Author Archives: voyageur2014

Walking from Centre to Clockre-5-60-9: Education and Learning

The Eleventh Meeting of the Mariposa Hunt Club (hunting the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice), recorded this 4th day of June, 2019, took place in blissful oblivion to the fact that since the previous meeting Mariposa has been elevated from a city of conventional location to an aerial floating island somewhat similar to Jonathan Swift’s Laputa. Similar, that is, in geography, not in culture. From the point of view of the inhabitants, Mariposa remains the middling, muddling city it was before. Only from the outside does it appear as an aerial floating island.

It floats above the land of the Sagacities whose dire streets run with Charged Ooze, or “Chooze”, an organic amalgam of the Charged-Charmed Global-Perceptual Membrane-Medium-MemBrain, where a star-nosed mole and a feminequine centaur are busily engaged in stalking the Yottapede of the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice while blowing their version of the Slug-Horn,—see the Stalking (Monday) Blog for clarification, or obfuscation, or whatever lurks there. Right along the edge of the floating island of Mariposa winds a trail wide enough for three to walk abreast, from which can be observed both the Labyrinth being walked by the Mariposan Hunt Club and the Sagacities below. Along this trail Olde Stephen (Stephen Leacock’s ghost), you, and I, are making our slow conversational way. Our progress and findings will from now on be described in the Talking (Wednesday) Blog. This one is the Walking (Tuesday) Blog and so it will remain for quite some time.

The Mariposans have tuned their walking to their own version of the Slug-Horn, which is their Slogan, which came to them when they arrived at the Centre of their Labyrinth:


In order to help us understand what it means and how it works, the walkers have condescended to apply it this week to Education, a phenomenon relevant the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, well established, well known, and well respected even in the midst of its controversies. In my role as minute-taker I will summarize the conversation as best I can.

First question: Of what importance is Education to the pursuit of Social Justice? Our Answer: Of crucial importance, as being essential to the fundamental goal of Equality of Opportunity. Elaboration unnecessary.

Second question: What does our Slogan mean, when applied to Education. Our Answer: It means exactly what it says, that in order for Education to serve Social Justice it must be conducted dauntlessly, step by step, both one at a time and all together. In other words, it must be led by courageous people, prepared to learn and experiment as they go along and whose judgement is not perverted by ideology into untried, revolutionary, and hence inevitably destructive upheavals, relying both on individual and collective effort. The former is multifarious, the latter embodied in our public institutions of learning, our schools, colleges, universities, and the rest.

Let us assume, for the moment, that it is reasonable to apply the Leacock Tetrad of Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour to our analysis of the current state of Education, as seen through a Social Justice lens. All answers are tentative, because we are lay people observing through our own experience, not professional investigators backed by all resources necessary for definitive answers. This begs the question of whether anyone can validly claim the latter kind of authority, valuable as may be their informed contributions to the conversation.

Third Question: Are our students, young or old, being exposed to the kinds of Knowledge they will need to become intelligently aware of the Social Justice realm and all its needs? Our Answer: We sense a great deal of confusion about the kinds of kinds of Knowledge that our institutions ought to teach. How much of the learning we gain from experience as adults can we effectively encapsulate and inject into the minds of the young? Do we want students to emerge from their Education with skills for livelihoods, or with tools that will enable them to become wise with age and experience? Undoubtedly both, but the superficial attractions and short-term benefits of livelihood skills may push the other aside. If our educational tool is the classroom and its teachers, then we ought to use it appropriately, and not in the effort to teach things better learned in other environments with other kinds of people. The best kind of knowledge we can pass on to the young is the knowledge of how to learn.

