Chapter XI :: February :: Moving Forward Backwards Towards Tetrationality in Public Affairs

February 2021. Initiated January 29th.

In Chapter XII I laid out a framework of Recommendations into which I was led by the pursuit of a Tetrational approach to the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, a problem which I self-inherited from Stephen Leacock. He, you will perhaps remember, viewed public affairs and education (although not everything he wrote about) through a tetrad lens. At some risk of repetition I remind you that his Tetrad was Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour. In the previous chapters to be written in the coming months of 2021 I will present a becoming array of tetrads useful to my purpose. The universe of tetrads is much larger, of course, and of immense antiquity. I imagine my aboriginal ancestor sitting around the winter campfire brooding on Hot + Cold + Light + Dark, trying to make sense of their simultaneous presence and importance, and to decide what to do about it. That is what Tetrationality is all about.

N.B.: In speaking of an aboriginal ancestor I am not indulging in that reprehensible practice of suggesting Indigenous Canadian ancestry when I don’t have any, or at least don’t know that I have any. One strand of my ancestry goes back a long way in this land; not all of its ramifications are remembered. My aboriginal ancestors hunted and gathered in the forests of what are now called northern Europe and the British Isles. Their even more aboriginal ancestors presumably came out of Africa.

I have become convinced that it will be easier to talk about tetratiocination, the technique of thinking in tetrads, if I relate the practice to some other practice that human beings of my time and place use habitually. I draw your attention, therefore to the functioning of the human eye, an organ which the vast majority of us use all the time and without thinking about it very much. In preparing for the practical recommendations presented in Chaper XII last month, I am going to suggest that the movement and functioning of the mind when engaged in tetratiocination is parallel to the movement and functioning of the eye when engaged in looking.

As we go through this exposition, you and I, we must remember the admonitions of William Blake, that the “ratio”, that which we can perceive with our natural organs, be they sensory or intellectual, is not the whole of what is accessible to us. We also have access to “the Poetic or Prophetic character”, the power to leap beyond our “natural or organic thoughts” and the perceptions behind them, although we may have to cultivate it both individually and collectively. The Leacock Tetrad starts with Knowledge which is immediately and integrally joined by Imagination, tuned with Compassion, and leavened with Humour, to achieve a True Understanding of what needs to be done. I submit, however, that this is not a solo piece, flourishing in solitarity, but an ensemble, a conversation, arising from a sense of solidarity, a sense of the Common Good we ought to be pursuing deliberately.

But on with the eyes. Let us begin with an article called “Types of Eye Movement and Their Functions” from the second edition of Neuroscience, and found at, which begins: “There are four basic types of eye movements: saccades, smooth pursuit movements, vergence movements, and vestibulo-ocular movements.” For the purpose of tetratiocination, I think we ought to be particularly interested in saccades, which are, I am told, observed not only in the vision of eyes human and otherwise, but in the touch of star-nosed moles, and the hearing or sonar of bats.

“Saccades are rapid, ballistic movements of the eyes that abruptly change the point of fixation. … Saccades can be elicited voluntarily, but occur reflexively whenever the eyes are open, even when fixated on a target.” In other words, if I understand the idea properly, as we look at a scene our eyeballs jump around both under and out of our conscious control to allow us to take in the whole of the scene, to comprehend it in an holistic way. We also have the capacity at the same time, through the other kinds of movements, to focus on particular objects or segments of the scene, to shift focus, and in general to scan the depth, width, and height of it while keeping the whole in view. We take it for granted, of course, as we do many of our natural functions. The marvel of it emerges when we think about it, and about the possibility that we can cultivate the capacity and thus grow it.

I think it entirely possible, although I cannot do it myself, that with training we can achieve the same capacity with our hearing. The ability of choral conductors to hear both the separate parts and the whole harmony never ceases to amaze me. I have known chefs and connoisseurs who could do something comparable with taste and smell. I am not sure about touch, which is usually so very up-close and focussed. Perhaps something of the same thing can occur when we are in direct and intimate contact with something or someone who is diversely tactile.

This capacity to gather together diverse data to create an holistic impression that includes impressions of individual details or sets of details creates, I believe, the capacity for “true understanding” or , and is what I am going to call, expanding on William Blake’s fourfold, threefold, and twofold visions, Multifold Comprehension. Blake asks God to “keep us from Single vision …”, which I believe to be a prayer highly relevant to our time.

If our five “natural and organic” senses can work that way, then why not our minds?

It is clear, however, that our contemporary minds are strongly disinclined to work that way, that Single Vision has become our instinctive recourse when presented with a multifold situation. For example, the name of US President Bill Clinton has become associated with the slogan, “It’s the Economy, stupid!” How many of us know, or care, that the actual governing instructions for his campaign were threefold: the Need for Change, the Economy, and Health Care. The association of the second with stupidity might well result from a concern that it would be neglected.

Our own Federal Government, in its recent Throne Speech, laid out a tetrad of needs for attention in the months ahead: Health, the Economy, Equality, and the Environment. If I had written this speech I would have added a fifth imperative, which is to keep all the other functions of government running smoothly. If the real challenge we face, as well we might, is the urgent necessity to act on all these at the same time and with the same emphasis, to apply Fourfold Vision to these five imperatives and act thereon, then how are we doing?

Before I address that question, if I do in this column, I will ask whether our contemporary tendency to side-slide into Single Vision, which we see and hear all around us in the public media and political discourse,—the actual reality may be far more complicated than it appears,—whether it is natural to us as human beings with human minds, or something cultural which has recently evolved. I want to suggest that it has evolved, for reasons we can observe, that there are forces pushing it to evolve in the same direction with further intensity, and that we need to encourage it to evolve in a new direction, not back to something that may have existed in the past, when life was simpler, but forward into something suited to contemporary complexities.

For reasons having to do with a sick cat and a damaged license plate I must suspend the flow for the time being, but will return, when I will contrast the simplicities of the past when our casts of mind evolved with the complexities of the present and future, for which they must adapt. I will draw attention to the awesome power of specialization in thought and initiative and the trap it has set for us, and to the cast of mind that led to the recommendations outlined in Chapter XII. I believe that Fourfold Vision can be taught and cultivated, although of course before that happens the need must be recognized. We do recognize it practically in public affairs, but not nearly well enough in discourse. And because we are a democracy our discourse has the capacity to pull our public affairs in its direction. This tendency is hazardous to our health in many directions.

Chapter XII: January: Forward with Social Justice and Tetratiocination into the Backwardness of Blogs

January 2021 (first posted on the 7th; minimally revised on the 22nd)

Since this article begins as the first in a year-long monthly series, and in the natural unfolding of a blog will end up as the last, it is perhaps worthwhile to begin with some conclusions and let the text evolve towards its natural beginning. Where would preoccupation with the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, Fourfold Vision, and Complex Thinking for Complex Times take us if we gave it free rein? How would it be if we hypothesize the following and see if it stands up as we fill in both articulation and rationale month by month on a weekly schedule of revision?

To clarify: I intend to start a new chapter each month, progressing backwards from conclusions and recommendations through analysis and examples to first principles. I will review the current chapter each week and make whatever additions, subtractions, clarifications, and revisions seem necessary. This means that you, the reader, if you wish to keep up with me, will read each chapter four, occasionally five, times. (April, July, September, and December are the fivers this year, since Thursday is the official (not necessarily the actual) posting day.) I see no harm in that, even some good, as repetition assists retention, more profound thought, and creativity.

Here goes:


(1) Make a Mantra of Social Justice. At present, at least before Covid-19 came along, it seemed that the words we heard most often in public discourse were “The Economy”, meaning economic growth of the common, quantitative kind, measured by a very small number of indicators, such as GDP, the stock market indices, or (un)employment. We should elevate ‘Social Justice’ into that dominant position, and think of economic affairs as simply one tool in the box.

