The Parallel Parliament

Glen Pearson

The World We Want

Posted on November 15, 2018

Over lunch with a civil society leader in our community last week, there was concern expressed over how she feels our Canadian cities are becoming increasingly split over ideologies, never-ending opinions, online mischief and a rampant kind of identity politics.  She asked if I could send her any writings that could give her some hope for a future kind of citizenship that can overcome forces seeking to pull us apart through a rededication to community life.  I sent her the following quotes from Mark Kingwell’s book The World We Want, among others.  Written almost 20 years ago, it remains more relevant than ever and I thought I’d pass them along.


“We must trust to listen to the other whom we do not yet know, must rely on a basic willingness to care about someone who thinks and lives differently from ourselves.”

 

“Our inability to know the whole truth should never be anger or prejudice against others who think differently, but instead toleration of diversity. The reason is clear:  Humans have the limitation that when it comes to knowledge, only the self can really be trusted.  And yet the self is restricted in capacity.  We must therefore be modest and open-minded, not judgmental and condemnatory.  Where we cannot know, we must not judge.”

 

“This drive for a common language of political discussion is in some ways admirable, since it seeks to resolve differences rather than simply eliminate them, but at a fundamental level it is misconceived.  Some ethical and political differences simply do not go away; some conflicts can never be resolved, only managed.”

 

“Curiously enough, therefore, and contrary to the explicit desire of most philosophers through the ages, we make a strategic error when we look to rationality as the means to realize justice.  We should look rather to desire, to what we want – and to the limits of getting what we want given the presence of other people with their own desires.”

 

“Citizenship is less an intellectual achievement or state of illumination than it is a way of carrying on a form of action.  It is a way of finding ourselves, or at least enough of ourselves to make do, within the complicated cross-hatched world of our shared dreams.”

 

“Citizens must build character more than intellect if they are to take up the challenging task of political commitment; they must be good citizens rather than simply good maximizers of self-interest or good generators of individual preferences.  It is not that self-interest or preference are inimical to justice, only that in themselves they will not secure it.  Therefore, the good citizens must nurture an attitude of hopeful pragmatism, must cultivate the specifically political virtues of negotiation and acceptance, as well as the more searching virtues of love.”

 

“The language of political virtues insists on something that the interest-oriented discourse of political and economic rights cannot; namely, that privilege confers obligations on those who enjoy it. That there is a moral duty to act not only for one’s own benefit, but for the benefit of others less able to fend for themselves.  That’s citizenship in action.”

Flanders Fields

The First Casualties of Peace

Posted on November 11, 2018

On the morning of November 11, 1918, everyone from all sides of the conflict understood that the “war to end all wars” was itself in the process of ending.  At 7 a.m. that morning, France’s Marshal Foch was heading for Paris with the Armistice document in his breast pocket.   At that same moment, in Mons, Belgium, Canadian soldiers were enjoying being hugged by locals who understood that the war would end likely before the end of the day.

The problem was that there was no one person in charge of how it would all come to a close.  Worse, communications in 1918 left a lot to be desired, and although everyone knew the end was nigh, there was no way to get the news out to everyone at the same time.  The lack of those two important components of war – leadership and communication – would result in the great tragedy of Armistice Day.

While everyone began wondering when exactly the deal to end hostilities would be signed, the killings began.  Soldiers on all sides remained unsure how to carry out their last day.  Some hid out but others felt they had to fight until ordered to stop.  So, they kept at it, even though 10 million combatants across a 400-mile Western Front know they are entering the final hours of war, the fighting continued because … well … that’s just what people had been doing for the past four years, barely yielding any ground.

While villages began celebrating, bullets and bombs still flew.  At 6:50 a.m. on the morning of the 11th, the British Army used telegraph and messengers to broadcast far and wide that hostilities would end at 11 a.m. – just over 4 hours away.  Sadly, it would take longer than that for the good news to reach everyone.

