Category Archives: A – BLOG

Image of the month: The Palace of Purification

18-12-01 IMAGE Harris PlantThis is not the mag­nif­i­cent main build­ing of the R. C. Har­ris Water Treat­ment Plant in Toronto. It’s merely a pump­house and main­te­nance build­ing below the more famous main struc­ture which is “opu­lent with mar­ble entry­ways and vast halls filled with pools of water and fil­tra­tion equip­ment”. Yet even this struc­ture is grand, wor­thy of the self-taught genius who believed that civil engi­neer­ing was a spir­i­tual calling.

Seventh Meditation on Democracy [written October 1, 2008] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


14-03-18 BLOG SEVENTH MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACYA few days ago, I was in the sub­way, and I over­heard a con­ver­sa­tion about our cur­rent national elec­tion. Two boys who, from their appear­ance, could have been no fur­ther along in school than grade nine or ten, were dis­cussing the tele­vised debates between the lead­ers of the five major polit­i­cal par­ties. What struck me, as I lis­tened in, was that the dis­cus­sion was cogent and intel­li­gent. One of the boys, who seemed the youngest, was par­tic­u­larly artic­u­late, and his opin­ions were not the sim­ple par­rot­ing of some adult he had heard, or the pur­suit of a party line. In fact, his analy­sis of the debate showed keener obser­va­tion and judg­ment than that of the pro­fes­sional com­men­ta­tors who dis­sected the debate after the broad­cast. Read more »

Image of the month: Kel Tagelmust

18-11-01A Tuareg noble of the Sahara, exactly as I remem­ber such men. They are occa­sion­ally referred to as kel tagel­must (veiled peo­ple) because of the head­gear and robe dyed with shim­mer­ing indigo. This gar­ment is fine-tuned for the Sahara’s vio­lent sand­storms, blis­ter­ing sun, wild swings in tem­per­a­ture, and is designed to con­serve pre­cious body mois­ture. Per­haps it’s the inspi­ra­tion for the “still­suit” in Frank Herbert’s Dune. The seven tribal con­fed­er­a­tions of the Tuareg always seemed to me a much more plau­si­ble model for Herbert’s sci­ence fic­tion clas­sic than the Badawi of Ara­bia, and the his­tory of the Sahara and Maghrib have episodes that par­al­lel the story of Dune.

Second Meditation on Dictatorship [written March 1, 2008] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


14-03-18 BLOG SECOND MEDITATION ON DICTATORSHIP

The argu­ment behind this series of med­i­ta­tions is that aris­to­cratic elites, whether they are dressed up in mil­i­tary uni­forms, busi­ness suits, or the regalia of roy­alty, are iden­ti­cal in pur­pose and func­tion. Dif­fer­ences between them are triv­ial and cos­metic, not struc­tural. The term “dic­ta­tor­ship” applies equally to all places where an unelected gang of hood­lums rules over peo­ple and ter­ri­tory, what­ever their sup­posed ide­ol­ogy or what­ever style they chose to prance around in. I fur­ther con­tend that they are nei­ther morally legit­i­mate, nor “gov­ern­ment” in the sense that demo­c­ra­t­i­cally elected admin­is­tra­tions are. Dic­ta­tors are merely crim­i­nals, no dif­fer­ent from the crim­i­nals that rob con­ve­nience stores or attack women in dark­ened car parks. The only dif­fer­ence is the amount of money they steal and the num­ber of peo­ple they mur­der or maim.

Next, I have argued that rule by aris­toc­ra­cies is a con­stant dan­ger to human soci­ety in any time and any place, inde­pen­dent of a society’s level of wealth, or avail­able tech­nol­ogy. I argue that there are no nec­es­sary or pre­des­tined “stages” in the orga­ni­za­tion of human soci­ety. Morally good and ben­e­fi­cial demo­c­ra­tic social arrange­ments can be made at any time and in any place, by any group of peo­ple, large or small. Lan­guage, eth­nic­ity, loca­tion, and degree of wealth are not struc­turally rel­e­vant to demo­c­ra­tic prac­tice, and demo­c­ra­tic prac­tice does not orig­i­nate with, or “belong to” any par­tic­u­lar cul­tural group. Sim­i­larly, dic­ta­tor­ship can occur in any human group. Immoral, dis­eased soci­eties can be made at any time, in any place, by any group of peo­ple, large or small. Both pos­si­bil­i­ties always co-exist.

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Image of the month: a fine bridge

18-10-01 IMAGE Burlington Canal bridgeThe Burling­ton Canal Ver­ti­cal Lift Bridge, in Burling­ton, Ontario — built in 1962. I wish I could credit the pho­tog­ra­pher, who has given it a spe­cial mood and magic.

