Exploring the Sagacities

I have decided not to do what I said last week I was going to do this week, which is talk about prediction. Maybe I will do that next week, because it’s an important matter to the cause of Social Justice. Stephen Leacock was right about some things, wrong about others. One of the former was his skepticism about “social planning”. I am going to suggest, not today but later on, that policy and practice should develop incrementally, based on observations about the present, not in great leaps, based on predictions, as planning does. Incrementally is how policy and practice do in fact evolve, which is a good thing. I am going to suggest that we learn to accept and even like the reality that we have. The Inertia I talked about last week, and the Incrementalism I am recommending today, are all part of a robust democracy. The cause of Social Justice requires only that we manage the Inertia and craft the Increments in consistent ways.

But that is not what I want to write about today. I have been reading Diamond Jenness’s book Indians of Canada, having just completed Peter Farb’s Man’s Rise to Civilization. I hasten to say that I am fully cognizant of the objections that indigenous people and their advocates might raise to these books, and agree with them whole-heartedly. These objections apply if the stories told by these books are taken as “The Truth”. If they are taken, however, as honest and scholarly attempts to use the imagination to interpret the stories using the data at hand, then I think the objections weaken. Both these authors are telling stories. Both have taken immense trouble to research the stories conscientiously, and to interpret them as fairly as they possibly can. Their interpretations are works of the scholarly imagination, which is not to say they are fiction. They are stories. We do ourselves a grave disservice if we throw out such interpretations because they are not “the whole story” or would be told differently by indigenous people themselves. No one knows, or can know, “the whole story”, whatever it might be. Every historical story is an interpretation.

Both Jenness and Farb give their stories an epic sweep. They tell not merely stories, but sagas, Jenness of Canada, Farb of North America. They chose the prose of scholarship over the ringing lines of Homer or the Icelanders, although they must have known that their sagas deserved them, probably because prose was what they could do, what their readers would expect, and what the huge mass of their observations would allow.

Canada, in my interpretation, boasts three great Over-Sagas, each encompassing many, many sub-sagas, all still unfolding. First came the Over-Saga of of the indigenous peoples of this land, which Jenness is trying to sketch in great broad sweeps of his scholarship as it had unfolded up to his time. He is our Homer for that saga, in his own style, and we should read him as such. Second is the Over-Saga of settlement and exploitation of the land and resources, the one that so entranced Stephen Leacock. Third is the Over-Saga of our cities, which is the dominant one today.

I call them the Sagacities, because their “wisdom”, whatever one makes of it and however diverse it may be, governs how we think and how we act when we do so collectively. We are largely in the midst of that Over-Saga. Even the most cursory look at the population statistics shows that this must be so. Some of us may not live in our cities, although most of us do or in intimate proximity with them; some of us may fancy ourselves as not city people at all. We are all beholden to our cities nevertheless, one way or another, usually in many ways.

If the Over-Saga of our cities has yet been attempted, except perhaps in The Canadian Encyclopedia, I have not yet seen it. Who will be our Virgil?  I think B.W. Powe is trying to get at the essence in his recent The Charge in the Global Membrane. Perhaps a fragmented, incomplete, and inconclusive account, as with Stephen Leacock’s Mariposa, is the best anyone will ever be able to do.

I believe that the cause of Social Justice is alive and well in our cities, and that they are fertile ground for more of it. The cause is impeded by persistent unsolved riddleness, and by the volume of static in the Charged Ooze that permeates its surroundings. Stephen Leacock spoke of people “of good will whose hearts are in the cause”. A few people with loud voices, and some prosperous institutions, are not there, however, and we will have to deal with them. Our challenge is to do that without undermining our purpose. The over-Unsolved Riddle may be that some of the forces undermining Social Justice are also essential to its survival. I am thinking particularly of those that provide jobs and contribute to our material prosperity.

 

Among other matters: The Joy of Inertia

The day approaches when I will have to pull together all the ramblings and suggestions of the past fifteen weeks in order to make some sense of the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. I have perhaps three more weeks to go rambling on, before the fell day arrives.

