Category Archives: Fables

Funny Man

This morning we have election results from New Brunswick, and a new political party has emerged at least into public notice, if not public favour. It is the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick, and was supported by 2.1% of the voters, according to unofficial results on the CBC.

The party asserts its fundamental principles on its web site: Free votes in the Legislative Assembly; honesty in election campaigns; government that is accountable to the people who elected them. This is wonderful. I suppose one familiar with the works of Stephen Leacock might call it the Edward Drone Party, and if you don’t know him you could re-read Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town.

If you do that, however, I hope you will read it properly, and not take it as a satire on small town life or on any particular small town, even Orillia, Ontario. Stephen Leacock can be (unfortunately is not always) a funny man, but he is only occasionally a satirist, and he certainly, at the time he was writing that book, did not know much about small towns. Mariposa is not Orillia, or any other small town, but simply a creation of Leacock’s comic imagination. The satirist makes fun of people as he would have us believe they really are. Leacock simply imagines some funny people and invites us to enjoy their antics. Sunshine Sketches is a comic book, and should be read as such.

Unlike Stephen Leacock I grew up in a small town, located not far from Orillia, and while the people of my home town certainly had their distinctive character, and could in some respects be fairly satirized if one felt so inclined, they were not stupid. It is the stupidity of the Mariposans that makes them funny, and occasionally vicious. But these are imaginary people, not to be mistaken for real ones.

The election chapters, however, are certainly a satire on Canadian election habits, which persist to this day. The incumbent MP, John Henry Bagshaw, “the old war horse”, describes his formula for winning elections: “I said, fight the thing on graft… Let them claim that I am crooked, and let me claim that I’m not. Surely that was good enough without dragging in the tariff.” Keep it simple, in other words. Is our current approach to electoral politics really any more sophisticated? The media for projecting it may be so, but is the substance?

We live in a complicated world, and our government is a complicated creation, for which we the voters are ultimately responsible. Our economy is a complicated creation, for which we the purchasers are ultimately responsible. Our society is a complicated creation, for which we the citizens are ultimately responsible. Certainly there are forces at work who would like us to shape these creations in ways that suit them, forces most cunningly persuasive, but we have the means and the responsibility to shape them in ways that suit us and will be good for our children and grandchildren.

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Brain Wars Ho!

I see brains and lips closed, tympans and temples unstruck, until that comes which has the quality to strike and unclose, until that comes which has the quality to bring forth what lies slumbering forever ready in all words. Walt Whitman.

I sallied forth last week onto this field of battle in the Brain Wars both quoting these words with approval and acknowledging that they are only partly true. Closed brains and unstruck tympans and temples we can indeed observe very commonly, unclosed and struck more rarely. As for unclosed lips, however, we see and hear no shortage of them. The problem persists not in the lips, but in the ears and the brains. Unfettered lips we enjoy in abundance.

I had two interesting encounters with brains this week. In fact I had several, but two are particularly notable. Both belonged to guests in my home. One was a relative on an overnight visit, and the other came for one of our Country Supper Storytelling Concerts. Both voiced political opinions on matters of urgent public concern. I liked their opinions, in both cases. One was a man in the property business, who by appearances would not have been out of place at the board table of any chamber of commerce in any small urban centre. The other also looked like what she is: a scientist and academic with respectable credentials and a tireless advocate for the causes of Nature. One conversed with an unclosed brain, the other with a closed brain. I leave it to your imagination to guess which was which, and also to judge which is likely to be more effective in the brain wars.

Beware of stereotypes. The dark forces in the brain wars rely on them.

As I look out over the field of battle, I see four armies, all strenuously vociferating their causes in single-minded preoccupation and with a huge diversity of rhetorical method and sophistication of argument. “Me-Me!”, screams one. “Us-Us!” roars another. “Them-Them! thunders the third. “Her-Her!” howls the fourth, referring to Nature. The noise is stupendous. To and fro the tide of battle rages, spreading alarm and devastation on all sides and solving nothing, in fact, simply creating more battlefields.

But what is this little band of earnest souls huddled ill-armed amidst the tumult, waving its pallid banner, the lettering worn by the ages but still clearly legible? “ALL OF THE ABOVE!” it says. How feeble, yet how magnificent!

The brain wars will be won when all four armies are victorious in the achievement of an unending negotiation, using methods that we know very well but are reluctant to trust. The battle to be fought first, therefore, is not against the armies that we don’t like, but against the reluctance.

Reluctance: the struggle against ourselves. The strategic front line in the Brain Wars: the struggle against the struggle against ourselves. Whoa! There’s a challenge, worthy of any mettle.

To arms, my friends!