Our Pristine Island and its Traditional Custodians

Our Pristine Island and its Traditional Custodians

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday morning, I received a number of acknowledgements that welcomed my return to writing. One reader suggested that our family island may have been one of the few pristine places of peace in a world that appears to be steeped in conflict. The reader implied that such a retreat may be an important ingredient for restoring one’s spirit.

Given the violent conflict in the world, given the factious situation in Washington that dominates the daily news, this is very difficult. Donald Trump most recently repeatedly dissed and humiliated the Attorney General in his government for not owing fealty to himself personally but, instead, recused himself given his obligations to the rule of law and the constitution. Further, the Republican-dominated Congress approved expanded sanctions against Russia while the Trump government forged agreements that effectively ceded control of Syria to the Russians. Even worse, in the Russian election scandal, that administration possibly was willing to trade sanctions relief for cooperation with the Russians in interfering in the American election. Given the current efforts of the Republican-dominated Congress to take away health insurance from over twenty million people in the supposed name of making up for the acknowledged flaws in Obamacare, it is hard to avoid becoming cynical and despondent.

Even our family island does not escape the troubles and turmoil of the world, though the situation on the surface was much more mundane. After almost fifty years, I have come to recognize that it is time to pass on ownership of the island. It is becoming too difficult to maintain my responsibilities for its upkeep even as I enjoy its beneficence. So I was preparing the cottage for disposition. Further, the island is not as pristine or removed from the current turmoil of our world as one might believe.

About two miles across from our family island, there is another called Grave Island. The local Ojibway claim it as an ancient burial site, though, to the best of my knowledge – which is not very extensive – no evidence has been found to support that claim. In this case, actual ownership for ritual purposes may not be the real issue. There is a much larger one – recognition of the prior custodians of all of the territory, not only where our cottage is located, but even where we live in the city.

Canadians, following the lead of their New Zealand cousins, now begin ceremonial occasions in many places and venues with a statement of acknowledgement, not simply of previous claims, but of its prior custodians. In fact, custodian may be a superior term to ownership because ownership is so specifically linked with the development of modern society.  In traditional thought, as in traditional Judaism, land in the end was owned by a world spirit and not specific human beings. We are simply the custodians of the land while we are here.

Though a close friend of mine regards ceremonial statements of such acknowledgement as empty tokenism, “politically correct” utterances and somewhat hypocritical gestures, I find they serve a number of purposes. It reminds Canadians, and new Canadians when they are taking an oath of allegiance and accepting Canadian citizenship, that long before Canada came into existence as a country, there were earlier inhabitants who lived here, “owned” the land, benefited from its bounty and carried the responsibility for continuity and prosperity. Further, the recognition of indigenous cultures and peoples is critical to understanding the history of this land which did not start, as my history books implied, with colonization and European settlement.

As importantly, such recognition is a critical ingredient in the process of transitional justice as part of the reconciliation between the indigenous peoples and Canadians who settled in Canada long after they did. The indigenous peoples were more often than not mistreated and exploited and their cultures deliberately and intentionally overridden. Currently, the infamous residential school system may simply be the best known. Further, and hypocritically, all such efforts were made in the name of bringing civilization to so-called “savages”.

If Canada is truly a multicultural society, then among the most important cultures of this land that deserve a place of honour are those of our indigenous peoples. This is not a patronizing statement, simply a statement of the historical record often, and usually, deliberately ignored by the current dominant culture. If Canada is to be inclusive, then it is crucial that we be inclusive of the original inhabitants of this land.

Public events are one important place and time to do so. And to do so formally. For formality – whether it is singing Oh Canada or acknowledging the ancestral custodians of the land – is a critical step in public education. Further, such acknowledgement fosters the idea of partnerships between a preceding system and a succeeding culture. In Judaism, when the Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem, when the rabbinic system was well on its way to displacing a religion that had Temple worship at the centre, the Levites and the Cohanim of the older cultural system who were central to worship in the Temple, were given a special formal place of honour in the new system in which the Torah rather than the Temple had become the central focus of religious practice. Similarly, the indigenous people must be treated not simply as partners in continuing the challenge of building Canada, but must be ensured a place of honour in that enterprise.

This should not be an empty gesture full of sound and absent of fury and, therefore, signifying nothing. It must be an explicit demonstration of a commitment that we not simply partner in raising the level of material and spiritual status of our indigenous peoples, but ensure that they have an honorary status and significant recognition for being the true historical pioneers in the country.  That status must be given substance by ensuring that each and every member of our indigenous peoples be given an opportunity to achieve excellence in whatever they aspire to do, and that we learn from them as much as they benefit from the training and education that must be available to all Canadians.

The health and education of our indigenous peoples must be the top priority in Canadian government policy and not compromised because of other demands. In order for that to be the case, in order for the training, education and health care to be and remain preeminent in actual practice, other Canadians must learn at a very early age, and have that message re-instilled throughout their adult life, through the formal school curricula, through formal occasions in public life, that this is a necessary priority for Canadians. Just as our elders must be cared for and respected, so must our older indigenous cultural heritage.

Further, such acknowledgements, such ritual practices need not be confined to public ceremonial occasions but can be part of meetings, conferences and special functions, particularly those signifying rites of passage. Inclusion of such remarks and acknowledgements at events of a great variety should be used to instill and reinforce the values and respect we owe our indigenous peoples. No matter how small the event, room can and should be made for at least a statement of formal acknowledgement.

The issue is, however, not just formal acknowledgement, not just a ceremonial matter pledging our commitment to our indigenous peoples, but a mode of recognition of the traditional ways in which they served as custodians of this land. Respect for indigenous peoples is part and parcel of demonstrating respect for the land and ensuring that we do not continue to mistreat the environment. Formal words at ceremonial openings are but a beginning of a process of integrating the ceremonies and protocols of indigenous culture that they wish and are eager to share into the wider Canadian experience.

The broader benefits are obvious. Multiculturalism entails mutual respect for differences. Multiculturalism entails cultural engagement with the other. Multiculturalism does not entail surrendering one’s own cultural practices and commitments, except in cases where those practices are demonstrably inimical to the communal values of all Canadians, a just place for wrestling with the politics of differences.

Thus, when we open an occasion, whether it is a school day or a formal ceremony, incorporating the traditional indigenous practice of welcoming people to share the land in peace and prosperity is an important start. This can go beyond a one-paragraph short statement, though that is where it should certainly begin. It could and should develop into incorporating into such ceremonies a traditional song of welcome recited and sung in the original language.

Traditional symbols can be included. The ceremony could even incorporate a traditional ceremonial practice. These are all ways of remembering, acknowledging and offering recognition. However, none of this must be done as appropriation, but only with the full participation and endorsement of our indigenous peoples. This is written in the plural not simply in recognition that Canada consisted of many indigenous peoples with different languages, customs and practices, but in recognition that a local region may have been an area of contention between and among competing peoples. All must become part of the process.

As such processes develop, representatives of indigenous peoples will and should be given places of special honour, just as Cohanim and Levites are acknowledged in Jewish ceremonies. This will include rites of passage – such as bat and bar mitzvahs as well as weddings in my own tradition. The recognition of the time and commitment of an indigenous person is not just a matter of formal status, but compensation should be paid for that time, for the responsibility of conveying and continuing the practices, and for ensuring that the responsibilities for recognition of our full history are validated. Cultures must not simply be replaced by successive ones. Traditions must be elevated and given a place of honour as new cultural expressions become predominant among all of us. Further, such a recital should only be an initial set in integrating indigenous law, non-indigenous and international law.

When we recite at an opening ceremony a simulacrum of the following, do not be embarrassed. Do not be bored. Engage. Welcome and embrace the opportunity. The statement can be as simple as the following with, at the very least, the discovery of the name or the names of the peoples who traditionally owned and occupied the land before the arrival of European and, subsequently, settlers from all over the world.

I or we respectfully acknowledge the (in our case) Anishinaabeg as the original custodians of this land on which we are currently holding this event and consider it a privilege as a Canadian to recognize that tradition and the people(s) who served as its historical custodians. We honour an occasion in which we can express those thanks and give acknowledgement and respect for that which we have inherited.

There are other variations:

I wish to acknowledge the custodians of this land, past and present, the Anishinaabeg people as the original custodians of this land.  I recognise and respect that cultural heritage, its beliefs and the protective relationship to the land.

I acknowledge that this meeting (conference, event, wedding, etc.) is being held on the land of the indigenous Anishinaabeg people or nation, the traditional custodians of this land.

Before we begin the proceedings, I would like us to acknowledge and pay our respect to the traditional custodians of the ancestral lands on which we meet, the Anishinaabeg nation.

An Australian poet in New South Wales, Jonathan Hill, wrote:

Today we stand in footsteps millennia old.

