Music in Muskoka

It never crossed my mind on that rainy, August Saturday in 1967—our wedding day, as we stood on the threshold of our future together—that our golden anniversary would eventually arrive.  And now, fifty years on, it has.

Symbolic occasions have never resonated loudly with me, for whatever reason.  My wife and I have always celebrated family birthdays, of course, especially those of our children and grandchildren.  Wedding anniversaries, however, have come and gone with very little fanfare—although not without a sense of gratitude for our good fortune.

But it occurred to us a while back that, when two strong, independent people are able to spend fifty years with each other, weathering the storms and cherishing the good times, it is no small feat.  It is, in our case, a triumph of symbiosis over autonomy.  And so, we resolved to celebrate this one.

Our wedding coincided with Canada’s 100th year as a nation; indeed, we joked that getting married was our centennial project.  Now, as the country celebrates its sesquicentennial, we marvel that we have been married for fully a third of its existence.

For some time, we cast about for ideas as to how we might mark the momentous occasion.  We consulted with friends who have already achieved the milestone, we spoke with our children, and we talked with each other, long into the night many times, searching for the perfect way to celebrate.

You’ll never guess what has come to be.

On the very anniversary date of our nuptials, my wife will be a member of the audience in a darkened theatre, while I, a lifelong singer of songs (but never publicly), will be sharing the stage with my comrades in a barbershop harmony chorus, sixty-five-men strong, for a night of music in Muskoka.

Had you asked me those fifty long years ago if I thought such a situation could ever come to be, I’d have regarded you as mad.  Yet, there I shall be, one voice among many in the mighty Harbourtown Sound, singing my heart out.

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This being Canada’s 150th birthday year, the programme will contain several songs of Canadiana, two of which you may hear now, should you choose.  The first is Fare Thee Well, written by John Rankin of Nova Scotia—

 

The second, Hallelujah, is from Leonard Cohen, and one of our favourites to perform.  It may be found at the end of this post.

Both songs will be sung in harmony with our hosts for the concert, the Muskoka Music Men, a local barbershop chorus.  Our chorus will be singing several other songs, as well, including selections from Broadway, Motown, and the more traditional barbershop canon.

My wife and I did take an extended trip earlier in the spring, as part of our golden year, and we shall be together with our children and grandchildren for a special celebration later in the summer.  So the concert is not a one-off commemoration of our special year, just one part of it.

Given my love for the music, I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to end the journey to fifty years, and begin the voyage to sixty years, our diamond anniversary.  And for that prospect, I offer up, Hallelujah

Modern Sins

Most readers of this blog will know—or know how to find out—the names of the seven deadly sins, according to Judaeo-Christian orthodoxy.  They are, in alphabetical order, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath.

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Less known, perhaps, are seven contrasting virtues:  kindness, temperance, charity, chastity, humility, diligence, and patience.  A focus on these in our daily lives is thought to provide a shield from the deadly sins.

By way of comparison, the four vices identified in Islamic tradition are concupiscence (gluttony and lust), cowardice, ignorance, and tyranny.  The contrasting virtues are chastity, courage, wisdom, and justice.

In Sikh philosophy, five vices, whose purpose is to steal one’s common sense, are identified:  attachment, conceit, greed, lust, and rage.  By contrast, the virtues identified are compassion, humility, love, and truth.

There is a remarkable similarity among these—attesting, perhaps, to a universal quest for righteousness and enlightenment across all humankind.

It is all too easy, of course, to succumb to the temptations of the vices, regardless of our religious and ethical upbringing.  Much of the history of the world may be laid at the feet of those who chose to embark upon a darker path than our enlightened selves would have followed.

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Despite those missteps, however, we have arrived at this place, in this time, with the same choice facing us—a commitment to the virtues or an embracing of the vices.  I choose to believe—admittedly, less with evidence and more with hope—that our better natures will take us down the right path.

On a more pedestrian level, there are other, perhaps-lesser vices that bedevil us today in our quest for nirvana.  As with the major vices cited earlier, they are linked to corresponding virtues that are too often missing in our commonplace activities.

Intellectual laziness is one such vice.  So many people today are content to take whatever they might hear or read at face-value.  They make no attempt to question its source, its veracity, or even its consequences.  Critical thinking—the application of logic, surely an essential virtue—is non-existent for them.  Advertising agencies, corporate behemoths, and politicians love such folks.

