January 22, 2012
ON THE NEED TO BALANCE COMMON SENSE, ETHICS, INTUITION, AND IMAGINATION
John Ralston Saul. On Equilibrium (Toronto: Penguin/Viking, 2001) ("The Romans were calmly accurate about shared knowledge. It is a sensibility. It is part of humanity; that is, of society. 'If you haven't got it,' Harry Truman used to say, 'the best thing to do is not get out of bed in the morning.' " "So [shared knowledge or common sense] is useful, but not utilitarian. There is a danger in confusing these two, which is related to the danger of taking common sense on its own, without context. Without the correcting reflections of the other qualities, you quickly end up mired in the lowest forms of utilitarianism. Education turns from learning to training. Justice is reduced to the law and its letter. Health policy is reduced to isolated attacks of sickness." "This slippage begins with the tempting idea that what matters is just getting on with things--'Let's just get it done!' " "Before you know it, you are deep within pure self-interest and corporatism. This leads to an obsession with the mechanics of action--the trains will run on time syndrome. By then you're ready to become a slave to any ideology which, by mysterious or mythological means, has a clear view of what must be done. There are a number of Western governments, democratically elected at various levels, which fall precisely into this category." "One of the ways of confronting this false common sense is to look at early fascism--before it could afford its military spectacles and false grandeur. If you peel away the seedy, demented, low-level ambitions from these early descriptions, what remains is a utilitarian core, essentially corporatist. Suddenly you notice how eerily similar Mussolini's approach was to what has become our everyday politics. For a start, his party remained an anti-party, anti-government movement through decades of holding power. No matter how big and structured the Fascist Party became, it always declared itself to be the voice of the anti-party and anti-government politics. Mussolini's was the first of the modern anti-government governments." "It was a method copied almost phrase for phrase in the creation of the false-populist model which developed from the 1970s on and led to a series of powerful governments all over the democratic world. The obvious contradictions would eventually catch up with each country. What began with Reagan and Thatcher proved so politically easy to use that--even in the most political and party and governmental of political party governments--we continue to hear the call for anti-government government." Id. at 35-36. The Tea Party. "You will notice the natural tendency of societies veering away from ethics--away from responsible individualism--to lament the lack of Heroes and Leaders, as if the role of Hero is to allow us to become followers. Every day the heroic act is banalized to refer to sports stars, actors, business leaders and Guiness-Book-of-Records-style adventurers." Id. at 77. From the bookjacket: "Saul argues that when certain human qualities are worshipped in isolation they become weaknesses, even forces of destruction or self-destruction. I short, they become ideologies. But as he explores the qualities he has identified as being necessary ti integrated human behaviour, he shows us that the key is to use these qualities in combination." "How can we use these qualities as positive forces in our own lives? In the life of our society? How can we use them so that each builds upon the other in order to reinforce us as humans?" "Balance." "On Equilibrium is an intelligent, persuasive and controversial exploration of the essential qualities of humanity and how they can be used to achieve equilibrium for the self and to foster an ethical society. It is at once an attack on our weakness for ideologies and a manual for human action." I could not help but relate this work to the present state of legal academia and its love-fest with the ideology of 'practice-readiness' aim of legal education. It is corporatist, fascist, and false-populism.).