On Further Reflection: Victoria Day 2020

A statue in front of a building

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photo courtesy of Cambridge photographer Vanessa Pejovic.

Tuesday May 24, 2022
Originally posted on May 20, 2020, this was my second “I am Groot” column for CultKW, a project of THEMUSEUM. I still love Victoria Day /  Fête de la Reine as celebrated in Canada, especially here in Upper Canada, for all its “quaint peculiarities.” I also have a deep and abiding fondness for Cavaliere Raffaele Zaccaquini’s landmark sculpture of Victoria and the Lion, which has become controversial of late, and subject to the same kind of desecration that led to the removal of the statue of John A MacDonald in Baden.

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May 20, 2020
I am writing to you from what has been my perch, my coop for more than nine weeks now: from my apartment on the third floor of an industrial heritage building in the original part of downtown Kitchener.  

That’s the part of the city that goes back to when Kitchener was still Berlin, Canada; when Queen Victoria was on her throne, and when the sun never set on her domains. 

I hope your Victoria Day weekend was a joyous one.  

Victoria’s actual birthday – her 201st – is this Sunday, so this celebration opportunity is still open. 

Monday was damp and gloomy, so I have a mind to go up the street to her statue in her park and pay my respects later in the week, in a solitary, silent and properly masked for the pandemic kind of way.  

I love Victoria Day for all its quaint peculiarities. In her time, she was a global presence (check out this Wikipedia list of statues of her imperial majesty in locations worldwide). Today, Canada is the only place where Victoria and her long, long reign are still celebrated with a statutory holiday.  

Even though it has become an almost meaningless vestige of a time gone by, Victoria Day in Canada is part of what makes us distinct.  

It is worth noting, especially since it is THEMUSEUM that is hosting these musings, that this holiday Monday that just went by was also International Museum Day.  

The theme this year was “Museum for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion”.   

That Victorian Empire of old is not something we associate with equality; that’s a specialty of revolutionary France. In terms of diversity and broad inclusion, however, there has never been a political configuration that comes close to matching the cultural breadth and variety of that vast global empire we were once part of.  

The museum connection brings to mind the Record column I wrote for Victoria Day last year, which included a mention of a small exhibit dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria at the Fashion History Museum in Hespeler, Cambridge. 

The “Victoria 200” exhibit included one of Victoria’s personal garments — a linen chemise — on loan from the Jordan Historical Museum of the Twenty in the Town of Lincoln, out in Niagara. 

This year, of course, the Fashion History Museum and every other museum, gallery, theatre, concert hall, community art centre and library are shut tight. 

Writing as an arts advocate, I have to say something about how grave the current situation has become for organizations like the Fashion History Museum, and for people working in culture-related endeavours of all kinds. 

Things look worse with every passing day. We can no longer just hope for the best and wait for things to return to some semblance of normal. 

This is where another aspect of what Victoria Day signifies comes into the picture: May 2-4 in these parts is the culmination of a long arc of spring observances, from Groundhog Day to the vernal equinox through Earth Day, Arbour Week, Easter, May Day, Mothers Day, to now, when we can finally plant without fear of frost and begin the turn towards summer. 

More than any other time of the year, this is the season to honour and to treasure our earthly home. 

When we consider the future of museums, galleries, archives, libraries, and conservatories, and think about how music, theatre, dance, literary, visual arts, and media, new and old, will evolve, what we’re really thinking about is the future of work.  

And any way you look at it, in 2020 the future of work means finding ways to do things for one another in more sustainable ways — all 8 billion of us alive today around this globe where the sun is always rising and always setting.  

We’ve reached the point where the ecological balance sheet is of far greater consequence than anything that can be measured in terms of dollars and cents.  

My Victoria Day 2020 wish is that we take advantage of this break from the normal and use the time to work on updating our conception of what prosperity means.  

My sense is, if culture-related work, culture-related exchange, the immeasurable value of arts-related production, and the ever-increasing riches of our shared cultural inheritance are not at the very centre of an evolved conception of true prosperity, the future starts to look hopeless and impoverished.

Peace Train part 3 of 3

World map of Waldseemüller (Germany, 1507), which first used the name America — wikipedia

Now I’m going to let go, and take off on a flight of hopeful, faithful fancy.  

The task at hand is still to imagine ways that peace may still have a chance, even as the death and devastation continues day by day in the cities, towns and oblasts of Ukraine. 

I’ve suggested imagining both Putin’s armies and “the West” standing down, and agreeing, say, to a non-aligned Ukraine while the Russian Federation begins a process of normalising relations with the rest of Europe. 

To offset yet another existential standoff between hyperpower clusters, I’ve proposed imagining longitudinal networks to match the great northern latitudinal alliance: a pole to pole expanse encompassing the nations with the largest landmasses along with those that have the greatest concentrations of human beings: Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran, China, India, with Canada and Australia as bookends.

Our hemisphere is already longitudinally connected: We’re all settler societies, with a balance of Latin and Anglo coexisting with varying concentrations of Indigenous and African elements, as well as a growing Asian presence. We have been dominated, from pole to freezing pole, for 200 + years by the great republic to the South of Canada, and to the North of the rest of the Americas.

Latitudinally, a South Atlantic to Pacific Treaty Organization, from South America across the Atlantic to Africa to South Asia and over the Pacific back to America again, would help establish an even better balance. 

South Europe would do well to seek a rapprochement with the rest of the original Mediterranean World, including Turkey, Iran, the Middle East and North Africa. The separation of Latin Europe, including France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Romania, from the rest of the Mediterranean World is as unnatural, and unfortunate, as the separation between Christendom East and West, including what is now Turkey and once Byzantium.   

To offset all those extensive new unifications, disunion could also be part of the picture. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Anglo Empires East and West break up into smaller, less dominant entities. The United Kingdom is already well on the way to dismemberment. 

This is a process that actually began with the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The independence of Ireland, Canada and the other “Dominions” followed from that, as did Ireland and all the other former colonies, not just of England but all of Europe’s Atlantic powers. Barbados and Jamaica preparing to break ties with the British crown are just the latest examples of the whole world following the U.S. separatist storyline.    

But separations can facilitate new unions and reunions. A free Scotland and a free Wales joining hands with an undivided Ireland, and from there working to strengthen a trans-Atlantic Celtic alliance stretching from “Newfoundland to Brittany, from Scotland to the Basque Country” looks, to me, not just like a beautiful dream, but manifest destiny. If it comes about, it will all be thanks to the rebels that started dividing the British Empire when it was only just starting to rule the waves.  

File:Combined flag of the Celtic nations.jpg
Combined flag of Celtic nations, including Galicia — wikipedia

Harmony, rather than unity or solidarity, is preferable in situations where nations and peoples don’t fit exactly and exclusively within the boundaries of a single sovereign nation state. That means almost everywhere. In previous musings, I’ve even imagined a plural Canada, centred around cities, towns, watersheds, and multiple nations, both Indigenous and of settler origins.  

None of these arrangements need be permanent. The time for Thousand Year Realms is long past. A thoroughfare can become a byway; a fork in the road can merge again on the other side of a mountain or lake. Peace in Ukraine can start with a 60-80 year truce, during which we can dedicate all the time, energy and resources previously devoted to defending ourselves to healing the planet, and developing ways to achieve a responsible, sustainable and fair kind of prosperity. Once that’s settled, the people of Earth can decide what to do with nations, lands, tribes, associations, provinces, watersheds, cities and towns. 

All we have to do to set such trends into motion is give peace a chance, starting right now.

That means thinking of ways to give the war criminals who started the killing in Ukraine a way out. If they act now, there is still a possibility of a pardon, and, if they change their course, even of forgiveness. 

I’m trying to keep alive a glimmer of hope that Fats Domino and Blueberry Hill can be part of the solution. I not only hope and pray, but truly believe music can serve as the engine of the Peace Train. 

The Rolling Stones just announced a European tour to celebrate their Diamond Anniversary, as always, just a decade behind succession of the jubilees celebrating the reign of our gracious Queen. The Stones have been to Russia before, 23 years ago now. It shouldn’t be difficult to add a few concerts in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia. An extended concert tour could be a kind of peace offering that just might stop the masters of war in their tracks. If not, such a prospect could encourage the Russian people to demand their leaders stand down and give peace a chance.  

As with this entire generation of music artists, we won’t have Mick, Keith, Ron and their remarkable organization with us forever. This could really be the last time. But it’s hard to imagine a happier ending, not just for their remarkable career, but for the hopes and dreams of my generation.  

How about a one-time only Glastonbury East, somewhere in the steppes of Eurasia, complete with Paul McCartney, Kendrick Lamar, Billie Eilish and Diana Ross? It’s at least possible.  

Or a 21st century Woodstock. I was going to say in Vladivostok, but that may be going a bit too far out. But then I started to imagine an actual Peace Train, filled with global musical talent, with Yusuf/Cat Stevens as the honorary Engineer and Buffy Sainte-Marie the Conductor, making its way from London to Paris, along the Orient Express to Bucharest, up to Moscow via Kjiv, and from there to the Pacific along the Trans Siberian Railway. Why not?  

Music may not be enough. I’m also keeping my hopes up by imagining a proposal to redo both the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia and the 2021 Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2023-24. For complicated reasons, some blameworthy, some just bad luck, these events resulted in disappointment for all concerned. Let’s make the possibility of doing them over a component of a deal to end the war in Ukraine.  

Ukraine’s offence was longing to join the West. That highway sign modified to read that all roads lead to The Hague comes to mind. What if, instead of leading to the heart of the original North Atlantic West in The Hague, Brussels, Luxembourg, Strasbourg and Paris, the traffic went in the other direction? 

Just imagine the Crimean peninsula designated as a kind of Vatican for the new order of World Peace, with branches of the International Court of Justice, the new NATO, its North-South equivalent, the EU, the United Nations, and maybe even the new Union of Mediterranean States. 

To complete the picture, something similar can be planned for Taiwan: another Peace Land, symbolizing a world that has outgrown the Eurocentricity that has dominated modernity so far, a humanity that is on the road to solving the injustices that can accompany nationalist solidarity. 

To start things off, there could be something like a World’s Fair, running simultaneously in both of these “Peace Lands,” operating under the auspices of one or more of these grand alliances rather than a particular nation. 

The theme could be areas where self-determining nations run by their respective “masters” in their own house become problematic: minorities, Indigenous peoples, non-conformists, economic hostility and exclusivity, regional disparities, colonial and imperial vestiges, and, above all, “Man and His World” style arrogance in relation to how we treat our Earthly home. In other words, an intra-national and supra-national approach instead of the usual international one.     