Last week I excoriated the CBC for shoddy journalism in its misinterpretation and misapplication of a very bad poll. The issue is important, because whether we should or not we, by whom I mean the body politic, are paying attention to polls and perhaps even using them to help us decide how to vote. If the polls are statistically flawed, as last week’s was, and the interpretations technically invalid, then we are being systematically misled. I think that is a problem. Fortunately it is one we can solve.

Today I am going to draw attention to some other journalistic practices that cause me concern. Again I am going to pick on the CBC, not only because it is probably the most important source of politically important information in the country, but also because of its pretensions.

First, for today, I will focus on the phrase, “The system is broken.” We hear this from time to time when a “system” (we need to scan that word thoroughly but I am not going to do it today) has made a decision that someone didn’t like. The CBC will interview that person, and report on the interview or broadcast the quote as “news”. Fair enough, as far as it goes. In some cases however that is as far as it goes. In others perhaps they will interview someone else who thinks the system is not broken, or perhaps a reporter will  try to add some balance. Usually these efforts will not yield any phrase nearly as catchy as “the system is broken” and that is what sticks in the mind. Sometimes it is taken up by a politician, and reinforced. The idea that “the system is broken” is thus implanted without any equally effective counter-idea.

I believe it to be true in fact, and fully verifiable by empirical research, that not one of our important public “systems” is broken, although every one of them can be improved, every one of them is staffed by people who can make mistakes, and every one of them operates under constraints and must occasionally, or often, make difficult decisions or choices under conditions of uncertainty or risk. People are sometimes hurt by these decisions. If they were made differently, somebody else would be hurt. These situations are evidence of the human condition in complex circumstances, not of broken systems.

A recent, particularly egregious example of this kind of journalism was the recent CBC study of medical implants. We were treated therein to a small number of blood-curdling accounts of what instances when things went terribly wrong and to some statistics on the number of occasions when they went wrong but without any indications of severity. On no occasion were we ever told how many of these implants were in fact being carried around by people. The study provided no calculation of risk, nor any data that  would allow us to make our own calculations. Is it possible that someone might react to these lurid reports by refusing to receive an much-needed implant?

Another bad phrase: “That is a worthy enough measure but does not go far enough.” Or words to that effect. Can we point to even one example, in the whole history of human progress, when perfection was achieved in one mighty bound? Real progress evolves incrementally, and so does regress. The cause in the hearts of people of good will (I am paraphrasing the dying Stephen Leacock) is not perfection, but steady improvement. It will be incremental, whether we like it or not, because that is how the democratic world wags, and should wag. Those who believe in immediate perfection are always authoritarians.

One of the realities that I believe to be fundamental to the pursuit of Social Justice is the tremendous inertia we have built into our human world, or has been built in for us, and a jolly good thing that is too. It may slow down progress, although we continue to make some so this inertia cannot be said prevent it. It also slows down regress, giving time to people of good will whose hearts are in the cause, time to slow down the regression or even reverse it. This tremendous inertia, that I have elsewhere called the Yottapede, imagined as a living organic presence, is both friend and enemy. That is part of the Riddle of Social Justice. This one becomes an Unsolved Riddle only if we don’t believe in it.

I am not finished with the CBC and its journalism yet, but I will leave my next gripe for next week. It has to do with predictions, forecasts, auguries, divinations, and other forms of articulated anticipation that pop up on the news under the guise of information. I believe it was a woman in one of O. Henry’s stories about the gentle grafter who offered the public “a dollar’s worth of honest prognostication”. We don’t need any of that, or even the dishonest kind, to pursue Social Justice. Facts and intelligent understanding about the present and the past will serve us quite well enough.

As we move forward, please keep our evolving set of key words in mind: Knowledge; Imagination; Compassion; Humour;—these comprise Leacock’s set, evolved in his lifetime;—Pluralism; Doublethink; Both-And;—these are evolving. Social Justice needs them. No Unsolved Riddle can stand up to them when they work together.