In those fatal few hours, 2,738 died on Armistice morning, within the reach of peace.  To put that in perspective, that is more than the Allies lost on D-Day in the next war.  Even though the New York Timesran published the headline: “ARMISTICE SIGNED, END OF THE WAR” at 9a.m., news didn’t reach many regions in time.

In Mors, where the Canadians were being fêted,  Private George Ellison of the Royal Irish Lancers has heard the rumours of the Armistice and talks of home.  On his horse, as part of his final reconnaissance patrol, he is shot and falls from his horse.  In an event of poignant and tragic irony, the last British casualty of World War I lands on the ground a few feet from where Private John Parr became the first British soldier killed four years earlier.

With twenty minutes until the Armistice cease-fire, bombs dropped on American positions, killing hundreds.  Not far away, Private Augustin Trebuchon is carrying a happy message for his comrades when he is shot dead by a sniper.  He becomes the last French soldier killed in the war.  The message he was carrying: “Assemble for food and festivities at 11:30 a.m.”  He was to die 35 minutes before and miss the celebrations.

At 10:58 – two minutes until cessation – back at Mons, Canadian private George Price is shot and killed, as the bullet pierced his heart – the final Canadian killing.  The last casualty of World War I – a private Henry Gunther is shot and killed at 10:59 a.m.

Painting of poppies by Jane Roy

It’s over, and the shooting ends.  But at 11:30, at a hospital near Berlin, a 29-year-old corporal is recovering from a mustard gas attack which has left him temporarily blind. When the hospital chaplain tells him of the Armistice. he flings himself on his bed and weeps with anger. He is distraught and swears revenge.  His name is Adolf Hitler.

That evening, in his Paris apartment, Marshall Foch sits in a rocking chair and is smoking a cigarette. He suspects that the Armistice is merely a kind of ceasefire until the next war.  He was correct, as 20 years later they did it all over again.

This Remembrance Day we remember not only those who died in conflict, but those who died needlessly in the last few moments before it ended.  They were the first casualties of peace.  If we are to learn from their senseless deaths, we would do well to remember the words of Albert Schweitzer: “The soldiers graves are the greatest preachers of peace.”  May it be so, lest we forget.  We Shall Remember Them.

 

Details from this post are from the excellent book D-Day, Minute by Minute, by Jonathan Mayo

 

 

 

The Secret Nook – Now Available

Posted on November 10, 2018

A dream.  A flashback.  A moment in time that might hold out hope for what was becoming an empty life.  But first she must discover what the dream meant and, more importantly, where it had occurred.

Meadow Hartley left her gift and passions behind two decades earlier following the loss of her parents in a tragic car crash.  In the rural expanses of Virginia, she begins the long and heartfelt process of putting her life back together with the help of her old art instructor and the desire to recapture what had been lost.

But there is a twist: instead of going back into her childhood, she must move into the future and see what she will become.

The Secret Nook is a novella that talks about how broken human beings can begin the long process of discovering who they were meant to be and how they might find that path they had left somewhere in the past.

 

The Secret Nook $5 paperback is available here and as a free digital download here.  Enjoy the book.

Is It This or That?

Posted on November 6, 2018

The American midterms today will be just another reminder of democracy’s strong tendency to be overly concerned over what people believe instead of what is true, to be lulled into being persuaded by perception rather than reality. Millennia ago, even Plato warned against the propensity to permit persuasion to overshadow the problem of knowledge. The distinction between blind belief and knowledge has only become more blurred  in the social media era.

Take a citizenry, especially of the mass-consumer and tech savvy variety, and the potential is huge for fabrication, half-truths, misnomers, outright lies, and innuendo. While such things remain a temptation in fields like advertising, it is now a reality that politics excels at it. Why? Because such perpetrators know we are vulnerable to manipulation and their commitment to honourable public service is regularly trumped by their efforts to get our vote, or suppress it. And to get it they put great efforts into convincing us of things that actually might not be relevant.

