Revanchist Review

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Marriage Debates - When Ideas Lose Their Fragrance

A professional politician has too much to do to have leisure for serious reading, even on politics. He has far too little time for exchange of ideas and information with men of distinction in other walks of life.

It is unlikely, in all the mass of letterpress, that the proufoundest and most original works will reach the eye or command the attention of a large public, or even a good number of readers who are qualified to appreciate them. The ideas which flatter a current tendency or emotional attitude will go farthest and some others will be distorted to fit in with what is already accepted; the residuum in the public mind is hardly likely to be the distillation of the best and the wisest.

In this way are formed the idees recu which because of their emotional influence upon that part of the public which is influenced by printed matters, have to be taken into account by the professional politician and treated with respect in public utterances. It is unnecessary that these ideas should be consistent among themselves and, however they contradict each other the practical politician must handle them with as much deference as if they were the constructive informed sagacity, the intuitions of genius or the accumulate wisdom of ages. He has not as a rule, inhaled any fragrance they may have had when they were fresh he only noses them when they have already begun to stink.
T.S. Eliot – Notes Toward the Definition of Culture

Forgive me for the length of the epigram. After reading today’s major Canadian newspaper accounts of Wednesday's opening debates on the Civil Marriage Act, and reviewing the actual texts in Hansard of the speeches of Mr. Martin, Mr. Harper, Mr. Doucette and Mr. Siskay on behalf of the four political parties; I could not help but be drawn back to wise Mr. Eliot.

The Globe & Mail, Canada’s self proclaimed national newspaper emphasized Mr. Martin’s staunch defence of fundamental human rights as the “Canadian way” and quoted out of context Mr. Harper’s reference to historical evidence of the Liberal party’s past failures at protecting what all would agree are human rights (less than subtly inferring Mr. Harper’s comments were out of time and out of tune with the more highly evolved society we now live in).

Mr. Siskay’s sexuality as a gay man seemed more important to the writer than what he had to say, though given the intensely emotional and personal tenor of his speech, this was hardly a surprise. Mr. Doucette was simply over the top, though perhaps predictably so. He practically leaped to the ramparts waving the fleur de lis and singing the Marseillaise. Need I do more than reference his opening paragraph: “Despite its tragedies, the French Revolution represents an important milestone in the long history of democracy and law. The expression Liberty, fraternity, equality is an integral part of this debate. All human beings are born free and equal under the law.”

None of the newspaper reports addressed the substance of what was said; in particular Mr. Harper’s speech was described as legalistic and pedantic, when erudite would have been a more accurate adjective. Rather these publications offer up ideas “which flatter a current tendency or emotional attitude”.

When I read the actual speeches I was struck by Mr. Martin’s dependence on broad brush generalities many of which were illogical, self-contradictory or in some cases simply incomprehensible.

Let me cite a few examples:

I believe in and I will fight for a Canada that respects the foresight and the vision of those who created and entrenched the charter.

The creators of the Charter purposefully made no mention of sexual orientation when they drafted the Charter, and the notwithstanding clause that Mr. Martin currently claims to abhor was a critical safeguard built into the Charter to protect parliament and its citizens from overzealous judicial activism.

There are few nations whose citizens cannot look to Canada and see their own reflection. For generations, men, women and families from the four corners of the globe have made the decision to choose Canada as their home. Many have come here seeking freedom of thought, religion and belief, seeking the freedom simply to be.

I am reluctant to try and interpret just what Mr. Martin means by his first sentence. Is he praising Canada’s exaltation of the individual? What does it mean to say a citizen of another nation looks at Canada and sees himself? Is Canada a mere reflecting pool, a shallow one at that? Is there nothing distinctive and attractive, indeed lovely about Canada in and of itself to attract more than the narcissist for an immigrant? And is there a more vacuous way to describe the motivation for immigration to Canada than to seek the freedom “to simply be”?