Never send to know for whom the CBC polls; it polls for thee, or thinks it does

What has the recent Canada Day “poll” commissioned and being massaged daily by the CBC to do with Social Justice? A great deal, as a matter of fact, because it serves as an example of abuse of statistical methods to create journalistic fodder, and thus to misrepresent our perceptions of our country’s beliefs and attitudes. It is an exercise in misinformation and misleading. It is not fake news, because it is reporting something that actually happened, but it is sloppy news. Canadians on the whole may or may not be “conflicted and worried”, as the July 1st headline would have it, but you can’t prove it by this “poll”, one way or the other.

This piece of work is not a “poll”, but a “survey”. A survey becomes a poll when rigour is applied to the size and composition of the sample, the wording of the questions, and the nature of the questioning. This survey meets none of the relevant standards, and therefore cannot be generalized. It is valid for what it is, a survey of 4,500 (3,000 + 3×500) Canadians not randomly selected who were asked slanted questions over the internet and confined to multiple-choice answers. It has no capacity to speak to the larger outlook. Éric Grenier, the reporter who wrote the first story, and who with his background presumably knows better, as he tries to reassure us on the reliability of his reportage, makes the following, startling statement:

Because the sample is based on those who initially self-selected for participation in the Maru Voice panel rather than a probability sample, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated. However, a comparable probabilistic national sample of 3,000 voters would have a margin of error of +/- 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, while samples of 500 voters have a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Logically this is exactly the same as saying, “Since this animal before us is an ass we can’t expect it to do the same work as a horse. But if it were a horse, we could get it to do the work. So even though we know it’s an ass, we’ll put it to work as if it were a horse.” We may judge the work accordingly.

By the way, in my day we didn’t have “probability” or “probabilistic” samples. We had random samples, representative samples, small samples, large samples, etc. all of which use probabilities, each of which performs very differently. Mr. Grenier is trying to baffle us into overlooking his horse-ass problem. The CBC survey, by the way, uses a very small, even minuscule, not random, not remotely representative sample.

You can find Mr. Grenier’s story at https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/cbc-election-poll-1.5188097. The CBC has published others since, but I haven’t read them.

Let’s look at the questions. I propose to increase the sample to 4,501, a .022% (that is, 2.2 one-hundredths of one percent) increase, by answering some of the questions myself. I realize this percentage is small. It’s considerably larger than the CBC’s .016% of the adult Canadian population, however. To have any chance of supporting the generalizations the CBC wants to make they would need something closer to 450,000 respondents, randomly selected and personally interviewed, at least by telephone. I am not saying they don’t learn anything from their almost infinitesimal, biased, internetted sample, only that it provides no support for conclusions about the adult population as a whole, especially considering the questions asked. These are not simple, like “How would you vote?” or “Do you have a job?” They are complicated questions, inviting nuanced answers. The answers are pre-set, however, thus depriving the respondents of the right to say what they believe or how they feel in their own words.

On to the questions, as described in Mr. Grenier’s story. I have enough respect for his integrity to assume he is reporting them accurately.

When you think of you and your family, are you worried or optimistic about the future?” (Answers provided: Worried, somewhat worried, somewhat optimistic, optimistic.) My answer: I am neither worried nor optimistic. These words do not apply to me as I squint my way towards the future. Some good things are happening, and some not so good. In the future I expect that some good things will happen, and some not so good. Whether these will be the same things remains to be seen. I am reasonably sure, based on my age, that I will die some time in the next twenty-five years. I am not worried about that.

“What, if anything, are you most worried about?” (My health/health of a family member, cost of living, climate change, crime and public safety, terrorism, my job/finding a job, immigration, international relations/trade agreements, truth in the media, racism, social inequality, none of these issues worry me). I see reason for concern in what is happening and has happened in several of these areas, some more than others, but I know good people are working on them and trust their efforts will be fruitful at least to some extent. Progress is necessarily gradual. Ill-informed and self-interested opposition to those efforts is of course always a concern, but can be overcome by people of good will whose hearts are in the cause. The cause, for me, is Social Justice, which enters into all these fields and defies simplistic formulas of any kind.

I am going to skip over the next group, which concern specific issues or points of view. Besides, I am running out of room.

