Archive for : August, 2017

Just say “no” to King Charles

I recently media rambled into a documentary about the Princess Diana. Diana says that she went to the Queen to ask what to do about husband Charles’, Prince of Wales, relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles; according to Diana, the Queen responded (to the effect): “ I don’t know what you should do. He’s hopeless”: the ‘he’ in question being the Prince of Wales. We need to receive the Queen’s description as an admonition: Prince Charles is hopeless. We do not need such a person as King of Canada once the Queen dies. One part of that response is constitutional in character: the Head of State of Canada should be Canadian. Another part is specific; in betraying his wife, mother of heirs to the throne, he has demonstrated his personal unsuitability to represent the moral continuity of the State – any State. We will all be saddened by the death of the Queen, a woman who has exemplified the best of which monarchy is capable. Any true heir must exemplify the virtues of Elizabeth Regina. Prince Charles does not. He should not be King of anything. He certainly should not become King of Canada.

MacDonald Agonistes: on contemporary moral judgments of residential schools

Some discussion seems necessary given the moral condemnation of Sir John A. MacDonald and Hector Langevin for the establishment of the residential schools system. What was official government policy in the 1880s was condemned as a matter of government policy in 2008.

 

MacDonald articulated the original rationale for residential schools nearly 140 years ago, in a discussion of Supply in the Committee of the Whole House.

 

In the current century, Prime Minister Harper stated that Mac Donald’s approach “was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country”. Chief Justice McLachlin described MacDonald’s approach as “cultural genocide”.

 

Most would agree with the contemporary condemnations of MacDonald’s approach. Transported in time to face a contemporary investigation of his actions, Sir John A might have been mystified. From his perspective, he might note that:


• He was trying to solve the problem of starvation, disease and poverty among aboriginal peoples (caused by white immigrants and their governments), by integrating them into the social and cultural structure of the time; he was trying to help rather than hurt;
• Religious leaders, having great societal influence, not only supported his objectives but participated in attempting to carry them out. Religious schools for indigenous children existed as early as the 1600s.
• There were no apparent voices, in the Commons or in the Press, stating that this was a misguided and morally wrong approach.

 

So let us consider whether the contemporary moral condemnation of MacDonald is justified. And in raising this consideration let us also consider:


• Under what circumstances should the moral standards of the present apply to historical moral decisions; and
• What were the alternative courses the government could have followed to address the problems of starvation, disease and poverty amongst aboriginal peoples.

 

To the first question, note that in criminal court cases, one searches for criminal intent. Was the action, in the mind of the perpetrator, intended to cause harm? Here there was no such intent; MacDonald in his own words was attempting to improve the situation of aboriginal peoples, by attempting to transform them into European peoples. That the effort was misguided does not mean that it was morally wrong. Indeed, amongst dominant cultures, cultural imperialism was considered a moral necessity.

 

Amongst the authoritative voices of the time – religious leaders, political leaders, distinguished individuals – there was little if any voice in opposition to this strategy. Of course the authoritative voices did not include any spokesmen for aboriginal peoples, but it was normal that decisions would be made in many areas about them and for them, rather than with them. The Commons debates at the time of the MacDonald quotation did not challenge MacDonald’s thinking, indeed some speakers supported it with anecdotes of ‘Indians’ who prospered with Western ways.

 

What European or American moral theory would have supported acceptance and support for a culture other than that prevailing in European thought?  There’s a case to be made from the premise “all men are created equal”, but the exception cited is the same as given for enslavement of blacks: these are inferior peoples, not entitled to human rights.  What needs to be corrected is not the philosophical premise, but the cultural assumption of species superiority.  The cultural assumption is the basis of the moral error we identify today, but at that time the assumption was rarely challenged.

 

Was there a best practice – once a decision was taken to colonize a country – to give some rights to the peoples who were displaced or disenfranchised in the process?  Clearly what happened was far from a best practice, though it was far from a worst practice: starvation or extermination was also an option.

