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O say can you hear? Or are you a log?

bog?! What course can you steer, to exit this


B T he D I S S E N T I N G






18 JUNE 2012

The Honourable ...................., M.P. House of Commons Ottawa

s c ow l i n g s e s s i o n i n p ro g r e s s s n e e r i n g , d i s m i s s i n g , c o nt e m p t , g low e r i n g DA R K LY , STA R I N G AC C U S I N G LY , MOCKING,


a n y c o m b i n at i o n t h e r eo f



EAR HONOURABLE MEMBERS. When the news came that your vote on Motion no. 312 was delayed until the fall, I must admit, I heaved a sigh of relief. I heaved it as far as possible and, in the process, emptied my lungs so thoroughly that I could not breathe. But I have not been asphyxiated by this problem yet and return now, after recuperating, to my tale. One might think it would be done by now; one might wish it to be done ( on that point, believe me, I am with you) . One might wish the vote taken. But duty, my friends. We cannot be done whenever we want. Thank goodness I have you to confide in, when so many around me are washing their hands of the f o u l i s s u e the very instant it turns f o u l . We cannot say, ‘I have had enough of this wretched topic’ and just turn away. We who have obligations are not Lords and Ladies, whose reason to be done with a thing can be nothing more than that they w i s h to be done with it. Only a pampered aristocrat employs ‘wretched issue’ as a Principle of Decision. Proper government, as we well know, takes work, and that there is more work in this wretched issue, you know better than all of us. For why else does it keep flying back, except that there is mor e t o i t ? Of course, it could be that the people who keep flinging it back, after it has been flung away, are witless oafs driven by ignorance. Ha ha - kidding! I know you better than to project such a view upon you; you have not stepped forth to lead the country out of contempt for those you lead! No, you are ready to acknowledge ( of this I am sure) that the people calling out for justice - Justice for the unborn! Reproductive justice! - are not utter and complete boobs. Each one has some view of things to which they are committed ‘ideological views’, some would say, that are thus entirely unfit to undergird public policy ... which, as a matter of fact, leads straight into the next instalment of my story.


ne evening I was relaxing in the comfort ( such as it was) of my home ( such as it is) when several sharp raps on the door shattered the quiet. “Is this the D i s s e n t i ng F u t ? Out of there F U T , you meddler!” These were the words

that roared in as I cracked open the door. I opened it wider and there before me was an old college friend, Mr. ja m e s m cfa d d i ng t ono ’f l a d d i ng t on. How did he know? How had he learned of these letters, and how had he traced them to me? The jig was up, I thought. But then ... what was the jig? I was soon to get the lowdown. “J I M M Y , my friend, long has it been since we have chewed cud together. Come in for a brew,” I said with trepidation. “No,” he replied. “I drink with friends, I drink with foes, but the presence of fools offends my nose, thus interfering greatly with enjoyment of good drink. We’ll take a walk first and see if you are fit to drink with, which I very much doubt.” And thus it began, our ramble of discovery. But how had he learned I had been writing to you? It was soon clear, owing to certain phrases he employed, that he had actually read the letters. Was it, I have wondered, one of you who shared them with him? More than one among you might well know Jimmy, as the m cfa ddi ng t ono ’f l a ddi ng t on s are a prominent family deeply involved in our nation’s politics. If indeed it was one of you who took him into your confidence, I hasten now to thank you, as we had an informative chat that I will not soon forget. If ever. It is the m cfa ddi ng t ono ’f l a ddi ng t on s whom we must carefully listen to, as the e x i t from our swamp most certainly depends on them. I M M Y counted out the Five Points of edification he said I was most in need of, folding each point down one by one until they formed a fist. Which he then allowed me to have, in the following manner.


“You think you are Helping, don’t you? You think this is Helpful to people ... this ... whatever it is you imagine you are doing.” “Do you think these MPs n e e d you ? They don’t need you. Their job is to represent their constituents, not listen to you. Most people in

