Apathy, empathy and stupidity

I walked all over hell’s acres last night – from my home in Riverdale to the City Roots festival in the Distillery District, along Esplanade, up Yonge, along College (had a meal at Free Times Cafe) then up to the Tranzac Club in the Annex for a beer, then along Bloor to the Danforth before taking my aching feet home down Broadview Avenue, where the city in the late-night fog was as beautiful as ever, in an eerie way.

I carried a ukulele all the way. I was thinking it would make a great story if I was detained and searched.

The first stretch of my walk was along the Don River – and was I ever grateful to be there. Even though it flows through the heart of the city, nature is always in evidence along the river and the madness of the G8/G20 summit and accompanying riots was reduced to the sound of helicopters in the distance.

Of course City Roots was a world apart, and the sweet sounds of Catherine MacLellan were soothing to my troubled spirit after a long weird day.

Along Esplanade I had no idea that there’d be a major protest shortly thereafter – it was practically empty when I was there, and it wasn’t til I read Steve Paikin’s compelling report this morning that I realized something had gone on there last night.

Yonge Street from Queen up to College was distressing – windows smashed, others being boarded up. 28 police officers riding bicycles in a group down the street at one point led to shouts from wandering passers-by, some no doubt supporters but others plainly haters.

Here was the apathy in evidence: the main goal of most people along Yonge Street seemed to be to take pictures, which is understandable; when your town gets trashed, you need to witness what went on. At least, I did.  But posing in front of smashed shopfronts as if for a tourist shot shows a regrettable lack of sensitivity to what goes on.

Thankfully, among my circle of friends and contacts, there’s more empathy than anything else. I had a meal and conversation with some friends at the Free Times Cafe on College. I heard support for both police showing restraint, and legitimate protesters caught in a bad situation. And in equal measure, disgust for police going over the line and especially, so-called protesters who get their kicks smashing stores, burning squad cars and heaving bricks.

There’s apathy, there’s empathy, and then there’s stupidity.

I enjoyed my last beer of the evening on the patio of the Dora Keogh, mulling the events of the day.

Actually, I only enjoyed 2/3 of the beer. I had struck up conversation with a  local acquaintance, telling him what I’d seen on my long walk. But when he dismissed the damage from the G20 riots, I got a sour taste in my mouth I couldn’t get rid of.

“I don’t really care,” he said, when I told him about the damage downtown.  He said, “I mean, it’s all big businesses anyway.” I said, “You mean Tim Horton’s, Starbucks and Swiss Chalet? Those are FRANCHISES! Local business people own those places.”

He shrugged. This was an ordinary middle-class guy, spending a middle-class wage on beer on a Saturday night, evincing no sympathy for people who run the places he probably eats every day. No philosophy, no political stance – just plain not giving a good goddamn.

I considered punching him hard enough to break his nose, and realized the day had gotten to me. I put down my beer and left.

I’ve always had high hopes that ignorance is curable – just apply education.  And apathy can be cured with a good dose of sensitivity.

What’s the antidote for stupidity?

3 comments on “Apathy, empathy and stupidity

  1. On a Blackberry so pardon the brevity and casual literacy, but felt compelled to support your good and true perception of our times. Yes, democracy is a place wherein we all -citizens, the citizens’ gov’t representatives, the law, and the law enforcers – share the right to be stupid. Stupid – sure; but I’m seeing ingratitude. Doesn’t gratitude for our freedoms oblige us to adopt a moral plan, a coherent world view? Apathy earns us our leaders as does hopeful and considered and daily action. I’m with the Baltic Singing Revolution. I’m also with the hymns sung by the Christian Peacemakers @ King and Bay.

  2. brian macmillan

    June 28, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    A good read Newly, i’m up in Northern BC right now, ironically staying in the Peace Region. Half of me is glad i’m not there right now, so much to process, and yes, from afar, it seems like what is mostly being shown through the media is the blatant ignorance and destruction that us humans are capable of..it took some committed searching to find some thoughtful, relevant discourse on what is going on beyond the sensationalized rampage. I love the image of you wandering with your uke, beauty. Be well my friend.

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