May we acknowledge the traditional owners

whose cultures and customs have nurtured,

and continue to nurture, this land,

since men and women awoke from the great dream.

We honour the presence of these ancestors

who reside in the imagination of this land

and whose irrepressible spirituality

flows through all creation.

https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/spirituality/welcome-to-country-acknowledgement-of-country#ixzz4nvgffB7H

Embrace tradition. It can make your spirit soar.

The Promise – a movie review

The Promise – a movie review

by

Howard Adelman

I am not breaking my summer silence, merely taking a recess. The cause is a movie I saw on television last night called The Promise. It is about the Armenian genocide. If I was a true film aficionado, I would know about the film, whether I had seen it or not. But I not only did not see it when it was released, but I had not heard of it. I initially thought I had an excuse because the release date that I read was 27 May 2017. However, the actual release date in Canada was 21 April 2017. Further, it was at TIFF in 2016. In any case, my lame excuse had been that I went north to my island for the rainy and cold month of June and did not return fully until July.

Before I begin the review, a few, and perhaps too many, words about the Armenian genocide. As is well known, successive and very different Turkish regimes have denied the existence of any intentional slaughter of the up to 1.5 million Armenians killed in that slaughter. The Armenians were killed, the Turks claim, because they allegedly started a civil war. Civilians were killed in the crossfire. They were casualties of war, not deliberately murdered. In any case, the Turks insist, the numbers that died is grossly exaggerated.

They are not. The genocide took place as depicted.

I became a secondary scholar of the Armenian genocide when I was asked by the Toronto School Board to sit with two other academics, experts on the Holocaust, to adjudicate whether the story of the genocide should be included on the curriculum for high school students in Toronto. Deliberately, not one of asked to serve on this voluntary judicial advisory committee because we had published on the Armenian genocide. The Board of Education wanted expertise without offering grounds for the formal Turkish government complaint to subsequently declare a prior bias.

This was, of course, not entirely possible. All three of us were familiar with Holocaust deniers. I certainly knew of Rwandan genocide deniers, or those who try to mitigate that tragedy, though the latter position was virtually impossible to sustain. Instead, in the case of Rwanda, deflection is used – a practice with which every reader is likely to be extremely familiar since the election of President Donald Trump. The claim is that President Kagame of Rwanda has been systematically slaughtering Hutu since the Tutsi-led rebels invaded Rwanda and initiated the civil war in 1990. The numbers killed on each side, these genocide distractors imply, are about equal. This past month, I was asked to review a research paper that edged in this way towards apologetics. However ruthless President Kagame may be as an elected dictator in Rwanda, any fair examination of his record, positive and negative, would not declare him to be a genocidaire.

However, the Turks, and their successive governments of very different stripes, have been united perhaps on only one topic for over one hundred years  – the persistent and insistent denial of the Armenian genocide.  A Turkish graduate student of mine – not an Armenian – wanted to write a thesis on the Armenian refugees in WWI. Somehow the Turkish government heard of it. A representative of the Turkish embassy in Ottawa paid me a visit when I was the founding director of the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University. He asked generally whther any student was writing about refugees, particularly from Turkey, during I disclosed nothing but informed my student. That student, fearing punishment on any return to Turkey, switched topics.

On the committee, I read much of the scholarly literature on the Armenian genocide as well as the Turkish propaganda denying its occurrence. What was distinctive from the Jewish and the Armenian genocides is that, in this case, there were two reputable scholars who denied that a systematic government-led effort to slaughter and forcefully relocate the Armenians had taken place. The vast majority of scholarly conclusions – as the committee claimed in its report to the Board of Education – supported the claims of genocide. Though the committee did not find that the evidence for the Armenian genocide taking place was incontrovertible or unassailable – there are very few historical events in which this is the case – the committee concluded that the overwhelming preponderance of evidence, and the logical flaws of the deniers, made it unquestionable that the Armenian genocide should be taught as a segment of actual history on a high school curriculum and without providing any necessity to make room for the literature of deniers. The evidence was as indisputable and indubitable as one can find in historiography. Yet two films appeared relatively recently that bordered on genocide denial – The Ottoman Lieutenant and Russell Crowe’s Water Diviner.

All this is to say that when I watched the film, I had no distraction or concern that the genocide had taken place. However, I was bothered somewhat by the implication that Turkey during the dying days of the Ottoman empire and even the beginnings of the Young Turk takeover in the aftermath of the disastrous Turko-Russian War largely waged in the Balkans in 1912, was simply a prosperous multicultural society. It certainly had that appearance. But just as there had been early warnings of a genocide in Rwanda with some trial efforts at mass slaughter, the warnings in Turkey were far clearer with the slaughter of 100,000 to 300,000 Armenians in the massacres of 1894-95 by the paramilitary Hamidye (the Interahamwe militias were used in Rwanda) and the 10,000–30,000 murdered by units of the armed forces in the Adana massacre of March-April 1909. However, as most scholars point out, a pogrom does not constitute a genocide. But pogroms can be precursors.

Thus, the film is correct in dating the formal start of the genocide to 24 April 1915 when several hundred Armenian professionals and intellectuals were rounded up and interned, with the vast majority eventually being killed. Second, the film depicts the second stage of the genocide when young Armenian (as well as Assyrian and Greek Christian) males from their teens to their forties were arrested, subjected to forced labour and murdered en masse in the process. The third phase of the slaughter portrays whole Armenian villages and towns put to the torch and Armenian older men, women and children set out on a forced march to Syria, where, on route, the vast majority perished in the desert which they attempted to cross with inadequate supplies of food and water. In the finale, the film portrays the brave and victorious Armenian 53-day self-defence by the Armenians from the villages of Kabusia (Kaboussieh), Yoghunoluk, Bitias, Vakef, Kheter Bey (Khodr Bey) and Haji Habibli  at the mountain, Musa Daği (ironically, Moses’ Mountain) recorded in Franz Werfel’s  novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, until over 4,000 Armenians were rescued by the French navy.

The genocidal scenes are handled with mastery by the director, Terry George, and constitute a complement to the beauty and variety and richness of Constantinople before the war. Terry George entered this project with a stellar reputation from directing Hotel Rwanda and, before that, Some Mother’s Son (1991) about the 1981 IRA prisoner hunger strike, In the Name of the Father (1993) and The Boxer (1997), the latter two both starring Daniel Day Lewis. Unlike these depictions of the troubles in Northern Ireland, The Promise is directed on an epic scale with wonderful crowd scenes varying from the throngs in the markets of Istanbul to the forced labourers to the mass deportations in cattle cars and the forced march of the Armenian inhabitants of towns and villages. The leads portrayed by Oscar Isaac as Mikael Poghosian, an apothecary with a determination to become a doctor, Charlotte Le Bon as the vivacious and vibrant Ana, and Christian Bale as the famous American journalist, Chris Meyers.

So what is wrong with the film? Why is it not the Armenian equivalent to Schindler’s List? It is certainly not the cinematography which is gorgeous – perhaps all-too-gorgeous, even in the scenes about the flight. Unlike Atom Egoyan’s 2003 imperfect movie Ararat, also on the Armenian genocide, the flaw in The Promise is in the script co-written by Terry George and Robin Swicord. The weakness is not because they used a romantic triangle among the three to anchor the film in the personal, but because the triangle remains too central when the belated portrayal of the genocide begins. Further, it turns into a contrived and cloying series of segments through the latter half of the movie. Finally, and I could not figure why, there is almost no sexual chemistry between Ana and Mikael.

Some reviewers that I read this morning found this simply to be a distraction. For other reviewers, it spoiled the film. While I agree with the consensus on the sentimental and manipulated personal narrative at the core of the film, the power of the portrayal of the genocide, the brilliant directing and cinematography, and the wonderful acting, even though the character of Mikael Poghosian is too much of a goody-two-shoes for me, the events and their portrayal more than make up for this lapse so that I was mesmerized by the film and would have rated it much higher than the negative and barely positive reviews that I read.

However, do not read the reviews before you watch the movie. I did not, and very rarely do, for, in this case, review after review egregiously offer an account of the plot in great detail. A script which allowed reviewers to be distracted from the main and very important subject matter can be blamed on the screenwriters, but reviewers are as much to blame for allowing their narrative sensibilities to detract from the power of the movie.

It is a must see. And it does not cost nearly as much to watch on TV as in a movie theatre, though I desperately wish I had viewed the panoramic scenes on a large movie screen.

