Monthly Archives: April 2019

Labyrinth Ring Venus: the Perimeter Ring, Third One Walked.

A brief account of the Sixth Meeting of the labyrinthine Hunt for the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice in the middling city of Mariposa, presided over by Mayor Josie Smith.

In the labyrinth my wife made in our yard, the outside ring is 54 metres long. In the one I made in the bush, it is just over one kilometre. In any Cretan labyrinth it offers the longest contemplative span before the walker must make the turn and change, not only direction but focus. The next ring is number four,—Moonbeam in the nomenclature of our Mariposan friends,—moving towards Earth at the centre but not there yet.

I will take advantage of the time, therefore, to trace briefly the account of how the Smith political dynasty evolved from Josh Smith M.P. to Josie Smith, Mayor, she being his great grand-daughter. Josh did not survive his first term in Ottawa, succumbing to the corruption of his constitution caused by drink and federal politics. His son, Hector, appeared in Mariposa shortly after Josh’s death, took over the hotel and other Smith properties, and eventually married Zena Pupkin née Pepperleigh, widow of Peter Pupkin who was killed at the Somme. Of their several children the youngest was Joe, born in 1936. He became ideologically entangled in Saul Alinsky’s movement for community organizing, which he took into northern Canada with no lasting effect whatsoever. In retirement he returned to Mariposa with his northern wife, where they were soon joined by Josie, their daughter, who had been sowing her radical oats in Winnipeg. She cultivated a broad local electoral appeal, as a seasoned community organizer in the Alinsky style whose family owned huge chunks of downtown Mariposa, giving her a base in both the democracy and the plutocracy. She was also smart as a whip, hard-working, and extremely well organized.

She wanted Social Justice for her city, and she would get it. But she would let her people tell her what it was. What people? Those prepared to come out to a nine-month series of weekly meetings and to take part in the conversation. As for those who would not make that effort but wanted to raise objections afterwards, she would gather her forces and ram it down their throats.

They had used Sunny, the first ring, to generate the Imaginative Energy they would need to do the job. Last week, on the Ring Mercury, they had decided that Social Justice meant Social-Economic-Environmental-Cultural-Political Justice. Now they were going to decide what tools they were going to need, not only to hunt down the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, but to tame it when they got there.

Josie had imposed two of them right from the start. She knew the hunt would require Talk, and Drink, in moderate quantities. She made sure the conditions were right for the first, and the second was available. Whenever she could she cracked jokes and made them laugh, because she knew that would grease the hubs and fight friction. A golfer is allowed 14 clubs; she thought that might be a good maximum. Already they had three: Talk, Drink, and Laughter.

“I think we need Evidence,” said Sheldon Uttermost, when the Talk began, after a little time for initial Drink and Laughter. “Evidence-based decisions. No more guesswork. No more intuitions. No more bias. Just the facts.”

“I think that’s an interesting idea,” said Thorpe Bagshaw, who had been a farmer. “Let’s try it out on the old hog cycle. A farmer produces so many hogs. The price is what it is,  and his profit is what it is. These are facts. The price goes up. That’s a new fact. He makes more profit, and increases production to make even more, making more new facts. All these facts can be measured. There are 7,000 hog farms in Canada, and they all do the same thing. That’s a fact. Up goes production, up goes the price of feed, down goes the price. In fact, it goes down even lower than it was at the start. The farmer’s profit goes down even further, and so does everybody else’s. Another new fact. We’ve got a whole lot of facts in this picture, but I’m not sure we’ve led us to Social Justice, for the one farmer, or for all of them.”

“Especially not for the ones who didn’t get greedy, who held production steady because they knew a big increase would hurt them all,” said Deanna Drone.

“And what about the consumers?” asked her brother. “They benefit from the increase, while the farmer’s lose.”

“But it’s a loss of their own making,” objected Sheldon.

“No, they’re just doing what you want them to do,” answered Thorpe, “they’re acting on the facts. And the result is justice for some, and not for others. The whole instability of the thing may be unjust on the whole.”

“So we need to be acting on something bigger than the facts, to deal with all the complexities” said Josie. “Can we call that Knowledge, and get on with our walk?”

And so they did, and by the time they had completed that long evening of the Venus Ring they had added Imagination and Compassion to the list of tools, all this by talking about nothing except hogs. The old hog jokes showed up too,—What’s time to a hog? That was a mighty sick hog! and all the rest,—and they found them helpful. So they added Humour to the list.

