4 July 2015

What is a right?

My title is a question I sometimes ask activists who get a little too demanding of me.  They want the right for this or that thing- which is really unimportant, everyone, it seems wants something, and they want it now.  I save my question for the more disagreeable sort, the kind that won't let one simply walk away, as though the fact that they wish to speak means that everyone else must listen.  But sooner or later, they must draw a breath, and then it is time to pounce.

"You want this right, do you? And you're sure? You've thought this through?  Very well then, I have only one question for you:

What is a 'right'?"

They often stare at me blankly, as though they had never heard such a stupid question. Doesn't everyone know what a right is?  Or perhaps, and I suspect this too is true, they have never given the matter a moment's thought.

Or sometimes they answer to the effect that a right is the ability to do something, and no one may tell you otherwise.  That would be the most common answer these days, but I still don't think they've given it a moments thought.  But, answer or no, I have never had cause to believe they have taken any real time consider the meaning of their most fundamental term.

I have pondered the matter occasionally, and my ideas are a little different from theirs, for when I look to the past to see what the concept of right meant back when the concept of rights was being formulates, I see that rights often comes hand in hand with duties.  The two were not inimical to each other then, as they are now, but rather two sides of the same coin.  The right to do something also carries with it the duty to do it well.  The right to free speech, for instance, carries with it the responsibility to speak truth.  We are not permitted to liable nor slander, nor lie under oath, nor may we yell 'Fire!' in a theatre where there is no fire.   Informally, we may tell a lie, but a known liar is never again trusted.  A right is a kind of power, and, as Spider-man is fond of telling us, with great power comes great responsibility.

These people I meet so often would have me believe that without a full and complete right, they are unfree, a veritable slave in chains. But this merely shows their folly.  The opposite of right is licence, or the capacity to act without the constraints of duty or obligation.  The true opposite of right, then, is exactly what they mean when they say 'right'. 

To be able to act without consequence is the province of a child, and a spoiled one at that.  They seem to desire that there be no consequences for their choices, no consequences for their actions.  They seem to desire to live a life of no consequence. This is not freedom, for a free man knows his freedom was not free, and, being the arbiter of his destiny, he bears its burden, and he must bear the cost of his mistakes.  But these do not seek responsibility: that they would place on another.  The ultimate freedom they desire is freedom from responsibility.  But this is the freedom of a master over a slave; it is not a freedom of a rule of law, but of the domination of Thrasymachus:  the strong will do as they will, and the weak will accept what they must.  I will do what I want. You will pay the price.

With responsibility it is possible to have civilization.  Without it, there is only the barbarism of anarchy, a Hobbesian war of every man against every man, where life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.  Too many rights, and we shall all be ruined.

1 July 2015

Happy Canada Day!

I prefer when it was still called Dominion Day, but I also prefer "Brewer's Retail" over "The Beer Store".

This is also the 99th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the single biggest military disaster in British history, and thus also the anniversary of the annihilation of the Blue Puttees of Newfoundland. Newfoundland was still a British colony at the time, and Britain was so grateful for their courage and sacrifice that they rid themselves of the colony at the first possible opportunity.

Other memorable anniversaries would include the Battle of the Boyne, or perhaps not, depending on what calendar you use. Drink a toast to Seamus Acaca.

I'm lazy today, so I'll just post a few videos.

Remember this?

Here someone on the American News covers the story of our Highway of Heroes, and gets it right.

If you are a Canadian my age or older, you will remember this guy, even though you may not remember that his name was Roger Doucet:

True story: Sportswriter Paul Zimmerman (Dr. Z.) once wrote that he wishes American singers would sing their anthem the way Roger Doucet sang the Canadian one. Also true: Doucet changed the way we sing the anthem. He either invented or popularized singing the final"for thee!" an octave higher than was originally written.

Lastly, our original anthem:

So, whether you believe we were named from the Algonquin words "ka-na-ta" meaning "collection of huts" or from the Portuguese words "ca nada" meaning "here is nothing", happy Canada Day to you all.

29 June 2015

Reflections on a proposed war memorial.

If you ask two Canadians a question, you will likely get three opinions.  I know this to be true, and I know it to be doubly so for myself.  I am generally of five minds on any given topic, so if I am one of the two, you will get a minimum of six opinions, and quite possibly seven.  With that in mind, I wish to make a few notes about a proposed monument in honour of the Canadian war dead.

