Sesquicentennial Ho! (After a Pause)

For the past nineteen years summers have been anything but relaxing for Leslie and me. In 1999 we left Yellowknife in June, drove to Ontario to begin re-establishing ourselves at my father’s place in Puslinch Township southeast of Guelph, including moving all our stuff from Yellowknife and all my stuff from Edmonton. Then we went to Halifax for the annual meeting of Storytellers of Canada. All that took care of that summer. In 2000 Leslie’s mother died while we were in the midst of full-time palliative home care for my father and management of his land and household. In 2001 we were winding up his estate and looking around for a place to live. We bought our new home on Bruce Peninsula that August. Then from 2002 until 2016 we performed our annual summer season of Country Supper Storytelling Concerts, a full-time job from May to September. Last year we spent the entire summer preparing for our Fall tour of western Canada, called Stephen Leacock’s “My Discovery of the West” Re-Tour, which launched on October 19th with previews in the preceding two weeks. Our friends and neighbours tell us that summer is a fine time on the Peninsula. We hardly know as much from our own experience.

This year is going to be different. We are going to take the summer off. This will therefore be the last posting to this blog until early September, when preparations for the Stephen Leacock Sesquicentennial will start to roll in earnest. It launches March 28 2019, the 75th anniversary of Leacock’s death, and runs for 277 days until December 29th, the 150th anniversary of his birth. The pace will be hot.

The entire idea began with the notion that Stephen Leacock prepared the ground and planted the seed for a General Theory of Unsolved Riddles which, in the broad field of Canadian political economy, compares in importance with the Keynesian General Theory of Employment Interest and Money. The Great Depression and World War Two slowed the growth of this vital plant, but grow it did, coming into flower in the decades after the war, which Leacock did not live to see.

Cycles, theories and ideologies have come and gone but in very general terms what we have created in Canada (and other countries) since the war is a complex economic, social and political organism that is part liberal democracy, part social democracy, part institutional democracy, and part communitarian democracy, all these parts being partially realized. I would call it a pluralistic democracy. I see it as resting on an underbed of democratic and legal arrangements in constant need of cultivation and refreshment, and another of financial institutions and practices some of which are perpetually half-starved (the public ones, i.e. taxes) with others relying on an unhealthy amount of speculation verging on outright gambling. Somehow this intricate ecosystem remains afloat, and long may it do so.

I believe that we can use the General Theory of Unsolved Riddles, when we understand it fully, to explain how a pluralistic democracy — a democratic political-social-environmental-cultural-communitarian-institutional economy — works and how we can make it work better, which begins with thinking about it better. It won’t be a neat set of diagrams and formulas, but an organic n-dimensional matrix of some kind that we will learn to navigate deliberately and rationally. Right now, in its early years, we walk blind with halting steps, ad hoc-ly feeling our way along and following our noses. We can do better than that. But we will have to give up the dream of seeing our way forward, because light moves in straight lines and there is nothing straight-line about this creature. Sound is more surrounding, but the air-waves are full of it and the noise is deafening. My money is on the intellectual equivalent of an olfactory sense, picking up the drifting molecules of data and making sense of them the way a dog does, or a bear even better.

What I am saying in these tangled metaphors is that we have created for ourselves an amazing maze of Unsolved Riddles floating around on all sides, all of which are there for good reason or as by-products of good reason. Our capacity to create them has out-run our capacity to detect and comprehend them, or to imagine what they would look like if they were Solved Riddles. Stephen Leacock, in his copious writings on education and in his entire literary orientation, proposed a Tetrad of Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion and Humour. I think that’s a good place to start, and that is where the Leacock Sesquicentennial will start in September.

Have a good summer!

Posted May 28th 2018, 304 days before the Sesquicentennial Launch.

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