An anecdote of natural regression from more complex to simplistic thinking: You are perhaps familiar with the phrase, “It’s the Economy, stupid!” sometimes believed to have originated with Bill Clinton, campaigning for the presidency of the United States in 1992. In fact, the idea began one of a triad that came from one of his campaign strategists, James Carville, and the actual phrases were: “1. Change vs. more of the same. 2. the economy, stupid. 3. don’t forget health care.” The transition from a three-fold vision to a one-fold slogan was apparently immediate.

I propose that one of the fundamental tetrads in our eventual Social Justice portfolio could be: Prosperity + Health + Security + Freedom.

(2) Nature As Our Partner Not Our Servant. We need to consider, and act on, the possibility, which looks more and more like a reality, that Nature in some holistic sense is feeling her survival threatened by our actions, particularly by our dumping of garbage and effluents. These are causing her systems to clog and her regulatory systems to weaken or fail. A fundamental drive of Nature is survival, and her pursuit of survival can be ruthless and cruel by our enlightened standards. We need to be afraid of what she can do if we abuse her. On the other hand, she is generous and forgiving. She will cooperate with us if we cooperate with her.

A sense of partnership with Nature, much closer to what humanity has always respected under aboriginal conditions (not having any choice), needs to be infused into our industrial, commercial, technological, and consumer cultures, as a fundamental condition of Social Justice. We need a tetrad for that, but don’t have it yet. Ideas?

(3) Complex Thinking for Complex Reality. The cumulative effect of democratic, industrial, and commercial progress in the past few centuries has been a hugely complex, interactive society, or set of societies, seeking to satisfy individual, local, national, regional, and global imperatives. In order to make those our servants rather than our masters we need to think as complexly as they are. Simplicities, however consoling, cannot do the job.

(4) Resolute, Sane, Orderly, and Continuous Social Reform. There is no magic formula. If something needs improvement, work to improve it. If we try something that works, we should do more of it. If we try something that doesn’t work, we should try something different. We may in fact work that way naturally. We need to trust the process, and distrust those who are impatient, dogmatic, or authoritarian.

(5) Education. All advancement of any kind begins here, and not only with schooling, important as that is. The humanaculture of learning and teaching needs to permeate public discourse and private aspiration.

(6) Social Safety. We cannot call ourselves socially just as long as anyone is in distress through no fault of their own, and we need to be very careful in our judgements about fault. What looks like fault is often our lack of understanding. In particular children should not inherit the misfortunes of their parents.

One of the lessons of Covid-19 is surely the importance of governments in responding to emergencies, and the importance of their infrastructure in tools, expertise, and legislation when the emergency strikes.

(7) Fitting Taxation. In order to provide the public services and protections so essential to Social Justice, we need to tax whatever creates or manifests material wealth for individuals and corporations, using a set of largest possible bases and at steeply progressive rates.

(8) Guaranteed Incomes. The Big Four pillars of Social Justice are, or ought to be: Income, Housing, Health Care, Education. If people have incomes they can help with the other three. If we don’t guarantee the income we pay a huge price trying to provide the others.

(9) Right Œvirsagas. Œvirsagas are the macro-stories we tell ourselves in order to know who we are, where we are, where we have been, and where we ought to be going. They are the propaganda we generate for ourselves, in order to keep us focussed and energized.


A Tetrad of Post-Covid19 Specific Measures based on lessons learned:

(1) A Guaranteed Annual Income. If we had had that from the beginning the social safety net it would represent would kick in automatically for those in need.This measure would require higher taxation of the progressive redistributive kind.

(2) Massive Reform of Elder Care. Towards Home Care and minimally institutional forms of residence; away from large institutions especially those of the warehousing kind.

(3) Sophisticated Understanding of Risk. Covid19 is a new risk and we don’t know how to think about it. We take risks all the time in our daily lives, especially with disease and accidents, and we know how to think about them. We need to apply the same kind of understanding.

(4) Journalism for Our Time. The present whip-saw oscillation between sensationalism and sentimentalism, along with grotesquely inadequate expertise in statistical interpretation on the part of journalists, is making any kind of contextual thinking extremely difficult for those who rely on regular journalism for understanding.


Much of the discussion that will take place in this backward-progressing, forward-looking succession of articles now under construction will revolve around: the meaning of the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice (that is, what we mean, or must mean, not what Stephen Leacock meant a century ago when he coined the term); grinding and polishing of Tetrads which are the glasses through which we may view all the complexities involved; methods for converting the Tetrads from aids to observation and contemplation into frameworks for action; and translation of all the above into ideas for resolute, sane, orderly, continuous social reform. We have laid out some ideas. Next come the methods.

Advancing the Fourfold Vision Quest in 2021

As 2020 began I tried to launch what I am now calling the Fourfold Vision Quest. I don’t remember what it was called then, and it doesn’t matter. It sputtered along in small weekly bursts without gaining much momentum. Other projects demanded my attention. As 2021 begins I intend to try again.

Today I inserted into the Voyageur Storytelling web site, the focus of much of my internet attention for the past nineteen years, a few thoughts that might serve as an orientation to the quest. As I begin to transfer the locus of contemplation from that site to this, I took a screen shot of one of the panels there, to give you an idea of where they start.

The promised ‘recalled pictoverbicon’ is not here; you can see it there at, if you are curious. It is labyrinthine, cluttered, and somewhat out of date. A new version will appear here before too long.

Two ideas are worth a little more verbiage today. First, the idea of “Complex Thinking for Complex Times” is fundamental. Our news media, politicians, and advocates, do a splendid job of presenting us with a running mosaic of simplistic, one-fold impressions,—they can hardly be called visions,—usually mutually contradictory, but give us no help with integrating them into some coherent understanding of how the world is turning and what needs to be done. The term ‘no help’ hardly does justice to what they give us. They cultivate confusion, either deliberately in pursuit of their myriad single visions, or as a by-product of their clumsy, ad hoc, disorganized efforts to keep us informed. Their noisy disparation drives the mass of us, their hapless listeners, straight into the lives of quiet desperation that Henry David Thoreau so stigmatized.

The Fourfold Vision Quest is a response to this deplorable situation. It may or may not yield a method. It will yield a way of thinking, a guide to coping with the inescapable plethora of points of view arising from our contemporary life. It will do that, I promise you, although probably not right away. The Quest will require contemplation, deliberation, conversation, and the more the better.

As the next push is for 2021 which has not yet quite begun, I will simply display the pictoverbicon for the last day of 2020, and sign off, pausing only to wish you a prosperous, healthy, safe, and unfettered year. Here is the pictoverbicon:


Paul Conway, Northern Bruce Peninsula, Ontario

(the background picture, by the way, is our front yard at this time of year)

“Social Experiments” and the Common Good

Today I sent the following letter to the leaders of the four parties in the Canadian House of Commons:

Respected Sirs and Madam,

I am writing in response to the Throne Speech and to recent reports of Mr. O’Toole’s stated concerns about “social experiments”, as reported this morning by the CBC.

I am writing to all of you because I am hoping that you will all embrace one political experiment, which is to work together for the common good and not try to make partisan hay out of our current misfortunes and challenges. Of course I recognize that there is plenty of room for principled disagreement about “the common good”, and that the people you serve probably hold a muddled view of what that is. Still, it’s pretty clear when you are being principled and when you are being partisan, just by the way you speak and the amount of thought evident in what you say.

Neither fulsome boasting on the part of the Government, nor carping negativity on the part of the Opposition, can be seen as principled. Those kinds of speech are clearly partisan, and have no place in the current predicament.