“In general, do you think Canada is on the right track or on the wrong track?” (Right track, wrong track). What a stupid question! Canada is a pluralistic country, moving through time in a way compatible with both its nationhood and its pluralism, neither confined to one track nor unconstrained in its modes of travel. All human possibilities, for good or ill, are within our potential, although I believe our potential for good exceeds the other.

Thinking about the upcoming federal election in October specifically, which issues are most concerning to you?” (Health care, climate change, cost of living, jobs/the economy, housing affordability, home ownership, government mismanagement, deficit spending, gun control, nobody to vote for, immigration, terrorism, trade negotiations, rascism, the quality of life in Indigenous communities, women’s equality) I see progress and reason for concern in all these areas. When I look at the parties and their leadership (always more than one person) I am more interested in their casts of mind than the specifics of their “programs” let alone their “promises”. I will vote for whichever party appears to have the most favourable cast of mind for the cause of Social Justice in all its pluralistic, multi-faceted ways.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if a hefty percentage of the other 4,500 people agree with me, or will agree when we have had a good conversation about the meanings of the words we are using. Alas, I do not expect the CBC to sponsor anything like that kind of conversation, or to support it by the necessary kind of social-political journalism.

By the way, if anybody knows what a cross between a fox and a hedgehog (or a porcupine) looks like, or how it behaves, please let me know. I think we may need one to tame the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and put it to work. Isaiah Berlin, echoing Archilochus, tells us: “The fox knows many things,  but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” I think that’s a Both-And, which may not really be all that hard to do.

Maybe Canada is such a cross: BOTH one big thing, AND many things,

 

Social Justice and Reconciliation: First Essay

The Trans-Mountain Pipeline, of which I wrote last week, has become entangled in the question of what I am going to call Our Indigenous Social Justice, by which I mean the way we accommodate, or don’t accommodate, indigenous people who share this land with us. Their Indigenous Social Justice includes the way they accommodate, or don’t accommodate, us and each other, and is none of my business. And by “us” I mean the rest of us, ranging from recent immigrants to those who have lived here for centuries.

In my own case, just to set the record straight, the final immigrants in my family chain came here from the US over a century ago, to join some others who had been here somewhat longer. Immigration to the US, in my family, began much earlier. Before the US and Canada my ancestors came from the British isles and Sweden. The stories of their “settler colonial” adventures dwell more on stores and factories than on farms. We have been business people for the most part. The current generation is the first in which the young mothers worked outside the home, although their activities were always wider. My father was a tanner, my mother a dietician and a piano teacher. His father was a banker and then a tanner; her father an electrical engineer. Both my grandmothers raised children and ran households, and very well too. If they and theirs were “settler colonials”,—and I don’t wear the label with any comfort,—they were of a particular kind.

I myself have never walked even one pace in the moccasins of an indigenous person, although my work in research and social service has enabled me to walk beside them sometimes, and I hope I have learned from the experience. It has certainly made me extremely wary of judgements of any kind, except to agree that the sometimes aggressive migratory instincts of humanity, the mobility of germs, and the imperial urges of great nations, have given indigenous people an extremely raw deal. In this country they can take some comfort, but probably not much, from the realities that they were not annihilated, and that their particular imperial great nation accorded them a limited framework of legal rights, which it then proceeded to abuse, but did not cancel. The rewards of these realities, if they can be called that, are beginning to accrue to new generations. These are what make the idea, or some idea, of “Reconciliation” possible.

I do not like to use the term “Reconciliation” for what needs to be done now, because I believe it lies at the end of a long process that begins with pursuit of Social Justice. Social Justice is a practical thing, an Unsolved Riddle no doubt, but one that can be addressed with practical means. Reconciliation is in the spiritual realm, and will occur naturally when we have achieved a sufficient measure of Social Justice and have become accustomed to living with each other under its influence. Now we live together under other influences, which inhibit Reconciliation or render it merely a word amidst waves of arid political verbosity.

I think it both wise and useful to consider Our Indigenous Social Justice under the Four Fields I have proposed elsewhere: Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Cultural Justice, Opportunital Justice, all of these having elements of Unsolved Riddles, or the full-blown kind, by themselves and all together. I have been proposing for some time that these may yield,—whatever that means,—to application of the Stephen Leacock Tetrad of Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour. More recently I have begun to suggest that the way to do that involves Creative Doublethink and Bi-Polar (Both-And) Accommodation. The process of working out these suggestions continues.

