Category Archives: Party of One

Once More Into the Voting Booth, Dear Friends!

The up-coming election here in Ontario has not yet been formally declared, but the noise is picking up, so I might as well join in. I started by reviewing my Manifesto, which appears as a separate page on this site, for the purpose of up-dating.

It says what I thought needed to be said at the time, in a way appropriate to that time, while we were still being governed federally by the Harper Gang. I think the tone is wrong for today, however, that I should not have spoken with such carping negativity even when I was railing against carping negativity. I will revise it, although I fear that it may not make such lively reading when I get finished.

It will take a little while to do that, because I want to get both tone and wording right.

I am also revising the Official Platform of my Party of One, first published here on November 14, 2014. Here is the new order and wording.

  1. Explicit recognition that the pursuit of Social Justice is the proper broad Goal of our politics, the cause in which we are all engaged together. The fact that that Goal remains riddled and elusive must not be offered as an excuse for us to abandon the cause. But since positive Social Justice is such a vexed concept, then let us settle for a collective resolve against obvious social injustices, such as blatant inequalities: in prosperity, in opportunities, in basic services, in all the blessings that those of us who are reasonably well-off take for granted.
  2. Explicit recognition that all our governments, as they strive for prosperity and Social Justice, must provide competent administration and reasonable care in management of the money we pay to them for our public services.
  3. Explicit adoption of a search for Balance as the means by which we grope our way forward. This means respect for the complexity of all public affairs and refusal to reduce them to simplicities. It means seeing the issues before us simply as Unsolved Riddles which we can address through conversations where Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour (the Stephen Leacock Tetrad) are constantly in play, guiding us towards the following, all of which are equally important (please pay no attention to the order of presentation):
  4. Strength to the Social Fabric: languages, cultures, communities, enterprises, arts, opportunities, employments, governments, public services.
  5. Strength to Parliamentary democracy, including electoral reform, and to democratic institutions at all levels.
  6. Strength to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and related elements of our inherited constitution.
  7. Strength to the Social Safety Net.
  8. Prosperity, vigorous and justly shared; respect for the complexity and difficulty of this goal.
  9. Stewardship, resolute, protective and far-seeing, of our air, land and waters.
  10. Internationalism in foreign affairs, pursuing peace, prosperity, justice and the rule of law.
  11. Vigilance in the protection of our own territory and sovereignty, extreme reluctance in foreign adventures.
  12. Reconciliation as the fundamental principle applied to disputes, contentions, and criminal justice.

I believe that the vast majority of Canadian voters are liberal in their generosity to one another and especially to those less fortunate than themselves, progressive in their ideas about public policy and services, and conservative in how they want public funds to be managed. I think that the inherent difficulties in even understanding the complexity of such an agenda, let alone providing for it, spook many of us, and that our political parties in their vicious partisanship and self-interest are only too ready to prey upon our uncertainties.

Fie upon all such predators! We the voters have sovereignty over a very complicated state of affairs, where easy answers whether from right, left, or middle are almost certain to be wrong or at least tragically limited. Let’s talk about it, and force our political parties to address it, in the light of that obvious truth.


On Being “Walled” In by Risk-Averse Politicians

November 16, 2015

So, Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan wants Prime Minister Trudeau to “suspend your current plan to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year and to re-evaluate this goal and the processes in place to achieve it.” Is this the spirit that built the West? I don’t think to-day’s people of Saskatchewan are nearly that risk-averse, any more than were their ancestors.

Just how risk-averse do we need to be, in the present circumstances? Just how risk-averse are we? The fact of 129 deaths in Paris last week stimulated the CBC into a corporate paroxysm that has not yet run its course, and our newly-minted Opposition, and many others, into pleas for more lethal violence for our war on lethal violence in Iraq and Syria. The fact of two (2) deaths of soldiers in Canada earlier this year caused Parliament to ratchet up “security” to new records on the draconian scale. The imagination of similar danger arising from among 25,000 hapless Syrians agitates Premier Wall into nervous correspondence. Clearly the appetite for risk-aversion remains keen, at least in some circles.

Keen, but perhaps a trifle selective. The fact of 3,500 to 4,000 deaths annually in Canada by suicide evokes some gentle hand-wringing, but not much pouring of energy and money into a war on lethal despair and its causes. The fact of 2,000 to 3,000 deaths annually in motor vehicle accidents does not stimulate us to ruthless pursuit of lethal bad driving or ruthless anything,—just the usual routine persistence, not accepting these deaths but taking them in stride,—nor the 700 to 1,100 deaths from workplace accidents, nor even the 500 to 700 deaths from homicide. That’s 8,000 deaths per year, on average, arising from deplorable, often preventable phenomena that do not cause the CBC to foam at the mouth, nor columnists to rage, nor Parliament to pass draconian new laws, nor Premier Wall to write minatory letters, nor Canadians as a whole to set aside our humane and generous instincts.

A few years ago, after I was unexpectedly thrust into the task of managing a family counselling agency, I learned of a school of therapy called “Solution Focused”, invented by the late Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As I remember, it counselled according to three guiding rules.

