Monday, December 14, 2015

Year-end Thoughts

Calgary City Hall


By Peter McKenzie-Brown Why do we get excited at this time of the year? The work of pioneering sociologist Émile Durkheim (he died in 1917) helps explain why celebrating with family and friends at year-end provides such happiness and good humour to us all.

At the heart of human society, he said, is the experience of “collective effervescence” – times in social life when the people who make up our families and communities come together to perform rituals.

The electricity of these events “transports individuals into a new, ideal realm, lifts them up outside of themselves,” says one academic. It “makes them feel as if they are in contact with an extraordinary energy.” Infused with this force,  such physical objects as rocks, feathers, totem poles, crosses and (in the contemporary, largely secular, West) even Christmas cards, presents and even email messages help us celebrate being part of a larger community.

Christmas provides meaning to those in western societies. It echoes the religious traditions that have grown up around the winter solstice. It enables us to celebrate being part of society, family and a network of friends. In this way it helps us meet fundamental human needs.

Put another way, celebrations make December a special time of year – not the other way around.  

Politics and climate worries: Canadaendured an unusually long Federal election campaign in Canada this year. However, we elected a dynamic and talented Liberal government mid-October and they have made an ambitious start. Unfortunately, the economy isn’t at all healthy in a petroleum-rich province like ours, with oil and gas prices in the tank. 

As I put it in a recent letter (headlined ‘Boom/bust. Repeat’) in our national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, “After coming off the highest real oil prices in the last century, Alberta was the first province to feel the impact of the commodity supercycle. But we’re accustomed to the endless boom/bust circle. As the joke has it, to make a small fortune in oil and gas you have to begin with a large fortune.”

Some 25,000 Syrian refugees have begun migrating to our country – numbers that will likely grow into a large-scale migration.  It’s hard not to be moved by TV coverage of the first plane loads arriving in Toronto and Montreal. Surely having these people contribute to the economy of a rich country like Canada is better than letting them languish in refugee camps in poor countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

The floods and desertification associated with global warming/climate change are contributing to the reality of there being more than 50 million refugees around our planet. Canada is huge, and it is one of the only countries likely to benefit from a warmer planet. We hope this country will always be among those which welcome the poor and dispossessed.


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