What Do We See Coming in the Trans-Mountain Pipeline?

Social Justice intrudes itself into our political discourse in most instructive ways this week. The Federal Government has approved the Trans-Mountain Pipeline Expansion (a.k.a. the TMX). This decision has evoked a fine contradictory chorus of partisan prognosications, with Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats, Greens, and the Governments of Alberta and British Columbia all seeing something quite different coming as a result. Whether the Government’s decision proves decisive remains to be seen. At least they have made it, as they always said they would. “Our position is in the national interest,” they declare. The Conservatives, New Democrats, Greens, and the Governments of Alberta and British Columbia all say the same thing.

I suggest that under these circumstances it would be entirely reasonable to predict a further torrent of verbiage, and good times ahead for lobbyists, advocates, and lawyers on all sides of the question.

My own proposal is fairly straight-forward. I believe the pipeline should be built to carry refined bitumen, what used to be called and maybe still is “synthetic crude”, and that the refining should be done in Alberta, before the pipeline reaches the mountains. I acknowledge the greenhouse gas effect, but simply point out that this stuff is going to be refined somewhere, with the same effect globally. At least if it is done in Alberta we can specify the technology and, to some extent, control the emissions. Furthermore, I believe that every stage of this process, from mining to shipping, should be done at the highest possible level of fail-safe technology, and that the inevitable extra costs should be built into the chain of prices. If this makes oil sands oil unprofitable, then so be it. The pipeline will not then be built. If oil sands oil is only profitable when mined and shipped on the cheap, then considering the risks involved, the market for it is not really a market, and it should stay in the ground. A pipe-dream of wealth doth not a market make.

In arriving at this proposal, which I believe to be sensible all things considered, I am using a technique I call “creative doublethink” and “bi-polar accommodation”. Double-think, you may recall, was identified by George Orwell in his book 1984 as meaning “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” In his context he was against it; in the context of Unsolved Riddles, it can serve us well if we learn how to use it.

To be specific: I support the dreams of prosperity of the people of Alberta. I came to know them well in the twenty-five years I lived there. Two of my children and four of my grand-children live there now. I was and am involved with the prospects of Alberta. I support the dreams of preservation of the astonishing landscapes and coastlines of British Columbia. I have never lived there, but have become somewhat familiar with the country from Dawson Creek and Prince George to Sparwood and Williams Head. The idea of a bitumen spill anywhere along the route of that pipeline or in the shipping channel beyond fills me with horror. I want to see the pipeline built, the oil sold, for Alberta’s sake, and I want the passes, valleys, and coasts to be protected, for British Columbia’s sake. I hold these two beliefs, apparently contradictory, in my mind simultaneously and accept both of them. That is the “doublethink” part of my proposal.

The “bi-polar” part is an alternative to the “compromise” idea, the latter suggesting a reasonable amount of prosperity for Albertans and a reasonable amount of protection for British Columbians. I believe the compromise is inherently unbalanced, and that we can do better. I believe in maximums, of both prosperity and protection. When it comes to Unsolved Riddles, which TMX is, I am a follower of Charles Simeon who said, in 1825, “that the truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme; but in both extremes.” He then went on to say to his reader: “I see you are filled with amazement and doubting whether I am in my sober senses.” I think I am. Considering our wealth and ingenuity, I see no reason why we should not strive for both extremes of prosperity and protection. I do understand, however, that in order to achieve that doublegood we may have to think differently about cost and profit. If we think about them in the old accustomed way, then someone is going to gain, someone is going to lose, and I think I know who they are. The pipeline industry’s spill record is not nearly good enough to justify the accustomed risks.

As to the “national interest”, I believe it is just as bi-polar as mine, shared by the great mass of Canadians. In dealing with Unsolved Riddles, compromise has its place when the stakes are relatively small. Such is not the case with the Unsolved Riddle of TMX. For that one we need Creative Doublethink and Bi-Polar Accommodation.

I have left Stephen Leacock’s ghost out of this discussion, poor shade. I’ll consult him next week.


What Do We See Coming?