In sum, in exchange for standing down in Ukraine, Russia would get a guarantee for security within her borders for the next three to four generations, host a sequence of historic celebrations, and become the home for a new kind of world capital. That’s a good deal. Every child, woman and man on the planet would be a beneficiary: win-win-win multiplied to 7,753,000,000. And if the leaders who have turned Russia into a rogue power don’t accept the offer, peace makers can go over their heads and make the offer to the Russian people. 

The promises needn’t flow only in one direction. I’m imagining a much more dynamic, more creative, more courageous and more independent role for the Canadas in the new world order. 

Canadian towns and cities could use help in the area of arts, culture and heritage. Looking for ways my city, my region and my watershed could benefit, I’m imagining the Russian Opera working with their German counterparts to finally fulfil Raffi Armenian’s dream and utilize that world-class concert hall that bears his name for something magnificently ambitious. 

We could learn from secular missionaries sent from Europe, especially Eastern and Central Europe, to teach us how to appreciate, enjoy and take proper care of our heritage, tangible and intangible, cultural and natural.   

Young Canadians need opportunities beyond McJobs, side hustles, Uber-style sharecropping, contractual peonage, out of control landlords, diminishing expectations, inflation on all fronts except their wages, and the vagaries of an economy no one, young or old, rich or poor, has any control over. 

And those hordes of older Canadians — my generation, conceived and raised in the new hope that came with the peace of 1945 — need something meaningful and practically useful to do with what’s left of our allotted time here on Earth.  

So I’m hopefully, faithfully wishing and praying that, despite all evidence to the contrary, in 2022, the peace business is where it’s at. 

Dove, 1949 lithograph by Pablo Picasso on 1981 USSR postage stamp — wikipedia

Peace Train part 2 of 3

Peace Train 2 of 3

So what happened to that vision that had Cat Stevens smiling 50+ years ago?  

“Something good has begun,” he sensed: “Oh Peace Train sounding louder. Glide on the Peace Train.”

A few years later, an end did come to the long drawn out war that was the main concern at the time, in Indochina. It took another 20 years for the overarching conflict known as the Cold War to end. But now, more than 30 years later, it looks like we’re back at it again. 

What if the train that sounded so near at hand back then actually arrived, and we just didn’t see it or believe it? Or maybe we simply decided, for whatever reason, not to get on board.

The NATO flag points North, East, South and West

It is “the West” that is said to be lining up in solidarity with the Ukrainian people, united as never before. But with the steady progress towards harmony, if not unity, in what was once Europe, North and South; West, Central and East, hasn’t the term “the West” become an anachronism? 

The point I’m trying to make is that Russia, fearsome as her might may appear to be given her iron-fisted tyrants and her nuclear capabilities, is not substantial enough and not distinct enough to constitute an “East” that can serve as a counterpoint to a “West” extended as it is today. 

There is no longer any significant ideological difference. The oligarchs that arose with the privatization of the state-owned assets of the former Soviet Union are exceptionally crude, but this can be seen as a normal step in modernization processes. Let’s face it, the entire Free World is dominated by oligarchs or, in more mature economies, their corporate equivalent.    

In essence, “North Atlantic” as in the Treaty Organization set up in 1949 signifies Britain, at that point not so great anymore, and her trans-Atlantic extensions, especially the United States of America, having emerged from the war, not as a superpower, but the superpower. 

The familiar story line is the American Empire eclipsing the British Empire, but it might be useful to think of these as a duality, like the original Western Roman Empire and its Eastern colonial extension based in Constantinople. This duality, the Anglo Empire East and West, has dominated the whole wide world since patriots started singing about Britannia ruling the waves and, soon afterwards, their trans-Atlantic counterparts professing a kind of faith in Anglo America’s manifest destiny to dominate this continent from sea to sea to sea. 

The original rivalry was with other Atlantic powers: North, meaning the Netherlands; Middle,  i.e. France, and South — Spain and Portugal. After Waterloo, things were relatively stable for almost a century. For the first half of the 20th century, it was the now allied Atlantic powers locked in deadly combat with a resurgent Central Europe. When that got resolved it became a confrontation with an extended West versus the East, behind the Iron Curtain. Now it’s all of what was once Christendom plus Europe’s colonial extensions against the Russian Federation.  

That’s the geopolitical configuration. There’s also the cultural dimension. Let’s go back to that YouTube video of Vladmir Putin singing “Blueberry Hill” twelve years ago.

Blueberry Hill is a U.S American song, with English words, made famous by New Orleans recording artist Fats Domino. The year is 1956: Rock music has only just started to dominate the “Hit Parade,” itself a carry over from the Golden Age of Radio. Elvis isn’t in the army yet. Youth culture is only just beginning to emerge. 

1956 is also the year Nikita Khruschov made his “Secret Speech” before the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, criticizing Stalin and his “cult of personality”. The “Khrushchev Thaw” foreshadowed Gobachov’s “Glasnost”, thirty years later. But it also set the stage for the Sino-Soviet split, which in turn opened the door to Nixon and Kissinger normalizing U.S. relations with China. 

It was Fats Domino’s rocking and rolling treatment of Blueberry Hill that charmed the world in 1956, but this was a new interpretation of a song that was written as early as 1940, when the “Hit Parade” had only just begun (the term was first used in 1936). This is a point in time when the U.S.A. was still a non-aligned power, in accord with the “Washington Doctrine”, summarized in Jefferson’s phrase “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations—entangling alliances with none”.

If we’re looking for the remotest possibility that peace might yet be given a chance, those timelines could help. It is worth remembering that up to 1940 or so, the United States still had a deep suspicion of standing armies as a danger to liberty, as did almost all cultures and societies shaped by English influences. In 1949, a full 153 years after Washington’s Farewell Address, NATO became the very first permanent military alliance the United States entered into with other countries overseas: a fateful turn, out of keeping with a deep-rooted political principle. 

This was a complete about face for the home of the brave and the land of the free. The United States had always stood alone, in splendid isolation, and, for a combination of reasons, remained the least militarized of modern nations. Now it is entering an entangling alliance with almost all developed nations, and steadily increasing a military might that exceeds anything empire that had come before: Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Han, Umayyad, Mongol, Ottoman, Spanish, French, Russian or British.      

The U.S. is not replacing British power and influence at this point, it is absorbing it, and being absorbed into it, in a way that reveals how they were always two sides of the same coin. 

Putin performing, with obvious pleasure, the 1956 version of Blueberry Hill as a kind of kindergarten song, with all the right words memorized, in English is an illustration of the triumph of Anglo World Empire culture. 

If “the West” now extends to Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Georgia, even Turkey, we might as well go all the way and consider anywhere people know the words to “Blueberry Hill,” or where a Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin concert would sell out in minutes, to be part of “the West.” 

In the same way, wherever people get excited about what we in the colonies still call soccer — English style “association” rule football — can be considered, if not part of, certainly under the influence of, and in sync with Western ways. 

Modernization itself, even when pursued in distinct ways, as in China or India, is an effort to adopt processes and patterns that originally emerged in what I’ve been calling the Anglo World, starting with England. Those supply chains, pipelines, banking arrangements, shopping malls, railways, highways, sports leagues, branded franchises and production capacities, including China taking exquisitely organized industrial production to a whole new level, are all part of the same phenomenon. 

We’ve won. The West has triumphed. That may already have been true in 1949, or in 1956 when Khruschev began questioning Stalin’s ways, or in 1972 when Nixon went to China. If the Peace Train hadn’t quite reached the station, it was near at hand, as early as 1949, or maybe even 1919. If we’d realized this, and acted accordingly, confidently rather than in fear of one enemy or another, we might have given peace a chance 50, 60, 70 or more than a century ago, and saved the world a whole heap of trouble. 

Now, in the Spring of 2022, we have another opportunity to finally give peace a chance. 

I keep thinking of that Rolling Stones concert in Havana on March 25, 2016, five days after Barack Obama became the first U.S. president in almost a century to visit neighbouring Cuba. Surely this was a moment when it was clear the Cold War was truly over, and we could have safely boarded the Peace Train. 

Well, that’s my hopeful, faithful, wishful thinking, anyway. To cling to the possibility that peace still has a chance, I’m choosing to treat the record of that event, in audio, video and from memory, in the historical record, as a shining example of what peace actually looks like, sounds like, feels like: a 21st-century ode to joy 

So why do we persist in waging war? Ambition, greed, and downright wickedness, some of my Facebook friends suggested in a recent exchange.

The fact is, peace may be the only chance we have left. 

Events since the end of the last “World War” indicate that it is near impossible to win a sustained, large-scale war, even for the richest, most militarily powerful nation in all of history. Witness Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan … . 

War is obsolete, if for no other reason than the fact that the planet that all lands and all nations, large and small, are a part of is currently too fragile to withstand another widespread military conflagration. 

Russia would do well to read the writing on the wall, and stand down, immediately. Meanwhile, “the West” also needs to stand down and give this last renegade European power some room to give peace a chance. 

The same goes for Israel (an outlying West European power, like Australia or New Zealand) in relation to Palestine, and Arabia in Yemen. Or the West and the Sunni Islamic world vis a vis Iran. Stand down now. If not forever and ever, then at least declare a 60-year truce. An 80-year ceasefire would be even better, because it would take us into the 22nd century. 

If for no other reason than to avoid the global economic collapse that will surely follow if the business of war suddenly becomes obsolete, all the powers that be from pole to freezing pole should rededicate all the resources currently allocated to military preparedness towards finding ways to align modern prosperity with respecting, appreciating and protecting our Earthly home. 

That, too, is an ambition. Let’s be ambitious for peace, and greedy for a genuine, life-affirming, sustainable prosperity.

Peace Train part 1 of 3

Now I’ve been happy lately

Thinking about the good things to come

And I believe it could be

Something good has begun

— Cat Stevens, 1971

“Musings” of the sort that I’ve been sharing in my CultKW posts, in a ponderous but also a light, playful manner, are not well suited to dealing with the horrific turn of events in Ukraine. But ignoring the war, and carrying on as though nothing has happened doesn’t feel right either. So I’m going to give it a try. 

Let’s start with Vladimir Putin singing “Blueberry Hill”. I came across a clip of Russia’s strong man singing Fats Domino’s global hit in front of a glitzy crowd thick with movie stars in a Guardian article. The occasion was a fundraiser for a children’s charity back in 2010, just before the turn towards the horrors currently unfolding in the Ukraine. The headline reads: “Putin’s Hollywood pals – the stars who snuggled up to the Russian dictator”.  

I posted the link, agreeing that this is certainly an embarrassing moment for the glitterati involved. But I also noted that I found it strangely moving to hear that shaky voice performing a rock standard in the style of a nursery rhyme coming from the man who has become the new face of evil on this planet.  

A dear friend, a Ukrainian-Canadian who was a regular at the Commons Studio, responded to my post with a plea: “My homeland … please pray for my home. We need a miracle.”