Knowledge. Imagination. Compassion. Humour. Talk. Drink. Laughter. That’s seven. Lots of room yet in the bag.

Laughter and Humour are not the same thing, by the way, or so the Mariposans decided. Humour is a cast of mind, and goes deep. Laughter is simply a pleasant reaction that helps to keep things moving.

But even at the end of this very productive session, they were still not sure they had the tool, or tools, to deal with the contradictions whereby one part of society (consumers, for example), could benefit at the expense of others (producers, for example). They were going to need more tools to deal with that.



The Ring Mercury: Second in Order, Second Walked

Week Five of the Leacock Anniversaries, Wednesday April 24th, 2019.

I note in passing the interesting fact that the even-numbered rings of a Cretan or Classical Labyrinth are walked in order, and the odd-numbered rings in a jumble of reverse orders, the walking order going in being 3-2-1-4-7-6-5-8. Going out the order is reversed. I have no idea whether this fact has any mystical significance.

The people of the middling city of Mariposa, you will perhaps recall, under the leadership of Mayor Josie Smith, are treating their hunt as a walk through such a labyrinth, and have named the rings to make them more memorable. In walking order the rings are Sunny, Mercury, Venus, Moonbeam, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Earth. Last week they decided to make Sunny the Ring of Imaginative Energy. Now they are going to walk Mercury, whose purpose remains to be discovered.

Things that remain to be discovered, however, do not remain long in that uncertain state in any process led by Mayor Josie Smith. That’s how she came to be mayor. She marches   things right along. She moves and shakes. She gets things done. The purpose of the exercise being to hunt down and tame the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, then she will hunt it down and tame it, however unruly it may try to be. But she is no dictator. She will both lead her people and be led by them. Her great-grandfather Josh, who began the Smith political dynasty, was a corrupt manipulator. Mayor Josie will have none of that.

“When I can’t sleep,” she told the group, “I think about Mariposa. I know that sounds corny, and funny, but it doesn’t make me go back to sleep, it makes the wakeful hours pass pleasantly. I think of their lives, their liberties, and their contentment, which are all part of my business in important ways. I think of them separately, and I think of them all together, and I wonder what I can do to make their lives better, their liberties fuller, and their contentment more complete. But then sometimes I wonder if their contentment really is my business. I would like them to be content, but I wonder if I am supposed to do anything about it, directly I mean. As a by-product of the other things I do, that the City does, perhaps. I can’t see the City having a Department of Contentment, although I suppose that all our departments are intended in some way to prevent discontentment. Is being undiscontented the same as being contented? When I get to that one I go back to sleep.” Everybody laughed. “But I think our question is a parallel one,” she went on. “Is Social Justice merely a lack of social injustice, or is it something more? Can there be social justice for some people and not for others at the same time? Or even for the same person? What happens if making society more socially just for one person makes them more unjust for another? How do we untangle all this?”

“That’s a huge question, bigger than all the others, I think, because it could happen no matter what we mean by social justice”, said Thoreau Drone.  “Maybe we should save that one for the Venus Ring, the outer one. I think we should talk about what we mean first. If by ‘social justice’ we mean something narrow, then maybe the contradiction question, if I can call it that, would not signify much. But if we mean something wide, then we may have to deal with it.”

Everyone knew that Sheldon Uttermost would have something to say about that, so they waited for him to say it. He did: “I think we can’t escape it. Anything we do as a society is going to benefit someone and hurt someone else, even if the hurt is only having to pay for something you don’t need yourself. But I agree, the wider we cast the net, the more unwanted fish we are going to catch. Not to mention old tires, plastic bottles, and other garbage.”

“But maybe we have to catch some of that if we want to catch the ones we do want,” said Martha Yodel. “That happens all the time. If we provide more generous financial support for families, as a necessary part of raising Social Justice, then more people are going to abuse it, or appear to be abusing it, and the people who are paying, who don’t benefit directly, are going to feel hurt, maybe are hurt, if the abuse is real.”

“Or what about climate change,” said Deanna Drone. “If we do something about that, then people in the future benefit, and the people who get the jobs to do it, but lots of others are hurt, at least in the short term, those who lose the jobs in coal and oil and gas. Whole towns, whole cities even, could disappear. It’s happened in the past. What are Nineveh and Tyre now?”