this country are satisfied with things exactly the way they are, and the MPs know this. It’s their job. They know their constituents and they will cast their vote; they will r e p r e s e n t their constituents. I know that comes as a shock to you, you noxious pox on the political process.” I was shocked indeed by that: a pox on the process? But I was mystified. How was communicating with you, as I have done, interference with our system? I did not think your minds had to be protected from discussion, information, and (the horror ) influence. Goodness knows, you expose that delicate organ left and right ( to your in-box, newspapers, novels, movies, the internet, ...). I hoped the explanation would follow and, sure enough, it did. As to the other remark, about the mind of the nation, I was somewhat chagrined. I had no knowledge that permitted me to claim, as Jimmy had just done, t h a t ‘ most peop le in this country are sat i s f i e d w i t h t h i n g s j u s t a s t h e y are’ - but I was aware that all the m c fa d d i n g t o n o ’ f l a d d i n g t o n s possess such knowledge by heredity. As for myself, I knew nothing of what the country thinks about these matters and I had done nothing to check, having blown all my time looking into facts and listening to people who knew something about what they were speaking of. Dear Members, how I would like to know your secret: how do you do it - k now what the country wants, l e a r n the minds of your constituents? y this point I was already feeling a tad deflated and we sat down on a bench, while Jimmy continued. “You think you are Hidden behind a veil of neutrality. You imagine that no one can see what you are up to, because of your earnest-nerd schtick. Yes, you have been so supremely clever, with this ‘gosh-and-golly-wherever-do-I-stand’ routine, that no one, you think, can see what you are doing.”


“What am I doing?” “You know.” “I confess I do not.”

“There, you are at it again!” - This continued for long enough to bore a dead squirrel, as I know because the dead squirrel in the road opposite our bench rolled over several times in agony, crying ‘Stop it!’ For your sake, I cut to the chase. Reader, please believe that I was not being coy in my plea of ignorance. I was ‘up to’ ( if we must put it that way) a hundred different things, and what mattered in this instance was what Jimmy thought I was ‘up to’. He said, “Clearly, you are Anti-choice and are only

There was t ru t h here, in what James had said. I had done a l l t h at h e h a d s a i d , done i t a l l - this was now clear to me - and it had driven us apart. This man, my friend, though seated on a bench beside me, was sitting very far away, across a great divide. We stared at each other, across that gulf, in opposition. I had done all that he had said, but did it mean, as he had said, that he and I were op p on e n t s ? - Could I say anything at all, in reply to him, that would not confirm to him my pa r t i s a n s h i p and op p o s i t ion t o what he considered to be right?

too, that you think we should think through?

of thinkingjustice-through? And do you really think the only issue of justice I care about is justice for the unborn ( because of my ‘continual reference to the humanity of the fetus’ and my ‘exhaustive embryology coverage’) ? All I am doing, in all of this, is considering the reasons why some people say ‘Forget this’ and others say ‘Don’t!’ All that concerned me was trying to understand the people who keep insisting that this issue will not go away. Are they right or are they wrong?” A r e w e no t b o t h de f e n de r s

“James, you must understand this, if you are a humanitarian, as I know you are. In this country does it surprise you? - we have p eople. Y e s , shocking, a country F U L L O F p e op l e , all over the place. And these people

pretending to entertain Pro-choice viewpoints so that you can t r a s h t h e m .” “Do you think they are fools,” he went on. “If you think they are actually r e a di ng your rag then the only fool here is you. The only ones who would bother are those already in agreement with your perfectly obvious sympathy for the right. As for the rest, if all is well their staffer - not them, but the kid working for them - will take one look at your screed and sail it straight into the wastebasket, where all this tedious lobbying belongs, because even that kid will clearly see that this is just more half-baked, Antichoice pa r t i s a n s h i p .” I looked at him dumbfounded. “My dear man, this puzzles me very much. I am Pro-life and Anti-choice, you say: but what is it that reveals this to you?” Now it was Jimmy’s turn to be shy: I could get not a word out of him.


o is that it,” I asked, “is that all you have? Some generalized suspicion about my views that puts you ( I gather) on the l e f t , and me ( you say) on the r ig h t ? It seems to me that you are satisfied when you have done no more than identify w ho i s on O N E s i de and w ho i s on t h e o t h e r - so that we can scowl at each other in silence, as you are now doing, scowling at me! Is that your idea of our p ol i t ica l p ro c e s s ?” ( I could picture oddly quiet days in the House of Commons.) “No,” I continued ( as I had hit on a ploy to break his silence) , “you are reluctant to cite the specific evidence that in your mind betrays my position, because when you do so, you know that what you cite will be evidence not of my rightwardness but of your feverish habit of reading-things-into what I say.” My plan worked. Rather too well. “Well then, genius, don’t say you didn’t ask for it. O n e , that you want to talk about this at all; t w o , your obvious sympathy for and comprehensive treatment of the Motion’s rationale; t h r e e , your continual reference to the humanity of the fetus, with your exhaustive embryology coverage; f o u r , that you are a man, anxious to butt into a woman’s business; f i v e , that whenever you, out of your great largesse, treat the concerns of your opponents, you quickly default to ‘logical minutiae’ rather than the emotional reality of conscience-stricken actual women; s i x , your conspicuously absent critique of the appalling tactics of the Pro-life movement busing teens in to March for Life, the High Moral Tirades, the guilt-tripping, and all the rest of it! People can see you coming from miles away, you pa r t i s a n !” hung my head. But then I quickly lifted it, thinking I would now be accused, s e v e n , of emotional manipulation. Was this t h e j ig ? And was it u p ?


