Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Legacy Media Lose Their Heads

A Yeoman of the Guard
I could barely believe my ears when I heard an interviewer and an interviewee on CNN agree that the US was guilty of “hypocrisy” for objecting to ISIS's practice of beheading hostages while Saudi Arabia, an American ally, was beheading people. Then I did a quick web search, and discovered that the Globe and Mail, Newsweek, and other legacy media were making exactly the same accusation.

How could CNN have become so depraved? This, after all, was seeing a moral equivalence between murder and capital punishment. Criminals executed in Saudi Arabia have been convicted of capital crimes in a court of law, with rather stringent evidentiary requirements. The hostages killed by ISIS were innocent people being killed because of their ethnic background.

Presumably, this has to do with a prejudice against beheading as a form of execution. If so, that id all it is—pure prejudice. Logically, a good quick beheading is probably the most painless form of execution we can manage. All the evidence suggests it is less painful than lethal injection, as practiced in the US. Traditionally, in England, the common people were executed by hanging; nobles had the right to be executed by beheading. This was, of course, because it was believed to be less painful. So long, that is, as the executioner is an experienced professional.

Hanging, drawing and quartering was on the statute books in the United Kingdom until 1814. For crimes such as being Catholic.
Saudi Arabia also is being faulted by some of these sources for performing its executions in public. We in the West now consider this in bad taste, but there are good arguments for it. If an unpopular government executes a political opponent in public, it risks triggering a general uprising. Accordingly, in the old days, it was a matter of honesty and honour for the government to execute only in public, to demonstrate that everything was above board. Bad governments tortured and executed in the dark. That Saudi Arabia executes only in public is, in the end, a guarantee of honest government and Saudi freedom.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Was Hitler Catholic?

No introduction necessary

There is a rumour going around that Hitler was Catholic. But then, there is a rumour going around that he was Jewish, and another that the Holocaust never really happened.

It is true that Hitler was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic. His mother, after all, was Catholic, though his father seems to have been atheist.

His later public statements can also be quoted to imply some sort of theistic faith.

But there is, in the end, conclusive proof that he was not Catholic:

  1. As an adult, he never attended mass or took the sacraments. That would have meant automatic self-excommunication after one year. 
  2. In the early 1830's, the German bishops excommunicated everyone who joined the Nazi Party, or even flew the Nazi flag. At this time, Hitler was the leader of the Nazi Party. Accordingly, he was publicly excommunicated. He made no effort after this to reconcile with the church. 
  3. The official doctrine of the Nazi Party was paganism. This was by Hitler's choice: he appointed Alfred Rosenberg as official party ideologue, and Rosenberg was a vocal anti-Catholic. 
  4. Hitler's plans for a postwar new German capital allowed no churches. 
  5. Hitler actively persecuted the church when in power. Wikipedia gives chapter and verse. 
  6. While his public statements are unclear—he speaks often of “divine providence”--Hitler's private conversation seems to have been resolutely anti-Catholic. Many of his actual comments are preserved in Hitler's Table Talk. Speer, Shirer, Goering, Goebbels all understood him to be anti-Catholic. Hitler was a politician, and a completely unscrupulous one. His public statements were calculated for political advantage. His private talk reveals his true views. 
  7. Hitler killed himself, without taking last rites, and had his body burned. All three acts were against church teaching and would, in the mind of a believing Catholic, have guaranteed him a warm reception in Hell. It follows that he cannot have been a Catholic at the time of his death.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Rat Race

A yuppie's vision of escaping the rat race.

Today, the term “rat race” came up in a lesson. A bit of a jog to the memory. You used, I think, to hear it a lot more in the 60s. That was what the 60s were all about, really: the idea of “escaping the rat race.” Back to the land, and all that. “I’ll never take any nine-to-five job”; “plastics”—remember?

That was before we all “sold out,” of course.

What exactly is a “rat race,” though? And what’s the problem with it? Why was the image so horrifying?

According to Wikipedia—and I think this is right—the idiom refers to a lab rat “running around a maze or in a wheel.” As Paul Simon wrote in the 60s, in one of his less original moments, “Like a rat/In a maze/The path before me lies./And the pattern never alters/Until/The rat dies.”