  1. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Before he can convince me that our system of security is so “broke” that it cannot manage the speedy arrival of 25,000 waifs of the mad world, Premier Wall is going to have to show me more deaths than two, in this country, or even 129 in France. Right now I am prepared to believe that our police and security services do very well against potential terrorist acts, and will stay so prepared even if we suffer a tragic episode or two. I accept these as risks of modern life, as we all do in the face of suicides, traffic accidents, industrial accidents, murder, and the rest. They are causes for persistent dedicated effort, but not for panic.
  2. If you try something that works, keep doing it. I think that we, here in Canada, in the face of our statistical evidence, must conclude that our approach to the threat of “terrorism” is working. Either that, or the threat itself is very small. We do not need to direct more energy to that threat, but could reasonably apply the same levels of commitment, singleness of purpose, skill, energy, time and money to other threats that have proved numerically much more significant. Go for it, Premier Wall! You and your colleagues have my full support for an all-out assault on the causes of suicides, mangled corpses in cars and work-places, and murders of all kinds.
  3. If you try something that does not work, don’t keep doing it. Do something different. Premier Wall and his hench-voices would have us keep doing it, perhaps even do more of it, if we can merely imagine that some day it might not work. Never mind the facts, just give us the dire possibilities: we’ll act on those. At what point may we begin to call this cowardice?

No, Premier Wall! say I. Bring on the 25,000 Syrians, as we did before—speaking of something that worked—for the Hungarians in their need, and the Vietnamese boat people in theirs, and the Kosovars in theirs, not to mention the settlement of Western Canada in earlier times. And let us also not forget the continuing disgrace and shame of our deplorable brushing aside of Sikhs, Jews, and others when they called to us out of their darkness.

And as for addressing something that’s obviously not working, how about ramping down the violence in the Middle East, or at least, if we can’t do that, ceasing to be part of it. Ground the bloody planes. Find a better way. That would be doing something different, indeed.

Faced with insanity, don’t join in. Become Solution Focused. Take a deep breath. Take two. Think. Remain sane. Remain humane.

A Fable for November 4th

In the high and not so far off times, there dwelt a land of many sovereigns, ruled by a Grand Vizier, who was appointed periodically in a roundabout way by the sovereigns themselves. Long had this custom been assiduously cultivated, yielding in the course of time some twenty-two Grand Viziers, numbered from GV-1.0 through to GV-22.2 (not to be confused with GG-28.0, an entirely different official of a particularly arcane nature), according to the inspired collective wisdom of the sovereigns.

Came the day when the sovereigns were again called upon, either to confirm the appointment of the present Grand Vizier with his accompanying Vizi-Gang, or to appoint another. And lo, on that day, on that single, even signal day, did the sovereigns in their inspired collective wisdom summarily demote GV-22.2 and VG-22.2, appointing GV- and VG-23.0 in their stead.

Great was then the intellectual and verbal turbulence among the scribes of the land, as well as among the various gangs and their followers, concerning the reasons for the down-fall of the Twenty-Twos (and others) and the Up-Rise of the Twenty-Threes: the strategies and tactics, the cuts and thrusts, the errors and omissions, the sayings, the doings, the promisings, the affirmations, the denials, the associations, that may or may not have contributed to such a dramatic re-casting of the scene. Some said ‘twas caused by this and that, others by these and those, and great was the scribbling on the screens and pages, and mighty the perturbations of the waves of the air. All this was, however, only vanity and a striving after wind.

The true explanation was quite simple: the sovereigns, in their collective wisdom, which truly can be inspired, however inscrutable may be its ways and workings, had decided that GV-22.2 had been bad for the common wealth, and that it was time for a change. For it is the job of the sovereigns to see the situation whole in its entirety, not in the grubby little fragments so dear to the analytical customs of the scribes and subterranean toilers in the various gangs. There is a sublimity that shapes their votes, rough-chew them how they will.

Demoted indeed were the Twenty-Twos, but not cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, although weep and gnash their teeth they did nonetheless, and copiously.  For according to another part of the custom (speaking of arcane), the sovereigns appointed them to the role of Oppozo-Gang, to be led by a Grand Oppozier, whose jocund task it would be to inform the sovereigns from day to day concerning the job performance of the Grand Vizier and his Vizi-Gang, yea, even more, as commonly interpreted, to pronounce to the sovereigns from day to day that these appointees are doing a reprehensible job and are in sooth most disadvantageous to the common wealth.

Let us be clear: the sovereigns, that is, the bosses of those whom they have appointed to govern the land, believe that they (the appointees, I mean) will be most effectively stimulated to superlative performance through the diligence of a highly paid and opulently housed official, complete with gang, striving from day to day to convince them (the bosses, I mean) that their appointees are doing a lousy job.

Full seldom does such a method of motivation appear in learned text-books on such matters, I wean, but I suppose we must accept the wisdom of this practice as being inspired on some level, perhaps as inscrutable as the rest. For such is the custom.

But lo, the sovereigns are in fact the bosses, as they have so firmly proved, and could if they chose instruct the Grand Oppozier and his gang, who are also under appointment in equal fashion, and perhaps even instruct the scribes although that is a more complicated business, in the following manner: “We have made our decision. We have appointed a new Grand Vizier with his Vizi-Gang, and we demand that you give them time to learn how to do their jobs. We will decide how much time when we begin to see how well they learn.