“We do need a miracle,” I answered. “At this point all I can see is mutually assured destruction. If the result is anything that can be interpreted as a victory for any one or combination of the parties involved — the Russian Federation; the Ukrainian state; the Ukrainian people; the Russian people; “the West”; the Free World, the rest of the world; NATO, the non-aligned, or any alignment of nations  —  if anyone wins, everyone will lose.” 

I’m afraid my friend may have interpreted this as taking a neutral stance, and mitigating, if not justifying, the invasion of her homeland. That’s not the intention. Being surprised by Putin revealing his vulnerable side doesn’t lessen his crimes. On the contrary, it makes them worse. A monster comparable to a Hitler, a Stalin, or a Pol Pot would simply be acting according to character. A regular human being has no such excuse. 

But the Blueberry Hill episode does make room for a tiny glimmer of hope that Putin and his kind may yet be reached. His mind, his culture and his nation are not as far from the ways of “the West” as we imagined Russians to be when they were still under Soviet rule.   

There’s a lot of praying in social media. I’m not in the habit of petitioning the deity in the conventional way, hands clasped, head bowed, knees bent. But when it starts to look like only a miracle can deliver us from the kind of evil we see in Russia’s attack on Ukraine, prayer, or something like it, is an appropriate response. It may, in fact, be the only recourse we have left other than fighting to the bitter end.

Hopeful, faithful praying is an active response: You’re not just waiting for a miracle, you’re longing and pleading for deliverance, trusting that it is at least possible, “God willing,” as they say. 

Hopeful, trusting imagining of what the best possible outcome — in other words, wishful thinking — can also a kind of activism. Miracles don’t descend from out of the blue to conjure a new reality into being among us creatures here below. Redemption usually involves taking the various elements that led to a situation like the one people in Ukraine are facing, and realigning them, in this case so that they can go on with their lives in peace, each in their own small corner, according to their own lights. And the best way to do that is with faith, hope and, above all, good will.   

I’m too old to fight. I have no money to give. Nothing I can say will make a difference as the powers that be decide the fate of the Ukrainian people. Hopeful, trusting imagining how deliverance might come about is all I can do. 

“My homeland … please pray for my home,” my friend implores. And that’s what I’m doing here: Praying for Ukraine, and for all of us, in the only way I know how. 

I’m not a pacifist. I know full well that if it wasn’t for allied soldiers, most notably from Canada, my birth certificate would have had a swastika on it —  if I’d been born at all. 

My generation was conceived and raised in the new hope that came with the cessation of hostilities in 1945. We’re the children of the peace that came with military victory over Hitler and Mussolini. I like to imagine that as a result, we are naturally inclined towards giving peace a chance.

That’s why I found it encouraging to hear, via DW [Deutsche Welle] Music, that on Friday morning, March 4th, “around 150 public radio channels across Europe – including Ukraine – came together in a simultaneous broadcast of John Lennon’s anti-war song ‘Give Peace a Chance’.  Over 25 countries participated in the initiative started by the German station radio EINS. The gesture was developed as a demonstration of how the power of radio can amplify growing support for peace.”

For the people of Ukraine, peace was never given a chance. Nothing can justify what Putin is doing. He is certainly the aggressor in this war. Ukraine is an internationally recognized sovereign nation, and a member of the United Nations. That makes the Russian dictator a war criminal. 

That’s why he can’t be expected to see the light, change the course of his actions and give peace a chance. Ukraine has been left with no alternatives; it’s either surrender or fight for their very existence as a nation. So it’s really our move. It is cowardly to express sympathy and solidarity with Ukraine, but leave all the fighting, dying and suffering to them. It is also careless to leave all the negotiating to them. This is a fight between Russia and all of us in what we call the Free World.

Current NATO member states — wikipedia

The fact is, the Russians have been firm about opposing the extension of the North Atlantic alliance to their borders with Georgia and the Ukraine since we, meaning us here in “the West,” announced this intention in 2008. To give peace a chance, we could have started taking their concerns seriously and considering other options 14 years ago. 

It is not hard to understand how the idea of “the West” or the “Free World” extending from Hawaii eastward, back across the Atlantic to encompass all of Europe, all of what once was “Christendom”, except the Russian Federation is considered a threat from a Moscow perspective

To give peace a chance, we could, for instance, urge Ukraine to join Finland, Sweden, Austria and Ireland as a non-aligned nation, and guarantee that we will respect this neutrality. And we could express an openness that the Russian Federation itself join the circle of European security, thereby turning NATO into a North Atlantic to Pacific Treaty Organization.  

A United North from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from there full circle to the Atlantic again is not impossible to imagine. Russia is the only missing link. 

A truly United Europe wouldn’t guarantee a lasting peace. For one thing, such a development would likely be an affront to China, and could lead to a stand off with a power much more formidable than the hapless Russian state. So I’m wishfully suggesting that at the same time, we — in this case, Canada — propose a North to South Treaty Organization that connects Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, India and area. 

Just imagining something along such lines could be a significant step towards giving peace a sliver of a chance, not just in Ukraine, but throughout the whole world for a generation or two or three. 

John Lennon, Yoko Ono and company singing “all we are saying is give peace a chance” in that Montreal hotel 53 years ago remains relevant as a plea to humanity, and, I’m suggesting, as a hopeful, faithful prayer. Faithful, at least, to the promise of the angel chorus in Bethlehem: “peace on earth,  good will to mankind.” 

The same goes for George Harrison singing “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” in 1973; or Donovan performing Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier”, and Edwin Starr declaring “War, What’’s it good for? Absolutely nothing.” These examples are all subjects of recent posts from Deutsche Welle Music.

Some current statements and gestures from the world of Western entertainment are expressions of solidarity, not just with the plight of the people of Ukraine, but in their fight for national self-determination. Justifiably so; they need and deserve our support, not just our sympathy. But this also signifies abandoning the idea of giving peace a chance, other than the peace that comes with victory for our side, and vanquishing the enemy. 

It is highly doubtful that a crushing defeat of the military forces fighting on behalf of the 150,000,000 people in a nation state that encompasses 11% of the earth’s landmass will prove to be a step towards lasting peace. This would put Russia into the position we left Germany in just over a century ago. A likely result will be an Asian Axis like I described earlier, but without Canada, Australia or any other part of the West, thus setting the stage for an Armageddon scale conflict.     

So is there any chance whatsoever for peace at this point  — a just peace, immediately achieved, that involves neither victory nor surrender?  

I’m proposing we try to imagine a way out, and suggesting that perhaps this amazing rendition of “Blueberry Hill” by a ruthless war monger more than a decade ago may be a place to begin. 

To be continued … .

Open Letter to Seven Grand River Country MPs

I wrote this a couple of weeks after the federal election on September 20, and sent it by email to the parliamentary addresses of the recipients listed. Intended as an open letter, it also went out to few print media establishments as a letter to ther editor. There hasn’t any response. I’m posting it here to make good on the “open” aspect before it’s too late.

The idea of writing to these newly elected or re-elected Members of Parliament came from a friend in an adjacent riding, who told me she had reluctantly voted for the Liberal incumbent but intended to follow up with a note about proportional representation

I have misgivings about a realignment that would entrench partisanship even deeper, transforming the political party as we know it into a kind of placeless constituency. But I agree that adjustments to how our democracy functions are long overdue, and my letter makes some suggestions on how this could be accomplished.

My main point is to express the hope that this election will prove to be a turning point in the way we utilize the structures, the ways and the means currently at our disposal, starting with taking an omni-partisan approach towards the challenges we’re facing.

Paragraph 6 gets to the heart of the matter: This is a good time to begin ” … working together, across party lines, to address the fundamental issues of our time, starting with reconciling Canada as a land and Canada as a people living on that land. I’m urging you all to make the relationship between human beings and our Earthly home your primary concern for the next 4-5 years.”

__________________________________________


To: Valerie Bradford (Kitchener South—Hespeler), Bardish Chagger (Waterloo); Michael Chong (Wellington—Halton Hills); Lloyd Longfield (Guelph); Tim Louis (Kitchener-Conestoga); Bryan May (Cambridge), and Mike Morrice (Kitchener); House of Commons, Ottawa K1A 0A6.

October 4, 2021

This is an open letter to the seven people who were chosen to represent the communities of the central Grand River watershed in the House of Commons on September 20: Five Red, one Blue, and, from the electoral district where I cast my ballot, one exceptional Green. 

Congratulations and best wishes to each of you. As the 44th Parliament begins to assemble, I’m writing in the hope that this will be a new beginning for Canada as a democracy. 

At first glance, it looks as though the election changed very little, nationally and here in our neck of the woods, where we ended up with the Green replacing a Red, a slightly better gender balance, but a less diverse representation. 

In the 2015 election campaign, Justin Trudeau promised this would be the last election conducted in the archaic first-past-the-post manner. Canadians ended up giving his party a majority, which came as a surprise to most of us. The 2019 and 2021 elections indicate that 2015 was an aberration. Unless there are significant shifts in the way our political parties operate, 2015 may prove to be the last majority government in Ottawa for the foreseeable future. 

If the election helps us realize where things stand, and finally begin coming to terms with the situation, it will not have been an exercise in futility. It means, for one thing, that you would be wise to resolve to stay where you are for the full 4-5 year term this time, and concentrate on getting critical things done. No shilly-shallying. No more jockeying for position. No obstruction.  

That means working together, across party lines, to address the fundamental issues of our time, starting with reconciling Canada as a land and Canada as a people living on that land. I’m urging you all to make the relationship between human beings and our Earthly home your primary concern for the next 4-5 years. 

I’m saying this in the hope that a planetary focus can also serve as a catalyst for a convergence of causes rooted in the way human beings relate to one another, especially the historical injustices that remain deeply woven into the very fabric of North American culture and society. 

Getting things done also means making adjustments to how our democracy works. I encourage you to begin taking steps to free our cities from being mere “creatures of the provinces”. At the 154 year mark, it is high time for an urban decolonization. That means going from a hierarchical to a lateral relationship between the various dimensions, not levels, of democracy in Canada.  

Liberal members of the House of Commons owe this to the cities, as urban Canada is where most of their support comes from. For Conservatives, the only hope for becoming a viable alternative again is to demonstrate to the 80% of us who live in cities that the deal that was brokered in 2003 did not mean permanently purging the progressive from Canada’s conservative legacy. 

Equally urgent is doing something to break the pattern of tyranny of less than a majority. For 100 years now, Canada’s political culture has not followed the standard two-party configuration our system is designed for. The possibility of forming a government, even a majority government, with as little as 30-40% of the vote, which means as little as 20-30% of Canadians who are eligible to vote, is simply unacceptable. Besides making adjustments to the reality of multiple parties and divergent regional and national political cultures, we need a full consideration of what Canadian democracy means, what a consituency means, and what confederation means. 