First Meditation on Dictatorship [written Thursday, February 7, 2008] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


14-03-18 - BLOG Memorial-at-Lidice-1st-Med-on-Dic

Mon­u­ment at Lidice.
The faces of the chil­dren are not gen­er­al­ized abstrac­tions. They are care­fully recon­structed from pho­tographs to rep­re­sent the indi­vid­ual chil­dren as they were in life.

We are so hamyd,
For-taxed and ramyd,
By these gentlery-men!

― The Wake­field Sec­ond Shep­herds’ Play, c.1425–1450 [1]

We are men the same as they are:
Our mem­bers are as straight as theirs are,
Our bod­ies stand as high from the ground,
The pain we suffer’s as pro­found.
Our only need is courage now,
To pledge our­selves by solemn vow,
Our goods and per­sons to defend,
And stay together to this end…

— Robert Wace, Le roman de la Rou et des ducs de Nor­mandie, 1160-70s [2]

On my return to Prague, last year, after tramp­ing in Hun­gary and Tran­syl­va­nia, my friend Filip Marek took a day off for some more explo­rations of the Bohemian coun­try­side. This turned out to be the most emo­tion­ally charged day in my trav­els, and I’ve delayed describ­ing it because of its per­sonal impor­tance to me.

The land­scape around Prague is not much dif­fer­ent, at first glance, from that of South­ern Ontario. It’s rich farm­land, gen­tly rolling hills, and patches of mixed for­est sim­i­lar to those around Toronto. Most of it was so pleas­ant that I couldn’t help replay­ing snatches of Dvořák, Smetana and Janáček in my head as the car rolled under the dap­pled sun­lit trees, past fields and vil­lages that seem to be both ancient and brand new at the same time. How­ever, our quest was to extract some­thing incon­gru­ously dis­turb­ing and tragic from Bohemia’s woods and streams.[3] We were going to see two places that do not loom large in the his­tory books, but loom large in the kind of his­tory that I am con­cerned with. The first was the Vojna Hard Labour Camp, in the for­est near the vil­lage of Příbram, and the sec­ond was the site of Lidice, a vil­lage that no longer exists. Read more »

Image of the month: Lilies of the Amazon

Victoria Regia Water Lily and Lily PadsNymphaea vic­to­ria ama­zon­ica, an extra­or­di­nary species of water lily found in shal­low bay­ous and side-channels of the Ama­zon River, most of all in its immense delta. The float­ing leaf-pads may exceed 3 meters in width.

Sixth Meditation on Democracy [written January 10, 2008] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


14-03-18 BLOG SIXTH MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACYFor this Med­i­ta­tion on Democ­racy, the sixth in the series, I will under­take a cri­tique of some cur­rently dom­i­nant ideas about the role of democ­racy in human his­tory, and attempt to pro­vide a con­cep­tual frame­work for look­ing at democ­racy in a dif­fer­ent, more real­is­tic way. This will mean that some of the ground cov­ered in ear­lier med­i­ta­tions will be revis­ited. It will also draw on the col­lab­o­ra­tive work between myself and Prof. Steven Muhlberger, pub­lished in the Jour­nal of World His­tory, and on the World His­tory of Democ­racy Web­site. I am exclu­sively respon­si­ble, how­ever, for the views expressed in this series.

Read more »

Image of the month: a fine Hockney

18-08-01 IMAGE a fine HockneyModel With Unfin­ished Self-Portrait (1977) by David Hock­ney. A pro­foundly civ­i­lized paint­ing, one of the finest pro­duced in Amer­ica — part of a noble her­itage that is now endan­gered by the wave of bru­tal bar­barism that is sweep­ing over that land.

Fifth Meditation on Democracy [written Monday, November 5, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


14-03-18 BLOG FIFTH MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACY

It’s my con­tention that both hier­ar­chi­cal and egal­i­tar­ian behav­iour are equally “nat­ural” to human beings. These two meth­ods of inter­act­ing with oth­ers in a group have co-existed in all human soci­eties, from the ear­li­est stages of our evo­lu­tion as a species. It is also my con­tention that, while there is a lim­ited place for hier­ar­chi­cal think­ing and behav­iour in a good soci­ety, it is egal­i­tar­ian think­ing that has cre­ated civ­i­liza­tion and moral­ity. Any soci­ety that is dom­i­nated by hier­ar­chy is essen­tially back­ward, self-destructive, and immoral. Read more »