I would identify that predicament as primarily four-fold, at the broad strategic level:

(1) The current pandemic coronavirus, and the lively probability of future ones;

(2) Excessive waste and the indiscriminate dumping of its effluents into the air (climate), water, and land;

(3) Inequality and injustice in all forms;

(4) Violence and strong-arm tactics in all forms.

The last three, in all their diverse variations, have become firmly embedded in our ways of life and institutions, as we can see from the huge resistance we see when they are challenged. The insidious thing about those three is that while it is abundantly clear that the whole of society is being hugely damaged by them, perhaps even terminally, someone is benefiting from every single element of each one of them.

The people who are benefiting have power and voices, and do not hesitate to use them. They may even have rights, or at least legitimate interests, often broadly distributed, including the right not to have the whole basis for their lives overturned or blasted into oblivion without some kind of due process. This whole immense and complex system of resistances erects huge barriers against fundamental change.

The virus is different. It doesn’t care about our rights or legitimate interests or due process. It does what it wants, and has forced us to overturn our ways of life to an extent previously unimaginable. I don’t need to belabour that point. You all know what I mean. To a considerable extent we have made those changes, with what is actually, when you come to think about it, a commendable amount of grace. The virus has taught us something about our capacity to change, if change we must.

I suggest that the degree of change and willingness to change that the virus has imposed on us, and our success in changing, ought to give us the courage to tackle the other three in the same spirit. We can drastically reduce waste and dumping. We can address inequality and injustice. We can do away with violence and strong-arm tactics. And when we have done all that we will live very differently from the way we do now, or did before the virus.

And I would say to Mr O’Toole and those who agree with him that the way to get there is through Social Experiments, also Economic Experiments, Political Experiments, and Individual Way-of-Life Experiments of many different kinds. I would say that an Experimental Way of Life is exactly what we must adopt in order to deal with our Four Predicaments, both broadly and in detail.

I think we are doing that, to a commendable extent, in dealing with the coronavirus. More experimentation is yet to be done there, but the process is rolling.

I suggest that it has two principle implications. First, that we need not pretend that all experiments will work. I suggest two principles, adapted from the school of counselling called “Solution Focus”: If you try something that works, do more of it. If you try something that doesn’t work, don’t do more of it, do something different. Experiments sometimes fail. We must not play “Gotcha!” with the people who undertook them, or lay blame, or question their motives, or seek to take mean-spirited advantage of their discomfort, or any of the other practices so dear to us. An experimental culture must be a generous one. It will do us all much good if we simply cut each other a little slack.

Second, I suggest that this kind of process cannot carry on without catastrophic disruption and huge injustice unless our governments are heavily involved in the regulation of it. This is not an environment for unregulated “market” solutions, although ingenuity and initiative may play important roles, as they always have. If we want to cultivate experimental approaches that are effective, humane, and democratic, we must cultivate a vibrant Public Sector, which means among other things being prepared to pay for it. Resources are going to shift away from the comfortable practices of the past into new ones. The old ones are going to scream bloody murder, and we are going to have to deal with them resolutely, using due process of course.

Please notice that I assign to our governments the job of “regulation”, not “control”. Individual initiative remains a huge experimental resource and should be cultivated in the humane way we all know about but don’t always respect.

Please notice also how easily we learn when we must. We learned a long time ago to drive our cars on the right-hand side of the road. That is a severe restriction which we accept. We are learning to wear masks and keep our distance. There may be limits out there somewhere to what we can learn, but they are a long way away.

I have suggested that we are adapting to the coronavirus because it doesn’t care about our complex of resistances. With respect to the second predicament, the one caused by waste and dumping and exploitation, I suggest that Nature doesn’t really care either, although she is a lot more generous than the virus. But if Nature decides she has had enough, she will retaliate very hard indeed, and far more widely than the virus. We do well not to make her too angry. The same might be said for the victims of inequality and injustice, and of violence and strong-arm tactics.

Experiments forever!

Thank you for reading.

Paul Conway
Northern Bruce Peninsula,Ontario
October 4th, 2020

Mitigating the Madness of King Us

PWC: The following article appeared on the web site “The Conversation”,, sometime this past week, along with an invitation to republish. Since the general thrust of what is said there reflects what I have been trying to say, I am doing that.

I first took part in a multidisciplinary academic project in 1971 and have, to the extent possible, been practising the approach in my own research and management ever since. Multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary is certainly better than monodisciplinary in dealing with broad humane issues, although I believe transdisciplinary or holodisciplinary to be an even higher ideal, and what senior managers of all kinds struggle to be when they are trying to act humanely. Each academic discipline has its own particular lens, ground so as to illuminate the questions that discipline likes to ask. The task of humane senior management, in all fields, is to find a lens for its questions, which are often broad and complex. Too often, in my experience, when they try to put everything together, they end up flying by the seat of their pants, without any help from the disciplines who are, in fact, often critical of their decisions, sometimes aggressively so, on the grounds that they have given insufficient weight to one disciplinary perspective or another. It is easy to state general principles on how such weighting ought to be done. They are the commonplaces of decision theory and the philosophical principles behind it. Plugging the numbers into the formulas and dealing with the stochasticities surrounding them is another matter altogether.

When I advocate for “Fourfold Vision”, I mean a way of thinking, a cast of mind, that includes and transcends particular academic disciplines to create a holism greater than the sum of their parts. Whether that can be done in any except general terms remains to be seen.

The University of Toronto’s project, described here, is commendable. Any comments I might make, interleaved in italics below and marked “PWC”, are intended to build on what the authors have said and not to detract from their ideas in any way. They and their project are on the right track, in my opinion. I would simply like them to go beyond interdisciplinary into that even higher intellectual, perceptual, and practical realm where Fourfold Vision prevails.

My comments will evolve gradually in the days ahead.

Here is the article in question:

‘How to live in a pandemic’ is the type of university class we need during COVID-19

PWC: Why only in university class? It is what we all need. The Madness of King Us, in this context, is the strident chorus of particular perspectives all trying to tell us what to do. The most common theme, in my limited viewing range, says that we should all be “kept safe”, meaning we should not catch the current virus. Whether the things we must do to achieve that in some global way do in fact “keep us safe”, or even “keep our children safe” (the idea behind much immediately current discourse) is another matter. “Safe” is one of those easy four-letter words that is a lot more complicated than appears on the surface.

Health is a complex issue that requires an interdisciplinary approach to study and teach. (Shutterstock)

Andrea Charise, University of Toronto; Ghazal Fazli, University of Toronto; Jessica Fields, University of Toronto; Laura Bisaillon, University of Toronto, and Nicholas D. Spence, University of Toronto PWC: These are the authors of this article. I salute them, and will try to contact them directly.

Currently, we are all bombarded with headlines on the latest research related to COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that health is a deeply interdisciplinary issue, demanding expert responses from a cross-section of fields: the arts, public health, social work and K-12 education among them.

As an interdisciplinary collective of academics trained in a range of fields from the arts to social science to clinical sciences, we have witnessed first-hand a crucial problem in how health is taught and communicated at the post-secondary level. What is often missed, but is critical to contextualizing scientific findings, are examinations of the assumptions and methods used to conduct health-related research.

This omission reflects a problem in Canadian colleges and universities, which generally deliver post-secondary curriculum using a single-discipline approach. A single-discipline approach to health education does not engage the full picture nor provides the groundwork for innovative, equitable solutions in the future.

PWC: Health is of course only one element in the complex of contemporary human needs and desires which I believe to usefully expressed by the following tetrad: Prosperity + Health + Security + Contentment. These authors are dealing with the complexities of diverse perspectives about health. Each of the other elements in the tetrad present the same order of complexity, and can be approached in a multi-disciplinary way with equal validity. The larger human problem is to put all the elements together, with all their complexities, in order to decide how to live, and how best to conduct public affairs.

