Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Mark Steyn bewails the Dominion of our fundamental incoherence

UPDATE: Welcome! Mark Steyn readers.

At the time of this writing, the podcast version of TVOntario's debate between Mark Steyn and Mohammed Elmasry's sock puppets has not yet appeared on the web (The Agenda - Video) and so this post is largely in ignorance of what unfolded. We know that a lot of political massaging went into setting up the debate; and while a lot of attention has been given to the sock puppets' reticence to debate the loquacious Steyn - various claims were made of sock puppet cowardice and hypocrisy and of a dhimmified TVO political correctness - it turns out that the three law students from the Canadian Islamic Congress (the Muslim Brotherhood) did in the end have something of a shouting match with Steyn.

However incoherent the shouting was, the mere fact of this event is really a victory for our side, the freedom side; the fact that a "debate" of this kind can still be staged in Canada, that after all the political positioning we can still give way to the arena of free speech to see what truth will come out in uncontrollable manner, is welcome. There are no doubt people in the sock puppet camp who would like to have all "debates" reduced to some sort of ritualistic formula where everyone says only what is proper to say, as if one were engaged, say, in a friendly discussion on proper relations between Muslims and Dhimmis in the offices of the Egyptian state police, as if reality could be reduced to, or captured by, the appropriate declarative statements.

The reports are that there were a lot of lies, or misrepresentations, and general incoherence from the puppets.

Some are calling it the "best 60 minutes of Canadian television ever".

Deborah Gyapong is less positive:
I'm too annoyed and angry to post anything right now. I'm glad Mark Steyn forced the sock puppets to debate him. But clearly, anyone who thinks Mark thinks this is fun, or that he wants to be a martyr, got disabused of this opinion tonight.

Because he has a sense of humor and is usually cheerful, it is easy to think that, oh well, he's fighting this battle on our behalf and it's not really costing him much in terms of stress and time and inconvenience, to say nothing of the money in legal bills.

Think again, folks.

And yet the sock puppets get funded at taxpayers' expense. I have to pay for them to undermine my freedoms and that of every other journalist in Canada.

This makes me furious.
Mark Steyn's post-mortem suggests that the most revealing comments were made after the show was aired:
Well, we did the TVO show and I doubt it was Must-See TV, even by the standards of Canadian public broadcasting. I succeeded in bouncing the Sock Puppets into agreeing to a face-to-face discussion, though it wasn't my finest hour or theirs. I believe the final words of the show were me saying, "Do you wanna go to dinner?", and Khurrum Awan yelling back, "No."

We didn't go for dinner, but we did have a relatively pleasant conversation after the broadcast that I thought was much more productive than the show. Khurrum was a bit chippy but the two ladies, Muneeza Sheikh and Naseem Mithoowani, are rather cute, even when they're damning me as a racist and hater. (Years ago, the BBC used to keep putting me up against humourless Marxist feminists only to find that on air I'd go all sweet on them and just make goo-goo eyes.) One confessed to finding me "mildly funny", which I took as a tremendous compliment until she remarked that she found "Little Mosque On The Prairie" funnier. Evidently by "mildly funny", she sets the bar down at world-champion limbo level. Heigh-ho. Still, even with dear old Khurrum, if I'd met him in an airport lounge on the other side of the world and we were stuck waiting for a flight, I think the conversation would go okayish. The post-show chit-chat was a useful reminder that everybody's media image is a reductio.

