I've been asked to write about peace, and I find I don't know how.
I could have written three articles about war in the time it took me to write this. Here, look: Canada's ranking as the world's 13th-largest supplier of conventional weapons is artificially low given that most of our weapons trade involves components for U.S. arms manufacturers. See? This stuff writes itself.
But peace? I gather that we are currently supposed to be "at" it (as if we'd landed on its square in a board game). I'm vaguely aware it exists. I think I may have even touched some pieces of it in a lover's bed here or a snowy field there. But I wonder if calling those moments "peace" is like calling bones in a museum a stegosaur.
We're in a kind of peace, but look at the world around us; it's probably necessary to set the bar rather low.
We had 50 gun homicides in Toronto this year. A local woman was dismembered, her body parts found in Parkdale.
The police believe she was the victim of domestic abuse. Media coverage was primarily concerned with whether officers should go door-to-door in Parkdale without warrants.
There's no way to know whether the victim was one of the 26 women who report being attacked by their male spouses every day in Toronto.
After a spate of shootings, the Star plastered the front page with pictures of handguns. No newspaper cover has been emblazoned with penises, though just like handguns they're the common denominator in a string of unrelated attacks.
Speaking at the December 6 memorial for the 14 women murdered at l'Ecole Polytechnique in 1989, Angela Robertson, executive director of Sistering, said, "Violence against women is a silent war."
Many live through that war as if it were peace.
The shootings, on the other hand, were eminently reportable, because they were sudden and concentrated, a sort of violence to which we're not acclimatized. As "spectacle," they made violence seem an anomaly, though it's not. It goes beyond the fact that Canadian troops are currently involved in two occupations abroad - there's a low-level conflict here at home. And your species, nationality, gender and skin colour determine whether you even know it's going on.
On the streets, it's motorists against cyclists, and everyone against pedestrians. Many times, people die. We navigate the city tactically, taking the quick, pre-mapped routes, trenches between foxholes, then escaping into the virtual, where we feel we can't be hurt.
"The violence that all electric media inflict on their users is that they are instantly invaded and deprived of their physical bodies," Marshall McLuhan once said.
Maybe we're in the terminal stage of a long-standing process: the disembodiment of the planet that birthed us. We are our own abusive partner, cutting ourselves off from our support base.
Officially, though, all that matters is the war between cellphone plans. "All war is deception," wrote Sun Tzu long ago. "To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill."
As the seasonal ads direct us to "Give an MP3 phone," we all feel the temptation to believe that peace on earth is just a gift away.
Did I say peace on earth? I meant pieces of earth. General Electric will happily blow some out of the ground with a cruise missile if you chip in with the price of a washing machine.
Shall we sing Silent Night over the next homeless person to freeze to death?
A fragment of a poem is taped on my wall. "Lest I continue my complacent way," it reads, "help me remember someone died for me today. As long as there be war, I then must ask and answer, Am I worth dying for?"
Ironically, William Stephenson wrote it as a patriotic prayer during the second world war, something to keep up spirits during "the Good War." Maybe seeking to answer that question can do the same during a bad peace.