 

with the help of Alex Zisman

Clouds Over the Land: Sunset Song – Numbers 10:9

Clouds Over the Land: Sunset Song – Numbers 10:9

by

Howard Adelman

If you go to war in your land against an adversary that oppresses you, you shall blow a teruah with the trumpets and be remembered before the Lord your God, and thus be saved from your enemies.   טוְכִי תָבֹאוּ מִלְחָמָה בְּאַרְצְכֶם עַל הַצַּר הַצֹּרֵר אֶתְכֶם וַהֲרֵעֹתֶם בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת וְנִזְכַּרְתֶּם לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְנוֹשַׁעְתֶּם מֵאֹיְבֵיכֶם:

וְכִֽי־תָבֹ֨אוּ מִלְחָמָ֜ה בְּאַרְצְכֶ֗ם עַל־הַצַּר֙ הַצֹּרֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֔ם וַהֲרֵעֹתֶ֖ם בַּחֲצֹצְר֑וֹת וֲנִזְכַּרְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵי֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם וְנוֹשַׁעְתֶּ֖ם מֵאֹיְבֵיכֶֽם׃

When you are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you, you shall sound short blasts on the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God and be delivered from your enemies.

The Israelites are in the wilderness. Why are they getting commandments about blowing a trumpet in a certain way when they are defending their land against an aggressor? The Israelites had no land to defend. This is the only mention of the land in this section. There are verses on the cloud settling in over the Tabernacle and remaining there. There are verses on the cloud lifting from the Tabernacle and once again permitting the Israelites to go forward. There is the fire on the altar; when the cloud rests over the Tabernacle, and then the latter had the likeness of fire. (9:15) However long the cloud settled in over the Tabernacle, the Israelites remained encamped, unmoving and unable to move.

There may be fire, there may be water in the form of a mist, and there is always the harsh land, but what is noticeable is the absence of any mention of ruah, the divine spirit that animates things. Sometimes ruah is identified with the breath of life and with the soul, the only thing that remains when the physical body melts away with death. Earth, water – sometimes in torrents rather than as simply a mist – and fire, but no ruah.

The setting is described at the beginning of Numbers in the opening of verse 9:1-2. “The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, on the first new moon of the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, saying (2) Let the people offer the Passover sacrifice at its set time.” Some take this as a message to hold a second Passover when you were unable to celebrate the first, when the family was unclean because someone had just died. But it is a description of a second Passover, as horrid a period as when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt when God was killing the first-born in every Egyptian family.

On the first anniversary of the exodus, when the nostalgia for what has been lost sets in, when the Israelites are in the desert, when the casualties of the trek through the desert can be counted, they are told that they are suffering a very different misery. This misery too shall pass. The cloud of despondency will lift and they will be able to move on with their lives. But when death lies in their midst, they are unclean. And once again they must eat bitter herbs and consume unleavened bread, the bread of affliction.

On the anniversary of the exodus, on the New Year, on Rosh Hashanah, otherwise known as Yom Teruah (Numbers 29:1), Tekiah is sounded, a long blast, when the people are assembled. Then, when they are attacked, when they are at war with themselves and, thus, with others, the Israelites sound the Teruah, the series of nine very short staccato notes, and the Shevarim, three medium length blasts following each Teruah section of three notes. The community is called to leave behind its misery, leave behind self-pity and get on the move to fight the enemies that assault them.

If you want to comprehend this section of the Torah, I suggest you watch Terence Davies’ movie, Sunset Song. It is a long film. (two hours and fifteen minutes) It is also a slow film. But it deserves your patience, if only to view the gorgeous but harsh Scottish countryside and the main character, Chris Guthrie played by Agyness Deyn. Chris is a bonnie lass and one of the greatest, if not the greatest character, in Scottish fiction. The film is an adaptation by the director of the first 1932 volume of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s trilogy, A Scots Quair, set in the north-east in the Scottish village or estate of Kinraddie and largely located in the farm, Blawearie, the meaning of which is found in its very sound – blah and weary.

The farm stands in stark contrast to the name of the larger community, Kinraddie, which means whistling away to oneself when the day shines bright before one and the sun is shining. The film oscillates between these two opposite moods. As Gibbon wrote, “there were more than nine bit places [like the very short blasts of Teruah] left in the Kinraddie estate.” Blawearie is one of those bit places. The film ends with the Sunset Song, the Flower Song, in an elegiac reference to the passing of loved ones and the passing of an old order, the passing of an age of innocence, but also of horror that receives its ultimate global expression in the muddy trenches of World War I.

The film begins in Kinraddie, in the local school, where a tall and thin and precocious red-headed lass, Chris Guthrie, is singled out for her excellent pronunciation of French, her ability to whistle as the instructor says, without making the whistling sound. The film ends by repeating the refrain, “The Land endures.” “Only the land endures.” And Chris discovers that she is the land. Otherwise, “there were lovely things in the world, lovely that didn’t endure, and the lovelier for that… Nothing endures.” But the land! The land endures even as the song, “Flowers of thee Forest” is sung.

I’ve hear them liltin’, at the ewe milkin,’
Lasses a-liltin’ before dawn of day.
Now there’s a moanin’, on ilka green loanin’.
The flowers of the forest are a’ wede away.
As boughs in the mornin’, nae blithe lads are scornin’,
Lasses are lonely and dowie and wae.
Nae daffin’, nae gabbin’, but sighin’ and sobbin’,
Ilk ane lifts her leglin, and hies her away.
At e’en in the gloamin’, nae swankies are roamin’,
‘Bout stacks wi’ the lasses at bogle to play.
But ilk maid sits drearie, lamentin’ her dearie,
The flowers of the forest are a’ wede away.
In har’st at the shearin’ nae youths now are jeerin’
Bandsters are runkled, and lyart, or grey.
At fair or at preachin’, nae wooin’, nae fleecin’,
The flowers of the forest are a’ wede away.
Dool for the order sent our lads to the Border,
the English for ance by guile wan the day.
The flowers of the forest, that fought aye the foremost,
The prime of our land lie cauld in the clay.
We’ll hae nae mair liltin’, at the ewe milkin’,
Women and bairns are heartless and wae.
Sighin’ and moanin’ on ilka green loanin’,
The flowers of the forest are all wede away.

How does that harsh land endure? How does it survive the harsh winds and pouring rain, the heavy snows of winter? Through fire. The constant flame throughout the film is the family altar, the big stove in the kitchen ever burning. And life is renewed when Chris falls in love with Ewan Tavendale (James Grant) and they blow out the candle to have sex in the dark, not only when they are first married when Chris is still seventeen and approaching her eighteenth birthday, but on each occasion afterwards. Except when Ewen returns from WWI on leave.

Ewen went to war to fight for king and country, urged to do so by his Presbyterian pastor to fight Kaiser as the anti-Christ and lest he be regarded as a coward. War transformed him from a loving and sensitive man into a brute who rapes his wife without turning out the candle. The scene is even more horrific than it reads. However, his ostensible cowardice was truly an act of bravery, for the spark of love within him, the ruah in the film, made him seek out the “white feather” treatment by the military; he was shot as a deserter in the three short blasts of the shofar, the Teruah, in the final act of the film.

The flowers of the forest are all wede away. They go mad. They rage. They rave. As Chris does when Ewen, her dear and loving lad turned into a monster by a war he did not want to fight, by the English who “by guile wan the day” “for the order sent our lads to the Border,” is shot as a deserter, his self-sacrifice lest he condemn Chris to a life of abuse as her mother, Jean, had been before she took her own life and that of her baby twins.

However, that is not where the film begins. We will soon learn about the harsh unforgiving reality of the hardscrabble land of these Scottish farmers, but Chris leaves the class with which the film opens with her best friend. They skip playfully through the forest in one of the many moments of pure bliss in a scene of sheer pastoral beauty, like the many scenes of golden fields of grain and green pastures.

Sunset Song, in the end, is not a lament for a past that will be no more, though it is that, with all its vices and virtues, but it is about the renewal of spirit, the renewal of life, just when you begin to think that life cannot get any worse. We know from the narrator of the film, Chris herself, who will go to renew her love of books, her love of life, her love of what I would call Torah rather than the harsh prescriptions in the biblical text that become the sole focus of tyrannical men and fathers who will mistreat their sons and even long for incest with their daughters. Peter Mullan plays John Guthrie with the same mastery that he lights his pipe in the few moments when he sits content with himself and with the world. At other times, he straps Chris’ brother Will (Jack Greenlees) across the back. One suspects that Chris became a writer as well as a teacher, for poetry suffuses a movie of tragic loss and despair.

In the opening, Chis intones about herself: “So that was Chris and her reading and schooling, two Chrises there were that fought for her heart and tormented her. You hated the land and the coarse speak of the folk and learning was brave and fine one day; and the next you’d waken with the peewits crying across the hills, deep and deep, crying in the heart of you and the smell of the earth in your face, almost you’d cry for that, the beauty of it and the sweetness of the Scottish land and skies.” The schizophrenia was only resolved when, after many tests akin to those Job suffered, she discovered that she was the land.

The Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. They had yet to learn that they were the land, that they were at one with the land, and that they would repeatedly betray that land as they betrayed their harsh and unforgiving God.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Donald Johnston and Donald Trump: Europe and Russia

Donald Johnston and Donald Trump: Europe and Russia

by

Howard Adelman

Russia and Europe are both in the headlines these days, Russia because of the probe into the connections with the Trump White House, and Europe because of the fallout from Donald Trump’s visit last week. “The American-German relationship has been the core of the transatlantic alliance for more than 70 years. It was in Berlin in 1963 that President John Kennedy uttered the phrase, “Ich bin ein Berliner” signalling the unbreakable link between the U.S. and Germany.

Following last week, that close relationship is now dead. At its centre were trade and a military alliance. With respect to the latter, Donald Trump refrained from endorsing Clause 5 of the NATO pact. Trump even lectured his European colleagues for their failure to pay their fair share of NATO costs. Yesterday we learned that most are expecting Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris Accords.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel rebuked the American leader. “Anyone who accelerates climate change by weakening environmental protection, who sells more weapons in conflict zones and who does not want to politically resolve religious conflicts is putting peace in Europe at risk.” Angela Merkel said that it was time for Europeans, “to take our fates in our own hands.” Given “what I’ve experienced in recent days,” the days when “we could completely rely on others are over to a certain extent.” “We have to fight for our own future, as Europeans, for our destiny.”

These statements, as much as one might deplore this extraordinary breach in the trans-Atlantic alliance, seemed to prove Donald Johnston’s conviction that Europe had to have strong, visionary leadership. Though he had not seen it yet when he wrote Chapter 3 of his book, “Europe Listing, but Afloat,” the statements of German leaders, the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of France, the prior rejection in Austria of a right-wing populist government, the rebirth of Greece and its rejection of a Greek Grexit, the solidification of the Spanish and Irish economic recoveries, all spoke to a revived Europe, and one without the UK which had voted to leave the European Union in the Brexit upset referendum.

The UK seems to be on a downward slide. London’s place as a world financial centre will begin a slow spiral driven by the gravity of less access to markets. Further, the UK faces the possibility of disintegrating into even smaller nation-states as Scotland looks forward to another vote for separation and rejoining Europe. While most Germans, Dutch and French identify as Europeans, the English still overwhelmingly identify their nationality with their little British Isle. Nevertheless, Johnston believes that the English will soon come to their senses, especially as the unravelling gets closer and more difficult. He believes that Brits will reverse course before it is too late.

One reason Donald Johnston offers is not only the difficulties in unravelling membership, not only the increasingly apparent high costs, but his belief that the Brexit referendum “was a vote of passion, not reason.” Rational self-interest would win out over identity politics currently manifest in the U.K.’s resistance to the influx of outsiders, even though two-thirds of migrants to the UK were not Europeans. Further, like populists on the right in the U.S., those supporting exit from the EU hated the Brussels bureaucracy and called for “independence.”

Nevertheless, Johnston believes that Brits will change their minds before the break is finalized. “What government would have the courage to sign off on Brexit if the polls show a large majority of electors opposed, which is likely to be the case when the consequences are well understood?” If they don’t, separation will take place “against the will of the majority of people in the United Kingdom.” How does he arrive at that assessment? He adds together those who voted against exit with those who did not vote at all on the assumption that 100% would oppose Brexit. Further, even if the divorce is concluded, he expresses the belief that Britain would remain in the European economic zone or, at the very least, forge a free-trade agreement.

Ignoring the statistical sleight of hand above, which Johnston rails against in his chapter on stats, for someone who supports democratic institutions, it reveals a strong distaste for populism and referenda, a dislike he repeatedly expresses in the book. The problem, of course, is that a united Europe is primarily a mandarin’s dream while people throughout Europe and not only in the UK resent the usurping of tradition, of national parliaments and national pride. Johnston believes in a federated state model for Europe. He is an unabashed supporter of multilateralism and globalization as he envisions an even stronger Europe with increasingly open markets, a diminution of trade subsidies, a supporter of structural reforms in the provision of labour and manufacturing. But without completing the mission of creating a united federal state of Europe, the prospect of it becoming the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world while ensuring social cohesion is, for DJ, iffy.

It is not that Johnston has not considered the reasons for populism – the suspicion of remote bureaucracies or the desire for greater parochialism. He has, but only to dismiss such approaches and to double down in defence of globalization. Nowhere in the book could I find an analysis of the effects of restructuring and globalization on workers. Further, and this is most surprising, though he applauds the goals of the Lisbon Declaration in support of education, research and innovation, research and innovation are not included in his graphic summary of his moral economics. Nor is his support for representative democracy and his fears, even hatred, of referenda and populism. The latter just provide grounds for demagogues and irrational passions displacing the task of rational decision-making. DJ quotes Edmund Burke with enthusiasm for parliamentarians who offer unbiased opinions, mature judgement and an enlightened conscience applied to political decision-making. Even those who have a deep faith in rational decision-making can be romantic visionaries.

What remains wrong in Europe? No equivalent to a European-wide securities and exchange commission, no EU-wide drug or food agency, no effective common immigration and refugee position, if only to counter-balance population decline, no formula for redistribution and strengthening weak regions. These unachieved goals, not identity politics, are responsible for the reassertion of populist, irrational, ill-informed and volatile popular will.

Donald Johnston presents himself as the antithesis to Donald Trump. Except he thinks Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is an effective leader in Turkey and only became a radical pro-Islamic politician because Europe procrastinated and dithered on Turkey’s application to join the EU. Turkey’s flaws are largely the product of that rejection, even though he concedes that many who suspected his demagoguery and counter-democratic tendencies may have been correct. What he writes abut Russia offers a test of whether he can reconcile his support of parliamentary representative democracy and admiration for strong, effective leaders, for the latter is the trait he unabashedly shares with Donald Trump.

That, however, does not seem to be the case when he begins his chapter on Russia. “Putin’s personal agenda is totally incompatible with democratic ideals, free markets, freedom of expression, and even human rights.” Sounds pretty much like Erdoğan. Both men came to power with a very specific goal – to make their respective countries great again. Both used democracy to advance their own popularity and agenda. Both are economic mercantilists. And both are enemies of freedom and human rights. So why is Johnston so favourable to Erdoğan but critical of Putin? The sentence that follows partially answers the question. “His popularity is founded on hostility and aggressive policies towards the west.” (p. 41)

But what is the difference between the two leaders of Turkey and Russia respectively? Both disappeared adversaries, Erdoğan blatantly, openly and extensively. Putin was more surreptitious, but only Putin is accused. The difference seems to be that people eliminated in Russia included technocrats who Johnston knew – Boris Nemstov, for example.  Erdoğan only wiped out Kurds, jailed journalists and rounded up tens of thousands of members of his own party, civil servants and members of the judiciary, or anyone he thought might be opposed to his increasingly autocratic rule. The only substantive difference: Turkey had a much longer period as a democratic state.

But the causes are the same. Western failures. “Putin [like Erdoğan] is a product of Western blindness.” The stimulus may be different – the closure of the EU to Turkey versus the resurrection of the Cold War in a new form against Russia. The EU dithered on admitting Turkey. OECD procrastinated with Russia’s application to join.

Look at DJ’s answer to Putin’s query to him for an example of bad practices that OECD could help eliminate. Johnston replied, with only the slightest hesitation: “In Canada, which is a vast and diversified country and has similarities with Russia, we committed many mistakes. We pushed local development policies that were more tailored to positive political outcomes than to economic ones.” His reaction to Putin’s impassive response is even more interesting, explaining that passivity because Putin recognized that, “in democracies, placating local constituencies with public funds is an odious, yet obvious (my italics), by-product of the election process.” (p. 45) That says very little about Putin, but a great deal about Johnston’s cynicism and very guarded qualified defence of democracy, which seemed to boil down to the less you consulted your constituents, the less you tried to placate and cater to them, the better leader you were.

Putin could ignore proposals to liberalization of trade, effective taxation, privatization and methods for attracting foreign capital investments. Why? Because the West had made him justifiably wary because of the advance of Western missile defence systems eastward and NATO expansion to the borders of Russia. Those missile defence systems and the move of NATO eastward were not because former satellites had learned to distrust Russia throughout their history and needed reassurances if they were going to embrace the West.