Farther along the same spectrum are the people who actively deny the truths of science and history.  Absolute certainty—the refusal to accommodate opposing thoughts and opinions—leads them to see the world through only one lens.  And often a faulty one, more prism than glass.  They believe everything they think.  Left to themselves, they may not do much damage.  But when they ascend to positions of influence, the danger is palpable.  The virtue of open-mindedness—a tolerance and consideration of others’ viewpoints—is sorely lacking.

Another everyday vice is the desire for instant gratification.  Too many of us prefer not to think about the future, and how it will be affected by the choices we make today.  “I’m alright, Jack!” is a phrase that springs to mind.  This tendency may be forgiven in third-world countries, where vast populations are concerned only with their next meal, their next drink of water.  But for us in the developed world, the profligate, endless consumption of the resources of our finite planet with little thought to their replenishment verges on the criminal.  It’s been said that we have not inherited the planet from our forebears; rather, we have borrowed it from those yet to come.  Yet we do not behave as if we believe that.  The virtue of responsible stewardship is sadly lacking.

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Egocentrism—a belief that I alone occupy the centre of the universe—is yet another modern vice.  It manifests as a position of entitlement, the notion that you don’t matter as much as I do.  Regardless of my socio-economic standing, I deserve the same things you do, whether earned or not.  It’s a me-first attitude, aimed at placing me on a par with the most-privileged among us, demoting you and everyone else to subservient positions.  In short, it tears our civilized, communal society asunder.  It exists, I believe, in the absence of altruism, the virtue of selflessness, the presence of a social conscience.

Of all these vices, this last one—the absence of a social conscience—may be the direst for the future of humankind.  Either we are each others’ keeper, or we are not.

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As a wise man once said, faced with a choice of cohesion or division, “If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately.”

Philosophy 101

Philosophy 101 posed an interesting question:  If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to witness it, does it make a noise?

“Of course it does,” one person might answer.  “Noise is governed by the laws of physics, regardless of human presence.”

“Not so fast,” another person might argue.  “Sound waves from any source emit no noise on their own.  It is only when they are received that those waves generate noise.”

Which, if either, is the correct answer?  I’ve heard persuasive arguments mounted on both sides of the question, but I’ve always been struck by the impossibility of being able to prove either position.  One cannot be simultaneously there and not-there when the tree falls in order to determine if it makes a noise.

And it probably doesn’t matter, anyway.  The tree fell.  Who cares?

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Here’s another question:  If a person is unaware that (s)he is doing wrong, does the action still constitute wrongful behaviour?

“Of course it does,” one person might say.  “The concept of right and wrong is an absolute, and ignorance of the wrongfulness is no excuse.”

“Not so fast,” another person might argue.  “The concept and definition of right vs. wrong are not universally-accepted.  They are ethnocentric, based upon cultural and religious teachings, only some of which might overlap.”

Here once again, as with the first question, one might shrug off the relevance or importance of the answer.  We already know bad things often happen to good people, so what difference does it make if they are the result of unknowing wrongdoing or merely random happenstance?  The result is the same.  Who cares?

Well, the answer to this second question, I believe, does matter, indeed.

I’ve been thinking a good deal about this since beginning work on a novel, my fifth, which has as its backdrop the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls currently underway in Canada.  Researching the subject leads, inescapably, to a list of similar situations—the forced sterilization of Indigenous women, and the forced relocation of Indigenous children and their enrollment in residential schools, to cite but two examples—both undertaken as official government policy well into the twentieth century.

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Most Canadians now, I think, see these actions for what they are: atrocities.  To those who don’t, I would simply ask, “What if they were to come for you, or your children, tomorrow?  Because of your skin-colour, perhaps.  Or your religious beliefs, your sexual orientation, or your political stance.”

Governments today, federally and provincially, are apologizing and attempting to make amends to the descendants of those who were victimized.  Some Canadians, it is true, believe such efforts are unwise and unnecessary, given that it was not we who committed the deeds, but our predecessors.

It begs another question:  Why should we be held accountable for the actions of people who died long before we were even born?

In answering this question, it’s instructive, I think, to try to determine if those actions were wilful or merely misguided.

Did those in authority in that earlier time think they would somehow improve the Anglo-Saxon bloodlines of our populace by sterilizing Indigenous women to prevent the birth of what some of them termed defectives?

Did our predecessors know—even as they did it—that they were wrong to uproot children from their families, to send them far away, to inflict the terrors of residential schools upon them?

Or, were they just trying to do the right thing, what the orthodoxy of those imperialistic times demanded, the assimilation of conquered, native peoples into the colonial mainstream?

