Marching into 2019

Each year about this time, Senior Discourse Contributor, Neil Cameron, provides friends and readers with a characteristically witty piece of doggerel musing on the passage and meaning of recent events. This year we find ourselves singing to the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers” and it goes like this:

Onward, green millennials, fearing global heat;

But the old and sceptic, aren’t much in retreat.

Cars must be el-ectric, driverless as well;

Couples on their bi-kes slick, driving trucks as well.

Onward green millennials, in Suzuki’s spell.


Onward, active natives, blocking all pipelines;

Trees get super-latives, trumping wells and mines.

Down with rich employ-ers, up with tribal pride,

Bring on hordes of law-yers, rising nationwide.

Onward active natives, surfing on green tide.


Onward tory Pre-miers, hearing voters’ groans;

Out with Lib’ral drea-miers, on their Chinese phones.

Ford fights carbon ta-xes, Legault limits pot,

Western NDP ax-is, sighs and joins the lot.

Onward tory Pre-miers, battles to be fought.


Onward profs in col-lege, fearing sullen mobs;

Not much seeking know-ledge, just in search of jobs.

Finding grounds for of-fense, now a classroom skill,

Aiding all the more dense, now enact their will.

Onward, profs in col-lege, some teach thinking still.


Onward, Marg’ret A-twood, and the Canlit horde;

Dreaming of book prizes, at the festal board.

Divers’ty’s their watchword, white males now all dead;

Prize money their pa-ssword, only few get read.

Onward, Canlit legions, begging still for bread.


Onward, pipeline buil-ders, oil sands workers, too;

Though new world bewil-ders, seen as witches’ brew.

Black gold just stays black lead, if not reaching ports;

Greens and natives now are wed, and blocking oil in courts.

Onward pipeline buil-ders, wailing at aborts.


Onward, Justin Tru-deau, no more fancy dress;

Trips have not won kudos, dance did not impress.

Once inviting masses in, swamped by refugees,

All have had their classes in his apologies.

Onward, saintly Justin, but less saintly, please.


Onward, all to-gether, Canada rolls on;

While we wonder whether, facing dark or dawn.

Join in Christmas so-ng fests , as at modest price,

We can bear these sma-ll pests, just by staying nice.

Onward bless’d Canad-a. humdrum paradise.

(Neil’s piece, along with his other historical essays are first posted on the Montreal e-journal, Prince Arthur Herald.)

The Notwithstanding Clause from Bourassa to Legault


Francois Legault, full of confidence with the surprising scale of his CAQ electoral victory, is currently threatening to make use of the Notwithstanding Clause to insulate his proposed immigration restrictions from court challenges. He may go through with it even in the face of substantial public opposition, particularly in Montreal. But if he does, I hope that the public debate will distinguish between arguments about the substance of his proposals from arguments about the ‘legitimacy’ of the Clause itself. It was introduced in the constitutional negotiations of 1982 as a quite defensible compromise feature of the Charter, both to avoid the kind of juridical absolutism that has caused so much grief in the United States, and to preserve the democratic powers of the provinces from oppressive federal centralization.

Even if one intensely dislikes some specific application of the Clause, that does not demonstrate that Canada would be better off if it could somehow be rescinded, unlikely in any case. Individual citizens or groups of citizens in functioning democracies may quite often find themselves disliking particular laws introduced by elected governments. including ones that they voted for. But that dislike is not alone justification for unlimited opposition, to the point of disobeying such laws. Both in the past and at present, this ordinary requirement can be obscured by deafening cries about ‘rights’, a word with unlimited possibilities for producing insoluble conflicts between clashing interests. It makes more sense to concentrate public support or opposition on the substance of the policies that appear to require the use of the Clause.

