The Book!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Liberal Books


It's all quite simple. One of my Arab students explained today that he loved reading, and he read both religious books and “liberal” books. “What are liberal books?” I asked. Another student explained: “books that believe that government and religion should be kept apart.” “Bad books,” another student elaborated.

Nobody contradicted this assessment.

There's the current conflict between the Muslim world and the West in a nutshell.

Tunisia, a few days ago, given the opportunity to select its government democratically, gave a plurality of votes to an Islamist party. Get ready for this to happen everywhere else in the Arab world. The West is going to have to accept that this is what democracy will mean in a Muslim country.

Let's get this clear. There is no contradiction between Islam and democracy. Islam is democratic to its core. There is no contradiction between Islam and human equality and human rights--both are profoundly Muslim concepts. The problem is right here--with secularism.

The idea of the separation of church and state has no status in Muslim culture, founded as a political and military as well as a religious entity from the beginning. Islam cannot be happily positioned as just one more religious alternative under an umbrella of secular humanism on which everyone can agree—not without negating much of the spirit of Islam. While Christianity can cheerfully say “render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's,” Islam will not, but will insist that Caesar too is subject to God.

I consider myself a liberal, but I am also troubled by secularism in the same way Muslims commonly are. Religious tolerance has in recent years been allowed to become in the West a radical religious intolerance, a denial of religion and indeed morality in public life, which is a recipe for both depravity and disaster.

I think a solution both sides can live with is not hard to find. But we must understand what the sticking point is. No cant or rant or bigoted jive.

Political Correctness


The one thing to understand about “politically correct” speech is that it is systematic lying. Otherwise there would be no need to qualify the word “correct.” Conversely, if politically incorrect speech were merely incorrect, there would be no politics involved. If it were simply not true, nobody would get upset about it. If it were not true, it would be permissible to say it.

It is, therefore, positively immoral to use politically correct terms, let alone to enforce its use by others.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The War of 1812


Coupland's "War of 1812," Toronto




I would have thought that commemorating the War of 1812 was a no-brainer. In fact, I have written in the past about my concern that it is not better commemorated. What future does any country have that will not celebrate its history?

It seems, however, that there is real resistance to the idea in Canada today. Senator Grant Mitchell has posted a strong dissent on the Liberal Senate website (http://www.liberalsenateforum.ca/blog/14326_rss).

His first and main complaint is that remembering history is “dragging us back into the past.” This is an interesting variant of the usual politician's doublespeak that they are “leading us into the future.” Easy for anyone to say, but perfectly meaningless—time being one-dimensional, it is impossible to lead anywhere else but into the future. Conversely, it is nonsensical to speak of “going back into the past.” Except in the sense that all knowledge is necessarily a reach into the past, that is, into memory. To be against going back into the past in this sense is simply to be against knowledge. Which may suit some agendas perfectly, of course...

Mitchell then gives his objections in point form:

  1. Given that the US is our friend, why would we want to remind them that they lost this war and that our forces set the White House on fire?
Burn, baby, burn!


First, let's clear up a common misconception. Canadian forces did not set the White House on fire. The British Navy did, and no Canadians were likely to have been involved. Time to put that old saw to rest.

But as to the larger point, that Canada should not alienate a present friend by celebrating a past dispute: on this advice, Britain had better pull up all those columns with Nelson standing at the top, and rename all those Wellington Streets. After all, France has long been a good friend and important trading partner. And France in turn had best can those D-Day celebrations; Germany is now their closest ally.

But of course, nobody worries about this. It is precisely because these nations are now friends and allies that such commemorations are not provocative. And it is the general course of history, and a good thing, that former enemies usually become friends later. This ought to be pointed out, and celebrated, not suppressed. If it is suppressed, moreover, just about all history is impossible.

  1. It bears no real relevance to the development of the Canadian nation.


    Tecumseh


This claim is a radical bit of historical revisionism. More commonly, it has been felt by historians that the War of 1812 was the true birth of Canada as a nation. In the words of Pierre Burton and the Canadian Encyclopedia, “Canada owes its present shape to negotiations that grew out of the peace, while the war itself - or the myths created by the war - gave Canadians their first sense of community and laid the foundation for their future nationhood. “ By showing they were prepared to fight, even against overwhelming odds, to preserve their independence from the US, Canadians showed their commitment to Canada. Anglophones, Francophones, and aboriginals saw a common cause and fought as one, shoulder to shoulder. If this all bears no relevance to the development of the Canadian nation, one must ask urgently, what does Senator Mitchell imagine the Canadian nation to be? Was it invented by Pierre Trudeau in 1982?

  1. It glorifies war when the war was not necessary or justifiable (to the extent that any war ever is).

Is pacifism ever justifiable? It glorifies moral cowardice. The greatest sin of all is to stand idly by and let evil triumph. God forbid that this should ever become the Canadian way, for it never has been.