Even as far back as the late-1800s, Joseph Blanchard wrote in his Essentials of Advertising: “The mission of advertising is to persuade men and women to act in a way that will be of advantage to the advertiser.” While such attempts at persuasion have always come part and parcel with politics, in recent years political promotion has become the accepted rhetoric of democracy. The savvy communicator, armed more with party slants than with realistic assessments, has increasingly usurped the plain style of an Abraham Lincoln, Tommy Douglas, Robert Stanfield or Lester Pearson.

Political promotion abhors a vacuum, and the growing space between senior levels of government and local communities provides ample opportunity to trust that jargon can close the distance – a practice unworthy of good politics and integral communities. The professional promoters in politics today utilize any language they can to convince us to side with them.  A government can treat us like simpletons by trying to launch negative ads against opposition leaders or by turning us off of politics altogether – either of which suits their purpose if it provides a winning combination.

Our political language is no longer the vocabulary of community or service but the vernacular of the partisan professional. This is, in part, why it sounds so strange and unreal to us. Our communities face serious and debilitating challenges at the ground level, but we are forced to watch while governments pursue their own agendas that will surely suck up the billions of dollars we will require to put a dent in our massive infrastructure deficit as communities.

We are rapidly on our way to becoming the first generation of Canadians to have a mass-produced culture that has little to do with the places where we live. If we are to actually live out democracy in our cities and towns, then we must create a vocabulary, a developing knowledge, that deals specifically with our own strengths and challenges. Part of the reason we experience ever greater difficulties in achieving common action is because we have permitted our common talk to be usurped by the seductive language of politics.  South of the border this is playing out in real-time and with powerful intensity in their midterms.  People are being told to fear immigrants on the premise that they take our jobs away, when in real terms it is the companies and their executives who have successfully killed millions of jobs in the U.S. in the past two decades.  Americans are being encouraged to get angry at a false premise while the real culprits are given a pass.  Who suffers in all this?  Communities – over and over again.

Georges Sorel, the controversial French philosopher, used to talk about the “language of movement.” A community that cannot find a common vocabulary that brings it together will of consequence become a place of endless and empty rhetoric, devoid of truly human content. Our humanity is found in our gathering, not our isolation or divisions. Our language must rise to that level if we as communities are to take back our future.

Modern historians have taken a new approach to our political past. Great political shifts have traditionally been studied as the interactions between the key political figures, yet for the last decade researchers are learning to define such essential moments in history by studying the language of the people themselves. Hidden in such phrases were the dynamics of change. If we want paradigm shifts in our communities, we’ve got to stop being politically manipulated and start building a local language of meaning.  Democracy’s essential value is to be found and enhanced in and through citizenship, not a political order that would seek to tell one thing to distract us while it actually doing another.  As George Bernard Shaw put it: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

The Secret Nook – Epilogue

Posted on November 4, 2018

The final step was a big one and he slipped as he descended to the pavement.  Luckily, the bus driver, with a practiced preparedness, caught him on the way down, avoiding the inevitable crunch that would likely have occurred.  The older man bowed in appreciation, then went to the side of the bus to claim his rolling bag.

For Duyi Koay, it had been some 15 years since he had been to Williamsburg.  His partial paralysis had made travel complicated and frequently painful, causing him to build his world around his studio outside of Clifton Forge.  A series of taxis waiting in a lengthy line provided a sense of relief as he ventured over to the leading vehicle.

“Need a ride, sir?” the driver asked.

“To William and Mary College – the Andrews Gallery,” Kaoy replied.  “Is it far?”

“Fifteen minutes at most,” said the man as he opened the rear passenger door.

Duyi mindlessly stared out the window, his thoughts filled with mixed emotions.  Meadow had sent him an invitation to her first showing since she began her studies at William and Mary, and he had wrestled with whether to attend.  He decided in the affirmative for the simple reason that he was wildly curious as to how she was faring and how her painting was refining.  He smiled, realizing that he had no choice but to come.

