Privatize The Highways

There were problems with highway closures at both ends of Canada. The crisis is over for now, but perhaps we can learn something from this difficulty. Indeed, it will occur again.

Things were so bad in Newfoundland that military troops had to be brought in to engage in blizzard cleanup. Part of this effort was devoted to road clearance.

What is going on at the other end of Canada? A few days ago, there were highway closures in relatively balmy British Columbia. In the Lower Mainland parts of Highway One were covered with sheets of black ice. There were more accidents than you can shake a stick at, particularly in the section of this major roadway between Chilliwack and Abbotsford, B.C.

What was the word from the B.C. Ministry of Transportation? There were lots of excuses, good ones, but gridlock, slowdowns, jack-knifed trucks and fender benders were the order of the day.

According to Ministry of Transportation South Coast regional director Ashok Bhatti: “We are using calcium chloride and a combination of techniques, but it has been challenging … We are hitting it with everything we’ve got.”

He continued: Work has been done overnight, but to no avail. With temperatures below -15C and winds that blow salt and sand off the road, no solution was in the offing.

In the event, safety and transportation were restored when the temperatures rose, and, thanks to the rain, the ice, snow and slush were swept away.

Notice what is missing here? There was no vestige of competition. The presumption of the Ministry was that they were in charge, there was no possible other option, they were doing their best to rectify the situation.

Other firms in other industries, too, face difficult tasks. This occurs all throughout the warp and woof of the economy. Sometimes failure occurs elsewhere as well. But, in the private sector, there is always a “fail-safe” mechanism undergirding the entire process: competition. If a given firm faltered, there would be others anxious and eager to take its place. Moreover, different companies could try alternative strategies. If one of them worked, others could follow suit.

But not on the nation’s highways. There, monopoly, central planning, was the only possibility.

What might have been done had competition been allowed. That is, if there were privately owned highways?

One possibility would be the “conga line:” a long line of specially fitted tractors, one after the other, brushing away the ice. This is the technique utilized at some airports. These vehicles travel at a snail’s pace, but at least roadway connections could remain open. “Slow but sure” is perhaps better than nothing at all. If need be, it would not be beyond the scope of private enterprise to use actual military style tanks as snow plows.

Another is to place metal that can be heated just below the concrete of the roadway. People with sloped driveways use this method of melting the snow and ice. The difficulty here is that this is a tremendously expensive option. Costs could be reduced by treating only one lane in this manner instead of all three, but, even so, the expenses would be vast. Would it be worthwhile to maintain automobile travel and reduce accidents? This is something only the free marketplace can answer. This is at basis an entrepreneurial matter.

Are There Other Options?

It is difficult for a mere economist to anticipate the market. If shoes had always been the province of government, and a wild and crazy free enterprise economist had advocated privatization, the objections would come thick and fast. How would resources be allocated between sneakers, slippers, boots and other kinds of footwear? Where would shoe stores be located? How many of them would there be? Who would supply shoe laces?

In the event the market addresses all these difficulties, these are non-problems. And so would it be in the case of roads. Yes, highways are long thin things. People think their provision must necessarily fall to the government. But railroads exhibit similar geographical elements. Privatization in that realm is not unknown.

There are perhaps more important reasons for engaging in this process than black ice. In Canada, some 4,000 people perish each year in motor vehicle accidents. Competition between road owners, as in the case of every other good and service known to man, would undoubtedly lead to improvements in this regard too. Fatalities are not at all the product of drunken driving, speed, vehicle malfunction, driver inattention; those are only proximate causes.

The ultimate cause is the inability of the road managers to deal with these challenges. How could they do so? This can only be speculative, as in the case of shoes, but, perhaps private highway owners could address not velocity, but its variance. Instead of minima and maxima speed limits for the entire highway, do so for each lane.

For example, 120 kilometers in the left lane, 100 in the middle, and 80 on the right. Would this reduce traffic fatalities. Hard to tell. The problem is, such experiments are not now undertaken. They would be, under free enterprise.

Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute. He earned his PhD in economics at Columbia University in 1972. He has taught at Rutgers, SUNY Stony Brook, Baruch CUNY, Holy Cross and the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of more than 600 refereed articles in professional journals, two dozen books, and thousands of op eds (including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and numerous others). He lectures widely on college campuses, delivers seminars around the world and appears regularly on television and radio shows. He is the Schlarbaum Laureate, Mises Institute, 2011; and has won the Loyola University Research Award (2005, 2008) and the Mises Institute’s Rothbard Medal of Freedom, 2005; and the Dux Academicus award, Loyola University, 2007. Prof. Block counts among his friends Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard. He was converted to libertarianism by Ayn Rand. Block is old enough to have played chess with Friedrich Hayek and once met Ludwig von Mises, and shook his hand. Block has never washed that hand since. So, if you shake his hand (it’s pretty dirty, but what the heck) you channel Mises.

The image shows, “A Cart on the Snowy Road at Honfleur,” by Claude Monet, painted 1865 or 1867.

Do We Still Have Enemies, Part III

III. Material Conditions of the Media

So, if “we” still have an enemy it is not those who challenge our cultures, for only in opposition to them do our groups have any meaning. Instead one must come to recognise that it is only through the group’s positive attributes, namely material conditions, that one can finds the true definition of who “we” are and therefore who our enemies are.

Thus, what truly endangers a group is not cultural outsiders, but those who deny the reality of material conditions as defining the group and see to hide it from us through a media-based ideology.