“For they are our servants, as you are, and we demand that you so bear yourselves as to make our government work well. We are wiser and more mature that you are. We know the job of Grand Vizier to be most difficult, with many complexities and pressures, and we do not harbour unreasonable expectations from inexperienced people. We do not require instant miracles. We do not require absolute freedom from mistakes. We have had too much experience with truly incompetent and self-interested grand viziers and their gangs. We demand that you give this one the opportunity to prove that he can be what he says he wants to be. For we have decided that this approach will be in our best interest.

“We, your sovereigns, have appointed you, we pay you, to be the opposition to our government, not its enemies. That is a difficult job that you too must learn to do properly, and we will cut you sufficient slack until you have shown us how well you can learn.”

And if the sovereigns were to instruct in this manner, would many among the oppozers and the scribes know what they meant? Would many listen? Or is this tale also nothing but vanity, and a striving after wind?

Searching for the Muddle Party

Thursday, October 8th

By the end of my most but not very recent post, I had worked my way around to the Muddle Party, whose name I have not yet seen on any election posters in my part of the country. The idea runs thusly: If we seek a political ideology of Balance (à la Henry Mintzberg, of or Stephen Leacock (whose ideas have been characterized (by Gerald Lynch, in Stephen Leacock: Humour and Humanity, which I am now reading) as a “middle way” but which are, I believe, more of a “both-and” way)), then the content of our thinking must be perpetually muddled, while the one hand waits upon the other hand like the poor cat in the adage (not Shakespeare’s adage, but a different one). Our ideas about how to make a decision or arrive at a policy, our ideas about “process”, that is, may be abundantly clear—experience, research and negotiation tumbling forever onward, ad infinitum—but our ideas about content must be muddled, and muddle, in this context, is a Good Thing.

Since the Muddle Party has not declared itself, I must try to find one that deserves the name.

My cousin Pat Cowan recently wrote to the Prime Minister, arguing at length as follows: Either Ms. Ishaq wearing her niqab is a victim of male oppression, or she is a free adult exercising her right to decide her own religious practices. If the former, then the barriers to her full citizenship are the result of that oppression, and the government’s and our solemn duty is to support her in removing them, not by forcing her to take off the niquab, but by making it irrelevant to her citizenship. If the latter, then the government’s and our solemn duty is to support her choice under the rubric of religious freedom. All this, of course, assuming that her choices do not harm anyone else. The last time I heard, Ms. Ishaq only wants to wear the niqab, not strike anyone with it.

Since the Conservative party’s exploitation of her and her situation, whatever it may be, for political ends is clearly one of the most vicious electoral tactics ever seen in this country, completely contrary to the kind of amiable muddle necessary for our political health, I fear that we cannot award the honourable title of Muddle Party to that one.

The other three are a different matter. How delightfully muddled are they all, which makes deciding among them a severe task indeed.

The Liberal Party has always been muddled; it has been one principal source of their strength. “Conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription.” There’s a finely tuned statement of muddle if ever there was one. But of the right kind. Mr. Trudeau recently told us, quite correctly, that our political opponents are also our neighbours and we should treat them accordingly: a most admirably muddled statement of our responsibility to people with whom we do not agree, and one which he seems willing to accept for himself. A muddle to live by, in these times when others suggest that disagreement makes you an enemy.

The NDP, struggling between the desire to remain social democrats while attracting Liberal voters and also, they hope, some Conservatives of the western populist variety, have become acceptably muddled too, but I fear Mr. Mulcair does not wear the coat comfortably, and it shows. Personally, I think that social democracy is quite acceptably muddled as it is, and that trying to mix its muddle with Liberal muddle makes, not for the right kind of muddle, but for simple obscurity and confusion, which is not the same thing.

As for the Greens, I am not sure about them. I think that Elizabeth May herself is well muddled, in the Liberal tradition, with some unmuddled thoughts about Nature thrown in. Whether that makes her, and the Green Party, muddled in the right way is a question worthy of discussion but, in this election, a moot one because she remains the strong leader of a weak party, and thus marginal.

I don’t need to talk about the Bloc, because they do not factor in my voting decision.

I will not vote Conservative, because I think their local candidate is not a worthy representative of the constituency, and because I find so little in their approach that I can support, and so much that I deplore. I may vote Liberal. I may vote NDP. I am struggling to make that choice a positive one. I will not, this time, vote Green, for the reason stated. If Elizabeth May were running here, I would vote for her like a shot.

The next step, for me, is to read the full platforms of the two parties that remain, for me, in contention. I will write again when I have done that.

To Cure the Body Politic of Stereotypitis

Thursday, September 10th

Recent upheavals in the electoral scene, in particular the big one concerning Syrian refugees, triggered by a picture, and the smaller one concerning small business and its use as a tax shelter, triggered by Mr. Trudeau’s remarks, bring us once again smack up against the mega-issue of complexity, and the complementary mega-issue of stereotyping.

Stereotyping is the method we commonly, even pervasively, use to cope with the complexity of the world. It is a natural habit of the mind: human, understandable, and deeply malignant. If you don’t believe me about the pervasiveness, look around you. If you don’t believe me about the malignancy, do the same.

Stereotyping is everywhere, on every side and every facet of our political, social, and economic lives, and it is a very, very bad habit of thought. We use it to avoid the need to make decisions based on individuality. It’s cheap, it’s convenient, and it’s immoral. If we wish to evolve culturally, we must learn other ways to think. They will be more expensive, less convenient, and better: morally, practically, socially, democratically, and every other way that matters.

