July 1, 2011 by sgoobie
You might be thinking… climate change and hockey riots? That’s a bizarre combination. But as we shall see, if we use the sweeping critical lens provided by the ecological thoughtprint concept, there are some very broad and important links between these seemingly unrelated two “phenomena”.
First of all, to be clear: NO, I am not referring to carbon emissions from burning cars and garbage cans, set ablaze by intoxicated and incensed spectators. I’ll leave that sort of measurement to the good folks who do carbon “bean counting”.
Second, the specific case in point (a timely example): The riots which recently erupted in several city blocks of downtown Vancouver following the loss of the home team in the 2011 finals of the Stanley Cup championship. For several twilight hours, hoards of young people gleefully rampaged through the downtown core, smashing windows, burning cars, attacking bystanders and clashing with police. About 140 people were injured; damage to businesses was estimated to cost $5 million. All of this was in full view of the public at large, as countless pictures and videos flooded online from news crews, helicopter cameras and from the thousands of individuals giddily filming with their handheld phones and personal devices — and in many cases, proudly and unabashedly posting portraits of their own riot roles on social media sites like Facebook.
In the days ensuing the riot, as the city cleaned up, various parties went about the “blame game”, trying to identify what led to these disturbing events and to make sense of an embarrassing black eye for such a “world-class” city. Much as with superficial reasoning about the factors leading to climate change, over and over editorials and commentaries jumped toward one or more of the following factors for the riots:
- a natural gathering place, poor police preparation and lackluster response
- large crowds from surrounding areas of young, white males nearing summer vacation
- a bad loss vs. overly high expectations for the team to win
- mob mentality
- a small gang of anarchists who came prepared to get things started
- “angry hockey fans”, sheer stupidity, “morons”, male machismo, alcohol
- violence in hockey, city’s past history of rioting
It is certainly impressive the range of explanations which emerged, from those which claimed one factor alone as a driving force, to those who considered the riot to have resulted from a “perfect storm” of many factors combined. I do not refute these as possible explanations.
However, there is a perspective from which we have heard little from media pundits. Initially it may be seen as quite a stretch, so broad as to be unuseful in preventing similar events in the future. At its heart we find a connection between, of all things, hockey riots and climate change — both symptoms of underlying conditions. This perspective goes to the heart of modern Western society.
Deep down, through the lens of ecological thoughtprints, hockey riots and climate change may share a common condition of spiritual bankruptcy.
Perhaps bankruptcy is not quite the right word, borrowed as such from the financial world. But it does describe the sense of emptiness and lack of meaning in the world which has led modern industrial cultures to forge social norms to such extremes as to push the physical limits of the entire Planet and to instigate violent signs of deep discontent among Western youth.
Riots over spectator sports — over games — are found predominantly in the affluent industrialized societies in North America and Europe. In this modern age, youth in the technologized mainstream cultures of these societies seem to grow up in a vacuum of meaning, separated from past traditions of cultural renewal. These societies contain few of the signficant and elaborate coming-of-age customs contained within many traditional and indigenous cultures. Compare the experiences of an average North American teenager, growing up in the suburbs, immersed in video games, geared for university, socializing in bars through the lubricating effects of alcohol — to that of traditional Aborigine boys who are sent on a “walkabout”, to live in the wilderness for as long as sixth months as they trace their ancestors’ songlines, which encode ancient wisdom in song. Life in societies cut off from ancient traditions — where newer is better — leaves a gaping hole in young people once fulfilled by a sense of meaning and connectedness.
How do youth fill this empty void? How do they begin to feel that their lives matter? Facing inward is certainly not the way — this is far too painful for most. Instead, materialistic pursuits such as the consumption of slickly marketed consumer goods and the expansion of social status becomes a new central mission in life — to have oneself heard, to have a voice, to step out of anonymity. Gadgets, addictions of all sorts, online personas, and devotion to spectator sports help to fill some of this emptiness (I’m not talking about doing sports, but rather, watching sports as a “religion”). These prosthetics temporarily aid in providing direction in life: to get as much “stuff” as possible, to look as “cool” as possible, to “brand” oneself, to maximize instantaneous pleasure, to be seen as confident and powerful and affluent.
Devoting one’s life to following a particular hockey team also provides a filler of the void. Though it provides no actual physical or mental challenge, it provides an identity beyond oneself — allowing for an “average joe” to feel the short-lived sensation of triumph over tumultuous adversity — and a sense of belonging to a collective purpose. I don’t mean to demean the fan experience, as I too enjoy viewing the physical prowess and patient determination of elite athletes at the top of their game. Nor do I mean to suggest sports are without meaning; in fact, the opposite is true, as the playing of sports offers a healthy physical and mental challenge to youth and teaches important life lessons. But I do mean to question those who become so myopic as to hinge their life around the wins or losses of a particular group of athletes so as to forget all sense of morality or greater social good.
So too may this spiritual emptiness be found at the heart of particular activities which have led to various ecological devastations. Brought on through an unbalanced technologized and industrialized society, climate change is the “hockey riot” of the Planet, where by hyperconsumers seek purpose through mindless ownership of “resources” and inane production of waste. Hockey rioters burn cars and trash coffee shops; modern capitalists raze forests and obliterate ocean life.
Climate change and hockey riots signify more than what may initially meet the eye. They are symptoms of spiritual illness of particular cultures. They are the Planet’s and Western society’s way of screaming out for help, for purpose, direction — for a way forward which includes the soul-satisfaction of past traditions.
This is why the ecological thoughtprint conversation is so important. This conversation asks us: What really matters? What are the consequences of our cultures and our ways of thinking within these cultures? If the goal is sustainability on the Planet and the fulfilment of societal discontent, how might our ways of thinking be shifted?
Imagine if, instead of the hockey slogan “We Are All Canucks”, we hear a bold new slogan “We Are All Spiritual Beings in Search of Meaning”. Naturally, this seems a bit silly. But if we play with this idea for a moment, in this kind of society, with this kind of ecological thoughtprint, with an education system focused on this question, with political leaders helping youth to find answers to the big questions, would young people still smash cars and battle with police over simple games? Would insatiable consumption still be driving the cataclysmic destruction of the land, water and air?
Compared to even the Stanley Cup of hockey, the stakes are high indeed. The Planet may now be entering a dramatic Game 7, over-time, sudden death. The only difference is this: Climate change may be a game we cannot afford to lose.