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The theme of The Great Divide is that the populations of the democratic world, from Boston to Berlin, Vancouver to Venice, are becoming increasingly divided from within, due to a growing ideological incompatibility between modern liberalism and conservatism. This is partly due to a complex mutation in the concept of liberal democracy itself, and the resulting divide is now so wide that those holding to either philosophy on a whole range of topics: on democracy, on reason, on abortion, on human nature, on homosexuality and gay marriage, on freedom, on the role of courts … and much more, can barely speak with each other without outrage (the favorite emotional response from all sides). Clearly, civil conversation at the surface has been failing -- and that could mean democracy is failing.

This book is an effort to deepen the conversation. It is written for the non-specialist, and aims to reveal the less obvious underlying ideological forces and misconceptions that cause the conflict and outrage at the surface -- not with any expectation the clash of values will evaporate, but rather that a deeper understanding will generate a more intelligent and civil conversation.

As an aid to understanding, the book contains a handful of Tables directly comparing modern liberal and conservative views across a range of fundamental moral and political “issues” so that curious readers can answer the book’s main question: “Where Do You Stand?” An interesting result in testing this exercise has been the number of people who find they “think” one way, but “live” another.    

 

Good Reading
Essays (37)
Tuesday
Feb212006

More Sport Confusion

Yesterday I fingered politics, drugs, and money as the three most obvious ways elite sport has changed drastically in the last 40 years. When Canada’s Bill Crothers won a silver medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, on a dirt track (not on today’s much faster artificial surfaces), in a time that remained the Canadian record for some thirty years, we could be certain beyond any doubt of the following: he was not dependent on any state support; he was not taking any banned drugs; and he was not running for prize money.

So I ask readers to try this mental experiment: try to imagine a Canadian runner today winning a silver medal in the 800 meters, and then learning that he receives, and expects to receive money from taxpayers to continue running; that he is taking several banned substances, but denies taking them; and that he wins $25,000 to $50,000 for placing in a major international meet.

If both these athletes were competing in separate meets on the same day, which one would you prefer to watch? Which athlete would you value as more authentic, and which performance as better (even though they both win a silver medal)? If they both broke the world record on the same day, in the same time, which one ought to get credit for it?

Put this way, we can more clearly see that the difference between former elite athletes and those of today lies in certain underlying oppositions between independence (runs because he loves it) and dependence (would quit without state support); between honesty (takes no banned substances) and dishonesty (takes them, but denies it); and between sport for its own sake (runs to win the race) and sport for money (runs to win money).

These ovcerall difference was driven home for me when my own daughter won the Canadian Junior Championship in the 400 metre hurdles in Montreal, in 2000 (in 60.7” a good time on a rainy, windy day). There was a moment of great joy that got suddenly deflated. Just after crossing the finish line, and after the hugs and all, we both noticed a huge woman and a mean-faced official hovering very close. It was the urine police. We were sternly informed that my daughter was to be closely followed for the next hour or so, whereupon the big lady would go into the toilet stall with her and watch her urinate into a small bottle. My heart sank as I realized that all this meant a presumption of guilt. My daughter and all those who strive for athletic success in Canada are automatically presumed guilty unless proven innocent. That is the cloud under which we have placed all our sporting youth, and somehow we think it normal.

Speaking of "normal": in the National Post (p.A20) today, sport journalist David Owen argues we should accept and even promote performance-enhancing substances and be concerned only for the health of our athletes. Let’s get on with “safe” chemical and genetic-enhancement of everything, is the theme. Well, it’s the modern approach to all difficult moral issues: let’s arrange to avoid such question entirely by switching the focus of concern – in this case to doing no physical harm. But why are we so concerned about physical harm, and not at all about moral harm? Seems to me that in terms of how we get through life, and short of dying, our moral disabilities are far greater impediments than our physical ones.

