Category Archives: Social Justice Hunt

Approaching Stephen Leacock’s 150th Birthday

Today is Wednesday, December 18th. In less than two weeks, on Monday, December 30th, we will celebrate Stephen Leacock’s 150th birthday with a party of friends, a cake, and an unveiling of the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice as manifested in 2019. Stephen Leacock wrote a book about that in 1919, one hundred years ago, making 2019 another significant Leacock anniversary. The third was the 75th anniversary of his death, on March 28th. I have been celebrating his Anniversaries since that day, an endeavour that did not, I regret to say, go viral. It appears that Stephen Leacock, if not absolutely dead, is well along that way. Leslie and I know, of course, from our 2017 western tour, that there remain people who still find him interesting, rather more who still find him amusing, at least when he is at his best.

The writer of Ecclesiastes pronounced, many years ago, quite accurately as it turns out, that there is no end to the writing of books, and new writers can be forgiven if they prefer that the number of old books in circulation should be kept to a minimum. We can remember an old writer for his books, of course, if they are good enough, but perhaps a worthy alternative for some writers is to remember them for the seeds they planted. I think it entirely likely that I will never read another Leacock book, having read a great many during the several phases of this project. There are fifty-three of them; I have not read them all. From now on I will remember him, not for the few favourites that I find worth remembering, but for two seeds that he planted in my mind. I have been cultivating those seeds, and intend to continue, for their own sake, not for his, but primarily for the sake of my children, grand-children, and beyond, and for everyone else’s.

The two seeds are, first, the title of the book whose 100th anniversary I am celebrating:


It’s the title that matters most to me, not the book. I consider that Social Justice, widely conceived, is the greatest cause that humanity can and does pursue. Stephen Leacock identified it as an Unsolved Riddle, a type of ideal that is not to be answered with some pat “solution”, but to probed and wrestled with endlessly in the cause of improvement, or “progress” as it used to be called, and should continue to be called. Because when the world’s store of poverty, pain, misery, alienation, exploitation, oppression, violence, unnatural death, and other ills has been lessened, then that is progress, even if these ills persist. To identify Social Justice as an Unsolved Riddle is a huge, brilliant insight, a creative response to idealogues of all kinds, whose prescriptions have a nasty habit of increasing the ills, not the reverse. It is unfortunate that Stephen Leacock himself did not enlarge upon his insight, even in his book. That work remains.

The second seed grew out of my efforts to summarize the lessons he was trying to drum home to us in his fifty-three books, numerous individual pieces, public lectures, and lifetime of teaching about economics, politics, education, culture, and ways of life. The tools that he brought to his quest, and that he recommends to us, form a Tetrad:


One of my favourite passages in all of the literature I know is the opening to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress where the narrator, walking through “the wilderness of this world”, falls asleep and dreams of a man with “a great burden on his back”. Our burden comes with the benefits we have created for ourselves in our adoption of the industrial, commercial, technological, scientific, intricately interconnected way of life that brings us such a range of benefits. The burden is the costs that come with them, and the duty to deal with them for our own and the futures’ sakes. There is nothing wrong with wanting our lives to be prosperous, comfortable, secure, convenient, richly informed, and entertaining. We fool ourselves tragically when we can assume they can be that way without cost.

The Leacock Tetrad does not remove the burden, but has the capacity to lighten the carry, because these tools, taken together, will help us work to alleviate the costs without adding new ones, and to reassure us that we are doing the best we can. We are fated to muddle our way through the muddle we have ourselves created, because that is the nature of our creation. We all crave Social Justice, although we may vary somewhat in our definitions. Social Justice is an Unsolved Riddle. We cannot make it otherwise. Stephen Leacock is one of those people who gives us tools we need to work with it.

Who else? My current list: William Blake, Henry Thoreau, Herman Melville, George Eliot, Henry George, Northrop Frye, Marshall McLuhan, B.W. Powe, and now, recently arrive, Marilynne Robinson. More about them in the weeks and months ahead. I will also tell you about the œvirsagas and where they fit in. Stephen Leacock had something to do with them too, or one of them at least. In Canada they are four in number, another Tetrad: Aboriginal, National, Political, and Urbanismal. They too are tools to grapple with the Unsolved Riddles and lighten the burden.