“Of course they were right,” one person might claim.  “They weren’t monsters!  Many of them were clergy, nuns, teachers, all doing what they believed to be right.”

“Not so fast,” another person might say—especially a person of Indigenous descent.  “They were rapacious invaders who took everything from our forebears—their land, their culture, their language, and their children.  Would they have considered it right and just, had the tables been turned?”

I suspect the truth lies, to some extent, in both answers.  Surely there were good and faithful people among the newcomers who believed they were doing God’s will, just as there were avaricious adventure-capitalists, determined to seize the riches of the new land for king and country (and their shareholders).

But the fact is, most Canadians today have come to a realization that those actions were wrong, regardless of motive.  Even if the best among our predecessors were unaware they were acting wrongfully, their actions still constitute wrongful behaviour by today’s standards.  And, they were knowingly carried out with government approval under the banner of Canada—under an authority that endures from generation to generation.

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So, here is a fourth question:  If hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people who lived in territory under the jurisdiction of Canada were severely mistreated by their government, and if no one alive today was there to witness it, does it matter, and should the government of today be held to account for those misdeeds?

The answer to this last question will not be found in Philosophy 101.  But I choose to believe you and I, if we seek the truth, will find it.

Within ourselves.

Curmudgeon!

Curmudgeon! 

Such a wonderful word to roll around on your tongue.  It has a solid, satisfying sound when spoken aloud, dropping weightily into a conversation like a bag of sand thumping a wooden floor.  It is defined as somebody who is bad-tempered, disagreeable, or stubborn.

Not at all the person I believe myself to be!

Yet, according to several of those closest and dearest to me, I am becoming something of a curmudgeon.  They tell me it has to do with my rather determined efforts to hold fast to the social dicta instilled in me by my mother.

etiquette

Although it’s been seventy years since first that grand lady began educating me on the social niceties—and despite my knowing that the customs and mores of our changing society have altered since then—I cannot stop bemoaning the loss of what I consider to be simple etiquette.

Let me provide a few examples, taken from experiences we had with folks in the community where we used to spend our winters.  And, I don’t mean to give you the wrong impression of them; they were all lovely people, good-hearted, gracious, and kind.  It’s just that they didn’t necessarily subscribe to the things I learned at my mother’s knee.

When my wife and I would invite a few couples for a dinner party, for instance, and specify an arrival time of five-thirty, I didn’t appreciate when everyone would arrive, fashionably late, some twenty minutes past the expected time.  We’d be sitting anxiously alone, wondering if everyone forgot—worrying that the hot hors d’oeuvres would be cooled and soggy by the time we got to eat them.

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“Oh, we just wanted to be sure you were ready,” our guests would say when I’d make a supposedly-offhanded comment about their lateness.

But you see, we were always ready when we said we’d be.  Always.  If we’d thought we needed more preparation time, we’d have set a later arrival target for everyone.  My mother believed it was proper to arrive when your hosts asked you to.

“There’s nothing fashionable about being late,” she would say.  “It’s just rude.”

Hospitality gifts were another example.  Although they weren’t de rigueur, it became the thing to do as we visited back and forth at each other’s homes.  A favourite gift was a bottle of wine, nicely encased in a gift bag designed for the purpose—but never of the same vintage as might have been previously received from the same couple.

“Thank you,” I would say fulsomely as I pulled the bottle from the bag and set it to one side.  “We haven’t tried this one.  I’m sure we’ll enjoy it.”

“Aren’t you going to open it?” they’d ask.

“Uhh…no,” I’d reply, “not just now.  We have wine already selected for tonight.”

Their disappointment would be palpable as I proceeded to pour them a glass from the decanted wine I’d already planned for the evening.  And I was somehow made to feel as if I were offering a second-rate product, when sometimes, it was better than what they’d brought.

“How rude is that!” I’d rail at my wife after everyone had departed.  “And you know what’s even worse?  They took home the gift bag they brought their wine in!  Can you believe it?”

wine gift bag

My wife would tell me not to get so worked up, but it just didn’t seem right.

Here’s another case in point.  The day after our dinner party, some people would phone to thank us for the evening, graciously commenting on the food, the company, or the conversation among friends.  That’s exactly what my mother told me to do.

“Always call the following day to thank your hosts once again.”

But, increasing numbers of people don’t think to do that anymore.  Or perhaps they do think of it, but can’t be bothered.  Either way, it’s a classic breach of etiquette.