And there are other flaws in his case. First, we simply do not know what harm many drugs do until decades later. Remember thalidomide? Remember the Vioxx and Celebrex drug recall last year? There is no end to possible future pharmacological harm simply because all drugs have side-effects, and if they do not, they are not drugs. Whether or not they get to market (or are taken off the market) is always a question of weighing risks against benefits. If you read the Pharmacology Handbook for a few minutes you will never want to take any drug again. Just about every one of the entries mentions the risk of mortality stated as a percentage of users. Second, permitting performance drugs on Monday would mean finding them put in the bodies of ten year-old gymnasts by glory-hungry coaches on Tuesday. No thanks. And Owen is just plain wrong on EPO and the dangers of red-blood-cell boosting. Insiders in the cycling and cross-country skiing world will tell you that in the past 20 years a shocking number of otherwise healthy international-caliber athletes have died from EPO. When they use too much of it their blood gets so thick their hearts stop. I have heard of cyclists whose trainers have had to stand on guard in their bedrooms at nights and wake them periodically to make them walk around whenever their heart monitors show their heart rate dropping dangerously low.

This goes on, and it is distressing, and I don’t care how many pharmacologists or experts in “practical ethics” (Oxford Professor Savulescu, in the Owen’s article), or sport journalists (Owens himself), try to justify it as “the radical modernization of human beings.” It is quite the reverse. It's the radical dehumanization of human beings.

Last testimonial: I know personally a man now in his mid-forties now who traveled to Europe to race under the tutelage of the Ontario Cycling Association when he was fifteen. I don’t know if he would repeat this now for fear of getting someone in trouble. But when I asked him, with an excited anticipation what it was like to travel with a provincial team at such a young age? He brought me down hard when he looked me right in the eye, and said: “Billy, the coaches gave us uppers to race, and downers to sleep.”

Monday
Feb202006

Can The Olympics Survive Success?

Sport has to be some kind of addiction. I remember, at about age ten reading track and field books under the bed-covers by flashlight after lights-out; going to school tired but happy, dreaming of what it could possibly be like to win a race. Please God, make it happen.

Sport - you can love it and hate it at the same time; the glory and the agony. In this respect it reproduces so much of the fullness of life, and all this in myriad private settings where young boys and girls learn about striving to their utmost, about winning with dignity, and losing with grace. And it is surely the Olympic Games, more than any other event that comes to mind as a monument to such sporting glory.

But can the Olympic Games survive its olympian success? There is some doubt, and reflection on how sport has changed in the past half century gives pause for concern. Fifty years ago there was still a keen moral distinction to be drawn - one immediately grasped by the public - between the amateur and the professional. An amateur was a lover of sport, someone who fit sport into life, and not life into sport. This distinction is very old, was clearly illuminated in classical Greece and Rome, found its most recent flourishing during the Renaissance, and until very recently had to do with the social ideal of human leisure. In its proper sense leisure has nothing to do with laziness or taking it easy. It has to do with the creative and non-utilitarian use of free time in pursuit of the fullness of life through personal development. This implies an ability to distinguish sharply between doing something for its own sake, as an end in itself, and doing something as a means to an end. The easiest way to know if someone is doing (I did not say “playing”) sport as a means to an end is to ask if they earn money from it. When you think deeply about this, you come up convinced there is something more pure and admirable about doing something for its own sake than doing it for money. For an amateur will do what he does because he loves it, whereas we cannot tell why the professional does what he does, for he may do it even if he hates it.

Call me a dinosaur, call me out of step with the times. Fine. But I say let’s go back to the future. For in a nutshell, and as much as I love it, here is what is wrong with Olympic sport, and what has to be changed to avoid the complete disappearance of pure sport in the next fifty years.

1) Politics: We are creating Welfare Jocks and Jockettes. Sport has been shanghaied by welfare states in the free world, and the model for this takeover was former communist states like East Germany. This has meant a vastly diminished engagement of local communities (as coaches, officials, parents, and community supporters), and legions of athletes who grow up thinking they will be looked after by the state. At a sports meeting prior to the 1976 games I listened with a growing disdain to a prominent thirty-year old Canadian Olympian who stood up and pleaded with government officials for “compensation for lost education.”

