Modern mythologies in the post-apocalypse



It’s been precisely 10 months and 10 days since the Mayan long count calendar ran down and the world, as we know it, was supposed to have ended in a cataclysmic fury. Not for nothing, but we’re still here.

Fortunately, as the world survives, popular myths and misconceptions continue to proliferate. I say “fortunately” because in the absence of such apocrypha, grim, intractable reality would be well-nigh impossible to bear.

A well-known, national newspaper columnist contends this week that “the idea that people ever achieved secure and stable lives with ease is largely a myth.”

Indeed, The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente writes, “My grandparents weathered the Depression. My folks lived with them until having their third child. My dad had health problems in middle age and lost his business. That’s life. I’m pretty sure that most of today’s up-to-their-necks-in-debt graduates will be fine.”

Sure they will, just as soon as they manage to obtain gainful employment, which is also “largely a myth”. Or so says the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in a September 27 report, to wit:

“In 2013, the unemployment rate for Ontario youth aged 15-24 fluctuated between 16 per cent and 17.1 per cent, trending above the Canadian range of 13.5 per cent to 14.5 per cent and placing Ontario as the worst province outside Atlantic Canada for high youth unemployment.

“Windsor, Oshawa, Brantford and London stand out as youth unemployment hotspots: their youth unemployment rate is over 20 per cent, similar to the European Union rates. Toronto’s youth employment rate – the measure that determines how many youth actually have jobs – is 43.5 per cent. That’s the worst employment rate of any Ontario region and it may be driving some youth out of the province in search of work. Toronto also gets the prize for having the largest gap between youth and adult employment in the province, at 21.8 per cent. That’s the highest it’s ever been.”

Higher still, of course, is the percentage of voting-age Canadians, either employed or otherwise, who support the reigning federal Conservatives as they bob for apples at their policy convention tonight.

Received wisdom had called for a shellacking of Tory prospects in the court of public opinion – so appalled are we with the Senate expense scandal and the knobby knees of short-panted factotums in the Prime Minister’s Office.

But received wisdom begins to look like a myth when Ipsos Reid reports that the Conservatives currently enjoy a 30 per cent approval rating – virtually unchanged from a week ago, before the most serious allegations came to light.

Here, in New Brunswick, rank politics takes a back seat to. . .well. . .rank politics as we juggle the myths and realities associated with shale gas development.

The provincial government says it is committed to consulting with opponents of hydraulic fracturing, yet it has no intention of slowing down the exploratory work that has sparked most public protests and demonstrations.

Leaders of the Elsipogtog First Nation, chief among the anti-frackers, decry what they term unnecessary provocation in the debate, yet they formerly resolve to reclaim Crown land to “save our waters, lands and animals from ruin.”

Meanwhile, the stories we tell ourselves dip in and out of verisimilitude heedless of their sources.

“Britain’s energy secretary on Wednesday advocated a public awareness campaign to promote shale gas and dispel the ‘myths’ surrounding fracking, the controversial method for unlocking the natural gas,” the Wall Street Journal online reported this summer. “Energy Secretary Ed Davey said the concerns were being dealt with through study and regulation, suggesting they had given rise to false notions about the dangers. The industry’s main challenge is to win over the public, he said.

‘Because those myths have taken hold in some areas, and sometimes when a myth takes hold it’s quite difficult to dispel it,’ he told a cross-party parliamentary group on unconventional oil and gas.”

For its part, Friends of the Earth Europe reports, “The American myth of ‘cheap and abundant’ energy from shale gas is based on artificially low prices driven by speculation and industry overestimates. Trying to repeat this experience in Europe would only lead to even higher gas prices and would lock public subsidies into fossil fuel use at the expense of renewable energy and energy efficiency policies.”

Who’s right?

We may have survived the apocalypse, but we might not live long enough to know the truth.

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