Multidisciplinary approaches

At the post-secondary level, for example, a microbiology course might focus on lab-based methods used to diagnose whether someone has developed antibodies to a disease like COVID-19, while a typical public health course might focus on the mechanics of contact tracing.

Deeper understandings of health require a co-operative investigation of the various frameworks, techniques and assumptions that guide research practices and how they are communicated.

Universities must fundamentally change their approach to teaching health-related knowledge. It is time to commit to what we call “radical interdisciplinarity”: a sustained inquiry into interactions between biography, arts, culture, history and societal organization that contributes to debates about political, social and economic determinants of health.

Complex issues, complex research

From local to global health issues, traditional, single-discipline approaches are inadequate training for our future carers and health workers. Along with the specialized, deep knowledge that characterizes most undergraduate education, we need to train students studying health issues to respond to the interdisciplinarity of health itself.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic can be used to illustrate this radically interdisciplinary approach; such an approach informs a new team-taught course, “How to live in a pandemic,” being offered at the University of Toronto Scarborough’s department of health and society.

Quantitative approaches, which focus on numeric data, are suited for research focused on the development of treatments using experimental designs, particularly randomized controlled trials. Projecting the number of infections and deaths resulting from the virus is done by statistical models of infectious disease, using secondary data.

Qualitative approaches, by contrast, are best suited for examining the experience of, for example, racialized women working as front-line service providers. In this case, one-on-one in-depth interviews capture the meanings and interpretations of their circumstances, particularly in light of the impact of systemic racism on health.

Beyond qualitative and quantitative approaches, arts-based health research methods are gaining traction. Creative arts — including music, theatre, writing and visual arts — have been increasingly integrated into more conventional forms of health research and education.

Canada’s first undergraduate program in health humanities was launched in 2017 at the University of Toronto Scarborough. Integrating these insights with arts-based methods can further illustrate the diverse expression of these issues in the creative lives of everyday people.

Social distancing and health inequity

One of the challenges of the current pandemic is addressing how COVID-19 is experienced differently by individuals and communities. Lessons from previous epidemics show that we are not created equal in terms of exposure to and consequences of disease: racialized, poor and sexual minorities are examples of communities that have suffered disproportionately.

It is crucial to disentangle the social, environmental and economic influences of the COVID-19 pandemic across different age, gender and class lines. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing, self-isolation and other practices aimed at controlling viral transmission may have a particular impact on the mental health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit and intersex (LGBTQTSI+) people.

Members of LGBTQTSI+ communities are particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of social isolation. These contribute substantially to higher reports of mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and acts, self-harm and controlled substance dependence.

Sociological and public health research indicates LGBTQTSI+ people have less access to socioeconomic resources, employment opportunities, health care and other forms of social support that are available to their cisgender heterosexual peers.

Better understanding the impact of responses to COVID-19 on the mental health of LGBTQTSI+ people can help ensure that all members of our society — regardless of sexual and gender identity — receive culturally appropriate and inclusive care.

Living and learning in a pandemic

As university-based health researchers and educators, our approach to the study of COVID-19 differs from conventional health education approaches. We lead with the principle that it is valuable, and in fact ethical, to commit to radical interdisciplinarity inside and outside the classroom.

A basic understanding of the research methods generating the body of pandemic scientific knowledge is essential to critically appraise the evidence, by recognizing the methodological strengths and limitations of any specific disciplinary approach.

Universities must find ways to model the multi-sectorial, interdisciplinary solidarity required to face the escalating complexity of 21st-century global health. The COVID-19 pandemic gives us a moment in time to overhaul health education — and perhaps to teach us all how to better prepare to live in the midst of this and future pandemics.

Andrea Charise, Associate Professor, Department of Health & Society, University of Toronto; Ghazal Fazli, Lecturer, Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society, University of Toronto; Jessica Fields, Professor and Chair, Health and Society, University of Toronto; Laura Bisaillon, Assistant Professor, Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society and the Social Justice Education Department, University of Toronto, and Nicholas D. Spence, Assistant Professor, Sociology and Health and Society, University of Toronto

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Madness of King Us: Liberty

A recent article by John Stoehr on the web site Agence Global ( talks about that moment in recent history when Americans began to “think of themselves more as consumers and taxpayers, instead of free and responsible citizens.”

“Thinking of themselves as consumers and taxpayers — instead of citizens endowed from birth with rights, liberties and responsibilities — lent itself to thinking about the federal government as separate from the citizenry. “Government” was something done to people. It wasn’t of, by and for them.”

Mr. Stoehr believes that the present “crisis” may be presenting the opportunity for Americans to revert to an earlier, more generous vision of themselves, as “citizens who consume and who pay taxes” because, “as citizens, we are much more than consumers and taxpayers … we are the ultimate sovereign. … The confluence of national and constitutional crises seems to be forcing some people, perhaps most people, to rethink how they think about themselves.” Americans will be fortunate people indeed if subsequent events reveal that Mr. Stoehr knows what he is talking about.

The ideal of “smaller government” is less popular in Canada, although certainly not absent. We have a highly developed sense of governments at all levels as engines that ought to be doing things for us: providing us with goods and services, protecting us from the myriad evil effects of our economic and social practices, and even changing people’s minds on basic issues of social justice. I live in a deeply conservative part of the country. I often marvel at how quickly my neighbours demand government action when something occurs that they don’t like. I even recall one entrepreneurial person who insisted that the government, having provided infrastructure that made the family enterprise possible, now “owes us a return on our investment.” That is a sweeping assignment of responsibility indeed!

We in Canada are blessed indeed with the range and variety of political and social ideals we have inherited through our diverse ancestry. We can, quite legitimately in accordance with our history, pursue the American ideals of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Stephen Leacock himself urged these upon us in his probe into The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, and quite justifiably so in my opinion. These are noble pursuits. The British bequeathed us with “Property, Stability, Conformity”, perhaps not exactly in those words, but quite effectively. The French gave us Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, perhaps not as effectively. We ourselves added Peace, Order, and Good Government. All these add up to a fine portfolio of ideals for individual and collectual well-being, and we would be ill self-served if we ditched any one of them.

If anyone pointed out to me that we do not live up to those ideals,—and someone would surely do that,—I would reply, as I said earlier, that ideals are made to be flawed. The virtue lies in believing in them, and striving for them. The grotesque short-comings that we see all around us come from those who do not believe and do not strive. The outcry against “systemic racism” and all movements of similar weight seem to centre on demands that governments do something about them. I put “systemic racism” in quotation marks not in any judgement against the movement, quite the contrary, but because I have quibbles about definitions that are of no importance to the victims. They may have importance when it comes to taking action.

The late prophet Isaiah Berlin opened our minds to an understanding of two types of Liberty, or Freedom,—he explicitly used the two words interchangeably. He called the two types “Negative Liberty” and “Positive Liberty”, complex ideas encapsulated briefly and respectively by Michael Ignatieff, in his biography of Isaiah Berlin (p. 275) as “freedom of action or thought”, and “the capacity to develop [one’s] innermost nature to the full”.

When I was a young research director working for a government and agency that I will not name, I commissioned what came to be called “the problems study”. This was a deliberately naive piece of work, viewed only as a starting point, arising from the frequently voiced observation that the people in the field where I was working faced many problems. Exactly what are those problems? I asked, and was authorized to find out, as systematically as possible within the budget approved. After a duly diligent process of selection, I sent two qualified people out into the field to find out what the problems were by asking people whose job it was to deal with them. Fortunately for my reputation, career prospects, and self-respect, I added a sufficient number of in-person household interviews to verify the perceptions of the professionals.