I think the maze allusion is also and necessarily a reference to behaviourism. Who else put rats in mazes? In the 60s, this was the dominant concept of psychology and education. If “the rat race” is a less common image now, it is because the behaviourists have now followed the social Darwinists and the young earthers into the dustbin of academic history. This has made the image lose a lot of its resonance. We may have lost touch with the original meaning as a result.

It came up in a lesson on “Stress.” “The rat race” supposedly speaks to the stresses of modern life.

I think that is right. But why? Ironically, BF Skinner and the behaviourists, in their experiments with rats, were in part trying to reduce the stresses of life. In Skinner’s imaginary “Walden Two,” “happiness of the citizens is far in advance of that in the outside world because of their practice of scientific social planning and use of operant conditioning in the raising of children.” Sounds good when you put it that way. But we all, at the time, took a very different message from the image of the struggling rat. Why? What does the rat in the maze have to do with stress?

The current lesson explains more specifically that “the rat race” means working too hard. It means a lack of “work-life balance.” A lot of “yuppies” seem to have had the same idea, and resolved the dilemma of the Sixties simply by taking longer vacations. But that is not actually implied in the original rat race in any way. In an exercise wheel, the rat is free to go as slowly as he likes. He is also free to spend as much time with his family as he likes. In fact, for the rat, the wheel is itself entirely recreational—like all that jogging the yuppies love to do. In the maze analogy, a rat race could be any particular degree of challenging. Mazes can be hard or easy. Skinner and the behaviourists wanted it all to be carefully calibrated not to be too easy or too difficult. They were not interested in exhausting the rats. What would be the point of that?

So it’s not really about working too hard.

Another interpretation of the “rat race,” given in the lesson, is that modern life is too competitive. That’s the Marxist takeaway from the 60s, I guess. But this does not work either, for the original image. The rat on the exercise wheel is competing with no one. And in the lab, nobody races rats competitively. And Skinner and the behaviourists actually themselves condemned competitiveness. Conversely, if competition was the problem, why is there no negative connotation to the term “a horse race”?

So let’s consider another possibility: is the problem with the rate race a lack of control? That does seem in some ways to work. Certainly for Skinner and the behaviourists, it was all about controlling the rat, in defiance, as he himself put it, of any concept of “freedom and dignity.” That really ought to make us gag, and some folks seem to have taken that as the lesson of the “rat race.” That’s the Libertarian takeaway from the 60s. But that doesn’t quite fit either. The rat on his wheel is actually in complete control, if he only realizes it. While the shadowy scientists are trying to control the maze rat, from his own perspective, he seems to be in complete control. If one wanted a clear image of loss of control, that would be the simple cage, not the maze or the exercise wheel.

On any sober analysis, the idea of control was always wrong, and we always knew it. As Pogo put it, “we have met the enemy, and he is us.” “The Prisoner,” that essential intellectual product of the 60s, came to the same conclusion: number 1 turned out to be number 6 himself. The people who are loudest in their opposition to “the establishment” are invariably teachers, professors, lawyers, and politicians—the establishment personified. As they move up the ladder, and do not encounter the enemy, their paranoia only grows: obviously, if it is not yet apparent, this conspiracy is much bigger, better concealed, and more powerful than they could ever have imagined.

Which it is, in a certain sense. It is closer to them than their jugular vein.

Boredom also looks like a part of the problem: a rat running in a wheel looks as if he is bored, and behaviourist mazes are repetitive. But that is not a perfect hit either. To the rat, running in the wheel is probably not boring. It is fun, or he would not do it. Similarly, the operant conditioning boxes are probably relatively challenging if you are a rat.

Nah; the problem with being a rat in an exercise wheel is that you are not getting anywhere. The essence of a maze is the dead end.

In other words, the problem with modern life, that we felt so keenly in the Sixties, and that made the image of the “rat race” so compelling to us then, was meaninglessness, pointlessness.

This fits was a general critique of behaviourism: it held that humans had no free will, were just little machines. There was no question of moral choice or of transcendence. We were just reacting to stimuli, seeking material rewards and avoiding punishments. In which case, of course, there is no meaning to life.