Ringing in the Tetrads

I have been running three blogs during the months of the Leacock Anniversaries, with different postings. This week, for a change, as I swing into yet another break, this one for two or even three weeks, I am posting the same text on all three. When you have read one you have read them all.

This week’s pictoverbicon, as displayed on the Voyageur Storytelling web site (, the Leacock’n Bulletin linked thereto, and my Twitter page ( introduces the Idea of Tetrational Thinking:

Leacock Post 10-31.jpeg

I have occupied much of the past two months in writing a book called The Marriage of Social Justice and Unsolved Riddles, in which I am attempting to convince readers that Social Justice and Unsolved Riddles belong together. The narrative approach that I adopted for this task I find subsequently to be consistent with Northrop Frye’s intention which was, according to his biographer John Ayre, “to spread imaginative poetic thought throughout society to soften and cancel the effects of procrustean logic and ideology.” This is most satisfying, because for a Canadian of my generation who graduated from the University of Toronto, to be consistent with Northrop Frye is always consoling.

I have talked before about Stephen Leacock’s Tetrad of Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour as a form of quadruple-thinking Both-Andian (or All-Andian) cast of mind able to work us toward Social Justice. When we pursue the Tetrational Way we find ourselves of course in a forest of Unsolved Riddles, that is, inherently conflicting or contradictory goods, but what is the alternative? How difficult would it be to tune our collective minds in all four of these directions at once? Quite difficult, I think, but possible with practice. Both Northrop Frye and Stephen Leacock insisted on Imagination as the linchpin of this whole way of thinking. That seems obvious, because the Tetrad demands that we step outside our normal, simplified, linear ways of thinking, the ones that enable us to get on with our lives from day to day without going mad, and view our lives together, our society, in a much more complicated way. In order to do that we have to free our imaginations from the “procrustean logic and ideology” which powerful forces press upon us so insistently.

One of the great Unsolved Riddles of our time declares the possibility that the simplified, linear thinking which helps us individually to avoid going mad from day to day, when applied collectively, to our social situation, constitutes itself a form of madness. I am convinced that Tetrational Thinking would ease the collective madness. We might too find that it creates an even higher form of sanity for us individually.

Reading Northrop Frye’s biography I learned that he set down a Tetrad of his own, although John Ayre does not tell us when or where Frye said it. “I think there has to be an assumption that life is better than death, freedom better than slavery, happiness better than misery, equality better than exploitation, for all men everywhere without exception.” (In the interests of exact quotation I leave in Frye’s “all men” and do not substitute “all people” or “everyone” as I feel strongly inclined to do, because that is obviously what Frye meant.) Is his assumption perhaps the irreducible first principle of Social Justice?

As an exercise in Tetrational Thinking, I invite you to stare fixedly at the following tetragammon (Is it a mandala? I’m not sure.) keeping in mind the four elements simultaneously. I have tried it, and find that it does in fact tend to break apart the procrustean logic and ideology.  When I have time I’ll create one for Frye’s Tetrad of Life + Freedom + Happiness + Equality, as well as its antipode, the Death + Slavery + Misery + Exploitation that is the tragic lot of so much of humanity and that we must never willingly accept.


Stare at that Tetrad for a long time. Think about the words and what they mean both individually and for each other. Weave circles around them and close your eyes in holistic dream. Imagine them becoming more than they are, more than you ever dreamed they could be. Don’t become discouraged if nothing magic happens the first time you try. It will come.

When I resume posting here later in November I will take up these ideas more fully, both theoretically and practically. I shall strive to integrate the Tetrads of Stephen Leacock and Northrop Frye with B.W. Powe’s “attentive sensitivity to multi-dimensional meaning”, Isaiah Berlin’s “loose texture  and a measure of inefficiency and even muddle”, Marshall McLuhan’s gnomic utterance that “The Medium is the Message” (which I think means that how we think or communicate determines, or at least heavily influences,  what we think or communicate), and George Eliot’s celebration, in one of her characters, of a benign influence that is “incalculably diffusive”.

