By the Numbers

By demographic definition, I am what is sometimes not-so-flatteringly referred to as a WASP—a white, Anglo-Saxon protestant.  As such, I am in a sub-group of white-skinned people currently comprising approximately 80% of Canada’s population.  Not all white people are protestant, of course, nor are they all of Anglo-Saxon descent.  And neither are they all native-born.  But a good many of us are aging.

The other 20% of the population is made up of visible minorities—mainly South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean, and Japanese—and aboriginal people belonging to First Nations.  Not all of the visible minority people are native-born, either; approximately two-thirds of their number emigrated from other countries.  And many of them are young.

Immigration to Canada originates from almost two hundred countries, and immigrants number nearly seven million people of a total population of 35.85 million today.  Among this cohort is every skin colour imaginable.

ethnics2

Statistics Canada projects that more than half of immigrants in Canada will be Asian-born by 2036, if recent trends continue. At the same time, the share of European immigrants will decline by about half, to about 16 per cent.  More people will belong to a visible-minority group in the next twenty years, and the share of the working-age population who are members of a visible minority will reach up to 40%.  South Asians will remain the largest group, followed by Chinese.  In cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg, visible minorities could become the majority.

These visible minority projections do not include the aboriginal population.  A previous Statistics Canada projection to 2036 found the share of indigenous people in the population will grow as high as 6.1%, from 4.4 % in the 2011 census.

The total share of immigrants in Canada’s population is expected to reach up to 30% by 2036, which would be the highest since 1871.  Canada, as it marks its 150th birthday, already boasts one of the highest shares of foreign-born people in the developed world, and it appears the trend will continue.

Canada may also become more secular as the share of people who report having no religion continues to grow—up to about one-third of the population presently, compared with 24% in 2011.  At the same time, the number of people affiliated with non-Christian religions will reach about 15% of the population, up from 9% now.

religions3

One of the factors influencing these changes is the birth rate in Canada.  The last year the replacement-level fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman was reached—meaning couples, on average, had produced enough children to replace themselves—was 1971. In 2011, the total fertility rate was 1.61 children per woman, up slightly from the record low of 1.51 about a decade earlier.  Data from other studies, when examined, show that non-white mothers have higher fertility rates than the Canadian average drawn from all ethnic and religious groups.

For the first time, a study in 2015 found the number of Canadians over 65 to be larger than the number of citizens under 15.  Throughout the history of our social welfare system, there has been a large base of people at the bottom of the pyramid whose taxes have helped to support those at the top.  Now, that pyramid has been inverted, and the question arises as to how fewer taxpayers will be able to support pensioners who are living longer than ever before.

[Projections based on population models from the 2011 National Household Survey]

So what might all these statistics signify?  Why do they matter?

There are several implications, I think.  First, if Canada is to endure and prosper, immigration must continue apace.  No nation will survive in this age if its population is shrinking, or aging, without replenishment.

Second, our tolerance for religious and ethnic groups other than our own (regardless of who was here first or came later) must continue.  The numbers project a declining percentage of white Caucasians in an increasingly diverse, multi-ethnic Canadian population, all of whom must live harmoniously side-by-side if the country is to survive.  Hatred and vitriol will serve none of us well.

Another effect is a growing need for education, training, and retraining in order to equip citizens for the workplaces they will encounter.  With the advent of artificial intelligence and robotics, many of yesterday’s (and today’s) jobs will become obsolete.  The challenge is to ensure that young people—the workers of the future on whose productivity we will all depend—do not suffer a similar fate.

training

It is not a matter of propounding the concept of a global economy, or abhorring it; rather, it is the need to face the reality that we are irreversibly set upon that path.  The objective must be to maintain Canada’s uniqueness among the nations of the world, even as we become both trading partners and rivals with them.

As a nation, we will not be able to do that if we allow our cherished rights and freedoms to be trampled in endless, internal squabbles among ethnic groups, religious groups, and pro- and anti-immigration forces.  A free society, by its very definition, must evolve to accommodate all those who inhabit it.

I am a WASP, yes.  But first, I am a Canadian, with all that such status implies.  So, too, are my fellow-citizens, whether or not they look like me, worship as I do, speak the same first language, or honour the same traditions.  In Canada, there must be room for all of us.

From sea to sea to sea.

Resurrection Relevance

Another Christian observance of Easter is upon us, with its celebration of the resurrection of Christ, the man whom many consider to be the Son of God.

cross

During his brief time on earth, Jesus preached peace, tolerance, faith, forgiveness—and, perhaps most importantly, love for all humankind, even one’s enemies.  In return, he promised eternal life for all who believed and acted in accordance with these precepts.