You can see where this is going, and I am running out of space for today. Suffice to say that by the time they got around the Mercury Ring they had decided to dedicate it to the question of scope, and that because it’s the second-longest ring they would make the scope wide: ‘Social’ in ‘Social Justice’ would mean social, economic, environmental (or ‘natural’ as some would have it, meaning to include justice for Nature), cultural, political, also including important sub-categories of these such as educational and healthal, also encompassing both the individual and the collective. There’s much to be said for that approach, of course, but it does complicate the project. If the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice is that kind of creature, then it won’t be hard to find, but it will be hard to catch, let alone tame.


Into the Labyrinth: The Sun Ring

Week Four, Monday April 15th, 2019. This posting should be written on Tuesday, but it’s a short week because of Passover and Easter.

We catch up to our little band of Mariposan labyrinth-walkers as they wind their way widdershins around the third ring, the first to be walked, which they have decided to call Sunny. They prepared by cataloguing many of the different names the world has given the Sun, and telling some of the stories. We don’t have to go into all that, however. We are interested in the walk, not the prep-talk.

They are led by Josie Smith, the mayor of the middling city of Mariposa, Her followers number twelve, when all are present, but as is usual with such processes, all are usually not. Their names are, in order of appearance: Omur Ugabu, Josie’s husband; Sheldon Uttermost; Deanna Drone; Thorpe Bagshaw; Thoreau Drone, Deanna’s brother, known as Thor, or Uncle Henry for obvious reasons; Martha Yodel. Since the other six haven’t appeared yet, I’ll add them when they do. I will also, eventually, tell you all the stories, how these people   descend from the earlier inhabitants of Mariposa, and their present occupations.

Now you may think that I am stretching probability by giving someone the first name Thoreau, but I have precedents, in this case Thoreau MacDonald, a Canadian artist. I also went to school with a boy whose given names were Ralph Waldo Emerson, called Wally. These thing happen. Given names made out of ancestor surnames are of course quite common. I have one myself, for my middle name. But I digress.

Since Sunny was the first ring walked on the inward phase they decided to take their time while they figured out the protocols. Sunny would also be the last one walked in the outward phase, at the end of which they would emerge into the world outside, bearing,—whatever that would come to mean,—the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. They decided not to think about that until the time came. They had settled, during the prep-talk, on the understanding that the Sun was the orb of day, the indispensable light source whence came the physical energy of life, and that Sunny would therefore have to stand for the the source of the imaginative energy they would need for their quest.

“The imaginative energy to do what?” was the question Josie put to them as they went their discursive way. They all threw answers at her which she wrote down on her flip chart after the manner of her kind. To understand Social Justice. To know how to identify it when we see it. To know what an Unsolved Riddle is. To know how it works. To know whether Social Justice is an Unsolved Riddle or something else. To know how being an Unsolved Riddle might change the nature of Social Justice. By this time Josie was having trouble keeping up. To know why it was called ‘wild’. To know what taming it meant. To know how to tame it. To know what to do with it when it is tamed. To know where to keep it. To know how to keep it. To realize that this is only the first ring and that we don’t have to know any of these knows yet, but will need to know them when we come back to Sunny walking the other way, on our way out.

“That’s a good one,” said Josie. It came from Deanna.

“We had better know most of them before we get there,” said Sheldon Uttermost, “because Sunny is the last ring, and not all that long.”

“Which one will we give to Mercury then?” asked Thorpe Bagshaw. “And Venus after that. They’re the rings that wrap around the others.” After considerable discussion they decided that Mercury, both second in line and second in place, should probe Social Justice, and Venus, first in place and third in line, should probe the world around it.

It took them some time to arrive at this decision, but having done so they hastened to the refreshment table. All that talk had worked up appetites in them all. Good talk does that.






Belabouring the Labyrinth Both Sunwise And Widdershins

Week Three, Tuesday, April 9th

When the Mariposa group assembled in Week Three to continue their Hunt for the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, they found that Mayor Josie Smith had called in the artists and had them paint decorated lines for a Cretan labyrinth on the floor. This did not please the badminton club, who had come to treat the old auditorium as their private space. They liked it because they were used to the low ceilings and century-old dust, while visiting competitive clubs were not. The TUROSJ hunters were delighted, however, and resolved to walk the labyrinth to open and close each meeting.

