Social Justice and Unsolved Riddles I: Monday

I am going to suspend my decade by decade accounts of the life and works of Stephen Leacock for the next eight weeks. I will pick up the thread on Monday, October 21. The reason: I am now writing the book that I said from the start I was going to write for the 100th Anniversary of The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, and my mind simply cannot cope with two major writing streams at once, these three blogs being one stream, the book being the other. For much of the past five months I have been fiddling around, trying to figure out how to approach that book.

If you have been reading the Monday blog, which is this one, you will be familiar with the workings of my mind, and particularly with my taste for metaphorical or allegorical reasoning, and for casting exposition in the form of narrative. My inspiration for that approach is John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I wish I had found myself able to be even more inspired by William Blake, but the going was too stern. I have had to content myself with secondary inspiration from the books of people who understand him better. I have recruited them as Guides for the pilgrimage.

If you are familiar with Bunyan’s book, you will know that it begins, “As I walked through the wilderness of this world … “, an image that appeals to me. Therefore I borrowed it, and the device of the dream introduced in the first paragraph. The story, therefore, becomes the story of a pilgrimage in a dream, told by a first-person narrator who may be the author or may be an invented character in the dream. If you are familiar with Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town and many other Stephen Leacock stories you will be familiar with this kind of narrator.

Today I am simply going to introduce you to the characters in the story, since they grew out of the ramblings of the Monday blog for the past five months.

The purpose of the pilgrimage is to locate a venue for the formal marriage of Social Justice, who is the Bride, and Unsolved Riddles, who is the Groom. They have been cohabiting for at least 100 years and have produced many offspring. The time has come for their union to be officially sanctioned. The title of the book is therefore The Marriage of Social Justice and Unsolved Riddles

The pilgrimage travels through a Mind Field occupied by and consisting of The Yottapede and the Charged Ooze. The Yottapede is the inhabitant of the Ooze, which is both its home and its source of nourishment. The Ooze also has a life of its own. It is a living thing, not just a medium for living things. So too is the Valley within which all this takes place and which has been brutally occupied by the Mind Field.

The others in the wedding party are Mnemochirianne the Centaur, Astranasus the Star-Nosed Mole, and Vulphystrix the Fox-Hedgehog (or Fox-Porcupine) Both-Andian. Monday blog readers will recognize them. Vulphystrix, as a Both-Andian, finds it difficult to walk. He therefore has acquired a personal attendant, called Prophet Isaiah, who is not that one, but another one.

For reasons that will become apparent, two other creatures have joined the party: Eulalie, an Owl, and Ursula, a Bear. I capitalize these identities in order to emphasize that they are creatures of the Dream, not of Nature.

The Narrator, who calls himself “I” or “Me” as the case requires, will be informed throughout the Pilgrimage by three of the nine Muses: Calliope, Clio, and Terpsichore. Calliope, their leader, is accompanied by a handmaiden named Mosjaur, who is the Story.

The whole party will be guided through the Mind Field by three Guides, whose names are Marshall, Northrop, and Bedoubleyou. The exact relationship between them and the three Thinkers they represent remains to be discovered.

That makes a party of sixteen, if I am counting properly: 1. Social Justice; 2. Unsolved Riddles; 3. Mnemochirianne; 4. Eulalie; 5. Ursula; 6. Astranasus; 7. Vulphystrix; 8. Prophet Isaiah; 9. Calliope; 10. Clio; 11. Terpsichore; 12. Mosjaur; 13. Marshall; 14. Northrop; 15. Bedoubleyou; 16. I-Me. We should also count The Yottapede and the Charged Ooze, making eighteen, and the Valley, making nineteen, and even Olde Stephen, the ghost of Stephen Leacock, who hovers over the entire ensemble, making twenty. The numerology of all this is extraordinary, but I won’t try to explain it here.

That’s the set-up. Mosjaur the Story is hard at work. Things are starting to rumble.