We are not machines. Our minds are not governed by sequential cause and effect. They can leap.

In the meantime I leave you with the following jingle:

The Mud between the Minds
Like muds of other kinds,
Constitutes a kind of wealth
Or viscous form of filth :
This is the Unsolved Riddle
Of the Muddle.


Walking Clockre-3-100-15: The Final Ring

The Eighteenth Meeting of the Mariposa Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice League, or MUROSJL, devoted to the capture, taming, and putting to work of the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, recorded this 23rd day of July, 2019. This meeting is the last in this series. As everyone knows who has visited Mariposa, summer is the season when the city is most Mariposan. What did Stephen Leacock call it, in his day? “A land of hope and sunshine where little towns spread their square streets and their trim maple trees beside placid lakes almost within echo of the primal forest.” In July and August it still is a land of hope and sunshine, or can be. The rest of the year it can be a land of stress and bad weather, the lakes can be anything but placid except when frozen over, and any echo only the trucks on the by-passing freeway.

As we strolled around Clockre-3-100-15 (such a sterile name, but fully descriptive), we asked ourselves what further measures might bring hope and sunshine to those denied Social Justice. We had already decided that Health Care, Economic Security, and Protection from Crime are fundamental to the enjoyment of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Education to equality of opportunity. We recognize that these “inframeasures” are easy to name, complex and riddled in their provision. In particular the group recognizes that these measures can vary in both quantity and quality, and that Social Justice may be able to accept limits on them. Necessity is one standard, Comfort is another, Luxury a third. As a standard for Social Justice mere Necessity seems ungenerous if not mean-spirited, Luxury definitely not required. If we add to our list of Necessities the opportunity for Inclusion in Society, then that would oblige us to provide a level of Comfort beyond the bare minimum. People should not be isolated from Society by their circumstances, only by choice.

In practical terms when we talk about Social Justice we are, as we have said before, talking about public services, regulations, and re-distribution of income. To decide how much is enough of any of these remains one of the great Unsolved Riddles of the whole field. Another is the fundamental tension between our Individual and Social beings. In our time we attach huge importance to our Individuality, especially as it concerns consumption. We tend, albeit with considerable conflict in our minds, to look at our Sociality as simply another prop to our Individuality, to look on public services as simply another consumer good that we  ought to be able to acquire for the lowest possible price, on regulations as something that ought to apply minimally to ourselves although more rigorously to others, and on re-distribution of our incomes (if they are high) as inherently offensive. No Taxation even with Representation! we cry, or some of the very noisy among us do. No taxation, period! This cry is, of course, entirely contrary to any possibility of Social Justice, and may even justly be called juvenile. At least, so our band of walkers believes.

As the conversation began to bog down in the complexities of particular examples, someone reminded us of our slogan: DAUNTLESSLY, STEP-BY-STEP, BOTH ONE AT A TIME AND ALL TOGETHER! Even that has its difficulties. Complexities are daunting, so too is abusive resistance. Incremental progress is inevitably slow. To protect and advance both Individuality and Sociality seems beyond our strengths and available time. To understand the difficulties of the job both in general and in each particular circumstance, to pursue Social Justice in a socially just way, may be another of those great Unsolved Riddles.

Someone else reminded us of the six key words: Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, Humour, Doublethink, Both-And. To juggle those six fairly and effectively in order to advance the cause requires a cast of mind that is almost super-human. What good is a concept of Social Justice that is beyond ordinary comprehension, beyond normal ability to think, to articulate, to devise? What level of competence in the conduct of our affairs are we entitled to expect, even if the affair is the pursuit of Social Justice? Are we entitled to expect that people will not make mistakes, or take time and experience to learn, or get tired, or have a bad day, or hold a different opinion or make a different judgement? Is the tendency to savage other people when we think they have let us down perhaps just another instance of social injustice? Can we do something about that?