One thing is certain: electoral reform should not be decided from within the political system, with the various partisan interests and blinders getting in the way, and certainly not through a “yes or no” referendum. It is a matter of justice, of fairness and of practicality. Improvements should be formulated the same way electoral districts are set, by a kind of judicial body. 

Independent election boundaries commissions in each province are tasked with balancing representation from geographic and cultural constituencies with the principle of representation by population.This was a brilliant addition to Canadian democracy that should be better known, and celebrated. Our boundary commissions are what have saved us from the gerrymandering that plagues democracy in the U.S., where electoral arrangements are a partisan political concern. 

The way forward is for you, in Parliament, in consultation with your constituents, to set the criteria, encourage deliberation, invite proposals, and let a commissioned body decide what adjustments are called for at this time, and then duly present them to the legislature to pass into law and to implement. 

Sincerely, 

Marinus de Groot 

Leaven

Original Kitchener, September 7, 2021

So, we’re in the home stretch of another federal election. Sigh. This is something most of us didn’t want and certainly don’t need, especially not when we’re only just beginning to recover from a global health emergency. 

As usual when a federal or provincial election is underway, I did the CBC / Vox Pop Lab “Vote Compass” test,* which is offered as “a tool developed by political scientists for exploring how your views align with those of the parties.”

Vox Pop Labs presents itself as “a social enterprise that uses data science to improve democratic participation and political representation.”

I’ve expressed my frustration with the decision to call an election at this time, and with the current culture of political parties — all of them — in another forum.** The influence of this kind of “data science” is part of the problem.

So I don’t put too much store in the results. But I’m always amused by my scores,  and take them into consideration. Any and all information that can help me get my bearings during an election campaign is appreciated. 

“Data science” shows that my alignment with the views of four of the main parties is remarkably balanced. My score for the current campaign is:  

65% Green PC

63% Liberal PC

63% New Democratic Party

61% Bloc Quebecois

52% Conservative PC

23% People’s PC

This is the first time green has had a slight lead in my personal Vox Pop Lab result; in other years it’s been red or orange. But no party has ever been ahead by more than a smidgen. 

Consequently, I find myself, once again, frustrated and angry about being put in the position of having to choose among  a set of “parties” with what for me are minimal differences between them. 

“Party” signifies division, separation, partition. Political parties are collectivities that have, for various historical, emotional and ideological reasons, “come out” of the general whole to operate as a separate, contrarian interest. This is a useful function, especially since the dawn of the modern era, when change began to become a constant. Partition is a peaceful, orderly alternative to violent revolution — in other words, to civil war.   

At this stage of my life, I want to join, not come out; to belong, not part ways; and at this point in historical time, it seems obvious that the importance of coming together to deal with the challenges before us far outweighs any partisan distinction. 

So I’ve modified my views on what an election is all about. I’m not interested in “having a say”, and I don’t have a personal shopping list to bring to the political promise mall. I don’t think of the voting booth as a private sanctuary where I solemnly profess my particular political faith, identity or will. I also don’t aim to leverage my vote as a strategy for achieving the result I personally prefer. 

The way I’ve come to see it, a democratic election is a collective deliberation process. We decide together. It’s not about what I want to see happen, but what we can do working in concert towards a desired result. What the parties say they intend to do matters to me, but what my compatriots across Canada think and say, especially fellow citizens here in my own city and electoral district, is far more important.   

I aspire to be what I like to call a responsible or considerate voter: a citizen who takes into account prevailing views and opinions; current needs and possibilities; the options in my municipality or electoral district, and the range of possible results. The odds, as best as they can be determined, are an important part of the decision, especially when there’s a possibility of an outcome that would be damaging to my city and my country, and therefore intolerable. 

I should explain that rooting for the Liberal cause has been a tradition in my family since we first became Canadian citizens, during the Diefenbaker-Pearson era. In the socially conservative Christian Reformed enclave I grew up in, this was a mildly radical minority stance. But I’ve never been inspired to join this or any other political party.

I became politicized, or at least began being deeply concerned with the outcome of elections, in 1993, when I started to become actively engaged with civic affairs in my city, and in 1995, when the “Common Sense Revolution” turned my province upside down. Ontario has never fully recovered, and I’ve never regained my former detachment. 

From Mike Harris through Canada’s lost decade under Stephen Harper to the antics of the Ford brothers here in the heartland and the Kenney regime out West: the intolerables in Canada as a body politic are mostly derived out of models and precedents in the U.S. and the U.K.. 

Most disturbing is the Deep Red Republicanism that has been steadily depleting all the promise the U.S. experiment once represented to so many around the world. The red is fitting, but only because this mindset was shaped by the Cold War: In opposing an imagined Soviet threat, the freedom fighters adopted the ruthlessness and the ideological rigidity of the enemy. It is a mentality that sees the world in black and white. 

For me, these are all variations of a strain of late modern political life that is simply intolerable: It is a perverse way of seeing the world that is particularly dangerous at a time when we need to come together to deal with the challenges before us. 

______

I’m thinking of that report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that was released earlier this month. A press release from António Guterres, Secretary-General of the U.N., describes the document as a “code red for humanity”. “The alarm bells are deafening,” he said, “and the evidence is irrefutable. … This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet. … If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. … [T]here is no time for delay and no room for excuses.”  

His words are directed to “Government leaders and all stakeholders.” Greta Thunberg responded with a call for “massive pressure from the public and massive pressure from the media” demanding that “people in power … start acting.” 

At this late hour, with the dangers so grave and the stakes so high, we need to come to terms with the likelihood that “people in power” will never heed that call to action. They can’t come together because they represent partisan interests. The powers that be are separated, from each other and from the rest of us, by ideology, by their privilege and their class, by their national particularities, and by their associations with corporate interests competing for private gain in the global arena. 

Should the leaders and all the stakeholders ever manage to get it together, there is a limit to what they could and should impose on our everyday reality from their lofty positions. There is no set of levers and switches that can be turned on or off to take us into the right direction, and if there were such controls, there is no one who would know for certain what to do with them.    

The importance of exercising the right and the duty to do things together as a town, a city, a province, a state, a nation or a federation, through a government led by democratically elected representatives, should be obvious. It is equally important, however, to recognize that there is a limit to what we can do for and to one another through government action, by decree, backed by law, enforced by an armed constabulary and the imposition of fines and prison sentences. 

The role of individual initiative, calling, inspiration or free will is also critical. That includes choosing to participate in collective deliberation during and in between election days: speaking out, weighing options, listening, calculating odds. And it means responsible, considerate voting. 

______

So how should I vote this time around? A scant 22 months ago, 17 of them under lockdown, I almost opted green. Not for the party and their platform; I don’t believe the fate of the planet and all living beings on it should be treated as a partisan matter, a left to a right, or a right to a left: The emergency transcends differences. It should be bringing us together. 

But Mike Morrice worked so hard throughout the campaign, and always spoke sensibly, with a rare sincerity. He deserved to be elected in 2018. If he had, he would have made an outstanding representative for the citizens of Kitchener Centre in our House of Commons. And it would have looked good on us if we’d sent him there: For Guelph to go Green provincially kind of makes sense, but if Kitchener had followed suit federally it would have been a near miracle, and a great national news story.  

But when all was said and done, I stayed with the red. Morrice began talking about how he wasn’t a typical politician, but someone who really listens, really cares, suggesting that he was somehow above the fray. This turned me off, because it bordered on routine resentment mongering: the system is broken; politicians are corrupt; the promises are lies; the stories are fake — just trust in me, I’m your friend, your saviour. It started sounding very much like Doug Ford presenting himself as an ordinary guy, a man of and for the people, ready to stand up to the downtown elites and the mainstream media.  

At one point, though, I did offer to trade my Kitchener Centre vote with anyone intending to vote orange or green in Kitchener-Conestoga in exchange for a vote for Tim Louis, a red candidate whose energy and sincerity matched that of Mike Morrice who was in a tight race with the CPC incumbent. But no one took me up on it, and I stayed with the red. 

The same considerations had led me to going orange provincially in 2018, even though I would have been happy if Kathleen Wynne had been permitted to carry on with her work, and pleased if we’d been allowed to continue having our Kitchener Centre MPP serve as the Minister of  Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. But it was obvious that I was out of tune with my fellow citizens. 

Our orange MPPs have served us well. But the way things are set up, a majority  government can do as it pleases, and if it is controlled by a set of true believers who don’t believe in government, the results will be catastrophic. The number one qualification for any tolerable political option is being able to win in an election. And in our system, all elections are local.   

Whatever happens this time around, Justin Trudeau deserves our gratitude and respect for delivering us from ten years of wandering in a moral, ideological and cultural desert.

But, all things considered, I find myself ready, once again, to cast my vote for Mike Morrice. I’d feel better about it if he dropped the populist tone. But I can look beyond that. If he wins, and we send him to Ottawa to represent us, great. If he loses, I’m hoping he’ll consider helping me and anyone else who is interested to come together as a movement, rather than a party — an “Omni-Partisan” effort dedicated to a sustainable future and a reconception of what true prosperity means.  

_____

António Guterres is right, the alarm bells are deafening; the evidence is irrefutable. The gravity of the situation is comparable to grappling with a 1930s style global depression, a national emergency on the scale of a 20th century World War, with the tensions of the Cold War added in, complete with nuclear doom as an imminent possibility. All at once. 

The war analogy fits the scale of the emergency, and of the mobilization that will be required to deal with it. In the face of this level of danger, partisanship must be set aside. Distinctions of class, race, creed, faith, ideology, even gender, become less pronounced. Everyone does what needs to be done. 

The difference is that in the present struggle, there is no identifiable foe. We are the enemy. And we, citizens living and working in a democracy, must also be the guardians, the healers and the liberators, doing our duty, not as heroic champions, but working together, each in our small corner, in accordance with our personal lights.  

Moreover, as it was during the Great Depression, there is no clear diagnosis, and no known remedy. A pragmatic, scattered, experimental approach is best. But incremental doesn’t always mean timid, weak and slow. The situation calls for an immediate, rapid and massive response, on all fronts, with everyone doing their part. Courage becomes commonplace. Morale becomes critical. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, and its corollaries: resentment, ignorance, hate, blame, division, despair, denial, passivity, surrender.   

It’s what we do in the aggregate that causes all the damage. To reduce the harm we’re doing to the lands, the waters and the skies, we need to think and work together, not necessarily in unison, but in concert, organized in delicate detail to maximize the efficiency and the effectiveness of our labours.

A federal election is a deliberation process to decide what direction to take together, as Canadian citizens. What I long for are structures and mechanisms through which I and others, whatever their Vox Pop Lab score might be, can participate in a deliberation process that considers all the factors, and chooses the best possible people to represent us and our communities in the House of Commons.