The taxi spent some time on Jamestown Road before pulling up before a low three-story structure with windows running from the ground level to the roof.  More modern looking than many of the other more traditional buildings, it nevertheless was attractive.  The taxi, however, cruised by the front doors to the far side to where there was easier access for those with physical challenges.

Koay paid the driver, who fetched his case from the trunk, and proceeded to the entrance.  A sign close to the doors said Phi Beta Kappa Theatre. He smiled at the thought of a performance theatre being named after a fraternity and then moved through the door, eventually reaching the exhibition hall where people were filing in and out.

Everywhere he looked, in every direction, were paintings large and small – all of Meadow’s work. There were original sketches, watercolours in frames and some not, and some wonderful oil on canvas pieces.  How did she get all this done in just a few months?he thought to himself.  The larger pieces were landscapes, including some of the Allegheny ridge in the Western part of the state.  But it was the various small depictions on various easels, large and small, spread throughout the exhibition hall, that drew him.  As gifted as she was at depicting the natural world, her ability in composing people in various environments was nothing short of astounding.  Some of the portraits of country people were deeply textured to bring out the sunburnt faces, deep wrinkles and sinewy muscles of the subjects.  They were remarkable and captivated most of those in attendance.

He suddenly happened upon a small piece whose subject he knew immediately.  It was of the single-room schoolhouse in which they had found the note, only it wasn’t as he remembered.  Instead of the newer boards and windows, Meadow had depicted it as it must have been prior to the renovations – much like the sketch she had shown him in the truck.  Something in the grains of the wood, the shape of the holes in the siding, or the crow standing in the dilapidated bell tower presented an aura of … what exactly? Rather than historic, it was more mystical.  The depiction drew the viewer into the building itself.  It spoke volumes of Meadow’s talent of adding mystery to her work – not by adding darkening clouds or exaggerated lines, but by creating a composition that made the viewer, more than anything, want to get inside the building and see for themselves if it was as they imagined it to be.

“Remarkable, isn’t it?”

The voice came from behind him and Koay found himself facing an older woman with a graceful fashion sense and a short crop of grey hair that somehow made her look ascetic and welcoming at the same time.

“Yes, in ways I can’t fully describe,” he responded.

“Well, if you can’t make full sense of it after being there yourself, then the rest of will never stand a chance.”

With confusion on his features, and before he could say anything, the woman held out her hand. “Professor Duyi Koay, I am Margaret Gonder, vice-president of the college.  Meadow has told me a considerable amount about you, and I was hoping we would encounter one another.”

“But, how did you know who I was?” he asked, still perplexed.

“Come, I’ll show you.”

They slowly made their way to a mid-sized easel display near the farthest wall from the entrance, where she stopped.  There before them was an oil painting of an Asian male, older, and with greying hair at the temples.  But his eyes were alight with curiosity and what looked like the first intimations of a smile quivered on his face.

“O my,” was all he could say.

“It’s a remarkable piece,” Gonder exuded.  “Meadow told me that she puts it by her large drafting table whenever she works and whenever she feels she is losing her way.  She captured in this piece something that just a cursory look at you wouldn’t reveal.”

Indeed, she had.  The face seemed to be emerging from the darkness, with its left side still lost in shade.  But the eyes somehow brightened the piece in a way that could easily dominate anyone looking at it.

Before he could say anything, arms came around from behind him and a soft voice said, “Sufi, I knew you would be here.”

Meadow walked around to face him and, in an instant, he saw something he had never seen before: Meadow at peace.  The troubled eyes he had once painted were gone, replaced by the knowing orbs of a deep humanity.  “You are transformed,” he said, with an ebullience he could never describe.

“Thanks to you,” was all she said, moving in to kiss his cheek.  “Vice-president, this man is the reason I am here.  He pulled me from my past into my future.”

