My Last Word on Mariposa

I have written before about Mariposa, what I think it both is and is not. Today I am going to do that for one last time, before taking you on a walk (this being the Walking Blog, after all) through Stephen Leacock’s places. He doesn’t often write about places as characters, although he often places his characters and stories in them. So it is with Mariposa.

Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town is not about Mariposa, although the sketches are placed there. Mariposa, he tells us explicitly, is a town of 5,000 people. His sketches are about a dozen or so people in Mariposa, most of them not particularly dominant in community affairs. A few others are assigned bit parts, or are mentioned by name. I don’t care where it is, a dozen people and a few out-riders do not a town of 5,000 make. To suggest that Leacock intended any generalization about small-town life from these few anecdotes about these few people is absurd on the face of it. And yet people, even reputable scholars, do it.

I acknowledge that the townspeople do appear occasionally as a collective, in reacting to Josh Smith’s enterprise, or to Jeff Thorpe’s speculations, or taking an excursion on the Mariposa Belle, or judging Dean Drone’s sermons, or donating (or not) to the Church, or taking in the Pupkin-Pepperleigh romance, or, especially, voting in the Great Election, but these appearances are sketched in so lightly and casually that they must be intended simply to illuminate the stories of the principals rather than as any statement about the town as a whole. They contribute even less than a typical opera chorus. If Leacock intended any satire, as he might have done in the Church and election episodes, it was not directed at small-town life, but at Canadian habits more broadly. The inspiration for the conditional donations came in fact from a fund-raising campaign for McGill University, and sheep-herd voting, if it exists at all except as a figment of the imaginations of supercilious commentators, could be found anywhere.

In short, Mariposa is not Orillia, or “about seventy or eighty” “real” towns, or anything except the setting for characters named Josh Smith, Jefferson Thorpe, Dean Drone, Peter Pupkin, Zena Pepperleigh, John Henry Bagshaw, with comprimario roles for Billy the desk clerk, Judge Pepperleigh, Lawyer McCarthy, the two bank managers Mullins and Duff, Gogotha Gingham, and flitting appearances or walk-on parts for a few others.

Please note that only one of the principals and comprimarios is a woman: Zena Pepperleigh, who vanishes as soon as she is married. Leacock’s Mariposa is a profoundly male-chauvinistic place, as admittedly were his times, and he himself. Whatever may then have been the legal, social, and economic subordination of women, however, I doubt it stretched to that extent. Strong-minded women have always found ways to assert themselves; Leacock allows them none. Furthermore, a count of all the sayings directly quoted in the book reveals that none of them are spoken by women. The women of Mariposa have no voices! How improbable is that, in any Canadian place?

Lest you think that “L’Envoi” at the end of the book makes a difference to what I am saying about Mariposa, let me draw your attention to the fact that “L’Envoi” does not present the town Mariposa at all, but rather the retrospective home-town revisions by a bored, surfeited, dyspeptic businessman dozing in the Mausoleum Club in some distant city, a perspective that is something else entirely.

The fact that Mariposa is sometimes taken for Orillia, or a typical Ontario small town, surely represents a scandalous misreading of the book that could justifiably be made the butt of satire in its own right. To take from a book what we want to take from it, instead of  what’s there, may be a normal human foible, but it hardly deserves to be celebrated. Joseph Conrad tells us: “My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm — all you demand; and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.” That is a noble statement of a writer’s task, but it is not Stephen Leacock’s, at least not in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. I think his aims are much more limited: to tell stories that he has invented or stretched from what he has observed or heard about here and there; to take a dig at some human or Canadian foibles; to amuse.

If he had any more serious purpose in this book,—and he might have done,—it has been discovered by the scholar Ed Jewinski, who summed up Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town as “a supreme achievement of fragmentation, incompleteness and inconclusiveness.” It is difficult to assess Leacock’s intentions in this, and much of his humorous work, because he could be a shamefully careless writer. He is like Robertson Davies’ character who likes to “get off a good one.” He fires these things around almost at random sometimes. He also likes a catchy title, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town being superior in that regard to Highly Ambiguous Sketches of a Few Fictional People in a Fictional Place, which is what the book really is. If he had called the book that, however, people might not have misread it so persistently. They probably wouldn’t have read it, or bought it, nearly as enthusiastically.

I am not judging Stephen Leacock by this one book. He wrote 52 others, and many more short pieces. These form his true literary legacy. To view Sunshine Sketches as a masterpiece of ambiguity, however, whether he intended so or not, brings the book within the realm of the “Unsolved Riddle”, a phrase he puts in another catchy title, and which I think is, or at least could be, his great contribution to Canadian understanding. Others have dealt with it more solemnly; Leacock reminds us that we should approach the dilemmas of that realm, not only with Knowledge, Imagination, and Compassion, but with Humour.

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?

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

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:

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

with

KNOWLEDGE! IMAGINATION! COMPASSION! HUMOUR!

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.

 

Walking Countre-6-40-10: Labyrinthine Frustration!

The Thirteenth 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 18th day of June, 2019, was not in fact the Thirteenth, but the Twelfth, last week being the occasion for a break. The Meeting took place, however, in the Thirteenth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries, and therefore could be designated either way.

It began, continued, and eventually adjourned in some frustration, because from its new vantage point floating above the Sagacities of the Plain, whose activities are documented in the Monday Stalking Blog, the MUROSJLists could see that the folks there had stalked to such good effect as to identify the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and begin to explore its properties. In order to keep up with and thus support them the MUROSJLists in this, the Walking Blog, believed they needed to discuss The Economy without delay, because of the close relationship they intuited between that phenomenon, the Yottapede, and the Charged Ooze. Yet the discipline of the Labyrinth dictated that this week they would walk Countre-6-40-10 this week, the second-shortest ring, followed by Clockre-7-20-11, the shortest, then Countre-4-80-12, of middling length, before they reached the appropriately lengthy trio of  Clockre-1-140-13, Countre-2-120-14, and Clockre-3-100-15 before they could re-enter the Great Wide World beyond. They could not really tackle The Economy for another three weeks.

Perhaps however a little brief preparatory work would be feasible, they suggested. For example, what about the question: Are Economic Justice and Social Justice the same? And if not, what is the relationship between them? Perhaps in Stephen Leacock’s day they were, such that attention to both the quantity and distribution of wealth and purchasing power were not only necessary to the pursuit of Social Justice, but even sufficient. In the primitive policies and practices of his day both were perpetually at risk, but one hundred years have made a big difference to knowledge, although not necessarily to political resolve. Economic justice thus remains an essential, necessary part of Social Justice. It is no longer even remotely sufficient, however.

Because this week’s walk is a short one, and next week’s even shorter, they decided simply to formulate some questions, perhaps crudely at first. Next week they would refine them, and then set about answering during the longer rings to come.

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?

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?

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?

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?

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), and Pluralism?

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

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

with

KNOWLEDGE! IMAGINATION! COMPASSION! HUMOUR!

By the time they had articulated these questions the MUROSJLists had reached the end of this week’s ring and had turned into the next one. It’s for next week. They will need that long to think about the six questions, and much longer to answer them. We have to believe that they can be answered, however, at least for practical purposes. As we learn to accommodate creative doublethink and bi-polar beliefs, we must not define one of them as a hard choice between a perfect world and no world at all. Part of the art of taming the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and putting it to work may well lie in avoiding self-set traps for our minds, in the formulation of conflicting polarities so that they can be mutually accommodated.

 

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:

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

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:

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

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.