One: I found the first article I read on the proposed monument to be bull.  Or, to be more clear, not so much the article itself, but the comments which follow.  The article itself is written in opposition to the proposed monument, albeit it in an overwritten, melodramatic way.  For instance:  "...it’s offensively tasteless at the aesthetic level. The bigger-is-better approach to art is best left to Stalinist tyrants, theme-park entrepreneurs and insecure municipalities hoping to waylay bored drive-by tourists. In a hubristic act of arrogant unoriginality..."  Okay.  Your opinion, fair enough.  But what is odd is, as I said, the comments.  Every single one for the first several pages is in utter unanimous agreement with the editorial.  Odd, isn't it?  The Globe says that the comments express only the opinions of the writers of those comments and not The Globe, and yet every comment is a reiteration of the opinion of The Globe's editors.   Either their readers are utterly unanimous, or the Globe should rework it's editorial comment policy, and state that only comments restating the opinions of  The Globe shall be allowed.

Second:  I read several articles railing against the proposed monument.  Not one linked to the site of those who are seeking to raise it.  They did not want anyone to see any opinion other than their own.

Third, my opinion of the monument itself: mixed.  On the one hand, I support the idea of raising monuments to our war dead.  With that in mind, the questions I have basically boil down to where and what, and possibly when.

Where: The monument is proposed to be on the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island, on a Headland overlooking the ocean.  It seems like a decent idea, a monument not far from the place where our men sailed out across the ocean, almost a hundred thousand of whom would not return.  However, some have raised the issue that the place chosen is ecologically sensitive, and not a place to put a monument.  I don't know enough to comment one way or the other about that, though I will say that, if true, it is a valid objection and not something to be cast aside lightly.

What:  the monument features the figure of a woman looking over the ocean, holding out her arms to the men who will never return to her.

When: soon.

I'll treat these two points together, as they are somewhat intertwined.  Whilst I favour the building of monuments, I also think that now really isn't the time to do so, as all our public monuments these days are hideous.  Our artists are largely dead, and our self styled artists these days are incompetent, and repetitive.  One of the more common artists found around the city is a fellow who raises steel cubes and tilted rectangular prisms, and nothing else.  I find the idea of a dedication ceremony darkly laughable:  "We are gathered here today to dedicate this...er.. cube in memory of those who gave their lives for our beloved country. The cube symbolizes the fact that these men were, by our standards, a bunch of squares." 

When our original memorials were raised, they employed a language of symbolism: the statue of a soldier standing at ease, looking to the east for his friends who will not return, lions symbolizing the Empire, often in groups, one sleeping, the others watchful, symbolizing the Empire at peace, but still guarding against dangers.  There were many other symbols.  The spoke an artistic language, and believed that form and content should work together.  Today, that language is gone and we are left with artists who make up their own language and end up speaking gibberish.

As a result I was in some ways pleasantly surprised when I saw the proposed monument.    It actually looks like something.  I can recognize what is portrayed and what is symbolizes.   It is based on the grieving mother on the Vimy Ridge memorial.  Some object that this is a copy that demeans both.  I don't think so.  It is similar, true. but also different.  The two can complement each other.  The grieving mother is looking down at her dead sons spread before her, many just names on the wall she is perched on.  This mother is looking out across the seas for the sons she will never see again.  Done well, it can be a powerful symbol.  However, that opinion changed a little when I read the description: the monument is to be over a hundred feet tall.  Suddenly, those who think the monument gaudy seem to have a point.  Ostentation is not something Canadians do well, nor does it sit well with us.

Should we have a monument?  For me, the question is not if, but more of where and what.  I support the building of a monument, but is this the monument that should be built, and should it be built in this place?  For that I have no real answer at this time.  So, I will close with General Currie's special orders to the Canadian Corps prior to the Lys offensive.  It is, in its way, a monument to the men, built in words, if not in stone, and a call to those who remain to remember those brave men.  In its own way, it embodies the quiet dignity that should be the mark of our monuments:

Looking back with pride on the unbroken record of your glorious achievements, asking you to realize that today the fate of the British Empire hangs in the balance, I place my trust in the Canadian Corps, knowing that where Canadians are engaged there can be no giving way.

Under the orders of your devoted officers in the coming battle you will advance or fall where you stand facing the enemy.

To those who fall I say, "You will not die, but step into immortality.  Your mothers will not lament your fate, but will have been proud to have borne such sons.  Your names will be revered for ever and ever by your grateful country, and God will take you unto Himself."

Canadians, in this fateful hour I command you and I trust you to fight as you have ever fought, with all your strength, with all your determination, with all your tranquil courage.  On many a hard-fought field of battle you have overcome this enemy.  With God's help you shall achieve victory once more.

27 June 2015

On the recent SCOTUS decision

I've seen a lot of pixels spilled on this one, claiming how this decision degrades the institution of marriage.  I have said it many times before: it is utterly impossible for homosexuals to degrade marriage.   Heterosexuals wrecked the sanctity of marriage long before the gay community sought the right to do so too.  Only in our weakness are they strong.

26 June 2015

Reflections on my first week on Facebook.