Fourth Question: Are the minds of our students being developed so that they can imagine a world more socially just than the one we have now, and are encouraged to do so? Our Answer: That kind of mind is bicameral. It must have a “scientific” chamber cultivated to see things as they are and to understand how they work, and a “poetic” chamber cultivated to imagine beyond there into realms of better. These are essential “Both-Ands”, not “Either-Ors”. We fear that “Either-Or” has become entrenched in favour of the “scientific” chamber, not ideologically perhaps, but simply because it is easier both to teach and to explain. Efforts to cultivate the “poetic” chamber by “scientific” methods are fundamentally misguided.

Fifth Question: Are the spirits of our students being developed so that they can feel Compassion for the people around them who are in distress? That’s a tall order these days, because “around” is a big place, and distress takes a bewildering plethora of forms. Our Answer: Compassion is a “Both-And” power of Intellect and Sympathy. It is not merely a feeling. The Intellect required relies heavily on the “poetic” chamber of the bicameral mind. Sympathy of the necessary kind comes from real experience of diverse people, or from indirect experience acquired through the works of inspired artists. Indirect experience acquired from people who are uninspired non-artists may be perverse, almost as bad as what comes from perverts. The rest is clutter.

Sixth Question: When “Humour” shows up in our schools, does it take a form that will balance young minds and enable the kind of perspective that will serve Social Justice? Our Answer: No. From our vantage point, much of what goes on in formal Education at all levels seems singularly humourless. Occasionally teachers may be “funny”, but that is not the same thing. Making Education “fun” is not the same thing. Both these temptations may distract from the real need.

Next week’s walk has been postponed for certain lack of a quorum. The next one will take place on Tuesday, June 18th.



Walking Countre-5-60-7 Into the Centre: Slogan Time!

The Tenth Meeting of the Mariposa Hunt Club (hunting the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice), recorded this 28th day of May, 2019, began with a debate. The date is significant, by the way, because it marks the end of the second month of the Leacock Anniversaries, which began March 28th, the 75th anniversary of his death, and will end December 30th, the 150th anniversary of his birth. In between will come a re-writing of The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice in time for its 100th anniversary. The Mariposa Hunt Club knew all this, of course. I am simply reminding you.

The debate concerned the nature of the Centre of the labyrinth. Is it a ring in its own right, or simply an extension of Countre-5-60-7 on the way in, and Clockre-9-60-7 on the way out, according to the naming scheme previously adopted? All agreed that in either case the number 8 ought to be awarded to it, as being 2 to the power of 3, or 10 in base-eight arithmetic. So much was obvious.

I did not take detailed notes of the debate, only the decision, which was pragmatic and both-and. The Centre was deemed to be both a ring and not a ring, both a stage in its own right and an extension of the rings immediately prior and posterior, arrival and departure being both events in their own right and each too brief to be made the agenda for an entire meeting. The walkers would consider the contents of their slogan while they walked Countre-5-60-7, and make their decision when they reached the Centre.

They found in Ring Five a little relief after the tight turns of the previous two. (In the labyrinth in my yard Ring Six must wind its way among some trees, making it unusually tortuous. Milk and garter snakes occasionally sun themselves there at the base of the trees, although I have never seen a rattlesnake in the labyrinth. Nearby occasionally, but not within it.) Ring Five is not all that long, however, and they felt the pressure to work quickly.

They decided their Slogan needed to express four ideas:

First, that Social Justice is, or appears to be, an Unsolved Riddle because of Fear;

Second, that Social Justice is, or appears to be, an Unsolved Riddle because of Impatience;

Third, that Social Justice is, or appears to be, an Unsolved Riddle due to a preoccupation with Individuality instead of Collectivity;

Fourth, that Social Justice is, or appears to be, an Unsolved Riddle due to a preoccupation with Collectivity instead of Individuality.

They fully realized, of course, that both Social Justice and the unsolved riddleness of it are more complicated than that, but they agreed that those four ideas captured the essence of what needed to be done and the right way to go about it.