At this stage I will only present some hypotheses concerning Our Indigenous Social Justice and the Four Fields, leaving more complete discussion for later. It seems possible to me that any kind of Indigenous Social Justice, ours or theirs, is going to be extremely difficult if not impossible without a hefty degree of economic assimilation. In our economic system, most of us receive economic justice by allowing ourselves to be absorbed by the Yottapede (see the Monday Stalking Blog for more about it), or by voluntarily excluding ourselves from it; in the latter case the resulting inevitable poverty is not unjust because we chose it. To be involuntarily excluded is to be denied economic justice. A few people of supreme talent can find economic justice, even high prosperity, on their own terms. Most of us have to accept the terms dictated by the Yottapede. Economic justice is a necessary, but no longer sufficient condition for Social Justice. That’s one hypothesis.

Environmental justice and cultural justice, in several dimensions, hold immense importance for indigenous people in this country, and appear to gain more as their physical survival becomes assured. This is a poser for us. We are no longer sure that we can support environmental justice for our society as a whole, let alone for parts of it. Some parts may even be particularly deprived, as it appears the people of the Arctic, primarily indigenous, may well become or have already. I think our present Canadian government, and a few provincial ones, are trying their best to apply Creative Doublethink and Both-And Accommodation to environmental justice, thus opening themselves up to charges of hypocrisy. The NDP and the Greens are at best wobbly both-anders; the Conservatives still seem to believe in magic, as that kind of ideology often does and not only in environmental matters. If you want to see a touching faith in magic, just try trickle-down economics.

I will stick my neck out and say that I believe we are doing not too badly these days with cultural justice, at least of the superficial kind encompassed by what we awkwardly call multiculturalism. I believe that indigenous people mean something deeper, something outside the Yottapede yet enabling intra-yottapedal economic benefits. We may support such an idea in principle, but I do not believe we have a clear idea how to bring it about, for indigenous people or any others,—such as artists,—who may dream such dreams. A guaranteed minimum annual income has been suggested as one possibility.

I am not quite sure what I mean by Opportunital Justice, except that I am trying to preserve Stephen Leacock’s emphasis on equality of opportunity, which in his day meant economic opportunity, and in ours is more complicated. I promised last week that I would consult Olde Stephen, his ghost, for this week. I did, and that’s what he said.

Of course there are other dimensions of justice that cannot be entirely excluded, such as political justice and legal justice, the former being of great interest to politicians, and the other of concern to those whose desire to remain extra-yottapedal brings them into court or jail, both intra-yottapedal places par excellence. It’s uncomfortable enough trying to broaden Social Justice beyond the purely economic. Adding political and legal justice to the mix, in any except their strictly environmental, cultural, and opportunital dimensions, renders Social Justice a meaningless ideal. It becomes equal to Justice on the whole, which has been an Unsolved Riddle since Socrates, and maybe longer.

That’s enough for this week. Sorry about the length. These are deep waters, as P.G. Wodehouse would say.

 

What Do We See Coming in the Trans-Mountain Pipeline?

Social Justice intrudes itself into our political discourse in most instructive ways this week. The Federal Government has approved the Trans-Mountain Pipeline Expansion (a.k.a. the TMX). This decision has evoked a fine contradictory chorus of partisan prognosications, with Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats, Greens, and the Governments of Alberta and British Columbia all seeing something quite different coming as a result. Whether the Government’s decision proves decisive remains to be seen. At least they have made it, as they always said they would. “Our position is in the national interest,” they declare. The Conservatives, New Democrats, Greens, and the Governments of Alberta and British Columbia all say the same thing.

I suggest that under these circumstances it would be entirely reasonable to predict a further torrent of verbiage, and good times ahead for lobbyists, advocates, and lawyers on all sides of the question.