2) Drugs. In far too many sports, you cannot succeed without drugs. This is mostly true for explosive sports (sprinting, jumping, throwing – citius, altius, fortius!); for strength sports (such as weightlifting); and for endurance sports (any sport requiring sustained endurance such as cycling, marathon, and cross-country skiing). I still watch a fast 100 metre race; I still watch the tour de France; and I love cross-country ski racing. But in my heart of hearts I know almost all these people are on drugs. They are cheats; they are chemistry champions; they have learned to lie with pride; and this will never stop. At every Olympics there will be drug busts and police raids. And next, we are going to see genetically-engineered champions. So for me, something wonderful about sport has died.

3) Money. I already said it. Sport is now a way to get very rich. First, by getting on the government sports-dole as a “carded” athlete with a monthly stipend, and then by scoring “the big win.” Some actually do this. The very few we hear about. But for every one of those there are hundreds who neglect the fullness of their own personal development and education – who neglect the true meaning of leisure - by hanging on for the big win that will never come. And there are also hundreds – I know some – who simply quit when they get the word from Ottawa that they will not be carded. The end for me was when I heard that now at Track and Field Grand Prix races, a Bar of Gold is placed on the track at the end of the 100 metre run as the gleaming prize and highest glory of the sport. I say bring back the laurel leaf!

There is also something very wrong about having an “Olympic Team” of multi-millionaire, thirty-something hockey players. The wrongness was driven home during the last games when the closing ceremonies came. As the camera panned over some of the faces of these aging millionaires, the dignitary stood up and said: “I invite the youth of the world to gather once again to celebrate the Olympic spirit, in Turin, Italy.” A lot of those fellows did not look like “the youth of the world” to me. Fact is, in men’s hockey at least, we have passed over the youth of the world.

                                                                                                ~

And that is why I coach high school athletes. Because they are still getting the best of it.  But I do not counsel them to go forward after university, unless they are prepared to change their lives according to the three realities above. This weekend, at the Ontario Indoor Track and Field Championships five of our York Flyers kids brought home six medals. This coach was pretty happy! * Gold medals in the Juvenile Girls (not yet 18) 200 metres, and the 400 metres * Silver medal in Juvenile Boys 400m. * Gold medal in Senior Men’s Long Jump. * Bronze medal in Senior women’s 60m Hurdles. * Silver medal in Senior women’s Long Jump. It was great fun.

But besides high-school sport – in the very young - where do we mostly find sport undertaken in the sense of true leisure today? In the very old. At the “Masters” level. Masters sport is a huge and growing activity. Just one example: at the World Masters Track and Field championships in Buffalo New York a few years ago, more than 6,000 older athletes came to compete in just this one sport! Masters sport, populated mostly by people who do it for the pure love of it, is booming. But there are warning signs.

At this same Buffalo competition, a 75 year-old man was disqualified from the 100 metre sprint for taking drugs.

Friday
Feb172006

Response to a Comment

In his Feb 16 comment on my post, Matt objected that contracts exist when there is a “meeting of the minds,” and that the classic French maxim for contractual interpretation is “autonomy of the will,” and he believes these two notions weaken my argument that modern no-fault divorce undermines marriage.

I am no lawyer, but I think the standard of “meeting of the minds” is indeed the proper basis for evaluating whether or not a true contract was formed, because if the parties to a contract have different understandings, as when it can be proved that one party was attempting to deceive the other, then there is no contract.

But once a contract is fairly formed by a meeting of the minds, one of those minds cannot simply say “I no longer like this deal. Our minds are not meeting, and so the contract is ended,” and if this is attempted there is usually provision for a stipulated penalty. Which is to say that if it takes a meeting of the minds to form a contract, it also takes a meeting of the minds to end it. That is why I say that no-fault divorce undermines the very basis of contract.

As for the concept of “autonomy of the will” - I suggest that this concept is brought to bear on contracts to ensure there was no force used to gain consent. As far as I can tell it was never meant and does not mean to imply that just because human wills are autonomous (surely that is the very definition of a “will”) they can restructure their contracts as they please. Actually, it implies the reverse: because they formed their contract as free agents, they ought to stick to it unless they mutually agree to dissolve or change it.