Someone remembered that Aldous Huxley as an old man admitted, “It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘try to be a little kinder.'” Stephen Leacock’s last words appealed for “righteousness” and “the work of the spirit on the honesty and inspiration of the individual.” “Give us men [and women] of goodwill, whose hearts are in the cause and our happiness is assured.” No doubt that’s true, but it’s a tall order. There are people around who are not of goodwill, whose hearts are not in the cause, who have lots of money and loud voices. Then there’s the work itself, which is sometimes very difficult.

“It’s The Economy, stupid!” We hear that presented as a political truism. May we look forward to the day when, “It’s Social Justice, stupid!” has the same currency?


As the walkers completed the last ring and passed out though the archway towards the pub, your scribe is left without a job. Will he join them? Yes he will, when he has finished these minutes, but what of next week? Twenty-two weeks remain in the Leacock Anniversaries? Will this blog fall silent for the duration? Heaven forfend!

Another part of this project has started to probe the great Canadian “over-stories” or, to be Old Norse about it, yfirsagas that dominate our national narrations and govern how we think about ourselves and even how we act. We are a pluralistic people; we have four of them at least. Stephen Leacock tried to tell one of them, the one I am calling for the time being the Colonial Yfirsaga, the one that deals with settlement, migration of people, development, exploitation of land, people and resources, expansion of wealth, and all the other aspects of that stirring and sometimes unpleasant story. A saga indeed. In his telling he often wrote about particular places, including Mariposa. I think it will form a fitting part of his anniversaries celebration to probe what he said about them, and how he said it. He wanted to spread Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour. For the next six months I will turn this blog into a travelogue of Leacockian places. It’s the Walking Blog, after all, and that’s where we’ll walk.

In the Stalking Blog on Mondays we will spy on Leacock’s people, including himself and those around him. In the Wednesday Talking Blog I will talk, for the time being about the Yfirsagas and their connection with Social Justice. Maybe I will conclude they contain it. Maybe I will conclude that we need a special Yfirsaga for them. So far I have identified, or think I have, Aboriginal, Colonial, Urbanial, and Political Yfirsagas, all distinct and intertwined. Is there likewise a Social Yfirsaga?

“Yfirsaga” by the way, is pronounced almost like “over-saga”, but with an Old Norse twist to the vowels.


Walking Countre-2-120-14: Looking Forward

The Seventeenth Meeting of the Mariposa UROSJ League, or MUROSJL, devoted to the capture, taming, and putting to work of the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, recorded this 16th day of July, 2019. After this walk only one more labyrinth ring will remain: Clockre-3-100-15, to be walked July 23rd. Then what?

During our walk around the previous, perimeter ring we identified three “inframeasures” vital to Social Justice: Health Care, Physical Protection, and Basic Sufficiency. All these measures serve our people as they are, in their present circumstances as these evolve. Education devotes itself not only to that, but explicitly to what they will be in the future. In fact, it deals with them as they are only as the one possible path to what they will be. If we did not care what children will become we might build warehouses for them, in order to protect them and ourselves, but would we build schools? Warehouses would be socially unjust; schools strive not to be. Do they succeed?

As we ended last week’s walk someone blurted out: “It is absolutely intolerable that anyone should grow up illiterate in the language of the surrounding society!” The languages of the surrounding society in Canada are English or French or both, depending on where you live. What is our social responsibility towards those children whose mother tongue is not one of those? Is it the same if those children are indigenous, as for immigrants? Is assimilation prima facie a socially unjust policy, or does it depend on circumstances? The social and economic circumstances prevailing in Canada when the residential school policy was conceived were quite different from those of today. Our group was quite uncomfortable talking about the residential schools with no indigenous people present, and declined to go further for that reason, except to form a question they would like to put to anyone who asserted flatly that the residential school policy was socially unjust: Given all the circumstances of the time, what should the educational policy have been for indigenous children? Or, to borrow Stephen Leacock’s ultimate question for Social Justice: What was then possible, and what was not?

This caused someone to remember a previous comment to the effect that education is always counter-cultural for the uneducated, always seeking to create opportunities for inclusion for those systematically excluded. Stephen Leacock elevated Equality of Opportunity to a very high place in his principles of Social Justice. Opportunity for what? To prosper, no doubt. To enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, no doubt. To participate in the economic and social life of the nation. Or not to participate? Or to participate on one’s own terms?