The results were consistent: the doctors and nurses said that illness was a huge problem; the addiction workers said that addiction was a huge problem; the police said that crime was a huge problem; the child protection workers said that too many children were being abused or neglected; the social workers said that family life was problem-ridden, and the schools backed them up; the financial counsellors said that money problems were everywhere; the clergy said that spiritual problems were rife. And so it went, through the entire panorama of the helping professions. Everyone said their agencies needed more money. The households interviewed, on the other hand, while acknowledging that not everything was rosy for everybody, said that on the whole life was pretty good, and that most people coped well enough with the hardships of the region, which was a northern one. Later on, in some subsequent research, we were able at least to sense the situation accurately. The number of people on the wrong side of the “problem” divide ranged from 5% to 15%, depending on situation and demographics, and appeared to be distributed randomly. It was the visibility of the “problem-laden”, especially to their articulate helpers, not the number, that created the perception of a society in serious trouble.

I am wondering how to apply the lessons of that research, and its successors, to the two big demands of our immediate present: that the authorities conquer the Covid-19 virus and mitigate its effects, and that they do away with “systemic racism”.

In trying to think and talk about all that, I am finding that Isaiah Berlin’s terminology, while admittedly useful to the understanding of what he meant, inhibits a clear conception of what it means we should do. Both terms contain double negatives. To speak of expanding or contracting negative liberty is confusing. Is it the negative or the liberty that is being expanded or contracted? Positive liberty in any social situation clearly must connote a strong element of moral choice and self-constraint. It is time, I believe, to invent some words, and for that it is traditional in the English language to turn either to the Latin, or to the Greek.

In this case the honours go to the Greek, I believe. I propose that negative liberty be called “adeia”, or more simply “adea”, from the Greek word for “permission” and related things, and that positive liberty be called “eleutheria”, or “elutheria”, from the Greek word for “liberty-freedom”.

This adjustment in terminology will allow us to consider dealing with Covid-19 unambiguously and positively through pursuit of a higher rather than a lower “adealism”, and “systemic racism” through “elutherial” rather than punitive measures. In both cases we would therefore be talking about mitigating evils through positive instead of negative measures, by expanding rather than contacting something, by moving forwards rather than backwards. If we think and pursue that way, we are less likely to incur harmful side-effects, or to emerge from the endeavour with our society in even worse shape than it was before.

As to what all this might mean in practical terms, I promise that I will continue along these lines and report progress as I go along.

I write this article as part of the Fourfold Visions Projectile (see, out of my beliefs in complex thinking about complex matters, and in the positive usefulness of diverse points of view, openly expressed.

Paul Conway, July 31 2020


The Madness of King Us – Covid-19

I am trying to  imagine what Cast of Mind we should cultivate to get us through the Covid-19 outburst. Although by no means sure, I am not convinced that the cast of mind being thrust upon us by those in authority, their advocates, and the news media is the best one for the job.

I have been suggesting, in other places, that a Fourfold (or Morefold) Cast of Mind might constitute a better way. By that I mean, most simply, that we should cultivate the capacity to look rigorously at any situation, in this case the new corona virus, in more than one way with equal degrees of rigour. The idea is a little more complicated, in that a truly Morefold Cast of Mind would think in all relevant ways simultaneously. A simple sequential algorithm will work well enough for today.

You will perhaps have noticed that I did not call Covid-19 a crisis, or even a pandemic, but an outburst. I am searching for a neutral term, but not too neutral. I am trying to keep my mind clear of all preconceptions, especially those cultivated by people who might be cultivating some other cast of mind. Is Covid-19, or the virus that causes it, the “crisis”, or is the “crisis” our reaction? In other words, is our reaction proportionate to the phenomenon itself, or are we marching to the beat of some other drummer?

In order to clarify further before I get into specifics, I draw your attention to three examples of Fourfolding that I have encountered so far. Obviously I will be more content when I have a fourth, which ought to come from William Blake, who called our attention to the “supreme delight” of “Fourfold Visions”. His concept however is so complex that I do not yet have the pleasure of understanding it. I have found three more mundane others. I call them Tetrads:

Stephen Butler Leacock, 1860-1944, in his copious and varied writings on education: Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour;

John Maynard Keynes, 1883-1946, in his tribute to Alfred Marshall, written in 1924: Mathematics + History + Statecraft + Philosophy;

Isaiah Berlin, 1909-1997, who, according to his biographer Michael Ignatieff, sought a cast of mind that is: sceptical, ironical, dispassionate, and free.

A fourth might well be Northrop Frye, 1912-1991, who certainly liked to organize his thoughts in fours, although I am not sure what the full list would be. I am nearly certain that “Literary”, or “Poetic”, would appear on it.

What happens if we approach Covid-19 with a cast of mind somehow consistent with these casts of mind? How would we react?

First of all, I think we would require that whatever we are reacting to ought to be a fact and not merely a belief. Is our reaction itself a fact? No doubt it is, but too far downstream for this analysis. I submit that the “facts” at the root of most of the excitement are (a) statistical, and (b) historical. Other “facts” or perceptions, are augmenting the excitement, I submit, but those are the roots. I will start with the statistics. I am looking at two statistical web sites with coronavirus pages:, and

The result is a blizzard of statistics, far too many for the mind to grasp, no matter what cast of mind one brings to the task. These sites, but particularly the former, are very, very, very, very informative, if you have the time and numerical literacy to make use of them. The natural human need, however, is somehow to distill the essence of what they are saying. This is where we get into trouble, because it is almost impossible to distill the essence without imposing prior judgements or biases. To distill without bias takes one into a realm of sophisticated analysis inaccessible to the citizen-reader who is simply trying to become well informed.

To illustrate how biassed distilling might work, what would I do if I wanted to convince you that some phenomenon, measured in numbers, is larger rather than smaller? First of all, I would look for the largest numbers available and draw your attention to them. For example, given a list of countries and their Covid-19 data, I would first make sure that whatever statistic I was reporting would be as wide as possible. “Cases” does that admirably, and I would make sure that I made any discovery of what I meant by a “case” as difficult as possible. It appears to me, in this instance, that a “case” includes everything from a positive test with no symptoms right through to mortal illness.

What about death? Is that not a more precise phenomenon? For a younger population I believe it is, because death is not generally expected there. But for the very old? People over eighty are at high risk of dying, and usually have more than one condition which, if put under sufficient pressure, can kill them. Is an octogenarian with a weak heart who contracts Covid-19 killed by the weak heart or the virus? Common sense would conclude: by both. In the midst of a panic, what happens to the idea that octogenarians are at high risk of dying, no matter what is flying around, and that they die primarily from being old?

Then, I would make sure that if I did present any ratios, for purposes of comparison and context, I would choose the largest denominator possible. Cases, or death, per million produces numbers ten times larger than per hundred thousand, for example, ten thousand times larger than percentages, and a million times larger than the raw rate which is a measure of the probability of occurrence. Thus, for Canada (today’s figures) 110,000 cases in a population of 38,000,000 sounds a lot more impressive than a probability of occurrence equalling .0029.

Third, I would avoid any comparisons with other comparable statistics, which might make mine look small. For example, according to Our World in Data (these people seem to be very thorough), 56 million people died in 2017, world-wide. Covid-19 has been active for about five months, with 607,000 ascribed deaths (see above caveat about multiple causes of death). The total number of deaths in five months of 2017, well before Covid-19, was somewhere around 23 or 24  million; call it 25 million by 2020. This gives Covid-19 only 2.5% of the world’s deadly effect, considerably smaller than other causes such as heart failure and cancer, and that is before adjusting for the complications of age and the possibility that people are dying from neglect, postponed medical care, over-doses, suicide, etc., causes which come not from the disease itself but as side-effects of our response to it.