I ended up signing onto Facebook, but only with great reluctance and misgivings.  (The short version of why I signed on is so I can keep in better touch with the Knights. Fearless leader set up a Facebook group for us, and encouraged us all to sign on and communicate with each other.  So far, we haven't.) I've been on there for a week now.  My thoughts on the experience can be divided into two parts.

Firstly, as a human being, I find Facebook appalling.  It is every bit the soulless, thoughtless, time sucking vortex I thought it would be.  It is, on the whole , a good place to kill time for those whose time is better off dead.  Most of what I get in my mailbox is someone reposting an article (and it was rare for them to repost from the original source- each article I got was mainly a repost of a repost of a repost etc etc) with a brief line that amounts to "Yeah! What they said!"  The groups I have been invited to join are similar: people repeating the same thing over and over, adding nothing new, endlessly preaching to the choir, and yet convinced that they are the daring freethinkers, and everyone outside their little bubble is a sheeple. People are just endlessly endorsing the thoughts of another, adding nothing to it and seemingly doing it all the time.  Almost all of it is trivial at best.   To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never before in the field of human communications was so little said by so many so often.

However, as appalling as it is, from my second perspective, that is, as an academic, I find a rather horrid fascination with it. As an outsider looking in, there is something to be studied about this phenomena.  Take, for instance, friends, or, more accurately, 'friends'.

I had only been on Facebook for a while when I was contacted by some of my old friends from years ago, who requested my friendship.  I actually thought about it for a bit.  You see, there was a time, years ago, when I had friends.  Good friends, the best anyone ever had.  We used to go everywhere together, do everything together, this gang of mine.  But then life happened, and my family happened, and the year 2000 happened, and I my friends and I drifted apart, or were wedged apart, take your pick.  For a time I would still run into some of them, speak briefly, catch up a little, and then we would exchange e-mail addresses.  "Write me," they'd say. "We should stay in touch."

So I would write to them, and they usually responded.  Then I would write again- respond to their response- and sometimes they wrote back.  If we got this far and I wrote to them a third time, they would never respond to that.     I imagine what happened was life.  They were out of the habit of communicating with me, I no longer was present enough in their thoughts, so they set aside my letter and decided to respond to it later, and went about the other things they usually did.  And my letter would move further down the inbox, and further from their thoughts, and later became never.  No letters, no phone calls, no Christmas cards.  Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I no longer had friends, and the idea friendship became a fond memory.  I would carry on without.

That isn't quite the case now, but for a long time it was.  So when these people (one of whom was supposed to be my best man but couldn't come to the wedding because his band was on tour and to whom I had not spoken in about twenty years and who, I understand, has cancer and is undergoing chemo)  - plus a few acquaintances- contacted me and requested my friendship, I wondered what it could mean.  So I clicked the button and decided to wait and see what friendship on facebook means.

I think I've figured it out: it means nothing.  There have been no exchanges between us, nothing.  They just wanted me to click that button.  I was literally the least both they and I could do.  It is deeply narcissistic.  They don't wish to talk to me: they wish to talk in my general direction, and have me say "Right on!"  I is utterly foreign to me, but that is what friendship now means.  I think a sociologist would be fascinated.

I imagine there is much else that would be fascinating.  And it is worthy of study- it is even necessary to study it, and study it now, while we still have control groups who are not on the site and who remember that things were once different, in order to see how this is changing us.  Because we are being changed.  And though Facebook and its ilk do multiply our ability to do good in the world, it also increases our ability to be lazy, thoughtless, shiftless and fruitless.  On the whole, I am not convinced we are changing for the better.

23 June 2015

Senate Scandal

The Canadian government just paid $24 000 000.00 to auditors to spend 18 months going over the accounts of  the senators.  They found slightly more than $1 000 000.00 in inappropriate spending.  John Oliver has the details.

What's the bigger scandal- that they spent the million, or that we spent twenty four times that amount finding out that they spent the million?

At any rate, way to go Canada.  I am oddly proud to live in a country where this would be considered a scandal. Just think about it: how much money needs to be blown in other countries, such as- sorry guys, you're nice and we like you- our neighbours to the south, before it becomes a 'scandal'?

19 June 2015

About the actual Laudato Si

I'm taking my time reading it.  After I've read it, I will sit and ponder what it says.  This may take a few weeks.  Then, I will quite possibly read it again.  I am not going to publish any first impressions nor fire off kneejerk remarks based upon what other people have said about it at this point.  I may have something to say in, maybe, a month's time- basically, after everyone has stopped caring one way or the other about it. At which point I probably won't say anything about it, on the grounds that, y'know, no one cares.  But, if there are any stalwarts out there who want my opinion, which seems unlikely to me, ask me in about a month.