Ruptured Rhapsody

A different kind of "blog," consisting of selections from my scribblings over many years. The date of each post is the date I originally wrote that piece. So, the top post is usually not the latest post, because I continually add writings from different years to the blog. If you have visited here before, you are likely to find new posts anywhere on the page. I'll continue to add "new" posts as my time allows.

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Location: Toronto, Canada

4 January 1994

To the real conservatives out there

Let's call him Don (not his real name). 

We had run into each other almost daily for months, but he had never spoken to me.  The other day he finally addressed me: "So, what is your nationality?"  having overheard his conversations with my non-visible-minority colleagues, I had some idea of his Reform-Party-oriented mindset, so I just said: "Canadian."  This not being the kind of answer he wanted, he said: "Yes, you're a Canadian now, but what is your real nationality?"  I just repeated my original answer.  Given the chance, though, I would have told him:

Yes, Don, I do have a dual nationality.  But I want you to get to know me as a person first, and then as an immigrant.  Don't you, Don, want people to know you as a person first?  Don't you want to be judged according to the values you uphold, rather than the place you happened to be born?

Don, you are worried that immigration is diluting what you think of as Canadian values.  I know you love this country, and you are concerned about its future.  So I dearly wish you will try to understand what I'm trying to tell you.  That's because I think you, as a conservative, can contribute to saving the real Canadian values.

The real Canadian values, it seems to me, are centered around the idea of peace.  And peacefulness goes hand-in-hand with tolerance.  There are few nations more tolerant of differences than Canadians.  The Canadian people's willingness, and even eagerness, to listen to people with opinions different from their own is a precious quality.

An enlightening way of looking at Canadian values is to compare them with American ones: the rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.  Canadian values are all of these and more, but in each case tempered with tolerance and equity.  Unhampered individualism is un-Canadian.  Communal peace and social equity define Canada.

So you see, Don, I think a concern with equity is just as much a part of being Canadian as a concern with social peace and harmony.  If you are worried about the deterioration of communal peace and harmony in Canada, you should realize that the deterioration of the other half of the equation, social equity, is partly to blame.  Some powers-that-be are even trying to take away medicare and unemployment insurance.  They want to discourage average working people from immigrating to Canada.  I think you, as a conservative, should try to do something about it.

By pushing people like me away from you, Don, you are serving neither peace nor equity.  If you join the rest of us and embrace peace and equity, you would in fact be confirming Canada.  Canada has been receptive to immigrants and refugees because it is Canada.  A Canada that rejects them would no longer be the Canada that you know and love.

3 January 1994

If one our of every four or five people is either unemployed or underemployed, and far more people than ever depend on welfare and food banks to survive, is it possible for the economy to be doing well?  Twenty or thirty years ago, low unemployment and poverty levels indicated economic prosperity.  Today, we mostly hear about the deficit and inflation.  What has changed in the meantime is that economic priorities are now controlled by the "contented" class.  They include not only the wealthy, but also a much enlarged segment of the middle class.  They are generally happy with the way things are, or at least fearful of change.  Government policy in North America reflects their priorities.  Their basic concern is their earnings.  They are opposed to taxes that support social programs, and to inflation that erodes the value of their earnings.  Social programs have been trimmed "to fight the deficit," that is, to reduce the need to tax the contented.  A monetarist policy of high interest rates has discouraged spending, lowering inflation.  The alternative policies of fiscal management of spending and taxation have been rejected.  The choice was a political one.  Economic theory itself has been manipulated through the ages to serve controlling interests, which calls for sensitivity to the political essence of economics.

Even "liberal" observers of the scene have deep roots in the culture of contentment.  They know it from first-hand experience.  At the same time, their own contentment makes it impossible for them to recognize its deeper nature, and the actual cure for it.  After all, a physician contented with a disease is not the best person to diagnose or prescribe for it.

As even various disaster scenarios are unlikely to jolt the contented our of their complacency, faith in the workings of the "modern industrial economy" is not justified.  It is a myth that with just the right kind of government intervention, and by the grace of the contented giving up many of their privileges, we will be save by the flexibility of the modern industrial economy.  The same groups who are blind to portents of disaster will not suddenly agree to the implementation of progressive policies.

It is necessary not only to acknowledge the existence of class struggle, as far example in discussions of the "underclass," but also to admit class struggle as an actor in the drama.  Contentment is a tranquilized state brought about by fear of change.  Contentment is a negative reaction to class struggle.  A symptom of this is the contented's need to feel morally justified in their desire for wealth and their denial of responsibility for the poor.

It is not enough to utter platitudes about the need for economic aspiration, with the usual lessons-to-be-learned-from-the-Japanese-and-the-Germans.  The true opposite and remedy for contentment is the desire for radical social change.  This is the underlying issue that is avoided at everyone's peril.

It is fine to try to understand the economic and political forces and actors that have created the economic mess in North America.  Yet the very obsession with forces and actors precludes attention to systemic causes and remedies.

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