If Justin Trudeau had held his eager, pollster-inspired horses, at least until next spring, there might have been time to set such a mechanism in motion. But alas, we’ll have to make do, one more time, with the system we have. 

What I’m suggesting is that, while we’re at it, let’s think about how to do things better nine months from now, when it’s time to decide how Ontario will face challenges and seize opportunities from 2022 until 2026, and on Monday, October 24, 2022, when we decide who will serve and represent us in the  municipal sphere. 

If we had such a mechanism for helping each other decide how to vote responsibly here in Kitchener Centre right now, I am close to certain we would be electing Mike Morrice on September 20, 2021. 

______

I began with the parable of the leaven because it seemed analogous to what the 4% of Canadians who say they’ll be voting for the Green Party from coast to coast to coast could accomplish if they were a movement rather than a party. But I’m not suggesting that committed Greens give up on trying to become a viable political party. 

In an Omni-Partisan movement, you can come as you are, stay where you are, remain loyal as you’ve always been, and do what you feel inspired or called to do.  Ideally, you end up serving as a leavening agent for whatever measures of meal you happen to be associated with. 

What is the leaven to the measures of meal? Not an influencer, not a convincer; the flour doesn’t become yeast. Not a power; the new loaf absorbs the leaven, and it disappears. The combination of a relatively small amount of leaven and the triple measures of meal sets a mysterious process in motion. When the batter rises, the loaves are baked, and put on the table as daily bread. 

Read this way, the parable becomes a promise, not an instruction.  

—-

* to do the test, go to votecompass.cbc.ca/canada

**see Taking Our Time, CultKW Aug 4, 2021.

A Labour Day Post

“Work” was the title of a column I wrote on Labour Day last year, and later submitted as my mid-September contribution to CultKW. 

It began as further thought on a question that had emerged in the wake of the Solidarity March for Black Lives Matter: “but what can a poor boy do”?

The answer that had kept coming to mind was: “Get to work.”

Here’s a revised version of the piece, which I’m posting here as a best wishes greeting for Labour Day 2021.

Call to Work

Marching is not getting to work. Ideally, it’s an expression of commitment and resolve, which are prerequisites for both effective work and purposeful association. 

If the march is to protest, it is talk, not work; reaction, not action.

If the intent is to speak truth to power and move political, managerial, professional and economic leaders to take action, it is not true activism, but a kind of persuasion.  

If the aim is to build solidarity, it can strip away difference and personal resolve. The result can be association with militaristic elements, in preparation for mobilization. For those who are not in command, this is not getting to work but getting ready to be put to work or marched into battle.

Although command is normally at the behest of the powers that be, and perceived as oppression, it doesn’t have to be. Order can be service to shared purpose as well as to private gain; a division of labour like any other.

Work doesn’t always have to be in service to and for the benefit of those who have developed the capacity to organize.     

Despite all the improvements modernity has brought, it is becoming increasingly clear that standard ways of organizing things are extremely wasteful, not just of land, air and water, but of human lives and capacities. We can do a lot better. 

There fact is, there is virtually no limit to the work we could do for one another. And there is no shortage of people to do the work: 7.87 billion of us, and counting. 

So let’s get at it.

A Labour Day Wish

Right now, because I’m almost completely unaffiliated, all I can contribute is the kind of wishful thinking I’ve been dishing out in this forum.

My wishful thinking for Labour Day is that we start moving away from the association of work with drudgery and toil. 

I know there’s a biblical injunction that supports this view of work: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

In this telling, work becomes a curse, a punishment. But it can also be a gift, a blessing. In many respects, work is life, and life is work: It’s what defines us and our place in the world. Work can and should be what gives our lives meaning and purpose.

The idea of setting just the right “work-life” balance, usually through various lifestyle and leisure offerings from purveyors of health and happiness, seems twisted: The implication is that we’re truly alive only when we’re not sacrificing hour after hour to making a living. 

Chamber of Commerce style promotion of a city or a region as a “great place to live, work and play” strikes me the same way. 

Work, play, recreation, leisure and rest are all living.

The distinctions between “work”, “recreation”, “leisure”  and “play” have always been vague. That’s especially true in the arts:

“The play’s the thing,” but it is the work of a playwright, i.e. a maker or a builder.

Performers are “players,” but they commonly work in companies, train within disciplines, and create productions. 

The play aspect of art making is a major part of why it is so difficult to get policy makers and the public art large to pay serious and sustained attention to working in the arts as an integral part of a healthy economy.

Art Work is the Key

For a long time, arts advocacy was my business, and I’m not sure if anything I said or did in this line of work ever made the slightest difference. Nevertheless, I’m more convinced than ever that arts-related work is the key to a smarter, stronger, more advanced  economic future. 

Any way you look at it, in 2020-21 smarter and more advanced means more sustainable. We’ve reached the point where the ecological balance sheet is of far greater consequence than anything that can be measured in terms of dollars and cents. 

It would be wise to take this break from the normal that the pandemic provided to work on updating our conception of what prosperity means.

My sense is, if culture-related work, culture-related exchange, the infinite bounty of arts-related production, and the ever-increasing riches of our collective cultural inheritance are not at the very centre of our conception of true prosperity, the future starts to look very bleak.

The arts are, after all, the original work. From before the beginning of historical time, what people do, as soon as there’s enough food and no enemy at the gates, is tell stories, sing, dance, depict, decorate, embellish, make special. 

Full Employment

There will always be work providing the necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter, security, healing. But this needn’t take anywhere near the amount of effort we put into covering these essentials today. 

If we distributed the workload more equitably, we wouldn’t have to work so arduosly. But we may still want to work long and hard. All work could and should be more like arts-related work: varied, open-ended, creative, done for its own sake, with pleasure and a sense of accomplishment.

What I’m getting at here is that it might be time to extend some of the confusion between work, play, leisure, learning, creation, recreation and entertainment that we associate with artistic practice to work of every kind. 

If there are aspects of our working lives that make us miserable to the point where we feel a need to seek relief or escape, it’s because of the way we organize the work that needs to be done to make a living.

The habit of thinking that living life to the fullest requires choosing “lifestyles” and buying “experiences” from the purveyors of such compensations for living meaningful and wholesome lives is perverse.

There can be pleasure even in drudgery, but not if you’re bound or relegated to it, and when you’re looked down on for having to do it. There are better ways to organize these things, starting with working towards a free and open market for work. 

The system of having twenty workers seeking employment for every ten decent jobs is cruel and wasteful. In a healthy, mature economy, these proportions are reversed. We can all be rich in possibilities. Everyone seeking gainful, meaningful employment will be able to pursue whatever they feel a call to do. 

To “pursue” an objective will involve either proposing a project with a view towards finding people able and willing to work with you to make it happen, or signing on to a project already in the works.  

Mudsill jobs will have compensatory rewards. The key to getting a project off the ground will be the credentials of the people committed to working on it, not the wealth or borrowing capacity of the person or organization behind it.  

Work as Fun

Part of the inspiration here is a comment from Jimmy Wales, the prime mover behind Wikipedia, the for-purpose, non-shareholding enterprise that has produced miraculous results relying largely on unpaid, voluntary work. 

According to Jimmy Wales, “It’s a misconception people work for free. They have fun for free.” Researching, writing and editing the site is painstaking work, yet capable people do it willingly in part because they trust the organization and believe in its purpose, but also, as a survey of Wikipedia volunteers revealed,  simply because “it’s fun.”

Judging by the kinds of things people do as a hobby, a pastime, or for recreation, almost every kind of work can be pleasurable, even fun. And my hunch is that as we move toward conflating work, play, leisure, learning, creation, and recreation, we’ll not only be happier and healthier, but also more steadfast, conscientious, and consequently a lot more productive.  

Organized Labour

Just because it’s fun doesn’t mean people needn’t and shouldn’t be paid for doing it. If there’s no money involved, it may still be work that is beneficial, but it would not be part of the measured exchanges that are an economy.  

There may come a time when we can do it all on trust. For the time being, however, I’m suggesting that we keep track, and try to keep it reciprocal. We can start by getting to work wherever we happen to be, each in our particular corner, according to our own lights, with whatever capabilities we may have been gifted with or developed. 

I firmly believe that each and every village, town and city in the land of the Canadas is, or can be, a great place to live, play, work, learn and associate.

Association is the critical component. The fact is, there is almost nothing one can accomplish alone. Even a rock’n’roll band is an organization of sorts: a company.

Company” was the title of my next column, which I posted here, not as CultKW musing.

More on ô

A few weeks ago, I floated a proposal for a new endeavour I’ve playfully been calling: 

ô: omni practical pursuits

The name is provisional. I find it helps to give a thought a name, and imagine possibilities in relation to people, organizations and situations that actually exist.  

The first post on this project explains that the intention is to undertake “explorations in the field of voluntary, purposeful association.” By voluntary, I mean non-governmental: Freely chosen association for an explicit purpose.  

The ô project would serve as a lab, a studio, a matrix, an incubator; a channel, a resource, an agency, an institute. 

Why am I doing this? I’m working for work. I’m hoping to make this my business. 

Although I am confident in certain areas, I also know my limitations. If I had money, I could hire people to do what I can’t do alone. So I’m hoping to find associates interested in investing energy and/or resources to achieve similar, or at least compatible, objectives.      

The kind of work I have in mind touches on the three fields of endeavour that I’ve been involved with during my working life, in each case on the margins: 

1. the academic world; specifically, in the humanities; 

2. the media, primarily local/regional print journalism, and 

3. the local/regional arts, culture and heritage ecosystem. 

I have also been engaged, mostly on a voluntary basis, with the civic sphere: with my city and city-region; it’s organizational infrastructure, governmental and non-governmental, and how the prevailing order, part rational structure and part culture, has come to be, and continues to evolve. 

There are aspects of this concept that I’ve been thinking about for more than 25 years. As a result, I’m not ready with an executive summary or the five-minute elevator pitch. What I can do is offer some additional details about styles, preferences, ways, means, and about fields of endeavour that appear to be relatively open, and therefore ripe for action. 

I’ll conclude with some thoughts about steps.  

styles and preferences

ô is imagined as a civic endeavour, as distinct from a social enterprise. The emphasis is on engaged citizenship, on public service, on enlivening communities, and on enriching lives as lived in cities, towns and their various precincts. 

I don’t mean any and all cities and towns — “local” in the generic sense — but actual places, with specific names — Kitchener, Preston, Elora, New Hamburg, Paris, Trenton, Bancroft, Chatham — each with their own history, character and circumstances, past and current; each with their own unique possibilities. 

The preference for civic endeavour is not in opposition to what is called social enterprise, or as an alternative to private, for-profit enterprise, or to charity work as traditionally conceived. The emphasis is because the civic sphere looks like a less crowded field. There is work to be done here.  