 

What options were available to the governments of the day to engage creatively and compassionately with indigenous populations? Leaving the country was not an option; neither was cessation of colonization. What were their choices?


• Accommodation
• Assimilation
• Starvation
• Extermination

 

Accommodation was not on anyone’s radar at the time. No way one would say: “Gosh we didn’t realize you needed all or most of this land for the way you have chosen to live; we’ll go home”. Nor was integration of Europeans into an established indigenous nation; Europeans insisted on their values and codes.  MacDonald does appear to have used starvation as an effective  threat to gain land title.  These are the tactics of the colonizer, which MacDonald (and every other European) was.

 

Once it is clear that colonization is going to take place, then the question is: “What to do with the indigenous peoples?”

 

In the residential schools condemnations, there are two elements. One is the overall concern about assimilation – cultural imperialism or cultural genocide. The other is the pattern of callous and abusive behaviour, including physical abuse and sexual assault.

 

European immigrants believed in their racial and cultural superiority. Hence, assimilation was not about the destruction of an indigenous culture, it was about elevating indigenous peoples to the ‘superior’ European culture. Politicians were well aware of what they wanted to achieve: the “savages” needed to “acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men”. It was indeed a  serious moral error to assume superiority of one culture over another, but that was a general characteristic of 19th Century colonialism throughout the world. That superiority was supported by leaders of the dominant religions.

 

The intentions of the government of the day were good in the terms of the culture of the day (even though we consider that cultural assumption morally wrong). Of course those government intentions would support the evangelical aims of religion and the commercial objectives of those who influenced governments. Cultural superiority often makes good holy and mercantile sense.  There was commercial mendacity in government decisions where land was to be developed; that is the way the system worked at the time.  Remember, much of the country was in the hands of a corporate interest (The Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay) before Confederation: corporate greed had Royal approval.

 

Clearly there is no defence of the abusive behaviour in residential schools (including horrible living conditions). However, it does not appear that legislators were aware of this for some time. Unfortunately, once they were aware it appears that there was a concerted effort to ignore negative reports, enabled by the government decision to cease the collection of statistical information.

 

Appreciation and acceptance of other cultures is a relatively new phenomenon. Colonialism, in effect, presupposes the inferiority of the occupied nation and culture. MacDonald’s thinking was in the mainstream of Canadian culture. We were all righteous bigots then.

 

Don’t hold MacDonald responsible. Hold the times responsible. Don’t do it again.

Culture Wars: Gender and Sexual Orientation

Those of a certain age remember the opprobrium associated with homosexual relationships, let alone so-called homosexual acts. As well, expression of a gender other than exactly that assigned at birth was considered a very twisted moral failing.

Time passes; things change – but not totally. Although sexual orientation and gender preference are moving towards inclusion as basic human rights, there are many battles ongoing: a private university will not admit those living gay lifestyles; some US States forbid trans-sexual washrooms.

As the premise to a thesis, let us consider that the root of these controversies is an aversion to any form of sexual identity and expression other than what has been the social, cultural and moral standard for many centuries: there are two genders, male and female, and any form of sexual intercourse must be between those two genders. Some religions – let us keep them nameless out of profound disrespect – suggested that the only morally lawful sexual intercourse was for the purpose of conceiving children. Pleasure from the act was of dubious moral value (“Close your eyes and think of England!”).

The thesis in chief suggests that the only aspect of any consensual sexual expression which has any moral element is procreation, and its attendant responsibilities. Unless it involves the creation of another human being (or the transmission of disease), the mere act of consensual contact between various body parts has no moral value. There are, of course, moral questions if emotions are involved, but the act itself is neither of emotional or moral significance.

So it does not matter, according to this thesis, whether a person is of one or more genders, has one or more sexual orientations, or expresses his/her/other genders or orientations in whatever way seems most pleasurable.

European and North American societies have tended to view gender and sexual orientation as binary categories. One is either male or female, straight or gay. This binary view appears to be based on the biological distinction between male and female which, in most cases, is indeed binary.

