Crimes and cocktails

by Yule Heibel on July 12, 2004

On a local note: instability is everywhere. I recently had a ceramic garden ornament, blue, egg-shaped, and about 40cm high, stolen off my front stoop. Even though I knew it wouldn’t yield results, I did report the theft. Here’s what the nice officer told me: theft of gardening utensils, garden ornaments (…gnomes, anyone?), garden hoses, and even small trees and other plants (not in containers, but actually planted in the sod) is rampant around here: people steal these items because, according to the policewoman, they don’t want to have to pay for this stuff themselves. Now, this strikes me as truly bizarre. First, to have any of these items around implies a fairly bourgeois attitude toward …uh, “lifestyle,” no? I mean, before thieves carted one off, I had a matched set of two blue ceramic “eggs” flanking my front door — ooh, how Martha Stewart is that? But the weirdness is in the thieves who steal these things: clearly, they want the “bourgeoisity” of the ornamentation, but they have a haywire sense of entitlement, …which “allows” them to steal it. I don’t get that. Either you’re an outlaw, or you’re not, and if you are, why would you want something as bourgeois as a blue ceramic egg? If you’re a vandal, I can understand (not really condone, but sort of understand) that. But to be a petit bourgeois thief? How sad is that? I can imagine societal changes that would obviate vandalism, but I can’t imagine — not in my wildest dreams — the cure for pathological petit bourgeois-ism. Alas, it is of course the crime of the century, the one that threatens to do us all in. Le criminel petits-bourgeois? C’est moi. Also on the rise in my neighbourhood, possibly more in line with straightforward vandalism, are other acts of crime and potential mayhem: this morning police converged on a house a few metres up the street because — I find this incredible — the owner discovered two (2!) unexploded Molotov cocktails in his driveway. […”Mr. Ashcroft, paging Mr. Ashcroft…” (Or, since this is Canada: “CSIS, paging CSIS…” which reports directly to the FBI…, so: Mr. Ashcroft, yeah, you!)] I have this bit of neigbourhood news from my husband, who spoke to the cops and to the nearly inflamed home owner. I asked whether he actually saw the thingie — you know, the wick, the bit that’s supposed to be ignited prior to tossing the container — but he hadn’t, which makes me suspect a soupcon of hyperbole. However, shattered bottles leaking flammable liquid are a bit of driveway nastiness most of us can do without, whether or not they were designed to be effective bombs or a moron’s idea of a “statement,” especially since the driveways around here are generally about 3 metres (c. 10 feet) long. The landing area for nasty objects is much too close to the houses, in other words. On the other hand, we in Canada take this manner of expression in stride, because we (unlike the southern brethren) haven’t been indoctrinated by enough “give me liberty or give me death” rhetoric, which too often translates into a “tough on crime” and “punish them till they bleed” agenda. Our neighbours might bluster (and really make offenders “pay”), but we acquiesce (or else we tut-tut and look the other way; or, in the manner of the late great Pierre Elliot Trudeau, we shrug). I like neither approach: the former (i.e., US approach) is too German (albeit pre-1945, without the effects of Marshall-Plan engineered re-education) while the latter (the Canadian attitude) is too bloody British (also from about 1945). There’s a strong British undercurrent of putting up with shoddy, “just muddling-through” affairs, as though this is how nature intended (vs. this is how humans constructed), and if you make too much of a fuss, well… you might end up tossing a so-called Molotov Cocktail (not a smart move) or sounding like too much of an anti-Canadian in the important and ideologically highly charged construct of the Canadian mosaic vs the U.S. melting pot. But consider the financial realities underneath the bits of coloured glass:

Unfortunately, shared community values are being torn apart on our intensifying economic battlefield. Middle classes are shrinking while gaps between rich and poor widen. This decade, the incomes of Canada’s richest 10 percent have increased 14 percent, while incomes of our poorest 10 percent have stagnated or declined. Our own community exemplifies the emerging polarization: A whopping 41 percent of single people in the capital region earn under $20,000 annually. The dominant annual household income in Victoria, Sidney, Sooke and Juan de Fuca is now $10-20,000, while in Oak Bay, Saanich, Highlands, Metchosin and several other municipalities it’s over $100,000.

That said, it’s dangerously misleading to call it a war of “rich versus poor.” This further polarizes perspectives on what is actually a complex economic continuum. In reality, practically all of us try to increase our own relative wealth by either wresting money from others, buying cheaply from lower-waged companies, or saving money in banks and mutual funds which invest in businesses with morally-suspect profit margins. Who’s unsullied? Indeed, while during our labour disputes many opine about others being insensitive or unreasonable, most Canadians from virtually all income brackets look wealthy, powerful, greedy and wasteful to many others. (Per capita, after all, we’re amongst Earth’s top-ranked resource-users and polluters.)

Along with Rob Wipond and many others, I agree that electoral reform, which is supposed to introduce true proportional representation, is the best way to go. My egg and I do not feel that a “cocktail” is an appropriate alternative to a ballot. And look, petit bourgeois thieves: don’t take the other egg, ok? Believe it or not, I can’t afford to replace them, and besides, I give at the office, ok?

{ 1 comment }

Marja-Leena Rathje July 16, 2004 at 1:11 pm

Interesting!! I was quite surprised, and really enjoyed and understood AND totally agree with your references to German and British pre WW II
attitudes! BC is really quite old British in many ways. ( Don’t get me wrong, I have Germans and a Brit in my family! )

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