b e l i e v e t h i ng s

“James, it seems to me that you just spoke to me - yes? But why? Why come to my door?” He looked at me with an expression I could not gauge, but said nothing. “If I am u p t o s om e t h i ng , in what I am asking you now, this very minute - that is, if I am being devious and partisan, and trying to manipulate you into agreement with me, as I was doing, you said, with the MPs - then why should you listen to me? Why stay and listen? What good could possibly come of it?” As his silence persisted, I said, “If we are just pa rt i s a n s across a divide, you will expect me to spout more partisan nonsense, and, indeed, that is all I will be capable of. But is what I am saying right now more pro-

life drivel?” “I don’t know what it is,” he said. “It is m y r e s p on s e to what you have said to me, because we are ta l k i ng t o g e t h e r , not pelting each other with labels. It is what I say back to you because I have heard you. I don’t know if you will believe that I have heard you, or if you can believe that a person such as you take me to be could hear anyone but his own kind! My friend, I am of no kind but one - of your kind. I am a partisan of t h i n k i ng , just as you are, because you t h i n k , as I know very well.” “Because I am talking to you,” I went on, “you know that I see you as a defender of thinking, a partisan of thinking. I don’t label you an opponent and write off all you say: I hear you; I am listening! And it is not pa r t i s a n s h i p to think together, because the opposite side to that ( refusing to think, no t t h i n k i ng ) is nothing, no side whatsoever! We reject it absolutely, together!” In the heat of my speech I stood up. “You do not understand that I do not have a p o s i t ion on this issue. You do not understand the first thing about me. You think you have been given all these signs, so that you k now w h e r e I a m g oi ng , on account of all these clues I have dropped - but you have no idea! Clue: ‘That I want to talk about this at all’, you say. But why do I? What are my reasons? There is a question of j u s t i c e here, which I want to think through. Yes, I ‘have sympathy for the rationale’, I admit it - but what have I admitted? That there is a question of j u s t i c e , which we ought to think through! And don’t you admit it with me? Is there not a question of j u s t i c e here for you,

- are they nuts? - no, that’s what people do! They believe things, and they get in each other’s way, and we have to figure this out. And you don’t do that by flaring your nostrils and ta k i ng a p o s i t ion .” “God save us,” I continued, “from the p o s i t ion s ! P e o p l e believe things for reasons, and that is where you start: with the people, who believe things, and w h y . You need to hear the people, and a l l t h e r e a s on s they bring you. And for this you need patience of infinite dimension, because you will be tempted, before you are done, to ta k e a p o s i t ion and start treating these people as dupes and minions of t h e w rong s i de .” “This is not a country inhabited by i s su e s . This is not a land of e t e r na l v e r i t i e s dangling over us in the sky. It is a country of people, who believe things, and if we bother to uncover the root of those beliefs we shall soon find out that sometimes, dammit, people actually k now t h i ng s about life, for reasons that are not an unfathomable mystery. Well, let’s take the trouble. This is not too hard for us. It is not in heaven, that we should say, ‘Who will shoot up there to snatch the answer?’ Let’s hear what people have to say. But if I start with group A, then you call me a partisan! Well, I started somewhere: with Mr. VALEUR-DE-BOIS and Motion 312.” “Jimmy, my friend, you should believe me when I say what I am about to say. I have never said anything with more earnestness. I may seem sure about this bit or that bit, but the story isn’t over, and if I knew what all the bits would add up to, where all of this were heading, I would say so, and I d o no t . I will know what I am - Pro-choice, Pro-life, or something different - in the end. But now?” Suddenly, words spoken by the PM in years past returned to me, unbidden: “I ’ve always said my views on the abortion issue are complex , I don ’t fall into any of the neat polar extremes on this issue .” Sir, I have wronged you. Once I blamed you for those words, which I called devious. Could you not show your colours and label yourself? But now I had come to see things differently! Friends, I shall break off here: my companion that day had much yet to say, but I must leave all that for another time. I am, etc. 11

D i s s e n t i n g f u t i l i ta r i a n . b l o g s p ot. c a

Dissenting Futilitarian no. 5  

Issue 5 of an epistolary newspaper addressed to Canada's Members of Parliament