Nevertheless, we are stuck in our respective roles. I believe these Canadian Islamic Congress lawsuits - and, yes, I can hear the Socks yelling "That's a lie! They're not 'suits', they're 'complaints'," but that's a distinction without a difference if you're paying lawyers' bills and you regard, as I do, the Human Rights Commissions as a parallel legal system that tramples over all the traditional safeguards of Common Law, not least the presumption of innocence. Where was I? Oh, yeah. I believe these lawsuits are deeply damaging to freedom of expression. If they win (when they win) and the verdicts withstand Supreme Court scrutiny, Canada will no longer be a free country. It will be a country whose citizens are on a leash whose length is determined by the hack bureaucrats of state agencies.
I was struck by something Naseem said to me on the sidewalk. I'd mentioned that I'd heard her on NPR saying that it was improper for me to attack "multiculturalism" because multiculturalism was officially embedded in Canada's constitution. And I said: So what? A free society shouldn't have an official ideology, but, if it has, I certainly reserve the right to object to it. If I'd lived in Italy 70 years ago, I would have objected to their official ideology (Fascism), and I object to Canada's, notwithstanding its touchy-feelier name. And she looked at me as if I was bonkers. I feel rather bewildered at meeting graduates of an elite institution in one of the oldest settled democracies on the planet who seem to think just because Pierre Trudeau cooked it up it's chiseled in granite. You can only marvel at what an amazing job he did of wiping a society's collective memory. What was the most depressing part of the post-game show for me was realizing that for my accusers the assumption is that every defect in society can be corrected by government intervention. They said one reason they went to the "human rights" thought police is because they're worried Rogers might buy, for example, The Toronto Star and install Ken Whyte, yours truly and the rest of the Islamophobes. Well, maybe. But look: right now, I'm "excluded" from The Toronto Star and so's every other conservative. We're "excluded" from the CBC, which is paid for by the tax dollars of Canadian conservatives. But so what? Society is not perfectable, and for a government tribunal to order the Star to run one Steyn column for every Siddiqui column in runs would only make things worse.

There's some talk on TVO's part of getting us together for a more civilized discussion, so we'll see how that works out. My only real objection was when Naseem said "Mark Steyn wants to be a martyr." Actually, that's more of a Muslim problem. (Whoops, Islamophobia alert!) But it's not true for me. I'd like nothing more than never to appear on a single TV or radio show in the deranged Dominion ever again. But the "remedy" they seek for Maclean's "Islamophobia" is incompatible with a free society. This is a point of principle. Here I stand. I can do no other. So on we go.
I kind of believe Steyn when he says he would happily leave the airwaves of this deeply confused Dominion behind.

We should count ourselves damn lucky that we still have Steyn cracking jokes at our expense. For only such people can remind us that many fundamental realities cannot be captured in dry legal or sociological prose. In other words, the law can only capture that part of reality that is suited to institutionalization, to monumentalizing the more important of our historical revelations, as if these revelations were not the particular product of a specific historical context, a specificity that always has some irreducibly mysterious element, but rather something we need to divorce from our consciousness of a particular and somewhat mysterious scene, in order to give it universal reign.

But while ordinary laws try to institutionalize creative discoveries, by allowing humourless lawyers to iron out what something meaningful and mysterious means, a nation's constitution should be limited to the problem of how to allow for the freedom necessary for creative people and mysterious discoveries to emerge, to be rejected or accepted and modified, and, if accepted, to be institutionalized. In other words a constitution should exist to allow for self-constituting processes necessary to meet unforeseeable national needs and exigencies, so that a nation may reconstitute itself through some kind of free and creative, but accountable, process. A "constitution" that tries to set in stone some great balancing of all existing rights and freedoms, individuals and groups, is only a vain attempt to fix reality, a fanciful metaphysical gymnastics, something our inherently dynamic and changing humanity cannot long fathom, however many lawyers we keep employed.

Yet any google on words like "multiculturalism" and "Charter of Rights" will dredge up a slough of horrific publications by agents of the Canadian state, great metaphysical gymnasts mind you, trying heroically to justify their existence and the overbearing necessity that they guard us from too much freedom, with which we might do each other too much harm, and threaten our fundamental "equality". Here's one such research document from the Library of Parliament:
In 1982, multiculturalism was referred to in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 27 of the Charter states:
This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.
This clause is critical in locating multiculturalism within the wider framework of Canadian society. It empowers the courts to take Canada’s multicultural reality into account at the highest levels of decision-making. In the words of a former Human Rights Commissioner, it provides a useful “interpretative prism” to assist the courts when balancing individual and multicultural (and often collective) rights. A relevant example is the issue of freedom of individual expression, which must take account of the prohibition against racial slurs or circulation of racially based hate propaganda. Hence, the principle underlying the freedom of individual expression does not extend to absolute free speech.

Moreover, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms addresses the elimination of expressions of discrimination by guaranteeing both equality and fairness to all under the law, regardless of race or ethnicity. Section 15(1) states:
Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.
In addition, subsection 15(2) establishes entitlement to non-discriminatory benefits without denying the need for additional measures to assist disadvantaged sectors.
We need more Steynian humour to point out the incoherence of writing like this, the hubris of the bureaucratic classes who act as if there is some way to balance all claims on and against the state. As I've already suggested, what makes a workable constitution in a democracy is not attempts at a thorough delimiting of rights in recognition of some putative social reality, "multicultural" or otherwise (as if there were some ideal formula for balancing individual and group rights, as if one could, say, bestow aboriginal rights on tribal entities and not thus cripple the free individuality of "aboriginal persons"), but rather a way of minimally expressing the means by which a society will (re)constitute itself through the exercise of responsible freedom. And that means there must always be room for the free individual willing to take the first mysterious step, a step that always must be done by one alone, even when in committee.