Maybe, someone suggested, the right way to approach this growing stack of unsolved riddles is to assume that responsibility for “education” of the young, in the sense of cultivating all kinds of opportunities for choice, belongs to the entire community around the child, and not only to the government. Perhaps the government’s responsibility extends only to a limited range of those choices, those that are in some sense “main stream”. What are the socially just limits to public education, if there are any?

Where do “progressive” and “traditional” theories of education come into these questions? Nobody present knew enough about either to do anything except ask questions. Is it possible, we asked, that this distinction is a classic Both-And? Somebody consulted her phone and came up with this: Traditional schools focus on the teacher and what they teach while progressive schools focus on the students and how they can learn. This, we decided, is either pure sophistry, or pure Both-And.

What happens, someone asked, if schools are an appropriate setting for the traditional way, but not well suited to the progressive way? What happens to the progressive way if we try to perform it in an unsuitable setting? Does it remain progressive, or does it dwindle away into mush? We decided that was a leading question and we would answer it some other day.

Are schools institutions? And what difference does it make if they are? We hypothesized that schools try to be both, by putting non-institutional teachers into institutional settings, simply because those are the only kind of settings we know how, or can afford, to provide. Teachers would for sure resent the idea that they have been taken over by institutional norms and imperatives, and no doubt the best have not been. Are we satisfied that all our teachers are among the best, or is a normal distribution in effect, ranging from a basic standard of competence (which could in fact be high), to amazing brilliance? What are we entitled to expect?

We all then reminisced about our school experiences, and those of our children, and concluded that the normal distribution was in fact in effect. Instances of amazing brilliance in teachers did occur, and were always memorable, even life-changing. Instances of incompetence were rare, but not unknown, always memorable, and almost never life-changing in any negative sense. We acknowledged our own resilience with appropriate modesty. Instances of somewhere in between were most common and often forgettable. Education is not what you thought, it is what you can remember, said someone, quoting someone else no doubt.

When we reached the end of this week’s ring we concluded its fragmented, incomplete and inconclusive conversation by concluding that any method of education meeting the standards of Social Justice must constitute a prodigy of Doublethink and Both-Anding, probably in several dimensions. In confronting both “traditional” and “progressive” ideologues we should say, NOT “a plague on both your houses”, but “may both your houses prosper and thrive, and may they be the right kind of houses for that purpose.” That’s Both-Anding at its best, we decided.

Next week we walk the last ring. The question must be: Where do we go from here?

Minutes recorded by Paul Conway, who was fully engaged in the conversation and may have missed some nuances.

Walking Clockre-1-140-13: Coming Together on the Longest Ring

The Sixteenth Meeting of the Mariposa UROSJ League, or MUROSJL, devoted to the capture, taming, and putting to work of the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, recorded this 9th day of July, 2019. After this walk only two more labyrinth rings until the project is complete, these being:
Countre-2-120-14, July 16th;
Clockre-3-100-15, July 23rd.

This being the longest ring, circling the circumference of the entire system of rings, we decided we should try to surround the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. We were beginning to envisage a community, or a nesting set of communities,—international, national, provincial, regional, municipal, local,—where Social Justice prevailed along with Individual Justice in states of dynamic and pluralistic Both-And. We were beginning to believe that the inevitable Unsolved Riddle aspect of these states might never be tamed; we would have to get used to its wildness. Henry David Thoreau said that “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Perhaps that is what he meant, or part of it. He certainly meant more than wilderness. If he had meant only wilderness, he would have said so. He meant the wildness of individuality. He meant the very different wildness of sociality, the wildness of living among other people with Justice both to them and to one’s self, always, all ways, reciprocally in all directions. This is a tall order.

Last week for the most part we walked Mayor Josie’s rant. It is worth repeating, and reconsidering, what she said towards the end of it: Practical measures, she said. Services. Regulations. Understanding. Balance. Compromises. Accommodations. Mid-Ways. Both-Ands. Knowledge. Imagination. Compassion. Humour. Conversations. Dauntlessly, step-by-step, both one at a time and all together.

