Revanchist Review

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Good and Evil

Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned..It was from out the rind of one apple tasted that the knowledge of good and evil, as two twins cleaving together, leaped forth into the world. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evil, that is to say of knowing good by evil.
Milton - Areopagitica

John Milton, published the Areopagitica in 1644 as an appeal to Parliament to rescind their Licensing Order of June 16th, 1643. This order was designed to bring publishing under government control by creating a number of official censors to whom authors would submit their work for approval prior to having it published. Milton's argument, in brief, was that pre-censorship of authors was little more than an excuse for state control of thought. Recognizing that some means of accountability was necessary to ensure that libellous or other illegal works were kept under control, Milton felt this could be achieved by ensuring the legal responsibility of printers and authors for the content of what they published.

In 2006 a vortex of violence spreads round the world as Muslims protest the publication of a series of cartoons originating in Denmark, each of which depicts the prophet Mohammed in various and universally unflattering situations. The creators and publishers of the cartoons brandish freedom of the press as their shield against the fury of the Muslim street. Peace loving Muslims are left to deplore both the lack of judgment on the part of the press, and the violence of fanatics and the unthinking crowds they use as their weapons in the war aimed at fomenting anarchy and chaos, out of the rubble of which they hope to build a Muslim hegemony.

Christians and Jews join the peace loving Muslims in their condemnation, sadly reminding the world that their own faiths are regularly ridiculed and savaged by the same evildoers who are unable to discern the “cunning resemblances” between good and evil Milton wrote about 360 years ago.

The name of Christ is regularly used in vain on stage and screen and in every day social intercourse without any thought given to how savage it sounds to the ear of a believer. Fiction poses as historical research in popular novels like The Da Vinci Code, propagating blasphemy with merry impunity.

"I’m with you on the free press. It’s the newspapers I can’t stand" says a character in one of Tom Stoppard’s plays, bitingly ironic as always. It is enough to make one weep and to wonder if Milton were alive today, whether he would have as much confidence in the ability of the press to self-regulate.

As one ages there is an ongoing struggle between apathy, impatience and rage brought about by the state of the world. D.J. Enright in Interplay, his brilliant collection of anectodes, aphorisms and literary cornucopia, cites Mrs. Moore in A Passage to India as giving a good account of the apathy and impatience of age:
She had come to that state where the horror of the universe and its smallness are both visible at the same time – the twilight of the double vision in which so many elderly people are involved.

Enright mused thus: "For all that is said about the sourness of old age, the malevolence, you would like the world to be a better place to leave, to leave with some sort of blessing. So, if it seems to be getting worse, you won’t want to linger."

For all his acerbic wit, Enright was a hopeful and faithful believer right up to his death, and a great inspiration and model for lovers of language and of life. My sense is he would have been able to show the stupidity and wickedness of both the decision to publish the blasphemous cartoons, and of the bloodthirsty reaction to it.

Enright is gone, but his words survive, including this poem entitled Decline of Theodicy

A God supreme and immanent
Flickers feebly among the leaves.

A God whom we cannot blame
Because he left it all to us.

A God whom we cannot praise
Since he left it to us to do.

A God who spoke through his vicars
Whose vicars speak of other things.

A God who appointed our rulers
The rulers who disappoint us

A God whom we cannot fear
Now hell has been annulled.

A God whom we cannot love
Since heaven has been shut down

A God whose name was not taken in vain
A God whose name is not taken.

A God who was a jealous God
Sees nothing to be jealous of.

A God who gave us life
Who now only buries us.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Letter to Coach Harper

Dear Prime Minister,

I understand you are a hockey trivia buff. As such, you will understand why much of the country is troubled by your performance on the first shift of your first game.

To further the metaphor, it is as though you campaigned to be the player coach of Team Canada. Your daily speeches emphasized how much things would change under your leadership. The team would be disciplined and would not resemble the foul playing, undisciplined predecessor squad. You would assemble a solid team of loyal players who would make the nation proud. On the basis of your promises you were rewarded with the role of player coach.