For a brief time at the Centre they stood considering alternative wordings. They then gathered in a circle around Mayor Josie Smith who closed her eyes, paused to let the spirit move her, and announced their Slogan:


Afterwards, as they sat around diminishing the supply of refreshments and feeling good about what they had done, they asked Mayor Josie why she had chosen ‘Dauntlessly’ instead of ‘boldly’ (more positive, thought some), or ‘fearlessly’. “I didn’t choose it,” she said, “it just came to me. But I think it’s the right word. It sets the right tone, strong enough for the job, neither too aggressive nor too cautious. It’s a both-and word. And I’m hearing an echo from somewhere, but I can’t think where it is. Dauntless the something something from high school or university, I think, but I can’t remember the rest.”

“Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set and blew ‘Child Roland to the Dark Tower Came'” quoted Deanna Drone. “Browning.”

“Well done, Deanna!” enthused her brother Thoreau. “And do you know that ‘slug-horn’ and ‘slogan’ come from the same root? They’re from the Gaelic sluagh-ghairm, meaning a battle cry.”  And all agreed that with such a pedigree, ‘dauntless’ it would have to be.

“So how to we proceed now?” asked Martha Yodel, evoking much head-nodding and affirmative vocalization.

“Dauntlessly, step-by-step, one at a time and all together,” said Mayor Josie. “We walk out of the labyrinth in exactly that way, and if we do, repeating it over and over as we go, we will discover what each and all of us must do, individually and together, as neighbours, as citizens, as Mariposa, as our Province, as our Country, as our World must do. We must push past the Unsolved Riddle, push it aside, render it irrelevant, and meet Social Justice face to face: dauntlessly, step-by-step, one at a time and all together.”

“Amen to that!” said they all. And away they went, over hill and down dale, to their several or shared dwellings, happy in their work.


Walking Clockre-6-40-6: Today we have Consideration of Slogans

In the ninth week of the Leacock Anniversaries in 2019, on May 21st, we continue the Saga of the Labyrinth Walk by citizens of Mariposa in search of the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, under the guidance of Mayor Josie Smith.

The whole conversation in these meetings is becoming a little more focussed, which is what one would want in such a process. The Mariposan system for naming and numbering the rings of their labyrinth are described in the previous posting. Today they are walking clockwise around the 6th ring in order numbering from the outside, this ring being 40 units long (longest 140, shortest zero because it is not a ring at all but rather the chute into the centre), and the 6th in order of walking.

Last week the gang decided that when they reached Centre-8-Zero they wanted to have a “slogan” that would frame their search for practicalities, and that they would devote the next two walkings (Clockre-6-40-6 today; Countre-5-60-7 next week) to consideration of slogans used by others with the same objective, if they could find any.

I think it is appropriate at this stage for me, the taker of minutes for their deliberations, to point out that their slogan-hunt may have some link with the slug-horn blowing of the two moles-in-aspect whose adventures are unfolding, albeit slowly, in the Dark Tower Saga of the Leacock blog. ‘Slogan’, and ‘Slug-Horn’ are etymologically related, closely. Blowing a Slug-Horn and shouting a Slogan may be the same act.

When Mayor Josie proclaimed the search for slogans open, Sheldon Uttermost immediately reached for his lap-top, but the others asked him politely to put it away. They would see what they would come up with for themselves before they invited Aunt Google into the room. They would devote today’s walk to generating a long list, and next week’s to winnowing it down and inventing their own variations. When they reached Centre-8-Zero they would make their choice.

Here is their Long List:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (The Golden Rule)
Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you. (The GR reversed)
Love your neighbour as yourself. (Anglican Prayer Book)
Liberty, Fraternity, Equality (French Revolution)
Life, Liberty, Happiness (American Revolution)
All for One and One for All
From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. (Karl Marx)
Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. (John Kennedy)
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. (Martin Luther King)
Ask not just what will government do for me, but what can I do for myself. (Richard Nixon)
With malice towards none, with charity towards all. (Abraham Lincoln)
We have nothing to fear but Fear itself. (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
Try to be a little kinder. (Aldous Huxley)
The essence of Social Justice is equality of opportunity and the alleviation of misery. (Stephen Leacock)
Give us people of good will whose hearts are in the cause and our happiness is assured. (Stephen Leacock)

The attributions I have assigned to each of these may be correct, or may not. They came from the group, and I haven’t checked them. This is a record of their conversations, not something scholarly.

