Category Archives: Tetrads

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

January 2021 (first draft, subject to revision):

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:

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS:

(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-idea proposal to a one-idea 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 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.

HOW GOOD WE ARE WILL DEPEND ON HOW WE THINK!

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.

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 (www.voyageurstorytelling.ca) 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”.

We Have Let the Virus Fire Us in New Ways That Are Old

An Up-Date for those who read this blog and are wondering what has happened to it. Answer: It has been temporarily pushed aside by KnICH Magazine, whose needs were more immediate and pressing. They still are. A little TLC for this blog is, however, long overdue. I have managed each week to refresh the Voyageur Storytelling web site (www.voyageurstorytelling.ca) and my Twitter page (@conwaypaulw) with a new pictoverbicon and a few musings which don’t add up to much. A framework for thinking about Social Justice and its Unsolved Riddles is beginning to emerge on the web site, where I have also estabished a link and introduction to KnICH Magazine. The principal use for this blog in the months ahead will be to expand on that and bring it to life.

Earlier today I put the following four paragraphs into a letter to a friend. I apologize to him for double-using them, should he happen to read this. They summarize what I am thinking these days, and will do to keep this blog alive for the time being. I have not enclosed them in quotations, because I will no doubt keep fiddling with the wording.

In my naturally self-isolated spot, I entertain the hypothesis that things are not really as strange as we think they are, at least not at the heart of them. We have become accustomed to obsessing on one single threat-and-cause and organizing our entire lives around it, at the behest of “experts”, who are often stakeholders, and their receptive politicians who take upon themselves the burden of telling us what to do using some mixture of carrots and sticks. The threat-cause used to be “The Economy”. Now it is “The Virus”. The threat used to be that “The Economy” would leave us out, the cause that complete devotion to its imperatives would lead us into universal prosperity and social justice. “The Virus” has a somewhat different twist, but is fundamentally the same, the threat being that it will embrace us, the cause being the utter banishment of risk and death. Under this hypothesis the “new normal” becomes like a photographic negative of the old normal.

William Blake argued that “single vision” was something we should avoid. He called it a form of sleep. He recommended “fourfold vision”, but was prepared to settle for “threefold” or “twofold” if necessary. For me the principal outcome of the Stephen Leacock project was his framework for a four-fold vision, the Tetrad of Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour that emerges from his copious writings on education. That is essentially what Northrop Frye meant, I think, by arguing in favour of a “literary” or “poetic” cast of mind. Of course it’s one thing to mean along those lines, quite another to translate them into policy. In order to do that we must learn not only to think four-fold-edly, but to act that way. The very best politicians know how to do that, unedifying as their apparent contortions may sometimes appear. Most, even some of the most successful, choose a single vision and exercise their art by subordinating all others effectively while embracing them verbally. The democratic public go along with that way, by yelling either in support of that single vision, or in favour of another one they want to put in place as the new global subordinator.

What a relief it must have been to such-minded politicians to be handed a single vision that so effectively subordinated everything else, at least for a time. Almost no one was yelling at them to do anything except to pursue more single-mindedly and ruthlessly the single vision and to subordinate all others. That is changing now, of course, and they are back in the hot seat once more. The public were prepared to be single-mindedly ruled for a little while. Now they are becoming democratically unruly once more.

My own incremental pursuit of four-fold-edness was most conveniently served by Stephen Leacock for three years. He remains in my thoughts, but has been joined by a wider cast: Isaiah Berlin, Northrop Frye, George Eliot, Ethel Wilson, Jules Verne, and a fine array of arctic explorers and eccentrics. I am working on three arenas where all these can sport in public display: the Voyageur Storytelling web site (www.voyageurstorytelling.ca), a thing called KnICH Magazine, and my blog. You might be interested in KnICH Magazine, which is linked through the web site if you are curious. It is a joint venture with my son Patrick. This is all work in progress of course, as everything always is with me, and will take shape gradually.

That’s where the letter ended, the effort to think in complex ways in the midst of complex times, and to articulate those thoughts even while they are evolving, goes on.

