Philosophers and Visionaries; Rocking our existential boat
“Is the Liberal party just a ragtag collection of colonial managers who see Canada as no more than a commodity to be sold-off? “
Philosophers have a nasty habit of writing meaty high-intensity thoughts I keep referring back to. They challenge conventional wisdom and belief. They see the world through critical and analytic eyes. They tell us inconvenient truths about ourselves and are more generally considered boat-rockers. Here in colonial Canada we don’t like boat-rockers as they have ideas that challenge and interrupt our smooth sailing indifference to the world around us.
In other words, we might refer to Neil Postman’s I985 book Amusing ourselves to death, or we might consider Stephen King’s observation that there are no serious issues in life everything is now entertainment based. Boat-rocking philosophers and visionaries are shunned as bad entertainment, or toxic Soma.
Philosophers are visionaries. Politicians can also be visionaries and Canada has had a few; but today politicians and politics have fallen on hard times. Where politics is said to be the land of one-eyed kings; Canada might be considered a visually challenged nation. We exist in post-modern times; but what do we stand for and what is our future?
My first brush with philosophy was courtesy of Canadian philosopher George Grant. I read his book Lament for a Nation (1965) about fifty years ago. For me, it is what I call a “benchmark book,” foundational to my view of Canada and our politics. After all these years it is still very relevant to present times and has proven disturbingly prophetic. It was written at a time when Canada, like so many other countries, was emerging from the ravages of WWll, building a new economy and setting course for the modern world. Grant saw Canada was not about to opt for nationhood; but allow itself to become an American protectorate. It was a time when it was considered un-American to be Canadian, and our political elites led the way with their feckless colonial attitudes. Thus, the subtitle of his book is: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism.
Countries only suffer sudden deaths when they are invaded militarily. For Canada, our elites have left us to linger; a country with all the trappings of nationhood, but the slow death of a thousand cuts and an incremental loss of sovereignty. Grant felt nationhood demanded a “thrust of Intention” to exist. Canada’s elites have never had a thrust or intention. For the most part they see themselves as colonial managers.
Our two major parties operate much as a ruling clique dating back to the Family Compact which governed Upper Canada 200 years ago. When they refer to themselves as “progressives” they slander the word.
Soon after reading Grant’s book I became aware of Mel Hurtig, Canada’s,”ardent nationalist.” He was a great patriot as he was completely devoted to the cause of Canadian nationalism. He was founder of the Committee for an Independent Canada(1970) and founded the Council of Canadians in 1980. He was consequently a dissident Liberal as he, like Grant, saw the Liberal party as no more than colonial managers, incapable of making the thrust to genuine nationhood. Then, as now, selling out the country to all comers.
If you Google Mel Hurtig he is often referred to as the “ardent nationalist.” In one reference he is labelled a “political agitator.” Only in Canada would this specious branding apply. When a country is practicing lazy-ass self-indulgent colonialism, to speak of national values, and thrusts of intention becomes essential boat-rocking. Being a nationalist in a country “ardently” colonial renders him a dazzling visionary.
The first political event in my life was to hear a speech by Tommy Douglas. I was at a Boy Scout jamboree in Regina. He was a compelling orator with a very clear message: Socialism. Socialism is of course roundly denigrated in North American society as it is about caring and sharing and we are in love with the avaricious greed and profiteering of the free market economy-all too often at our expense. As premier of Saskatchewan and subsequently the leader of the federal NDP, he left us a great legacy with our national Medicare program.
When the Medicare bill was presented in 1962 in the Saskatchewan Legislature it did not happen easily. Doctors went on strike, they threatened to leave the province and the availability of medical care was threatened. Douglas’ own caucus was wavering under the heat of the opposition, and in order to get the bill passed it was gutted of many ancillary initiatives. Once passed it spread across the country and became the Canada Health Act.
Douglas was the consummate optimist/visionary : My dream is for people around the world to look up and see Canada like a little jewel at the top of the continent. Where Douglas dreamed of a socialist utopia, where people came first, we have ended up as a corporate welfare state.
He was also a realist, as he, like Grant and Hurtig, did not see the dominant Liberal party as the vehicle to propel the country to greater things: The [Liberal] federal government’s trouble is that they have a wish bone where they should have a backbone. This echos Grant’s succinct observation:
The debt that we owe the Liberals is that they have been so willing to be led. The party has been made up of those who put only one condition on their willingness: They should have personal charge of government while our sovereignty disappears.
To think that Grant wrote these words over fifty years ago at a time when they were letting the American’s carve up the country. Now they are selling out to the Chinese.
Is the Liberal party just a ragtag collection of colonial managers who see Canada as no more than a commodity to be sold-off?
John Ralston Saul: A fair Country, Telling Truths about Canada
Only very recently( I am still poring over it) I came across Saul’s book. It becomes another benchmark book for me. All these years later it is something of a sequel to Grant’s book as both writers provide us with very provocative windows on Canada.
Throughout his book Saul repeatedly refers to the idea of “imagining”ourselves on our terms. Critically important ways of doing this, are to know our history, our origins, defining ourselves, with the political and intellectual will to do so.
The tyrannies of the present day world sustain themselves by delivering endless propaganda and our being ignorant of own history and our place in the world.
Our neighbor next door casts a huge shadow over this country and we are all too content to malinger in this shadow world. The shadow is only getting deeper and will ultimately result in our extinction. Such a pathetic end to a shoddy pretense- quisling elites who vowed “to stand on guard for thee” and then orphaned their country.
Saul’s opening paragraph for the book is:
We are a métis civilization. What we are today has been inspired as much by four centuries of life with the indigenous civilizations as by four centuries of immigration. Perhaps more. Today we are the outcome of that experience. As have Métis people, Canadians in general have been heavily influenced and shaped by the First Nations. We still are. We increasingly are. This influencing, this shaping is deep within us.
Colonialism is a denial of the reality of self in favour of an imaginary special position inside the mythology of someone else’s empire. That special position can never exist because empires have their own purpose.
Yet our structures of leadership seem unable to digest these expressions of fairness, inclusivity and effectiveness. Although entrusted with the mechanisms of power, those in charge seem to lack the self-confidence to listen. They seem paralyzed by the reality of their responsibility. Instead, they peevishly concentrate on disparate, short-term details. If they reveal any hint of grander themes, these usually involve trying to drag the country off in directions the citizenry have never expressed much interest in. These are usually focused on a narrow and again short-term idea of efficiency, order and whatever the latest imported fashion might be.
Saul’s writing echos the Margaret Atwood quote from our Inspiration page:
“Powerlessness and silence go together. We should use our privileged positions not as a shelter from the world’s reality, but as a platform from which to speak. A voice is a gift. It should be cherished and used.”
Let Saul take you on a boat ride you won’t forget! It is all for a very worthy cause… something we call “Canada.”
Available here at Amazon.Ca. We recommend the Kindle version as you can highlight and make notes to your heart’s content.