But the biological distinction is only the beginning. One may have one biological gender, but self-identify as the other biological gender, or something in between, perhaps something fluid or uncertain. Clinical evidence indicates this gender self-identification may shift more than once in a person’s life, perhaps a lot, perhaps just a little. And more: just because one identifies as one gender does not necessarily imply that he/she/other will express that identity in a corresponding manner. For example, a biological male identifying as a female, may nonetheless have heterosexual sex with a biological female identifying as a male.

Sexual orientation is no more fixed than gender; it is certainly not binary. Many would place themselves somewhere on a continuum. But orientation is not necessarily expression. A gay person (by orientation) may mate with a person of the opposite biological sex for many reasons: emotional, societal or financial, or perhaps just that the sexual contact seemed right at the time.

We make this all needlessly complex. As long as the act does not hurt anyone or create another life, does it matter where we put our body parts? I consider the debate whether gender and/or orientation is determined by biology or culture or moral influence to be profoundly inane. This does not – or should not – matter as a matter of law or morality.

Although we might accept the fluidity of gender and orientation, adaptation of our social practices and mores is more challenging. “Who should use which washroom?” is not a trivial matter, especially when the bathroom practices of one gender are distasteful to the other. My goodness, we cannot even sort out who is allowed to go bare-chested in a public place.

But sort it out we must. Something – perhaps the genie – is out of the bottle.

What is wrong with the idea that: gender orientation, gender expression, sexual orientation, sexual expression, each and all of these have equal moral value? There are Biblical arguments against, perhaps – and others can answer those – but, are there moral ones which stand on their own? Does anyone get hurt? Is anyone helped? These are perhaps the basic moral questions here.

In considering the assertion of human rights, let us start from the premise that gender and orientation labels are not relevant designations of human rights and human dignity. Biological designations of gender should only be applied when it is concluded after consideration that it is relevant and advisable to do so. The default position should be that biological gender doesn’t matter, and credible evidence is required to assert and argue that it does.

Does the way in which you express your gender or orientation imply anything about your spiritual, emotional or moral worth as a person? Or about your credibility and civility in modern society? To both questions: surely not.

More about the Bombardier Welfare Queen

From the Globe and Mail of August 1, 2017:

 

Which God destroyed 99.9% of the planet?

On to matters theological. I need to understand the Christian meaning of Noah’s Flood. I’m not concerned about whether it happened or not, but more on the message of the event, regardless whether it actually occurred. Why would a God destroy 99.9% of the life he/she/it created? Because the people were corrupt, the account goes, filling the earth with violence.

One initial question is: “Was the flood and the death effective?” Post flood, it seems to me that there’s lots and lots of corruption and violence still out there. But we need not break out the life preservers, as God promised he would not do it again.

My second question is: “Are there anger management issues here?” On the way to the second question one might note that the Christian story goes that God created man, giving him free will. First time man screws out, God throws him out of the garden. After a few big screw-ups (e.g., Cain & Abel) , God decides to destroy almost all the life on the planet. That life includes most innocent animals, as well as most humans, innocent or not (note the total absence of due process, let alone any civil liberties). In the New Testament, we are told that repentance will lead to forgiveness. Evidently that was not an option here.

And the third question is” How does the flood story teach us to act?” Scared shitless for our sins? No, because we are offered redemption and eternal life if we believe in this God. So if we believe in Jesus then we believe that the punishment by the flood was wrong by Jesus’ standard.

In the 300’s of the “Current Era”, bishops and theologians decided that some New Testament era stories were valid as Christian teachings and that others were not. In the modern era, theologians may wish to reconsider the teachings of the Old Testament. To what extent do those stories reflect Christian values and aspirations? The New Testament proclaims that “God so loved the word that he gave his only- begotten son”, so that all of us could have eternal life. The Old Testament says that God destroyed 99.9% of the planet because we were wicked. Which narrative would you prefer? You can find both in the Bible.