Whether the problem was Crimea, the Ukraine or Syria, the answer is always the same: the mindblindness of the West. The West had failed to provide, in a timely way, healthy market-oriented and properly regulated economic nostrums in the nineties so that Russia could have avoided the depredations of corruption and kleptocratic oligarchs. Why? Because “the Harvard boys” with their unboundaried faith in self-correcting free markets got to Moscow before the OECD boys and their ethical economic doctrines. Russia could and should have been made part of the EU community earlier and history would have run a different course. The IMF got it wrong. OECD had it right.There are vast differences between DJ and DT: DJ’s high regard for civil servants and DT’s contempt for them; their joint appreciation of free markets, but Trump for unregulated ones and DJ’s belief in moral boundaries to them; DJ’s and DT’s contempt for the populace, but with Trump gleefully manipulating the public while DJ did so with his head down and with no sense of self-satisfaction. However, look at the similarities. Both support military withdrawal from spheres of Russian interest. Both share a belief in the power of personal diplomacy. Both respect strong leadership. Trump crusaded against corruption while openly admitting he was part of the corrupt system. DJ, though critical, was more accepting of corruption in its institutionalized democratic forms.

With respect to the latter, there is a major difference. DJ believes in consulting, placating and catering to constituents as little as possible. Trump does not exactly consult them, but psychologically he needs their approval and applause – look at how he is handling the abrogation of America’s signature to the Paris Accords.

DJ and DT are not the same. They are in many ways opposites. However, they are twins, though DT is the hairy one prone to mistakes, governed by instinct and unabashedly frank and even trusting. DJ is cautious, reads his briefing papers diligently and, even more importantly, appreciates others who do the same. Both have strong opinions and both offer very weak defenses of them. Trump’s are almost non-existent or simply products of his imagination.  But DJ respects mandarins. DT despises them. DJ is a globalist and cosmopolitan. DT is a nationalist. DJ is the epitome of civility. DT disses his opponents.

But both believe that history can be commanded and controlled – DJ through thoughtful and careful deliberation, DT through instinct and unabashed self-trust.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Donald Johnston and his Hairy Twin, Donald Trump

Donald Johnston and his Hairy Twin, Donald Trump

by

Howard Adelman

Donald J. Johnston (2017) Missing the Tide: Global Governments in Retreat, McGill-Queens University Press.

The evening before last, I attended a book launch at Massey College of Donald J. Johnston’s new book chastising the international community for missing the opportunities over the last quarter of a century and for failing to take advantage of unprecedented opportunities to significantly advance both global social and economic progress. The book is a lamentation with a very loud wail. For there were many opportunities, Johnston argued. ALL were missed. It is also a paean, not so much to freedom from the classical laws of economics, but a cri de coeur to impose an ethical regime in control of the economic realm.

That regime required offsetting any rise of a monolithic dominant state in favour of a newborn vision of a balance of power among states using the leverage of international institutions, but without any international agreed-upon economic standard, such as the now ancient international gold standard. The “self-regulating market” with its unprecedented record of wealth creation had to be wedded to national and international political regulation which had produced “unheard-of material welfare.”  Johnston want to update the moral economics of Karl Polanyi, but with a full acceptance of the market without its neo-classical lack of moral boundaries.

For Johnston, global free trade is in retreat and, with it, the chance to extend increased prosperity to the developing world. Further, since both economic growth and social cohesion rest on a foundation of proper respect for mother earth that provides the wherewithal for both prosperity and social cohesion, the failure to adequately reduce the dangers of climate change may be the most serious missed opportunity.

Thus, the wreckage is economic. The wreckage is social. And the wreckage is environmental. But Donald Johnston is both a small “l” and a large “L” liberal and Liberal. If you do not know who he is, chances are that you have not yet reached your sixtieth birthday. In 2008, the Honourable Donald J. Johnston could add OC after his name for he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, both for his contributions to public service within in Canada and as the first non-European secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a position he held for ten years from 1996 to 2006, just before the great economic crash of 2007-08. He not only played a signal role in those so-called missed opportunities, but had a bird’s eye view of what happened in that fateful decade.

Further, he came to that position with enormous accomplishments behind him – as a gold medalist in law from McGill in 1958, as a founding partner of the legal firm, Heenan Blaikie, in 1964, where he worked alongside my next door neighbour, also a tax and business law specialist. Johnston was first elected to the Canadian Parliament in 1978 and quickly assumed a place in the sun as President of the Treasury Board, Minister of State for Science and Technology and subsequently for Economic and Regional Development. In addition to these positions between 1980 and 1984 in the Trudeau government, he was named Minister of Justice and Attorney General in the short-lived Turner Liberal government. For, if you are old enough, you might best remember him as the candidate who ran third in the leadership race behind John Turner and Jean Chrétien in 1984 and then broke ranks when his friend and colleague, John Turner, then leader of the opposition, opposed Brian Mulroney on free trade, specifically the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement, but supported the PCs on the Meech Lake Accord. Johnston supported free trade and opposed Meech; he resigned from caucus and became an independent Liberal.

However, it is for his term as OECD Secretary-General that he will be best known. What a bird’s eye view! What an opportunity to influence the direction of history! But if you are looking for an account of his failure, forget it. For the failures were not his. They were the international community’s. There was George W. Bush’s misbegotten invasion of Iraq which initiated the undermining of the U.S. as the world’s leader with the initiation of positions and policies that were frugal on truth, disrespectful of science, expansive on pride and hubris, and thoroughly permeated by corruption and a disrespect for the small “l” liberal values of human rights.

From reading Johnston’s book, the politics of salesmanship, once slick versus the current display of vulgarity, the economics of favouring the 1% and ignoring the well-being of the remainder, promoting the military and foreign adventurism while undermining the welfare needed to hold society together, began much earlier than the ascension of Donald Trump as President. If the slick version of chicanery missed the opportunity to make Russia a full partner in liberal progress, the contemporary much crasser version is nostalgic with its outreach to a kleptocratic and autocratic Russia.

In the nineteenth century, the poor were severed both from the land and their access to charity. Trump will strip them of any possibility of realizing the dream of home ownership and, at the same time, of any right to access state welfare while promising the opposite.  In contrast, for Johnston, good governance on both the national and international level was and remains needed as an offset of once vibrant communities of reciprocity.

What happened? The U.S. was only ostensibly a proponent of free trade, but actually promoted bilateral trade and investment agreements, the forerunner of Trump’s policies without his frank openness. Why did this happen? Because the U.S. was a behemoth which operated to promote its own advantage. (p. 11) Why take on the Lilliputians collectively when you could pick them off one at a time? However, if that is the explanation – the inevitability of the exercise of uneven power – why declaim opportunities missed? If that norm was truly a universal law of behaviour, then there were really no opportunities. It was all a chimera.

Therein lies the contradiction. Forces are at work that overwhelm the liberal agenda of uniting economic growth and wealth creation with policies promoting social stability and cohesion through good governance at the top and a respect for nature at the base. The laws of “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” were reinforced by national predispositions. “Americans would never (my italics) accept the taxation levels of many European countries where there is a cultural tolerance for higher taxation to support public funding for education, health, and social safety nets.” (p. 14) But that meant the trajectory in the U.S. would always favour the rich at the expense of the middle and under class and would need foreign adventures to distract the populace through patriotic appeals and circuses.

The book is permeated with various versions of this contradiction between the inevitable power of social forces and the faith in choice and taking advantage of opportunities to forge what my son, the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History and Director of the Global History Lab at Princeton University, calls the doctrine of moral economics, which he identifies with Karl Polanyi. (See Jeremy Adelman, “Polanyi, the Failed Prophet of Moral Economics,” Boston Review, 30 May 2017.) The connection need not be inferred. It is totally evident in the accomplishments at the OECD for which Johnston is lauded: establishing the world standard for the Principles of Corporate Governance, the revised Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises enunciating the norms of corporate social responsibility,  correcting harmful international tax practices; the international harmonization of competition policy, fostering sustainable development, and, as well, establishing the Education Directorate and the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) for assessing educational comparisons. For unlike Karl Polanyi, an intellectual father, Johnston strove to institutionalize morality and not leave it as a moral cloud haunting the economic market.

Without apology or any self-critical analysis, Johnston was and remains a champion of one version of Polanyi’s moral economics and moral norms, that in both their moral and institutionalized iterations proved to be as weak a barrier to the floods produced by raw capitalism as the levees that promised to hold back the waters of the Gulf of Mexico in Hurricane Katrina from drowning New Orleans. For a number of years, I used Karl Polanyi’s classic, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Times (1944) in the general education courses that I taught at York University. As it turned out, it was my marked-up copy that Jeremy used in writing his article.

As Jeremy writes, Polanyi’s book is a “sacred text” for liberals unable to stomach the laws of inevitability espoused by both Marxists, on the one hand, and the worshippers of untrammeled markets and the invisible hand, on the other hand. Could liberalism counter “the iron broom of the classical economists”? He wrote a sacred text against a background when capitalism met its most profound economic crisis of the twentieth century, the Great Depression, and its most horrific political crisis, the rise of populist Nazism with its accompanying antisemitism in Europe.