ô is conceived as a “for-purpose” enterprise. The mandate is the reason the organization exists. Serving the mandate will be the fundamental point of reference for all decision-making, planning, strategizing and investing, whether of time, energy or resources.  

Again, this is not being proposed as an alternative way of doing things, or in opposition to privately owned, for-profit enterprise, or in relation to semi-private entities like guilds, unions, co-operatives, mutuals, clubs and congregations. The intent is to begin working towards creating a check and a balance to the prevailing currents of consolidation, externalization, privatization and demutualization.

This project is also influenced by an uneasiness with the dominant social engineering approach to relieving misfortune, remedying damage and healing affliction — doing things to people, for their benefit, guided by evidence-based on the human behavioural science approach to research, or by references to “self-evident” truths. 

The open field of endeavour here is working towards achieving balance through humbler,  more human, more personal and less deterministic ways of doing things. The emphasis on voluntary, purposeful association means looking for ways to do things with people rather than doing things to or for them.    

The thinking behind this includes considering the proper role of individual initiative, calling, inspiration or will. But it also considers our right and the duty, when it serves the purpose, to do things in concert, all together as a city, a region, a province or as the people of a nation state, through the governments we elect to represent and serve us, and through non-governmental associations for civil, cultural, educational and social objectives. 

Whereas the prevalent expectation is for things to continue to unfold through the workings of unseen forces beyond anyone’s control, ô begins with the assumption that the future will either be what we choose to make of it, individually and collectively, or what we allow to be done to us and for us by the powers and forces that be.   

fundamentals

The “ô for omni” initiative is a “do-tank”: the aim is towards activation and actualization — getting work done; undertaking projects, large and small. Every project begins with agreement around what the objectives are, and a basic understanding of the parameters: Mission and principles come first, then the ways and means.


Personally, I would have difficulty working as part of an association that did not share a basic agreement on fundamentals such as:

  1. that the relationship between human beings and our earthly home needs to be drastically re-adjusted in the light of 21st century realities, including our conceptions of what progress and prosperity signify;

  2. that adjustments to the relationship between humans and the earth are intertwined, and interdependent on adjustments related to great historical injustices among peoples, nations and other large collectivities; 

  3. that the role, both of individual initiative, calling, inspiration or will, and of doing things together through the governments we elect and associations we choose to become part of, are equally important, and not at odds;

  4. that the way of peaceful transition is best; and with it, there needs to be uncompromised respect for the lives of other humans;  

  5. that there’s a shared preference for a friendly, welcoming, respectful and considerate approach to the community at large and everyone within it;

  6. and that the endeavour is progressive, i.e. that it is dedicated to the here and now, and forward looking, not based on a longing to restore or preserve an imagined ideal past. 

ways and means

To repeat: There is no intention here to establish an “alternative” to existing norms and structures, or an opposition to any prevalent order.

The aim is to complete, not compete;

to complicate, not sort out or explain away;

to connect, not consolidate;

to deliberate, not contend or debate

to seek better balance, not correct or overturn;

to adapt, improve, fulfill, not destroy or replace.  

Adopting a principle that was an important part of the City of Kitchener’s CulturePlan I, the resolve is, whenever possible, to build on, with and through what already exists. 

The corollary is to demolish nothing, throw nothing away, and waste nothing that can be put to good continued use. 

This enterprise is forward-looking: There is no longing to return to past glories, virtues or innocence. There is no rejection of modernity. 

There is no denying, however, that change at every stage of development over the last 600+ years has also brought loss. Progress over the centuries has been ruthless, cruel and exceedingly wasteful. Having reached the point where dominant patterns of modernity have become a threat to life on this planet, this is a time for gleaning the fields for what the modernization process may have left behind. 

This is a time to reconsider overlooked or discarded forms of wisdom and virtue. 

This is a time to look for stones or beams or forms that builders have rejected that may yet serve good purposes.  

At the current juncture, the most likely place to find satisfying, life-affirming work are fields of endeavour that are relatively open: where there are gaps and imbalances; where the landscape is strewn with the abandoned, the rejected, the neglected.

ô is meant to serve as an incubator: When set in motion, it will be people joining forces to cook up project possibilities out of whatever ingredients may be on hand or readily gathered. When a prospect begins to make sense and starts attracting engagement, it is time to launch the enterprise and get to work. 

Each project will be embedded in the place from which it emerges, and where it is meant to be of service. The intent is to build, maintain and utilize lateral relationships — standing on the same ground, face to face, shoulder to shoulder, person to person, in proximity  — without an upper tier, and with no ladder to climb or descend, no colonizing mother polis, no centralized command, no head office.  

This is not pitching for a more egalitarian and libertarian approach vis-à-vis hierarchies of every sort. Again, it’s that the tiered, top down, remote control approach to organizational structure is the standard everywhere, including among our governments, our representative bodies, the business world, for-purpose and for-profit, as well as in the military and the religious spheres. And it’s that all that winnowing down in search of excellence, all that centralization, consolidation and stratification in search of efficiencies are so wasteful of talents, energies and lives. 

The situation is especially out of balance on the ground, in actual places, where increasingly, everything that matters is designed, organized, controlled and owned from somewhere else. 

Doing things laterally, in proximity, and for purposes beyond private profit still requires order: Assigned authority, rules, regulations, procedures for decision making, and scrupulous record keeping are equally if not more important for a voluntary, mandate-centred enterprise. But in a voluntary, for-purpose endeavour, it becomes order as service, to the mandate, to the community, to the associates, and to the customers, clients, subscribers or members.  

This is the kind of authority that a conductor wields when hired by a choir to lead it to performance excellence, or that a traffic police officer holds when guiding vehicles coming from all directions in taking their turn to proceed through an intersection. With a lateral approach, authority is practical, and never extends beyond the task or office at hand, in place, on the ground. It exists to get things done, not to put everyone in their place.   

The emphasis on actual, tangible results — on doing, rather than theorizing, influencing and persuading — makes it possible to take a decidedly omni-partisan approach from the outset. If the purpose is, say, to build a thousand affordable houses, or plant a billion trees, or restore and maintain an architectural heritage treasure, or save a language that is close the extinction, the beliefs, creeds, convictions, predilections and even the prejudices of those doing the building, planting, teaching, restoring and the maintenance are, for the most part, irrelevant.    

The emphasis on association comes from an awareness of how little anyone can achieve entirely on their own. Association is also a logical objective when the call for participation is directed first to those of us who are not fortunate enough to have access to significant amounts of working capital, whose working lives are less than satisfactory, who are or would like to be engaged with their community, and who care about more than just their own interests and ambitions. 

Consequently, the preference is for bootstrap, pay-as-you-go operations that respond to circumstances as they arise, and that are improvised rather than predetermined. 

Revenue generation and monetary investment are as important as they are in any for private profit enterprise, but only in relation to serving the mandate or purpose. Any and all proceeds are judiciously folded back into the enterprise, rather than divided up among the various shareholders. 

Debt can lead to loss of the freedom to serve a mandate. The preference, therefore, is towards a picayune style of earning revenue, a penny or a bit at a time.  This is a model that goes back to the invention of the penny post and the penny daily newspaper, and currently looks like a field that is ripe for innovation and experimentation.  

The preference is also towards relatively level remuneration rates. If the endeavour is dependent on work that is done without or with minimal remuneration, a for purpose structure that no one owns, no one extracts profit from, and that can operate without a highly paid management structure  is almost a necessity.  

The ultimate purpose, however, is to find ways that people can earn a living in fields where things appear out of balance. The purpose is fuller, more satisfying, more meaningful employment, not replacing adequately paid work with unpaid or minimally paid workers.  

fields that appear open, hence ripe

The academic world appears vulnerable: Sooner or later, the disruptive practices of the for-profit corporate world will turn on institutions of higher learning. 

Meanwhile, academia is a closed, exquisitely chaptered and layered, guild-dominated field of endeavour that has been able to withstand most threats to its prestige, privilege and power. That’s especially true for the STEM disciplines, and for systems for the acquisition and protection of professional credentials in prestigious and lucrative fields. In terms of power and influence, the social and human sciences, including health sciences, economics, political science, business administration and communication, don’t do so badly either. 

It’s the humanities that are overlooked, neglected, left behind. The only sustained interest in their intrinsic value is from an older, classically oriented, regressive kind of conservatism. 

There is a tendency for what remains of the arts and humanities to get cannibalized by the stronger fields of learning, for example, the arts squeezed into the applied science and technology spectrum to add a soupçon of “creativity”: from STEM to STEaM. 

The trend towards transforming arts practitioners into social workers, place makers, community builders or political activists is comparable. We see the same dynamic at play in the trend towards reducing the role of museums and galleries, which, like libraries and archives, are fundamentally places of learning and study, to “cultural attractions” that bring in tourists, or to help with employee retention in fields that really matter. 

In the world of high modern business, of work, of productivity, and among all the exchanges that constitute an economy, artistic pursuits tend to be regarded as peripheral, except in the higher echelons of “cultural industries” operating at a national or global scale. 

So the arts, broadly conceived, are another wide-open field. In this case, however, it is one that is on the rise rather than in decline. 

A foundational premise of this endeavour is that the arts are the original human work beyond achieving subsistence. In all times, and all places, once food and shelter is secured, and there is no enemy or plague at hand, this is what people do: they tell stories, remember, sing, dance, decorate, celebrate, make pictures, fashion images, make special, beautify, build things, and contemplate their existence.  

In terms of the kind of work that we can do for one another to achieve a kind of prosperity that will not destroy the planet, artistic pursuits are ideal because they are relatively clean, and because the people who follow them tend to find them meaningful and fulfilling.   

Journalism is an arts pursuit rooted in such elemental human activities, but it is also a prototypically modern field of endeavour that has claimed and been assigned a critical role in the civic sphere, as a trusted source of information, a “watchdog” on authority, and as a forum for the kind of discussion that is essential for democracies to function.   

Legacy media, especially the city daily and the town weekly, have been in steady decline for decades. Broadcasting media, especially at the local and near regional level, are not far behind. The metropolitan owners of our daily newspaper took advantage of the disruptions of the pandemic to quietly abandon their physical presence, including their newsroom, in the 10th largest urban centre in Canada. Our local, always a decidedly provincial private television station once produced a hundred or more regular programs at any given time. Now they can’t even manage to keep the yard tidy. 

Radio, and audio communication and presentation in general, has been a relatively neglected field since the advent of national network television, but with the rise of podcasts and audiobooks, sound media are on the ascendent.  