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The The Mortgaged Decade: 1998-2008 and the Long Hangover

On July 11, 2008, Countrywide Financial, a huge California mortgage broker, bankrupted. It was one of many financial industry blowups of that disastrous year. Bear Stearns had already collapsed in March, nearly bringing down its largest Wall Street investment banking rivals, even Goldman Sachs, and by fall epidemic devastation required multi-billion dollar government bailouts. But Countrywide, and its once-admired but henceforward reviled CEO, Angelo Mozilo, perfectly incarnated the financial folly and hubris of the whole preceding ten years.

Countless books and TV documentaries about the 2008 Crash have since appeared, full of explanations and accusations. The best ones have identified most of the proximate causes of the disaster, all including the proliferating ‘subprime’ mortgages and complex derivatives based on them. But most were deficient in providing historical context. The most dubious claim, made by many academic economists and governmental authorities, was that ‘no one had seen this coming’. In reality, lots of people had, including me, with a 2003 Policy Options article, ‘Risky Business and Rocket Science’, about dodgy ‘mathematical’ models to justify many dazzling baubles.

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Two Psychological Televangelists

Canada has long been an incubator of ‘public intellectuals’ achieving international acclaim, from Marshall McLuhan to Malcolm Gladwell. Lately, two academic psychologists have cast nearly all rivals for public attention into the shade: Steven Pinker, evolutionary psychologist, language theorist, and popularizer of science-based humanism, and Jordan Peterson, psychoanalytical analyst of of individual abnormality and political pathology.

Both have Montreal connections. Pinker was born here (1954), and studied at Dawson College and McGill, before parting for several American Ivy League appointments and settling into a Harvard professorship, Peterson, eight years younger, after growing up and beginning his college life in Alberta, took his Ph.D. at McGill, He spent some years of his own at Harvard, but returned to Canada to teach at the U. of Toronto. Both show some stigmata of their age cohort. Pinker is a baby boomer from the classic boomer years, those entering late adolescence in the great upheaval decade of 1965-75, while Peterson is from the tail end of the boom, he and others in this age group entering their university years as the radical fevers of the late 1960s, while still burning, were being accompanied by second thoughts and multiple disillusions.

Ever since the 1920s, psychologists and psychoanalysts have made a great noise in the U.S. as a secular or quasi-secular new clergy. Most of the older generation were e’migre’ Europeans, Freudian or near-Freudian. Throughout the century, bookstores, newsstand magazines, and even mass circulation newspapers featured regular pontifications from Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow, Bruno Bettelheim, Viktor Frankl, and Erik Erikson, all born around 1900. Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ invaded business courses in marketing; Bettekheim and Frankl drew on personal experience in Nazi concentration camps in theorizing about victims and their victimizers.  Erikson entranced some readers and exasperated others by providing ingenious but highly speculative interpretations of Martin Luther and Gandhi. Pinker and Peterson have probably outdone them all in at least immediate impact, however, able to reach a much wider audience through far more TV appearances and YouTube videos, Peterson having become an astonishing phenomenon on the latter.

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Tesla Technophilia and Little Miss Marker’s View

Tesla, Inc. is suddenly in deep trouble, with both its cars and its stock market valuation. Elon Musk has expanded far beyond the original Tesla Motors, created by two talented electrical engineers in the 1990s. They were eventually shoved aside by Musk, although they were responsible for putting Tesla on the map with the pretty ‘Roadster’ sports car, its design and construction drawing partly on the small but expert English Lotus company, while the Americans provided the electric motor and  associated components. But Musk, their largest investor, soon began to build a far larger operation, not just making cars, but working on steadily improving lithium batteries and other high tech products, growing in the last four years to over 37,000 employees (see the fascinating account, ‘The Making of Tesla; Invention, Betrayal, and the Birth of the Roadster’, Drake Baer, Business Insider, 11.11.14). But the firm, facing many technical and financial problems throughout its history, has been hit hard since the fatal and fiery crash of one of its cars testing the self-driving ‘autopilot’ last May, and Musk is now dealing with other failures, including a giant recall.

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The Year of the Pot: A Fantasia

On the eve of 2018, Senior Discourse Contributor, Neil Cameron pens his annual piece of satirical doggerel for friends and colleagues. This one can be song to the tune of the Mamas and Papas’ 1966 hit, “California Dreamin”.