Like Polanyi, Johnston is an “ethical stepchild of nineteenth-century liberalism, quick to condemn its shortfalls and determined to create a new moral order without the odor of Marxist class conflict.” However, unlike Polanyi, Johnston wanted to embed economic moralism in international institutions, for he accepted rather than rejected the globalization of consumption. Polanyi was a Puritan; Johnston is an Anglican or Episcopalian, at least in the secular economic religion. The market was not just a source of plutocratic enrichment at the expense of workers. It was the arena for creating wealth and it had to be tamed by rules and umpires and not treated as a circus for distraction.

Thus, Johnston’s book is timely and is part of a revivalist movement to beat back “the era of walls, visas, Eurofatigue, and slumping global trade.” He offers a moral counterpoint. Johnston writes about using good (my italics) governance to ensure the transfer of the benefits of growth to society as a whole. Could the OECD serve as an offset to the cult of stable money which was administered by states under a doctrine of state sovereignty, but where the forces at work lay “outside national boundaries, beyond the reach of community regulators”? Polanyi argued that markets had to be “embedded” within social norms to ensure the benefits served communal purposes.

I have written previously about the role of assimilated Jews who tried to address current economic and political issues with the moral lessons of the Torah, but where the Torah was only a silken thread connecting these modern “protestants” to their historic roots. Today is Shavuot that celebrates God’s giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Since I did not stay up this year to study Torah all night, it is convenient to refer to Julie Nathan’s essay, “The Gift of the Law: Civilisation, Shavuot and the Hatred of the Jews” (Religion and Ethics, 29 May 2017) Nathan wrote that the Jewish nation, which has had a lasting influence and impact on the human heart and mind rather than its institutions, unlike the great civilizations of the ancient world that grew up along major waterways,  “did not develop along a major river or amid lush vegetation, but was born in an arid desert, in a no-man’s land, and was founded not by kings and conquerors but by pastoral nomads and runaway slaves.” Polanyi may have left his shtetl Judaism behind, but he carried forward its emphasis on ideas, on values, on ethics and on laws to serve as a vision for humanity, but in a Christian form.

Look at Polanyi’s norms: human brotherhood, the sanctity of life, respect for individual dignity, the role of conscience, the upholding of social responsibility, respect for human rights, equality before the law, and a vision of the world guided by justice in pursuit of peace. Jeremy was named after Jeremiah, the prophet of peace.  Nations “shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not take up sword against nation. They shall never again know war” (Isaiah 2:4). More generally, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20) and, “Love your neighbour [and] the stranger as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, 19:34)

These were the values of Karl Polanyi. These remain the basic values of Donald Johnston. For Nathan, “Jews are targeted because they are the bearers of these values, the living affirmation of a universal message of a humanitarian and ethical world. Will Donald Johnston also be reproved for trying to revive this ancient message? Or will he be ignored and his analysis relegated to the dust heap of history because it fails to engage self-critically to truly understand why those norms could not succeed against the forces of Mammon?

Assimilated Jews cast adrift from their moral bearings, tried to resurrect and concretize them in international institutions. Donald Johnston, an archetypal WASP and visionary Canadian, emerges as an honorary Jew. As Larry Zolf used to say, “When you are in love, the whole world is Jewish.” Alternatively, one could be Jewish like Polanyi who eschewed knowledge of his origins and opted for resurrection without history. Polanyi claimed that Jews “were guilty, not for the death of Jesus, but for ‘rejecting the teachings of 4520885018036092Jesus, which are superior’.” Polanyi championed a new Christian unity superimposed on free markets and expressing the importance of a political balance, in the Aristotelian sense, set in place by these overarching values.

This is self-evidently a romantic view of Judaism and of the world. Polanyi was an heir to that romanticism. Whereas, both are proselytizers of a sacred secular economic and political religion wherein liberals in a confessional mode flagellate themselves for the failures of their liberalism, Johnston is an Orthodox rabbi in comparison. But both were blind to the real dangers of populist nationalism. “Now, will the Trump administration correct this crumbling once-great democracy or will it, like others, be seduced by the extraordinary wealth of some Americans instead of being motivated to address the poverty and disillusionment of millions who supported Trump?” (p. 16) To even pose this as a question, to even ask whether Trump and Trumpism will be seduced by money, to even hold out the possibility that Trump will convert to the religion of economic moralism, is to expose the emptiness of this economic dream world and suggest why it stood powerless in the face of opposing forces.

Further, there is a failure to grasp Trump’s policies of railing against currency manipulation, implicitly favouring managed currencies, his national protectionism opposed to globalized economic forces, and make-work in industries such as coal mining. All these policies merely demonstrate that Trump, rather than Johnston, was not the usurper of Johnston’s birthright, but rather the true wished-for heir of the small “l” liberal tradition, Jacob (Johnston) longed to steal the birthright of Esau (Bush/Trump), but without Jacob’s mother’s wile. Polanyi was Johnston’s intellectual father, but Trump was the natural heir, not moral economic globalism embedded in institutions.

Johnston ends with this assertion, “I think it will happen.” It reveals the triumph of hope over reality, belief over facts, faith over skepticism, in fact, the very same foundation of charlatan Trumpism’s cynical evangelism based on faith rather than truth, founded on a lavish lifestyle, the Benny Hinn of American secularism. As Jeremy asked, is the search for the middle but a cover for the intellectual, economic and political misery of a muddle?

Lamentations focus on the gore of history. Charlatans nostalgically appeal to past glory. But both were conceived in the same womb.

To be continued.

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

 

My Sandhill Crane

My Sandhill Crane

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday morning when I was cleaning out the cleaning closet – the last step in preparing the cottage for the summer – I was suddenly very startled. It was very early in the morning. The sun had just woken. A new day was dawning. Should I focus and appreciate the rising of the sun or finish cleaning up the last remnants of the previous summer?

Some very local geography first. Our family cottage is located on an island in Georgian Bay. It is quite isolated and we have no close neighbours. But we are not on the open bay, but on an island in a very large bay, Shawanaga, off the very much larger body of water that is itself the size of one of the Great Lakes. The cottage sits at the pinnacle of the island which is just a six-acre treed outcropping of rock. The back door to the cottage has a large glass plate the length of the door. It stands right next to the cleaning closet.

The noise that startled me was a loud rat-a-tat. Repeated. No, not rat-a-tat, but tat-tat-tat, repeated loud sharp noises in rapid succession against the glass. I looked up and before me on the other side of the glass stood a bird as high as my mid-chest – and I am still over six feet even though I have certainly been shrinking in the last two decades. The bird had a very long beak and I thought it was going to break the glass against the door. The bird’s bill was longer that its head was tall. Its neck was long and thin as it thrust back and forth hitting the window with its beak each time with a noise loud enough that I thought it would waken my wife.

I was standing on one side of the glass and the bird was on the other. I had never seen such a large bird – it was not as large as an ostrich that I had seen up close in South Africa – but not nearly this close. The black legs were very long so I knew it was some kind of wading bird. I thought of the flamingos that I had seen around the Ngorongoro Crater in Kenya. But the only bright colour of this bird was its scarlet red crown. Otherwise, the bird was a mottled gray. If it had a bath, would it become white? Later, when we looked for the bird in our bird book – my wife found the picture instantly – the description said the bird could have a rusty wash on its upper body, but I saw none. Nor did I see its evidently famous “bustle” at the back, for the bird was facing me.

But not just facing me. And not just trying to thrust its beak through the window. It was doing a bit of its dance as it came forward, jabbed the window about ten times, and then danced back, only to thrust forward again almost immediately. The bird was alone. I did not know whether it was a male or a female, but I presumed it was a male because of its aggressive behaviour.

Should I wake my wife? She loves birds. I bet she had never seen such a large bird facing her and just a pane of glass away. But I remembered when we arrived at the cottage. That same glass window was covered in blood. Had a bird injured itself badly against the window? There had been some feathers on the back porch. Were they grey? Maybe it was this bird’s mate and it was seeking revenge. But all I could think of was that the bird might break the glass, that the bird was probably injuring itself, that the bird might wake my wife.

I started to make noises and do my own wild dance to chase the bird away, all accompanied by a low roar – if a roar could possibly be low. The bird stepped back, a bit startled, but clearly unafraid. Then it thrust forward again with the loud tat-a-tat of its bill against the glass of the door.

Suddenly, it turned, spread its wings – the span was at least six feet – and flew upwards towards the north in a low flight pattern that soon circled back south as it increased altitude. Other than its huge flapping wings – though they only flapped at the beginning for the bird seemed to be a glider – the bird now seemed so large that the body, compared to when the bird stood tall before me, seemed to shrink. Of course, that body was now horizontal, like a very aerodynamic missile. As the bird rose, it seemed to require very few strokes. And all of this right in front of my eyes!