I maintain that the sense of a lack of meaning is also the core experience of depression. The lack of meaning in modern life is why rates of depression have risen steadily since the Second World War. Nothing is a better image of the experience of depression than the rat on a wheel, or in the maze.

So what is the solution? How does one really escape this “rat race”? Drugs were the preferred method in the day. LSD was an obvious if wrongheaded search for meaning. The proper response and ancient prescription is religion: worship. Worth-ship—being able to discern and discriminate where true worth, which is to say meaning, lies.

It was the Jesus Freaks, the Moonies, and the Hare Krishnas who got the Sixties right. For the rest of us, it was just a tragically missed opportunity.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Why Are There No Women on Canadian Currency???

The Famous Five posing with some local dignitary.

The world is indeed mad. Apparently, ever since 2011, there has been a petition campaign demanding that women be featured on Canadian banknotes.

The latest CBC headline has it that “Bank of Canada still not committed to women on currency.” Still? They are obviously fighting the inevitable. Another current headline: “Petition asks, Where's [sic] the Canadian women on our money?” Earlier stories were: “Margaret Atwood backs petition calling for women on bank notes.” “BOC chief 'absolutely open' to putting women on Canadian bank notes.”

From all this, a foreigner might be excused for thinking there were no women on the Canadian currency. I can assure them all that, contrary to apparent popular belief within Canada, Queen Elizabeth is a woman. She is on the $20, as well as on all coins. In fact, therefore, there are more female than male faces on Canada's currency.

Apparently, Canadian bank notes have never featured the faces of women.
Ah, but they said “bank notes,” not currency. At least, some of them did. Here, Elizabeth appears only on the twenty, while prime ministers appear on four denominations, the five, ten, fifty, and hundred. On the reverse, there are only two identifiable human beings. One is an astronaut, sex impossible to determine inside the space suit. The other is a generic female scientist.

So there are indeed women on Canadian banknotes as well. It is not a question of “no women”; perhaps of two women vs. four men. At least, if one were going to demand equality on all counts, there should be more women on the obverse of the banknotes. But by the same token, there should be more men on the reverse and on the coinage. On balance, women are still currently overrepresented.

Quick fix: take Borden off the hundred, and put Elizabeth back on.

Everybody happy? I doubt it.

I do agree that putting prime ministers, heads of government, on the money is a boorish idea. It is like bringing up politics with someone you do not know. The entire point of having a monarch is that heads of government are released from the conflict of having to be seen as symbols of the nation. This keeps our politics free and honest. No Grit should really be obliged to revere a Tory prime minister, or vice versa; let alone the Dippers or the Greens. This is a good argument for keeping the Queen on all denominations.

The petitioners seem to be arguing that she does not count, because she is not a “Canadian woman.” But in what sense is the Queen of Canada not Canadian? Ethnically? Are we an ethnic nation? Okay, suppose we are. She is not ethnically English or Scottish, either. Can you imagine the British removing her from their currency for this? Do we really want to look like racist hicks?

Canadian one dollar from 1917, with the original Princess Pat.
Failing putting the head of state on the currency, it makes sense to feature major cultural—not political—figures. These serve well as symbols of the nation, because they in a real sense made the nation, and express its spirit: Shakespeare for England, Goethe for Germany, Mozart for Austria, Dante or Da Vinci for Italy. War heroes make some sense as well—they defended the entire country, presumably, and so can be seen as truly national. Dead ones, of course; live ones when glorified like this can be dangerous to one's liberty.

Sadly, it seems that this present protest was actually originally prompted by the removal of the “Famous Five” and Therese Casgrain from the reverse of the $50 bill. Indeed, how else can it be made to make any sense? It is not that there are no women on the bills; there obviously are. It must be that we are somehow morally obliged to honour these particular women, and no other.

But nothing could be a worse idea than featuring them on the bank notes. In the first place, as far as one can tell, they did nothing that was not driven by pure self-interest. No doubt the “Famous Five” wanted very much for it to be possible to appoint women to the Senate. Is that really a pressing concern for the average Canadian woman? Wasn't it something of more immediate interest to the Famous Five in their own careers? Nor did they take any obvious risks or make any personal sacrifices in pursuit of their goals—unless one considers being “famous” a burden. All were deft, from long experience, with a silver spoon. What sort of moral example, what sort of country, do they represent?

