Leave a comment

The Migration of Peoples

In recent months and years, First Nations peoples have been requesting/demanding the removal of statues of Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, from public places. They usually say that they find the statues offensive because of Macdonald’s role in the creation of the residential school system. However, if we think about the issue clearly, we may realize that the establishment of residential schools was only one aspect of the European takeover of northern North America. In history, the assimilation of conquered peoples routinely follows a successful invasion. I suspect that what Native people really object to is Macdonald’s role in the creation of Canada, a country stretching from sea to sea, filling the land previously occupied solely by Native peoples. They see this as a key factor in the overwhelming of Native peoples by an influx of mainly European immigrants.

However, even if Macdonald and his associates had not existed, First Nations people would not have remained in possession of northwestern Canada. Their land would have been taken over by Americans rather than Canadians—and the Native peoples would likely have been treated even more badly. Before the creation of Canada, American fur traders, whisky peddlers, and gold miners were already present. Eventually, what happened in Texas would have happened in northwestern North America—American “settlers” would have moved in, they would have sought “freedom” from the oppressive foreign power that currently claimed the area (in this case, the United Kingdom rather than Mexico), and they would have demanded that the American government rescue them by annexing the area.

Am I justifying the creation of a continent-wide Canada as the least evil of evil alternatives? That is the reality perhaps for First Nations peoples, but that is not what I am saying.

My argument puts the question into a much larger context. The migration of peoples has been a continual feature of world history. This takes place for a whole variety of economic and social reasons and usually involves the movement of people from large population centres to less populated areas. The migration of peoples mirrors the dispersion of animal species throughout the globe. This raises the question of whether the divine dictum in Genesis 1:28 (“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it”) was a command to be consciously obeyed or an innate instinct impossible to resist.

Governments can no more prevent the migration of peoples than they can stop the flow of the ocean tides or the dispersion of invasive plant and animal species. They can slow (restrict) it, accelerate (encourage) it, delay it, guide it, and regulate it, but they cannot stop it. This is largely because they cannot control the economic and social forces that drive it.

Even the mighty Roman Empire was unable to stop the invasion of barbarians from central Europe. In spite of Donald Trump’s bluster, the United States is powerless to prevent the immigration of Hispanics from Central America. Similarly, modern Europe is unable to stem the flow of refugees and other immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. These modern immigrants may yet achieve what Muslim armies were unable to do in the late Middle Ages—overrun European society and irreversibly change it. And the Canadian government, despite sporadic attempts in the past, has not been able to stem the flow of immigrants from India, China, the Philippines, and other parts of Asia.

As well, we should not forget that, despite their myths and legends, the First Nations people themselves migrated to North America from Asia, at times displacing other Native people.

It is an unrecognized irony that many of those who most vigorously decry the displacement of First Nations people by European immigrants in past centuries now just as vigorously argue that the current North American population should “welcome immigrants.”

The migration of peoples is an inexorable process, impervious to the protests of displaced peoples and the machinations of governments—and removing a few statues is not going to change that.

 

Advertisements
Leave a comment

Three Luxuries

Ah, retirement! A time of rest and relaxation after a lifetime of work.

Right.

Maybe the problem is that I am only semi-retired, still doing a lot of editing and writing work. Or maybe our ideas about retirement are wrong.

In any case, I have discovered what that free time after retirement is. It is all the time people expect you to contribute for free.

A friend of mine recently retired. To celebrate, he said he slept in—deliberately.

I guess that is one of the benefits of retirement. Most people only get to sleep in one or two days a week at most. I can do it more than that, but certainly not every day.

I had another friend who hated to wake up to the jarring sound of a ringing alarm clock. So, he used a “natural alarm clock.” He would take two glasses of water up to bed with him and drink them just before he fell asleep. This would guarantee that he would wake up in time to go to work in the morning. Of course, he was still a young man. If I tried it, I would wake up for work around 2:00 a.m. Even without the two glasses of water, I still often wake up around 2:00 a.m.

Anyway, this got me thinking about the great luxuries of life. Here are three.