The Preface was released on Saturday, August 24th, and the first chapter will be released on Saturday, August 31st, one hundred years to the day since Stephen Leacock published his first chapter in the New York Times, the Toronto Star, and other newspapers. If you want a copy, e-mail me at and you shall have it. There’s no charge, but there is a condition: I am looking for feedback, and reserve the right to beg you for it.


Exit the Yottapede, pursued by Mole, Centaur, and Both-Andian

In the Eighteenth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries in 2019, on Monday, July 22nd, we bid a partial farewell to our merry band, consisting of Astranasus the Star-Nosed Mole, Mnemochirianne the Centaur, Vulphystrix the Both-Andian, and the Yottapede wallowing in its Charged Ooze. They have done their bit to tame and put to work the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. They are now going to set about the rest of the work, with others, in another place. Their role will be to add the necessary Metaphorical Dimension.

Starting next week this place will be taken by Stephen Leacock himself. We are after all in the midst of his anniversaries. The first of these, the 75th of his death in 1944, passed by on March 28th and launched this whole celebration. The middle, the 100th of his book The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, is about to crescendo, leading, beginning in late August, to chapter-by-chapter release of a new treatment of the subject, quite possibly to be called The Unsolved Riddles of Social Justice. Reporting on progress there will pass to the Wednesday Blog, a.k.a. “Paul W Conway’s Blog”, a.k.a. the Talking Blog. The third, the 150th of his birth, much the most important one, will bring the celebration to an ecstatic close.

Thanks to this, the Monday, or Stalking Blog, we have identified the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice as an organic thing, a human creation, making its way through a medium which is also a human creation. I have called them, respectively, the Yottapede and the Charged Ooze. The first barrier to be overcome in the taming and putting to work is the temptation to treat these creatures as if they were forces of Nature, outside our control. Every aspect of their behaviour traces back to human beings, individually or in groups, making decisions, each and every one of which could be made differently. The key lives in the cast of mind, and I’m sorry, you are going to hear a lot about casts of mind if you stick with this conversation.

The three “scouts” who have tracked down these creatures for us, represent my beliefs about what it will take to adjust the Inertia of the Yottapede and the Charge in the Ooze in order to advance Social Justice: to extend our powers of sensation, of apprehension, following the precedent of the Star-Nosed Mole; to expand our strength and fortitude to achieve in the social and moral realm what the Centaur does by combining the intellect and heart of a human with the strength and speed of a horse; to adapt our cast of mind by adopting the ingenuities of both Fox and Hedgehog (or Porcupine), tempering our natural either-or, single-minded tendencies with hearty doses of Both-And and Doublethink.

I am not suggesting any of this will be easy, given how attached we have become to the old ways, and how strong the resistance will be from those who are profiting from them. Some effective notion of fair-sharing, however, must lie at the heart of Social Justice, not unfair-profiting. We have not always been as obsessed with narrow concepts of “profit” as we are these days, however. The distance we must travel is truly not all that great. A relatively small measure of adjustment to our collective cast of mind will take us a long way. We will meet many unsolved riddles on our journey, however, and will have to overcome them one by one.

Stephen Leacock set out on the same journey about 120 years ago, and wrote about about it in 1919. He proposed a Canadian political economy pursuing National Development and Social Justice through a liberal, creative, enterprising economy and society, regulated in the public interest by democratic politics and institutions to smooth out its excesses, fill any gaps it might leave, deal with its harmful side-effects, and provide for its future. He imagined a contented, creative, fulfilled Canadian population, meeting their own needs, caring for each other, enjoying life, and expanding its possibilities. In pursuit of Social Justice he embraced the ideals of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” without denying the complications and difficulties thereof. They could be transcended, he believed, by people “of good will whose hearts are in the cause.”

I suspect that we would find very few Canadians who would disagree with that vision, very few indeed, no matter what their political persuasion. What we would find, I think, are disagreements about means, varying degrees of fear about what might be put at risk if we reached for it in a whole-hearted way, and distractions in our political discourse that weaken our common resolve, many of them concerning single or narrow issues.