Is that really not a woman on the reverse?

Worse, they are clearly political figures, and in a far deeper sense than are prime ministers. They were highly ideological, highly partisan figures, controversialists, who were never called upon in life, as prime ministers were, to represent or to manage the entire country. Moreover, their ideologies were unrepresentative, generally unpopular with Canadians at the time. As head of the Quebec CCF, then the Quebec NDP, Casgrain, for example, never managed to get herself or anyone else elected to any public office. That in itself is a remarkable record. The “Famous Five” were public advocates for appointing women to the Senate, for whatever that is worth—women had been sitting in the British House of Lords for centuries, and they were already sitting in the Canadian House of Commons at the time, having been obviously recognized by all as persons. But they were also, all and severally, loudly for eugenics, against immigration, and for prohibition. Emily Murphy, their leader, was an especially open racist. Casgrain, of course, believed in nationalizing all key industries.

I think these still today count as controversial views. Canadians should be free to agree with them if they choose, but also to disagree if they choose. Canadians should, indeed, be free to believe more controversial things: that women should not be appointed to the Senate, or that women should not have the vote. That's how freedom works. No Canadian should be obliged to implicitly honour and endorse these views or these women by carrying their pictures in his wallet. Putting them on the currency is not the action of a free country.

The Countess and Earl of Aberdeen. In that order.
I do like, on the other hand, the idea of putting cultural figures on the currency instead of politicians. I am generally embarrassed by the current issue. The Canadarm—a bit part in someone else's project? A hokey image of someone looking in a microscope to represent medical research? Canada is better than this. And some women would indeed be worthy of being featured. I just don't think the women who deserve the honour would please these petitioners.

The one woman who probably has the best claim to be added, after all, is Queen Victoria, she being Canada's first Head of State. After that, if you want female war heroes, Laura Secord and Madeleine de Vercheres. If you want artists, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Pauline Johnson, La Bolduc. If you want humanitarians, Jeanne Mance, Marie de l'Incarnation, Marguerite de Bourgeoys, Marguerite d'Youville.

Ah, you might say, those last few are controversial, because they are Catholic saints. I say, if you make this objection, and you did not make the same objection to the Famous Five, you are a bigot. The Women's Christian Temperance Union is also a religious organization; they were all in it. So is the United Church, of which one of the Famous Five, Louise McKinney, was a founder. In any case, disqualifying a great humanitarian, someone who founded nursing orders, schools, and hospitals, because of her religion, is obviously anti-religious or anti-Catholic, not neutral between religions.

I'm all for having all these women on the currency. So long as we also have an equal number of men. I doubt anyone should or would really object, as they justifiably could to the Famous Five and Casgrain.

But putting the “Famous Five” on the currency, as if they are the best examples we have of Canadian womanhood, is an insult, first to Canadian women, and then to all Canadians.

Why? Is this Canadian self-hate, or what?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Events in North Korea

Kim Jong Un: Palm reading.
It looks as if something is happening in North Korea.

Kim Jong Un has not been seen in public since Sept. 2. There have been rumours spread by defectors that there has been a coup.

Now, if I understand aright, he has not appeared at the reviewing stand for the grand parade ending the celebrations of the party anniversary.

Very well, it might be true that he is simply ill. But then he must be very ill not to show up for this event. It can`t be just a pulled tendon, or gout. Not for a full month and more. It is destabilizing for him not to be there. And since he is only 31, and presumably surrounded by the best medical treatment available, the likelihood of serious illness is small.

One Korea expert has recently opined that there is really no chance of a coup, because legitimacy in North Korea is too completely tied to the Kim family. There is no other source of legitimacy available; to oust him would mean chaos.

Exactly. That fits with the thesis that there has already been a coup. It has not been publicly announced because to do so would be to court chaos. Instead, whoever is really in charge must indefinitely preserve the illusion that Kim is still in control. But Kim cannot be trusted to toe the line in public. So the absent leader.

