Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Of Rights and Irresponsibilities

What a strange language we’ve come to speak. And (to carry-on the theme of a previous post) see how marvellously it has damaged thought! See how the forward movement of rights-preoccupation has reduced us to a quivering mass of double standards and nonsense! See how the plumbing of our freedoms has brought forth only the shadow lurking in men’s hearts: not freedom, but freedom from consequences! Determinism! Paul Martin’s Canadian “destiny.”

The Language We Speak
The Post today reports that one spectator (one!) at a Canada Day parade in Windsor took serious issue with the inclusion in the procession of a float bearing “Caucasian people [dressed] as antiquated, mythological ‘Indians’ complete with tacky beads and fake feathers, shouting pretend war whoops.” The spectator—one Linda Day, herself aboriginal—denounced the float, saying that “this action is totally unacceptable.”

Now, never mind for the moment that it’s possible that the beads and feathers of the historical Indian might also, in some cases, have been tacky—that such a call, presumably, is a matter of personal taste. Never mind the odd and dubious reference to the Indian of Antiquity, the Indian of Mythology. Let’s just stick to Ms. Day’s fascinating (and given the circumstances, rather unlikely) use of the word “action” to describe the passage of a bewheeled platform bearing a couple of well-meaning members of the Loyal Order of Moose, albeit, apparently, a little overzealous in their attempts to enliven the festivities. I don’t think I’m wrong in thinking that what one normally associates with the word ‘action’, in the sense that it is being used by Ms. Day, is something on the scale of a military manoeuvre or a rather dramatic legal proceeding. That is, ‘action’ generally connotes something big. Something of fairly serious consequence. That being the case the Loyal Order of Moose’s float ambling down Windsor’s main drag is decidedly not an ‘action’ unless, of course, it was disguising an array of ballistic missiles—which I guess, to be fair to Ms. Day, has not yet been disproven.

But let us presume for the moment that the conjectured array doesn’t exist. What can we learn from Ms. Day’s singular use of a word, so loaded with timely significance, to describe something that was perhaps a little silly, but only ultimately remarkable of a lack of sophistication on the part of a group calling themselves, for God’s sake!, the Loyal Order of Moose?

Everyone wants a piece of the pie.

Double Standards and Nonsense
The Post reports today that Shane Cameron, a brave (and, in spite of the circumstances, remarkably astute) lad of 12, attending one of the Toronto District School Board’s elementary schools, has decided that, because of his poor academic showing this year, he wants to repeat grade 6. His parents support him in this, and think it well advised given that an assessment by the Sylvan Learning Centre revealed his math and literacy skills were 2 and 1 levels respectively behind the average of his age group.

Let’s be clear on this: not only do the boy’s parents think it advisable that their son stay back for an additional year, but Shane himself does too. The TDSB, however, refuses to allow this. “Holding children back, also called grade retention, rarely happens any more, [this] at the urging of school psychologists who warn the practice is detrimental to children’s self-esteem.” The suggested alternative? “Ritalin and a learning disability assessment in Grade 7.”

Now, again, never mind for a moment the extremely debatable assumption that an enforced Ritalin dependency does more for a child’s self-esteem than slogging it out against the odds, on one’s own steam and initiative—the proverbial head bloodied but unbowed—towards the commendable achievement of a complete and comprehensive education. And never mind the oft-changing nature of what psychologists advocate one moment as good practice in education, condemn the next as bad, and the effect this has had on the state of education over the years. What is really important, is that Shane has made a difficult and very grown-up decision (as evinced by his parents’—his legal guardian’s!—endorsement) regarding his future. Moreover, it seems to me that the boy must have self-esteem by the bucketloads to be able to see beyond the superficial returns it offers a 12 year old boy. Nonetheless, the board’s decision begs the questions: 1) What might the effect on a child’s self-esteem be when, daily, he is reminded that what his peers find fairly easy to do, he finds agonizingly difficult? and 2) What exactly is the content of this education if it so easily dismisses the informed analysis and eminently reasonable course of action suggested by the effected parties themselves?[1]

Let them eat cake.

Freedom—of the Freedom from Consequences Variety of Freedom
The Post reports today that the 19-year old responsible for the desecration of a Jewish cemetery, synagogue and school, pleaded guilty to charges of mischief and apologized. Well, sort of apologized. He said, “I want the community to know that my actions, while callous and unthinking, were spontaneous and out of character,” and, “I now realize why my actions were wrong and take full responsibilities [sic] for them.” Oh, I see. Now you realize. Well I understand then. I often have memory lapses myself. That time I murdered Jeff, for one. Totally forgot I wasn’t supposed to do that. Come to think of it, spontaneity and that “out of character” thing sound like mood disorders to me. So, really, I think it’s us that owes you the apology. It’s a rotten old life, what?

And, how many people will wonder where Karla Homolka gets off not only being given an audience on national television immediately following her release from prison, but then using the opportunity to tell the nation that “I don’t want people to think I’m someone dangerous, who will do something to their children”?

I noted here on June 26th that Svend Robinson’s recent fit of contrition—in re. his little thiefing episode last year—rang the unmistakably hollow note of a man who accepts responsibility, but only on the condition that it be understood that he is, still, the greater victim. As ever, Mr. Robinson is on the cutting-edge of great sociological change.

Man shall live by bread alone.

Mixing all these oddments together I see a hideous purpose. Canada is now the “Who’s the Greater Victim?” Society:

We no longer do things; rather, we carry-out “actions”, however small.

These actions are only ever not “actions” (that is, they are only ever the exercise of “free will”) when they are informed by, approved by, and carried-out with the Society’s sanction.

And at the point when our “free will” reaps the inevitable harvest of error, the Society is swift to provide the means for an equal redistribution of guilt—a cultivation of innocence for the guilty.

Oui, oui, Monsieur le Premier Ministre, c’est ici le meilleur des mondes possibles!

[1] That being said, personally, I think that Shane is too old to be redoing entire school years and too young to be worried about getting Cs. But for his education—and the remarkable seriousness with which he is able to consider it—to be reduced to the recommendation of a course of Ritalin based on various windy prognostications about self-esteem …! One wonders to what extent the likes of Shane—that is: an individual—is actually meant to fit into the education he’s being given. (Indeed, one wonders just how vital the content of his education can be if it’s so easily trumped by a pedagogy hopelessly steeped in what is psychologically trendy.)