The Canadian Yottapede will have somewhere around 75,000,000 feet by the time we vote in October 2019. These walk in many different directions. Since we are a pluralistic country, have been from the beginning and are determined to remain that way, that is how it should be. The intention of Social Justice is not to make us monistic, simply to bias us effectively in a socially just direction, and away from contrary ones. We have come a long way in the past 100 years, and have substantially established the regime that Stephen Leacock proposed. But the standards of 1919 are not the standards of today. We have elaborated our concept of Social Justice to keep up with the many other elaborations we have embraced. Good for us. One result, however, is that Social Justice remains an Unsolved Riddle. Furthermore, some quite nasty forces are chewing away at its foundations.

The principal foes of Social Justice are fear, unkindness, and a diminished sense of our own collective possibilities. We can find no justification in our own circumstances, if we look at them roundly, for any of these. But we may need help from Astranasus, Mnemochirianne, and Vulphystrix to overcome them.

Beginning here next week and running until Monday, December 30th: The life, times, and works of Stephen Butler Leacock, 1869-1944. Was he really “fragmented, incomplete and inconclusive”? Or was his vision so wide, his creative ambition so large, that that was the best he could be?

Pluralistic Reasoning for Social Justice: From Metaphorical to Poetical

In the Seventeenth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries in 2019, on Monday, July 15th, our merry band, consisting of the scouts Astranasus the Star-Nosed Mole and Mnemochirianne the Centaur, who are now joined by Vulphystrix the Both-Andian whose role remains undetermined, carries on the quest to mutate both the Yottapede and the Charged Ooze and thus to tame and put to work the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. They now understand that understanding the creature and its environment is not enough to ensure they can get the job done.

You will recall, perhaps, that this whole thing began with quite a different merry band, consisting of a ghost named Olde Stephen, and myself. We conversed, and eventually decided that in order to hunt down the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, tame it, and put it to work, we would need to use Metaphorical Reasoning. We may even have said, there or someplace else, that if we could ever figure out what Poetical Reasoning was, we might need that. Faute de mieux, we went ahead with the Metaphorical, yielding a fine parade: a dark tower, a slug-horn, star-nosed moles, a centaur, a  yottapede, a charged global membrane (thanks to B.W. Powe) that morphed into a charged ooze, and finally a fox-hedgehog (or porcupine) both-andian. Somehow, in all this confusion, Olde Stephen slipped away, or was forgotten,—I am not sure which. I may have done too, depending on who “I” is in this narrative.

I should explain that the question of who “I” may be has strong Leacockian roots. You can find it in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912) over which controversies rage concerning whether the narrator is Stephen Leacock himself, or a character invented by him. I myself believe the latter, but that’s a question for another day. So too is the question of whether Stephen Leacock, in that book, is engaging in Metaphorical Reasoning or describing a real place and real people, caricatures though they may be. I have waffled on that issue, but now believe he is using Metaphorical Reasoning to talk about some aspects of Social Justice. By dropping hints, however, that the place and people could possibly be real, he allowed the thread of his Metaphorical Reasoning to be overlooked by the reading public and even by some scholars. George Orwell, in Animal Farm, did not make that mistake, nor do I intend to make it. Hence the Slug-Horn, Yottapede (successor to the Dark Tower), Charged Ooze, Mole, Centaur, Both-Andian, etc.

“Is not a Centaur also a both-andian?” I hear you asking yourself. Or do I? Yes, it is, I reply, but a different kind of both-andian from the fox-hedgehog (or porcupine) species. Which one will have the greatest effect on the Yottapede and the Charged Ooze remains to be seen.

