you can have security, but not both at once. His main characters, who are all exemplars of “free”, take risks: they don’t stop to tell anyone they’re going, they don’t worry about packing for all contingencies, they just go and do what they believe needs to be done. Heinlein believed that there was no security — you could anticipate certain risks and (as he put it) be somewhere else — but at the end of the day you had to size up the situation quickly, decide what to do, and just take action.

So how did we tame a continent, build a society on it, and have the dogged determination to achieve glory in one century, and become a nation of wimps in another?

Where are the Canadian captains of business deciding to build their enterprises even further? Oh, yes, they took the quick pay-off and sold out. Good heavens, our major beer companies could have had global brands, but for an unwillingness to make a commitment to their first foreign markets and actually advertise their product they gave it all up, sold themselves to global brands, and now don’t even make much of their own product for sale in Canada. Even in the resource sector we’d rather have the security of a bank account filled with the proceeds of sale. Losers for the sake of security, and in turn expecting “guaranteed investments” rather than recognizing the markets are a casino and filled with risk, along with a cut to the house.

Where are the Canadian politicians willing to stand up and be counted for anything? There isn’t any one of them truly willing to stand up for their party’s principles, or honour the expectations they engendered. We have Conservatives who don’t conserve and who extend rather than claw back the reach of government and restore the open, free society we once were. No, we get ever more government meddling in how we invest, a focus on crime and “law and order” (it polls well, you see), and more promised regulations. Of course, their fear and trepidation at actually standing for something is never tested, for they have no opponents at this game.

We have Liberals who are as illiberal as they come, not caring to defend the notion that the individual is supreme and unhyphenated that is at the core of their dogma one iota, yet there’s no problem playing pussy-foot with the rule of law (Caledonia). We have Bloc et Parti Québeçois members cheering for Kosovo — c’est nous! — and denying in the very same breath that the same principle applies to anyone not wanting to join them in creating Zimbabwe sur St-Laurent. We have New Democrats whose idea of an “ordinary Canadian” is tossed onto the front of anything and everything they want to pipe up for, rather than actually figuring out what parts of the Canadian economy most of us are actually working in these days — and let’s not mention some of the “drop everything and they’ll throw flowers on us as we leave” thinking they bring to the role of the Canadian Forces — and, well, the Greens might actually have a few things to offer that are worth hearing, but they are hard to sort out amongst the normal 120 decibels of ear-piercing shrieking about how evil everyone is.

But none — nary a one — of these politicians will take a risk. Nothing is uttered without being polled to death and focus grouped to hell and back. Every word, every camera angle, is chosen. The very notion of speaking from the heart, in an unguarded moment, is anathema to them and to their handlers. As a result, even when the outrage might be real, it always comes across as scripted and fake. Even when a question raised in the House might be answered, it won’t be, because actually treating the person across the aisle (going in either direction) as a human being engaged in a national conversation might come with the risk of having to say “I see. Thank you very much”, and that would never do.

This is how you get the collection of losers leading the various Alberta political parties oh-so-cautiously through an election that ought to be of some import, but instead makes watching soap suds form swirling patterns in a bucket of dirty water much more interesting than the future of a province which, by international standards, has done a piss-poor job of managing its bounty and turning it into a legacy for its citizens. This is how you get the illustrious John Tory — truly a legend in his own mind — and the snake-oil salesman Dalton McGuinty — who, having power and the ability to act, would rather whinge with rather less charm and sincerity than a two-year-old testing the limits of the people around him — both doing their part to destroy Ontario, and the future of Ontarians, while everyone just goes on without a care in the world other than to keep supporting this sort of nonsense. But, then, in Canada’s two major head office hubs — Calgary and Toronto (and as with Montréal in this regard) — the politicians and the business leaders are interchangeable. None of them know how to take a stand, take a risk, set an audacious goal and make us want to join in that vision.

When we’re left with the BC Government’s new carbon tax as the thing that everyone can get excited about, it shows that we’re truly running this country on fumes. It’s another too-small, too-timid move — or, if you’re not buying into Green Mania, another cash grab for no purpose [take your pick] — but it stands out, after months of preparing the way, as a sign of the truly bold initiative, when all of that reputation stems solely from the whispers having led somewhere, for once.

We allow surveillance cameras galore, half-undress at the airport, publicly support police that break our laws (on the grounds that “they’re protecting us”), answer the same “twenty questions” every time we want to deal with our bank (even when they call us), and vote, sheep-like, for the same old patterns all on the ground of being, and feeling secure. We want 15%+ returns, and no risk. (The unwinding American empire at the hands of the collateralized debt obligation slicers-and-dicers, when those debts in turn are composed of decomposing mortgages that never should have been written, ought to have been warning enough that there’s no free lunch, but still we stampede to the next “too good to be true” offer.) I could go on, but my blood pressure is high enough now…

At the end of the day, it comes down to you. You, as an individual, must decide whether you want security or freedom. You can’t have both.

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