Approaching Stephen Leacock’s 150th Birthday

Leacock Post 12-19.jpeg

In less than two weeks, on Monday, December 30th, we will celebrate Stephen Leacock’s 150th birthday with a party of friends, a cake, and an unveiling of the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice as manifested in 2019. Stephen Leacock wrote a book about that in 1919, one hundred years ago, making 2019 another significant Leacock anniversary. The third was the 75th anniversary of his death, on March 28th. I have been celebrating his Anniversaries since that day, an endeavour that did not, I regret to say, go viral. It appears that Stephen Leacock, if not absolutely dead, is well along that way. Leslie and I know, of course, from our 2017 western tour, that there remain people who still find him interesting, rather more who still find him amusing, at least when he is at his best.

The writer of Ecclesiastes pronounced, many years ago, quite accurately as it turns out, that there is no end to the writing of books, and new writers can be forgiven if they prefer that the number of old books in circulation should be kept to a minimum. We can remember an old writer for his books, of course, if they are good enough, but perhaps a worthy alternative for some writers is to remember them for the seeds they planted. I think it entirely likely that I will never read another Leacock book, having read a great many during the several phases of this project. There are fifty-three of them; I have not read them all. From now on I will remember him, not for the few favourites that I find worth remembering, but for two seeds that he planted in my mind. I have been cultivating those seeds, and intend to continue, for their own sake, not for his, but primarily for the sake of my children, grand-children, and beyond, and for everyone else’s.

The two seeds are, first, the title of the book whose 100th anniversary I am celebrating:

The UNSOLVED RIDDLE of SOCIAL JUSTICE

It’s the title that matters most to me, not the book. I consider that Social Justice, widely conceived, is the greatest cause that humanity can and does pursue. Stephen Leacock identified it as an Unsolved Riddle, a type of ideal that is not to be answered with some pat “solution”, but to probed and wrestled with endlessly in the cause of improvement, or “progress” as it used to be called, and should continue to be called. Because when the world’s store of poverty, pain, misery, alienation, exploitation, oppression, violence, unnatural death, and other ills has been lessened, then that is progress, even if these ills persist. To identify Social Justice as an Unsolved Riddle is a huge, brilliant insight, a creative response to idealogues of all kinds, whose prescriptions have a nasty habit of increasing the ills, not the reverse. It is unfortunate that Stephen Leacock himself did not enlarge upon his insight, even in his book. That work remains.

The second seed grew out of my efforts to summarize the lessons he was trying to drum home to us in his fifty-three books, numerous individual pieces, public lectures, and lifetime of teaching about economics, politics, education, culture, and ways of life. The tools that he brought to his quest, and that he recommends to us, form a Tetrad:

KNOWLEDGE + IMAGINATION + COMPASSION + HUMOUR

One of my favourite passages in all of the literature I know is the opening to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress where the narrator, walking through “the wilderness of this world”, falls asleep and dreams of a man with “a great burden on his back”. Our burden comes with the benefits we have created for ourselves in our adoption of the industrial, commercial, technological, scientific, intricately interconnected way of life that brings us such a range of benefits. The burden is the costs that come with them, and the duty to deal with them for our own and the futures’ sakes. There is nothing wrong with wanting our lives to be prosperous, comfortable, secure, convenient, richly informed, and entertaining. We fool ourselves tragically when we can assume they can be that way without cost.

The Leacock Tetrad does not remove the burden, but has the capacity to lighten the carry, because these tools, taken together, will help us work to alleviate the costs without adding new ones, and to reassure us that we are doing the best we can. We are fated to muddle our way through the muddle we have ourselves created, because that is the nature of our creation. We all crave Social Justice, although we may vary somewhat in our definitions. Social Justice is an Unsolved Riddle. We cannot make it otherwise. Stephen Leacock is one of those people who gives us tools we need to work with it.

Who else? My current list: William Blake, Henry Thoreau, Herman Melville, George Eliot, Henry George, Northrop Frye, Marshall McLuhan, B.W. Powe, and newly arrived to my notice this week: Marilynne Robinson. More about them in the weeks and months ahead. I will also tell you about the œvirsagas and where they fit. Stephen Leacock had something to do with them too, or one of them at least. In Canada they are four in number, another Tetrad: Aboriginal, National, Political, and Urbanismal. They too are tools to grapple with the Unsolved Riddles and lighten the burden.

Ringing in the Tetrads

I have not posted here for some time. I apologize. I have been running three blogs during the months of the Leacock Anniversaries, with different postings. This week, for a change, as I swing into yet another break, this one for two or even three weeks, I am posting the same text on all three. When you have read one you have read them all.