It suddenly occurred to me that so too is the star-nosed mole, a creature, a kind of mammalian fish, who “swims” through the dirt (in water too) assisted by an almost unique sensory system and physiology. By blundering around in all this for sixteen weeks I appear to have evolved three interesting approaches to the bi-polarity essential to the unsolved-riddleness of Social Justice: one a blend of polarities (what we used to call in high-school chemistry a “solution” (and isn’t that an interesting pun in our context), who is Astranasus the Star-Nosed Mole; one a fusion or “compound”, who is Mnemochirianne the Centaur; and one a collusion, or “mixture”, who is Vulphystrix the Fox-Hedgehog (or Fox-Porcupine). Now what can be done with that, by way of Metaphorical Reasoning? That too remains to be seen.

The professor who taught me and my classmates the Theory of Finance showed us how a Diversified Portfolio becomes the best kind in a Stochastic Environment, that is, one governed by Uncertainty, and why. This was a most excellent lesson, and I intend to profit from it. I will use, therefore, not only Metaphorical Reasoning, but also Colloquial Reasoning (that is, the play of several minds in conversation) as the Labyrinth Walkers have been doing, or trying to do, in the Tuesday Blog, and also Rhetorical Reasoning, as Stephen Leacock did in his The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and which is, or should be, the approach of the Wednesday Blog. Referring to him and others who have tackled the problem brings up the possibility of Historical Reasoning, which I have not been attempting yet but probably should. How I will manage to weave those four together remains to be seen.

What the Metaphorical Challenge, if I may so term it, boils down to is this: How are both the Yottapede and the Charged Ooze, living as they do in a symbiotic relationship, to be changed so as to advance the cause of Social Justice? Some kind of gradual evolution by incremental self-induced adjustments would seem to be called for, given the nature of these creatures as it has become entrenched. How are Astranasus, Mnemochirianne, and Vulphystrix to stimulate the necessary processes in the face of the inherent difficulties and inevitable resistance? Perhaps to combine the Metaphorical with the Colloquial, the Rhetorical, and the Historical in one joint endeavour is not only the diversified, but the only possible way. Perhaps that is what is meant by Poetical Reasoning.

You are wondering, perhaps, because I am wondering, why I am not making a place for Scientific Reasoning. I mean no disparagement by this omission. The capacity of Science to understand and explain what is exists in the real world remains unmatched by any other cast of mind and technique. We will make what use of Science we can, what we can find, to understand the Yottapede, the Charged Ooze, and their symbiosis. These are hugely complex organic creatures undergoing their own processes of constant evolution, however, and we run the risk that Science, with its cautious incrementalism and infinite capacity for taking pains, cannot take us where we need to be on time. Stephen Leacock taught us the importance of Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour in the quest for Social Justice. I have extended him into an explicit recognition of Doublethink as an important addition to the necessary cast of mind. He did not have the word, and therefore did not get that far, at least explicitly. I think that Science is doing and can do great things for us in Knowledge. Imagination, Compassion, Humour, and Doublethink belong to the realm of the Humanities, although not when they are being cautious and taking infinite pains. We need the Humanities when they are taking giant, inspired leaps, when they engage, that is, in Poetical Reasoning.

The Slug-Horn is the weapon, not the microscope, or the rocket engine, or the super-computer (with or without AI), or the laser, or any of the other amazing tools. We just have to figure out how to blow it with effect.

To Mutate the Yottapede: Expand the Team

In the Sixteenth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries in 2019, on Monday, July 8th, our scouts Astranasus the Star-Nosed Mole and Mnemochirianne the Centaur welcome Vulphystrix the Both-Andian to the quest to mutate both the Yottapede and the Charged Ooze and thus to tame and put to work the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice.

The back-story:

It all started with Archilochus, a Greek poet from the island of Paros, who observed that, “The fox knows many things; the hedgehog knows one big thing,” or words in Greek to that effect. This idea was taken up by Isaiah Berlin in a famous long essay called, appropriately, “The Hedgehog and the Fox”, which is actually about Tolstoy. “Is he a fox or a hedgehog?” Berlin believes he was trying to be both. Maybe we need Tolstoy more than Stephen Leacock, for the work that lies ahead. Stephen Leacock was all fox, or so I will believe until convinced otherwise, despite his end-of-life pronouncements.