  1. To sleep until you are no longer tired. It might only be 15 minutes longer, but waking up naturally allows you to start the day feeling far less stressed than if you were suddenly jerked out of a sound sleep by a blaring alarm clock reminding you of all the things that you have to do that day.
  2. To have a wide variety of good foods to choose from and to be able to eat until you are full. Most people in the world eat a similar diet every day. In the North American melting pot, there are Chinese, Italian, French, Japanese, French and Thai restaurants on the same street—right next to a North American burger chain and an English-style fish and chip place. Similar options are available in grocery stores and cookbooks.
  3. To have a ready supply of clean water and to be able to take a hot shower or bath whenever you want.

The reality is that most of us in North America have at least two of these luxuries and don’t think twice about them. And no billionaire can substantially improve on them. The billionaire might draw his shower water from a gold-plated tap, but it is the same water. He might be able to afford caviar, but most of us would rather eat something that tastes better.

We should be thankful.

Leave a comment

The Basis of Supreme Court Decisions

Fears are being voiced again in the United States that President Donald Trump might succeed in appointing a “conservative” judge (whether it is Brett Kavanaugh or someone else) to the US Supreme Court. Opponents fear that this would give conservatives a majority there and change many court decisions. Similar concerns have been raised at various times here in Canada.

While concerns are often expressed about specific appointments, these debates usually fail to consider the larger and more systemic issue. That is, concern over specific appointments should cause us to examine the impartiality and validity of Supreme Courts themselves.

We would like to believe that Supreme Court decisions offer a definitive and objective application of justice. But the furor over specific appointments suggests that Supreme Court decisions are not objective decisions based on evidence but are determined by the pre-existing personal opinions of those who are appointed to the court. (That is why the previous judicial decisions and the beliefs of Supreme Court nominees are scrutinized so thoroughly in the US Senate.) These appointments in turn depend on who is elected to political office and thus who has the responsibility to appoint Supreme Court justices. And who gets elected depends on the current views of the electorate. If the people elect a conservative prime minister or president, he or she will appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, who will render conservative decisions. If the people elect a liberal prime minister or president, he or she will appoint liberal Supreme Court justices, who will render liberal decisions. In other words, what the Supreme Court decides is based on popular opinion. Justice does not seem to come into it.

One example illustrates the point. A century ago, the majority of society considered homosexuality to be immoral and abnormal, and the courts ruled it illegal. Today, the majority of society highly values unfettered sexual activity, and the courts have accorded homosexuals protected status.

Supreme Court decisions seem to change with changes in society’s values and viewpoints. Let us examine why this is so. Courts in general have the responsibility to apply the law to specific cases. The law forbids murder, and a judge must decide if a specific defendant has committed murder according to the legal definition. Supreme Courts, however, do not generally apply laws. Rather, their responsibility is to interpret and evaluate laws, not so much to decide what the law is but to decide what the laws should be.

On what, then, do Supreme Court justices base their decisions? It can’t be the written law since the law is what the Court is evaluating. In Canada, it might be the Charter of Rights and Freedoms—but again, in their decisions, the justices don’t follow what the Charter says but what they interpret it to mean and even what they think it ought to say. For example, the justices have written into the Charter a slew of LGBTQ “rights” that were never mentioned in the Charter.

Remember that Supreme Court decisions especially are not simple guilty/not guilty verdicts but essentially long philosophical essays explaining the rationale for whatever verdict is ultimately rendered.

In an older age, Supreme Court decisions often referred to the Ten Commandments, the values of Christianity and other major religions, Greek and Roman philosophy, the traditions of English Common Law, and the accumulated wisdom of human history.

Nowadays, Supreme Court decisions often cite the latest theories of sociology, psychology, and other social sciences. That may explain why the foundational decisions of modern Supreme Courts seem to be based on shifting sands. They are.

Leave a comment

Advice to a First Year Student

The universities from which I graduated often ask me for things (mostly money). One recently asked me to contribute a short note of encouragement and advice to a first year student. I agreed. And then I discovered that my note was to be limited to 150 characters (25-30 words). It is difficult to condense my approach to university education to 25 words and still say something meaningful. Therefore, I composed the somewhat longer version that follows.