Anyway, since when are Human Rights Commissioners to be taken as authoritative on the meaning of the Canadian constitution, which is the product of a thousand years of charters and conventions and is yet still hardly explicit about outlawing racial slurs (whatever the Canadian high court's rulings legitimizing the Canadian Human Rights Act which does try to outlaw racial slurs)? One might ask, where exactly is the limit of an (im)permissible racial slur? Is saying that the French approach to constitutional law is insane, while the American is the seed of wisdom, a racial slur? Is saying that Canada has a "racist" past (compared to what other country or tribe's past, all of which are "racist"?) a racial slur? I recently witnessed a little PC brouhaha on a camera discussion list after someone spoke favourably of "the latest Jap model". Is that kind of naive usage to be grounds for legal claims in Canada? What about those who refer to "Sharia creeps"?

I am belabouring my point, no doubt, but attempts to formulate constitutional principles in the manner of the above quotation quickly get ludicrous. The emperor always loses his clothes, sooner or later.

Mark Steyn says the sock puppets cannot understand his defense of the Common Law as having superior constitutional sensibility than Trudeau's Charter of Rights. The latter, it seems to me, is less a model for how society can (re)constitute itself than a set of rules by which courts can limit Parliament's legislative authority, not so much as to advance our individual rights and freedoms vis a vis the state (though that is part of it), but rather to empower the authority of another branch of the state, i.e. the courts and the politically-correct expert class from whom the courts take their lead. But fortunately, Trudeau did not fully get his way with the provincial Premiers of his day and the Charter thus recognizes the democratic principle of Parliamentary Supremacy in its notwithstanding clause (as well as in the Charter's deferral to what is inalienable in a "free and democratic society"). In theory, if Parliament wants to pass a law outlawing or even requiring racial slurs, notwithstanding the Charter, it could.

In any case, the Gnostic "progressives" who dominate Canada's expert bureaucratic class like to think they are on the cutting edge of some daring social experiment in "diversity" and "multiculturalism". In fact, in many respects, there is little new under the sun of those who would reduce the ongoing generation of our national reality to baroque legal formulae. Across Lake Ontario from the studios of TVO lives, in Oswego, that former outpost of the British empire, one of America's great essayists, Tom Bertonneau. I think it's not too hard to locate Steyn and Canada in what Bertonneau writes about the ancient multicultural or "ecumenical" empires being in opposition to the self-ruling and self-constituting polis of the West's classical age:
The tension between the emergent "private person" and the state, by no means resolved in l’affaire Socrate, would become increasingly dire in the Ecumenic Age, to borrow [Eric] Voegelin’s term, that followed the dissolution of Athenian independence, taking the form of the succession of mundane empires beginning with that of Philip of Macedon and culminating with the Pax Romana, both in its first or Pagan and then again in its second or Christian phases. One puts it so notwithstanding the fact that a "Christian Empire" is another contradiction in the adjective.

What is the "ecumene"? A definition is needed because irony has a relation to the phenomenon. In the fourth volume (1974) of his Order and History (begun 1957), entitled The Ecumenic Age, Voegelin adduces a definition that one remembers for its poignancy but that eludes later relocation in his text. Voegelin says that whereas a polis is a subject that governs itself, an ecumene is a parcel of geopolitical existence--consisting possibly of hundreds or even thousands of poleis--over the possession and control of which contending concupiscent aggressors destructively battle. Says Voegelin in a passage that this author has providentially succeeded in locating: "The ecumene is not a subject of order but an object of conquest." It is also "a graveyard of civilizations." Thus the vast swath of earth subdued by Alexander the Great immediately becomes a desire-object for the contentious successors, who carve it up duodecimally; they run into Parthian and Hindu limits in the East, where the locals respond mimetically to the pattern. The Pax eventually reconciles competing Hellenic claims by swallowing Hellas whole. The individual becomes more, not less, "ambiguous" than previously he was.