I never heard it make a sound, though someone, whom I saw later yesterday at a book launch back in Toronto, told me that its honking sound was prehistoric, more like a haunting bellows rather than the honking of geese. It was also suggested that the bird was engaged in a mating dance. Had it fallen for me? Had I scared off a very large bird that was courting me?

My ego was quickly deflated when it was suggested that the bird saw a reflection of itself and thought it was a female. The male and female look alike. The bird was not courting me. Nor was it being narcissistic. Rather, it probably saw – or thought it saw – a potential mate. It was baffled at the sight of me. It had never seen quite as strange a dance. And the sounds coming out of my mouth were very prehistoric. Later, when we were reading about the bird, we learned that it was a sandhill crane that mates for life. I clearly was not a suitable partner. It is also a very ancient bird with the oldest bird fossil 2.5 million years old.

The sandhill crane is largely found north of Sudbury and North Bay, but my informant at the book launch told me that he had seen a nesting pair on an outer island nearby. He told me they laid very large oval brown eggs. Presumably their breeding grounds and range had been creeping south with climate change.

The formal species name of the sandhill crane that I saw is Antigone Canadensis. Canadensis make sense for this is Canada. But Antigone? Anti came from the Greek meaning “opposed to,” but sometimes “compared to.” Given the Greek myth of Antigone, I took it to mean opposed; the story was one of conflict between two different sources of moral authority. But, in this case, opposed to what? γονη, (goné) in Greek means birth or offspring, so that the dance I saw performed could very well have been a courting ritual. But that still does not explain Antigone and the theme of opposition.

Let me explain. Antigone is the main character in a Greek myth that Hegel discusses at some length in The Phenomenology of Spirit. One of my graduate students wrote her thesis on that section. The issue was not on pride and the hubris of Icarus who flew too close to the sun so the wax in his wings melted and he plummeted to the ground. Nor is it about Hegel’s owl of Minerva, the bird after whom the lead periodical on Hegelian scholarship in English is named.

Hegel in the preface to the Philosophy of Right wrote, “When philosophy paints its gray on gray, then has a form of life grown old, and with gray on gray it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known; the Owl of Minerva first takes flight with twilight closing in.” I saw my sandhill crane in the early hours of the morning, not at dusk. Though the bird was gray, it was not the colouring of a life grown old beyond rejuvenation when an age of history is ending and cannot be resurrected and when the only obligation is to recall and understand the past. I believe that my bird was seeking to give new birth to life. But, to ask again, why then Antigone, even though goné in Greek means “birth” or “offspring”? For the tale of Antigone is as dark a story as you will ever read.

Antigone was perhaps cursed at birth. Her father was Oedipus – the guy who slew his father and married his mother, inspiring Freud with his greatest brand. Antigone’s mother was Jocasta, the Queen of Thebes who was married to King Laius. However, the couple was told by a prophet that their son would grow up and kill the father. So, like Abraham, they took the infant up the mountain, bound him, but, unlike Abraham, left the baby to be eaten by birds of prey. But no such “luck.” The child survived and grew up to unknowingly slay his father. And marry his own mother. And then poke out his own eyes when he discovered the truth. Thus, Jocasta was both the mother and grandmother of Antigone.

With a parentage like that, as a product of incest, what chance did she have? However, she was both a very loyal and determined girl. When her father, blinded, went into exile, she accompanied and guided him. When he died and she returned to Thebes, she found that her two brothers were at war, Eteocles defending Thebes and Polyneices attacking the regime. Both were killed in the battle and Antigone’s uncle Creon became king. He buried Eteocles in an elaborate state funeral, but issued an edict, in accordance with the law of the land concerning treason, that the body of Polyneices be left on the field. Whether enemy or friend, in death everyone deserved to be buried. And Antigone refused to comply with her uncle’s command and had Polyneices buried.

Creon had Antigone arrested and locked in a cave to die. However, Antigone was engaged to her cousin, Creon’s son, Haemon, who was deeply in love with Antigone. Haemon went to the cave to free Antigone, only to find she had hung herself. In despair, he took his own life.

The central theme for Hegel in this tale was not a story of the Owl of Minerva and the death of an era. Nor was it of rebirth and a new age emerging. Rather, it was a tale of the process of history. Creon was a figure of state who believed he had to uphold positive written law and deny any burial for Polyneices, his own nephew, because Polyneices was regarded as a traitor.

But Polyneices was the brother of Antigone and Antigone felt she had to follow a higher law, a divine law, a humane law, a natural law, a law at odds with positive law. She followed her principles and died for them.

The issue is not the end of days when both divine and humane law have become exhausted. This was not the time for the Owl of Minerva to pronounce the death of the old and the obligation to recollect and understand. Nor was the tale about birth of a new era. It is a struggle between positive law gone awry and the obligation to stand up and be counted in opposition to defend a higher moral law.

Was my sandhill crane an omen?

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour

Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour

by

Howard Adelman

My overall impression of Donald Trump’s first excursion overseas as President is the low standard American commentators have set for their President. Further, Trump has surrendered American leadership in the world, although the focus has been on whether his visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and the G7 were far less damaging than expected.  I examine the trip thus far one stop at a time.

Saudi Arabia

The glitz was familiar. Friendships were forged and solidified. The dancing at the ardha ceremony on the part of the Americans was awkward, and that may have been the metaphor for the whole visit. At the same time, a number of issues came into sharper focus.

  1. Donald’s supreme ignorance concerning terrorism

Though Trump declared that the war against terror was not a war of one civilization against another or one religion against another, but a war against evil, Iran alone was blamed as the heinous source of terrorism, as “the tip of the spear of global terrorism.” To some extent, in the Middle East, the country is a prime source. However, most radical Islamicist terrorism in Europe, in North America and even in the Middle East, is a product of Sunni, not Shiite, background. Wahhabism, rooted in Saudi Arabia, is both a source of proselytizing as well as repression, though both merge together in terrorism in only a small proportion of adherents to this fundamentalism. ISIS in its theology and jurisprudence is far closer to Saudi Arabia than to Iran.

  1. Donald proved he could be diplomatic

He learned to follow Barack Obama’s lead, a lead at which he once aimed withering criticism, and avoided the phrase “Islamic terrorism.” He also deliberately ignored his anti-Islamic rhetoric in addressing Muslim leaders and conveniently forgot that he had once declared that Muslims hate us.

  1. Donald’s Respect for Democracy

Saudi Arabia is a dynasty and theocracy, permitting only male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman al-Saud, to rule. Further, the Basic Law that dictates a dictatorship is rooted in sharia law; punishment can be severe for apostasy, sorcery and adultery. Trump could have offered indirect criticisms of the Saudi democratic deficit by applauding the honesty of its December 2016 elections and the innovation in allowing women to both vote and run as candidates, while urging moves towards further reform. If he had a deeper sense of diplomacy than he exhibited, this need not have emerged as a scolding, but as encouragement towards judicial independence and due process in opposition to rampant use of arbitrary arrest, particularly targeting human rights activists. However, Donald Trump’s “principled realism” unveiled an absence of any principles.

  1. Donald’s Ethos

Donald seems to have no sense of human rights – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly – and universal values; he expresses a positive disdain for them in the leaders he admires. He never once brought up the issue of human rights or confronted the repressive government of the Saudis. Instead, a member of his executive, Secretary Wilbur Ross, lauded his visit to Saudi Arabia by noting there were no protesters. “There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard.” When Ross was offered an option to amend or qualify the statement, he abjured and, instead, doubled down on the plaudits he awarded Saudi Arabia without reference to the authoritarian reasons.

(See the U.S. Government Report: https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/253157.pdf)

This State Department Report explicitly notes that, “the [Saudi] government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies.” Two protesters currently sit on death row sentenced to be beheaded.

  1. Donald’s Economic Interests

While the billions in trade deals (selling billions of dollars in arms to the Saudis whom he once charged with masterminding 9/11) were being celebrated, so was Saudi investments in America – $55 billion in defence, manufacturing and resource companies. Sales and investments also promised to bring more jobs to America. Less apparent was the fact that a close associate of Donald Trump, Hussain Sajwani, whose DAMAC Properties built the Trump International Golf Course Dubai, might be a big beneficiary.

  1. Saudi Middle East Peace Plan

Though the fifteen-year-old Saudi-led plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians had previously led nowhere, there were hints that the Saudis had modified their approach by offering Israeli recognition as well as trade and investment cooperation if Israel took positive steps towards peace – freezing settlements, releasing prisoners. The increasing surreptitious cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia in trade, security and even diplomacy has, in fact, provided the possibility of making the current period propitious for an advance toward peace, however unlikely that seems to be.