The list could have been a lot longer. Each idea evoked discussion, because many beg for clarification. The meeting went on until nearly midnight. As the group made its way out into the street, I overheard Deanna Drone say, “It’s the Both-And part that’s difficult, isn’t it. We don’t want to take away the chance to be rich, only the chance to be poor. The chance, that is, the bad luck. Not the choice. We want to leave things alone when they are relatively harmless, and meddle with them when they are not. It’s all a big muddle.” And they danced off down the street singing:

Meddling with the Muddle
Is like falling in a puddle!
Let us throw off the befuddle-
Ment arising from our huddle
And go home to have a cuddle.

This sounded like a good idea to me, so I did it too.

Today We Have Renaming of Rings

In the eighth week of the Leacock Anniversaries, on May 14th, we continue the Saga of the Labyrinth Walk by citizens of Mariposa, under the guidance of Mayor Josie Smith.

This meeting began with a declaration by Mayor Smith. She said: “I am beginning to believe that this method of naming the rings of our labyrinth is not working. We tried to give them names from our solar system, another system of rings, but in fact they are not related, are only superficially of the same kind, and their names, arbitrary as they are, contain no information about the nature of each ring.

“Each ring,” she went on noting looks of interest on the faces in the circle, “has four characteristics. It has order, numbered from one to eight, from outside to inside, or from inside to outside, according to preference. We can call the centre the eighth ring, even though it isn’t really a ring. We could make it one if we had more room. In here it’s just a spot. We walk them in a different order, which is the second characteristic. Thirdly, we walk them in alternate directions: clockwise and counter-clockwise. Fourthly, they have different lengths, and that’s important to the quality of the walk.”

This triggered a brisk conversation about how to capture the four characteristics in four-word labels (including enjoyment of the pun on four-word and forward). What they came up with was the following scheme:

They put the direction of walking first, because it’s a word and the others are numbers. Then the geometric order, then the length very approximately, and finally the order walked. The whole walk in their indoor labyrinth, the way it was laid out, would therefore be summarized as follows, once they had finished playing around with the spellings:

Countre-7-20-5: Today’s walk

This, they realized, would be not that easy to remember at the start, but they would get used to it. At least the labels had meaning. This whole exercise took up a good chunk of the meeting, but they were satisfied with the result. After all, they noted, today’s walk along Countre-7-20-5, aka the Fifth Whole, would be a short one. How would the bawl lie on this one, and with what clob should they clobber it?

The bawl, they decided, necessarily lay right alongside Centre-8-zero, and that they therefore could fittingly clobber it with Imagination, anticipating both bawl and clobber as they would be when they got there. That way they could employ the next two walks, neither of any great length, to prepare.

As I say, today’s is a very short walk, so I am going to cut it that way, as they did. Suffice to say that they quickly decided that when they got to Centre-8-zero they would need to have a “slogan”, a simple phrase that would frame the practicalities they would need to resolve as they worked their way back out through all the rings. Their slogan would have to be something legitimately representing the sighting, maybe even the capture, of the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. They would tame it, or at least get a halter on it, during the walk out.

For the next two walks, therefore, they would consider slogans previously bawled by others, to see if they had enough clobber behind them.


Labyrinth Ring Moonbeam : 4th Walked : Getting Ready to Clobber the Bawl

Describing what was achieved during the Seventh Meeting of the labyrinthine Hunt for the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice in the middling city of Mariposa. As this posting turned out, it is appropriate that these folks are walking the ring they  have called Moonbeam, related to lunar, related to lunacy. This metaphorical reasoning is truly very, very difficult to control.