The Erewhonians say that we are drawn through life backwards; or again, that we go onwards into the future as into a dark corridor. Time walks beside us and flings back shutters as we advance; but the light thus given often dazzles us, and deepens the darkness which is in front. We can see but little at a time, and heed that little far less than our apprehension of what we shall see next; ever peering curiously through the glare of the present into the gloom of the future, we presage the leading lines of that which is before us, by faintly reflected lights from dull mirrors that are behind, and stumble on as we may till the trap-door opens beneath us and we are gone. (Samuel Butler, Erewhon, 1910)

B.W. Powe of York University, poet, writer, and teacher, closes his latest book The Charge in the Global Membrane, with a question: “What do you see coming?” We correspond from time to time. I wrote to him last evening, as follows:

Your question is a vexed one to my mind, because I believe we can never see anything coming except in the very narrow and immediate visual sense, or through Samuel Butler’s mirrors looking backward, and pretty darkly at that. I was trained to be deeply suspicious of linear extrapolation in complex situations, and to watch carefully for tidal oscillations that may appear for the moment to be flowing rivers. I am not sure how to reconcile that caution with your observations about the Charged Global Membrane. I have no doubt that what you describe is happening, and that if reactions so far persist the consequences could be dire. But will they persist, or will adjustments occur when people become accustomed, and if so what kind?

Of course, your question is not “What is coming?” but “What do you see coming?”

In other words, I don’t see anything coming, because some intensive training in my younger days and a working lifetime of practice have conditioned me not to look. The closest I come is to examine carefully the available data, and to extend them forward using some kind of formula to see what might come, and to attach a reasonable set of probabilities to their coming. Because what I “see” by this method is always a plural set of possibilities. On no occasion do I use linear extrapolation from the present or the recent past. What is happening is not necessarily what is going to happen, and so I stoutly maintain. This makes me unwelcome company sometimes when the dire predictions are being passed around the conversational circle.

This does not mean that I live in a Pollyanna world where dire predictions are summarily drummed out of the room. Let’s look at climate change, for example. When we take into account the masses of first-rate data we have of past global climate patterns and the sophistication of the models used for projections, we must believe that a global catastrophe is possible. If we attach any significant probability to that outcome,—and we should!—then what decision theorists call the “expected value” of the outcome is the global cost of the catastrophe multiplied by its probability. Since the cost, in human terms, of this outcome is so huge as to approach the infinite, then the expected value (cost) of the outcome is the same. Faced with that kind of possibility, then we had better act, even though there may be some probability attached to a miraculous reaction of planet or humans that mitigates the effect.

Since a climate catastrophe, even a mild one, is certainly an issue for Social Justice, then any reluctance to act, or effective resistance, contributes to the Unsolved Riddle that we are trying to understand here. In fact, if we look at it that way, we may even find that the reluctance and resistance are grounded in just that realm, for example, in the quite legitimate fear of lost livelihoods. We must deal with them accordingly. I am not going to do that today, although I promise we will in this metaphorical collective I have created for the purpose. We will deal with climate change as we will deal with global population growth, inequality of opportunity and prosperity, pluralism, tribalism, individualism and collectualism, precarious livelihoods, our relationship with Nature, democracy, consumerism, culturism, education, and any other issues of like importance.

In order to set the stage for that process I have drafted Stephen Leacock’s ghost, Olde Stephen, from his former setting in what I am now calling the Stalking Blog, updated Mondays, and sent the Yottapede, along with Mnemochiron, the feminequine centaur, over there in exchange. This is, after all, now the Talking Blog. Olde Stephen will be a lot happier here than burrowing around in the Charged Ooze disguised as a star-nosed mole. We will charge this blog with verbosity, his natural element, at least it was when he was alive.

All verbosity will be suspended, however, for until the week after next, due to other commitments. Our newly aligned saga will resume on Wednesday, June 19th.

Thank you for reading, and for your patience. The preliminaries are completed; we will get down to brass tacks very soon.

Metaphorical Reasoning for Unsolved Riddles : Does It Work?