Old taboos are down, and state gays are gay;

Pardoned by the Crown, Justin’s sunny way.

Natives cease to frown, star in P.M.’s play;

Marijuana’s coming, so provinces make hay.


It was Justin’s vision, in his bold campaign,

But did not envision, how he would attain;

So he drew young voters, he dare not disappoint;

Or they’ll turn to floaters, ceasing to anoint.


Quebec is still resisting, legal reefers’ lure;

Government insisting, for us no high bonjour;

Still would like a big tax, should demand increase;

Growers in their pot shacks, will greet new Pot Police.


Albertans don’t worry, lack Quebec’s alarms;

Wildcatters now hurry, to plant their dreaming farms.

Real estate’s declining, oil no longer hot;

To keep on gourmet dining, time to bet on pot.


Cash and pot will change hands, on pacific coasts;

Okanagan prime brands, are a special boast.

Speed boats filled with hash bricks, take their slice of pie;

Armed to prevent cash tricks, crews already high.


On Atlantic waters, more smuggling may return,

As Newfie antic potters, replace their fish with fern.

Nightly trucks in convoys, transfer leaf to boats;

Bringing bucks for old boys, all in US notes.


New taxes hit our lumber, as thump of Trump is heard;

But do not ruin our slumber, as all our loins regurd;

Our US trade may flourish, one export always sold;

We merely need to nourish, our Acapulco Gold.


The reefers go back aeons, but always in hot climes;

Brought joy to sweating peons, relief from tiresome times.

But never has the weed smoke, blown over wintry lands;

So pray it’s not a grim joke, a stink bomb in our hands.


If a bomb it proves, Justin will lament;

Unsure of his moves, sulking in his tent.

So-lution is found, on an evening wet:

Pot he must impound – it’s a carbon threat.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Neil Cameron, December 2017

Liberal Nationalism and Demographic Realism

Globe & Mail international affairs journalist Doug Saunders has just published a book intended to influence public policy, Maximum Canada: Why 35 Million Canadians is Not Enough (Knopf, 2017). Having already written a not entirely convincing refutation of the Europe-focused alarmism of writers like Mark Steyn about the impact of mass Muslim migration, Saunders this time concentrates on Canada, more on is its reception of new people of all backgrounds than about their composition. It presently looks fairly likely that Canada may slowly acquire several tens of millions of additional population over the coming century, just plugging along with roughly present immigration practices and domestic birth rates, but Saunders wants to see a more rapid and consistent growth policy, moving the country to 100 million as rapidly as possible. He offers empirical and theoretical arguments in support.

Most of the pros and cons of adapting such a course could be made in a few pages, but Saunders expands on the pros with two themes. The first is a selective history of the ‘failing’ quality of government policies from the 19th to the mid-20th century, nearly all years marked by large emigration, sometimes as substantial as the scale of new arrivals, with slow net domestic growth. The second is to portray even the more recent rapidly growing populations of the three or four largest Canadian cities as actually insufficient to provide the internal markets and domestic tax bases to maintain adequate services, thus making it very difficult, for example, for these cities to introduce much of the high-tech rapid public transport found in many large cities elsewhere.

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War and Remembrance Over a Lifetime

Almost half a century ago, I was spending three years in England, studying the politics of the British scientific elite in the interwar and World War II years. The great events of those years still haunted the country as a whole, but the interest of historians had also newly spiked from 1970, as the government had just decided, rather than continuing the past procedure of opening official archives year by year, thirty years after the files had been created, to release almost all those of the Second World War at once. This also led to new availability of previously restricted private papers of important figures, and to a flood of new memoirs and scholarly monographs..