 

You have been given a wonderful opportunity. Your university is a vast reservoir of knowledge, and you have been given the privilege of scooping out as much as you can.

When I first enrolled as a university student, I determined to learn as much as I could, in class and out of it. I was convinced that if I did that, the marks would take care of themselves. And I was right.

So, my advice is: Pursue knowledge with a passion. Learn as much as you can.

Feel free to challenge what your professors are teaching you—especially if you can offer evidence that they are wrong rather than just an alternative opinion.

Question everything. And I mean everything.

Question Donald Trump, but also question Hillary Clinton.

Question Stephen Harper, but also question Justin Trudeau.

Question Adam Smith, but also question Karl Marx.

Question the CEOs of Esso and Kinder Morgan, but also question David Suzuki and Greenpeace.

Question John Calvin and C.S. Lewis, but also question Bertrand Russell and Christopher Hitchens.

Question James Dobson and Margaret Somerville, but also question Henry Morgentaler and Margaret Sanger.

Question Pascal, Descartes, Augustine, and Aquinas, but also question Freud, Jung, Einstein, and Asimov.

Question Ptolemy and Isaac Newton, but also question Copernicus and Charles Darwin.

In short, pursue knowledge and truth fearlessly, without prejudices and preconceptions. You might be surprised where it leads you.

A final word. Your university was founded by Christians who dreamed that it would expand opportunities for learning and knowledge. The current leaders of your university are embarrassed by that Christian heritage and want to pretend that it did not exist. But question everything. Roads do not all lead in one direction. When I was there, the university was headed in the opposite direction to that of the founders, and it has continued to head in that direction. But there were also students whose search for truth led them back to the Christian faith of the founders. Some students today still find themselves following that path. Maybe you will be one of them.

Leave a comment

Tearing Down Statues

In recent years, there have been calls throughout North America to remove statues of men from earlier eras. The latest example was the decision of the City Council in Victoria, B.C., to remove a statue of John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister. (City Council is now considering re-erecting the statue in a different place.) The argument was that the statue was offensive to First Nations people because of Macdonald’s role in setting up the residential school system and that removing the statue would help achieve reconciliation with First Nations people. This has been followed by incidents of vandalism against other statues of Macdonald across the country as well as calls to remove those statues.

The statue in Victoria was set up partly because Macdonald, a Prime Minister from Ontario, chose to run for a parliamentary seat in Victoria, a move that symbolized national unity. Macdonald was also honoured for his role in bringing British Columbia into confederation and making Canada a nation that stretched from sea to sea. Of course, First Nations people are not happy about honouring that development either.

The recent calls to remove various statues have most often come from people on the left of the political spectrum wanting to remove statues of people on the right of the political spectrum. Critics have pointed out that there are statues to men on the left of the political spectrum that are offensive to people on the right. Many of those who want the statues of Macdonald removed are the same people who encouraged the erection of a statue of Louis Riel, who led a rebellion against the extension of Canada across the continent. It is shortsighted to suggest that one side has all right on its side and deserves a monopoly on statues. If statues can be removed because someone objects, pretty soon there may be no statues left standing at all.

Of course, removing statues is not unique to North America. Around the world, statues of former dictators are routinely removed by the revolutionaries who overthrew them.

What is lost in the argument is why we erect statues in the first place and whether we should do it at all.

Statues are usually erected to honour the achievements of certain individuals. Why it is primarily the achievements of politicians and soldiers (usually males) that are so honoured is a question for another time perhaps. But that suggests exactly why there are calls to remove statues. No politician has ever been elected with 100 percent of the vote, and if a politician has supporters, he inevitably also has opponents. The same is true for military men immortalized by statues. They have been honoured for their military victories, but victories mean that there were also losers, and the descendants of those who were defeated are understandably opposed to celebrating that event with a statue. As attitudes evolve, yesterdays’ heroes become today’s villains—and yesterday’s villains become today’s heroes.