“Of this I am aware,” Gonder noted.  “In fact, I have a proposition for you that I’ve wanted to talk to you about for some time.”

“We want you to set up a permanent gallery here,” Meadow said exuberantly.  “I’ve told the faculty of your remarkable work with the mind and software.”

“We would appreciate it if you would consider helping us to adapt our curriculum to those with physical challenges.  It will take time, we know, but we are prepared to budget for what you would require.”

He looked into Meadow’s eyes and saw nothing but excitement.  “It’s not just about that, Sufi.  There is great need here for the art of the East to receive fuller examination and recognition.  You could help teach students all those wonderful things you told me about the distinctions between how the East and West see colour, perspective, and the whole instead of the individual.”

Five minutes later, the three of them agreed to meet in Gonder’s office the next afternoon to explore the possibilities.  Koay, owing to his natural cultural reticence, was thrilled as the sense of a door opening inside him made itself felt.

Later, as attendees began filing out at the closing hour, Meadow took her old instructor to the elevator and upstairs to the studio she used.  It was rustic and plain, which he appreciated.  Paint was everywhere and canvases were positioned all over the floor.

“It’s not as quaint as yours, Duyi, but it has become my church, a sanctuary, a place where, as you once said, the divine meets the human.  I am the happiest here.”

He found a wooden four-legged stool and sat on it.  Looking around, a smile grew larger on his face.

“What?” she asked.

“You have found yourself, as you will be.”

Meadow pulled a chair over to face him, saying, “You are the only person I have ever heard say such a thing, Sufi.  Your idea of how who I will be in the future has been calling to me and waiting to be fulfilled is something I have thought about every day since coming here six months ago.  Perhaps it is the most profound thing I will ever learn.  The past, with its pain and a kind of dystopia has been left there, and I continue to feel that my present is in the future.  It makes me want to rush, to hurry my lessons, to cut corners in my learning.  But, always, the thought of you telling me that the important thing was to be on the journey has kept me disciplined.  I … I owe you everything.”

“You owe your dream everything,” he countered.  “It was what brought us together and it was your parents that got you to this place long after they had gone.”

Meadow put her hand on his. “They’re not really gone, you know – not in the least.  All those years of trying to find them, to remember them, and now they are here.  I have learned that the key to immortality is living a life worth remembering, and you have given me that.”

He embraced her at that point because words were no longer sufficient … or needed.  The opaque lighting in the studio provided them with a surreal sense of presence, of companionship, of peace.

“I want you to come and work here with me, Duyi.  Our journey has only just begun – if you will let it continue.”

His smile reappeared. “How interesting.  I was there in your past, in your present, and now I will be in your future.  It is a pleasant thought.”

“So, you’ll do it?” she said, jumping up.

“We will work it all out tomorrow.”

Later, alone in her studio, Meadow realized she had never been happier – not even when she was young. She thought of her parents and their remarkable legacy.  Yet for all the wonderful people in her life – her parents, Les, Koay and Gonder – she understood that it was ultimately her gift that served as the timely tool for breaking out of her stationary life and propelling her into her future.

She turned a canvas around that had been on her favourite work easel.  It was a riot of colour, consuming its every inch of surface.  There were clouds and stars and shade and a sense of the ominous.  But, opaquely at first, a transcendent light emerged to suffuse the entire canvas. She only understood tonight that she, unknowingly, had been painting God – the divine she had known in the past who would now guide her to the future.

Meadow carefully mixed her paint and, despite the hour, lost all sense of time.  The consistency and colour just right, she swirled her medium-sized brush around the palette and raised it to the canvas.  With the very first stroke she felt it drawing her in, as her entire being became one with the creation.

 

THE END

 

This is the concluding chapter of The Secret Nook.  In the next post I’ll put up the details concerning how to purchase the paperback or download the free digital version.  It was a revealing book for me to write and is dedicated to my wife Jane and her remarkable talent that is now emerging from her many works on canvas.

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