A Dark Tower, a Slug-Horn, a Charged Global Membrane, two star-nosed moles in aspect, a labyrinth placed in a middling Canadian city named Mariposa, citizens to walk it and leaders to help them, a bag-full of clobs for clobbering bawls, a yottapede, a centauress with an uneasy rider. Have any of these proved of any value in locating the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and imagining the creature and its natural habitat, so that it can be tamed and put to work? I think it is time to assess the progress of these three quite different work parties.

Two of them have located the creature, or think they have. The two moles, burrowing their way through the ooze of the Charged Global-Perceptual Membrane-Medium-MemBrain, or Chooze for short, looking for the Dark Tower, believing it to be the most likely habitat, have discovered that the Chooze is the Dark Tower, and that all the confusion, perplexity, fragmentation, incompleteness, inconclusiveness, and resulting anxiety are both the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice itself, and the essence of its nature. The Chooze is a Puddle of Muddle, they would say if they were being epigrammatic, so is the UROSJ, and so are the people caught up in it. If that is so, then pretending otherwise, as ideologies of all kinds tend to prefer, may be the worst possible entry into the necessary tasks of taming and putting to work.

The Labyrinth Walkers appear to have discovered what it means to blow the Slug-Horn, which is odd, because that question apparently never crossed their minds in the whole half-labyrinth they have walked so far. In fact, the Slug-Horn has until now been the exclusive property of the Dark Tower party. The Walkers came upon it when they got to the Centre. They think that to blow it means to be epigrammatic, to speak in “slogans”, these and slug-horns being the same thing etymologically. Childe Roland’s slogan was “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”. Theirs is:


This they intend to employ as they work their way back out of the labyrinth. When they emerge from where they came in, but of course going in the opposite direction, they expect to have tamed the UROSJ, so that it can be put to work.

Mnemochiron, the feminequine centaur, and her Uneasy Rider, who narrates in the first person and therefore may sit in the same relation to the writer as does the narrator in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, which may or may not be a close one, believe they have discovered the UROSJ itself, in the person of the Yottapede. Mnemochiron’s magic is her ability to move around inside the creature without being sucked into it, as Uneasy Rider would be on his own.

So you see, it has taken all three parties to locate the UROSJ and equip us to tame it and put it to work. The UROSJ, formed as the Yottapede, swims or wades in a puddle of muddle called the Chooze. Mnemochiron is able to carry Uneasy Rider safely into its inwards where it can be carefully explored. The two moles in aspect are able to burrow sensationally through the Chooze, and thus explore it. The Walkers maintain their steady undulating course through the Labyrinth, clobbering the bawls encountered,—bawls being little globes, or globs, of Inertia,—with the appropriate clob from among the fourteen carried, depending on the lie of the bawl and distance to the whole:

Pluraliser :: used for recognizing Pluralism;
Puzzler :: used for recognizing Unsolved Riddles;
Coherenator :: used for overcoming Fragmentation;
Completer :: used for overcoming Incompleteness;
Concluder :: used (always most carefully) for overcoming Inconclusiveness;
Congruver :: used for reconciling incongruous juxtapositions;
Both-Ander :: used for coping with hazards of the either-or kind;
Knowledge :: should always be complemented by application of the Both-Ander;
Imagination :: the indispensable clob; no inertia can be overcome without it;
Compassion :: clob for choosing the appropriate direction;
Humour :: clob for dealing with inherent imperfections or difficult lies;
Conversation :: everyday, working clob;
Negotiation :: clob for overcoming conflicting inertias;
Education :: clob for learning the game and basic clobbering skills.

I think this whole system needs to be brought together, the parties introduced to each other and allowed to join forces. To do that I propose a device first suggested by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels, a floating airborne island he called Laputa. I propose to suspend the Chooze with its inhabiting Yottapede as a mega-glob, or “meglob”, floating above Mariposa in Laputan fashion with differences where necessary. The two moles in aspect, whose names can be Stebu and Pedub, Mnemochiron, and Uneasy Rider can act as scouts circulating within the meglob. I will assign the nine Muses to carry their observations and suggestions down to the walkers below. We’ll have four scouts, nine Walkers supported by Mayor Josie Smith, nine Muses supported by their mother Mnemosyne. The  Labyrinth and the Chooze I will make coextensive, so that the Walkers can theoretically encompass the entire meglob on their way out. When the scouts identify a particular bawl, or glob of Inertia, they will point it out to one of the Muses, who will flutter down like butterflies to tip off the Walkers of Mariposa, who will clobber it with the appropriate clob, blowing the Slug-Horn with each stroke to control line and distance. That’s the general idea, to start with. We’ll see how it works out.