At the historical noonday of the Pax comes Lucian of Samosata (125-200), an almost exact contemporary of the "Philosopher King" Marcus Aurelius (121-180) who, like Hegel many centuries later, conversed mainly with himself, as in his Meditations. Talking to oneself is "cud-chewing," says Kierkegaard in an aside on the Prussian illuminatus in The Concept. Talking to oneself is also inalterably derivative, in a defective sense, of the norm of talking with other people, in the same way that atheism is inalterably derivative of the norm of belief. Dialogue falls existentially prior to monologue just as belief falls existentially prior to denial. Lucian, a Syrian by birth and a Greek by education, scandalously but predictably did not receive a network television contract nor has his work appeared on DVD, although his repartee entails greater ironic subtlety by far than one-time matriculating SUNY Oswego undergraduate Jerry Seinfeld’s. Trained in Athens in rhetoric, the acknowledged royal road to power and riches of the time, Lucian experienced something like conversion, after which he scorned oratory and its pretenses; he wrote dialogues filling the Platonic form with the content of the New Comedy. He became, as far as historians can discern, the producer, writer, and stellar performer in a satirical road show that took him from Attica all the way to Gaul, during the course of which, as one says, he consistently packed the houses and brought down the rafters. Think of Saturday Night Live thirty years ago when the sketches were funny. Commentary takes Lucian’s Two Charges of Literary Assault, written around his fortieth year, for autobiographical. In Plato’s Apology, three orators bring the charges against Socrates; in Two Charges, Oratory herself, or rather Rhetoric, brings indictment against Lucian, but then so does Dialogue, in a case adjudicated by none other than Justice, ably assisted by Hermes, both examining the case at the behest of Zeus.

Before the gathered crowd (it more resembles a rabble), addressing herself to the jury and the two judges, Rhetoric complains: "It was I . . . who came upon this man, still wandering around Ionia not knowing what to do with himself. . . . He was pretty young, still spoke a barbarian language and was a hair’s breadth from going native and wearing an Assyrian-style kaftan"; after she made him both eloquent and rich, "he fell passionately in love with that bearded fellow, Dialogue . . . who clams to be the son of Philosophy." Where previously the Syrian spoke with the ennobled "free flow of my language," Rhetoric says, he now merely "weaves a few brief arguments together and speaks them in a conversational tone"; instead of adhering to the topics, he deploys "novelty." Rhetoric asks Hermes to force the Syrian to reply in dialogue, but Hermes points out that, as "there’s only one of him," he will need to defend himself in a speech. The Syrian says that while he was grateful for having been married to Rhetoric: "There came a time when I saw that she was not behaving sensibly any longer, nor retaining the seemly dress which she wore when the famous demesman of Paeania [Demosthenes] took her as his bride. Instead, she was wearing jewelry, had coiffured hair, had rubbed rouge all over her cheeks, and had a black line drawn under each of her eyes." (Take my wife--please!) The jury votes; the Syrian wins with only one vote against, after which Dialogue steps up to the dock to present his case. Dialogue lays it against the Syrian that: "He took off my sensible mask and put on another, comic, satyr-like and almost ridiculous. Then he shut me up in the same room with joking, iambus, cynicism, Eupolis and Aristophanes--men terribly clever at criticizing serious things and pouring scorn on what is right and proper."
As they say, read the whole thing.
Technorati Tags: , ,


Dag said...

I think that fluttering thing in the sky up there is your Pulitzer nomination paper. Damn. Anyone who writes a post that concludes with Lucian is well-deserving of some great recognition, though in this case, if the law students of Canadian shari'a, i.e. multi-culti, can follow what you wrote, your nomination will be for a chair in the Electricity department, I fear.

Rather than try to address that post in any detail, I'd like to think back to somewhere in the middle where the point is of the needed flexibility in a democracy, a contingency-based legal system based on the polis. But some chance in this globalised world.

My reference to Greek thinkers today isn't Socrates but Thucydides.

One cannot have Positive law in a world of armed Revelation. When the Melians are faced with slavery or death, they opt for phantasy in the hope of salvation by Spartan intervention. They choose death. Who could have seen that coming?

Sometimes one chooses to fight, sometimes to fight, sometimes to run away. One must know ones enemy, know what he's capable of, what ones own can do, and what is likely under those conditions. Then one does ones best based on who one is.

We can't have a democracy based on philosophers thinking, not in a world of immediate demands for surrender at the point of the sword, i.e. the Human world. One mediates disputes such as the Melian after the fact.