Services and Regulations. Those are the practical measures that do the work. Services that strengthen both Individuality and Sociality. Regulations that prevent either from getting out of hand, from becoming too wild. A symbiosis of contraries.

We need a word. We are familiar with the word “infrastructure” to describe the physical things we build, to serve us in individual and social ways, the visible, tangible, structures of transportation, conveyance, communication that we share. They are necessary but not sufficient. We need something comparable for the services and regulations with their own kinds of visibility and tangibility, also necessary but not sufficient.

We talk about words, and decide on “measures”, connoting services and regulations that are controlled responses to the needs of individuality, sociality, and their unsolved riddles. Music comes in measures. Keys. Clefs. Notes. Chords. Harmonies. So does Justice. An Unsolved Riddle is a cleffed stick. We speak of the need to see Justice done. We need to hear Social Justice singing in harmony with Individual Justice, with Wealth both common and uncommon. Inframeasures. The common things we create that enable us to Be what we want to be, and not only Do what we want to do.

What are these Inframeasures? Let’s start with the ones we have, that we have already created, that we know are able to work even if they don’t always work as well as we want. What kind of a foundation do we already have? How do we judge it? How can we  make it better, working dauntlessly, step by step, one at a time and all together?

We identify three Essential Measures, which enable the enjoyment of all others. Without them all talk of Justice, whether Social or Individual is a mockery. They, we decide, are Health Care, Physical Protection, and Basic Sufficiency. Remember, we are talking about measures, not states of being. There is nothing socially unjust in being sick. Illness becomes injustice when someone is denied available care, or when someone else causes the illness through carelessness. There is nothing socially unjust in being hurt, or even killed, by accident. Injustice requires intention. There is nothing socially unjust in being poor, only in being denied the essentials of life as defined by the society around us.

It soon becomes obvious that even with essentials the path ahead is strewn with Unsolved Riddles. Precision in concepts and definitions will be extremely difficult, and carpers will pounce on this weakness with alacrity and unholy zest. That is inevitable in an Unsolved Riddle world. When it comes time to put our results before the public, we are going to have to deal with that, and we will. For the purposes of this ring, we need only aspire to rough sketches. It is a sad reality of the quest for Justice that the narrow ideologists have all the advantages of precision, while the pluralistic pragmatists are left scrambling to explain themselves amidst all the diversity. Yet the ideologists, when empowered beyond imagination, create systems riddled with injustice of all kinds, and are in fact among the most oppressive the world has ever seen. What The pluralistic pragmatists merely strive to achieve the best that can be achieved for the time being, which sounds much weaker, and certainly is for purposes of propaganda.

As we reach the end of this ring, someone reminds us that we had identified, somewhere along the way, identified four Fields for Social Justice: Economic, Environmental, Cultural, and one having to do with Opportunity. We’re not sure how well our Inframeasures line up with that, although no doubt they can be made to. Perhaps we can come up with better names for the fields.

It’s pretty clear where we will have to spend the next ring, however: in Education.

As we turn the tight corner from Clockre-1-140-13 into Countre-2-120-14 somebody shouts out: “It is absolutely intolerable that anyone should grow up illiterate in the language of the surrounding society!” Wow! There’s a loaded statement, considering some educational experiments in this country.

Minutes taken by Paul Conway.


Walking Countre-4-80-12: The Case of the Ranting Mayor

The Fifteenth Meeting of the Mariposa UROSJ League, or MUROSJL, devoted to the capture, taming, and putting to work of the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, recorded this 2nd day of July, 2019. After this walk only three more until the project is complete, these being:
Clockre-1-140-13, scheduled for July 9th;
Countre-2-120-14, July 16th;
Clockre-3-100-15, July 23rd.

The MUROSJLists will then take a break, and this segment of the Leacock Anniversaries verbosity will graze in other pastures. Just which those are remains to be seen.