With marriage things ought to be tougher to dissolve because the State, as I argue, is the third marriage partner and has a special interest in marriage due to the need for procreation to ensure its own survival. Off the top, I would argue that where children are born of, or are part of a marriage, divorce ought to be much more difficult to obtain than if there are no children.

Track and Field

I’ll be back at this blog on Monday. I am off for the weekend coaching my small York Flyers track and field club. We have a half-dozen kids competing in the Ontario Juvenile Indoor Track and Field Championships at York University all weekend. A few of them should be in the medals. So Monday I will tell you what happened, and also offer some thoughts on the Olympic Games.

Friday
Feb172006

Medical Mediocrity

It is a shocker to realize that Canadian patients and their physicians are still the only citizens on the planet who face a possible jail term for agreeing to freely exchange their own money, as they wish, for the basic medical services they want.

Last year Canada’s Supreme Court scolded the province of Quebec for “letting patients die on waiting lists” (National Post, today). And yet this shocking statement about a more shocking truth that is the inevitable consequence of all socialized medical systems passed without remark into the nation’s public unconsciousness. At the risk of flagrant self-promotion I cannot resist mentioning that when I said such things in The Trouble With Canada in 1990 I was accused of “right-wing alarmism.” But today, fully 16 years later, our judges are saying this very thing as if dying on a wait list in Canada is ho-hum common knowledge!

Here is what I wrote in Chapter 11, Medical Mediocrity: Canada’s Sick Health-Care System, in a section entitled “Do the State’s Policies Impose Premature Death?”

“This is a hard one for most people to swallow – at least it was for me when I first heard of it. But upon further thought, it seemed dead right, so to speak. In a country where all medical relief and cures are controlled by the State, and where individuals are forbidden by law to purchase medical care beyond what the State is able to provide, we indeed are able to trace the premature deaths of hundreds of individuals – at least of those who cannot afford to travel outside the country – directly to the State’s restrictive medical policies. In other words, death is often imposed (on the poor, not the rich) as a direct result of the State’s medical laws.”  The chapter went on to explain that “because the level of medical resources available will always be lower than the level of demand in a public system that tells everyone they have a “right” to the best, scarcity is inherent in our delivery of medical services.”

In free societies, there is indeed “rationing by price” and governments in such systems (like we once had) have a moral obligation to ensure that the poor are covered by various government insurance plans, while the rest of the people are free to insure themselves privately. But in a closed, or unfree society such as ours, where jail is a real consequence of resisting such medical laws, we instead are forced to live with “rationing by the queue.” For instead of relating to each patient as income to the system, as would be the case in a free society, State-controlled medical systems see each patient as a cost to the system, and under this latter method it is easy to control costs, not by supply and demand, but by limiting global medical budgets. Canadians now experience this “triage” everywhere. This French term comes from the military practice of dividing the wounded into three groups: those who can be saved, those whose lives are in question, and those who are likely to die. In Canada if you present at a hospital emergency room and are in the first group, you will probably get first-rate service. It is important to the system to perform well and visibly when it can. But ask any ambulance driver and you will probably be told that lots of patients have died en route in the ambulance because they were refused at one hospital after the other until it was too late.

There are real moral hazards to finding yourself in either of the other two groups. Let me close with two real-life examples. First is a Toronto friend whose mother had a very serious heart problem at age 61. She was hospitalized immediately. But he learned right away that although there was an operation for her condition it was not available to a person over 60 years of age. There were lots of open beds, nurses, and surgeons in her hospital and empty operating rooms available. He walked right by them. But there was no budget for this operation if you were “too old.” Desperate, my friend offered to pay from his own pocket and was ready to mortgage his home for the $15,000 cost (I am estimating the cost). But the hospital bureaucrats looked at him as if he were crazy. Then things happened fast, and his mother died within two weeks. In some considerable bitterness my friend learned afterward that if he and his Mom had been foreigners visiting Canada who were not participants in Canada’s socialized medical system, the operation would have been made available immediately at double the cost (for non-canadians), but no questions asked.