“Don’t worry about it,” my wife would say when I’d rail on about it.  “They thanked us several times at the door before they left.”

“It’s not the same,” I would respond, still miffed.

Now, lest you think I’m overly critical when I have no right to be, let me assure you that I tried to practice all these niceties when we were on the other side.  I’d ensure that we arrived on time, as specified by our hosts, never more than a minute out either way.

“Oh!  You’re here!” they’d say, lifting an eyebrow in surprise as they opened the door.

“Five-thirty,” I’d reply, with an exaggerated glance at my watch.  “That’s what you said, right?”

On one occasion, our hostess was still in the shower when we got there, at the appointed hour, and her husband wasn’t sure whether or not to let us in.

Of course, we always brought along a gift, usually the ubiquitous bottle of wine.  I’d proffer it unassumingly to our host, and often, to my great surprise, he’d open it immediately to pour us each a glass.  I found that mind-boggling.  It made me wonder if he didn’t have enough of his own, and was dependent on his guests for the evening’s libations.

“What if we’d brought flowers?” I’d rage later to my wife.

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And, so many times, when my wife or I would phone the following day to thank our hosts again for their hospitality, they would always sound bemused.  As if we shouldn’t have bothered.  As if they didn’t care, one way or the other.

“Don’t these people know any better?” I’d rant, scarcely coherent.  “Doesn’t anybody have any manners?  Why can’t they just do things right?”

“You mean your way?” my wife would reply sweetly.

“Yeah,” I’d say forcefully.  “The way my mother used to.”

But it would fall to my wife to have the last word in these discussions, and it’s a word that would always shut me up—at least temporarily.

“Curmudgeon!” she’d say.

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Expletive Deleted!

Neither a borrower nor a lender be!”  Sage advice from the English Bard, advice which I unsuccessfully tried to impart to my daughters as they were growing up.

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Borrowing is an art, I used to tell them.  It’s very unlike lending, which is a straightforward act requiring nothing more than an assenting response to another’s request.

Anyone can lend something to someone.  No particular talent is needed, no marked intelligence, no difficult decisions.  A simple yes is all that’s necessary, and it’s done—just like that!

But borrowing is another thing entirely.  As a borrower, one has to know what’s needed and where it might be found.  One has to make certain decisions and offer certain guarantees to the lender.  It’s essential that one be able to make the request in such a manner as to elicit agreement from the other party.  And, of course, one must return the borrowed article in reasonable condition within an acceptable length of time.

Alas, it was that last condition that gave me a lot of trouble.  I’m a borrower, and always have been, which is why my daughters didn’t take my advice too seriously.  Yet, I never fully mastered the art of it.

I always knew what I needed and where to find it; there was no problem there.  And, I generally found other people quite agreeable in allowing me the use of whatever it was I asked for.  But returning what I borrowed in the same condition in which I received it always seemed next to impossible.

Mind you, I never took something back in a worse state than I found it.  That wouldn’t be ethical—and besides, I knew I’d soon run out of people who would agree to my borrowing their things!

No, my problem was that I ended up spending money to repair or replace the borrowed item, because, while in my tender care, the infernal thing would fall apart, get misplaced, or simply cease to operate.

The people from whom I borrowed stuff could hardly wait to see what wonderful surprises I’d be bringing back to them.  They actually came to my house, carrying things they wanted me to borrow!

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One neighbour, for example, received a brand-new outdoor extension cord from me.  I ran over his with the electric mower I borrowed from him when my own gave up the ghost.  It was on that same occasion that his mower had a new on/off power switch installed—at my expense, naturally, since it cracked and broke while I was using the mower.

The same neighbour, on other occasions, had free repairs made to his electric barbecue starter, his circular saw, and the front fender of his car, all paid for by me before returning the borrowed items to him.

When his firm transferred him out west, the poor fellow literally cried at having to leave me!  As a going-away gift, I presented him with a new camera—to replace his old one, which I had dropped overboard on a canoeing expedition.

Given my track record, it was no wonder most of my friends knew that I never mastered the fine art of borrowing.  When people dropped by to see if there was anything I’d like to borrow from them, they also brought along a list of replacement items they’d be glad to receive when the usual misfortune befell me.

Eventually, however, I started cutting way back.  I discovered that I just couldn’t afford to keep borrowing other people’s things, upgrading or replacing them, then returning them.  With my daughters’ encouragement, I resorted to borrowing something only when I really, absolutely needed it.