It was here that T.S. Eliot’s words began to ring in my brain. How does Mr. Martin form his ideas? To what sources does he go to when he seeks to shape his thoughts into words that will clarify, inspire, convince or persuade those who listen to him? The product hardly seems to be “the distillation of the best and the wisest”.

Mr. Martin’s political theory seems to fit the description of Eliot’s when he said that out of the process described in the epigram “comes a political theory which is less concerned with human nature, which it is inclined to treat as something which can always be re-fashioned to fit whatever political form is regarded as most desirable.”

Mr. Harper by contrast chose to eschew rhetoric and methodically reveal the inconsistencies and contradictions in the government’s position. Mr. Harper quoted from debates in the House when Parliament last debated the definition of marriage in 1999 where the existing and historical definition was vigorously defended by the Liberals. He concluded by showing the hypocrisy of the Liberals when he said:
“Today, for making statements that are identical and for identical reasons, members of the government side resort to terms like bigot, reactionary and human rights violators. The hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty of the government and some of its members at this point is frankly staggering.”

Mr. Harper quoted from Supreme Court decisions and referenced extensively the opinions of Canadian academics to refute the contention that the definition of marriage has to be changed in order to provide the rights and protections being sought by homosexuals. He met head on the contention that the right to same sex marriage is a human right by noting it has expressly been considered not to be such by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, most explicitly in its rejection of an appeal from a New Zealand court of appeal decision interpreting the New Zealand Bill of Rights not to provide the foundation for opening marriage to members of the same sex.

Harper’s reference to the historical abuses of human rights by previous Liberal administrations was made in the context of emphatically pricking the sanctimony balloon which the Liberals float up with their rhetorical accusations that the Conservatives seek to take away the rights of citizens.

Harper concluded by asking three important questions:

Will this society be one which respects the longstanding basic social institution of marriage or will it be one that believes even our most basic structures can be reinvented overnight for the sake of political correctness?

Will this society be one which respects and honours the religious and cultural minorities or one which gradually whittles away their freedoms and their ability to practise their beliefs?

Will this be a country in which Parliament will rule on behalf of the people or one where a self-selected group of lawyers or experts will define the parameters of right and wrong?

The Liberal position emanates from the faulty belief that human nature can be refashioned to fit whatever political form is regarded as most desirable. It emanates from an emotional rather than a thoughtful and reasoned response to the cry for recognition from a minority group in society which can point to a history of prejudice. The result is intellectual dishonesty and a clear disregard for the opinions of a majority of Canadian men and women of good will.

I encourage all of you not to rely on newspaper accounts of what is being said in parliamentary debates when it is so easy to go to the source. Here is the link to Hansard's site.

I fear the truth has already begun to decay by the time it passes through the hands of most mainstream editors, and the fragrance of the ideas they have distilled will not be pleasant.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Oh, Canada - Chapter 8 - Dancing and Dining

“Where appetite seizes the reins of the soul of the city, it drives the chariot toward ruin; so it is the very art of good governance to seek to perfect the intricate and delicate choreography of moral and legal custom that will best promote the sway of reverent reason in city and soul alike.” David B. Hart

The image of the art of good governance as likened to the role of choreographer is helpful to me. The choreographer seeks to fuse the rhythm of the music with the movements of the dancers, the successful union being a pleasing experience for the participants and the observers alike. If appetite seizes any one of the choreographer, the musician or the dancer – by appetite I mean the self centred desire to satisfy one’s own needs, without concern for those of others – the result will rarely be pleasing.

From this observer’s perspective what is being played out on the Canadian dance floor resembles a St. Vitas dance and the governing committee of choreographers whether political, cultural, academic, journalistic or even religious have badly lost their syncopation. I fear the majority of Canadians have chosen to stand in the shadows and observe with a mixture of sadness, bemusement and anger at this perplexing display.

