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.