Sometimes one needs a solitary man thinking only of and from himself and acting by Will based on theory alone, such a Aurelius or Jesus. Those men and those times are gone, and today we have many such men and more, all acting alone in conjunction with society, in tension with each other and themselves, to come to a synthesis in the real world. But he who has a plan is further ahead than he who waits for the final outcome to decide which path to take, that having been decided for him.

Not all plans are Gnostic blueprints of Utopia. Some are realistic schema that allow for a way out in case of emergency, others simple battle plans against known enemies, some sermons on a mount. But all are starting points, from which one may later diverge. No, we can't know exactly where we're going, but a destination is some good thing for travelers regardless of ones actual hope of landing there. If the destination is the polis, then let us decide, and let others decide later it is the empire. But society is not a private plan for individuals. One must decide, and then make it happen, even at the point of a sword.

If our goal is democracy, then democracy must be gained by force and held by force. Yes, we can all be Stoics and find our freedom in not caring about the real world of life, but otherwise, we have to fight for and to have our freedom. If freedom and democracy are goals we care to live for, then we must force it on others against their will. Otherwise we lose ours. We have to know in advance if we want this democracy to continue. If not we should start looking for somewhere to hide.

truepeers said...

the point is of the needed flexibility in a democracy, a contingency-based legal system based on the polis. But some chance in this globalised world.

- I think there is every chance of this; as I say, the emperor always loses his clothes, sooner or later. A grand imperial plan cannot reconstitute itself; that is what Voegelin, in his genius, revealed. It is no less true today. We will eventually find the path towards democracies competing, (more or less transparently, thus predictably and safely) in a globalized world because we will in the end find no other path to mediating our inevitable conflicts, and the human necessity to keep ourselves alive will take us there. As I never tire of pointing out, Sharia, globalized, will never have any hope of keeping up the energy and creativity needed to feed anything like the present population of the world.

As for your plan, Dag, I fear my prose has yet fully to move you to nominate me for that Pulitzer. But then again, I appreciate your acknowledgment that a "plan" can be but a starting point, a destination never reached. Still, there remains the fundamental question, all recognition of the need for starting points aside, how and who takes the first step? And can the answer to that be planned? I fear neither the Steyn nor the Lucian began with a plan. They just stepped into the mire and kept on going.

Anonymous said...

Yes, a good article, and that Mark is quite a card, speaking of Democracy, Gnostic utopias, and not just standing around being a Stoic, the deadline for getting your membership so you can vote in the Carnegie Centre elections on June 5th, is May 21st.

Be there, choose to fight, or hope for salvation by Spartan intervention. Which "Plan" do you think will work? It's right here, it's Democracy being shredded before your eyes, and you can do something about it. Plan to get a membership before May 21st and plan to vote on June 5th. Very straight forward, and so effective, one of those rare situations where your vote counts.

truepeers said...

Oh yeah, one more note, democracy must be gained by force in some countries; but in Canada it is ours by inalienable right and I doubt anyone will find a way to take this away, however many are trying. We are already a free society and a return to the appropriate, corresponding, orthodoxy can happen without need of leasing the city's lamp posts. All it takes are people willing to show the little emperors enough civil disobedience when appropriate, to reveal their lack of clothes... such bullies are at root cowards and these ones hardly have legions of storm troopers... we are seeing this truth in action right now. Viva Steyn!

truepeers said...


let us in, by email if need be, on the electoral plan for the Carnegie Centre and I will be happy to help vote povertarians out.

Dag said...

Here's a chance to make democracy work without firing a shot: pay a buck or so and become a member of the Carnegie Library at main and Hastings st.s. in Vancouver. Then, during the up-coming elections for the (community) board of directors, vote for those who are democratically inclined.

This, at a mundane and local level, is exactly the fight Styne and Levant face. For more information, look to the downtown eastside enquirer blog. There you'll find that a committed clique of professional activist have taken over a city-financed and city run community center to use as their private organizing centre, physically barring homeless people who object to the "plan."

Check out "William Simpson" for more details of this fundamental outrage. This is a case of the dictatorship of the Gnostics if ever there was one. This one is so glaring and disgusting one can hardly breathe in the presence of it. But there is hope of ridding our city of this particular gang of Povertarians from this particular building if people care enough about democracy to go out and make this change come about.

For those in the Vancouver area, this is your Styne moment. This time we can win.