Moving to the second metaphor in my epigram, it seems we live in a society and a culture where appetite has indeed “seized the reins” as David Hart puts it. It is an insatiable appetite for the freedom to exercise limitless choice and uninhibited self expression. This triumph of the appetite has dulled our collective palate such that those who now question the wisdom of some of the entrees on the menu of choice and self expression are variously labeled as unimaginative (tastes are always evolving), patronizing (how dare you tell me how to satisfy my appetite), or sanctimonious (what makes your taste superior to mine).

The label is usually the first and often the only response from the one about to sample the latest freedom delicacy. Little attempt is made to examine the reasoning behind the cautionary advice to give a sober second thought before biting into the flavour du jour - this despite evidence that the new meal might well make you sick. So what if it makes me sick says the prospective nibbler, nobody says you have to eat this new concoction, so why do you care? Well, believe it or not I care because I care about you, and I care about what my community and country will look like if I am right and you and the fellow gourmands indeed come down with a serious ailment. There will be a lot of remedial and palliative work to be done.

There are many signs that Canada today is in a state of anomie, a word first used by French philosopher Emile Durkheim to diagnose the state of modern rootlessness he observed in late 19th and early 20th century France. Anomie is defined as social instability resulting from a breakdown of standards and values; also : personal unrest, alienation, and uncertainty that comes from a lack of purpose or ideals.

Anomie may well be what Hart describes as the “ultimate consequence of a purely libertarian political ethos (which) if taken to its logical end, would be a world in which we would no longer even remember why we should want to choose good, as we would have learned to deem things good solely because they have been chosen”.

It seems I have offended some friends with my insistence that the purpose of all my essays is to encourage people to think more carefully and intently about some of the social issues we currently face in Canada. They bristle at the suggestion they have not thought about these issues, or that if they have thought about them and still disagree with me, they perceive it arrogant of me to continue my efforts to convince them they are mistaken.

To this I can only say I find much wisdom in Orestes Brownson’s words: “Nothing is more nauseating than lukewarm. Give us, we say, open, energetic uncompromising enemies, or firm, staunch friends, who will take their stand for the truth, to live with it or die with it, and not your half and half men.”

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Oh, Canada - Chapter 7 - Tongs for Tweezers

“There is a sphere, nonetheless real because it is impossible to define its limits, within which law and public opinion are intruders likely to do more harm than good. To try to regulate the internal affairs of a family, the relations of love or friendship, or many other things of the same sort, by law or the coercion of public opinion, is like trying to pull an eyelash out of a man’s eye with a pair of tongs. They may put out the eye, but they will never get hold of the eyelash.

James Fitzjames Stephen – Liberty Equality and Fraternity

More than one friend has commented, “Why put so much intellectual energy and effort into this redefining marriage and other socio-political issues”? Each seems genuinely interested in my well being, whether they agree with my position or not – and I have many friends who don’t share my viewpoint.

Quite simply, for the first time in 40 years I have the time to do the reading and reflecting necessary to inform myself on a variety of subjects unrelated to my education or my professional life. This newly accessible reservoir of time has allowed me to pursue a goal I have had for many years. This is to better understand what are the mores, ideals, philosophies we possess as Canadians which distinguish us from other nations. How did we acquire them, how have they evolved and why? What does it mean to be Canadian?

When I look at Canadian society I see many alarming signs of decay and its suppurative qualities seem to be in ascendancy. The latest controversy over redefining marriage to be something which easily 80% of Canadians would have rejected only 5 years ago is but the latest symptom of this collective malaise. We now have the spectacle of a bill being tabled in the House of Commons which contains extensive language aimed at reassuring religious authorities that they will not be compelled to perform same sex marriages. Would the thought that the Canadian state could ever contemplate such a thing have crossed one’s mind only a few short years ago? Now we need to be reassured! Why not add a clause to reassure those of us who oppose the redefinition of marriage, that we won't be sent to a Gulag in Iqaluit, or we won't have our taxes audited for next 5 years. The needle of Canada’s moral compass looks like a propeller.