If I went on with this purposeful exercise any further, I would bring in the practice of focussing on the larger countries, because they have larger numbers, and neglecting the small ones. I would talk about the U.S.A., Brazil, India, and Russia, with their dramatically large numbers of cases, not about San Marino and Belgium, where the death rates per capita far exceed any other place. San Marino is small, of course, and needs a different kind of analysis, but what on earth was going on in Belgium? When journalists were going on endlessly about Italy, Spain, the U.K., the U.S.A., I do not remember anyone talking about Belgium.

Then there is the whole testing phenomenon. How does that work, and what effect does it have on careful interpretation of the numbers?

Most of all, however, I would make sure that statistics were presented to the public in the grossest possible way, without sensitive geographic or demographic partitioning, so that no one would possibly be confident about what they meant without delving into the detailed tables themselves which, as I have already pointed out, the citizen-reader, trying to become informed, would have neither the time nor possibly the know-how to do.

I am not suggesting for a minute that Covid-19 is not a serious matter, or that some kind of unusual reaction would be inappropriate. Clearly this time is not “life as usual”. Nor am I questioning the reactions taken in the early stages, when no one knew what this virus was or what it might become. For us to be concerned that it might be as terrible as the so-called “Spanish” flu was entirely understandable. What do worry me, however, are the continuing efforts to keep us in a high state of apprehension, even fear, even as the virus becomes much better understood, and as the side effects of our response become increasingly apparent. We are being constantly urged to be afraid of Covid-19. I think we need to be a little more fearful of our reactions.

For me personally, two aspects of our reactions loom very large. The first is the encouragement of isolation from each other. This concern is very real to me, who in my situation could easily, and comfortably, turn into a rural solitaire. What do we become if we act habitually as if we were afraid of each other, are able to interact only under severe constraint, and are not allowed to see each other’s faces? How do you smile at someone through a mask?

The second is the encouragement given to “experts” to beak off in the public media without once telling us what their evidence is. Maybe they have some, but they aren’t saying. I get particularly concerned when these beakings come in the form of predictions, which must be based either on hunch or on statistical models extrapolated from other diseases. We simply cannot have the data yet for valid extrapolation from the history of Covid-19 itself. The broadcasting of “worst-case scenarios” based on untested statistical “models”,—the usual term for sets of equations based on theory or historical data,—was a terrible phenomenon in the early stages of the outburst and a contributor to panic.

Thirdly, I worry about the stimulation being given to the authoritarian tendencies of governments and their officials. In Canada we are, and strive mightily to be, a liberal democracy. We are entirely within our rights as citizens to question every rule imposed on us by our governments, without exception. I do not mean that we have the right to disobey it, but we may and should question it, and press for it to be changed if we think it harmful or unnecessary.

I have seen some talk recently about “metrics”. The only metric that makes any sense to me is the probability that I will catch Covid-19 if I go about my life and business in the normal way, and the probability that I have it already and will give it to someone else. I would like to see that probability adjusted sensitively for different parts of the country, and for different settings.

If I had the data for that calculation I would be able to perform a proper “risk assessment” and make reasonable decisions about what I should do and what I should protest. For example, it seems clear that the risk, the probability of harm and its consequences, would be higher if I were going into a care home or other residential institution, although I would like to see that calculation adjusted for management practices. Anyone who has been in care homes knows that they vary in their facilities, ventilation, and practices, perhaps crucially. What I have been able to learn with a reasonable amount of digging, puts the level of risk in the normal activities of life far lower than is being generally assumed, except perhaps in congested settings.

It appears we may be inching towards a regime where that kind of conclusion prevails, although I believe we are not yet well protected against a return of panic, if the numbers increase abruptly and they continue to be interpreted as grossly as they have been so far. We are certainly not well protected against authoritarian measures thrust upon us without proper explanation. By proper I mean explanations accompanied by statement of the evidence, not the unsupported assertions of people identified as experts, nor anecdotes taken out of context. Explanations of this kind would make the evening news more useful, albeit perhaps more confusing, and less exciting.

I write this article as part of the Fourfold Visions Projectile (see, out of my beliefs in complex thinking about complex matters, and in the positive usefulness of diverse points of view, openly expressed.

For the next several days I will be reviewing this text each morning, and striving to improve it. I apologize for its flaws. Thank you for reading.

Paul Conway



Saluting “A Balanced Response” to Covid-19

Today a magnificent development in Covid-19 discourse: A new web site has appeared with an Open Letter and a Statement endorsed by a bevy of senior medical and academic people, advocating “A Balanced Response” towards the virus. The web site is, and I highly recommend it.

I have for several days been contemplating a blog post about that, but these people have spoken far better than I could have done. Responding to their invitation, I spoke to them as follows.

Dear Balanced Responders:

I am absolutely delighted to learn of your initiative and to read your web site. Many, many thanks for them.

You asked for feedback and here is mine. I apologize for its wordiness, but I am immensely excited and encouraged by what you have done and that tends to stimulate my thoughts and make me verbose.

Please extend my particular congratulations to the person or people who drafted the text. I have done that kind of writing professionally and I can recognize good work when I see it. Your letter and statement are the best I have seen in a long, long time, and certainly the best that has come out of Covid-19 discourse, if it can be called that.

We have been subjected to far too much “discourse” that is technically propaganda, well-intentioned propaganda no doubt, but still propaganda. I believe that decisions were taken at very high official levels deliberately to frighten the general public into compliance, a strategy enthusiastically augmented by the CBC, which is my main source of news, and which can only backfire eventually. Your Statement says, “Our leaders and public health authorities had to use strong language to support universal acceptance of these measures.” I believe the same effect could have been achieved by much less dubious rhetoric and abuse of statistics.

I am concerned that one serious side-effect of Covid-19 has been to stimulate the authoritarian dreams of some politicians and senior officials. “My goodness,” I hear them chortling, “we are ordering people around for their own good and they are obeying. Isn’t this fun!” It is but a short hop to, “Let’s do more of it!”.

Another has been to stimulate the finger-pointing and shaming instincts of some of our fellow citizens. Now that masks have emerged as a visible sign of compliance, this kind of anti-social behaviour will have every opportunity to prosper.

I agree entirely with your recommendation that: “Any requirements for mandatory masks must be based on strong evidence with clear specification of where they are most appropriate.” I am not yet seeing any real evidence (as opposed to guesswork) that a piece of cloth, or a flimsy piece of whatever medical-looking material is used, hooked behind the ears, is a protection against anything, let alone an extraordinarily crafty virus. It does protect against intrusive finger-pointing and shaming, I suppose, but forcing protection against that can only lead to rising levels of anger, which are bad for mental health. I support the intent of your Recommendation 12, but would add that we need to be not only responsive, but preventive. We should not trade one epidemic for another.

And what do we become as a community and society, if we routinely hide our faces from each other? How do you smile at someone from behind a mask? What does a mask say, if not, “I am afraid of you, and I think you are entitled to be afraid of me”?

The key to the approach you are recommending is in Recommendation 10: “Canadians must be better informed about their true level of risk from COVID-19. An accurate accessible risk assessment tool is a priority. This will help empower people to make informed decisions about how they choose to lead their lives. Help people understand and manage their fear and anxiety.” The questions that I ask myself continuously when I am out and about is, “What is the probability that the people I am going to meet will have the virus and will pass it on to me? What is the probability that I have the virus, and will pass it on to them? What is the probability of severe consequences, either way?” I study the data available to me, which are most distressingly incomplete, and I keep coming up with the the same answer: Those probabilities are very, very small, not negligible of course, but within the range of normal human existence or very close to it.

Development and cultivation of the risk assessment tool you recommend, even in the face of incomplete data, is within the scope of simple application of statistical decision theory, accessible to anyone who can do basic arithmetic and understands the meaning of odds. If the formula is out in the open it can be easily up-dated as new data come in.

I believe that development of a more sophisticated understanding of the term “case” would help enormously to prepare the ground, and also even crude demographic partitioning of the data, as you have done in your first Statement paragraph.