As to the War of 1812 specifically, from the Canadian perspective, it was a perfect example of a just war. The US declared war on Britain; Britain did not declare war on the US. The US might or might not have had legitimate grievances against Britain that justified this aggression, but if so, these had nothing to do with Canada. The US invaded Canada; Canada did not invade the US. The Canadian strategy at the beginning of the war was purely defensive. If Canadians had refused to fight, the likely result would have been, quite simply, the end of Canada.

Senator Mitchell is saying, in sum, that the existence of Canada is not necessary or justifiable.

  1. If it means anything to anyone, it certainly does not have a national resonance of any kind, being pretty much irrelevant to the West.

The two-thousand-mile-wide battlefield (part)


Right. By that logic, the US similarly has no business commemorating its War of Independence, which involved, after all, only 13 of the present 50 states. We should also chuck out Canada Day and all this fuss about commemorating Confederation in 1867, since it involved only 4 provinces.

Nice to see the Liberals finally acknowledging that Canada has a West, and that America is our ally, though. This could be a breakthrough.

Sigmund Freud Was in Denial


Sigmund Freud was in denial about the central drama of family life, and perhaps the dirtiest secret of human civilization. Freud claimed that children essentially all wanted to kill their parents—kill Dad, sleep with Mum, or kill Mum, sleep with Dad. But the plain message of both history and story is just the reverse: parents essentially all want to kill their children.

Goya: Saturn devours his children.


Freud missed this even in the Oedipus cycle. In the story, after all, Oedipus has no desire whatever to either kill his father or sleep with his mother. Both happen by mistake, and he is utterly appalled. But Freud entirely glosses over the fact that Oedipus's father deliberately tried to kill Oedipus in the first place—leaving him exposed to die on a mountainside.

And, while parricide was essentially unheard of, then or now, and considered unspeakably evil, the exposure of unwanted infants was perfectly acceptable, then and, in the form of abortion, now. It was standard practice not only in Greece, but in pre-modern China and Japan. The ritual killing of children was everywhere among the nations surrounding Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures; the Romans report is as prevalent later in Carthage. It seems to have been the standard everywhere before the advent of ethical monotheism (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). We see survivals and echoes in the story of Abraham and Isaac, or indeed of Jesus as the sacrificed Son of God.

Rembrandt: Abraham and Isaac


In Greek mythology, the motif is absolutely primordial: Kronos/Saturn devoured his children. Tantalos sacrificially killed his son Pelops. Jews were suspected of killing Christian children in order to make their Passover matzohs. Herod killed all the male children; and so did Pharaoh. Atreus murdered the children of Thyestes and fed them to him. Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia. Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, were left exposed to die, but rescued by a she-wolf. Everywhere, the motif of child-killing is present, and primordial, at the beginning of every story.

Moloch


We are all looking the other way on this, and have been most of the time for millennia. But it simply makes sense. It is not just that we all want unrestricted access to sex without having to worry about the responsibility and expense of children. It is not just that children can sometimes be annoying. The child represents the mortality of the parent—it represents life going on without him or her. And so there is a kind of sympathetic magic that says, if you kill the child, you will live forever. If the child lives, his life replaces yours. This is a sort of existential truth, and so ever in the back of our minds. And it is explicitly the math propounded by Gilles de Rais,who killed an uncounted number of children in late Medieval France.

Gilles de Rais, Satanist.


It is perhaps also behind the many “hazing” or “coming of age” rituals of many cultures, which seem unnecessarily cruel. Circumcision is the least of them. The long years of schooling are perhaps the worst. If they do not kill and eat them, adults at least seek to punish the young for their existence, to get a bit of their own back.

To be clear, most parents are good to their children, and self-sacrificing. There are maternal and paternal instincts, thankfully, that work against this dark urge, not to mention the influence of religion and conscience. But I would feel a great deal more confident about our treatment of children generally if we openly acknowledged this dark history and tradition. It seems sinister in itself that we do not. It is perhaps the great cause, not only of our time, but of all time.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Thought on the Unveiling of the MLK Memorial

In theory and in popular mythology, the civil rights movement elevated black men to the same status as white men. But this is not what really happened. Instead, it lowered white men to the same status as black men, and left us with a much smaller social elite: white women.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Trumpets of Doom

I am not any kind of expert on economics; but the current rumblings about sovereign debt sure have me worried. The head of the European Central Bank, after all, has said we are facing perhaps the worst economic crisis the world has ever seen, and it is his job to steady the markets by downplaying the dangers. Britain has begun, like the US, just printing money, and Britain looked more financially secure than the rest of Europe. We seem to be moving almost inexorably to a sovereign default by Greece, which looks increasingly as though it will set up a domino sequence that could cause Italy, Portugal, and Spain to default as well. If that happens, ... almost guaranteed to be a worldwide financial collapse, with huge amounts of wealth wiped away.