To name and describe all possible bawls and clobbers would far exceed the quantitative capacities of this metaphorical exercise. I will therefore arrange the labyrinth into a course of eighteen (18) representative wholes. When the Walkers have clobbered their way around the whole thing, we will declare the game to be over, the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice tamed so that it can be put to work. Our metaphors have worked so well so far that I have no doubt of their success. They need only proceed



Exploring the Yottapede II: The Inside Story

Leacock Post 05-16.jpg

I am displaying last week’s pictoverbicon here because we ran into a technical glitch that prevented up-dating of the web site. I hope to get that solved in a day or two. I am sure the server’s intentions were good, in changing the up-dating regime, although the old one was working very well for me. The new one appears much more powerful, but also more complicated. The problem may lie entirely in my awkwardness at finding my way around.

Mnemochiron and I experienced no such awkwardness however. We simply walked into the tremendous maw of the Yottapede to make our way directly into its internal workings. As we made our way human beings of all descriptions flew past under the force of the suction I described last week that nearly caught me, but none hit us. As long as I was mounted on Mnemochiron I remained immune, able to observe.

The Yottapede was indeed a most remarkable creature. The people sucked into it were not digested in the natural way, its inner workings lacking all such equipment. The insides appeared as a giant, shallow domed continuum, dimensioned in space and time, where I beheld hundreds of millions, even perhaps billions, of humanoid actors apparently well incorporated into the imperatives of the Yottapede yet retaining the appearance and trappings of individuality. I spoke to many as we circulated in their midst and received from all their heartfelt and I am sure sincere assurances that their individuality remained complete and was in fact the most important thing about them, and yet clearly their incorporation into this amazing creature was equally so.

Each person a hard hat onto which was fastened the handle of an umbrella, the outer sides of which formed the Yottapede’s distinctive carapace. Some umbrellas were fastened to only one hat, others in couples or family or even larger groupings. I asked what they were for, and the answer was always the same: they kept the sky from falling on the people’s heads. And I could see that this was so, or apparently so.

In a blog posting it’s difficult to describe great things. One should keep it short. I have said a little about how the inside of the Yottapede looked. I have not yet described the sound, which I think should be called a Powean Roar. I will elaborate when I have time. I have not yet described the smell, which was not nearly as bad as you might expect in such a densely packed mass of humanity. The air was humid, almost clammy to the touch; I could taste it. I could see that Mnemochiron could too, and in fact was just as whelmed by the whole sensory experience as I was. Over and above what sight, sound, smell, touch and taste had to offer, however, were the vibrations,—I can’t think of a better word,—of a whole milieu, both massive and intricate, that permeated every aspect of the crowded interior. It was both pleasant and unpleasant, distressed and satisfied, a most curious mixture that I cannot yet describe adequately. Please be patient. I’ll get there.

I shut out as much of the sensory riot as I could, to concentrate on the Yottapede’s feet, which I had seen from the outside, which I now saw were the accumulated feet of all the people inside. I have already described how they moved every which way without getting anywhere. From the inside, however, the effect appeared much different. Here the apparent movement forward was obvious, even to me, let alone to the people attached. And yet I knew there was none. This was marvellous. It must have had something to do with the reality that all this was taking place within the organic four-dimensional space-time continuum of the Yottapede, and not what the poet Auden has called “the moderate Aristotelian city … where Euclid’s geometry and Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience …” The Yottapede was turning out to be a city indeed, but not like that.