It was Marx who wrote in German Ideology “in all ideology men and their relations appear upside down, as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life process as the reversal of objects on the retina does from their directly physical life process” It can still be true to say that media is the domain of dispute even if the target of the cultural weapons that the media produces are not the true enemies of the exclusive “we”.

If as Marx suggested, the “superstructures” of every person’s life are defined by the “infrastructure” to which they are exposed then one starts to realise then the true division which exists in our society is not the one defined by cultures, for that is a symbiotic division, instead it is a division which runs along the lines of media infrastructure.

Effectively there are two tactics which can be adopted by the media in the liberal order to distract the exclusive “we” from realising who the true enemy is.

The first is to distract us from the truth by creating an illusionary enemy. The media/culture industry does this through a variety of means but draws strongly always on the idea of the cultural enemy to distract us. Social media in particular endlessly presents the Muslim, the black man, the person of another political orientation as being the enemy.

What has become popularly described as fake news, feeds people disinformation which says that a group with some different culture is the fundamental enemy of the group, without needing to say it explicitly. Although as has already been demonstrated they are needed for other cultural groups to have meaning.

But then the second, perhaps far more insidious method, is that in admitting that the enemy on the screen is an illusion to promote the idea that there is no struggle at all, that there are no enemies to fight against. To tell those people who try to fight against an enemy then they are ill, just as Nietzsche predicted of the last men.

But quickly, one realises that there is a whole industry of media production which supports every step of the process and who are interested in making people believe that they are one of millions, if not billions of universally alike consumers without an enemy, so as to keep providing you with the illusion of catharsis in the false enemy.

Marx identified religion as the central ideology of his time which was both false and a weapon of the oppressors to the proletariat in their place. It does not seem unreasonable to propose that it is now the media which is the new ideology designed to make all believe that they are consumers when in fact they still face the same class struggle, defined by the material conditions of their lives as they always did.

Thus, what one comes to realise is that the true enemy is not someone facing the same struggle within a different culture. What one comes to realise is that in our age it is not a person, but a system of things populated by certain people. No longer does one exist in a proletariat-bourgeoisie or serf-master dichotomy, but rather one exists against a system of thing.

As Marcuse wrote “the society which … undertakes the technological transformation of nature alters the base of domination by gradually replacing personal dependence … with dependence on the objective order of things”

Every time one clicks on a YouTube clip, or uses Facebook, or Twitter, or Netflix “we” are giving ourselves over to an economic enemy which is exploiting us by stealth, by dominating our leisure time and creating a false sense of dependency on a media system. The enemy therefore is not an individual or group of individuals, but it is the system as a whole which has created at ideology which fundamentally undermines the value of truth by telling us that there are no enemies.

However, there are some who profit by that system and others who are exploited by it and therefore we are not all universal consumers. It is still the case that some of us are exploited and other exploiters (even if only unconsciously) and therefore “we” are not everyone.

When all is considered in tandem it becomes evident that we still have enemies although they may now appear in a different light and in a different domain. It is now media, which as the principal weapon of the system of economic oppression and which now forms the central locus for the struggle. It may for the moment appear to many that media forms some neutral space, but even now the veil is beginning to fall off from that false ideology.

As Carl Schmitt said “the newly won neutral domain has become immediately another arena of struggle” To respond a little more directly to the research question posed at the start of this essay, the fact of this ideological lie of universalism which emanates from the media industry and the exploitation committed by the media industry means that there is not an identifiable “neutral domain” at this time, that “we” are not everyone and that therefore we still have enemies.

 

The photo shows a detail from “The fin de siècle newspaper proprietor,” an illustration by Frederick Burr Opper, printed March 7, 1894. Notice the term, “fake news.”

The Memory Palace Of Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges in “Funes the Memorious” describes Funes as “not very capable of thought.” This observation certainly serves to undermine Socrates notion that knowledge is recollection of an innate wisdom. In the same paragraph, Borges continues: “To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract.”

These three categories are precisely constituents of knowledge and the process of recollection that Socrates explores, and they are precisely the processes that are missing in Funes.

Funes is a compiler of information. Bu having a perfect memory he has the capability of storing vast amounts of knowledge. However, he cannot abstract or generalize these facts. He cannot see the pattern that these facts fall into, or create.

When Socrates states that wisdom is intimately linked to recollection, he is clearly giving us a cause for consciousness. Funes, by merely recording perfectly, does is not aware as to what constitutes consciousness.

Funes is like a computer that can store vast amounts of information, yet it cannot think. Information in and of itself is not wisdom.

Wisdom comes from recollection, because when we recollect we construct patterns of thought, we seek similarities, we seek meaning that will congeal facts into a process of consciousness, allowing us to understand what it is that makes us aware.

As well, by stressing the importance of recollection in the process of acquiring wisdom, Socrates is also valorizing imagination.

Thus to possess consciousness is to possess imagination. This is precisely the difference between pure storage of information, and the imaginative use of that information.

As well, when we recollect something, we immediately re-construct that fact into a symbol or metaphor that becomes a cue to our own understanding of reality.

Because Funes has a perfect memory, and most of us do not, he cannot give the past a distinct identity, which independent from the external world that we ourselves inhabit. Socrates allows for the construction of precisely this world.

Through the imaginative process, which is also the act of recollection, we remember something imperfectly, and then proceed to construct thoughts that qualify this recollection, thereby arriving at imaginative thought.

