One thing I did not expect from this cruise was to have my prejudices thrown in my face so constantly. I know it’s wrong, I know there’s nothing I can do to justify my bias, and yet over and again I find my teeth on edge.
Over the last few years of cruising, I’ve seen the demographics of boaters change each season, depending on the economy and price of fuel. That shocking summer a few years back when gas hit $1.50/litre, most of our cruising grounds emptied of all but sailboats. Naturally, I saw that as a good thing. This year what stands out most is the prevalence of huge power yachts, especially those that hail from the US.
Sure they are less common then the boat used for recreational fishing, or the common, generic 30-foot sedan cruiser, but due to their size they are extremely conspicuous; amongst the muted blue and greens of BC’s fjord coast, their bloated white glare really stands out.
We pulled into Shoal Bay on East Thurlow Island yesterday afternoon and tied up at the public wharf. Here we found ourselves dwarfed by three massive power yachts. We’ve seen very few cruisers as we passed through the Discovery Islands, as most folks stick around Desolation Sound, but the ones we have seen are vessels like this.
Why do they bother me so? Because they are such an ostentatious display of superfluous wealth. It’s like going to a drive-in movie to find yourself surrounded by Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Rolls Royces. It’s a constant reminder of the yawning inequality of today’s society, and where we fit on the hierarchy. These are the one-percenters at play.
I know, I know, being able to do what Tracy and I do is itself a mark of enormous privilege. But I also see it as more about choice and sacrifice; this is our home, and a humble on at that. We have few possessions and our little vessel is over 30 years old. We have little money and live paycheque to paycheque. Compared to most of our demographic cohort, our’s is a very simple and sparse life. It just centres around a boat, for the time being at least.
But these cruisers are on a different planet; their tenders alone are worth as much or more than Fainleog. Next to them, she looks like a battered old scow, and as we pulled into the dock, I saw the matron of one of the boats yakking on her satellite phone; she must have been at it for 30 minutes. Do you know what that call was worth? It easily would exceed the cost of our entire trip up the coast.
These boats price at over a million (I’ve seen some up here worth several million), and take many thousands of dollars in fuel to bring them up from the US.
I hate them and hate their owners, and I’m ashamed of that. To me, they are the face of inequality, of the oppression of the poor, the opposition to social progress. I assume they are the folks who buy elections and suppress taxes and social programs. The fact that the cruiser immediately opposite us on the dock is flying a burgee with the symbol of the US Republican party only confirms my prejudice.
To me, these vessels are icons of the worst that afflicts Western civilization. Nobody needs a boat like that. I can understand wanting to be comfortable on their holiday, but multiple decks, several staterooms, salons, washer and dryer, 6’ plasma TVs, billiard table etc etc. just doesn’t add anything that one needs to be comfortable. But what it does scream to the world is that you are at the top of the pecking order.
But thinking about it more, I guess what I really hate are the objects themselves and what they represent, rather than the people within them. I saw several of them yesterday, hanging about on the dock drinking beer and bullshitting. Of course they were white, paunchy, and into well advanced middle age. Poster boys for the excess of boomerhood. But despite all their wealth and presumable power that stems from it, they weren’t any “bigger” than anyone else. They were squat blobs of fragile protoplasm, hurling towards oblivion as fast or faster than anyone else. Towered over by their mountains of fiberglas, their boats only made them seem smaller by comparison. Flabby and unattractive, their money couldn’t change or improve their humanity. They are us, just burdened by wealth and enslaved by possessions.
And many of us have fallen into that trap. I still recall from years ago Michael Moore declaiming that if a movie of his became popular, he was gonna take that money and buy the biggest damn sailboat he could. This from a man who made a career out of exposing the excesses of the privileged and the foolishness of the common person who allowed it. Despite his insights into the state of society, if he gets a chance he too will join the lofty ranks of those who set the measure of their success by the size of their encumbrances.
I think I will always hate big boats, big houses, big RVs, big bikes. Big is a destructive paradigm that only feeds greed, environmental destruction, waste, and want. It sets people against people and validates hierarchy.
Not long ago I would also have believed that materialism of that sort traps and enslaves people. I still agree that possessions do hold us, but I’ve come to the conclusion that most of us want the shackles that we complain most bitterly against. Over and over again I watch while people make choices against their own words, claiming they want this, but always seeming to choose the opposite.
Most who are unhappy with their lot will argue that if they had this or that, if their situation change from what they now experienced to some dream, then they would be at peace. But give them an opportunity for change (one that visits us every day) and they will scurry back to what they know and loathe.
The problem is that our conscious mind tells us one thing, but the greatest part of our thinking most often has a completely different goal in mind. What you see in how people live reveals what they think about themselves and their place in the world.
A man may hate all the responsibility that keeps him tied down, all the things he owns and pays for, but if he persists in such a lifestyle, his inner need for security, predictability and a daily routine of earning wealth is what he really wants. Fear of the unknown and the effort to define himself free from what he does and what he owns, keeps him there.
I’ve been a person who helped people make changes in their lives. Very occasionally I’ve encountered someone who really wants this, but for most of them it’s lip service. Much time and effort went into helping others until I finally realised that despite what they tell me, the chaos of their lives is exactly what they want. Years or even decades later, their lives remain much the same.
Even the most damaged addict is living life according to what he “wants”. Unfortunately, his want emerges from extremely distorted beliefs about himself and his world. I think that most of the suffering in the developed world is less about what others do to us, and more about what we think we deserve.
What has been the hardest part for me, and what I struggle against, is feeling pain for those I care about and who I see suffer. But time and again I’ve watched while those same people turned away from chances to make a change, I and I know they are locked in their suffering by their own choosing. That can be very hard to accept.
Libertarians will jump on this as evidence of free will, but that’s a mistake. Most people are totally unaware that they are living according to their wants and beliefs, not understanding that they are the cause of their misery. This stuff is all unconscious. How can we call it free will when we aren’t even aware of it? It is enslavement, an utter loss of power, even though we ourselves are the source of it.
Anyway, back to the cruise pics. I’m going to be lazy and insert them as a gallery. Just click on each pic to see larger versions.