As we made our through the domed interior we kept asking people, as best we could through the din, “Have you seen the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice?” Most looked back at us warily, as if we were insane. A few dismissed us, the word “mirage” either spoken aloud or etched upon their faces. This continued until we met one who was a clown. He, or under the woolly yellow hair and behind the bulbous nose it could just as easily have been she, laughed and said, “My dear pilgrims, can’t you tell? We are the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice! This is the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice!” And she spread her arms to take in the umbrella dome, the whole yottopedian interior, and all the footed folk therein. “We’re all in it together! And so are you!” And he danced way, laughing, her twinkling toes finding spaces between the shuffling feet where was visible a little solid ground.

I could tell by her quivering and prancing that Mnemochiron was as anxious as I, both to get out of the Yottapede back into the sane world of waterfalls and trees, and to explore the interior more thoroughly, suspended, as it were, between repulsion and curiosity, between triumph and horror. Like the clown, she was able to find solid ground among the feet, which was more than I could have done I am sure, especially considering the size of my feet.

To be continued …



Exploring the Yottapede, Part I

Leacock Post 05-09.jpg

The Yottapede Saga evolves in the eighth week of the Leacock Anniversaries, on May 15th.

Normally I don’t hang images in these blog posts, although there is no reason why I should not, the mechanics being simplicity itself. I do so this time simply to show you the apotheosis of my riffing on words that begin with “M”, as it appeared in last week’s social media posts. I think it’s an interesting list. So too is the observation that “M” and its mate “N” are the middle two letters in the English alphabet. “N” for No, Negative, Nothing, Nihilist, Nemesis, Number, etc. “MN” for Mnemonics, related to Mind, Mindful, and Memory. “MN” for Mnemosyne, Goddess of Memory and Mother (by Zeus) of the nine Muses, one of whom,—I am not sure which one,—has Unsolved Riddles in her portfolio. Perhaps it’s all of them.

“N” for Nematode, a kind of worm, a parasite, a worm within. My centaurian companion and I are about to confront the Yottapede, also a parasite, also possibly an host for us who are its parasites. It’s a poor parasite that kills its host, as I was instructed when studying the phenomenon, although we might consider, if not killing this one, at least putting it in perspective.

I need to explain a couple of things about my equine-feminine companion, whose name I soon learned is Mnemochiron, descended from Mnenomsyne, with all the associations entailed thereby, and from the centaur Chiron, renowned according to Bullfinch not for carousing and mayhem (another “M” word!) like other centaurs, but “for his skill in hunting, medicine, music, and the art of prophesy.” I can’t imagine a better lineage for the purposes of our hunt for the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. I also need to explain, in case you are concerned for her ability to carry my weight, that Mnemochiron, though fully as shapely and shining in both her feminine and equine aspects as I described her last week, has some of the draught horse in her bloodline. Not the big hulking breeds like Clydesdales, Shires, Belgians, or even Percherons, but the smaller, more graceful ones, like Canadians. John La Farge, in his depiction (see below), makes his Centauress more delicate than is Mnemochiron, at least in her equine portions.

Being carried by such a creature, however, is a delicate matter. A gentleman could hardly put a saddle on her, a bridle would be entirely out of the question. Bare-back it must be, but how to hang on? La Farge Centauress.jpgBy gripping with the knees, of course. To wrap one’s arms around her waist for greater stability might be considered fresh; any jostling could cause extreme embarrassment. When all blushingly I put the problem to her, she gave me permission to grip her by the shoulders, with a request that I should massage the muscles from time to time, as the effort of constantly considering Unsolved Riddles first on the one hand and then on the other was often tiring. I did offer to walk alongside, but she thought that we would travel more quickly if I rode, and if matters came to combat we would gain from her speed and manoeuvrability. As we approached the Yottapede we soon learned the wisdom of this arrangement.

The creature before us was a huge gape-mouthed blobby arthropod with a truly astonishing number of feet, not arranged in pairs as with some, but forming a dense mat underneath. Each foot was human in form. Even at the first scanning glance we could see that these feet did not all point in one direction. Rather, they pointed in all directions of the compass and some no compass ever considered. All were in motion, striving to advance forward as it appeared to them. The Yottapede, therefore, stayed put, unable to advance on the whole, in a state of constant internal struggle. Its flexible outer covering, a carapace of loosely linked plates domed in umbrella shapes, did however ripple variously, sometimes even bulging out in one way or another, as if the whole creature were about to displace itself. It never did, or at least, only so slowly that its progress was almost undetectable. As it rippled and bulged, the colours and shadows of its iridescent carapace shifted and changed under the plural illuminations of the heavens, all quite unobserved, as we found out later, by the urges governing the feet.