I draw a harsh image I know, and some will be offended but we need to rediscover our Canadian frankness and boldness and abandon the obsequious nature we have taken on. The joke – “How do you make a Canadian apologize? Kick him again!” – seems all too true. We have become the “whatever” society, where no matter how intuitively wrong an idea or behaviour seems to us, if it doesn’t impact directly upon my well being, I simply shrug and say “whatever”.

James Fitzjames Stephen wrote: “If people neither formed nor expressed any opinions on their neighbours’ conduct except in so far as that conduct affected them personally, one of the principal motives to do well and one of the principal restraints from doing ill would be withdrawn from the world.”

Where are we now in Canada? What courses of conduct are of concern to us, and what can we do to change them?

As a nation we are living on the fumes of past glories. We pride ourselves on being honest international brokers and peace-keepers, yet we have no real influence on international affairs and our peace-keeping capabilities rank us somewhere around 40th in the world. When we do have peace-keepers available to serve we need to hitch a ride to the troubled spot with some other country. When we finally arrive it is usually too late to make a real difference. How smugly we deride the instability of Italian politics with the yearly changes of government, yet they managed to get their specialty relief team into Sri Lanka in two days. It took Canada almost three weeks.

Canada is no longer able to walk the talk when it comes to international responsibilities despite the fact as a nation we emerged from WWII as one of the strongest western nations economically, and were blessed with an enormous reserve of goodwill capital based on the heroic actions of our armed forces in both great wars.

In the domestic political realm many branches of our federal government are known to have been fiscally corrupt for perhaps decades. Abuses of power for the benefit of politicians, bureaucrats and their supporters are admitted, the only question is how high up the chain of command will the evidence lead.

Our vaunted pillars of social benefits, health and education are vastly underfunded and burdened with bureaucracy and internal conflict between provincial and federal branches of government. We have serious regional conflicts and one of our founding provinces continues to be represented overwhelmingly at the federal level by a party whose sole objective is to separate Quebec from confederation.

In place of honest intellectual discourse aimed at resolving this conflict, our governments have chosen to fawn over and attempt to appease the separatist elements through financial incentives and by handing over important levers of government and industrial power.

In the social and moral realm Canada has rapidly moved toward secularism and immodest liberalism. Strong arguments can be made that large segments of Canadian society now embrace the new state religion of secularism. Traditional religions are on the wane as measured by attendance and the influence they bring to bear on the daily lives of ordinary Canadians; yet opinion polls show a majority of Canadians consider themselves Christians and an even greater percentage believe in a supreme transcendent being.

Since 1982 and the enshrinement of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a greater and greater responsibility for establishing the boundaries of freedom and tolerance and the extent to which the aspirations of special interest groups to achieve what they deem to be equality, has devolved from the legislative branch to the judicial branch of our liberal state.

The Trudeau years brought the first “slight inner adjustments of which we were barely conscious” which led to decisive changes in our perception of what should be the bedrock of our Canadianism. Fundamental human rights, government having no place in the bedrooms of our nation, these became catch phrases that resonated with Canadians. We strove to become a kinder and gentler nation. We did not adequately think through the consequences of moving toward an unthinking acceptance of every conceivable “right”. As philosopher David B. Hart sees it: “the history of modern political and social doctrine is, to a large degree, the history of Western culture’s long, laborious departure from Jewish, classical, and Christian models of freedom, and the history in consequence of the ascendancy of the language of “rights” over every other possible grammar of the good. ”

The move out of the bedrooms of the nation manifested itself most prominently in the removal of criminal sanctions against people participating in homosexual acts. Seemingly unable to recognize the difference between tolerance and approbation, Canadian society adopted the attitude that not only should homosexual activity be tolerated but now it should be celebrated.

Overwhelmingly Canadians have shown themselves to be tolerant of homosexuals, though persons of faith continue to believe homosexual activity to be sinful. The acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle has advanced to the point where judging by popular culture it is far less outré to be homosexual than it is to be an evangelical Christian. A Christian Pride parade would draw fewer observers and far greater obloquy from the popular press than any Gay Pride parade even in its earliest incarnation. “A Christian Eye for The Straight Guy” would not be a hit television program.