My own proposal is fairly straight-forward. I believe the pipeline should be built to carry refined bitumen, what used to be called and maybe still is “synthetic crude”, and that the refining should be done in Alberta, before the pipeline reaches the mountains. I acknowledge the greenhouse gas effect, but simply point out that this stuff is going to be refined somewhere, with the same effect globally. At least if it is done in Alberta we can specify the technology and, to some extent, control the emissions. Furthermore, I believe that every stage of this process, from mining to shipping, should be done at the highest possible level of fail-safe technology, and that the inevitable extra costs should be built into the chain of prices. If this makes oil sands oil unprofitable, then so be it. The pipeline will not then be built. If oil sands oil is only profitable when mined and shipped on the cheap, then considering the risks involved, the market for it is not really a market, and it should stay in the ground. A pipe-dream of wealth doth not a market make.

In arriving at this proposal, which I believe to be sensible all things considered, I am using a technique I call “creative doublethink” and “bi-polar accommodation”. Double-think, you may recall, was identified by George Orwell in his book 1984 as meaning “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” In his context he was against it; in the context of Unsolved Riddles, it can serve us well if we learn how to use it.

To be specific: I support the dreams of prosperity of the people of Alberta. I came to know them well in the twenty-five years I lived there. Two of my children and four of my grand-children live there now. I was and am involved with the prospects of Alberta. I support the dreams of preservation of the astonishing landscapes and coastlines of British Columbia. I have never lived there, but have become somewhat familiar with the country from Dawson Creek and Prince George to Sparwood and Williams Head. The idea of a bitumen spill anywhere along the route of that pipeline or in the shipping channel beyond fills me with horror. I want to see the pipeline built, the oil sold, for Alberta’s sake, and I want the passes, valleys, and coasts to be protected, for British Columbia’s sake. I hold these two beliefs, apparently contradictory, in my mind simultaneously and accept both of them. That is the “doublethink” part of my proposal.

The “bi-polar” part is an alternative to the “compromise” idea, the latter suggesting a reasonable amount of prosperity for Albertans and a reasonable amount of protection for British Columbians. I believe the compromise is inherently unbalanced, and that we can do better. I believe in maximums, of both prosperity and protection. When it comes to Unsolved Riddles, which TMX is, I am a follower of Charles Simeon who said, in 1825, “that the truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme; but in both extremes.” He then went on to say to his reader: “I see you are filled with amazement and doubting whether I am in my sober senses.” I think I am. Considering our wealth and ingenuity, I see no reason why we should not strive for both extremes of prosperity and protection. I do understand, however, that in order to achieve that doublegood we may have to think differently about cost and profit. If we think about them in the old accustomed way, then someone is going to gain, someone is going to lose, and I think I know who they are. The pipeline industry’s spill record is not nearly good enough to justify the accustomed risks.

As to the “national interest”, I believe it is just as bi-polar as mine, shared by the great mass of Canadians. In dealing with Unsolved Riddles, compromise has its place when the stakes are relatively small. Such is not the case with the Unsolved Riddle of TMX. For that one we need Creative Doublethink and Bi-Polar Accommodation.

I have left Stephen Leacock’s ghost out of this discussion, poor shade. I’ll consult him next week.

What Do We See Coming?

The Erewhonians say that we are drawn through life backwards; or again, that we go onwards into the future as into a dark corridor. Time walks beside us and flings back shutters as we advance; but the light thus given often dazzles us, and deepens the darkness which is in front. We can see but little at a time, and heed that little far less than our apprehension of what we shall see next; ever peering curiously through the glare of the present into the gloom of the future, we presage the leading lines of that which is before us, by faintly reflected lights from dull mirrors that are behind, and stumble on as we may till the trap-door opens beneath us and we are gone. (Samuel Butler, Erewhon, 1910)

B.W. Powe of York University, poet, writer, and teacher, closes his latest book The Charge in the Global Membrane, with a question: “What do you see coming?” We correspond from time to time. I wrote to him last evening, as follows:

Your question is a vexed one to my mind, because I believe we can never see anything coming except in the very narrow and immediate visual sense, or through Samuel Butler’s mirrors looking backward, and pretty darkly at that. I was trained to be deeply suspicious of linear extrapolation in complex situations, and to watch carefully for tidal oscillations that may appear for the moment to be flowing rivers. I am not sure how to reconcile that caution with your observations about the Charged Global Membrane. I have no doubt that what you describe is happening, and that if reactions so far persist the consequences could be dire. But will they persist, or will adjustments occur when people become accustomed, and if so what kind?

