A photo of a cell phone. Just one of the devices affected by the Rogers outage.
A photo of a cell phone. Just one of the devices affected by the Rogers outage. Credit: Adem AY / Unsplash Credit: Adem AY / Unsplash

The crash certainly felt metaphorical, as outages tend to, even small ones at the cottage: dying, dead, rebirth. And the irony! The internet, as seen by its “father,” Tim Berners-Lee, when he devised the World Wide Web, was to have no centre, so total blockages were impossible. There would always be alternate routings. Monopolies like Rogers are the opposite: when they collapse, we all do.

Was it inevitable? Berners-Lee never thought so. He has issued regular alerts against the “myths” that hobble “our collective imagination,” like the necessity of ads for funding on the internet or that it’s “too late” to change.

As for the metaphor, I’d like to think it’s about neo-liberalism — an ideology that’s ruled for four decades — and its decline, along with pillars like deregulation and privatization. The internet has sometimes seemed to embody neo-liberalism because both glibly invoked globalization. But it was a superficial equation.

Neo-liberalism’s originators — like Ronald Reagan’s Republicans and Margaret Thatcher’s Tories — have now turned against it. They oppose even free trade, which was the linchpin for the original neo-liberal blitzkrieg. They’re all nationalists now, not globalists. Those are flexible terms, it’s true, but vocabularies matter. Even the Financial Times says: “We’ve entered a new, post-neoliberal era.”

(It’s strange, BTW, to watch historical eras come and go. For those alive in the 1980s, neo-liberalism was just arriving. It was entirely possible to imagine fighting it off so it never got a foothold. Then for decades it was normalized; it seemed it would never end. If you were born into it, it felt like the natural order. Now it’s swiftly fading, and not even its proclaimers defend it.)

The premiers met in B.C. this week and wailed hysterically about needing more money to fix health care. I wouldn’t give them another cent till they pass a written test on what went wrong. They adopted the just-in-time principle from manufacturing (which led to bottlenecks and inflation now rampant) for health. They cut staff to a minimum.

Why? Because it fit with the neo-liberal agenda to slash taxes and pay for it with decreased spending on public programs. First things first and last things last. Then when COVID hit, the system began to crumble. This is all about ideology and values. Let them show they know the difference between funneling resources to the private sector and the rich, versus focusing on public needs and welfare. Then start shovelling dollars.

Or take chaos at the airports. People are choosing not to travel rather than face it. The problem again is staff. Workers are reluctant to dive back into that hell. Some drew conclusions from the CERB benefit that there are other ways to survive than taking awful workplaces as inevitable. Beyond that, I’ve never understood why a priority for governments isn’t to make travel bearable, and beyond that, a genuine pleasure, on local transit or international flights. It’s about what you value.

One proposal to solve the telecoms mess involves creating a public entity alongside Rogers et al., to provide a backup in disasters or even an alternative for users. A public option — as Barack Obama called it for his health-care plan, before he caved to the insurance companies — that can keep the monopolies on their toes.

In fact, we had a public option in airlines with Air Canada until 1988, when it was privatized as part of neo-liberalism’s core dogma: hand all publicly owned goods over to the rich. How was that supposed to benefit the rest of us? Don’t worry, it will.

It would be brainless to think these critical breaches in neo-liberalism are leading somewhere better, like a more benign capitalism or even a humane socialism. More likely it’s the opposite. In “Country,” Trevor Griffiths’ film drama about the U.K. Labour election victory in 1945, a group of jubilant workers stage a mock burial for capitalism. As a dour onlooker says, “What they don’t realize is that there is no body in the coffin.” Nevertheless, an opening is an opening.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.