Thoreau Drone, Deanna’s brother, always called Thor, always ready with an alternative point of view, suggested they should walk in at the beginning of the meeting, and out at the end, to keep them centred. Mayor Josie had doubts. “I’m not sure that the point of the labyrinth is to be centred,” she said. “The human brain is not centred, it’s convoluted. I think the labyrinth is a simple image for that. I think the end comes when you return to the world outside, having walked back out the way you came in. The centre is half-way. The meditation process ends at the end. You walk seven rings in, going to the middle first and then in convoluted order from there, alternating sunwise and widdershins, outer then inner. You find the centre, then walk back out the reverse way. That’s fifteen stages, or sixteen if the way in and out of the centre is two, which I think it is.”

“The king told Alice to begin at the beginning, go on to the end, and then stop,” said Deanna.

“Josie thinks the labyrinth is telling us to begin in the outer middle, go to the outside in stages, then back through the inner middle to the inside, then to the centre, then back through the inside through the inner middle to the outside and finally through the outer middle to the outside world. That’s a lot more complicated. But then so is the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, I suppose.” Sheldon Uttermost, as did many Mariposans, liked to live up to his name.

“Better that than riding madly off in all directions,” said Thorpe Bagshaw. Much nodding of heads.

“Maybe we should name all these stages,” said Sheldon. So they did that, as logically as they could. They were beginning to suspect that logic wasn’t going to get them far when the real Hunt started, but it might get them as far as some names. They decided to acknowledge the classical planets, those orbiting creatures visible to the naked eye, thereby adding them to their battery of metaphors: a hunt; a wilderness, a labyrinth; heavenly spheres. “There’s no such thing as too many metaphors,” said Martha Yodel, being the English teacher, and everyone was willing to agree, whether they really did or not. Here’s what the chart looked like when they had it, numbering the rings from the outside.

3. First & Last (Sixteenth) walked. Outer Middle. Sun.
2. Second & Fifteenth. Inner Outer. Mercury.
1. Third & Fourteenth. Outer Outer. Venus.
4. Fourth & Thirteenth. Inner Middle. Moon.
7. Fifth & Twelfth. Most Inner. Mars.
6. Sixth & Eleventh. Middle Inner. Jupiter.
5. Seventh & Tenth. Outer Inner. Saturn.
8. Eighth & Ninth. Centre. Earth.

“I am bothered by the names we are using,” said Thor with much hesitation. “They are our names, but they are not the world’s names. There’s a lot more to this naming business. If we’re going to take a pluralistic approach to Unsolved Riddles and Social Justice, maybe we should take it to the names of our labyrinth, then maybe we need to be a little more inclusive in our understanding. These names represent stories, after all. Why should we take just one?”

“Are we taking a pluralistic approach?” asked Josie.

“I sure hope so,” replied Thor. More head nodding at that.

“Yes,” said Deanna, “we must. That’s what everybody dislikes about us, that we always want to impose our names, our stories, on everything. If we’re going to have Social Justice, it’s got to be everybody’s Social Justice, not just ours.”

“I expect that goes for everybody in the plurality,” said Sheldon, “if we’re going to be one, that is. How can we be reconciled, in all the directions we’re supposed to be, if we don’t know each other’s names and make ourselves familiar each other’s stories?”

“It’s harder work being a pluralist than a singularist,” said Mayor Josie. “That’s the first thing I learned when I got onto Council. It’s all about doing as much good as you can for everybody. If you start playing favourites among all the different groups, then the whole thing falls apart. It’s very difficult, when they want different things.”

“Maybe that’s why Social Justice is an Unsolved Riddle,” said Thor, and the head-nodding brigade fired up again.

“Okay,” said Josie. “Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll walk the whole labyrinth to start and end each meeting, to keep the whole process in mind. Then we’ll take it one ring at a time each week, in walking order. That’s sixteen weeks. That should take us through to the end of July. Then we should pull things together and see where we are. Then we might take some time off. Then we should repeat the whole process, and wrap it up in December. What do you think?”

They all thought that was good.

“All right. Next week it’s Ring Three, the Outer Middle Ring on the Way In, called Sun and anything else we can find. Everybody look for names and stories, but we’ll have to be quick about that. We’re here for Social Justice, not to play games with mythology. But I think the mythology is going to help, especially with the Pluralism of it. But just how, I don’t know yet. It may take us a few weeks to find out.”

“We may have to make up our own mythology,” said Thoreau Drone.

“Maybe we will.”

Some refreshments remained when the meeting was over, but not for long.







Walking the Labyrinth of Possibilities

Week Two of LEACOCK 150~100~75! April 2nd, 2019.