All the foxes and hedgehogs on the island of Paros were entirely disconcerted by Archilochus’s dictum, due simply to their natural distaste for being stereotyped. To cut a very long story short, they held a series of meetings involving only themselves, then a series of bilateral meetings, and eventually resolved that those who wanted to prove Archilochus was wrong should make of themselves a new combined species, and leave the others alone who were entirely comfortable with being one or the other. They would do this by a process of unnatural selection (defying Darwin, although they didn’t know that). If you know anything about foxes and hedgehogs, you will realize that this was a tall order indeed. In fact, it failed miserably all over Europe, and many were the casualties on both sides. Even when the foxes pitched the idea to porcupines on both sides of the Atlantic.

In despair, the survivors finally decided that the best they could do would be to conjoin themselves for practical purposes retaining, indeed embracing, their separate identities for purposes of survival but walking intimately side-by-side as if they were one whenever the need arose. This yielded some highly comical appearances which evoked the contempt of some foxes and hedgehogs (or porcupines) alike. But under pluralistic conditions, where being exclusively one or the other was necessarily uncomfortable, it worked wonderfully. The resulting eight-legged creatures came to be called by various hyphenated names, depending on the exact partnership. They resisted fiercely the idea, floated by some who did not understand, that they, especially if both females, should be called Heterodoxies. Taxonomically they came to be recognized as Both-Andians.

Thus it was that Astranasus and Mnemochirianne, realizing that their own considerable talents, however useful for understanding the Yottapede in its native Charged Ooze and even anticipating its behaviour, were insufficient to achieve alteration in its cast of mind, that being the first step in the process of mutation. They put out the call for a fox-hog, hedg-fox, fox-upine or porc-enard, who duly arrived, incorporated under the name Vulphystrix.

They made a curious sight, this bizarre quartrio, as they circled the Yottapede through the Charged Ooze, reversing and unreversing the charge as they want, confusing the great beast with that and their antics. How was it to deal with Astranasus the Star-Nosed Mole snuffled his way around the perimeter, as much at home in the Charged Ooze as the  Yottapede itself, although unable to see, hear, or smell anything about it, yet understanding it fully by touch alone? How was it to deal with Mnemochirianne, the Centaur, half horse and half woman, and a very attractive one at that? The Yottapede of course uses attractive women all the time, but this one didn’t fit any of the stereotypes. Beware, beware! But of what? The mesmerizing face? The penetrating, inscrutable eyes? The strong white teeth? The perfect breasts? The sinuous arms with their two elegant hands? The potent hoofs, shifting and dancing like a picador’s horse but with that feral, female intelligence behind them? And now this new threat, if it was that, this incorporated partnership, Vulphystrix, both fox and porcupine, confronting the conflicting monistic pluralism of the Yottapede with an integrating pluralism of its own: what menace did it hold?

The Yottapede watched the newcomers warily with its myriad million eyes. Both parts of Vulphystrix, observing this scrutiny, danced elusively but temptingly within reach, varying the space between themselves without breaking the connection, causing the myriad million tracking eyeballs to swivel and cross, back and forth, up and down, giving the whole massive creature a massive headache. How will it respond?

All this is happening, of course, within sight of the Mariposa walkers who are about to experience the last three rings of their labyrinth, the longest, the second longest, and the third longest, in that order. They will soon go out the way they came in. They have but three more weeks to come up with something useful. Are the Yottapede and its Charged Ooze becoming sufficiently malleable? Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll see.



The Yottapede: Ultimate Unsolved Riddle

In the Fifteenth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries in 2019, on Monday, July 1st, Canada Day, in collaboration with our scouts Astranasus the star-nosed mole and Mnemochirianne the centaur (see previous posts), I persist in the effort to corral, tame, and put to work the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice.