If I understand the report I just heard on Al Jazeera correctly, Kim was not the only no-show at the anniversary parade. There also was not the traditional parade of weaponry.

Why not--unless there is strife within the leadership? Does anyone else remember how Anwar Sadat met his end? If the military leadership cannot be fully trusted, there is the danger that one unit or another might, in the middle of a parade, suddenly turn their weapons on the reviewing stand.

So, I say Kim Jong Un is probably no longer in power.

If I am right, this combines interestingly with recent events in Hong Kong. Pure coincidence, I'm sure, but together they risk being the perfect storm for the Chinese leadership as well. It only takes one match. Here are two.

Public School

``Now children, everyone repeat after me: `Sieg heil!``

There are things the schools should be teaching that they are not. That is, if their purpose is to give children a good start in life.

First, rhetoric. If that sounds too refined for you, call it “salesmanship.” “How to win friends and influence people.” There are techniques, well-known and well-established, honed over two thousand five hundred years. Warren Buffet, for example, says that everything he ever learned in school and college was worth far less to his success than one Dale Carnegie course. And this is obviously not just true in business—any business, which means any job. It is obviously also true in law, and in politics. You don't know rhetoric, you will never be a leader.

Second, how to run a meeting. Parliamentary procedure. Next to giving a good presentation or buttonholing, what on earth could be more important to the life of any organization—which means, again, any job—than being able to run or participate in a meeting fairly and efficiently. I am continually amazed at how rare this ability is, and how much trouble and expense is caused by its lack. And again, knowing how to run a meeting is vital well beyond business. It is essential to being able to organize to promote or protect your or your community's interests.

Third, debate; and specifically, the known logical fallacies. This is essential in order to know how to think in general. Clear thinking is vital in all endeavours, certainly all responsible jobs. Moreover, if you cannot spot a logical fallacy, you will easily be buffaloed by the unscrupulous into things against your interest. Schools and teachers talk about teaching students how to think, and how not to be taken in. But all this tends to amount to is telling them that all advertisements are lies. Which is both unhelpful and untrue. It is teaching students NOT to think.

Fourth, mnemonics. There are, once again, trued and proven techniques developed over two thousand five hundred years for memorizing things relatively painlessly. I am shocked to discover these late in life, realizing that nobody every breathed a word of this in all my years of education, beyond EGBDF. This seems insane, since if you have not remembered something, you have not learned it. Mnemonics is what teaching should be all about.

Why are these things, the most valuable things to know, not taught in the schools? Particularly since, really, giving presentations, debating, running formal meetings, mnemonic tricks, and analyzing logical fallacies are really much more interesting than the dry book work that occupies most school days.

Well, to be fair, they are. They tend to be taught in private schools. My colleagues in college who had gone to Upper Canada College, and my brother who was sent to Loyola for a few years, seem to have had a handle on a lot of this.

I could add one more issue here: when those schools do book work, the books tend to be the classics. Much more useful, and frankly better reading, than the books used in public schools.

So, let's see: we seem to know that there is a better way to educate, and those who can afford it are willing to pay for it. So what the devil is going on in the public schools?

No real mystery. The public schools are not there to educate or to give the kids the best shot at success of any kind in life. Certainly not to give them any power. They are there to keep the mass of kids ignorant, and prevent them from infringing on the power of the ruling classes—who send their kids to the better schools.

This was all pretty open and unconcealed in the development of government schools in Britain, where the rights of the upper class have traditionally been taken for granted. But it was also pretty evident in the development of the “modern” public school in North America in the early years of the 20th century. The school was developed on the model of the factory, and it was meant to pump out cogs for industry: useful but properly subservient employees. Woodrow Wilson, for one, is on record making noises to this effect. After all, you cannot train everyone for leadership, can you? Only a small number of leaders are needed, aren't they?

Fair enough, perhaps, but surely the choice should be on native ability and application, not on parents' income level and commitment. For the greatest benefit to the greatest number, we should be a meritocracy, not a class society.

And the growing call for credentials is not helping to remedy this deficiency in the public schools. For all the expansion at the university level has been in training for industry, never for leadership. In any case, all the important elements for success can easily be taught by the end of high school; there is no need to drag things out. Unless it it to teach subservience.