If you think the order of walking this kind of labyrinth is strange, don’t blame me. Blame the Cretans. Apparently they worked out the whole scheme: A circle of seven rings in convoluted array with a chute to the centre, to be walked alternating between clockwise and widdershins at each turn into the centre, then back out again; from outside into the third (numbered from the outside) ring, then second, then first, fourth, seventh, sixth, fifth, into the centre, out of the centre, then fifth, sixth, seventh, fourth, first, second, third, and outside again; in all, including entry and exit, 18 separate stages just like a golf course. This analogy is apposite because our little band of Mariposans had resolved in their previous seance to carry fourteen tools, like a golfer.

I wish I could recount for you in detail the conversation leading to the final list, but I cannot. It lasted four hours, continuing unabated during breaks, and all were talking fast because they were excited. Including the times when two or three were talking at once, I figure the average flow was a minimum of 150 words per minute, and could easily have been 175. Using the lower estimate, in four hours that’s 36,000 words. Nobody wants to read a 36,000 word blog post, least of all you. Perish forbid! I have already written 220 words and haven’t said anything yet. I had better cut to the chase and tell you what they came up with for their fourteen hunting tools, or “clobs”, as they decided to call them.

Before I give you the list, however, I draw your attention to the other essential occupant of a golf bag, that being the ball, or rather for most golfers, a supply of balls. The purpose of the clubs is to overcome the inertia of the ball. The ball may therefore be described as an inert force which refuses to move in the desired direction until firmly overcome. Those who dream of Social Justice face many such forces, equally inert or more so. A golf ball, after all, is designed to fly or roll when struck. Unlike a soccer ball or a hockey puck, however, it is a sitting target. A skilled practitioner using the right club for the situation, therefore, can do almost magical things with it. I could embroider my analogy at much greater length but will not, having passed 400 words and still not said anything.

Golf clubs used to have colourful names, like driver, putter (both still used), spoon, mashie, niblick, cleek, brassie (all now obsolete). Most clubs are numbered nowadays, a great loss to the poetry of the game. But I digress.

The fourteen ‘clobs’ finally chosen by the Mariposan band on their trek around Moonbeam, the fourth ring, are as follows:

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;

Conversation :: everyday, working clob;

Negotiation :: clob for overcoming conflicting inertias;

Education :: clob for learning the game and basic clobbing skills.

The game, which could be called Gulf but also might be called Bridge (if that game-name were not already taken), must also be further learned by playing it, a process called Experience.

It is important to note,—and the participating Mariposans did note it,—that except in those situations in golf where one is permitted to “tee-up” the ball, the player will  find that the ball, after application of the club, always rolls into a ‘lie’ of some kind, be it good, bad, up-hill, down-hill, level, etc. Thus each stroke of the game may be succinctly described as overcoming the inertia of the ball as it rests in its lie and moving it closer to the hole. Gaining the hole is an incremental process which cannot normally be accomplished in one felled swoop. Furthermore, the game is not complete until the player has put the ball into 18 holes, that being the number for Life in Jewish numerology.

By changing the spellings slightly we can thus describe each stroke of the ‘game’ which is the Hunt for the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice: To address the ‘bawl’ (as in Vale of Tears) and its ‘lie’ with the appropriate ‘clob’ (using a ‘tea’ where allowed), and to move it stroke by stroke into the ‘whole’. Since courses in this game are always found in natural environments, the number of wholes may vary.

The Mariposans now have their bagful of clobs and are ready to address the bawl and clobber it, as the expression goes. I urge you to remember, however, that this gulf course is a labyrinth, convoluted in shape, and requiring to be walked both ways to attain its end. Imagine what the game of golf would be like if it were played from tee to green and back again along a route that offers no fair way but only a crudely cultivated, ever-changing, un-mapped wilderness of rough, scrub, bunkers, water hazards, pine straw, and areas that are out of bounds.

Hunting the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice is no game for the faint of heart.




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.