When I saw TV footage last weekend of the burning police cruiser in downtown Toronto, of the guys in balaclavas and black suits breaking windows of commercial establishments, and of the armour•bearing cops in black marching down familiar streets, herding protest groups into smaller segments to render them ineffective, I realized that our World Class City had finally lost its innocence.
The disconcerting factor was that I was unable to distinguish which of these groups of men in black were the good guys. The G20 leaders were calling their conference a success, so their goons must be in the right, eh? Wait a second, what about the balaclava brigade’s claim that unless violence happens no one pays attention – how about that, eh? And what about our oblivious citizens of Toronto, who have always taken their good city for granted, who were out that day walking their kids and their dogs and taking photographs of these costumed marauders, as if their streets had been taken over for the shooting of another one of those “Hollywood North posing as New York City” action flicks, and who were left wondering why they were suddenly being arrested and held in detention centres, or being asked for ID. “Damn it, I am a Canadian, eh, and a Torontonian, to boot! Don’t you recognize me, copper? This is a bad movie. Let me out of here!”
Just like our naive and hapless city dwellers who were stuck in the middle, we middle class taxpayers are now paying for the excesses of the men in black: $1bn in security costs and a bundle in property damage that will invariably find its way back into municipal taxes and insurance premiums for Citizen Joe Blow.
What also struck me was how similar these two groups of men in black were: in appearance, in their capability to do harm, and in their level of organization. Yet, they were on two diametrically opposite sides of the political spectrum. Have we polarized so much in what was once a middle class society, one in which everyone had enough to afford the basics of life, that we now have to take sides with either the haves or the have•nots, with either the ones with power or the ones wanting to grab a morsel of it?
My last book featured a protagonist who pursues the Middle Way, a back•to•the•centre approach, taking the best of Socialism and Capitalism and leaving the bad behind. Call it Enlightened Capitalism, or Liberal Socialism, if you will, a system, which once it takes root, eliminates the need for men in black, gated communities and beggars on the street. I was inspired by similar approaches taken by great teachers and wise political leaders in the past, albeit for brief periods in history, for greed always intervened to thwart their efforts. My “progressive” critics dismissed this approach as being archaic, utopian and idealistic. And yet, I wonder if our politicians have really found a better solution. When I saw that burning cruiser, I didn’t think they had.