There was the time, for instance, when I had to borrow my sister’s electric typewriter—this, in the days before computers.  I had a writing deadline, and my own, heretofore-dependable Underwood had expired.  Hers worked perfectly for the first few hours, and then, to my horror, I discovered the last line I had typed read:  Thx summary conclusions prxsxntxd bxlow arx furthxr xxplainxd in thx sxvxn appxdicxs attachxd to thx rxport.

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My sister was not amused when I tried to return the defective machine with only a new ink ribbon to offset the problem.  Were I to tell you what she said, using her typewriter, it would have read:  xxplxtivx dxlxtxd!

So, before you ask—No!  I don’t need to borrow a thing, thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

Really? It Was the Dog?

“Honest, sir!  The dog ate my homework.”

In my youthful years as a grade seven teacher, I bet I heard that timeworn cliché from a student a dozen times.  My two daughters, themselves teachers now, tell me they, too, have heard the ridiculous excuse more than once.

Irony of ironies, then, that my youngest daughter recently tried to make that same claim, or one very similar, on her own behalf.  The girls were flying to New York City, with two friends, to celebrate the end of another school year.  My daughter’s airfare was paid by her older sister, a birthday gift, but they were on separate flights.

The night before, the younger gal was online, printing her boarding pass, when she was called away for a few minutes.  When she came back to her computer, she claims, she found her passport on the floor, mangled and torn by the family dog.

When such calamities strike, my daughter usually exhibits a good deal of forbearance (unlike her father), and so it was this time.

“It was my fault,” she told me later.  “I’m always telling the kids not to leave stuff lying around.  I can’t blame the dog.”

Upset, but undeterred, she set about to repair the damage, carefully piecing the torn pages together with transparent tape.  It was a well-used passport, lots of pages stamped from previous trips, and she hoped that fact would override any challenges she might face from border agents.  When closed, it looked almost normal; opened, however, not so much.

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As a seasoned traveler myself, I’ve had lots of experience with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.  These men and women have enormous authority to deny entry to their country, with no recourse to appeal for those turned away.  So, it’s a testament to my daughter’s charm, megawatt smile, and persuasive powers that she actually managed to convince the CBP agent in the pre-clearance area at the airport to approve her entry and stamp her passport.

Safely admitted to the lounge, she spent the next six hours dealing with repeated flight-delays and changes to boarding gates, wandering to and fro through the airport.  Unbelievably, her flight was eventually cancelled, the only alternative being a flight leaving early the following morning.  So, there she was, forced to go home overnight, before a pre-dawn taxi-ride back to the airport.

That, of course, meant another encounter with a tough-as-nails CBP agent, proffering the same mangled passport and same shaky story.

“Honest, sir!  The dog ate my passport!”

Wonder of wonders, that staunch defender of Trumpian immigration policy believed her, and she was once again granted entry.

The gals finally met up in the Big Apple later that morning, and proceeded to have the time of their lives for the next few days.  All the trouble was worth it, my daughter told me later.

“It was like one of those fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen.”

megan in nyc

On the final day, they were scheduled to fly home on the same flight.  But, when they arrived to check in, my daughter was denied permission to board the aircraft.

“Why?” she asked, dismayed and disbelieving.  “What’s the problem?”

“Your passport,” she was told.  “It’s not acceptable.  You should never have been let into the country.”

Despite pleading her case, using the fact of her Canadian citizenship as suitable reason to let her go home, she could not get on that plane.  My older daughter, in a gesture that brought tears to my eyes (although it was no surprise to me), refused to abandon her sister.  Their two friends reluctantly bade them farewell and left on their flight home, while my two girls—ever bright, assertive, and resourceful—plotted their next moves.

After a few face-to-face conversations with airline staff, and some phone calls, they were promised a refund for the cost of their flights (in the form of credits to be used within the next twelve months).  They booked a rental car, negotiating a reduced rate, and phoned their husbands to tell them they were driving to Buffalo.  My sons-in-law, gentlemen of the first order, immediately drove together to Buffalo to fetch their wives and bring them home.

Of course, the four of them had to clear Canadian border security on the return trip.  In my own experience, the agents with the Canada Border Services Agency are among the friendliest, most helpful, and welcoming to be found anywhere.  Not so this time, however.

The four travelers were pulled aside so my daughter could attempt to explain the sad state of her passport, and convince the skeptical CBSA people that she truly was a citizen, just trying to re-enter her home and native land.  After what must have seemed an interminable wait, she was finally granted permission—with a stern warning to replace the offending passport.  The girls (and their gallant guys) finally arrived home in the wee, small hours of the morning after they left the airport in New York City.