Of course, your question is not “What is coming?” but “What do you see coming?”

In other words, I don’t see anything coming, because some intensive training in my younger days and a working lifetime of practice have conditioned me not to look. The closest I come is to examine carefully the available data, and to extend them forward using some kind of formula to see what might come, and to attach a reasonable set of probabilities to their coming. Because what I “see” by this method is always a plural set of possibilities. On no occasion do I use linear extrapolation from the present or the recent past. What is happening is not necessarily what is going to happen, and so I stoutly maintain. This makes me unwelcome company sometimes when the dire predictions are being passed around the conversational circle.

This does not mean that I live in a Pollyanna world where dire predictions are summarily drummed out of the room. Let’s look at climate change, for example. When we take into account the masses of first-rate data we have of past global climate patterns and the sophistication of the models used for projections, we must believe that a global catastrophe is possible. If we attach any significant probability to that outcome,—and we should!—then what decision theorists call the “expected value” of the outcome is the global cost of the catastrophe multiplied by its probability. Since the cost, in human terms, of this outcome is so huge as to approach the infinite, then the expected value (cost) of the outcome is the same. Faced with that kind of possibility, then we had better act, even though there may be some probability attached to a miraculous reaction of planet or humans that mitigates the effect.

Since a climate catastrophe, even a mild one, is certainly an issue for Social Justice, then any reluctance to act, or effective resistance, contributes to the Unsolved Riddle that we are trying to understand here. In fact, if we look at it that way, we may even find that the reluctance and resistance are grounded in just that realm, for example, in the quite legitimate fear of lost livelihoods. We must deal with them accordingly. I am not going to do that today, although I promise we will in this metaphorical collective I have created for the purpose. We will deal with climate change as we will deal with global population growth, inequality of opportunity and prosperity, pluralism, tribalism, individualism and collectualism, precarious livelihoods, our relationship with Nature, democracy, consumerism, culturism, education, and any other issues of like importance.

In order to set the stage for that process I have drafted Stephen Leacock’s ghost, Olde Stephen, from his former setting in what I am now calling the Stalking Blog, updated Mondays, and sent the Yottapede, along with Mnemochiron, the feminequine centaur, over there in exchange. This is, after all, now the Talking Blog. Olde Stephen will be a lot happier here than burrowing around in the Charged Ooze disguised as a star-nosed mole. We will charge this blog with verbosity, his natural element, at least it was when he was alive.

All verbosity will be suspended, however, for until the week after next, due to other commitments. Our newly aligned saga will resume on Wednesday, June 19th.

Thank you for reading, and for your patience. The preliminaries are completed; we will get down to brass tacks very soon.

Metaphorical Reasoning for Unsolved Riddles : Does It Work?

A Dark Tower, a Slug-Horn, a Charged Global Membrane, two star-nosed moles in aspect, a labyrinth placed in a middling Canadian city named Mariposa, citizens to walk it and leaders to help them, a bag-full of clobs for clobbering bawls, a yottapede, a centauress with an uneasy rider. Have any of these proved of any value in locating the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and imagining the creature and its natural habitat, so that it can be tamed and put to work? I think it is time to assess the progress of these three quite different work parties.

Two of them have located the creature, or think they have. The two moles, burrowing their way through the ooze of the Charged Global-Perceptual Membrane-Medium-MemBrain, or Chooze for short, looking for the Dark Tower, believing it to be the most likely habitat, have discovered that the Chooze is the Dark Tower, and that all the confusion, perplexity, fragmentation, incompleteness, inconclusiveness, and resulting anxiety are both the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice itself, and the essence of its nature. The Chooze is a Puddle of Muddle, they would say if they were being epigrammatic, so is the UROSJ, and so are the people caught up in it. If that is so, then pretending otherwise, as ideologies of all kinds tend to prefer, may be the worst possible entry into the necessary tasks of taming and putting to work.