As a group, homosexuals have advanced to the point where they dominate if not in pure numbers then certainly in influence, more than a few significant bastions of popular culture. Theatre, visual arts, the CBC, and many branches of the academy all resonate with advocacy,not just tolerance for the homosexual lifestyle. Not infrequently, heterosexuals today recount stories of feeling marginalized in workplaces where the culture has become one dominated by homosexuals and their supporters. And yet those who resist this disproportionate influence are accused of trying to impose the will of the majority on a minority. Few seem to be troubled by the tyranny of the minority.

The homosexual agenda is firmly entrenched in our universities. Here is an introduction to a paper presented by two Canadian law professors at a Seattle University Law School conference – Assimilation and Resistance. The emphasis in mine.

Moving from the Back to the Front of the Classroom:
Queer Pedagogy in Law
Kim Brooks (Queen's University Faculty of Law)
Debra Parkes (University of Manitoba Faculty of Law)

"We intend two meanings in choosing our proposed title. First, as recent graduates of LL.B. and then LL.M. programs, and recent appointees to Canadian law faculties, we intend to draw in our paper on our experiences of "queer pedagogy"¹ while moving, at least symbolically, from the back to the front of the classroom. Second, the paper raises questions about whether and how a queer pedagogy might operate as a situs of resistance both in the classroom, but also (possibly) by extension in the practice of law.

Borrowing from the work on pedagogy undertaken by queer and feminist legal academics, as well as by theorists in other disciplines such as economics, we hope to raise questions about how queer theory, broadly understood, can assist in developing legal education that resists assimilation. In writing and presenting the paper itself, we hope to examine and employ some of the pedagogical methods and theories advanced in the literature on critical pedagogy surveyed, in an effort to shed light on their possibilities and challenges. We also suggest that by imagining ways to move beyond the boundaries of inclusion alone in legal education, we may go at least some way toward transforming law itself."

There is no subtlety about their purpose. Inclusion and acceptance is not enough, they wish to transform the law itself to suit the desires and objectives of “queer theory.” What else does one find growing in the social petrie dish at the Faculties of Law at Queens and University of Manitoba and surely most other Canadian law schools?

Surely this helps explain why the homosexual lobbyists are not content to merely aquire all the civil benefits accruing to married couples. They will not be content until they have transformed the law and the social structures which they perceive to deprive them of their rights to be truly "equal". Different but equal won't do - an unusual demand from a group that identifies itself and claims to take pride in its difference, in its queerness!

Any political organizer could not help but admire what a fine job these queer theorists have accomplished to date in Canada. Having first successfully co-opted the courts, they have now succeeded in convincing our Prime Minister and our Justice Minister to lead the charge to redefine marriage and thus in Mr. Cotler’s infamous rhetoric this week, “define who we are as Canadians.”

Who are we as Canadians? We are the master franchisor for the North American social laboratory for experiments in unbounded muddle-headedness. We think tolerate means advocate, we think if the sky hasn't fallen since gay marriages have been approved by the courts, we can safely carry on in our Alfred E. Neuman naive innocence. We will worry later about how parents will answer their school aged children's questions about sex education classes which compare the relative merits of vaginal versus anal intercourse. We will give due consideration later, probably appoint a Royal Commission to examine the impact of the dramatical decline in the birth rate n Canada.

But that is all for later. For now we lament the loss of NHL hockey, but could care less if tens of millions of taxpayer dollars were siphoned into the hands of Liberal party hacks in Quebec. After all it saved the country didn't it, and as Mr. Chretien proudly pointed out in his testimony today it even made Mr. Gomery and Mr. Roy richer by increasing the value of their Montreal real estate.

We are a nation of rubes! The tongs are nearer to our eyeball than ever. Will we just blink and hope for the best, or should you leap out of your comfortable chair and question the qualifications of the hovering social beautician? The choice is yours.