The Yottapede was far too large to encircle, but we rode back and forth for some time, surveying its exterior, before we approached the gaping mouth. It was here we found out the wisdom of our arrangements. I thought it would be more fitting if I dismounted, in order to greet the Yottapede in courteous form. As soon as my feet hit the ground I was subjected to a mighty sucking wind that threatened to pull me right into the hungry mouth. It was almost irresistible. Fortunately, I am tall and long-armed; I still had my hands on Mnemochiron’s shoulders. Using my grip for lift I flung myself once more onto her back. Immediately the wind died, at least from me. If it was sucking at her, she was completely unaffected. I scrambled back into proper mounted posture, and we both looked around.

That’s enough words for today. Next week I will tell you what we saw, and what we found when we willingly entered the great black mouth to explore the Yottapede from within. Jonah, after all, would have learned nothing of whale anatomy if he had stayed on shore.

Riffing on M-Words Centaurally if not Orally.

Random reflections and reminiscences on this, the 7th week of the Leacock Anniversaries, reflected and reminisced on May 9, 2019.

As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a centaur, a female of that species shapely and shining in both her feminine and equine aspects, and with a great burden upon her back. And that burden was me.

If you  have read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress you will recognize that I have borrowed the entry into that passage, although not the dream. Bunyan’s opening is a favourite that I use or recite on as many occasions as I can make it fit. I particularly like the reaction of Christian’s family when he tells them of his distress: “At this his relations where sore amazed; not for that they believed that what he said to them was true, but because they thought some phrensy distemper had got into his head; therefore, it drawing towards night, and they hoping that sleep might settle his brains, with all haste they got him to bed.” Phrensy. That’s the spelling in my copy of the book, an old one inherited from my great aunt Alma. I love that spelling. To my synapses it makes the whole thing sound more frenzied.  If I ever wrote my memoirs I would try to work it into the title, because whether or not I set off on my pilgrimage because of a phrensy distemper, some of those in my entourage certainly thought I did.

My dream of the beautiful female centaur comes of course from the painting Centauress by John La Farge which I found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centaur. Her burden is my own idea.

I have been thinking more this morning about B.W. Powe’s charged membrane, continuing the posting ruminations of this Monday’s Leacock Blog (https://playstephenleacock.wordpress.com/) with some play on five words all beginning with “M”: Membrane; Medium; Matrix; Message; Memory. These all describe certain aspects of, or metaphorical ways of describing, our surroundings both individual and collective, particularly as they might contribute to a phrensy distemper possibly able to unsettle our brains. If all goes well by this time next week I will have read Powe’s new book The Charge in the Global Membrane, and will know what he means by both the Global Membrane and its charge. I draw your attention to the possibility that the “charge” may imply an electromagnetic property of the membrane, either innate or generated, or a responsibility placed upon it by an outside agent, or both.

I am also wondering further about the Yottapede, a creature which I introduced in a blog posting back in April of 1918 (https://paulwconway.wordpress.com/2018/04/). I am assuming that you know that “yotta” is the largest prefix in the decimal system, the last in the series that begins with “deca”, “centa”, “milla”, etc. A yottapede is a worm-like creature with a very large number of feet.

I am anticipating that Powe’s Global Membrane is going to be something that envelops us in some fashion, in which we “swim” perceptually. If that turns out to be true, then my question for B.W. is going to be along these lines: Did we become so enveloped because of a natural phenomenon that rolled in like a bank of fog, or did we dive into it, or did something swallow us like Jonah’s whale, perhaps even the Yottapede itself? And if it has become part of us, did we become charged by it, as in electromagetism, or did we absorb it by some osmotic or digestive process, or were we absorbed by it? Is it part of us, or are we part of it, or both? What state of consubstantiation are we in, and how did we get that way? Can we escape? Do we want to escape?