“Was it worth it?” I asked my daughters the next time I spoke with them.  “All that hassle?”

“For sure, Dad!  We had a blast!”  the older one replied.

“I agree,” her sister chimed in.  “The problems were really my fault, when you think about it.”

Far be it from me to point a finger of blame. But, when I do think about it, I agree with her.  That passport couldn’t have been damaged the way she said.

I mean, what kind of dog eats passports?  That’s the most ridiculous excuse I’ve heard since…well, since I was a teacher.

Dogs get a bad rap!

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Unreal, Baby!

Virtual reality.  The term itself is an oxymoron.  How can something be virtual—that is, not physically existing—and at the same time real—that is, actually existing?

In the techno-world we inhabit, however, such a dichotomy is not only possible, it is pervasive.  Today, we can slip behind a high-tech, VR mask and subject ourselves to almost any experience we desire.

Examples might include free-falling from a bungee-platform without the cord, performing magic alongside Harry Potter, or doing open-heart surgery on a patient who is thousands of miles away.

None of these things is really happening, but you feel as if they are.

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Artificial intelligence—another contradiction of terms.  How can something that is artificial, not genuine, be mistaken for intelligence, an innate, genuine ability to discover and utilize knowledge and skills?

Yet today, we know of many tasks being performed by AI machines that were formerly the sole purview of human beings.

Smartphone banking, Siri or Alexa speaking to us from our computers, and the genius of Pandora in predicting our musical tastes are but three examples.

We know these robots and techno-bots are not really human, but they do many of the things only we could do, once upon a time.

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Augmented reality.  This is a somewhat more easily-understood concept, where the elements of a real-world environment are supplemented by computer-generated sensory input—sound, video, graphics, or GPS data—almost as an overlay to the reality being observed.

Anyone who has played Pokemon Go, or who has modified a facial selfie with the addition of a dog’s ears and nose, has experienced AR.

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Quantum computing—based on quantum theory, the nature and behaviour of matter at an atomic and sub-atomic level—is still in an embryonic stage, but it’s what enables these modern-day paradoxes.  Quantum computers, once fully developed, will function in multiple states, and perform tasks using all possible permutations, simultaneously.  Like the human brain can do.

The difference between that and the technology we know today dwarfs the span between the abacus of ancient times and today’s supercomputers by many-fold.

A revolution is upon us.

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So, what do we do, we mere mortals, as the transformation hurtles toward us?  Do we resist, as Luddites of old?  And if we tried, would it make any difference?  Would we be drowned by the waves of change?

Or, do we embrace the onslaught, strive to understand it, seek to control the extensive influence it will have on us?  Do we even know how we would do that?

Perhaps a third alternative—chill out and accept whatever change is approaching.  Will it be a saviour to humankind, taking us in spite of our shortcomings to a more perfect state of existence, a Valhalla?

Or might it be more akin to what W. B. Yeats, the great poet, called, a…rough beast, its hour come round at last, [slouching] towards Bethlehem to be born?

Much depends, I think, on our continuing, collective will to exert control over our environment, a hallmark of human beings since first we stood upright on two legs.  We have unfailingly stridden toward our future, determined to overcome (or, failing that, to adapt to) the challenges we have faced.  We have never shirked from that reality.

But in a VR world—where reality is virtual and nothing is authentic—how do we continue to do that?  Blind to the physical world around us, and to its authenticity, enslaved behind our masks to the make-believe worlds we will have chosen, we will be tossed like so much flotsam and jetsam on the seas of change.

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Will we collectively continue to assert our dominance over the world in which we live, or will we succumb to the comforts of AI entities we have created, with their false promises and reassurances?

Of all the pestilences that might afflict our world over the next decade—nuclear war, pandemic disease, mass starvation, lack of potable water, catastrophic climate change—the most likely, in my view, is the ascension of artificial intelligence in all its forms, and the threat they will pose to humankind.

Dictators of the past, to consolidate and expand their power over their citizens, adhered to an ancient Roman maxim, postulated by Juventus:  panem et circenses[Give them] bread and circuses.  Distract the rabble, entertain them, and they will leave you alone to work your will.

Is that we have today—VR, AI, AR, and their ilk—a techno-version of the circus?  Will quantum computing spell the end of our human autonomy as it quickly subverts our will to compete?

A decade ago, the question would have been unthinkable.  Now, not so much.

Unreal, baby!

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