It is interesting to see, not just knowledge and information, but also the exchange of  ideas claimed as part of the purpose and function of libraries, galleries, even choirs and drama groups. Meanwhile, the newspaper is conceived as a kind of learning institution. It is possible to imagine a local/regional news, information, ideas, deliberation, chronicling and storytelling ecosystem that encompasses traditional media, arts and humanities educational structures and civic learning institutions, broadly conceived. 

Open enterprise, multiple ownership, unmanaged legacy business districts, and with them, the appreciation, preservation and adaptive reuse of architectural and other cultural heritage assets, are also long overlooked fields that are ripe for attention. 

Small and mid-sized urban centres in themselves have lost their purpose and function in relation to their hinterlands or service areas. Provincial, non-metropolitan centres are wide open fields of endeavour, along with their current, but mostly former, hinterlands:  “flyover” country, they call it in the U.S.. 

The entire area known as the “Rust Belt”, which Laurentian Ontario is an extension of, was the very centre of North American cultural, political and economic life from the late 19th century until well into the 20th. Today, it has been largely abandoned, rejected, outmoded, and therefore ripe for fresh, imaginative, purposeful endeavour.  

All forms of enterprise other than the private, for profit norm are undervalued, and poorly understood, including mandate-based enterprises, mutuals and cooperatives, faith groups, and even public or civic service structures.  

Voluntary associations of all kinds appear under threat: service clubs, lodges, orders, friendly societies, representative associations, along with the traditional religious associations out of which most of our educational, health, social service and purely social infrastructure originally emerged. I read somewhere that even the rock band is no longer as common a form as it once was. 

The odds are also stacked against all original, local/regional, innovative, independent and freely associated enterprises, whether civic or private; for purpose or for profit. 

The talents and energies of older people tend to be wasted. So are the days, years and energies of young people whose career paths are delayed, diverted or blocked because of the vagaries of an economy where discord and disruption are the norm, and the constant winnowing of a placeless, ruthless dedication to efficiency. 

This is one of the reasons why this project begins with an intergenerational focus. On the one hand, the aim is to balance the dominant pattern of segregating age groups, and setting them against one another. But life is finite, and unfolds in stages, from infancy, childhood and youth to maturity and old age. Because of the contrasting needs and capacities of the younger in relation to the older, and their shared relative freedom, the combination of the youngest and the oldest adults among us carries boundless potential for associating, and getting things done.      

And, of course, the legions of people of all ages, backgrounds and identities all over the world who are unemployed, sporadically employed, underemployed, misemployed, or miserably employed, together constitute a vast pool of wasted potential. 

The fully employed — the workers of the world, as they used to say — might be wise to unite, with a view towards breaking their dependence on the power and the will of their employers, and getting a better deal. But the workers of the world are a relatively fortunate, privileged minority. 

It’s the billions of us that live on the edges of full, meaningful employment who have the most to gain by exercising our right to assembly and association.    

Compared to other rights and freedoms that are cherished and defended, the rights of assembly and association are in themselves a neglected field of opportunity and concern.    

At this juncture, in Canada and all over the liberal democratic world, the political party is close to bankruptcy as a means towards the form’s original functions and purposes: as movements that bring people of divergent interests together, and as channels for democratic engagement at the broader, extra-civic and inter-civic scale. There is boundless opportunity for innovative approaches to associated citizenship related to democratic forms and practices.  

The traditional, and still close to universal left versus right political spectrum, calibrated along the fault lines created by the various revolutions set in motion by upheaval in the British and French empires in the late 18th century, is long overdue for a reset more in line with 21st century challenges and opportunities. 

As I’ve tried to explain in some of my CultKW and Here & Now | Now & Then posts over the last year, I think the Canadas; Ontario Nation; all original village, town and city areas (any area built up contiguously before the mid-20th century suburban boom); watersheds and sub-watersheds, and all non-metropolitan local/regional news, information, ideas, deliberation, chronicling and storytelling ecosystems are wide open fields, are ripe for sowing, planting and cultivating. 

steps

Step 1: Write and Talk About It

The first step is to talk and write about what I have in mind. That’s really all that is in my power to do at this point.

The next chapter will be some examples of the kinds of projects I’m imagining.
.

Step 2: Carry on With Current Engagements

Meanwhile, I’ll carry on with what I’ve been doing since the pandemic hit:

— a fortnightly post for CultKW;

— occasional posts on my own Here & Now | Now & Then;

— edit and host Promenade, a weekly “community radio magazine” that airs over CKWR 98.5, Canada’s first community radio station Tuesday evenings at 6;

— organize the bundle of intergenerational and interdisciplinary shared learning programs I helped develop at the Commons Studio as an autonomous entity tentatively called the “Home [on the] Range Story Kitchen”, working in partnership with the Commons Studio at its new home with KPL Central, Inter Arts Matrix, CKWR / Wired World Inc and other community partners. 

— do social media posts for myself; the Story Kitchen; WR Arts Reboot / Arts Together. 

— serve on a few boards and committees: Inter Arts Matrix; 98.5 CKWR Wired World Inc; Bread & Roses Housing Co-operative; Arts Network for Children & Youth / Participate Community Arts / Creative Roots. 

And with this, I’m adding refining the ô concept, developing project ideas, and outlining plans to my day in, day out job description. 

I can happily keep on doing these things as long as I can keep body and soul together.

The steps towards actualizing any of this — moving from talk to action, to work — will depend on attracting engagement, articulating understandings, and developing mechanisms for associated endeavour.  

Step 3: seek and find engagement

Step 4:

a. develop basic understandings

b. create structure and board

c. begin undertaking projects as part of the ô initiative.

Canada Day, 2021

Garden strawberry (fragaria × ananassa), image created by Ivar Leidus, via wikipedia

Original Kitchener, July 1, 2021

I’ve never been much of a Canuck Doodle Dandy. At this stage of my life, the fact that it is strawberry time here in our neck of the woods is more exciting than celebrating the achievement of settler home rule and a federation among the remnants of British and French colonial projects on this continent 154 years ago. 

And yet, I’m feeling more devoted, more committed and more connected to Canada, the land, the waters, the peoples, the habitations, than I ever have before. It feels as though, when you go in deep enough, grow contrary enough, and think the whole thing over, under, around and through, you come out on the other side.

Observing Canada Day as a day of mourning, recognition and reflection in 2021 is not cancelling our annual celebration of becoming a modern independent nation state. On the contrary, it is transforming what had become a pale imitation of July 4 traditions in the U.S., with scattered displays of patriotic bunting, fireworks and holiday specials in the weekly flyer drop, into a deeply patriotic observance that holds the promise of redemption, reconciliation and restoration.

I’m a late settler, born on the other side of the Atlantic. I was too young to choose to come here. I became a citizen through my parents, without having to pass any test, swear any oath, or subject myself to any crowned sovereign. I was, however, exceedingly glad when we received those citizenship papers from our local MP (Lee Grills, the friendly milkman, a Diefenbaker Conservative), primarily because we could now go over the Thousand Islands Bridge and cross the border into the United States. 

I’d been to Toronto and Ottawa by then. I’d outgrown the Trentonian tri-weekly and CJBQ a.m. radio from Belleville, and was ready to expand my horizons. We were late to television, but when it arrived in our home it came mainly from across the lake in Rochester, New York. Meanwhile, radio came into my room from all over the continent: Boston, New York, Buffalo, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Wheeling. The Toronto stations just weren’t cool.

Canada was a weak and lacklustre presence in my life, especially after I left Queen Elizabeth primary school to enter the segregated environment of Calvin Christian. The old guard Tory, Loyalist strain, still a palpable presence in those days, felt hostile to us as newcomers, especially down in the County, on the other side of the Bay of Quinte. 

These circumstances turned me into something of a revolutionary republican with a decidedly continental outlook.

It is only lately that it occurs to me that the Canadian project from 1867 on is actually an imitation of U.S.-style self-determination followed by continental expansion, driven by a version of Manifest Destiny, borrowed almost entirely from the original. A kind of upstart Pepsi to the classic Coke.

So when it comes to the centuries-long horrors that have accompanied how the west was won, plus the south, plus the north, on the continental mainland as well as the Caribbean plantation lands, it is essentially one story, whether the original colonizers were French, English, Netherlandish, Iberian or Scandinavian. 

For me, the main difference between classic Manifest Destiny and our continental expansion story is that Canada’s path towards home rule has been peaceful and incremental: We never made a radical break with all that had come before, and we never declared that, when things appear to be out of line with what we take to be self-evident truths, people should rise up in arms, overthrow their government, conspire with foreign enemies if need be, and, once separation is achieved, confiscate the property of those who held to other versions of the truth, and drive them into exile. 

That is one hell of an idea to found a new nation on. But it has been the standard storyline for how and why self-determining nations are built ever since. 

Emphasizing the colonial or imperial aspect over the basic act of settlement itself not only obscures the honest  truth, it actually appropriates the ideas, principles and methods of the rebels who rose up, in part to fight for freedom to encroach on Indigenous homelands on the other side of the Appalachian divide. The raised fist, the bloody splatters and the mutilated colonial statue are simply “don’t tread on me,” “give me liberty or give me death”, and “thus always to tyrants” all over again.

Fighting and killing are what the separatist nationalists have always respected, and even preferred: An uprising provides justification for dealing out reciprocal death, and inevitably, annexing yet more land. The peacekeepers, the prophets, the orators, the storytellers, the knowledge keepers, the ambassadors, the elders, the matriarchs, the healers, the drummers, the singers, the dancers are generally ignored, and perhaps even feared, while the warriors, majestically appointed in full battle regalia, have automobiles, cities and sports franchises named after them    

My newly discovered patriotic sentiments are anchored on the fact that Canada’s story has never been disrupted in such an abrupt and bloody manner. I firmly believe that this gives us advantages for dealing with those centuries-long injustices that have been ignored for so long.

Maybe it is living in a settlement founded by pacifists that has drawn me in this direction. But, as the abolitionists I studied for my dissertation used to emphasize, following Jeremiah, a pacific stance can be false prophecy: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”

I am conscious of the fact that if it hadn’t been for Canadian soldiers fighting for the liberation of my homeland, there would have been a swastika on my birth certificate. And now we’re talking about historical wrongs that are comparable, in significant ways, to the burden of blame, guilt and shame that people in Germany have to bear. That’s what it means when they describe our national policies and practices as genocidal. 

Words may fail, but we shouldn’t flinch from the truth. To address these wrongs, we need to take full ownership of the errors, crimes, sins … there is no term that adequately conveys the gravity and the enormity of it all. 

The longer view of what Canada represents, over 400 years rather than just over 150, actually deepens our complicity, both with what Atlantic European powers and interests did to men, women and children in Africa, as well as to the people and nations of this hemisphere. The long view doesn’t exonerate us in any way, but it connects us with both the oppressors and the oppressed in ways that oblige us to act. 