Finally, all Canadians live under a persistent “moral hazard” of socialized medicine. I mean to say that a Canadian doctor may be aware of a treatment available elsewhere that for budgetary or policy reasons cannot provide here. So the doctor is likely to say nothing. You will be kept in the dark. Last spring my neighbour got a fright over a blood condition and was sent home after being told he would likely die with it, but not of it. But after considerable hours of research on the Net he found out two things: he could well be in the 50% high-risk bracket for this disease and be facing a very early death; the Mayo Clinic provides a unique test that would tell him which group he was in. When asked, his Toronto doctor said the test was not available in Canada.  So he flew to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota and paid $2000 US to find out with considerable relief that he was in the 50% of cases at low risk. We cannot fault a bad system for failing to provide him a test. But we should fault it for the decision to keep him in the dark about where and how to get it. When it comes to restricted treatments, Canadians will increasingly experience a "don't tell if they don't ask" medical  system.

Take heed! 

Thursday
Feb162006

Modern University Life

It is just beginning to dawn on taxpayers that when they draw on their savings to send Johnny and Suzie off to one of those tax-subsidized communities known as the modern university for four years of learning, things are not exactly what they seem, or as they used to be.

University life has always been pretty wild, of course. But in my university days – starting at McGill in 1959 - it was never as wild as I wished, and as compared to later generations my friends and I were clearly deprived. Boys and girls had separate residences, and if you wanted to date a girl you had to check in with some surly concierge (who inevitably had a whisker curling from a mole on her chin) at a kind of barred entrance. She would ring the girl’s room to announce your arrival, and as you left the residence, perhaps lucky enough to be holding hands, you both knew that “have her back by 11 p.m.” was a standard requirement or the girl would be “grounded.”

Universities then operated on the basis of in loco parentis or in place of the parents, and the standard of institutional care and surveillance, especially of young girls, was expected to be that of a reasonable parent. Taxpayers had at least some standard of comfort. I do remember some pretty insane toga parties, and how fraternity houses always smelled of beer and cigarettes, even in broad daylight. And of course we all knew who the sallow-eyed rakes, and the “loose” girls on campus were. But we lived in the real presence of a kind of cosmic background radiation called “pregnancy,” the mere thought of which was worse than the Black Death. But the pill, women’s lib, abortion on demand, and moral relativism have changed all that.

A few months ago some freshmen at the University of Western Ontario figured that instead of calling in a few strippers for their Saturday night of beer-drinking in residence they would save themselves the money and call up some freshettes from downstairs. Within minutes a half-dozen drunk co-eds were parading down the residence halls in their undies, some already topless, to their room. The girls didn’t seem to care that one of the guys was filming their random sexual activity on his cell-phone and within the hour their breasts and fannies would be all over the World Wide Web. And it is impossible to know how either the university, or the pretty young girl who walked down the residence hall stark-naked to that room and threw herself legs akimbo over the face of one of the smiling boys would explain this to her father.

Last year, at the same university, my son reported heading home one evening and walking by a student house on university property outside of which there was quite a commotion, including huge trucks, spotlights, and camera crews, as if for a movie in the making. Turns out a first-year boy and a girl provided for him by an American xxx porn company had signed a contract to make a film and they were going at it inside the house. The university scrambled to discipline the culprits, and hush it up. But I am certain they failed to see the connection – however seemingly remote - between such random sexual actions and the fact that Western last year gave its highest honorary degree to Canada’s most notorious abortionist, Henry Morgentaler.

Now at McGill University explicit sex photos of undergraduates undressing each other “have sent school officials scrambling to reassure the more overprotective parents and members of the public that such lewdness is not condoned behaviour on campus” (National Post, p.A3, today). Overprotective? How about no protection whatsoever, and no intent to protect? Not condoned? How about exposing the ways in which the modern university has withdrawn completely from any moral oversight of student behaviour? The real wonder is that the news is taking so long to get out.  Okay, there are still a lot of very serious students at our universities. And yes, youth is a time for excitement.

But the full story of how modern university campuses have in a few decades been transformed into tax-funded, drug and alcohol-infested havens of orgy and bacchanalia for our children has yet to be written.