Before I do that, however, I am going to write into the record the text of the e-mail I sent to the Leacock Anniversaries list last Friday, under the title “A Canada Day Weekend Wish from Stephen Leacock”:

Stephen Leacock opens the original The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice with the words, “These are troubled times.” That, at least, has not changed, although I suppose we might ask whether the times are troubled, or we are. Perhaps both. Of course, if we ourselves are the ones troubling the times, then perhaps we might well prescribe a little more activism and a little less fatalism.

Stephen Leacock proposed a Canadian political economy pursuing National Development and Social Justice through a liberal, creative, enterprising economy and society, regulated in the public interest by democratic politics and institutions to smooth out its excesses, fill any gaps it might leave, deal with its externalities, and provide for its future. He imagined a contented, creative, fulfilled population, meeting their own needs, caring for each other, enjoying life, and expanding its possibilities. Prosperity, in other words, in the fullest sense.

He thought we might achieve this by cultivating a cast of mind blending Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour, using Education as the primary tool. These are more complicated times. I am proposing the addition of “Creative Doublethink” to the blend, “Both-And Accommodation” to the tools. All these terms and the arts of their cultivation need to be carefully worked out, of course.

My wish for Canada this weekend and beyond is that we may join in the work according to Stephen Leacock’s wish, as people “of good will whose hearts are in the cause.”

I wish you a splendid celebrating and forward-looking weekend,

This can serve, at least for the time being, as a reasonable summary of where this whole project may be going. It’s all about cast of mind. If we as a society find our policies and practices to be flawed, which we do, because they are, and if we encounter impediments to change, which we do, then we need to locate their source. We often hear suggestions that some come from the self-interest of powerful agents in society, and to some extent they probably do. They may also come from our own cast of mind, perhaps based on our own self-interest, perhaps merely based on force of habit and an inability to  imagine something else.

The CBC, as part of its contribution to Canada Day, published analysis of a recent poll under the headline: “Conflicted and worried: CBC News poll takes snapshot of Canadians ahead of fall election”. On Wednesday I will pick that story apart in some detail; suffice for today to say that this story represents the impedimental cast of mind at work in blatant fashion. This is the “the sky is falling” cast of mind. I suggest it might well also be a grotesquely inaccurate statement of the general outlook, although it might reflect a accurately the answer to the questions, depending on the nature of the sample and how the questions were asked. But that’s all for Wednesday.

I was hoping that today our two scouts would report something about the relationship between the Yottapede and the Charged Ooze through which it moves. Fish, and other aquatic creatures move through the water and may be said to exist, move, in a double medium formed by water and the force of gravity kept in balance physiologically in all three relevant dimensions: up, down, and sideways. We, and other land creatures, exist, move, in air held down by the force of gravity, up by the land, and sideways by our own structure and musculature. We are therefore multi-media creatures, pluralistic by the very nature of our physical being. But what of the Yottapede?

To cut a long story short, and at considerable risk of over-simplification, the Yottapede is both “aquatic” and terrestrial. It occupies land and breathes air as we do, under the same combination of forces and capacities. It “swims” in the Charged Ooze and respires from it, as fish do, and with the same system of balancing. The unique thing about it, however, is that the Charged Ooze itself, in both substance and charge, is extruded by the Yottapede! It continuously creates for itself the environment that sustains it!

What an amazing creature: both parasite and host to creatures who are both parasites and hosts to it in a self-sustaining symbiosis! This is so surprising and wonderful that I have sent Astranasus and Mnemochirianne back to the field for another week to find out more. When we understand how it works, then we may understand  how to re-direct it towards Social Justice. What a reward that would be!

Posted by Paul Conway, Hunt Secretary.

Prowling the Sagacities, Perplexed

In the Fourteenth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries in 2019, on Monday, June 24th, in collaboration with our scouts Astranasus and Mnemochirianne (see last week’s post), I persist in the effort to corral, tame, and put to work the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice.