And this precisely what Funes does not possess. He is a vast archive of information, a library, where information is certainly stored, but where imagination must be brought into play in order to transform, and therefore construct, facts into wisdom. Here we can ask, does a library have a memory? Or memory brought into the library by consciousness.

As well, it is important to realize that by stating that Funes if not capable of thought, Borges is also setting Funes as an opposite to the Socratic principle of wisdom.

Where Socrates describes consciousness as linked to memory in that recollection is an active re-construction of reality, and is therefore imagination – Funes is not part of consciousness; he is merely a “storage facility.”

Funes memory is merely an exact copy of external reality. It is perfect. Socrates’ process of recollection on the other hand is completely different from Funes’ memory. Socrates is speaking about consciousness, which is imperfect and inherently selective. Imperfect memory actively seeks out imagination and creativity – which is very the definition of thought.

In effect, Funes’ incapability of thought is in direct opposition to Socrates who links memory with recollection, and thereby consciousness and creative thought.

 

The photo shows, “Wedding on the Roof Garden,” by Dodo (Dörte Clara Wolff), painted in 1929.

Franz Kafka’s Modernity

Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis eerily captures the effects of various dehumanizing influences on the modern European family brought about in the name of economic surviva.

Gregor’s “metamorphosis” into an insect represents in vivid terms how a human being can imagine himself separated from the world in which he belongs, his very selfhood placed in jeopardy by his own family.

One of the most important aspects of the novella comes about at Gregor’s death, namely the role of the family. Gregor’s relationship with his parents is troubling. There is resentment between Gregor and his father.

When Gregor joins his family in the parlor, his father throws apples at him; one of them becomes embedded in his back and leaves him crippled, and eventually kills him. Instead of taking pity on his son, as one might expect, his father grows abusive.

Gregor’s mother faints at the very sight of him in his altered state. Her rejection of him is demoralizing. Grete continues to feed her brother.

Even in his present condition, Gregor still plans for Grete’s future, hoping to be able to send her to a music conservatory where she can continue to study violin. Having abandoned hopes of pursuing his own future, this giant insect absurdly puts all of his energies into getting his sister into a music conservatory.

Ironically, Gregor’s family becomes more self-sufficient as a result of his plight. His father has gone back to work. He no longer appears as an angry, disabled old man, but rather has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts into a bank messenger “holding himself very erect.”

Gregor’s mother sews piecework, and his sister has become a salesgirl. As they become more immersed in their new roles, the family members become increasingly indifferent to Gregor.

Grete begins to spend less time cleaning Gregor’s now filthy room, and is less attentive to his needs for food. The family has even begun to use his room for storage, making navigation extremely difficult for Gregor.

Gregor’s family is continuing to grow more resentful of him as they each grow to become more self–reliant and confident. Aware of their resentment, Gregor lies in his room and thinks “back on his family with deep emotion and love” until his death one night.”

After his death, the family members act as if they’ve been freed. “Well,” said Mr. Samsa, “now we can thank God.”

His parents and sister take off from work, which Gregor would never had done while he was supporting them, and take a streetcar out to the country to plan for a new future—another change.

Kafka weaves absurdity throughout his tale in obvious and subtle ways. Despite the fact that Gregor has been cast aside, so to speak, by his family, he still thinks of them lovingly. It can even be assumed that he died of a broken heart.

An interesting undercurrent of the story involves the changes that “flip-flop” between Gregor and his father. Gregor was strong as a result of his father’s failure. He crippled his father’s self-esteem and took over the father’s position in the family.

After the catastrophe, the same sequence took place in reverse. Gregor became weak and dependent, and his father maimed and ultimately killed him. As well, Grete became strong and beautiful. The family is happier after they are freed of Gregor’s stifling love.

It is Grete who succinctly sums up Gregor’s oppressive affection: “You just have to get rid of the idea that it’s Gregor. Believing it for so long, that is our real misfortune. But how can it be Gregor? If it were Gregor, he would have realized long ago that it isn’t possible for human beings to live with such a creature….But as it is, this animal prosecutes us…”

On the primary level, the “metamorphosis” involves Gregor, and his becoming an insect. However, as we read the story more closely, we discover a broader and deeper level of transformation – for ultimately, this story is profoundly embedded in the myth of death and resurrection.

Thus, it is with Gregor’s death that we see a resurrection on various levels, for it is this resurrection that is the metamorphosis of the story.

First of all, we realize that Gregor frees himself from the enslavement of his world. Thus, his death is not merely a meaningless fall of an insect; it is an act of liberation.

In fact, Gregor dies a very peaceful death, for he is utterly reconciled with himself, his death, ad his world: “He thought back on his family with deep emotion and love. His conviction that he would have to disappear was, if possible, even firmer than his sister’s. He remained in this state of empty and peaceful reflection until the tower clock struck three in the morning. He still saw that outside the window everything was beginning to grow light. Then, without his consent, his head sank down to the floor, and from his nostrils streamed his last weak breath.”

It is important to note that Gregor’s death takes place just as a new day is dawning; and it also takes place at the end of the March, just as the sterility of winter is giving way to new life in April.

The second level of the transformation takes place in Gregor’s parents. They have become self-sufficient, strong, and vibrant. While Gregor was alive, they were cacooned as if in a chrysalis.

In fact, Gregor’s father actively destroys his influence when he hurls the apples at him, one of which lodges in his back, perhaps leading to his death.

With Gregor’s death, they are freed of Gregor’s prison and they walk out of the house into the liberating light of spring and the promise of new life: “The car, in which they were the only passengers, was completely filled with warm sunshine. Leaning back comfortably in their seats, they discussed their prospects for the time to come, and it seemed on closer examination that these weren’t bad at all, for all three positions…were exceedingly advantageous and especially promising for the future.”