People in official positions need to be careful about the precision of their language. A nearby care home suffered a positive test in one of its elderly residents, causing enormous upheaval, distress, and cost not only monetary. The test turned out to be a false positive, but the incident was nevertheless referred to by the authorities as an “outbreak”.

I have published my recommendations for policy arising from Covid-19, although I do not pretend to have a wide audience. I have had them up on my web site ( for some time, ever since the patterns became clear. I pass them on to you for what they are worth:
(1) A Guaranteed Annual Income. If we had had that from the beginning the social safety net it would represent would kick in automatically for those in need.This measure would require higher taxation of the progressive redistributive kind.

(2) Massive Reform of Elder Care. Towards Home Care and minimally institutional forms of residence; away from large institutions especially those of the warehousing kind.

(3) Sophisticated Understanding of Risk. Covid-19 is a new risk and we don’t know how to think about it. We take risks all the time in our daily lives, especially with disease and accidents, and we know how to think about them. We need to apply the same kind of understanding.

(4) Journalism for Our Time. The present whip-saw oscillation between sensationalism and sentimentalism, along with grotesquely inadequate expertise in statistical interpretation on the part of journalists, is making any kind of contextual thinking extremely difficult for those who rely on regular journalism for understanding.

I think these sketchy ideas are compatible with your thinking, although I don’t think you addressed the first or, explicitly, the fourth. The latter is in line with your Recommendation 10, however. Understanding of context is extremely important for the kind of informed decisions you are talking about there.

I will indeed do as you ask, to spread word of your Open Letter and Statement on my social media sites and blogs. I look forward to further developments on your web site.

Again thanks, and all best wishes for wide acceptance of your ideas and advice.

Signed …

The whole response to Covid-19, up until recently, as been an almost unprecedented (at least since WW II and maybe not even then) application of onefold vision (single vision) to our macro-societal life. We have been under a form of authoritarian rule, supported by our own fears and lack of information (as such rule always is), justifiable only in a drastic emergency. It was possible in the early stages that we were in one of those, but has also been clear for at least two of the four months that this epidemic was no such thing unless we chose to make it one. We did. Now, finally, we have authoritative people expressing, with all the weight of their knowledge and experience, an alternative point of view. We need to celebrate that. They have given us a Fourfold Vision of how we should think and what we should do.

PWC, July 9 2020

The March of the Fourfold Visions Continues: Who’s In the Band?

This morning I made two efforts to extend the conversation. Each Thursday I refresh the content on the Voyageur Storytelling Web Site ( with a new pictoverbicon and sometimes, although not this morning, with new content. Then I put the pictoverbicon on Twitter (@conwaypaulw), with the allowed amount of text, and sometimes on Facebook, on the Paul W Conway and Voyageur Storytelling pages.

The text I put on Facebook, which enlarged what I put on Twitter, is:

July 2nd. A Pictoverbicon for the day after Canada Day and onward. I remain unconvinced about the idea of picking one day to mark a country that grew-grows-will grow incrementally even organically. Each increment has its birthday, which is also the country’s. Pluralism in all dimensions: a Multidimensional Continuum. It is difficult to get the head around this. Let’s start with a set of four four-dimensional continuums (“Tetrads”) and see if we can work with them. My set, so far?:
God + Nature + Person + People
Prosperity + Society + Environment + Culture
Wealth + Health + Wisdom + Courage
Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour
Your set?

Then, being obliged to respond to a feminist publisher who asked to be removed from the mailing list, being willing but sad to do that, and wanting to offer some explanation for my sadness, I replied with the following e-mail:

Of course we will remove you from our mailing list as you request, but with regret. We are anxious to include feminist voices in our conversation about Fourfold Visions in Public Affairs, and had hoped that you would be interested in being one of them, or at least linking us with others. So far the nominations for Fourfold Prophets, with one exception, have been men, even those coming from women. I am sure that is not a valid reflection of the pool.

Is it valid, do you think, to articulate which might be called “The Unsolved Riddle of Justice for Women” around a Fourfold Vision that might look something like this?:

As an individual person, entitled to life, liberty, well-being and contentment, with responsibilities to herself;
As a person with an intimate circle,—family and friends,—to whom she has particular responsibilities;
As a person in society, to which she has a general responsibility that translates into particulars;
As a person with a potential assigned by Nature,—child-bearing,,—
which if felt or realized creates another set of particular responsibilities.

Of course all these responsibilities are shaped and interpreted within the woman’s own culture, and the culture around her. If that culture changes, or she moves from one to another, a whole new layer is added to the Unsolved Riddle.

If the Unsolved Riddle of Justice for Women does indeed look something like this, or even if it doesn’t,–in which case I would be keen to have the vision corrected,–then the specific questions I am asking in the Fourfold Visions Projectile are (a) how the riddle presents itself in public affairs, and (b) whether a “Literary Cast of Mind” has anything to offer in dealing with it, and if so how. The alternative casts of mind I am listing, for the time being, are the Mariposan, the Ideological, and the Scientific.

I think you at [press] and at least some of your authors will have interesting and useful answers to those questions. That is why I will act on your request with regret.

I assure you, however, that we will keep searching for feminist perspectives in our conversation, which is all it is at the moment. We will find them too, because we know they are alive.

A little clarification and extension:

Why am I calling this whole thing a “projectile” instead of a project, or a probe, or an initiative, or any more conventional term. I shot an arrow into the air,/ It fell to Earth, I knew not where; … If I am interpreting the Automatistes properly, the work of art (or in this case, of enquiry) is the arrow, the projectile. The painting, or dance, or play, or manifesto (“Refus Global“) or whatever results from it is mark it made on the place where it landed. This one is still in flight; in fact, it is still on the upward slope of its parabola, or whatever shape its trajectory may take given the wind conditions.

I am trying to imagine what Tetrational thinking would look like. Clearly it won’t be a picture or object occupying space, even the relativistic space of Einstein and others. If my set of four tetrads can be taken as a crude working model (can it?) then we are dealing with sixteen elements, arranged as either a sixteen-dimensional continuum, or four four-dimensional continuums either fused, or a nesting set. We cannot see such a complex Vision; our eyes, while amazing organs, are not able. Our minds, however, even more amazing, are able, if we so develop them. I use the term “cast of mind” to mean the lines along which a mind has developed.

A Mariposan Cast of Mind, as I conceive it, would approach a sixteen-dimensional continuum in a severely pragmatic way, navigating through it incrementally, using trial-and-success or -error, and learning as it went.

An Ideological Cast of Mind would simplify the continuum by reducing the number of elements given status.

A Scientific Cast of Mind would strive to understand the continuum by rigorous study of its elements and their relationships, reducing them eventually, if at all possible, to mathematical formulations.

My question is, what would a Literary Cast of Mind do, and does it offer more than any of these others?

God + Nature + Person + People
Prosperity + Society + Environment + Culture
Wealth + Health + Wisdom + Courage
Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour

Sixteen words, each one a label for an element of what is good, or is good for what is good, or a source. All can be discussed for what they mean, but none can be dismissed out of hand because too many people associate them, in some way, with “a good life”.

Literary Casts of Mind: Confronting the Onefold Imperative in Public Affairs

I would a fourfold vision see, and a fourfold vision be granted to me. I myself am a long way from getting all the way there, although I think I do pretty well at avoiding the onefold trap. I struggle day by day to reach at least two-fold, and damned hard work it is too. I wish I could say the same for the discourse that swirls around me. A maelstrom of competing onefolds, each stridently promoted, is not a fourfold, but only a maelstrom of onefolds, each often insisting on its superior validity and the dire consequences that will follow from the others. Fourfold, the “supreme delight” of William Blake who is the great prophet of multifold perception, involves, in the words of Isaiah Berlin, “a measure of inefficiency and even muddle”, inevitable in a pluralistic society such as we enjoy, for which we routinely excoriate our politicians. They are our professional fourfolders. Many of us make it our onefold mission to make their job as difficult as possible, calling that “holding governments to account”, or “speaking truth to power”. This is all self-indulgent nonsense of the intellectually lazy kind, of course, and fully apparent as such, which does not mitigate its prevalence.

