Monthly Archives: March 2019

The Unsolved Riddle of Unsolved Riddles

Wednesday, March 27th 2019: First Posting here, Third Posting overall. (Posts will flow weekly here on Wednesdays.)

I am resolved to hunt down and tame the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. I am resolved to do this in time to replicate Stephen Leacock’s publication schedule of one hundred years ago: seven chapters individually from late August to early October, and a book in mid-January. I am hoping that by performing this project on-line, I can engage many people,—you in particular,—in the search for ideas that will effectively domesticate this elusive and slippery creature once and for all. If we must make like Lord Ronald to begin with, riding madly off in all directions, so be it.

I am not sure when Unsolved Riddles were first spotted. Perhaps you know. If so, please tell me. I believe that the first step towards identification and classification was taken by the English clergyman Charles Simeon in 1825 when, in a letter to a friend, he said: “For you I can say in words, what for these thirty years I have proclaimed in deeds, that the truth is not in the middle and not in one extreme; but in both extremes. I see you are filled with amazement, and doubting whether I am in my sober senses.” The particular species of the genus Unsolved Riddle that he had in mind had to do with theology, or perhaps ecclesiastics. Our species is Social Justice. Later on, in 1855, Walt Whitman boasted of  his particular species: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then . . . . I contradict myself ; I am large . . . . I contain multitudes.” He thus makes a virtue of riding off in all directions. The social world boasts to us: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then . . . . I contradict myself. To deal with me justly, you must be large . . . . you must contain multitudes.” This is a tall order, the one served up however by all pluralistic regimes, contradictions and all.

There may be some out there who think we should not live in a pluralistic regime, that somehow or other we can return, or ought to be able to return, to the days of relative singularism, when we in Canada were four solitudes: a British, English-speaking solitude that believed in itself and knew where it stood; a French-speaking solitude that believed in itself and knew where it stood; an immigrant solitude or complex of solitudes grudgingly offered a place but little standing; and an indigenous solitude pushed out of its place with its standing brutally cut off. I am sorry for those nostalgic people. I could in fact be one of them, although I am not, because I grew up in the English-speaking British one, but it just won’t do any more. Stephen Leacock’s final chapter in The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice is called “What Is Possible and What Is Not”. Singularism of the old kind is no longer possible, and should not be possible. We have pluralism, we will have even greater pluralism, and we must find some practicable form of social justice that is suited to pluralism.

I wonder what happens if we throw out two words that appear often in conversations about social justice: equality, and fairness. I hasten to say that I am not suggesting we should throw out what those words intend to promote. I am raising the possibility that the words themselves, either inherently, or in what has become of them, are now in the way. In other words, when we battle against inequality and unfairness, as evils which Social Justice ought to overcome, we may not want to replace them with equality and fairness. We may want to replace them with something else. I wonder what that is.

I am determined that these postings will not become too long, and this one is getting there. I will therefore simply prime the pump for next week with my doubts about those two words, Equality and Fairness. And I may then add two more: Perfection, and Principle. Even Truth, perhaps? If you think of others, please let me know. voyageur@bmts.com is the e-mail address; http://www.voyageurstorytelling.ca has all the links.

I have a strong urge to keep writing. I am going to suppress it until next week.

Thank you for reading. Please bear with me.

Posted by Paul Conway, Voyageur Storytelling