In the good old days, when a knight errant received word of a pestilent dragon, he simply suited up, saddled his horse, rode out, and slew it: a simple linear set of tasks. If our scouts can be relied upon,—and I think they can,—our set is decidedly non-linear. They bring us word of a creature, called the Yottapede, whom we have created and who is engaged upon the jocund task of shaping and thus creating us, on whom we are parasitic, and who is parasitic upon us. The dragon, in other words, is both an independent being operating on us from outside, and a part of ourselves operating from within. Whatever we do to the Yottapede, we do to ourselves. I have suspected right from the start that that might be the case, which is why I speak always of taming the Yottapede and putting it to work, not slaying it.

Or rather, I speak of taming the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and putting it to work. Are the two tamings and puttings to work the same operation? Or are they simply closely related?

I believe that I may have chosen my scouts well. Mnemochirianne, being a centaur, is both horse and human. Horses are a most conspicuous example of a wild creature whom we have tamed and put to work, whom we have adapted, who has adapted to us, and who has adapted uks. The art of whispering horses, that is, taming them without breaking their spirit, is known. I served notice last week that we need to learn to whisper the Yottapede.

Astranasus, the star-nosed mole, serves as a supreme example of a creature who, on its own, has learned most unusually how to adapt its senses and skills of daily living in order to take advantage of fruitful environments and circumstances beyond the reach of others. Detecting, through the long, slow process of evolution, an environment containing food but where sight, sound, and even smell were of little use, this enterprising creature grew a set of foveated tendrils and learned to do the job by touch. We, wallowing in what I am calling the Charged Ooze, are still trying to find our way using the senses on which we  habitually rely, primarily sight, and intellectual processes related to sight. I make no judgement yet about the senses and their respective intellectual extensions that we will need to navigate the Charged Ooze. I merely suggest they may not be the old accustomed ones.

We may not have as much time as it took the star-nosed mole, because Nature now seems disinclined to wait around while we figure it out. The Yottapede, as it began to form, as we began to form it, all those centuries ago, believed it could conquer Nature. Nature always had ways of fighting back when our notions of conquering went beyond sophisticated forms of symbiosis into brutal violence. “Okay,” says Nature, “if you want to be violent, so can I.” The problem for us is this: Nature may or may not turn out to be more powerful than the Yottapede. Recent evidence, and much history, suggests it is. In any case we know this for sure: Nature does not care about the survival of individuals, nor even of species. If Nature, to ensure her own survival, needs to get rid of us, she will do so. We pride ourselves on our adaptability, but ours is nothing compared to Nature’s. And she doesn’t care how long it takes.

Recently, for reasons entirely exogenous to the Leacock Anniversaries, I have been spending a great deal of time with William Wilfred Campbell, a dead, almost entirely forgotten Canadian poet and writer who as a young man spent two years as a school teacher. His biographer tells us that he “opened the book of knowledge to his youngest pupils and to others almost as old as himself with the frequent interjection, ‘It’s only common sense, only common sense and reason, that’s all.'” (Carl F. Klinck, Wilfred Campbell, p. 25). Ah Wilfred, it’s not only that. It’s not even primarily that. Stephen Leacock teaches us it’s a creative blend of Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour. There’s one big problem with common sense: it’s common. We are an uncommon species in an unprecedented pickle. We are going to need uncommon sense.

We are going to need uncommon sense just to survive, let along tame the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. And it we can’t tame it, at least to some workaday extent, what’s the point of survival?

Next week I will ask Mnemochirianne to give us some pointers on whispering the Yottapede. Or I will ask Astranasus to teach us to use our senses uncommonly. Or I will keep wandering around in a receptive frame of mind as I have since the week of March 28th until something useful happens.

Maybe I can find out something about whispering the Yottapede by re-exploring the ideas of Stephen Leacock on Education. Has Education been taken over by the Yottapede? Perhaps it has. Maybe we should find out, or at least what kind of Education might help to tame it.

Posted by Paul Conway

Sagacities, Real or Unreal, Flowing with Charged Ooze

In the Thirteenth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries in 2019, on Monday, June 17th, I append the most recent scouting report from the effort to encircle, tame, and put to work the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice.