I looked up “stereotype”, both noun and verb forms, to make sure I am using the word properly. Its essence, as described in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, lies in three key words: pre-conceived, standardized, and over-simplified. There it is. We are drowning, intellectually, in a morass of stereotyping, and if we don’t find a way to put better ground under our feet, then we are indeed in grave trouble. The world we have created for ourselves and those who come after us has gone beyond the stage where action based on stereotypes can be justified on any grounds whatsoever. Stereotyping is pure laziness.

Stereotypes can be negative or positive. Either is equally lazy, but I am not convinced they are morally equivalent. If I stereotype the refugee as a human person trying to escape disaster, then I act one way. If I stereotype him or her as a terrorist or self-serving opportunist, then I act another way. Either way somebody suffers, because the population of refugees probably contains both kinds of people. The negative stereotype makes the refugee suffer; the positive one puts the burden on the receiving society. The same kind of analysis can be applied to myriad particulars. I don’t need to belabour the matter.

Stereotyping thrives on the reality that you can always find evidence, of an anecdotal kind at least, to support any stereotype. You can always find someone who conforms to it, whatever it is, positive or negative. And averages, I fear, although statistically based if valid, are no better, because averages are simply another form of stereotype. Some people match them, and a great many other people do not.

When we are being lazy, we use stereotypes to imagine populations, assuming either that the population in question is uniform in matching the stereotype, or that the people in it who do not match also do not matter. We can thus make policy based on the stereotype without doing any damage that we care about. The “tough on crime” policies of the present Canadian government are a classic example of this approach.

A more sophisticated way to imagine a population would be to imagine its frequency distribution with respect to the attribute in question, particularly its shape. This is not as difficult as it sounds, because a “normal distribution” is often a good approximation, and much intellectual enjoyment can be found in starting from that assumption and imagining how the distribution might be tweaked to get it right. You don’t have to be a statistician to learn how to do this, although some very basic theory helps. Looking up “probability distributions” will get you there very quickly, and without pain.

But imagining the population accurately is only the first step in taking appropriate action. In the next few posts I will apply the method to various cases, and see what that does to inform the decision lying ahead, concerning that vote on October 19th.

I think that we will find, when we look at cases, that they resolve themselves fairly quickly if we simply find new ways of thinking about risk, ways entirely familiar to us in our everyday lives. Imagination can help there too.

Since we are necessarily into realms of the imagination, the properly informed imagination, using-evidence-in-the-correct-way imagination, I am going to keep in play the metaphor that I have proposed, which imagines the world where all this is happening, our world, as under the sway of three Orgs: Oecon, Nature, and Humanites, in all their diversity of aims and methods, sometimes collaborating, sometimes conflicting, and sometimes simply confused.

That should keep us going for a while.

Probing the Panorganon to Find a Vote

Monday, August 31st

Since the election call I have been exploring ways to think about the coming election and the problem of how to vote. I have not yet come to any conclusions.

In particular, I am interested in the problem of complexity, because I believe that over-simplification is a blight on our political discourse. And yet, when October 19th arrives, I will be faced, as will all other voters, with a simple decision: to put my X beside one of a relatively small number of names. In my case, that number will be four, because I am not interested in any of the fringe parties or possible independents. Not in this election.

Somehow, therefore, in the course of the next seven weeks, I must find a way to reduce the entire complexity of considerations down to that choice. Unfortunately, for me, it’s not good enough simply to reduce the decision to one of party or personality. I want to know, not only how to vote, but why that choice is the right one. In order to do that I have to find ways to think that do justice to all the complex realities.

In approaching this I have professional attachments that influence my mind in two directions: towards data, and in particular data organized so as to illuminate decisions, and towards metaphors.

At this stage I have only one thing to say about the data, and that is, that the common reportage of economic data is so grotesquely unbalanced and over-simplified as to make it systematically misleading. Of social and environmental data we hear almost nothing, except perhaps concerning climate, and even that is oversimplified. I hope to do something about this mess before the voting decision arrives, but I haven’t yet had time.

Right now I am on a metaphorical kick, as you will have seen from my previous post, if you read it. Here is the status report on that:

I am imagining a “Panorganon” ruled by three “Orgs”: the Oekon Org; the Nature Org; and the Humanite Org, in whose entangling embraces we are fated to live, and over whom we have some varying degree of control or influence. I call them Orgs to draw attention to their organic nature. They are alive, driven by their own internal processes and both internal and external inter-relationships.

We have been defining Our Task, for several generations, as a quest to tame the Nature Org and unleash the Oekon Org, thinking that we could thus best serve the Humanite Org. But the Oekon Org is now out of control and on the rampage, the Nature Org is getting angry and is doing a little rampaging of her own, and the Humanite Org is engaged in both external and internal struggles, quite possibly life-and-death. I am not yet sure where Tech figures in all this: possibly as an unruly servant that feeds off Nature and over whom Oekon and Humanites are fighting.

(Note on pronunciations: You can pronounce these names any way you like, but I think Oekon is ee-kon, with the accent on the first syllable, and Humanites has four syllables with the accent on the third.)