As a child, I learned quickly that one of my mother’s interpretations of his teachings was that I must not fight with other children.  She was very firm about this.  During my early school years, it seemed like good advice; I was a friendly little guy, and others seemed to like me just fine.

schoolyard

As I got older, however, I learned that not every kid subscribed to her viewpoint.  Some of the classmates I encountered in the older grades were quite aggressive, to the point of being bullies, and for a while I was at a loss as to how to cope.  That was one of the reasons, maybe, that I became a fast runner.

Alas, it was not always possible to escape the marauders, so fighting became the only alternative to being pummelled and punished repeatedly.  It was safer to stand up to the bullies, even if I lost the fight, than to do nothing.

My father quietly helped me with the dilemma of disobeying my mother by suggesting that, although her sentiments were correct, fighting back when attacked was okay.  Starting a fight was really the thing to avoid.

I still remember an occasion in my mid-teens, when my mother agreed to accompany my father to watch me play a hockey game, the first time she had done so.  About halfway through, I became involved in a fight on the ice, not one I started, and was ejected, along with my opponent.  My mother was, by all accounts, aghast.

hockey fight

Although I played recreational hockey for another forty years, she never attended another of my games.

That incident shapes my outlook today when I consider the state of humankind on the planet we all inhabit.  Christ was not the only person to preach peace and love; many devout prophets professing other faiths have advanced the same messages.

But just as not every Christian follows Christ’s teachings obediently, so, too, do some adherents of other religions also stray from their prophets’ words.

The situation is complicated by the fact that there are also false prophets from all religions, who have preached a wilfully-distorted or violent version of the message, demanding their adherents forcefully convert everyone to what they call the true faith—and failing that, to kill them.  They have existed under many guises—the Christian Crusades, Islamic jihad, radical Zionism, the Hindu saffron terror, and so many more.

They survive even today, in a god-eat-god world.

'Its a god eat god world.'

If we assume that the vast majority of people alive right now want to live in peace and harmony—perhaps not anxious to love their neighbours, but at least happy to leave them alone—then why is there so much warfare and bloodshed across the globe?  Are we being driven to demise by the bloodthirsty minority, the zealots, and (as a friend likes to call them) the lunatic fringe?

As a questioning Christian at yet another Easter (believing in the wisdom of Christ’s teachings, but unsure about the promise of a heavenly hereafter), I see benefit in acknowledging, if not a literal resurrection, at least a continuing relevance of his message.  And further benefit in acknowledging the similarities between that message and those of other great prophets of different faiths.

Back in that long-ago schoolyard, there was ample space for me to run from those who would harm me.  On this increasingly-crowded planet Earth, however, whither can we flee from the radicals and fanatics seemingly bent on our destruction?

Shall we turn the other cheek, perhaps to be slaughtered?  Shall we fight back, perhaps ensuring mutual annihilation?

Or shall we continue to do what we can to spread those universal messages of peace, tolerance, faith, forgiveness—and, perhaps most importantly, love for all humankind, even our enemies?

love

It is up to all of us in the end.  Or it will be the end of us.

The Supreme Power

Rudyard Kipling wrote these lines in 1902, the beginning to a small poem about his daughter:

I keep six honest serving-men/(They taught me all I knew);/Their names are What and Why and When/And How and Where and Who…

Five of those interrogative words, whether rendered in English or any other language, enable us to ask the fundamental questions of all mankind.

What is the meaning of life?  Why are we here?  When did life begin?  Where are we headed?

And the most fundamental of all:  Who created us?

Throughout the millennia, mankind has striven to find meaningful answers, and has codified those answers in various constructs: dogma, commandment, or science.  The first of these forms the basis for religious belief, the second for a stable, civil order, the third for progress.

One may ask, however, whether the answers so far obtained have been beneficial to our understanding of our existence.  It might be argued, for example, that the plethora of religious beliefs espoused by so many have led us, not to an utopian bliss, but into almost-endless warfare as we seek to establish the predominance of our own set of beliefs.  Think of wars fought in the name of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, either to preserve or spread those creeds.

wars

Or consider the nearly-numberless dictators and rulers over the ages who have demanded fealty and obedience from their subjects, only to have their empires crumble into disarray: Persia, Athens and Sparta, Egypt, Carthage, Imperial Rome, the Ottoman Empire.  Their names are legendary—Cyrus the Great, Leonidas, Rameses the Great, Hannibal, Augustus Caesar, Suleiman the Magnificent—but their legacies are reduced to historical footnotes.

And what of more modern empires, be they economic or military—the British Commonwealth, America, Russia, China?  Are they truly stable models of order and good government, destined to last forever?