It is a terrible thing we are doing to our children.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Happiness is ...

North window, Notre Dame de Paris
Too late loved I Thee, O Thou Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! too late I loved Thee! --St. Augustine, Confessions

You may have read recently, as I have, that Denmark is the happiest place on earth. But then, the OECD, contradicting this, has declared Australia the happiest developed country.

You would do well to read the fine print. These claims are completely bogus, and politically motivated. What these “studies” have done is selected the things they believe are social goods, and declared those countries happiest that have the most of them: highest income, longest lifespan, greatest “civic engagement,” and so forth.

Do these things really produce happiness? We do not know; though there is certainly evidence that high income does not. You might or might not have read the poem “Richard Corey”; but it is built on a common observation.

Dayana Mendoza, Miss Venezuela and Miss Universe 2007.

This is a sad thing about America. It is built on the “American Dream,” and the “American Dream” is basically, based on Calvinist theology, that the point of life is to get rich. A well-read Korean once asked me why it was that American literature almost always rejects the American Dream—that the American Dream is hollow seems to be the one great insight of American literature. There is an obvious reason. It is.

Now think for a moment: how on earth do you really measure happiness? How do you know that Sam, over there, is happier or sadder than James, over here? Happiness is a purely subjective quality. Even if you ask Sam, he cannot know whether he is happier or sadder than James.

But here's a really good idea that someone has actually had: go to Instagram, and tally different countries by the number and size of smiles. That really ought to work: a smile is usually a spontaneous external expression of happiness. And the study is half-blind—the subjects at least do not know they are being studied.

The results might or might not surprise you. Neither Denmark nor Australia make the top ten. Here they are:
  1. Brazil 
  2. Nicaragua 
  3. Colombia 
  4. Bolivia 
  5. Costa Rica 
  6. Honduras 
  7. Venezuela 
  8. Philippines 
  9. Guatemala 
  10. Mexico 
What does this teach us? First, as previously noted, having the highest income does not produce happiness. Brazil is the world's 60th richest country by GDP. As a group, in world terms, these countries are resolutely middle income—although dirt poor by Canadian standards. This demonstrates the wisdom of the old adage I just learned: it is best to be neither very rich nor very poor.

Having a democratic government, or even a good government, does not seem to help either. None of these countries would score well on either league table. Venezuela makes the list. On the other hand, none is nearly so efficient as to manage to be genuinely oppressive.

Having a lot of social services or a social safety net? Does not register. Life expectancy does not matter.

Two things do seem to matter: having a Latin culture, and being Catholic. That, and perhaps a warm climate.

Note that, despite being Latin, Spain and Portugal do not themselves make the list. This suggests that being too well-off is a hindrance to happiness. Note that, despite being both poor and Latin, Cuba does not make the list. This suggests that having too many social services is a hindrance to happiness—although it might instead be the absence of personal freedoms that tends to go with them. 

Sinulog, Cebu. It brought tears to my eyes.
I can vouch for the Philippines. It is quite uncanny, really, coming to the Philippines from most other countries in Asia. You go from everybody looking glum to everybody smiling. This despite the fact that most of the surrounding countries are currently richer.

It has also been a common observation about Ireland by those coming there, as most traditionally have, from England: despite everything, the Irish always seem so damned happy. It used to be a common observation about Quebec, by those coming there from English Canada or the USA.

Not all Latin cultures, but all Catholic.

This, to my mind, demonstrates that Catholicism really is the pinnacle of human civilization. As the accountant says in Citizen Kane, “anyone can become rich—if that's all you want to do.” Surely having a rich, full life is more valuable, and sacrificing that to become rich is a fool's bargain. One notes that even English Protestants, once they retire, prefer if they can afford it to move to Spain. Catholicism simply has the different parts of life in proper balance, and it is better at giving meaning to life. Without meaning, there is no happiness—depression is the absence of meaning.

