Sunday, November 19, 2006

Water water everywhere yet not a drop to drink

…without boiling it first, that is.

For the benefit of our out-of-town readers, who may not be aware of our fair city’s tale of woe, Vancouver’s citizens and those of many surrounding municipalities have been warned not to drink our tap water. As a result of an unusually severe rainstorm last week the beautiful Capilano Water Reservoir, serving the Greater Vancouver Regional District, has been contamined with an ungainly amount of brown mucky stuff that makes the water suspect. We may not brush our teeth or drink from it until further notice.

This prohibition unleashed a panicked rush for bottled water that has supposedly emptied all major grocery stores and even corner mom-and-pop convenience shops of virtually every single bottle of water. (I say supposedly because despite what I read in the paper, I’ve been able to buy water every day since the "sell-out"… I’m either unusually lucky, or [gasp] the media might be exaggerating things a little)

The stories I read in my local papers, of nervous shoppers jockeying for position in pre-dawn line-ups in front of Walmarts and Safeways, of obnoxiously rude coffee drinkers denied their morning fix, and other colorful reactions, make one shake one’s head at the softness of fellow-citizens. Things are not that bad!

It’s not as if the water is poisonous. It’s just dirty, seemingly from having the embankments cave in a little at the Reservoir. How many of us had brushed our teeth, had our morning coffees, even served our pets their refilled water dishes, before learning of the water advisory admonishing us to steer clear of our city water, yet still live to tell the tale?

I took a trip up to the Water Reservoir myself, yesterday, to see what I could see. The water level in the Reservoir was startlingly low, especially considering the heavy rainfall lately. Lots of trees in the water, large flottillas of lumber in palettes several feet wide, although whether they fell in from the storm or have been placed in the reservoir, in order to help purity the water in some way, I don’t know, layman environmentalist that I am.
The always-spectacular waterfall at the Cleveland Dam there offered cascading water that, instead of the usual greenish-blue color, looked grotesquely sewage-brown… disconcertingly ugly.

And so we boil our tap water in preparation to cook and clean with it. Is that such a big deal?

One of the free local papers today had a series of embarrassing anecdotes from coffee shop clerks recounting tales of frankly embarrassing over-reactions from their patrons. You’d think we were in a third-world earthquake zone, to hear of some of these folks unreasonable behavior. It is providing a stark lesson that, as adults, our lives can be ennobled by choice, by how we choose to respond to that which affects us, and how we negotiate our adaptation to that affect. This ability to choose our response, serves to elevate us from other animals, in that we are supposed to be able to muzzle natural tendencies, natural urges, natural reactions, and instead enforce human reactions… meaning, thinking long-term and in wide enough perspective to size up a situation rationally, involving the mind as well as the heart.

Upon learning of the inconvenience caused by no longer trusting our water supply as before, we could simply run wild in emotional and childish panic, or stop and think for a minute how to win through the coming nuisance. Each reaction is a choice, every action is ultimately a reaction to circumstances around us. Part of the purpose of "growing up" is to train ourselves into adopting the incentive to choose a reaction that does not denude oneself of basic dignity, of fundamental sacredness: that we must feel duty-bound to act above the animal. This often requires us to think a second time, in order to adopt a measured response, to troubling circumstances.

We could choose to settle for an obvious first response: choose to be victims, acting like children trapped in the present tense, and bemoan our current situation (or, according to many shameful accounts I read, accuse the coffee shop personnel of participating in some petty conspiracy to deny patrons their morning brew out of sadistic malice and suicidal business practices).
Hopefully we will instead choose to be more dignified in our resolve, and act like adults, thinking with a bit more long-term perspective, thinking by enlisting our imagination to see beyond the immediate present, into the murky mists of our future... a future often murkier than the brown sludge currently emerging from my kitchen sink.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go have a drink of water… I’ve given myself quite a thirst with this post!


dag said...

I spent many years brushing my teeth with Coca-cola. Oooh, I pay for it now. Nevertheless, I live where many others died. My choice was to go into the greater world to see first-hand how others live and die. i sometimes wish I'd stayed home; but most often I think I am blessed with a strange quirk that drove me out of my prior life at a young age and made me wander. It's been hard, but I don't think it's been bad. Bad things have come and gone, and people I loved have suffered and died in tghe struggle. Still, life is so good that if i could I'd live for a thousand years.

I wonder if there is a compulsion, though, among the people to commit stupid crimes against Humanity not by choice but because Nature itself makes people mad. I wonder if there is a telos that I don't know about, one that comes direct from Nature that makes people act out world-historical episodes unconsciously. i like living, and so do most people right up till they have to live, at which time we see a madness envelop them and they go crazy and wage wars or destroy themselves for no obvious reason.

Is there some unknown string-puller making people mad? The older i get and the more of life I see the less I know about anything at all. So I laugh at most of my foibles, and I laugh sometimes just because the sun is shining after a long period of heavy rain.

That's the albatross I carry around my neck: optimistic enthusiasm. Must be my nature.

truepeers said...

I just don't want to be here (though perversely maybe I do want to see it) when the next big earthquake hits. It's going to be utter madness.