Even science, that bastion of fact-based evidence, can mislead us.  At various times in history, scientific evidence demonstrated conclusively (at least to some) that the world is flat, the earth is at the centre of the solar system, there are canals on Mars, and life as we know it would end on Y2K.  So, who is to say the theories we espouse today are any more reliable—that evolution, not creation, has brought us to our present state; that our very existence is imperilled by global warming; or that the universe we inhabit is endlessly expanding?

The most fundamental question (Who created us?) can be deconstructed into two oppositional queries.  The first:  were we, in fact, created by some supreme power?  And the contrary second:  did we create the notion of a supreme power to help explain our existence?

Worldwide, the answer from untold billions of people to the first of these is Yes!  And, perhaps not so strangely, the answer to the second, from different people, is also Yes!

Truth be told, I have offered up affirmative answers to both queries at various points in my life, believing each at the time.  I have flip-flopped on many occasions.  But even as I answer, more questions form in my mind.

If there is a supreme power (variously portrayed paternalistically in different religions as Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, Krishna, and so many more), why did it create us?  Is there some magnificent purpose behind it all?  Were we put here to love and nurture one another, in a grand homage to our creator?  Or were we created to murder each other, providing a somewhat cruel spectacle for the amusement of our maker?  Was there, perhaps, no purpose at all, just a random experiment quickly forgotten by a supreme power that is, at one and the same time, our initiator and destroyer?

god 3

Conversely, if there is not a supreme power—if, in fact, mankind created that notion to soothe our fears and protect us from our most base instincts, lest we annihilate ourselves—then what?  Are we alone in the universe, left to our own devices?   Are we nothing more than a tiny fluke in the cosmic sea?

Religious folk, theists, profess to both adore and fear their maker, as well they might in their longing for life-eternal, rewarding their faithfulness.  Non-religious folk, atheists, proclaim no god (though some may fear an unknown afterlife).

And those in the middle—the ones too sophisticated to fall for the charade of a supreme power, yet too fearful to deny its existence—what of them?

I do not know the answers to any of these questions.  But I favour the idea that there is a creator, that we and our universe could not have sprung spontaneously from nothing.  That’s not provable, mind you.  It’s faith.

This much, however, I do know to be true.  As I survey the world around me—with its endless stream of callous and fervent punishments inflicted on some of us by others of us, and with the threat of nuclear or environmental destruction looming ever more forbiddingly in our future—I despair.

If there is a supreme power, but one uncaring toward, and indifferent to, our plight, (s)he must be laughing hysterically at our hapless ways.

Equally, if a supreme power exists as a loving and compassionate being, (s)he must look upon us with pity and sorrow.  And weep.

And most frightening of all:  what if there really is…..nothing?

nothing

 

A Panhandler’s Christmas

After we retired to Florida some years ago, we discovered that Christmas there is as jolly a season as any we enjoyed up north, enveloped by snow.  It was especially joyous when our grandchildren come to visit.

One evening during our last Christmas season in the sunny south, we all went out to dinner—my wife, our daughter and her husband, and three of our grandchildren.  We’d spent the afternoon shopping at a large, regional mall, and were looking forward to enjoying the cheer of the season and the pleasure of each other’s company.

During dinner, we talked of our plans for their holiday with us.  Unlike the north, where tobogganing, skating, snowball fights, and warm fires were the order of the day, in Florida the beach, the pool, and the golf course were all on the agenda.  We were looking forward to an old-fashioned holiday with lots of singing, plenty of fresh air and exercise, good food, and family to enjoy being around the tree with.

By the time we finished dinner, sharing our happy plans, we were all feeling very fine—warm, full, comfortable.  We left the restaurant, chatting amiably, and began the walk back to the parking lot where we had left the car.

As we waited to cross the intersection, guided by flashing green and red traffic lights that added to the festive Christmas air, we were accosted by a stranger.  He meant us no harm, but his sudden approach startled us out of our contented state.

He was tall and quite thin, and his face jutted out from under a worn cap.  His beard was unkempt, his eyes red and rheumy.  He wore faded jeans, tattered and patched, and an old, plaid shirt with the collar turned up.  The children huddled behind their parents, afraid of being so close to such an apparition.

smiling-homeless_21165970

When he spoke to me, I could hardly hear him in the hum of the passing traffic.  He mumbled through that scraggly beard, through missing teeth, his words coming in disjointed phrases.

“Hey, can you….you got anything….any change?  A bus ticket, maybe….got any…?”

He was clutching a misspelled sign on a scrap of corrugated cardboard that read:

Vetran  homeless everthing helps

“No, sorry,” I muttered, watching for the green light that would allow us to escape.  And we walked away, slightly embarrassed, but relieved to leave him behind.

“Who was that guy, Daddy?” one of the kids asked.

