Decay of the State

What are borders?

Walls of the state? Boundaries of the government?

We talk a lot about borders these days, about boundaries of the state.

I just finished reading Obasan. I’ve gritted my teeth through two university classes which covered the residential schools with more depth than I could stomach, but I tried. I used to be wary of banks, so I would hide wads of cash and cheques around my room until I realized cheques expire and anyone can use a twenty they find in your Goblet of Fire.

The government has, can, and will make mistakes, big ones and small ones. Institutions make mistakes. People make mistakes. The state is run by people. It makes sense in a simple sort of way.

But as a fluid machine, a body, a sort of god tending to its borders, the state looms above us as something bigger and entirely impersonal. It is the brown envelope that still smells like pulp, the long lines at Canada Place, the form to submit your name change, and the do not smile in your passport photo. It is the law, the speed limit, your tax return and your business permit. A body working under civil duty gives you the go ahead through airport security, but it does not matter who you are or who they are, you’re both experiencing the give and pull of the contract we signed when we were born in our according borders.

People make mistakes. The state is run by people.

It is one thing to reject your government, another to be critical, watching for the inevitable stumbles and falls, but it is something else entirely to watch the illusion of your state fray and scatter like the loose ends of a silk scarf in a dryer. The power, the certainty, the clockwork mechanics- all gone. Formalities are falling, 1984 is rising it seems, legalities are changing with questionably legality, and in a weird sort of way, it’s beautiful. North America is waking up to the free fall that is government incompetence and blind belief, post cataract surgery, and somewhere, someone is writing a coming of age story about our little miss America. Solid father state has run off and he only returns with infrequent correspondence. He doesn’t bring groceries most of the time, but he usually has a chunk of candy. Liberal mother with her varying degrees of education keeps waiting for that solid state to come back, but he doesn’t. She’s starting to get it. She still doesn’t know how to talk to the neighbors, or to you, little miss America. Give her another year, she did go to school, after all. She’ll catch on.

Now a pen scratch through a thick cream government bill doesn’t seem so silly, so out of place. Neither does a typo, or a wrong number. A pocket dial. A 4am twitter rant or a health care act that doesn’t seem to help anyone other than the people who don’t actually need help. I wonder what they’re going to do with that extra $197,000?

In a sick, twisted sort of way, it’s beautiful. Little miss America can’t reach for a steady state hand, something she wouldn’t need to do in the first place if things weren’t starting to go just a little wrong. Just a little. She’s asking questions. Not enough, but it’s early. She’s raising her eyebrows. She’s confused.

It’s the decay of the state, the father figure machine who didn’t always take your side in the cookie jar war, but still took a side. He’s not taking a side anymore, he’s ignoring you and sliding chunks of candy down the table when even you know its about time you had a vegetable or two. It’s the drained swamp, which having been refilled, is starting to smell like a swamp again. It’s the decay of the state as it was believed to be, if not quite now, then soon, and it means change, it means reform, it means you have a reason to speak. Yes, I’m talking to you, little miss America. Good luck.

 

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