Wednesday
Feb152006

No Fault = No Responsibility

Most “married” people in the Western world are shocked when told they are no longer married in the way they imagined. A close friend who was a very observant husband and is still a caring father of four children discovered this with something close to paralytic disbelief when his wife came home one evening and told him she was dumping him for a handsome young teacher.

The husband had no recourse. But he realized with terrible bitterness and a sudden sense of betrayal that what he thought was a marriage contract was in fact defined purely and solely by her will, and by that alone (and that it might have been his will alone, if he had been the cheater).

Prior to so-called “no-fault” divorce (and in the absence of adultery or criminal violence), one spouse could not divorce another without mutual consent. Marriage was considered, among other things, a contract. Two agree to make it? Then two must agree when and how to break it. Readers may enjoy the article “Society: The Third Marriage Partner” in the Essay collection on this site, which deals with this theme in more detail. But the plain fact is that most married people today think they have a contract of some kind, and that is not true any longer.

Why have most Western nations disposed of the idea of contract in marriage in favour of a unilateral right to divorce? One answer is that it is a predictable consequence of failing societies as they slowly move from a basis of faith in themselves as a whole community, through a process of social “atomization” to a new basis of faith only in individuals. In other words, they change from a conservative type of nation in which society is considered prior in importance to the individual, to a radical one in which the individual is considered prior in importance to society.

This process of atomization is part and parcel – a predictable outcome, so to speak – of the emergence of massive social-democratic welfare states that feed themselves on tax dollars by means of which they finance their long-term campaign to replace the myriad local community functions of the people with state services and benefits. I say “state,” but this process occurs at all levels, from municipal, to provincial to federal. It is also observable between these levels as the federal level repeats this process of replacing provincial functions, and the provincial powers steal influence from local communities. Just ask your Mayor!

The most thorough treatment of this reality was first published in 1953 by the late Robert Nisbet, The Quest for Community (San Francisco: ICS Press, 1990), and it is highly recommended. Nisbet shows how this has been the sad story of state encroachments on community and family life from ancient times to the present. At one point in the long decline of Ancient Rome, official were so eager to control and manipulate all social function that they provided over 150 feast days per year of “bread and circuses” for the rootless, community-less masses the city had itself created.

In more recent times, this process has been central to Western democratization. Its radical form was part of the anti-family political platform of the radical democrats of the French Revolution, and that process is clearly set out in another great book,  by J. L. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (London: Secker and Warburg, 1955). And what an eye-opener and insight into the workings of messianic democracy that is! There is a summary of Talmon’s ideas in my own The Trouble with Democracy (Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 2001), but that book can only be found now in libraries or used-book outlets.

The connection with radical democratic theory is this: once the will of the people becomes Holy, then equality and individual Will becomes the only rational basis for resistance to all forms of authority, whether of government, class, church, or family. Marriage is soon seen as an authoritarian religious and social manacle left over from a less liberated time that must be cast off in the interests of “true marriage.”

What is “true marriage” in this radical democratic sense? It is a marriage, the reality of which is defined by, and which only exists as long as, the will to be married exists. In essence, under radical democracy and the individuation of society it engenders, a marriage is not a union of bodies and souls, or a contract between two parties that is also a pledge to the community: it is a pure creation of the human Will and it cannot be said to exist when the either of the two wills that created it is absent. Rousseau promoted this will-based concept of marriage; so did his admirers Marx and Engels.

The concept of a solely will-based marriage can even be found in the American poet Walt Whitman’s arresting essay, “Democratic Vistas” (1871), where he speaks of “perfect individualism,” of the “fusing” of citizens in democratic unity, and even of something he imagined as “cosmic democracy”! But the tip-off to this kind of thinking comes when he defines democracy and human independence as “freedom from all laws or bonds except those of one’s own being.” That is exactly what my friend’s wife wanted.

Anyone who studies this historical process will soon realize that until the inevitable dissolution of the very states that bring about this process – due mostly to the loss of true community that sustained them in the first place – this transformation of marriage from its former basis in spiritual, social, and legal contract to its present transitory reality as an expression of the mere wills of the parties, is a key enabling factor in the growth of all modern welfare states, which then stand eagerly by to minister materially unto the brokenness of all the lives that result.