Today’s walk (or rather that part coming after the preliminary refreshments) began with a temper tantrum from our leader, Mayor Josie Smith. Normally when in public she does not allow herself the luxury. No matter how stupid may be the remarks of some self-interested or ill-informed councillor or member of the public, Mayor Josie invariably remains calm, respectful, and courteous. If she does rage, she does it privately, within earshot of only her husband, children, parents, and other close friends and relatives who know how to keep their mouths shut. The MUROSJLists are her friends, and qualify.

What set her off this time was the Canada Day story put out by the CBC, the one with the headline “Conflicted and worried: CBC News poll takes snapshot of Canadians ahead of fall election“. First she ranted about the absurdity of the whole notion that a survey based on a hugely biased sample of around one one-hundredth of one percent of the adult population can tell you anything at all about what Canadians on the whole think or feel. Not that there is any “Canadians on the whole”. There are Canadians in all their wonderful pluralistic diversity. To talk sense is to explore the diversity, not to make facile generalizations from bad data. “Conflicted and worried” indeed! How about “diverse and unsure what the future holds”? That would be perfectly normal. Nobody knows what the future holds, nor ever has. So, at least, believes Mayor Josie Smith, who knows her stuff when it comes to technicalities.

What really set her off was the reporter’s conclusion that “fully 88 per cent of those polled said they feel that politicians care more about staying in power than doing what’s right.

“What kind of thought-garbage is that?” she yelled. “What is this ‘staying in power’ garbage anyway? We don’t ‘stay in power’. We stay in office if we’re any good. We stay in jobs that absorb our complete lives and attention and that don’t pay very well. We stay so that we can go on serving people who need those services. We stay in order to make a difference without nearly enough power to do that easily. We stay around trying to find some way forward among all the conflicting opinions about what way that should be. We stay in the line of fire for endless shit and abuse. What do they mean that politicians don’t care about ‘doing what’s right’? We don’t care about anything else! Take any public issue, and just try asking what’s ‘right’ and see what you get. Politicians are the people the hire to sort all  that out, and too many of them think that the way to help is to make their lives miserable. If any employer treated his employees the way some of the public treat their politicians nobody would work for him. It’s not the power that keeps most of us coming back, it’s the opportunity for service. And those who come for the power soon find they don’t have very much, so they don’t come back.”

She was just getting nicely warmed up. “Do you remember that forum before the last election? Some fool got up and asked each candidate to say in one word whether they intended to ‘represent all the people of the city’. Everybody except me said ‘Yes’. What nonsense! Nobody can do that! I said I would do my best to find what’s best for the city amidst all the diversity of points of view. I was then reprimanded by the chairman for using more than one word. So I said ‘No!’ That was an honest answer, and it must have been the right one, if you look at my majority.

“We’re here to find an answer to the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. I don’t pretend to know what that answer is yet, although I’m beginning to get an idea what it might be. Whatever it turns out to be, I can tell you one thing for sure, that it’s going to require practical measures, or it’s just dreams and talk, and the practical measures will be the responsibility of politicians and the result of their hard work and dedication. We’ll need help from our staff and all the many people of good will whose hearts are in the cause. What we won’t need is a lot of damn-fool polls misinterpreted in damn-fool stories by damn-fool reporters.” ‘Power’ indeed! ‘Service and self-sacrifice’ is more like it. But it’s a great job, and I won’t apologize for liking it.”

“The Unsolved Riddle of Being Mayor,” said Sheldon, and we all lined up to give Josie a hug.

Practical measures, she said. Services. Regulations. Understanding. Balance. Compromises. Accommodations. Mid-ways. Both-Ands. Knowledge. Imagination. Compassion. Humour. Conversations. Dauntlessly, step-by-step, both one at a time and all together.

According to Isaiah Berlin, a prophet of Pluralism, an old guy named Archilochus once said that the fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Is the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice a fox-hedgehog hybrid? Can such a creature circumvent the Yottapede? We don’t have hedgehogs in this country. We may have to make do with a fox-porcupine hybrid. Now there’s a vision!

Walking Clockre-7-20-11: Too Brief!