Lastly, it is Grete who is metamorphosed. No longer is she under Gregor’s wing; she has become a beautiful, young, vibrant woman. Like her father, she too actively sought the destruction of Gregor, as she realized that Gregor had to go; that was “the only answer.”

In the train ride together, her parents instantly realize the change that has come over their daughter. No longer is she pale and weak, but she has “blossomed into a good-looking shapely girl;” and her parents will soon “find her a good husband.”

All three have awakened from a nightmare into a dream: “And it was a confirmation of their new dreams and good intentions when at the end of the ride their daughter got up first and stretched her young body.”

If we extend the analogy of the insect world (suggested by Gregor’s transformation), we see that each member of the Samsa household has emerged from a larval stage into maturity, and hence freedom.

Gregor emerged from his larval stage and became an insect, through which he could free himself from the prison of his days. Mr. and Mrs. Samsa emerge and become independent and strong, and are freed from Gregor’s stifling love and worrisome care. And finally, Grete emerges as a beautiful, young woman, who brings with her the full promise of rebirth in the spring.

 

The photo shows, “The Matchseller,” by Otto Dix, painted in 1920.

A Defense of Free Speech

Into blind darkness enter they that worship ignorance; into darkness greater than that, as it were, they that delight in knowledge (Isa Upanishad).

On March 20th, 2018, Faith Goldy was going to give a presentation at Wilfrid Laurier Universities’ Paul Martin Center.

LSOI (Laurier’s Society for Open Inquiry), the group hosting the event, claims that they invited five professors to challenge her views, but that none of them accepted. Thus, the debate was turned into a presentation.

Yet, before Goldy could give her controversial presentation the fire alarm was pulled. With the sound of alarms, Goldy left the campus and adjourned to the adjacent Veteran’s Green Park with her audience.

LSOI promised that they would invite Goldy back for a second appearance. 

This promise underscores the need to make a definitive judgement as to whether the WLU should allow Faith Goldy, and others like her, to be able to speak on campus.

I argue that it is in the interest of the school to rule in favor of allowing the speaker to return and give her presentation uninterrupted.

The university should allow the presentation because otherwise they may fall prey to dogmatism, the regulation of speech may lead to inequities, and free speech is in the interest of the marginalized groups they seek to protect.

Before diving into the ethics, I wish to discuss Faith Goldy’s position. She describes Euro-Canadians as the “native people” of Canada. She proposes a solution to stop the “ethnocide of the White race” and save European Canadian Identity.

One of her claims is that “High IQ Chinese are taking over the class rooms,” and that universities should do the opposite of affirmative action to Asian applicants, i.e. select against them in the admission process.

Commonly accused of being a “white supremacist” she counters that the reason for her measures are the opposite of white supremacy. She does not think that White people are the smarter superior race, on the contrary, it is because Asians, Jews and Indians are smarter “races” she takes her discriminatory stance.

This discriminatory stance is to “save” White people from becoming subservient to new “masters.” Also, she adopts what many would call an anti-Semitic stance.

Goldy says, “the first time we got an immigrant over-class was in 1881 with the great wave of Ashkenazi Jews” (who are “literally the smartest race on the planet”) came to Canada.

But wait, there’s more.

I want to make it clear that these are Faith Goldy’s views and not my own. It would be deceitful and unjust to omit these views to reader when discussing this controversy, especially when I seek to defend her presence here at WLU. For my own part, I abhor this line reasoning.

But, this article is not about what I think of Faith Goldy, it is about the effects that come with regulation of free speech.

The first reason why the university should allow freedom of speech is because it negates a slippery slope into dogmatism.

Universities are meant to be the anvil of new ideas, paradigm shifts, and revolutionary ways of thinking. When institutions regulate the speech of their constituencies, they tend to build their own echo chamber.

The fallout of this policy is that it creates a continuous cycle of reinforcing the status quo. As John Stuart Mill points out, dogmatism presupposes one’s own righteous stance on an issue.

Historically, it is hard for intellectuals to claim any level of infallibility in regard to evaluating “Nazi” points of view. In fact, people forget that the original Nazis were part the university intellectuals of their day.

The Einsatzgruppen were swarmed with highly educated members. Dr. Ohlendorf, one of the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen even had two PHD’s.

Intellectuals may be wise, but they’re not infallible. As long as that is the case they can never justify dogmatic policies for what are often grey areas.

Even if they are correct about Faith Goldy, who is to say they will continue to give correct evaluations of the speakers after her? Dogmatism is avoided completely when one ceases to regulate speech.

The second reason why universities should allow controversial speakers to discuss is because they may have a few good points to make, even if they are racist bigots.

There is always the possibility of a “diamond in the rough” when it comes to notorious orators regardless as to whether they are racists.

For example, many of the pro-slavery arguments that came from South of the United States were despicable. But even these Southerners made some good points that the US Northerners were afraid to confront.

The pro-Slavers contrasted the well-being of their slaves with the wretched lives of black factory workers in of the North.

Pro-Slavers might have been dead wrong about everything else, but they made great point when they showed that the horrors of industrial capitalism for blacks were not that far off from the conditions of a Southern slave.

If the North seriously confronted that statement, they might not have waited till the 1960’s (over 100 years later) to initiate social programs against poverty.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. That saying might be true for Goldy and other controversial speakers after her.