Since the group had acquiesced in Mayor Josie Smith’s insistence that they should pretend they were on a Hunt for the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, that that was the best available metaphor for what they were doing, they were a little startled when she began talking about labyrinths. “Aren’t you rather mixing your metaphors?” asked Deanna Drone, and a consensus quickly appeared that she was.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large,  I contain multitudes,” replied Mayor Josie, airily. “Or rather, I believe we may find the Truth not in one metaphor, nor in the other, nor half-way between them if there is such a place, but in both metaphors.” She then went on at some length to describe what happens when you walk a labyrinth of the ‘Cretan’ or ‘Classical’ design. Your project is to walk a set area of ground intensively, thoughtfully, meditatively, with absorption, following the seven circular paths which segue one into the next. Numbering the circles from one to seven from the outside, you begin in the third one, and walk it around its circle. Effectively, you are taking a middle view of the ground. Then you bend around the opposite way into second circle, and walk around it. You are viewing the ground more widely, but not as widely as you could. You then bend around into the first circle, for the full perimeter view. Then, following the path, you bend back to the middle, into the fourth circle and then, surprisingly, into the seventh, which circles tightly around the centre, where you are going, but not into it. Instead, you bend back to the sixth, then back to the fifth,—circling the centre but keeping in touch with the outside,—at the end of which the path opens straight to the centre. But you don’t stop there. You then go back along the circles, bending from one to the other in reverse order, until you are back around the third ring and out the way you came in.

When Mayor Josie had finished this long and complicated exposition, with the help of diagrams, nothing would do of course but a mass pushing back of chairs, a finding of chalk, much drawing of circles on the floor, and a solemn parade around the circles and back, so they could truly understand what she had said. Dimly, somehow, they thought it might be important, if not for itself, at least for setting their minds up properly.

They had thoughtfully laid out their labyrinth with the entrance-exit right next to the refreshment table, around which they gathered for a few final words from Mayor Josie, because the hour was now late.

“We’ll start here next week,” she told them, “but our hunt will be much more difficult, because the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice lives in a wilderness whose extent we do not know, laced with many confusing paths which we can only trust will give us the shape we need, into the centre where the Unsolved Riddle lives. But it may move around while we are hunting! This will be, indeed, a tricky hunt, for a slippery and elusive quarry.  But when we have found it, and tamed it, we will indeed have something not only for ourselves, but for our children, our grandchildren, and beyond.”

“When it moves around, will it oscillate around a centre, or will it wander over the entire wilderness?” asked Thorpe Bagshaw.

“I think we had better hope for centralized oscillation, don’t you? But I don’t think we can know for sure. We’ll have to take our chances.” And with that thought they adjourned.

Now you may wonder why I have taken up your valuable time this way. It’s because I believe the Cretans, or whoever it was, may have been onto something. I think that their ‘classical’ labyrinth says something profound about the way the human mind, or conversing group of minds, naturally tackles difficult questions of the Unsolved Riddle kind. You start with the two,—often more,—polarities that constitute the Riddle, the “extremes” (as Charles Simeon called them) both,—all,—of which are True in some valid sense. The area between them is the ‘ground’ for the labyrinth, at the ‘centre’ of which is the ‘solution’, whatever these words may mean in the specific context. You can try linear approaches, or a spiral path, and there is much cultural attraction for us in so doing. But if the poles are in fact both true, and if the ‘solution’ does not lie at one pole or the other, but at both of them, then I don’t think a linear or spiral approach is going to work. It might get you to half-way between the poles, but it won’t get you to both of them at the same time.

I find it interesting, and encouraging, that the Mariposans are prepared to try the Cretan approach. Over the next few months in this blog I will tell you how that went. In the Stephen Leacock blog Olde Stephen and I will explore Stephen Leacock’s approach, if we can pin it down. Olde Stephen is a ghost, and his intellectual prowess remains uncertain. Stephen Leacock’s approach may turn out to be more of a maze than a labyrinth, but perhaps not. I will work out my own approach in my own blog, using the tools I learned in my youth and over the years. Both these other blogs are linked in the panel to the right. I will try to keep these approaches connected in the weekly Leacock’n Bulletin, and in the Voyageur Storytelling web site, also linked on the right.

It will take a month or two for this whole approach to shake down and work properly, if it ever does. Be that as it may, I am confident that at the end of the whole process we will have a new The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, and that whatever clouds of uncertainty it may trail, they will at least be no cloudier than were Stephen Leacock’s, all those one hundred years ago.

Posted by Paul Conway, Voyageur Storytelling.