Looking back in history, back much farther than Macdonald, originally statues were more often erected to honour gods. (However, it should be noted that in Exodus 20:4 the God of the Bible forbade the practice on the ground that no statue could do justice to the greatness, glory, and ongoing creativity of the living God. Such statues would fall so far short of the reality as to be insulting.) Later on, statues were also erected by political and military rulers who claimed to be gods, including King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the Egyptian pharaohs, and many Roman emperors. The practice has been copied by modern dictators, including the Communist leaders of the Soviet Union and North Korea.

So, why do we now erect statues to human beings? To honour their achievements, of course. That is what we say. Or is it to “immortalize” them, make them immortal, worship them? The problem with such statues is that all human beings have flaws, failings, and blind spots. Some have achieved great things in some areas, while failing dismally in others. The statues are usually erected by supporters and followers of great leaders in order to honour their achievements—and perhaps also to deny their failures. But no matter how great the achievements, others can point to the failings and weaknesses.

Every human being has strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, virtues and sins. Maybe the truth is that no human being deserves to be honoured by a statue. None are gods worthy of worship.

 

Leave a comment

70 Is the New Confusion

Someone I know well has reached the exalted age of 70. I wondered what this number might mean. So, I looked it up on the Internet, the ultimate source for all kinds of useful information. This is what I found.

  • 70 (seventy) is the natural number following 69 and preceding 71.

 That didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.

In mathematics, 70 is:

  • a sphenic number because it factors as 3 distinct primes
  • a Pell number
  • the seventh pentagonal number
  • the fourth triskaidecagonal number
  • the fifth pentatope number
  • a central binomial coefficient (since 70 is the number of ways to choose 4 objects out of 8 if order does not matter)
  • the smallest weird number (a natural number that is abundant but not semiperfect)
  • a palindromic number
  • a Harshad number
  • an Erdős–Woods number (since it is possible to find sequences of 70 consecutive integers such that each inner member shares a factor with either the first or the last member)
  • 70 squared is the sum of the first 24 squares starting from 1 (which relates to the Leech lattice and thus string theory)

I didn’t understand any of that. I hate math.

  • In science, 70 is the atomic number of ytterbium, a lanthanide
  • In astronomy, Messier object M70 is a magnitude 9.0 globular cluster in the constellation Sagittarius.

 I didn’t understand any of that either. I hate science.

  • In history, the 70 Years War lasted from 1572 to 1642.

That is a long time, but I don’t see its relevance. And I thought I liked history.

In the Bible:

  • 70 Hebrews went down to Egypt to begin the exile (Genesis 46:27).
  • There are names representing 70 nations in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10).
  • There were 70 men in the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of ancient Israel.
  • Moses assembled 70 elders by God’s command in the desert (Numbers 11:16-30).
  • Psalm 90:10 allots three score and ten (70) years for a man’s life, and the Mishnah says that one who survives that age is “strong.”
  • 70 Jewish elders translated the Old Testament into Greek.
  • In Luke 10:1-24, Jesus sent 70 of His followers out to preach.
  • In Matthew 18:21-22, Jesus told Peter to forgive people 70 times 7 times.

That might be relevant, especially the last one.

  • Several languages do not have a specific word for 70; for example, French uses “soixante-dix” (sixty-ten) and Danish says “halvfjerdsindstyve” (three and a half score).
  • In law, some copyrights expire after 70 years.

In sports:

  • In Olympic archery, the targets are 70 meters from the archers.
  • There are 70 laps in the Canadian Grand Prix and the Hungarian Grand Prix.
  • In Far Eastern cultures such as of China, Japan, and Korea, 70 years old is called “the Rare Age of the Olden Times.”

The East truly is inscrutable. I don’t know if that is insulting or not.

  • In Islamic tradition, 70 is hyperbole for “an infinite amount.”

That is definitely insulting. And mean.

 

Leave a comment

The Road to the Greenest City in the World

Not everything I write ends up in this blog.

Who would have guessed that staring out my window at traffic congestion on the Trans-Canada Highway would lead to an article published in an online journal?  “Collateral damage of the ‘greenest city’” was recently published in C2C Journal. You can read the article here.