The third reason why controversial speakers like Goldy should be allowed to speak is because the violation of rights such as free speech endanger the public good in the long run.

Politics can be unpredictable.

You might have a party in power who “justly” silences the “unjust.” But what happens when power changes hands?

After initial censorship, that the silencing of others has been normalized, so now who is going to stop the misusing of that power?

The forth reason why free speech should be allowed is because it dissolves hate speech in the long run.

Dialogue is the crucible of changing thought. The best way to destroy hate speech is by argument, reason, and public discourse.

John Stuart Mill points out how if we do not fearlessly discuss truth then it loses its lively quality and becomes a dead dogma.

Speech is more then just fact and fiction, communication is the fabric that holds our societal consensus together. If we cease to be engaged in grappling with what we believe in as a society, then we might forget why we believe in the values we profess.

As time passes and truths become unquestioned, we forget over the generations why we believe them.

Members of our community begin to stray ideologically from the truths we have established in the past. Free speech is how we recover those members who have been lead astray.

For example, take Harvey Milk’s famous Hope Speech in 1977. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay congressman in the USA. He was a civil rights leader for the gay community.

After years of toil, abuse, and violence the gay community questioned the continued protest as opposed to going back in the closet.

In his Hope Speech, Harvey encouraged them to hang on to hope. Here, he extended his sympathy to the hardships of the gay community.

But at the same time, he utilized the power of free speech when he told them “unless you have dialogue, unless you open the walls of dialogue, you can never reach to change people’s opinion.” 

Far from telling the LGTBQ+ community to remain silent, he told them to speak out.

He advised them all to come out of the closet, so that they could show the world that they were not pedophiles or a sexual menace, but that they were people like anybody else.

Free speech may seem like it is against the wishes of the marginalized, but, it is their most powerful weapon. Can we really afford to take that away because some members of the population feel offended and unsafe?

The whole point of a PRIDE parade was to offend the sensitive conservative onlooker. The flamboyant display was meant to be an act of provocation to the members of society who preferred that gays remain behind closed doors.

The idea was to be proud instead of being ashamed.

Once upon a time, it was the LGBTQ+ community who were seen as the dangerous misfits who made the world unsafe for society.

John Stuart Mill and Milk were right. They knew that free speech led to ideological cohesion, not fragmented hate. Truth brings people together more than it drives them apart.

Free speech allows for the hateful to be confronted.

When it is illegal to express ones hate in public then one keeps it a secret. When this happens, hate is preserved behind closed doors and whispered behind the backs of future victims.

The hateful do not change their minds just because we make it illegal for them to hold a hateful stance. Instead they simply go on unopposed.

For example, if I was a racist and the school made it illegal for me to express my racist views, then I would never bring it up in public.

My hateful opinion would go unchallenged and I would simply become a secret racist who went around committing quiet acts of racism.

If I am allowed to express myself, then I increase the chance that others will confront my views. This increases the possibility of swaying hatful people through dialogue to reasonable positions.

The worse thing we could do is let hate to speak out unchallenged. When society failed to mobilize an ideological counter to Faith Goldy, we missed our chance to shed light on the darkness of her thoughts.

I’m not saying we would change her mind, but we might have changed the minds of audience members grappling with these demons.

I concede that there are times when one should break the law to do what’s right. I sympathize with the person who pulled the fire alarm on that day. But was this person really doing what was best for society by pulling the fire alarm?

I do not think so.

I argue that allowing free speech was the right thing to do, not shutting down dialogue. Because a true conscientious objector breaks the law for the good of society, and this person did more harm than good, thus I deny labeling them as a true conscientious objector.

I would not be surprised if they thought that they were doing the right thing, but they were misled.

These are the reasons why I think Wilfrid Laurier University should allow Faith Goldy to speak again upon her return.

It’s not because I agree with her views. On the contrary, I think they are horrible. But if we regulate free speech we fall into the greater darkness of dogmatism. Intellectuals are smart, but they are far from infallible.

Free speech may take a while to prove its worth, but in the long run it becomes the safe guard of the marginalized. It is the arguably the most powerful tool for keeping society engaged and on the same page.

Furthermore, it is our obligation as citizens to take on these speakers. We should not support these horrible views, rather we owe it to the marginalized to stand up on their behalf by debating these orators.

More importantly, we owe it to members of the community who are struggling with these ideas and those who have been blinded by them. Since Socrates, our task has been to take people out of the cave of illusory shadows and show them the light (even if they make us drink hemlock for doing so).

 

The photo shows, “What Freedom!” by Ilya Repin, painted in 1903.

How Should We Think?

The enduring emphasis of skill in the educational system emphasizes two kinds of thinking, while neglecting a third kind.

Skill is closely related to know-how, or technical knowledge, and to analytical, or scientific, knowledge. The former is repetitive and performative, in that a skill is repeated in order to produce the same result.

Scientific knowledge seeks to explain or predict; it can do no more. For example, many children are prodigies with mathematics or music, in that they have acquired the skill to repeat notes or numerical patterns.

Their expertise, or skill, is marvelous to witness – but no one turns to them for guidance on issues of freedom, individuality, or responsible government. Why? Because we know that skills are not higher-level thinking.

In the same way, a physicist understands fully how to establish models that can test natural laws and predict what nature may or may not do – but we do not consult this person about matters pertaining to the good society, or love. Why? Because physics is analytical and cannot be used to understand goodness or love.