Perhaps I can take this one step further. Suppose each Org is ultimately driven by its own particular imperative: Oekon, to grow in size and power; Nature, to survive and diversify; Humanites, to do what? That is, of course, a hugely complicated philosophical question, worth a lifetime of intellectual and imaginative exploration, which perhaps we can simplify in the context of this year’s voting decision, at least enough to get by.

I have stated, I think clearly enough and in different ways, that I would like to see Humanites become more just, across the entire spectrum where the word “justice”might apply. I think the present Conservative point of view is to urge Humanites to become a fully committed servant of Oekon, employing Tech to recruit Nature fully in the pursuit of material wealth. I think the Liberals and the NDP are, in their differently nuanced ways, trying to recommend a more balanced approach, mitigating the voracity of Oekon on behalf of Humanites and Nature but without essentially reducing his primacy. The Greens, I believe fundamentally, would like to give ultimate power to a coalition of Humanites and Nature, making Oekon and Tech unabashedly their servants. And although they believe they know how to do that, they also know that Oekon is likely to resist, perhaps stenuously, and because so many of the voters are more afraid of what Oekon might do if offended, and not yet as afraid of what Nature and Humanites might do if offended, they waffle.

We shall see, when the official platforms come out, if these surmises are anything close to accurate.

Perhaps it is fair to view Humanites as inherently, even desperately, conflicted between the pursuit of Wealth and the pursuit of Justice, who could perhaps be impersonated as demi-orgs themselves in the evolving eco-system of the Panorganon. Who knows where this analytical approach may lead?

Descending rapidly from the metaphorical heights, I wonder whether it is fair to say that the Canadian electorate, in the bones of its majority, wants to be both “progressive” and “conservative”, using these terms in common contemporary ways. Or maybe that’s just another way of saying that they want to follow both Humanites and Oekon at the same time, and hope that Nature can be induced to live with that somewhat amicably. And since Humanites and Oekon want to go in different directions, and since Nature is proving to have a mind of her own and hitherto disregarded powers and vulnerabilities, this means they want Humanites and Oekon to work together, not at cross purposes, to the balanced satisfaction of both Wealth and Justice, and to prevent Nature from becoming really annoyed and smiting us all dead.

The trouble is: this may be not only the road not taken, at least recently, but the road that doesn’t exist any more. There would be the rub, for sure, and to be or not to be might indeed become the question.

Sunday, August 23rd: Reason, Imagination, and the Mind-Set Crux

In my previous post I proposed the goal of politics to be Social Justice, and offered a Party-of-One Platform that might lead there. It will require us to think about politics with Reason and Imagination, neither of which is strongly evident in this campaign so far. (Our NDP candidate proposes to widen the scope to encompass Economic Justice and Environmental Justice. I include those in Social Justice. It’s a question of what one means by “social”.)

I understand the reluctance, because thinking rationally and imaginatively is hard work, for me as much as for anybody else. But I believe it must be done. What I really want to do is make a glib decision on emotional or intuitive grounds and get on with my life. But that would be lazy and irresponsible, and I don’t want to be that. So come on, Conway, take a deep breath and bite the bullet.

By “rationality” or Reason, I mean a way of thinking that approaches problems, or “unsolved riddles” (see below) with Balance, Complexity, Generosity, Compassion, Knowledge, and Intelligence. These can all be applied in skilled, technical ways. The other part, Imagination, is not technical but creative, enabling us to look beyond what is to envisage what could be. We approach Reason with the tools I have listed. We approach Imagination with Courage, even perhaps Faith.

So here is what I believe as of this date: I believe the Conservatives would like us to believe that the issues are (1) their own experience in governing, (2) “The Economy”, whatever that is, and (3) “Security”, whatever that is. I think that the Liberals and the NDP would like us to believe that the issue is the Conservatives, in general, and Stephen Harper in particular, with a bit left over for the “middle class”, whatever that is. The Greens are a little more complicated, although not necessarily in useful ways.

From here on I am going to call the party now in power the “Harpo-Cons” (a sub-species of Neo-Cons), and not Conservatives, because I don’t think they are very conservative. In fact, I think they are very radical, because they want to replace what was built up in the 50 years following the Second World War (and in some respects since pre-Confederation began 175 years ago) with something quite different and based on contrary principles. And if that is not being “radical”, what is? But they call themselves Conservatives, and are allowed to get away with that, so Harpo-Cons, instead of Harpo-Rads, or even Harpo-Reds, will have to do for the time being.

Since I have begun re-labelling, permit me please to indulge in a little more.

Let me re-label the first issue in today’s trio The Performance of the Harpo-Con Machine, and make it the third issue, to avoid repetition. Let me re-label the second issue The Unsolved Riddle of Œconomics (with credit to Stephen Leacock). I will explain presently. We are assured, especially by the Harpo-Cons and their adherents, that this is in fact the first issue in people’s minds, so I’ll put it first. I think that The Unsolved Riddle of Security will do for the other issue.

The Unsolved Riddle of Œconomics

When I hear respected news media tell me that “‘The Economy’ has had a bad week”, and support their assertion with the news that the stock market took a fall as did the price of oil, then I know that Reason and Imagination are what has in fact had a bad week. Because I think that the news means that the people who produce and sell oil have had a bad week, as have the people who are speculating on a quick rise in the price of stocks, but that the people who buy oil and use it to produce something else, or to consume, and the people who have speculated that the price of stocks will fall, have had a good week. And I think all of them are part of “The Economy”, whatever that is. Hence the “unsolved riddle”.

