Monthly Archives: January 2021

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.