Despite these obvious handicaps in scientific and technical knowledge, we still demand that higher education worry only about training workers. While everyone is functioning smoothly in industry – who is looking after the functioning of society?

Perhaps the reason for voter apathy, for example, and low voter turn-out may directly be related to this question.

There is a third kind of knowledge, which may be labeled practical wisdom. It is not technical, explanatory, or predictive. It is concerned with ideals, with formulating judgments and making decisions, and it directly relates to the way we encounter the world around us and the way we participate in society.

In other words, there is a specific kind of thinking which directly relates to the good society. Practical wisdom is about ideals. Life is always greater than tangible, material things.

Indeed, what is more important to human beings – happiness or skill? To worry about skills is to desire to become a robot. To worry about happiness is to understand our humanity – because to be happy each of us must reflect upon what truth is and what goodness is, and each of us must create meaning in our lives.

Skills can do neither of these things. To be happy, to have meaning and value, we need to think critically, in the true sense of the term.

 

The photo shows, “Maud Cook,” by Thomas Eakins, painted in 1895.

Fair Trade Coffee?

Fair-trade coffee as a product which is being produced and consumed within a complex of values such as ethics, economic disparity, geographical boundaries, political realities, and environmental considerations.

And this complex involves the largest consumers of coffee who live in the richer northern hemisphere of this planet, and the various growers of coffee who inevitably live in the poorer, and often impoverished southern hemisphere, such as, Mexico.

But is appears that fair-trade coffee has forced the consumer to make ethical choices about personal consumption, since eating can no longer be a neutral act – it involves a whole array of forces that must be negotiated before coffee can be poured into a cup.

In the area of food production, globalization has meant that an industrial model has replaced the traditional family farm. Food is no longer produced by a farmer, but by large conglomerates whose aim is to produce food on an immense scale in order to minimize cost and increase profit.

This means that the bulk of the food we eat is produced not by farmers but labourers or workers who simply tend crops on land owned by conglomerates. Even when small farmers do grow product, such as coffee, they usually must sell it middlemen who are part of the conglomerate structure, since they have no other method to sell what they have grown.

And in this industrial structure, the profit is at the top-end; the worker in the field simply gets a wage. In effect, the very role of the family farm has been eradicated by this industrial model of food production, since the individual cannot access the marketing structures of the conglomerate food growing operation.

Moreover, by selling to the conglomerates, the individual farmer does not control the fluctuation of commodity prices that is the reality of trade when carried out in vast quantities. All too often, individual farmers tend to one-crop operations. For example, in North America, most farmers grow corn to be used as feed for the massive beef and dairy industries. Most farmers do not grow food that can be sold directly to consumers.

Food, as a result, is now produced in a highly centralized fashion, and distributed to the consumer by equally large grocery store chains, which also share the same corporate structure as that practised by the producers of food – namely, bulk production to lower production cost and increase profit.

Such vast structures in food production and distribution has led to dissent – those that see such structures as inherently unethical, in that the production of food has been taken away from the individual farmer and placed into the hands of food factories, for lack of a better term.

One such form of dissent is the “fair-trade” movement, which seeks to restructure the production and distribution of food (as well as other items) so that the family-farm can again be made important in the job of feeding people. Briefly, the fair-trade movement suggests that the “conglomeratization” of food production is inherently an ethical issue – that it is unfair that the money is made at the top-end of the food production chain, while those that actually get their hands dirty, literally, and cultivate the crops, see very little of that profit, other than their wages.

As well, this often meant that the imbalance further distanced the have and have-not nations of the world, with the haves being in the northern hemisphere and the have-nots being in the southern hemisphere. It was in Europe that this dissent first acquired a formal organization under the term, “alternative trade organizations,” or ATOs.

The purpose of these ATOs would be to purchase goods from family-farms or farming cooperatives, more of than not in the southern hemisphere, and then establish a system of distribution of these goods in the northern hemisphere.

These ATOs would also do two things. First, they would get rid of the various middle-men who profited from food production by simply facilitating the movement of goods from source to consumer (such middle-men are part of the food conglomerates); and second, they would instil in the consumer the sense that eating, or consumption, is not a neutral act – it can either be ethical or unethical.

The point being that by consuming goods distributed by the conglomerates, one was enriching the rich, and therefore being unethical, while on the other by purchasing fair-trade goods one consumed ethically, by ensuring that labour was properly paid for, and profit shared in direct opposition to the tradition industrial mode – the bulk of it going to the bottom-end, that is, at the level of the individual consumer.

The largest fair-trade commodity, and the first to be handled using the ATO model, is coffee, which is a product that clearly highlights the level of economic disparity between the coffee consumer (almost always in the rich northern hemisphere), and the coffee grower (always located in the impoverished southern hemisphere).

This means that coffee has become an important cultural product, in which social values, economics, and politics have blended. Since the issues of economics and politics lie well beyond the scope of this paper (although they cannot fully be treated as bearing no influence on the topic at hand), the focus will primarily be on the social values that are set into motion each time a cup of free-trade coffee is drunk. And these social values are clearly demonstrated at the level of consumption.

Ethics is the most important value that comes to the fore. When a consumer sees the label “fair-trade coffee” in the context of other, non-fair-trade coffee, there is a subtle manipulation at play.

The consumer is being told that free-trade coffee is not a product of the conglomerate, the immense “coffee factory.” Rather, by purchasing fair-trade coffee, the consumer is being asked to support a structure that markedly works against the conglomerate. In other words, the consumer is being made aware of an important fact – that spending money is not only a form of personal acquisition – it is also an ethical act – that money must be spent in such a way that it gives equal value to all.