I believe that “The Economy” has come to mean a few economic indicators out of the vast array available, chosen on the basis of convenience and self-interest by the news medium or politician using the term. I am therefore going to use the term the “Œconomic Organism” for reasons that I will explain, I promise you.

The Unsolved Riddle of Security

When I catch a government trying to make me feel insecure, even frightened, in order to attract my vote and give power to their friends in policing agencies, then I begin to feel insecure indeed, but not for the reasons they suggest. I ask myself, first of all, whether it is reasonable for me to be afraid of the monsters they describe, and whether the anti-monster measures they suggest are reasonably likely to get rid of the monsters. I ask myself also why they have chosen that particular set of monsters out of the vast array available. And I ask myself whether their approach to monster-suppression is not simply another monster. More fodder for later posts.

The Performance of Government

I suggested earlier that the third issue is the performance of the Harpo-Cons. I truly think, however, that the questions for Reason and Imagination in pursuit of a path to Social Justice concern not only the performance of the present government, but also the likely performance of the alternatives, and while we may think those to be significantly less knowable, I am not convinced. I think that we can use Reason and Imagination to tackle the whole field fully well enough for practical purposes.

To that end I advance a two-fold Proposition, as follows:

  1. We will be governed, not by the “platform” of the party that wins, but by the “Mind-Set” of that party, its leader, and the people with the power to make decisions (some elected by us, some not), applied to current events, opportunities, pressures and constraints as they unfold.
  2. We can study the Mind-Set of the present government directly, and we can use Reason and Imagination to deduce the Mind-Set of the others.

We have data for the present government, and plenty of clues for the others. Reason tells me that the formal platforms of the various parties are incomplete representations of their Mind-Sets, much edited for electoral purposes. They will contain clues, however, possibly more clues than the sound-bite vacuities of the daily pronouncements. They need to be studied carefully.

Isn’t it lucky that the Prime Minister has given us such a long campaign! We will have plenty of time not only to suss him out, and his henchmen, but his opponents and theirs too. This is going to be interesting.

Of course we get our data and our clues through various “media”, and we must concern ourselves with their Mind-Set too. Are they distorting our perceptions? Heaven forfend!

Election 2015: August 17th: The Cause is Social Justice

Away back in 1919 Stephen Leacock wrote a book called The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. An unsolved riddle Social Justice was then, an unsolved riddle it remains. Which is not to say that we should give up on it, as our over-arching goal.

(To my friends of the Green persuasion, rest assured that I include justice to Nature as integral to the cause. Also individual justice, economic justice, natural justice, international justice, justice to the future, etc. Social Justice is wide, it contains multitudes.)

One of my neighbours, who is not only local captain for the NDP campaign but also an independent businessman of impeccable credentials, a man who by stereotype might be found in the Conservative camp but is not, stood in my yard yesterday and reminded me that Social Justice belongs at the heart of politics. Without Social Justice, he said, nothing else is possible. People who are being ground perpetually by unjust conditions and the stresses of difficult daily living cannot be expected to give much attention to wider, more long-term or even immediate concerns outside their immediate sphere.

Let me therefore revise the Official Platform of my Party of One, first published here on November 14, 2014:

  1. Explicit recognition that the pursuit of Social Justice is the proper Goal of our politics, the cause in which we are all engaged. The fact that that Goal remains riddled and elusive must not be offered as an excuse for us to settle for less.
  2. Explicit adoption of a search for Balance as the means by which we grope our way forward. This means respect for the complexity of all public affairs and refusal to reduce them to simplicities. It means that policy must be made based on data, conversation, and negotiation.
  3. Strength to the Social Fabric: languages, cultures, communities, enterprises, arts, opportunities, employments, governments, public services.
  4. Strength to Parliamentary democracy, including electoral reform, and to democratic institutions at all levels.
  5. Strength to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and related elements of our inherited constitution.
  6. Strength to the Social Safety Net.
  7. Prosperity, vigorous and justly shared; respect for the complexity and difficulty of this goal.
  8. Stewardship, resolute, protective and far-seeing, of our air, land and waters.
  9. Internationalism in foreign affairs, pursuing peace, prosperity, justice and the rule of law.
  10. Vigilance in the protection of our own territory and sovereignty, extreme reluctance in foreign adventures.
  11. Reconciliation as the fundamental principle applied to disputes, contentions, and criminal justice.
  12. Sound public administration and responsible fiscal management.

When I put these ideas out in their original form, the Liberal Party responded immediately with a promise to get back to me, which they never did; the Green Party responded favourably and in detail, but only once; the NDP put me on an e-mailing list showering me with requests for donations; the Conservative Party remained silent.

I was much encouraged to hear this week that Mr. Trudeau wants to “grow the economy from the heart outwards”. I thought he might mean an ideological heart, as in Social Justice. But, alas, it appears he meant only the “middle class” (whatever that is) as the heart, whose pulse would be stimulated by tax cuts. This differs essentially from the Conservative vision?

