The idea was that over two days, university professors would put down their intellectual tools. By doing nothing – or indulging in ever-so-intelligent talking about doing nothing – they would advance the cause of social justice.
I think we can all agree that the world supply of racism, bigotry and anti-Indigenous, colonial violence (the special Canadian focus) decreased not one bit after all that effort and two days of posturing.
I’m a big fan of the scholarly life, but I have to admit that while we historians, poets and philosophers are wonderful people and a great addition to any cocktail party conversation, we’re not essential to the conduct of most everyday existence.
Tenured academics pull down serious money but many university departments and whole faculties could go on strike for decades before anyone noticed the difference. When did you last hear anyone complain “Where is a Women’s Studies professor when you need her?” Or say to yourself, “Damn, where can a guy get a Petrarchan sonnet celebrating daffodils at this time of night?”
But you know who is essential?
Police officers. Those folks who operate the snowplows. The care worker who looks after your ailing grandmother. Plumbers and electricians. And are they paid in accordance with their importance to our lives? (I pause here for a moment of bitter laughter.)
So who do we pay the big bucks to?
Professional athletes and entertainers:
- Barcelona’s Lionel Messi makes $534,297.72 to play soccer. Each day of the year. That’s $138,917,408 annually.
- Pity poor Toronto rapper Drake, whose warblings earn him only $65,451,471 a year.
- And please send your donations to help poverty-stricken LeBron James, who is forced to accept a meagre $117,812,648 per annum for something involving a ball and a net.
- One wonders how Lady Gaga manages to feed herself on a paltry $50,748,000 a year.
Jesus of Nazareth (whose annual income from carpentry was somewhat less than that of a professional golf caddy) once said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Seeing where our culture puts its treasure shows us the condition of our hearts in 2020. It tells us that something is very, very wrong with our society.
It says that above all else in this world, we’re afraid of being bored.
In North America, we mostly have reached that place in the course of human existence where we have satisfied all of our physical needs.
We generally have enough (and more than enough) to eat, so much so that obesity is a crisis in the industrialized world. We’re comfortably sheltered, in warm weather or cold. We have so much money we can throw away perfectly good clothing because it is out of style. We spend billions on alcohol and recreational drugs, on Netflix, season tickets to professional sports, XBoxes, ear pods and on music streaming.
We shortchange cancer research, libraries, inner-city recreation and crime prevention while we make our jesters and minstrels rich.
Because our lives have become hollow. We fear being left alone in a room with only our thoughts for company.
Where should our treasure be going today?
Gerry Bowler is a Canadian historian and a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.