“Did he wanna hurt us?” another chimed in.

Their parents reassured them that he had meant no harm.  He was just a man asking for money.

“Is he sick, Mummy?  Will he be alright?”

None of us could really answer.

When we reached the car, we clambered in silently, each of us lost in our own thoughts.  The kids soon put the episode behind them, immersing themselves in their gaming devices.  As I drove back through the intersection, heading home, the stranger was still on the corner, huddling around himself, approaching passers-by.  He looked pathetic, and utterly alone.  I hoped he didn’t see me staring at him.

Later that night, after everyone was in bed, I thought of him again.  At first, I chastised myself for not giving him something to help him out.  From somewhere, the scrap of a Bible verse teased a corner of my mind—Whatsoever ye do unto the least of these, ye do also to me—something close to that, I think.

But then I rationalized that a token from me would not likely have helped him anyway.  He was obviously past the point where a solitary handout was going to make much of a difference in his life.  He’d probably have wasted whatever we might have given him on booze or drugs, I told myself self-righteously.  At one point, I got angry that he had put me in such an uncomfortable position.

Still, underneath it all, I felt a nagging guilt.  ‘Tis the season to care for one’s fellow-creatures; yet we, so full of the Christmas spirit, had kept on walking.  Because we were fearful, because we hadn’t known how to respond…or because we didn’t care.

Was it best to have ignored him and walked on, I wondered?  Or would it have been better to have given him something, in the spirit of Christmas and with the hope that it would have helped him?  I didn’t know.

As I think about it even now, almost a year later—sitting warm and safe at home at the onset of another Christmas season, surrounded by people who love me—I wonder where that stranger is and whether he’s okay.

And I wish I knew what I should have done.

https://i2.wp.com/www.christmasgifts.com/clipart/merrychristmas1.jpg

 

Whose Lives Matter?

Black Lives matter!  So claims a vocal, concerned group of citizens here in the West, who believe their safety—indeed, their very lives—are at risk in the frightened, suspicious society we are quickly becoming.

All Lives matter!  So comes the response from other groups of concerned folks who believe their traditional culture and way of life are under siege from racial and ethnic groups whose appearance and customs are often quite different.

So who is right?  Are these two positions antithetical, as many would have us believe?

Perhaps, rather than making declarative statements, we should be asking more questions of each other.  The question I ask is, whose lives matter?  Anyone’s?  As I survey the daily news reports of exploitation, forced migration, and ethnic slaughter, I truly wonder.

To whom does my life matter, for example?  Do the nameless powers-that-be who head up multinational corporations, relentlessly extracting and harvesting the resources of our planet, really care about me?  Even as a consumer, one among millions?

Do the presidents, premiers, and overlords of so many autonomous nation-states genuinely care about me?  Even as a voter and citizen of a sovereign country, one among more millions?

Do fanatical extremists of whatever political or religious persuasion actually care if I live or die, so long as their own frenzied ends are met?

I think not.  My life and death are of supreme indifference to all of them.  I am too small to count.

Individual lives do matter, I believe, to one’s immediate spheres of influence—families, friends, neighbours, and the like.  And, thankfully, to the number of altruistic people and organizations who dedicate their time and energy to relief efforts in areas of crisis around the globe.

Consider the indigenous peoples of every continent whose way of life was essentially exterminated by ruthless invaders in the name of empire, religion, and profiteering.  Did their lives matter?

Consider the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing their homelands to avoid terrorist activities that have killed so many of their compatriots, a number many fear will overrun the safe-haven nations to which they flock.  Do their lives matter?

Consider the millions who have died from famine, drought, and genocide in so many third-world regions, people whose plight was known but for whom so little could be done.  Did their lives matter?

And then think about the population explosion that threatens to outpace the ability of the planet to sustain itself.  According to a 2014 Living Planet Report from the World Wildlife Federation, the current global rate of consumption, if continued, will require 1.5 planet Earths to support us.

If everyone were to live like the British do, however, that number would rise to 2.5 earths; and if everyone lived like we North Americans, the number would jump to four!  Untenable!

In such a global context, it seems unlikely to me that individual lives matter.  Either mankind must dramatically slow its rate of reproduction, or (as unpalatable as this sounds) individuals must perish in order that the collective may survive.  Hideous to contemplate, yet the human race continues to take each other’s lives, anyway—savagely, often indiscriminately, and remorselessly.

I saw a photo-shopped picture recently, a scuba diver swimming near a huge Great White shark.  The caption read: This is the most feared killer on the planet, murdering millions of people a year.  Beside it, a shark swims peacefully.

shark

So I ask myself—in the overall scheme of things, on our current path—whose lives matter?

We need to answer that question together, not separately.

And soon.