I am calling our foe the “Onefold Imperative”, not because we have no choice except to follow it, but because its instinct is imperious. We have had that amply demonstrated recently, as we became convinced that the new corona virus is a threat of such magnitude that all other considerations (“The Economy”, “The Environment”, the normal comforts and pleasures of family, social, and commercial life), no matter how important we may have thought them in the past, must be set aside while we fight this battle of all battles. This fight, urged on us by everything that expert opinion and official propaganda can hurl into it, has been accompanied by an outburst of authoritarianism such as Canadian society has, I believe, never seen and would not normally tolerate. Isaiah Berlin, in the same paragraph of his essay “Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century” (1950), warns us: “We must not submit to authority because it is infallible but only for strictly and openly utilitarian reasons, as a necessary evil.” It appears that the Canadian general public has accepted that the Covid-19 meets that standard, and perhaps it does. Or perhaps it did only in the early stages, when the disease was new and unknown. The medical authorities were desperately afraid of what it might be, and they passed that fear on to us. Fair enough. We know a lot more now, however, and the costs of that onefold obsession are showing their teeth. We are returning willy-nilly to the multifold world to which Fate and our own cumulative choices have consigned us, with its concomitant need for robust multifold conversations.

Robust multifold conversations. Strident onefold advocacy. These are the polarities of public discourse in a democracy. Both are legal, subject only to rules about hate speech and slander. Robust multifold conversations are the everyday, internal, sub-articulate experience of individual human beings in all complex societies or situations, provided they are minimally healthy in their minds and emotions, as they wrestle with the choices, benefits, costs, and unknowns before them, the unknowns usually and widely out-numbering the knowns. They are the everyday articulate or tacit experience of healthy families and friendships. They should be the everyday experience of discourse on public affairs, but if they are, the evidence is difficult to see in the conspicuous media. And the conspicuous media are what we have to inform us about what is going on in the world outside our immediate range of vision. These can be received first-hand, through actual viewing or listening, or second-hand (or third-, or more) from others. These methods are all highly imperfect, but they are what we have. The important question concerns not their flaws, but the judgements we bring to the information we thus receive. I am going to the common term “cast of mind” to label the faculty we use to shape those judgements.

I will note, in passing, but without elaboration, that I believe collective casts of mind to be possible and observable. For example, I have said before on this site that each political party has a cast of mind, to which we should pay close attention, and so can any specific corporation (using the term most broadly). Whether a society can truly have one is a complicated question which I will leave until later.

I am interested right now in imagining those human beings I referred to above, engaging in their internal, even sub-articulate, robust conversations, and wondering what cast of mind they would need to cultivate in order to become truly and effectively multifold, especially when aggregated into public policy for the benefit of the common weal, the advancement of social justice, and the personal contentment of the individual. Any such aggregation will be, of course, an almost infinitely complex process. I do not know how it works, but have no doubt that it does, and that in a democracy it grows, however imperfectly, out of public discourse, whatever that may be.

I am going to suggest, hypothetically at least, that we commonly observe three different casts of mind in public discourse, all of them diverse, one of which we ought to cultivate, in order gradually to supplant, or at least constrain, the other two. I will, with some nervousness, label these casts of mind as Mariposan, Ideological, and Literary. For purposes of this article I simply toss these into view, pending more thorough study and, I hope, wider participation in the conversation.

Mariposan Casts of Mind. I chose this label in order not to use the word “muddled” because I want to preserve that one for more constructive, Berlinian usage, as a creative rather than pejorative idea. “Mariposan” comes of course from Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912), characterized by Professor Ed Jewinski as a “supreme achievement of fragmentation, incompleteness, and inconclusiveness”. Jewinski was describing the book; Leacock imagined a town, and people, whose minds roil in fragmentation, incompleteness, and inconclusiveness and who manage, nevertheless, to get on with their lives and and make their collective decisions, rightly or wrongly, possibly both. The question, indeed the necessity for our time is that those decisions should be made more rightly, a matter of increasing complexity and urgency, as recent events clearly demonstrate. The trend, however, is not new.

Ideological Casts of Mind. Many of these are familiar, in particular those considered “left-wing” and those considered “right-wing”. These are great ideologies, wide in their scope and powerful in their attraction to large numbers of people with the best of intentions. They are also embraced by more questionable people interested in the acquisition of power or the accumulation of financial wealth, possibly both. I do not believe, however, that we should judge an ideology according to the worst people who adhere to it, or according to the best, but by its broad effect on the common weal, its capacity to advance social justice, and its contribution to individual contentment. Both-and, or middle, or pragmatic ideologies, incorporating elements of both great ones, have much appeal in public affairs, although they may not be ideologies at all, but rejections thereof. We must entertain the possibility that rejection of ideology is itself an ideology. A more recent one becoming more articulate, although perhaps not as powerful as it wants to be (and ideologies always want to be powerful) is the ideology of “evidence-based decisions”. It is not yet clear however, at least to me, whether this represents a genuine ideological breakthrough or simply a more up-to-date form of Mariposanism.

I want to suggest that in pursuit of what me might call ‘multifoldarity”, neither Mariposan nor Ideological casts of mind are going to serve us well, one being too confused, the other not confused enough. I want to expand the potential of the third set, or at least to explore what it might mean, because very clever people have suggested it. I am referring of course to:

Literary Casts of Mind. I want to make it clear immediately that I do not mean simply the minds of people who read books. I mean people who are innately attracted to multifoldarity, and who deliberately cultivate the capacity to practise it intellectually and even bring it into the realm of public affairs. I mean people who, when I mention the Leacock Tetrad of Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour, as I do often, perhaps even ad nauseam, are at least prepared to pause reflectively and ask if there might be something in it, instead of dismissing it as silly or inconsequential. (Saddest of all are those who do do that simply because they have stereotyped Stephen Leacock himself.) I mean people who grasp, at least intuitively, the nature and prevalence of complexity and want to understand how to deal with it creatively and constructively. I believe such people exist, that they are of excellently benign intention, and that their voices need to be heard respectfully in public affairs.

In 2019 I announced and undertook an organized hunt for the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, for the purpose of taming and putting it to use. The hunt was successful, the taming and putting to use are works in progress. The quest that I am launching with this article is related, but not exactly the same. To celebrate the Summer Solstice of 2020, which I am sure is a significant date, I invite you and all who cultivate, aspire to, or are prepared to believe in a Literary Cast of Mind, to engage in a great collective enterprise to track it down, study its ways, articulate its value, and invent tools and processes through which it can be made effective in the public affairs of this country and beyond.

To what purpose? For the benefit of the common weal, the advancement of social justice, and your own personal contentment.

This quest, or pilgrimage, or whatever you choose to call it, will play out here on this blog, on the web site of Voyageur Storytelling (, and somewhat tangentially in the pages of KnICH Magazine ( By tangentially I mean that the four KnICH threads and Sunday Serial display the editors’ exercise of certain aspects of the Literary Cast of Mind. Call it an illustrative approach, using etymology (explorations among old words), archeology (ditto old magazines), labyrinthine girdling (in geographic circles), and random ramification (in search of œvirsagas). The Sunday Serial, currently a translation of Jules Verne’s Le pays des fourrures (Land of Furs), illustrates pleasant reading of the entertaining kind, so important to the Literary Cast of Mind.

Please join in. We are going to have a most enjoyable time, and maybe do some good.

Paul Conway