Part of this is an appreciation for other people instead of material things. There is a deep human warmth one feels in an Irish, an Italian, or a Latin community. Part too is an appreciation for beauty. One of the most thoroughly oppressive things I find about England, or the US, or English Canada, something almost suffocating, is their lack of any interest in the beautiful. In fact, they seem to avoid it deliberately, as if they are trying to make a point. 

Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal
To a Catholic, this in itself is sacrilegious. God is three things: the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. To deny one is to deny his nature. And this is probably where the Latin cultures specifically are the world beaters. It is not a coincidence, surely, that Miss Universe or Miss World is usually from a South American nation. But I do not mean, of course, only the beauty of women. I mean taking the time and trouble to create beauty in daily life.

That, in a way, is Catholicism. Catholicism takes life, and makes it art.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Canada's Immigration Policy

What emigration to Canada used to involve.

For some bizarre reason, it is not obvious to everyone that Canada's current immigration policy is a bad idea.

The Canadian government prides itself on the idea that it selects only the best class of immigrants. Its point system ensures that immigrants are already well-educated and, most likely, well-heeled. The idea is that they will be able to immediately contribute to the society economically, and will not become a burden on the public treasury.

This is an obvious reversal of the old idea, in which immigrants were commonly and without apology the poorest and most destitute in the lands they left: the Irish of the famine years, the Eastern European refugees after the Second World War, the Ukrainians and Poles on the Prairies, and so forth. Recall the words on the base of the Statue of Liberty:

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,”

To some extent, no doubt, this reversal of policy has been prompted by the growth of the “social safety net.” In the old days, if immigrants came to Canada and did not do well, it was their own problem. Now, if they do not do well, it is everyone's problem.

But there are several problems with accepting only “high-quality” immigrants. And we ought to pause to ponder, when we are reversing a policy that served us for so long so well.

The first is the moral problem. In accepting the poorest of the poor, Canada and countries like her were doing good in the world. In seeking to skim off the cream elsewhere, to alienate wealth and expertise from other lands lacking in both, she has no intention of doing anybody else any good. This does not endear her to anyone, including God.

And the converse of this is: because she is not acting in charity, her newest immigrants have little reason to feel grateful for Canadian citizenship. It is just a business transaction. At the same time, they obviously need it less. Accordingly, they will appreciate it less. Instead of developing a real attachment to the new nation, they will view it, in the words of Yann Martel, as “a great hotel.” They will hang around so long as it seems to their advantage, and so long as nothing in particular is asked of them. But if anything is, if Canada ever really needs them, they will be on the first plane home.

This matters; much has been asked of our ancestors. This is no way to build a nation.

The politicians argue that poor immigrants take jobs away from poor Canadians. But by the same token, wealthy immigrants take jobs away from the wealthiest Canadians. Is that better? Doesn't it amount, over time, to importing a new, non-native ruling class? Which is to say, in effect, to reconverting Canada back into a colony? Is this what we owe our ancestors?

Nor, for that matter, is it clear to me that poor immigrants really do take jobs away from poor Canadians. On the whole, poor Canadians do not have jobs. They are able to choose not to work, and to live on social assistance. Poor immigrants, on the other hand, long held back in their own countries, are far more likely, I suspect, to take the dirty and the dull jobs that native Canadians scorn, in the hopes of moving up and ahead in future. Improving the overall economy, and helping pay for those benefits for the natives.

A more troubling consideration is this: poor Third World countries are almost always poor for one reason, and one reason alone: because they are burdened with a selfish and corrupt upper class.

Can you see the problem with carefully selecting only members of this Third World ruling class to emigrate to Canada? They will bring with them, firstly, their assumption of privilege, and so will generally be discontented with Canada's egalitarianism. They will bring with them, secondly, their culture of corruption, and introduce it directly into the Canadian ruling class. In moral terms, we are cherry-picking the worst. We are mainlining social HIV.

I am educated here, in part, by personal experience. My first wife, now deceased, was from an upper class Pakistani family. My second is from a poor Filipino family.

The friends and relatives of my first wife were uniformly hostile to Canada and to Canadian culture. They considered themselves cruelly discriminated against. Why? These are their actual answers: because they were not members of the Granite Club. Because they were not full partners in their accounting firm. Because their Oxford accent was called non-standard in Canada.