When you assembled the squad just hours before it stepped on the ice for its first game, the players were surprised to see in their midst Brett Hull, a player who had loudly and vehemently denounced his desire ever to play for Canada and had instead played for the Americans against us in previous tournaments. You welcomed him to the squad and made him an assistant captain.

Then on the first shift of the game, you checked an opponent from behind and were given a 5-minute major penalty.

The team and its fans are understandably puzzled by the dissonance between what you said when you were competing for the position, and what you did once given the job. It wasn't that you got a penalty, those are inevitable in the game, but it was the nature and timing of the penalty that took the enthusiasm out of the crowd that had barely taken its seat.

It remains to be seen if, once you emerge from the penalty box, you play a stirring and inspirational game and stay out of any further penalty trouble. If you score some big goals and Hull has a strong series, Canadians may forget about your lack of judgment on day one and all will be forgiven if you hoist the championship trophy at the end of the tournament.

The referees and the fans now have you and Hull under close scrutiny. In fact the whole team is now under a cloud. Fans will question every line combination, and boo every missed scoring opportunity. Referees will make every close call against you for the next several shifts.

I know politics has the reputation of being a dirty game and moral victories are thought to be for losers, but how the players play the game and how they treat the fans has become increasingly more important. Please don't lose sight of the core values that got you the job in the first place. Winning isn't worth it if you have to dissemble and break the rules to do it.

You still have a lot of fan support and a strong team behind you. However, you have given the boo birds a lot to shout about, and you have made the home crowd go quiet for a stretch. You have made your task and that of all the people who worked hard to help you win the job a lot more difficult than it needed to be. Remember that the next time you are tempted to take a cheap shot at an opponent. Those chances will invariably present themselves again and you have to show leadership by turning away and playing a disciplined game.

A loyal but slightly jaded fan.

B.J. Buan
Mill Bay, BC
V0R 2P2

Monday, February 06, 2006

How Much Have Things Changed?

A manure wall cannot be plastered – Confucius

I have been told that before agreeing to run for the Liberals in the election before last, David Emerson was approached by the Conservatives to be their candidate. While there were no ideological objections raised by Emerson, the clincher for him was that he had no interest in being an MP unless he could be a cabinet minister. He didn’t like his chances with the Conservatives at the time, ran for the Liberals and was rewarded with his cabinet post.

Fast forward to the January 2006 election. Emerson won his seat in a close race against NDP veteran Ian Waddell, and woke up facing the prospect of sitting in opposition, perhaps for a long while as the Liberals work through the process of rebuilding and choosing a new leader. That he would jump at the chance to join the Harper cabinet is no surprise. That Harper would agree to make the offer is.

Harper was careful during the campaign not take a hard stand against an MP crossing the floor. In his town hall session with Peter Mansbridge he was asked the question and said he had thought long and hard on the question but had not been able to come up with a solution that would work. As such he can honestly say he isn't being unprincipled. Nor is there any real comparison to be made with the wooing of Belinda Stronach with a cabinet post in exchange for a vote on a non-confidence motion.

Are the Conservatives so desperate for a cabinet minister in Vancouver that they would risk giving the 38% of Canadians who are so cynical about politics they don’t even vote the chance to say – I told you so, all politicians are the same, all they want to do is get into power. If so Confucius had it right and the walls of the corridors of political power won't easily be papered over.

The risk Mr. Harper has taken in assembling this cabinet that includes the opportunistic and principle-challenged Mr. Emerson is that "it seems to have something for everybody, but ends up appealing to nobody."

Only time will tell.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Time to Speak Up?

There was probably no impotence in all the world like knowing you were right and the wave of the world was wrong, and yet the wave came on. Norman Mailer.

Can you guess which country and what era the following statements describe?

The force of the state was used to implement a set of legal reforms aimed at changing the public meaning of marriage. Policies included the establishment of no-fault marriage, eliminating legal distinctions between cohabitation and marriage, reconstituting marriage as a civil union regime, universalizing abortion, establishing universal daycare.

All who guessed Canada starting in the last decade of the 20th century could be forgiven for their error. Anyone who guessed Russia in the 1920’s would be correct and collect the gold star for historical and cultural trivia knowledge. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I am feeling some of Mailer’s impotence.