I am also anticipating that when I have answers to these questions as they apply to Social Justice, they are going to constitute a a comprehensive organic tissage of both-ands, a mighty and pervasive Unsolved Riddle. I rejoice that as I make my pilgrimage therein I will at least have the company of this centaur of my dream, whether or not she is able to bear my weight.

Membrane. Medium. Matrix. Memory. Message. Mem-Brain. Mess.

Charging Membranes, Atmospheres … and What Else?

Sixth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries, Wednesday May 1st, 2019. May Day. Or is that MAYDAY! MAYDAY!

My mind is full of questions this morning about the verb “to charge”, and whether it may make some potential difference in the hunt for the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. Now there’s a blast from the past that just popped into my mind as I typed that sentence: potential difference. It came, I think, from my second-year physics course at the University of Toronto, a subject from which my degree of disengagement was exceeded only by thermodynamics. As far as I was concerned at the age of nineteen, electricity and magnetism, on the one hand, and heat, on the other, could do their thing in whatever way they pleased. Their decisions to flow, or not to flow, from one body to another were none of my business.

The idea of potential energy, however, perhaps related if memory serves me, could be my business now, depending on definition; especially the idea of something being charged with potential energy. We sometimes speak of a charged atmosphere; let’s borrow that. Let’s remember that we breathe the the contents of an atmosphere, either the natural one around us, or an artificial one from a tank or controlled environment. BW Powe has recently brought into the perceptual discussion the idea of a charged membrane. Let’s borrow that. Then let’s imagine the situation we may be in.

Let’s imagine two different atmospheres, one conducive to Social Justice, and one not conducive. Let’s imagine them mixed in the same breathing space, just as the natural atmosphere is a mixture of different gases, and as an artificial atmosphere can be made to be. Then let us imagine a membrane that is charged to allow one type of atmosphere through easily and to inhibit the passage of the other. The question then becomes: what kind of a membrane is it, and what kind of charge?

Is it a natural membrane, or do we “facture” it, as in manufacture, or mentafacture if there is such a word? If natural, then our approach to it will have to take one kind of form, if humanufactured, then another. The same goes for the charge. Is the membrane global, enveloping us all like some great blanket, or is it more like a face mask that we can put on or remove at will? And are these questions the essence of what we mean when we call Social Justice an Unsolved Riddle?

I am thinking out loud here, but make no apology. That’s the purpose of this blog. I invite you to think along with me, because I have grave doubts about my capacity to do it on my own.

I have not yet read B.W. Powe’s new book, The Charge in the Global Membrane, but am on track to do so. Based on his books that I have read, I expect to find it both informative and, perhaps more importantly, suggestive. For example, the other day I was reading Outage: A Journey  into Electric City, and was struck by the following line: “I’d been striving for a clear unattainable outside position [concerning information and electronic effects], and I was resisting the deeper and tangled path, the emotional core.” And a few pages later: “A passion for the end may be a passion for breakout and renewal.” What happens to  us if the global membrane is so charged that it filters out the passion for the end that we call Social Justice? How much of what is thought and said about it represents a striving for a clear, unattainable outside position when we should be taking another path, be it ever so deep and tangled?

Stephen Leacock, in 1943 at the very end of his life, in the last paragraph of his last book called While There Is Time, concluded that: “Everything depends on the work of the spirit on the honesty and inspiration of the individual.” He is suggesting that the membrane is a mask that we can individually put on or take off and thus change the atmosphere we breathe. The idea of a global membrane would seem to disagree, or at least suggest that we would have to deal with it even if we each did take off the mask.

I don’t pretend yet to have caught the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, let alone tamed it, but I am coming to believe some things about it. Most importantly, I believe that we can control the spirit we bring to our individual and collective lives, despite the efforts made by all manner of interests to control them for us. These may try to whelm us perhaps, but need not overwhelm. We can choose the deeper and tangled path, and may well find it not nearly as deep and tangled as we fear it is going to be. If it enabled us even to shed some of our anxieties, we might indeed find it quite pleasant.

If we charge the global membrane head-on, can we reverse its charge?