There is a big difference between the terms “value” and “profit.” On an immediate level, “profit” lies at the heart of the industrial model and is intimately linked to another important term, “growth.” Industry needs to continually grow in order to maintain its profitability.

This is why there is always a stress on growth, so that the one year must show greater gains than the previous year. Not showing such gain means stagnation – that one year is as same the as previous. “Value,” on the other hand, means involves an altogether different emphasis. Instead of “growth,” the stress is on “sustainability” – the notion that production should be maintained at a certain level.

Sustaining the livelihood of an individual farmer carries an entirely different set of assumptions than growth and profitability in industry. Therefore, the consumer is asked to contribute, by purchasing fair-trade coffee, towards sustainability – and at the same to walk away from the industrial model.

However, this choice becomes a complex one when retailers who are conglomerates themselves become involved. For example, what does fair-trade coffee become when being sold at Starbucks? And is sustainability possible if large retailers demand more and more fair-trade coffee? Or the danger that the profit model will be re-manipulated?

Perhaps in response to this involvement of large retailers, there has been a further refinement of fair-trade coffee – namely, “shade coffee,” which is coffee grown beneath the canopy of forests, since the coffee plant is shade-loving. Shade coffee has brought the issue of the environment in the choice that the consumer must make. And sustainability means not only sustaining the individual farmer, but sustaining the environment.

The opposite of shade coffee is sun coffee which is a plant that has been genetically altered to yield a higher crop. But, sun coffee requires cleared land that then needs to be heavily fertilized.

Sun coffee is having a devastating effect on the environment – it is contributing to the disappearance of various species of birds. Shade coffee, on the other hand, uses traditional approaches to growing coffee beneath trees and is therefore environmentally friendly, as it encourages biodiversity, and is often grown on family farms.

Since shade coffee needs the canopy of trees to grow, the participation of large retailers in marketing and selling shade coffee will mean greater environmental sustainability, since trees will not have to cut down.

But will this mean the small coffee farmer can also be sustained? It would appear that slapping ethical labels on food is part and parcel of our continuing moral decline – we want to be good, but we no longer know how to be good – and this opens us up to all kinds of economic exploitation.

 

The photo shops, “Automat,” by Edward Hopper, painted in 1927.

Émile Durkheim And Progress

Emile Durkheim’s sociological views depend upon the concept of progress, in that society evolves, or moves through, various phases; and this he readily sees when he begins to examine the idea of labor within society.

Thus, he finds that traditional division of labor evolved into a simple division of labor, and then into a more complex division of labor. This organic view of society implies that the various components that comprise any given society not only structure this society, but also have well defined functions.

Therefore, society is not merely a composite of individuals; it is in fact an entity unto itself which influences and determines individuals by way of social currents and social norms.

Although these influences are the result of human endeavor, nevertheless they are not linked with individual will. This, in short, is Durkheim’s sociological project.

Given this co-dependent, but not co-determined, relationship between society and the individual, Durkheim seeks to locate a sociological explanation for social structures as well as individual endeavor.

One of the structures that he seeks to explain is the economic life of a society. Within it, he locates the role and purpose of labor, which determines the specific functions of economic life. Thus, for him, the crucial point can be found in the division of labor, which he tells us determines new paradigms of social cohesion and correlations.

One of these correlations is structure of the regulation of contracts. He tells us “the contract is not sufficient by itself, but is only possible because of the regulation of contracts, which is of social origins.”

This is an important statement in that it houses Durkheim’s notion of what is actually meant by “regulation” of contracts. In order to understand this, we need to first examine Durkheim’s notion of the contract, and then its regulation.

Since society determines and is determined by the individual, Durkheim recognizes that it is equality that binds individuals to their functions within society, and consequently cohere these functions into a greater whole.

Thus, contracts are a necessary development of the division of labor, since they precisely articulate a consensus, or collective thought. And therefore, the division between rich and poor is the result of unjust contracts. However, as labor is divided, social doctrine weakens, and the gap between rich and poor becomes insupportable, and individuals begin to crate contracts that will make

relationships evenhanded. Certainly, there is a need for contracts in society, since they structure social life, and if no contracts existed, individuals would take abuse and misuse each other. Consequently, what Durkheim means by “regulation” of contracts is the implementation of liberty and equality within society.

Therefore, regulation is the establishment of social order, wherein economic and legal contracts become amenable and practical. In effect, regulation is the agreement between individuals within the context of society.

The idea of regulation stems, for Durkheim, from his notion of social systems, which are exemplified by mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. Durkheim tells us: “This gives rise to a solidarity sui generis which, deriving from resemblances, binds the individual directly to society. … It does not consist merely in a general, indeterminate attachment of the individual to the group, but is also one that concerts their detailed action….They produce everywhere the same effects. Consequently, whenever they are brought into play all wills spontaneously move as one in the same direction.”

Thus, mechanical solidarity incorporates the collective consciousness, wherein collective ends are pursued, especially common responses to flaunting of regulations. Here, the individual is dependent on collective or common consciousness. The purpose of this solidarity, which comprises efforts that encompass common values, common beliefs, and those experiences that permit individuals to cooperate and function successfully.

While mechanical solidarity heavily regulates activities and social relationships within society, there is also the development of a great flexibility that guarantees individual freedom, development, change, and the growth of personality.