Political news this week was dominated by the Duffy trial and Mr. Nigel Wright’s testimony, a shocking display of amorality at the highest levels of the political bureaucracy, which I fear may be deeply imbedded in its culture. The rules are unclear so it’s all right to steal from the public purse. Take what you can get away with. Fill your boots. Wow.

I am looking for Balance, Complexity, Generosity, Compassion, Knowledge, Intelligence, Imagination, in political discourse and in the formation of policy. Where can I find them?

Election 2015: Discourse of August 12th

The election call became official more than a week ago, and so far the air has remained unstartled by my Party of One, to some slight impoverishment of the National Discourse, I feel sure. But what could I do? A regular procession of family and supper-concert guests must be fed and entertained, my parts of those concerts remembered each time, my house painted, my share of domestic chores performed, my aging frame regularly fed, rested and exercised, my mind kept as nimble as possible by regular spells of reading, thinking, and jotting, the National Discourse followed, my correspondents respected, and most importantly the cohabitants of my household, being my dear partner in life and one elderly dog, given the attention they need and deserve. When I tell you that the trail-clearing season has officially opened and I have lopped barely a limb or cropped barely a shrub since it did, you will recognize how full my life has been since the writ dropped. And so it continues.

But on what grounds should I aspire to even some little voice in the National Discourse? Well, to be blunt, I believe that certain ideas need to be there, and so far as I have been able to detect, they have not yet appeared, or at least not with clarity. I intend to pull every lever I can to insert them.

So as not to be coy, I will name them briefly now, leaving fuller explanation for the days ahead:

  1. Strategic Voting: The idea that under our current political system, whereby we elect representatives to Parliament by means of a first-past-the-post race with more than two entries amidst a plethora of anticipatory polling, all voting has necessarily become strategic.
  2. Searching for Balance: The idea that since the only sustainable political ideology and governmental practice under contemporary conditions is a relentless search for Balance, then we must make that explicit, and talk about what Balance looks like, and how it might be sustained. The details of course are highly complicated, but the principles are simple: We achieve Balance by constant exploration, conversation, negotiation, and experiment.
  3. Recognition of Complexity. The idea that we are surrounded by, and constantly create, complexity in all our myriad affairs. For example, we are told that the biggest issue for Canadians is “the Economy”. Well, the fact of the matter is, “the Economy” is a myth, and we should stop ourselves and others from thinking and talking about it in such a simplistic way. We face a similar situation with respect to “the environment”, which is likewise a myth, and “Nature”, which is not, but rather a complex organic system full of mysterious relationships and interactions which we struggle continuously and with only partial success to understand and which has a huge influence on our environments. So too “the Economy” is a myth, nurtured by our passion for lazy thinking and facile reporting, when what we mean is that organic creature for which we do not have a suitable name, the creature of our collective activities of production, consumption and investment in all their dynamic interactivity. What shall we call it? Ekonos, perhaps? Or Œkonos?
  4. The Practice of Generosity. The idea, which I believe to be a reality, that the vast majority of Canadians are generous people with an inherent sense of community and a real concern for each other. For reasons that I do not entirely understand we have allowed our National Discourse to be dominated by those who believe us to be inherently selfish and largely indifferent to each other. They think they have persuaded us that we cannot afford to be generous and concerned about each other; they certainly talk, or rather shout, as if we cannot, and for some reason we have been shy to confront them concerning the utter sterility of what they are urging on us. Of course we have individual interests, and we want the best for ourselves and our immediate families, but we also have collective, community interests and I firmly believe we want the best for them too. These are not “either-or’s” but “both-and’s”.
  5. Bringing Out the Best. I hope that on October 20th we will be welcoming a government that is committed to bringing out the best in us, the best that we can possibly be, as a nation, as a people, or a complex of peoples. Is that too much to ask?

With these principles in mind I am approaching the Election of 2015 with the following specific questions:

  1. Given that my vote must be for a specific person belonging to a specific party in a specific constituency, that is, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in Ontario, and given the strategic realities, for whom should I vote?
  2. Which of the candidates-parties talks about Balance as a vital political idea, and with conviction? How do they describe it? How do they propose to achieve it?
  3. Which of the candidates-parties seems most prepared to respect the complexities of our national affairs, and to understand that we, the voters, are entirely intelligent and mature enough to have that discussion? What kind of discussion are they promoting?
  4. Which of the candidates-parties seems most generous and prepared to embrace the imperatives of both our individual and collective selves? What avenues for our generosity do they prefer?
  5. Which of the candidates-parties do I think likely to bring out the best in us? What will it look like?

I am going to use this blog until October 19th to worry out the answer to these questions, using such reading, talking and thinking as I have time and opportunity to undertake. Perhaps my way of doing that will be helpful to others.

I don’t know enough yet about the Liberals, NDP’s and Greens to give any opinion about them. I watched the debate the other night, and I did hear Mr. Mulcair use the magic word “Balance” in discussion of, if I remember correctly, a foreign policy issue. That’s something. We’ll see if that idea grows.

It’s difficult to get away from a preoccupation with the party leaders, because they make themselves, and are made by our beloved media, so conspicuous. For me, however, they are of lesser importance. I believe that parties, rooted in their memberships, are ultimately stronger and more enduring than their leaders.  I am therefore more interested in them, and in my local candidates, of course.