The Fourteenth Meeting of the Mariposa UROSJ League, or MUROSJL, devoted to the capture, taming, and putting to work of the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, recorded this 25th day of June, 2019, ended quickly, due to the brevity of the walk. Ring 7-20 is the shortest in the labyrinth, walked countre as the fifth ring and clockre as the eleventh this week, with four to go, all of them longer and thus better suited to the weight of issues raised in last week’s six questions.

In case you are just joining the Walking Saga of the MUROSJLists, to save you reading back, and because this is a short walk, the group decided to repeat them with brief, tentative answers rendered without explanation:

Question One: Stephen Leacock’s Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice centred around poverty in the midst of plenty. One hundred years later, do we still have poverty in the midst of plenty, and if so, is it the same kind of poverty? We do, and it both is and is not.

Question Two: If we smooth out grotesque inequalities in wealth, purchasing power, and economic security, do we thus automatically achieve an adequate equality of Opportunity, or even fairness in that realm? We do not. Inequality of opportunity has cultural, demographic and geographic dimensions that transcend economics.

Question Three: What social injustices can we see nowadays, of which even Stephen Leacock, who was well ahead of his time, could not see? Would it be appropriate, and sufficient, to focus on two, one having to do with our Environments, both natural and created, and one having to do with Culture? Yes, it would, and we will.

Question Four: If we decide that now, one hundred years after Stephen Leacock, Social Justice requires constant attention to Economic Justice (wealth, purchasing power, and security), Opportunity Justice, Environmental Justice (natural and built), and Cultural Justice, then what kind of a policy monster have we created? Is it possible that each of these realms is an Unsolved Riddle in its own right? We have created the policy monster that is contemporary social-economic-environmental-cultural-political life. We should add Constitutional Justice and Rights Justice as parts of Social Justice, all with their own Unsolved Riddles, thereby complicating matters still further.

Question Five: It is difficult enough to think clearly and positively about one Unsolved Riddle at a time, each requiring its own kinds of Creative Doublethink and Bi- or Multi-Polar Action. Do we have the tools to think about, let alone deal with a compound Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, compounded of Unsolved Riddles of Prosperity, Security, Opportunity, Stewardship (including Preservation, Cultivation, and what do do with the garbage), Pluralism, and all the rest? Considering the present situation, we either do not have the tools, or we have but don’t know how to use them, or we do know how but don’t trust them.

Question Six: Are the ideas previously articulated of any use? These being:




What are these slogans saying? They are suggesting, first of all, that we must act with courage, incrementally, both individually and collectively. Stephen Leacock, at the end of his life, wanted to turn the job over to people “of good will whose hearts are in the cause.” That’s a pretty good slogan in its own right, The Four Fields are derived from his ideas about Education, which is surely crucial. As William Blake said, “Man (meaning human kind) has no notion of moral fitness but from Education. Naturally he is only a natural organ subject to sense.” He goes on to say that we are not bounded by our organs of perception, that we perceive “more than sense (tho’ ever so acute) can discover.”

So yes, they are useful, but need elaboration.

At this point someone pointed out the parallel between the word “slogan” and the “slug-horn” which Childe Roland blew at the Dark Tower.

Deanna Drone, that mighty reader, then reminded the group of two ideas that might well have something useful to say, unusual though they may seem in this context:

William Blake: “The Poetic Genius is the true Human.” That is, the Spirit of Poetry, which is “every where call’d the Spirit of Prophecy” in the Biblical sense. Also: “What we have already known is not the same that it shall be when we know more.” A useful reminder, that.

Northrop Frye: The poet’s “job is not to describe nature, but to show you a world completely absorbed and possessed by the human mind.”

That, offered Deanna, is the kind of world we are talking about when we talk about Social Justice: a poet’s world, understood from poetry’s kind of Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour. This is not to exclude other kinds, many or most of which we may need, but which by themselves remain fragmented, incomplete and inconclusive, as Mariposa itself was once described. Through faith in the Poetic Genius we can at least form a coherent, complete, and conclusive vision.

This triggered a lively conversation that spilled over into the pub and continued until it closed without becoming anything more than fragmented, incomplete, and inconclusive. Much walking remains, however, so there is hope.