Perhaps the reservoir is low because they're flushing the water out. Won't be any shortage at this time of year.

Anonymous said...

Though I haven’t completely refrained from using the water, I do consider what’s going on to be pretty pathetic. Third-world has come to mind, though the term needs to be thrown at the water authorities more than the populace. Maybe if they bothered to invest in a proper filtration system the Greater Vancouver region might actually be able to survive heavy rains without the water quality going down the drain. There are services that a city administration can afford to screw up without making itself look like a complete failure. Water is one of the few things I expect them to get right all of the time.

Charles Henry said...

Dag, can I draw upon your experiences to ask: as you've traveled through less civilized areas, what lessons can you draw from their reactions to adversity, compared to how people of more civilized areas respond to moments of crisis, such as our current water shortage?
When people live lives with less to lose, how do they respond to crisis situations, compared to those with so much pampered protection, as we have? Can it be measured that one group is more pro-active or quicker to adapt to new (and worsened conditions?

And as a general comment, today I learn that a good friend has been made very sick by our water, so I regret the more flippant tone I used in my post, and apologize for it. This is more serious than I first thought. (although I'm still not forgiving my fellow-citizens who were discourteous to coffee shop clerks last week)

truepeers said...

Sad to hear that , Charles - do you know what bug your friend has caught?

dag said...

The fatalism of most people is horrifying. Peasants as a rule are terrified of change, doing anything they can to ensure that nothing is ever different from what they think it has always been, regardless of any obvious benefits. i put it down to the peasant exclusion, self-willed or not, from the market economy, a fleeing from exchange by money, fleeing from comptetion, from innovation, and so on.

I go on at some length about ecology, philobarbarism, and neo-feudalism, all things I see as arising from fascist minded Leftist Western intellectuals. I have spaent, in effect, all of my life on the road, and much of that time was spent in Third World countries, in many of which I witnessed a funeral a day due to death from dirty water or things equally as preventable in the world that in the Third World lead to death. And the peasants live in a fatalistic state of mind that creates death-traps such as "insh'allah," as if there is nothing to be done to prevent it, and thaqt nothing should be done to interfvere with the death of so many for no acceptable reason. I do blame the intelligentsia for the encouragement of reactionary romanticisation of ignorance and poverty, usually under the guises of ecology and cultural relativism.

Capitalism is good. I go nuts when I hear fools from the Peace Corps talk about the oneness of the culture and its purity and so on. And the fool ecologists are nothing short of Nazis, anti-Humanist killers. There is no moveing awaqy from ignorance and misoneism when an entrenched intelligentsia has control over the peasantry; thus one finds often that I promote the idea of colonialist school teachers with guns transforming social relations in Third World nations whether the cliques in power and their Left dhimi fascist lapdogs like it or not. Peasants cannot change of their own accord, and they raise children to follow the same deadly patterns of collectivist defeat. To break that pattern we must invade and conquer and destroy the old primitive systems and impose by main force colonial Modernity.

The Left will immediately cry about it, to which I can only respond to by saying "Fuck you!" There is no argument required in the face of dead children. peasant culture is a death culture, and capitalimsm is better in that it saves lives and allows people to make further choices regarding their destinies, even if that means they opt for fascism and Leftwing dhimmi cheerleading of hatemongers and terrorists and Muslims. Capitalism is better. And aggressive, armed, militant colonialism is good.

Anyone who tells me that the culture is in danger of Americanization or globalism or what have you, and tells me as if that's bad, those are people who are promoting murder, and I call them war criminals. It seems to me I also have a plan to deal with them, though I can't recall it off-hand.

truepeers said...

Dag, on misoneism, I heard a story today that will warm your gall.

Seems as if a downtown business association wants to set up daily garbage pickup and get rid of the dumpsters in the alleyways that they say are associated with property crime. The Downtown Eastside Residents Association - I think it was - was reported as being up in arms and they had a spokesman who said, this is going to be a life and death decision for all the dumpster divers who rely on scavenging for their very survival. We cannot change because if we do, the dumpster divers who are living day to day will be in trouble. It doesn't occur, it seems, to these advocates for the poor to seize a moment of change like this as an opportunity to get parties together to ask how the divers might overcome their dependency on a nasty business. Rather, their job is to advocate for dumpster diving. Perhaps there is a place for school teachers with guns in our very own city? But it will take a new political paradigm, a new covenant, in which the people rule themselves so that instead of today's politics which is all about therapeutic professionals defending sundry "rights", we can expect from each other certain committments to embrace and share in change.

Anonymous said...

Dag: Almost thought I was reading Marx on the Indian village there for a second. For example:

"Now, sickening as it must be to human feeling to witness those myriads of industrious patriarchal and inoffensive social organizations disorganized and dissolved into their units, thrown into a sea of woes, and their individual members losing at the same time their ancient form of civilization, and their hereditary means of subsistence, we must not forget that these idyllic village-communities, inoffensive though they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of Oriental despotism, that they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it beneath traditional rules, depriving it of all grandeur and historical energies."

Not that I would defend the peasant lifestyle. Your tome just reminded me of another bitter revolutionary.