About half of them have since moved on, although of course they retain their Canadian citizenship. In case it comes in useful.

By contrast, all my Filipino wife's friends and relatives think quite highly of Canada. I can think of only one of her Filipino-Canadian friends who was content on the public purse. She was legitimately retired, and happy as a clam on a pension of $800 dollars a month. Everyone else was working hard in jobs like cleaning houses, security, clerking corner stores, minding carnival concessions. The kind of jobs, in short, the Canadian poor mostly don't seem very interested in.

It is the children or grandchildren of these Filipinos who will be the doctors and lawyers. And they will be committed Canadians once they are.

I envy the Americans their undocumented Mexicans.


One of the strongest myths of our times is the “Whig view of history.” Unconsciously, it seems to have been generally accepted on both the left and the right. In brief, at least as I would describe it, this is a general understanding that it is possible to foresee the political future, that one side in the current debate is for the future, and the other is for the past; and that the left is the party of the future. Hence those on the left commonly call themselves “progressives,” while William F. Buckley Jr. Once said that his stance was “standing athwart history, yelling 'stop.'”

It is not the same thing as believing in human progress. It is believing that human progress is predictable and moves in a straight line, corresponding to a particular political programme.

It might be convenient if this were true, at least for opportunists. For they could then simply ally themselves with the left, and expect to always eventually come out on top. Indeed, this may explain why many people support the left.

But it is obviously silly. No one can really foresee the future, and human beings are far too complex to be predictable in what they are going to think in twenty or fifty years. Or rather, they are going to be no less complex than the mind trying to figure this out.

Left to right: Labour leader Andrew Furuseth, Seantor Robert LaFollette, Lincoln Steffens.

In the real world, it would be easy to enumerate many visions of the political future, “progressive” causes, that have turned out to be dead ends. One thinks immediately of Lincoln Steffens's comment on visiting the Soviet Union in 1919: “I have seen the future, and it works.” Even as late as the 1970s, most Western intellectuals were talking of the inevitability of “convergence,” of the West becoming more like the Communist Bloc as well as the reverse—if not of the inevitability of the Communist Bloc taking over. That future, or those futures, are now ashes.

So is the future of the 1980s in which Japan was to dominate world commerce. 

Boccioni, "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space": probably the best-known example of Futurist sculpture.

Fascism, too, was, in its day, the way of the future. It was the political application of the latest scientific insights, those of Darwin and of Einstein. The aesthetic movement associated with Fascism called itself “futurism.” Nevertheless, a recent piece in Time magazine had so completely bought the Whig view that it actually defined Fascism as “the rejection of modernity.” One ought to be able to expect better of an organ like Time, but that's how pervasive the myth is.

There's more—lots more. Nothing was a more progressive idea at the turn of the 20th century than good old prohibition. It was during Woodrow Wilson's “progressive” administration that the worst of Jim Crow was enacted in the US South. Most “progressives” up to the Second World War were also active advocates of eugenics, until Hitler so thoroughly urinated in that pool.

In the Victorian period, cultural and moral progress was generally measured by the modesty of women: early missionaries to Korea considered that country relatively advanced because their women did not go abroad during the day. Indeed, one of the great accomplishments of Victorian progressivism was legislation limiting the work of women outside the home.

Stepping back a little further in time, England's “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 established the supremacy of parliament over the crown, produced the English Bill of Rights, and led directly to the American and French Revolutions and to much of what we now call liberal democracy and the doctrine of human rights. All “progressive” causes of the time, and still considered core “progressive” values today. But the immediate cause of the Glorious Revolution was the desire to prevent a Catholic from taking the throne. Anti-Catholicism and the open repression of Catholics was an essential element of “progressive” thinking in both England and the US for perhaps two hundred years. There was certainly no concept that any of these rights were to extend to non-Protestants—as there was no concept later that they should extend to Africans. The whole original idea of the “right to bear arms” was in order to protect oneself from Catholics out in the boondocks of Ireland.

I'd guess that the left is right about the future about fifty percent of the time, and the right gets it right the other fifty percent of the time.

But that should be irrelevant in any case, unless you are an opportunist. One's politics should be formed on principle, not as if a bet.