Durkheim observes: “Whereas other solidarity implies that individuals resemble one another, the latter assumes that they are different from one another. The former type is only possible in so far as the individual personality is absorbed into the collective personality; the latter is only possible if each one has a sphere of action that is peculiarly our own; and consequently a personality….Indeed, on the one hand, each one of us depends more intimately upon society the more the labor is divided up, and on the other, the activity of each one of us is correspondingly more specialized, the more personal it is….Society becomes more effective in moving in concert, at the same time as each of its elements has more movements that are peculiarly its own. This solidarity resembles that observed in the higher animals. In fact each organ has its own special characteristics and autonomy, yet the greater the unity of the organism, the more marked the individualization of the parts is more marked. Using this analogy, we propose to call ‘organic’ the solidarity that is due to the division of labor.”

Now, it is organic solidarity that shared principles and expectations are embodied, such as the law and the market.

The importance of regulation of contracts can be seen in various ways.

First, they restore the situation to where it was before the offense occurred, that it, to its original state.

Second, this process guarantees that society is present in the form of the law, and the legal system derives its authority from society. Thus, society intervenes and ensures that the dispute rises beyond the individual.

Third, rules and laws are set forth in a general manner, which are then regulated. Fourth, and most importantly, the individual is “condemned to submit” to the law, and is not punished as such.

Progress, then, determines the individual’s regulation in society. It s here that modern liberalism finds much of its impetus.

 

The photo shows, “The Assembly of the Six Counties,” by Charles Alexander Smith, painted in 1891.

God And Science: Three Responses

In our secular world, belief in God is popularly linked with either delusion or dangerous political agendas.

In the West, it’s normal and “rational’ to say that there is no God since no scientific proof for Him exists.

How is a Christian to respond to such a foregone conclusion? Here are three to consider.

 

FIRST RESPONSE: FAULTY REASONING

To ask for proof for all things that are essential to life in order to affirm truth or gain certainty is extremely fuzzy logic. Human beings have always understood and dealt with the world in two ways.

Through science which seeks to explain how the world works, and what kind of patterns exist in nature. And through religion which seeks to explain the meaning and significance of reality.

In other words, the minute we start looking for meaning, we have already entered the realm of religion, or the realm of God, that is, we are always in search of significance and meaning.

There are two types of knowledge in the world: naturalist (or scientific) and idealist (or meaningful).

We cannot use the logic of the one to deal with the other.

For example, science can show, prove and study life on the planet. But it cannot answer this question, which each human beings needs to answer for himself – what is the moral purpose of life?

Naturalistic logic fails immediately, and we must turn to idealist logic which alone can explain meaning.

The logic of idealism deals with things not seen, such as, love, empathy, charity, friendship, hope, and goodness.

Man does not live my bread alone.

 

SECOND RESPONSE: THE MATTER OF TYRANNY

If God continually showed Himself so people would have proof – could we really look to Him for moral guidance? No, we could not. Why? The idea of morality depends upon another essential idea – free will.

If God continually showed up on earth and stopped both moral and natural evil as a demonstration of His power, what kind of creatures would we be? Would we not be slaves only motivated by fear of being found out? Certainly, such fear lies at the heart much human belief. But fear is not part of the equation in Christianity. This is why neither Hell nor Heaven are clearly defined. Here is true wisdom.

But if God is love, then He must be invisible so that we may have the ability to express our free will without hindrance. If God keeps interfering with our expression of freedom by becoming a looming, controlling presence, He becomes a tyrant, and He cannot love us, and we are not really free.

Perfect love and perfect freedom can only exist when individual will has the opportunity to be expressed unhindered. Therefore, God is silent and seemingly absent, so that we come to understand what a moral life is to be lived, not only through teaching but through practice.

 

THIRD RESPONSE: THE STRUCTURE OF GOD

God may choose to be invisible and absent, and yet He is immediately knowable through His structure. What does this mean?

Here we can borrow the logic of science and use it to understand a crucial point. All reality is constructed in a specific way; it has a structure.

There is a grand system, or guidebook to the all life and to the cosmos – something that science is becoming mature enough to understand.

Yes, for the many centuries, science has been childish, and therefore wilful and petulant, happy to rebel and deny God as a delusion.

But things have changed – the complexity of reality, of creation, has forced science to grow up and acknowledge what it has denied – that chaos cannot create order.

There is a grand design to everything. Nothing is random, even if it may at first appear to be so.

From the atom to the largest planets and stars; they all have a structure which gives them not only form and organization but also purpose.

For example, in medical science, the structure of disease must first be mapped; only then can a cure be formulated. And what is a cure? It is a competing structure that unhinges the harmful structure of the disease.

Therefore, nothing that exists is without structure. In other words, being is structure. But notice structure has two aspects: shape and function or purpose.

All things have a shape – and a purpose; they fulfill a role. This twin characteristic of reality is a reflection of God. He has a shape (the structure in which all reality exists – the sum of all life), and He has a purpose (the reason why there is something in the universe when there could be nothing).

The very fact that there is life means that there is God, since life has both shape and function, or purpose.

In these three ways, we see that when people say that there is no “proof” of God, and therefore He is simply a figment of the imagination, they are simply reaching for an easy answer in order to affirm their own moral choices, and these choice are often just emotions. In fact, most atheists are angry at God for some perceived let-down.

The question has nothing to do with God – it has everything to do with what people choose to do with their lives. But such is God’s love that He has generosity of purpose, and room enough in His structure, to permit disbelief and denial.

 

The photo shows, “The Adoration of the Golden Calf,” by Andrea di Leone, painted ca. 1526-1627.