This week’s pictoverbicon, as displayed on the Voyageur Storytelling web site (www.voyageurstorytelling.ca), the Leacock’n Bulletin linked thereto, and my Twitter page (https://twitter.com/conwaypaulw) introduces the Idea of Tetrational Thinking:

Leacock Post 10-31.jpeg

I have occupied much of the past two months in writing a book called The Marriage of Social Justice and Unsolved Riddles, in which I am attempting to convince readers that Social Justice and Unsolved Riddles belong together. The narrative approach that I adopted for this task I find subsequently to be consistent with Northrop Frye’s intention which was, according to his biographer John Ayre, “to spread imaginative poetic thought throughout society to soften and cancel the effects of procrustean logic and ideology.” This is most satisfying, because for a Canadian of my generation who graduated from the University of Toronto, to be consistent with Northrop Frye is always consoling.

I have talked before about Stephen Leacock’s Tetrad of Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour as a form of quadruple-thinking Both-Andian (or All-Andian) cast of mind able to work us toward Social Justice. When we pursue the Tetrational Way we find ourselves of course in a forest of Unsolved Riddles, that is, inherently conflicting or contradictory goods, but what is the alternative? How difficult would it be to tune our collective minds in all four of these directions at once? Quite difficult, I think, but possible with practice. Both Northrop Frye and Stephen Leacock insisted on Imagination as the linchpin of this whole way of thinking. That seems obvious, because the Tetrad demands that we step outside our normal, simplified, linear ways of thinking, the ones that enable us to get on with our lives from day to day without going mad, and view our lives together, our society, in a much more complicated way. In order to do that we have to free our imaginations from the “procrustean logic and ideology” which powerful forces press upon us so insistently.

One of the great Unsolved Riddles of our time declares the possibility that the simplified, linear thinking which helps us individually to avoid going mad from day to day, when applied collectively, to our social situation, constitutes itself a form of madness. I am convinced that Tetrational Thinking would ease the collective madness. We might too find that it creates an even higher form of sanity for us individually.

Reading Northrop Frye’s biography (by John Ayre) I learned that he set down a Tetrad of his own in a letter to one Betty Cole in April of 1974: “I think there has to be an assumption that life is better than death, freedom better than slavery, happiness better than misery, equality better than exploitation, for all men everywhere without exception.” (In the interests of exact quotation I leave in Frye’s “all men” and do not substitute “all people” or “everyone” as I feel strongly inclined to do, because that is obviously what Frye meant.) Is his assumption perhaps the irreducible first principle of Social Justice?

As an exercise in Tetrational Thinking, I invite you to stare fixedly at the following tetragammon (Is it a mandala? I’m not sure.) keeping in mind the four elements simultaneously. I have tried it, and find that it does in fact tend to break apart the procrustean logic and ideology.  When I have time I’ll create one for Frye’s Tetrad of Life + Freedom + Happiness + Equality, as well as its antipode, the Death + Slavery + Misery + Exploitation that is the tragic lot of so much of humanity and that we must never willingly accept.

tetrad-138-1.jpg

Stare at that Tetrad for a long time. Think about the words and what they mean both individually and for each other. Weave circles around them and close your eyes in holistic dream. Imagine them becoming more than they are, more than you ever dreamed they could be. Don’t become discouraged if nothing magic happens the first time you try. It will come.

When I resume posting here later in November I will take up these ideas more fully, both theoretically and practically. I shall strive to integrate the Tetrads of Stephen Leacock and Northrop Frye with B.W. Powe’s “attentive sensitivity to multi-dimensional meaning”, Isaiah Berlin’s “loose texture  and a measure of inefficiency and even muddle”, Marshall McLuhan’s gnomic utterance that “The Medium is the Message” (which I think means that how we think or communicate determines, or at least heavily influences,  what we think or communicate), and George Eliot’s celebration, in one of her characters, of a benign influence that is “incalculably diffusive”.

We are not machines. Our minds are not governed by sequential cause and effect. They can leap.

In the meantime I leave you with the following jingle:

The Mud between the Minds
Like muds of other kinds,
Constitutes a kind of wealth
Or viscous form of filth :
This is the Unsolved Riddle
Of the Muddle.