By Rick Salutin, Toronto Star, June 17, 2011
Humans are emotional beings, but you can also think of us as symbolic. We invest our lives with meanings beyond the immediate. Sports is part of that. Feelings about teams often reflect stuff like the state of the economy. In hard times, people prefer to think about how their team is doing, especially when they’re winning. Then they lose and wham, it’s double devastation. Plus, for many people, the hard times endure. As a Toronto band sang in the recession of the early 1990s, “Hard times ain’t nothing new/ On Eastern Avenue.”
You can try to focus on real satisfactions in your actual life; or disperse the symbols to areas that may be going better than your team. But that only works to a point. We remain prey to our feelings and the symbols that embody them.
This applies in politics too, where people often vote less in terms of concrete issues like health or child care than symbolic satisfactions like punishing evil and arrogance. Supposedly cagey winners, like Rob Ford, Stephen Harper or Barack Obama, are often just the innocent beneficiaries of those deeper needs.
Political philosopher Leo Strauss, who lived through Hitler’s rise, concluded that most people are and always will be basically emotional and for their own good must be manipulated by their betters through religion and deceit. Honesty was not possible or desirable for the majority. He’s strongly influenced governments like those of Stephen Harper and George W. Bush.
By contrast, Pierre Trudeau, the most philosophical of our prime ministers, made “Reason over Passion” his personal motto. Yet he belted his wife Margaret when she stepped out one night with the Rolling Stones and she wore the black eye in public. The great Toronto artist Joyce Wieland embroidered one of her lovely quilts with the words, Reason over Passion. Get it? Bedtime?
So think of Trudeau’s words as a wish, a goal or even a prayer. It can be done but people will always — as in Vancouver — have to deal with their passions, emotions, symbols and animal nature. I don’t mean to put animals down, since we don’t know much about their inner lives. But at least we can say we aren’t angels who, if they existed, would be all joy, harmony and absence of rage.
Earlier in his column, Mr. Salutin refers to the violence of his father, in their Montreal apartment, while he was growing up. Many of us have witnessed and received acts of violence in the privacy of our families of origin.
And many of us have spent decades trying to figure out what is at the root of that violence.
At forty-five, I once asked my mother, the perpetrator of the violence until I reached the age of eighteen, "Why did you beat me?"
Her answer, "Why do you think I beat you?
My response, "I can only guess that you could not talk."
There is a senselessness to the violence in Vancouver on Wednesday night, and it casts its shame on all Canadians that will not easily or quickly be removed like a spot on the carpet.
There is no "spot remover" for such acts of random violence and wanton despair and disrepect for others, for the property of others, or for the reputation of the collective.
In fact, it would seem that for many of these male malcontents, (and let's not duck the fact that the agents of this melee were primarily male, primarily young and primarily the most narcissistic generation we have seen for decades) defying authority, in the face of a sports defeat, is a way of taking advantage of the seeming impotence and the seeming restraint of the authorities, in order to make a historic statement.
And, what's more, a similar incident occurred in 1994, after the first time the Vancouver hockey team lost the Stanley Cup final. And the author of the report of that incident spoke to the need for police to move quickly and decisively against the first perpetrators, but that recommendation was either ignored or certainly not implemented this time.
Statements by the premier of British Columbia to the effect that "we are going to be as hard on these perpetrators as we can" is no substitute for immediate, decisive and courageous actions to enter, and to arrest those leading the rampage. And permitting hundreds of thousands of fans to gather in spaces too small for such police intervention is a mistake that must not be repeated.
Naturally, we all applaud the thousands who volunteered on Thursday morning, the morning after, to clean the streets and to put the city back in some kind of order.
But the damage has been done, to the city, to the province and to the country, with the viral dissemination of the videos of burning cars, including at least two police cars, the smashing of store windows, and the looting of merchandise, "because I wanted it" in the words of one young woman proudly displaying a new "bag" she stole from a department store.
And the people who carried out this mayhem are not the convicted criminals, or the homeless; they are the people wearing $100+ sweaters of the Vancouver Canucks, whose statement of disavowal that these people are not "fans of the Canucks" is so out of touch with reality as to be simple-minded, frightened and easily dismissed.
There is a volcano of pent-up anger, frustration and hatred for so many targets, not just in Vancouver but in many centres, and this excuse, either a win or a loss, was the trigger to set it off, in effect to legitimize such wanton and flagrant abuse of power, abuse of privilege and abuse of opportunity. They see it in every NHL game, so why should they not "follow their heroes" into the streets. And in the NHL most of the wanton violence is not adequately policed, just as it was not on the streets of Vancouver.
Does anyone else see the picture?