I recently walked around downtown Toronto, one of the Sagacities. I noticed quite a lot, but in particular, I noticed a tremendous flow of traffic on the arterial streets,—and when I say tremendous I mean tremendous, as others will no doubt attest,—almost all of it vehicular. When I looked or walked along the side streets, however, I saw almost none, and much of what there was was pedestrian. If we postulate, therefore, the existence of the Charged Ooze, then we may at least hypothesize,—perhaps conclude,—that the arterial streets and roads are rife with the stuff, and that the state of the side streets remains uncertain.

Since I have characterized some streets as arterial, thereby introducing a blood-flow metaphor into the mix, I have to ask: are they in fact arterial, or are they venous? In other words, when traffic flows from homes to places of work or commerce, is it flowing back to or out from the heart? The same question arises when it flows back the other way. And is the Charged Ooze (remember, that is the short name I am giving to the Charged Global Membrane of B.W. Powe, which I call the Charged Global-Perceptual Membrane-Medium-MemBrain; B.W. and I are entirely agreed about the Charge, although we vary in our concepts of what is charged),—is the Charged Ooze a vital fluid internal to the organism, or the external environment in which it lives and breathes, as air is to us, and water to a fish. And is it natural, or does the organism create it?

I have named the organism the Yottapede, intending to suggest a long narrow creature with a great many feet. I think you will agree that a city street is just such a creature, especially if we are allowed (and I do allow it) to count wheels as feet. I have two scouts out there studying the Yottapede: Astranasus, a star-nosed mole able to burrow through the Charged Ooze and sense its properties through his foveated tendrils, and a feminequine centaur named Mnemochiranne equipped with all the sensory tools of both a human and a horse along with the two-handed reasoning power of the former and the motive power of the latter. While I took a break last week they have been busy. They dropped in this morning before going back to their field work, to report some preliminary findings.

They have discovered, first of all, that the Yottapede is a complex creature, being both an organism in its own right, and the product or effect of the other organisms that compose it.  In somewhat over-simplified terms these can be thought of as human beings, their servants, and their tools. As Marshall McLuhan is said to have said, first we shape our tools, then our tools shape us. We are both creators and the creatures of our creations, including the Yottapede itself; we all flow together through the Charged Ooze.

Whether the Yottapede is the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, or contains it, remains to be discovered.

The Yottapede is a parasite, depending on us and our tools for its existence. We are the host of this parasite. In the same way we are parasites of the Yottapede, depending on it for our existence, or at least for the only existence we can collectively imagine in our present circumstances. The Yottapede is therefore both parasite and host, and so are we. We are mutually parasitic, and mutually hospitable. Not only that, but we (with our tools) and the Yottapede are also mutually parasitic with the Charged Ooze which may also have the same symbiotic creator-creation relationship with both of us. When you take all this into account, you will begin to see that what we have before us is a considerable Unsolved Riddle.

Now one of the basic principles of parasitology says that a parasite that kills its host is inefficient at best, possibly suicidal. Or, at the very least, if it is going to kill its host, it had better know how to find or create a replacement. The emerald ash borer as a species is entirely dependent on finding another ash tree within striking distance. Before we jump to the assumption, therefore, that we can solve the Unsolved Riddle by killing the Yottapede in all its parasite-host complexity, we had better know how we are going to replace it.

In other words, the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice may look something like this, in its present form: This pervasive creature whom we have shaped and who shapes us, may be both necessary to the achievement of Social Justice, and the greatest, indeed decisive impediment to it. If that is inescapably the case, then taming the creature and putting it to work for that purpose is going to require something much more creative than a straight-forward tinkering with machinery. If we can’t break the Yottapede, and it appears we cannot without breaking ourselves, then we will have to whisper it. And we may have to take into account that it may have a mind of its own, and is whispering us all along the way in its own interest, which is also ours. Not to mention the possibility that it may use more brutal methods.

This much flows from the first reports of our scouts. I’ll check in with them again next week.

Posted by Paul Conway.