Israel and the Palestinians

At this time, virtually no one with any in-depth knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict expects any breakthrough on the conflict. This is especially true of the Palestinians. Some still believe that Palestinian stubbornness on the “right of return” is a, if not the, major impediment. In fact, there is a deal in the backdrop which allows Israel to ensure its demographic Jewish majority while giving a nod to Palestinian honour. Since there are agreements in place for trading territory and various resolutions are thrown about in dealing with the 80,000 Jewish settlers outside Area C in the West Bank, the problem of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel versus East Jerusalem serving as a capital of a Palestinian state still seems insurmountable. Could that problem be bracketed and a peace deal agreed upon on the other issues?

  1. Orthodox Jews were already suspicious when an unknown rabbi purportedly gave permission to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner landing in Saudi Arabia after the sun had set for the beginning of shabat.
  2. Donald Trump arrived in Israel against a background in Washington where he let the Russians know that intelligence had come from Israel.
  3. Former MK Moshe Feiglin, former leader of Zehut, criticized the $110 billion dollar-weapons-deal signed by Donald with Saudi Arabia.
  4. Netanyahu had to order his ministers to meet Trump at the airport; extreme right wing members recognized that they could not win Trump’s endorsement for a one-state solution based on Israeli victory.
  5. Netanyahu welcomed Trump to the “united capital of the Jewish state.”
  6. Donald Trump, whatever the huge range of his ignorance and inadequacies, does have a keen ear for identity politics and an ability to appeal to that side of Palestinian political concerns. In the past, efforts to strike a deal based on Palestinian self interest have failed. Would Donald be able appeal to their identity concerns?
  7. Recall that in February, Trump suggested that he, and the U.S., were no longer wedded to a two-state solution, even as the State Department reaffirmed that the U.S. still supported a two-state solution. Only a bare majority of Israelis continued to support a two-state solution and the support among Palestinians had dropped to 44%. However, it was not clear whether Trump had dumped the two-state solution or whether he was holding out that possibility if the Palestinians refused to bend and compromise. In his dealings with Israel, he was much clearer that he continued, for the present, to support a two-state solution, but it was also clear that it would not be based on a return to the Green Armistice Line, though Trump disdained the use of a label to characterize the solution without clarification of any content.
  8. When Donald Trump went to Bethlehem to meet Mahmud Abbas, he was greeted with a banner declaring Trump to be a man of peace: “the city of peace welcomes the man of peace.”
  9. Donald Trump did urge Palestinians to refrain from inciting violence.
  10. Trump broke a taboo and flew directly from Riyadh to Tel Aviv.
  11. Trump broke another taboo and, as U.S. President, visited the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, but without any Israeli politicians.
  12. He also reinforced Netanyahu’s propensity to demonize Iran as Trump insisted that Iran would never be allowed to make nuclear arms in the same week that a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, had just been re-elected as President of Iran.
  13. On the other hand, Trump did not announce moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem as he had promised.
  14. Further, Trump asked Netanyahu to “curb” settlement expansion, but did not ask for a freeze on building housing units in existing settlements.

The Vatican

  1. Instead of building bridges, as Pope Francis favoured, the Pope had criticized Trump’s promise to build a wall on the Mexican border during his campaign.
  2. Trump in return had called Francis “disgraceful.”
  3. Pope Francis, a critic of climate change sceptics, openly advocated adopting policies to deal with climate change. (Francis gave Trump a copy of his encyclical on preserving the environment – of course, there is little possibility that Trump will read it).
  4. Francis is also perhaps the best-known world figure who identifies with giving a helping hand to the poor, with compassion for refugees and, in a Ted talk, he had urged the powerful to put the needs of the people ahead of profits and products.
  5. Francis and Trump did not end up in fisticuffs, but the half-hour visit appeared to be a downer for the Donald and certainly for Sean Spicer, a Catholic, who never got to meet the Pope; the background of the Manchester terror attack did not help, though Trump is all sentiment when children are killed and riled up when terrorists do the killing.

Brussels

  1. The visit to the heartland of globalism was bound to depress the Donald, especially when the UK placed a curb on sharing intelligence with the U.S. since Washington leaks could have compromised the investigation of the Manchester terror attack.
  2. The release of the CPO discussed yesterday did not help.
  3. Donald lectured other members of NATO – totally ignoring the progress made towards the 2% of GDP to be dedicated to the military; he claimed other members owed “massive amounts”; “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying.”
  4. The combination of ignorance and bravado earned some open sniggers from a few European leaders but more frowns.
  5. Donald did not say that NATO was obsolete or dysfunctional, but neither did he pledge America’s unconditional fealty to NATO as required under Article 5 dealing with collective defence and the requirement that each member come to the defence of another.
  6. Donald was mostly left to wallow in his depressed isolation.

The G7

  1. At the G7, Trump lost the control he had exhibited in the Middle East and even Rome.
  2. It is difficult to say whether this was because of events back in Washington – John Brennan’s testimony that there definitely was Russian interference in the election and “possible” collusion because of Trump campaign officials contacts with the Russians, the breaking news of Trump possible obstruction of a criminal probe when he urged his intelligence chiefs to announce that there was no evidence of collusion, and the continuing parade of information that the Trump budget would be disastrous for Trump’s working class white supporters, or whether it was a result of events at the G7, or some combination thereof.
  3. First, while Trump refused to commit to the Paris Accord on the environment, he bragged that he won two environmental awards. And he did – for soil erosion control and preserving a bird sanctuary on one of his golf courses and for donating park land to New York State. Donald did not add that the first on the golf course complemented his self interest and the second was a way to get a charitable donation for land on which he was refused permission to build a golf course. Further, as one drives on the Taconic State Parkway through Westchester, you are greeted with large signs advertising the approach to Donald J. Trump State Park, but one finds the park is small (436 acres of woods and wetlands) relative to the signs, lacks any amenities – trails, parking, washrooms and picnic areas – and is uncared for (overgrown pathways and buildings deteriorated and covered with graffiti) since Trump never donated the money needed for its maintenance.
  4. President Xi of China told Trump that the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord would be irresponsible.
  5. Was America’s pledge to commit $2 billion to the Green Climate Fund alive or would Trump issue an executive order this week cancelling the American commitment?
  6. In turn, European leaders lectured Trump on the fallout for the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Accord – a wave of international anger that would lead to retribution, declining trade with the U.S. and destroy the last shred of trust in Washington; withdrawal would be treated by the world as “diplomatic malpractice” and characterized as betrayal; Trump had delayed an announcement before he arrived at the G7 and, perhaps, might allow U.S. state interests to take precedence over fulfilling his wild and destructive promises.
  7. Europeans tried to educate Trump on globalization and trade policy, but there was little indication that they had made a dint in his thinking. However, a private meeting with Justin Trudeau seemed to indicate that Trump would not scrap NAFTA, but would work to iron out wrinkles. On the other hand, the Europeans rejected out of hand his plea for bilateral trade deals instead of multilateral ones.
  8. The Donald was sabotaged in his effort to deliver French President Emmanuel Macron his traditional macho pull and handshake. Macron, instead of greeting Trump first, let him stand there, as he planted cheek kisses on Angela Merkel, greeted several others and then, having been briefed, subverted Trump’s effort and even pressed his hand harder and longer and would not let Trump pull away.
  9. When all other leaders are seen chatting informally with one another as they look over an iron fence at the spectacular view, Trump is nowhere in sight. Instead of walking there with the others, he went in a golf cart. When he arrived, he was surrounded by a phalanx of security men and only then joined the group and appeared to dominate the conversation.
  10. When Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, as host of the conference, addressed his fellow leaders, all leaders had on headphones and listened – except Donald Trump, sitting two seats away, Donald without headphones sat looking vacantly at the table. Perhaps no one can understand Italian as well as he can.
  11. Trump had been gone too long from living in what he owned and projected his possessive individualism. Was it the requirement of collegiality that made him slip from his vacuous demeanour at the Vatican to his glumness in Taormina, Sicily?
  12. There was a media dustup over whether he referred to Germany as evil or bad, and, if “bad,” as seems to be the case, did he mean the situation in which Germany finds itself, specifically with respect to refugees, or did he mean German political policies were bad?
  13. The meetings confirmed what Angela Merkel had come to believe: a) that the U.S. was no longer a reliable ally on which Germany could depend; b) American current policies on trade and climate change were disastrous.
  14. Trump had gone from dancing with swords in Riyadh to dodging darts at the G7.

The trip overseas marked the U.S. loss of leadership in the Western world and threatened America with negative repercussions because the Europeans had linked action on climate change with trade policy. Trump managed to keep his head above water in this overseas trip as he escaped the domestic closing in on the administration in its fourth month in office, but only by moving America towards disastrous policies that would be economically and politically detrimental to the U.S.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman