Sixth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries, Wednesday May 1st, 2019. May Day. Or is that MAYDAY! MAYDAY!
My mind is full of questions this morning about the verb “to charge”, and whether it may make some potential difference in the hunt for the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. Now there’s a blast from the past that just popped into my mind as I typed that sentence: potential difference. It came, I think, from my second-year physics course at the University of Toronto, a subject from which my degree of disengagement was exceeded only by thermodynamics. As far as I was concerned at the age of nineteen, electricity and magnetism, on the one hand, and heat, on the other, could do their thing in whatever way they pleased. Their decisions to flow, or not to flow, from one body to another were none of my business.
The idea of potential energy, however, perhaps related if memory serves me, could be my business now, depending on definition; especially the idea of something being charged with potential energy. We sometimes speak of a charged atmosphere; let’s borrow that. Let’s remember that we breathe the the contents of an atmosphere, either the natural one around us, or an artificial one from a tank or controlled environment. BW Powe has recently brought into the perceptual discussion the idea of a charged membrane. Let’s borrow that. Then let’s imagine the situation we may be in.
Let’s imagine two different atmospheres, one conducive to Social Justice, and one not conducive. Let’s imagine them mixed in the same breathing space, just as the natural atmosphere is a mixture of different gases, and as an artificial atmosphere can be made to be. Then let us imagine a membrane that is charged to allow one type of atmosphere through easily and to inhibit the passage of the other. The question then becomes: what kind of a membrane is it, and what kind of charge?
Is it a natural membrane, or do we “facture” it, as in manufacture, or mentafacture if there is such a word? If natural, then our approach to it will have to take one kind of form, if humanufactured, then another. The same goes for the charge. Is the membrane global, enveloping us all like some great blanket, or is it more like a face mask that we can put on or remove at will? And are these questions the essence of what we mean when we call Social Justice an Unsolved Riddle?
I am thinking out loud here, but make no apology. That’s the purpose of this blog. I invite you to think along with me, because I have grave doubts about my capacity to do it on my own.
I have not yet read B.W. Powe’s new book, The Charge in the Global Membrane, but am on track to do so. Based on his books that I have read, I expect to find it both informative and, perhaps more importantly, suggestive. For example, the other day I was reading Outage: A Journey into Electric City, and was struck by the following line: “I’d been striving for a clear unattainable outside position [concerning information and electronic effects], and I was resisting the deeper and tangled path, the emotional core.” And a few pages later: “A passion for the end may be a passion for breakout and renewal.” What happens to us if the global membrane is so charged that it filters out the passion for the end that we call Social Justice? How much of what is thought and said about it represents a striving for a clear, unattainable outside position when we should be taking another path, be it ever so deep and tangled?
Stephen Leacock, in 1943 at the very end of his life, in the last paragraph of his last book called While There Is Time, concluded that: “Everything depends on the work of the spirit on the honesty and inspiration of the individual.” He is suggesting that the membrane is a mask that we can individually put on or take off and thus change the atmosphere we breathe. The idea of a global membrane would seem to disagree, or at least suggest that we would have to deal with it even if we each did take off the mask.
I don’t pretend yet to have caught the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, let alone tamed it, but I am coming to believe some things about it. Most importantly, I believe that we can control the spirit we bring to our individual and collective lives, despite the efforts made by all manner of interests to control them for us. These may try to whelm us perhaps, but need not overwhelm. We can choose the deeper and tangled path, and may well find it not nearly as deep and tangled as we fear it is going to be. If it enabled us even to shed some of our anxieties, we might indeed find it quite pleasant.
If we charge the global membrane head-on, can we reverse its charge?