The Labyrinth Walkers appear to have discovered what it means to blow the Slug-Horn, which is odd, because that question apparently never crossed their minds in the whole half-labyrinth they have walked so far. In fact, the Slug-Horn has until now been the exclusive property of the Dark Tower party. The Walkers came upon it when they got to the Centre. They think that to blow it means to be epigrammatic, to speak in “slogans”, these and slug-horns being the same thing etymologically. Childe Roland’s slogan was “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”. Theirs is:

“DAUNTLESSLY, STEP-BY-STEP, BOTH ONE AT A TIME AND ALL TOGETHER!”

This they intend to employ as they work their way back out of the labyrinth. When they emerge from where they came in, but of course going in the opposite direction, they expect to have tamed the UROSJ, so that it can be put to work.

Mnemochiron, the feminequine centaur, and her Uneasy Rider, who narrates in the first person and therefore may sit in the same relation to the writer as does the narrator in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, which may or may not be a close one, believe they have discovered the UROSJ itself, in the person of the Yottapede. Mnemochiron’s magic is her ability to move around inside the creature without being sucked into it, as Uneasy Rider would be on his own.

So you see, it has taken all three parties to locate the UROSJ and equip us to tame it and put it to work. The UROSJ, formed as the Yottapede, swims or wades in a puddle of muddle called the Chooze. Mnemochiron is able to carry Uneasy Rider safely into its inwards where it can be carefully explored. The two moles in aspect are able to burrow sensationally through the Chooze, and thus explore it. The Walkers maintain their steady undulating course through the Labyrinth, clobbering the bawls encountered,—bawls being little globes, or globs, of Inertia,—with the appropriate clob from among the fourteen carried, depending on the lie of the bawl and distance to the whole:

Pluraliser :: used for recognizing Pluralism;
Puzzler :: used for recognizing Unsolved Riddles;
Coherenator :: used for overcoming Fragmentation;
Completer :: used for overcoming Incompleteness;
Concluder :: used (always most carefully) for overcoming Inconclusiveness;
Congruver :: used for reconciling incongruous juxtapositions;
Both-Ander :: used for coping with hazards of the either-or kind;
Knowledge :: should always be complemented by application of the Both-Ander;
Imagination :: the indispensable clob; no inertia can be overcome without it;
Compassion :: clob for choosing the appropriate direction;
Humour :: clob for dealing with inherent imperfections or difficult lies;
Conversation :: everyday, working clob;
Negotiation :: clob for overcoming conflicting inertias;
Education :: clob for learning the game and basic clobbering skills.

I think this whole system needs to be brought together, the parties introduced to each other and allowed to join forces. To do that I propose a device first suggested by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels, a floating airborne island he called Laputa. I propose to suspend the Chooze with its inhabiting Yottapede as a mega-glob, or “meglob”, floating above Mariposa in Laputan fashion with differences where necessary. The two moles in aspect, whose names can be Stebu and Pedub, Mnemochiron, and Uneasy Rider can act as scouts circulating within the meglob. I will assign the nine Muses to carry their observations and suggestions down to the walkers below. We’ll have four scouts, nine Walkers supported by Mayor Josie Smith, nine Muses supported by their mother Mnemosyne. The  Labyrinth and the Chooze I will make coextensive, so that the Walkers can theoretically encompass the entire meglob on their way out. When the scouts identify a particular bawl, or glob of Inertia, they will point it out to one of the Muses, who will flutter down like butterflies to tip off the Walkers of Mariposa, who will clobber it with the appropriate clob, blowing the Slug-Horn with each stroke to control line and distance. That’s the general idea, to start with. We’ll see how it works out.

To name and describe all possible bawls and clobbers would far exceed the quantitative capacities of this metaphorical exercise. I will therefore arrange the labyrinth into a course of eighteen (18) representative wholes. When the Walkers have clobbered their way around the whole thing, we will declare the game to be over, the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice tamed so that it can be put to work. Our metaphors have worked so well so far that I have no doubt of their success. They need only proceed

“DAUNTLESSLY, STEP-BY-STEP, BOTH ONE AT A TIME AND ALL TOGETHER!”