Isn’t it remarkable that the objectives of Soviet feminist Aleksandra Kollantai which she implemented in the 1920’s as Commissar of Social Welfare would be replicated in Canada at the end of the 20th and into the 21st century, even embraced by a significant percentage of Canadians and by a large margin amongst the elites of Canadian society.

It is even more remarkable given the fact that by 1936 the USSR had recognized that these radical measures had destabilized family life in the USSR, divorce rates were rising, temporary cohabitation was more prevalent, birth rates were declining, and children were falling between the cracks of broken families. Even Stalinist Russia recognized it had to reverse some of its legal reforms.

Daniel Cere, director of the Institute for the Study of Marriage, Law & Culture in Montreal is the source of this fascinating historical footnote, in his essay War of the Ring.

The essay is one of several in an important book published late in 2004 entitled Divorcing Marriage. The editors Douglas Farrow and Daniel Cere hoped it might influence enough Canadians and MP’s to vote against the Liberal motion in March 2005 that put Canada on the brink of redefining marriage. It is a book that should be read by millions of Canadians if they wish to understand just how Canada got itself into its present predicament.

By predicament I mean the situation where despite the fact there has been no meaningful public debate over the issue of whether or not we should redefine marriage, and the issue has not been one put before the people in any election campaign (other than the Conservatives promising to permit a free vote in the House of Commons on the matter), Canada is now one of only 3 countries in the world that permits members of the same sex to marry. For this we call ourselves progressive.

The predicament is even graver when one considers that it appears highly likely that despite this lack of debate more Canadians favour retaining the traditional definition of marriage, than abolishing it. And still Globe & Mail columnist John Ibbitson paints those who argue for the preservation of the traditional definition as the wearers of black hats, while those who argue for the abandonment of tradition wear the white hats.

Otherwise right thinking folk accuse those of us who argue for a reasoned and measured debate in the public square in advance of any vote in parliament of being arrogant and prejudiced against homosexuals. And, for good measure those of us who confess to being Christians are labelled as extreme right fundamentalists.

Someone I thought to be a friend of over 20 years duration, excoriated me for my letter to the National Post editor – the one about the elephant in the room. We have had previous debates over the issue of same sex marriage and neither of us found the other’s arguments compelling, but from my perspective it had never gotten personal. Now it seems it has, and this friend accused me not only of being arrogant and prejudiced but of poisoning him/her against Conservatives and Anglicans (of both I stand guilty of being a member) though what that has to do with the argument that we should have an open, honest and informed debate on the subject still escapes me.

In January 2005 I wrote a humorous essay on this site. Its premise was a fictitious decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that ruled in favour of golfers who wanted the size of the hole changed to that of a manhole. What I didn’t say in the essay was that some of the dialogue in that essay was taken almost word for word from statements made by advocates of same sex marriage.

Just as the game of golf and the people who call themselves golfers would change if the hole became the size of a manhole, the institution of marriage will change if same-sex couples marry. Daniel Cere quotes Ladelle McWhorter, a gay and lesbian theorist as saying “ that if same-sex couples get legally married, the institution of marriage will change, and since marriage is one of the institutions that support heterosexuality and heterosexual identities, heterosexuality and heterosexuals will change as well.”

Despite what the liberal press and the opposition parties try to convince you, this issue crosses political party lines, and the next few months may be the last opportunity ordinary Canadians have to give this issue some serious thought and to make their views known.

D.J. Enright wrote,
“since by and large people in the West don’t face prison camps and are tolerably free to say or write what they like, the more the fight for human rights gains in popularity, the more it loses in real content, evolving into a kind of universal stance of everyone towards everything. The world has become man’s right and everything in it has become a right: the desire for love the right to love, the desire for rest the right to rest, the desire for happiness the right to happiness, the desire to shout in the street in the middle of the night the right to shout in the street.”

There was no opportunity for Russians in the 1920’s and 30’s to openly dissent against the changes invoked by Commissar Kollantai, and still the state recognized it had erred. The advocates for destroying the definition of marriage have been shouting in the streets for decades now and polite Canadians have stood by and said nothing. Isn't it time to raise our voices and be heard?