As a settler, and as a citizen who has voted in every election, federal, provincial and municipal, since I reached voting age, I accept full complicity. The nation state of which I am a citizen did these things; my votes approved this course of action, and my silence has helped sustain it. 

These tragedies are not primarily the work of a wily Prime Minister who has been dead for 130 years, and not the invention of a True Grit reformer inspired by nascent “evidence-based” social engineering practices, nor are they the work of any Queen or King on a faraway throne, nor of any church, association or for-profit corporation that was contracted to provide services to help move the modern, democratic nation-building process forward, nor any soldier, policeman, prison guard, teacher or preacher who was assigned related duties. They were all, even their royal majesties, serving their country, serving this country, and this country is us.   

The truth is that the Indigenous peoples of this land, their languages, their customs, their stories, their family ties, and their very bodily existence have been perceived as obstacles to our freedoms, our way of life, and our prosperity from the outset, especially from the time the fur trade began losing its lustre, and when we realized that our 8,890 km border with the revolutionary republic no longer needed defending. 

Canada — i.e. we, us — wanted these people de-cultured, de-natured, properly washed, dressed and shorn; trained for domestic or field work. We wanted them safely penned up beyond the pale, yet readily accessible in designated concentration zones for various purposes, including so that we could readily take their children away because we were dead certain we knew how to nurture them better than their mothers, aunties, fathers, uncles, grandparents. We wanted the Indigenous population gone, vanished from the True North strong and free: either dead and buried in best forgotten graves, or dissolved into the national melting pot that renders all ingredients into what we consider proper, decent, normal. Even our democratic practices have been an instrument for social and cultural engineering.    

The heart of the matter is that settlement itself, compounded by settler home rule, both here and in the revolutionary republic to the south, lies at the root of this horror.

The fact that we’re beginning to open our eyes to such truths is a good sign. We’re beginning to realize how wrong we have been, and that’s a critical step towards doing better. 

My hope is that Canada’s true destiny may not be dominating the continent, or carrying on with wresting a fleeting and devastating kind of wealth from the land, the waters, the earth below and the sky above. Maybe Canada’s calling is to show the world how to begin repairing the damage that revolutionary zeal, “man shall have dominion” cultural and environmental arrogance, and exclusionary national self determination projects have caused over that last two centuries and more.  

This is not advocating national self-loathing, guilt or shame. It’s not counter-erasure, holier than thou socio-political purity, or another manifestation of cancel culture. It is standing up for Canada, and standing up as a Canadian. 

Me, My, I — Us, Our, We

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

I’m going to pick up from where I left off in my June 3, 2021 CultKW.com post. Entitled “One Year Later,” the column is a reflection on what has happened in my life over the year that has passed since I raised the question: “What can a poor boy do?”

This was in the wake of the Kitchener Solidarity March for Black Lives Matter on June 3, 2020. The poor boy [he, him] in question is me — an old, white Canadian with an Atlantic European background, who studied history, writes columns, is devoted to arts, culture and heritage, and lives, works, plays and learns here in Waterloo Count[r]y.  

At the time, I thought perhaps I could work on some history essays. The end result is “What’s in a Name”, an album of columns written “in the hope that by tinkering with familiar storylines, we may discover pattern variations that could open fresh possibilities for imagining how we’ll deal with the challenges and opportunities that lie immediately ahead.”

I stand by most of what I wrote or hinted at in the sequence, and still hope to follow through on the original intent of publishing the pieces as a pamphlet. 

But while my days under the restrictions of the pandemic have been productive for coming up with ideas, concepts and possibilities, I haven’t been able to articulate any firm, practical proposal for actually doing something. After more than a whole year musing, mulling and imagining — four seasons spent conceiving projects, writing proposals and building partnerships —  there are few tangible results. It does feel like it’s high time to go “out of the door, into the street, alone.”** 

My year and half in my coop at the co-op has shown me that imagining projects, making proposals and building connections are kind of my thing. But imagining, proposing and connecting are not enough. To get anything done, you need to form or join a team or an organization, and then get to work.

So now what?

Well, I’ve spent most of my work life, paid and unpaid, on the fringes of three major fields of endeavour: the academic world, specifically in the humanities; the arts and culture ecosystem in a provincial, mid-sized urban-to-rural region, and the media in a local/provincial context, with an abiding interest in print journalism. 

Consequently, I’m looking for an enterprise that operates where these fields intersect. 

As far as I’m aware, nothing like this exists, not here, maybe not anywhere. And that’s a good thing. The objective is to find areas within and among these fields that are generally overlooked, neglected, under-appreciated, or that are in the process of being absorbed, abandoned or rejected.

Here’s a quick sketch of what I have in mind:

The working title is Project Ô — an entity dedicated to “omni practical pursuits.”

The overarching purpose is explorations in the field of voluntary, purposeful association.** 

The entity itself would be a willed association formed to serve as a platform and engine for concerted endeavour, i.e. for getting things done. The purpose is to lay out what can be described as a project garden or an association nursery. 

Project Ô would operate as something akin to a lab; a studio; a matrix; an incubator; a channel; a resource, an agency, an institute.

As an institute, the aim would be to learn, study, ponder, muse, imagine, propose, but also to launch, build and maintain. I’m imagining a “do-tank”, more than a think tank. 

Omni means “all”, as distinct from “one”: In the higher learning field, this would be an omniversity, not a university. The aim, however, is to be firmly grounded, rather than aspirational. Higher education is a crowded, fiercely competitive arena.   

Pursuit denotes
— movement with purpose, but not as in a race or a chase;
  — pursuit as quest, calling, profession, mission, expedition;
— pursuits in the plural: there can be different paths to a shared destination;
— the reference to “pursuit of happiness” is intentional, but as in “to hap”: happenstance, i.e. what actually takes place, and exists in place.*

Practical means the emphasis is on getting things done, not on influencing or setting policy. The focus is on particularities — actual instances, not theories or generalities. 

As I was putting together an outline for a related idea that isn’t ready for sharing just yet, I started making a list of influences that inspired and shaped my imaginings, especially personal involvements of various kinds over time. The list grew longer and longer, and a feeling returned from the time I was putting the final touches on my doctoral dissertation: that for the citations to be complete, they would have to include everything I ever did, heard or read.

I’m going to offer just three examples of the many models and inspirations that have shaped Project Ô here, in order to give a better sense of the purpose and scope: 

1. CIGI

I’ve had no direct involvement with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, but it has been useful as a counterpoint for defining Project Ô. The aim here is to complete, not compete. What I’m imagining is in some respects the opposite of what this prestigious Waterloo institute is and does, but the contrast is meant to show complementarity, not conflict.   

— Ô is not a “centre” or a “hub”: The aim is to function laterally, on common ground, embedded in the communities from which it arises and aims to serve. 

— Ô is not international, but local/regional — not local in the generic sense of “anywhere”, but in actual places, with names and histories: Kitchener, Hespeler, Schneider Creek neighbourhood, Grand River watershed, Paris, Elora, Woodstock, involving actual people with names, each with their own lights, affiliations and stories.  

— Ô is concerned with the understandings that make voluntary association possible, along with organizational cultures and practices as they have evolved over time, not in power structures or governance per se.  

— Innovation, yes, but in conservation, adaptation, building on what exists — a check and a balance to the long dominant pattern of disruptions, interventions and impositions.

2. Inter Arts Matrix

An announcement went out the other day that June 6, 2021 marked 14 years of work by, with and through Inter Arts Matrix, a for-purpose enterprise that has been led, over the years, by 3 artistic directors, who have delivered 29 projects and 141 public events involving 153 artists and collaborators.

— Ô is similarly project-oriented, but in the area of civic endeavour, rather than art work per se.

— There is a comparable emphasis on hybridity: inter-generational as well as inter-disciplinary, within and beyond the arts, and inter-cultural; inter-sectoral; inter-faith; inter-personal; inter-town/city/urban.

— I’m imagining a comparable range of activities, including public presentations, exhibits, lectures, workshops, publications, productions, deliberation and inquiry, especially in the field of willed, purposeful association with a civic dimension, i.e. the village, town or city level.  

3. The Working Centre

If it weren’t for the interruptions due to the pandemic, my time working for the Commons Studio at The Working Centre would be approaching the length of time I devoted to the Waterloo Regional Arts Council: almost a decade, in addition to the six years I worked with what was originally called the Multicultural Cinema Club as a volunteer. 

As a result, Working Centre principles, ideas and practices are a major influence on what is being proposed here, including:

— community tools; non-hierarchical order; building relationships;

— work as gift; respect for earth;  

— humility; cooperation; respect; democracy of everyday life;

— serving others, but also civic service (essentially, service related to living, working, learning and associating in towns and cities), as well as curatorial or managerial responsibility as service.

— producerism, but beyond basic needs. The Ô project is situated in the area where work, learning, creativity and play intersect

I hope this is enough to give you an idea of what I have in mind. I’ll fill out this sketch in greater detail over the weeks ahead, including:

— more on styles, preferences, and on ways and means;

— more on what appear to be open fields of endeavour, where there are gaps, imbalances; the abandoned, the neglected, the rejected;

— examples of projects this new matrix could gestate, give birth to, nurture, set free;

— the fundamental understandings or conditions of associating;

— and the steps from idea to concept to plan to actualization.

The intention was to present this as an announcement. But it is actually just a statement of intent.

If any of this interests you, or if you know someone who might be interested, please get in touch or encourage them to connect.Right now, there’s only “me, myself, I”. If I send this out into my world, and an “us, ourselves, we” emerges, I will have achieved my aim of affiliating. But even as just me, I’ve got a job to do.

Martin (Marinus) de Groot

mdg131@gmail.com


* In another context, I once wrote:

<< As Garry Wills points out in his book on the Declaration of Independence, Inventing America: “Happy” is related to “hap”, “happen” and “happenstance”: it means luck, chance, fortune. 

Go beyond blind, random or absurd chance, and “happiness” becomes synonymous with “blessed.” But we don’t need to go that far. Whether it is luck, chance, fortune, or grace, gift, blessing: You can’t pursue or grab it; you have to be ready to receive it, and you must allow it to find you.

In other words, to pursue happiness in the original sense, you have to set the planning, seeking and grasping aside, and just drift.

That, to me, is what freedom is all about. >>

** see Company, on this site, but part of the CultKW What’s in a Name? series I’d like to publish as a pamphlet.

*** Grateful Dead, Truckin’, as cited in One Year Later,” CultKW June 3, 2021

Most of the cats that you meet on the street speak of true love
Most of the time, they’re sittin’ and cryin’ at home
One of these days they know they better be goin’
Out of the door and down to the street all alone ….

… “You’ve got to play your hand”
Sometimes the cards ain’t worth a dime
[But] If you don’t lay ’em down ….