I would also like to sniff out, if possible, what the memberships of these parties, and their candidates, really believe, as opposed to what they or their advisors thought would be electorally most effective. Because I believe we will be governed accordingly.

And thus I leave the National Discourse for today.

A Prism on Isms

Holy smoke! Was my most recent post on this thing really over five weeks ago? My most abject apologies to my legion of followers. Not that I have any reason to believe you will have missed my opinions, however. I think most lives tick along very nicely without those. Just ask Leslie. Hers most certainly would, but alas, poor girl, she has to put up with them. But you, by the merest flick of the mouse or sweep of the finger, can dismiss me instantly.

I have been pondering on “isms”, stimulated by our prime minister’s insistence on the evils of “militant jihadism”. He uses the phrase in the same style, and for much the same purpose, as a previous generation of politicians used “communism”. The style is propaganda; the purpose is to fabricate and convince us to fear an enemy without, in order to distract us from the enemy within, which is him, his brand of politics, and the interests he is determined to serve.

His efforts are in part successful with me: he strikes fear in my heart, all right, but not for “militant jihadism,” whatever it may be. I would be the first to admit that my knowledge of the history is patchy, but it occurs to me that the current phenomenon in Iraq and Syria is nothing new, seeming quite similar to the efforts of the Mahdi in the Sudan and Mohammed Abdulla Hassan in Somalia not a large number of decades ago. It seems possible to me that all these movements were fed, and perhaps caused, by the clumsy machinations of western imperial powers pursing their own selfish interests in lands that didn’t belong to them. A little knowledge of and respect for the well-grounded fears and resentments of those people might help to put ours to rest.

As for barbarism, I deplore the beheading of innocent people as any humane person must, but I am not sure it is more barbaric than, for example, bombing homes from the air. Killing is killing, no matter how it’s done.

But that’s not what I am writing about today. Isms. I am wondering about the value and possibility of a generally accepted hierarchy of isms, that would help us keep our heads clear and our compass lenses unfogged amidst the multifarious forces that batter us. I think that I would put “Humanism” at the top, at least by the second definition in my dictionary (the Canadian Oxford): “a belief or outlook emphasizing common human needs, seeking solely rational ways of solving human problems, and being concerned with humanity as responsible and progressive intellectual beings”, to which I would add something about sympathy and understanding as foundational attitudes. Obviously the idea is too big for few-word definitions.

I think that numbers of my friends would put “Naturism” up there too, by which I do not mean nudism, but rather the belief that Nature should be viewed like Humanity, as something whose well-being should be pursued as a highest good, for its own sake and not merely for its utility. I am not sure that I can go whole hog on that one, but the idea is attractive. If we say that we should not destroy Nature lest we destroy ourselves, which is no doubt true, then we are making Nature subordinate to Humanity. If we cultivate Nature for our good, then we are doing the same thing. On the whole I think that a properly conceived Humanism will allow us to care properly for Nature too, and that if we keep things in that order we’ll be less confused.

The same goes for Individualism, Commonism, Producerism, Consumerism to mention others I would put high up the list. Maybe others, but I can’t think of them today. I hope that not too many others turn up in the top echelon, because it’s confusing enough already. Even as it is, I would have to put Balancism up there too, à la Stephen Leacock and Henry Mintzberg (cf., both of McGill University.

Of one thing I am sure: Militarism, Powerism and Exploitism show up on an entirely different list.

I think that for a time in the post-WWII period Canadian Liberalism, Conservatism (Progressive Conservatism it was then), and Social Democratism all were making quite reasonable stabs at Balancism, with some differences of emphasis of course. These are allowed, Balance in a complex world being what it must be.

I think the Conservatives have lost that voice and have taken on another that is not balanced at all. I read a lot from the Progressive side of the political debate, which is where I think the NDP would like to be if they dared to go there. I see too much simple anti-Conservatism there, which I find agreeable and entertaining, but not constructive, and not Balanced. I think the Liberals may be, or were, trying to achieve Balance by taking all the pans off the scale. They are re-building; we need to see their full platform before we can reasonably form a judgement. I believe that traditional Liberalism was quite Balanced, within reasonable tolerances, which is why it did so well electorally for so many  years.

I find Elizabeth May the most Balanced politician in the country right now, at least in her writings if not her sound bites, which lean towards anti-Conservative stridency. I wish the Green Party as a whole, federally and provincially, were more like her.

Balance is a practical goal, achieved through the day-to-day slog of research and practical politics.

Humanism at the top, supported by carefully cultivated Naturism, Individualism, Commonism, Producerism and Consumerism, all in Balance. That’s where I stand. I think a lot of people stand there too, or would like to stand there if they could find the words to say where it is. If we had a real Balance Party with the rhetorical skill to bring itself to life, then I think it would win at a walk.

But of course, as we all see every day, there’s a lot more money in Powerism, Corporatism, Militarism, Exploitism and Fearism. Money talks. Violence talks.

Chatter talks too. Oh, how it talks! On and on and on and on! Rampant Cacophonism! Rampant Sensationalism! There’s no Balance to be found in that.

Ideas and Ideals can talk too, but only through human voices, people with the right words and the right flair. Where can we find them? How can we support and encourage them? How can we prevent them from being dragged into the world where Money and Violence talk, where Cacophony rules? That, as I see it, is the substance of the practical political problem for us, the people.