Coming from McGill, I found myself in a very different intellectual atmosphere. Montreal university campuses were overwhelmingly preoccupied locally with the rise of Quebec political nationalism, internationally with the long Vietnam War. These concerns, combined with the huge expansion of student numbers as successive waves of baby boomers arrived, had been having great impact on the McGill history department; Concordia’s moreso. The youthful mood was frequently ahistorical, or anti-historical, diverting attention even from the two World Wars. Campus turmoil was also common in Britain, and the lively London newspapers were also soon giving lavish coverage to the Watergate uproar in Washington. But for the British in general, the two big wars retained a profound social meaning little seen in Canada outside Remembrance Day. Throughout the time I was there, not just in interviewing elderly Nobel Prize winners or taking notes from documents, but in conversations in pubs, I was repeatedly reminded of the 1930s, not as the time of the Great Depression, but as the years dominated by the rise of Hitler. by the failure of the League of Nations, by Chamberlain’s failed Munich agreement, and by the conclusion of the decade with the Hitler/Stalin pact, and the start of another World War.

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The Bright Countenance and the Obscuring Clouds

“… There is no reason now for listening, but rather for judging, pronouncing, deciding. There is no question concerning public life, in which [mass man] does not intervene, blind and deaf as he is, imposing his”opinions.”  

“…Whoever wishes to have ideas must first prepare himself to desire truth and to accept the rules of the game imposed by it.”

Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955) in Revolt of the Masses (1930).

“…In today’s climate, it’s all -too-easy to allow your views and outlook to be shaped by dominant opinion on your campus or in the broader academic culture….Think for yourself.”

From an open letter of advice addressed to incoming university students by a group of liberal professors teaching at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, August 29, 2011.

Milton formulated his pleasant description of scholarly activity a few years before he wrote Paradise Lost. It was a visionary ideal, not an empirical account; in the actual colleges of the early 1600s, there was bitter conflict between supporters of the absolutist Stuart monarchy and the champions of Parliament, culminating in civil war. There was also plenty of more general riotous behaviour, much of it drunken. Francis Bacon claimed that students were made violent ‘for want of sufficient maintenance’, a little like the debt problem of students today.

Nonetheless, it was widely understood that the pursuit of truth was the university’s fundamental concern, however temporarily wayward the paths to it. For almost three hundred years after Milton’s death, ‘the bright countenance’ in his mind’s eye remained the central justification of university life. But by the late 19th century, the very idea of truth itself began to be undermined by various European thinkers, and over the 20th century, these notions percolated through society at large. Also, as higher education has come to be regarded as an entitlement, colleges and universities have grown exponentially since the 1960s, changing in quality as well as quantity.

This combination alarmed the classicist and philosopher Allan Bloom, who became a bestselling author with The Closing of the American Mind (1986), his astringent portrait of higher education after the 1960s. But even he was surpassed in pessimism and penetration by the ‘elitist’ Spanish philosopher, Ortega y Gasset, who has had permanent and worldwide impact with The Revolt of the Masses, a book of less than 200 pages he published in 1930; in print ever since.

Reading Ortega with an open mind can be an uncomfortable experience for everyone living today, including those who try to dismiss him as ‘reactionary’. This labelling substitute for serious critical thought is exactly what he shows as hollow. His own truths are not subjectivist and relativist, but timeless, almost as mathematical proofs invented by Greek thinkers over two thousand years ago retain their validity forever.

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H. G. Wells and his Enduring Weapons of Mass Instruction

No writer of the 20th century has had, and still has, more influence on the public imagination  than Herbert George (always ‘H.. G.’) Wells (1866 –1946). But while becoming a world-renowned traveling public figure as well, no enthusiast for science as a new religion, and for a utopian and socialist reconstruction of all human society, had such an absence of practical effect, including on political leaders who often gave him public praise. He lived long enough to see the Second World War conclude with the two atomic bombings on Japan, and when he died a few months later, was an embittered man. His last and little-remembered small work was called Mind at the End of its Tether, in which he declared his disillusionment with the human race.

This bleak conclusion followed his last two decades of voluminous but hastily-written and instantly-forgotten books, pamphlets, and newspaper articles. The exception was his widely-read 1934 Experiment in Autobiography, delighting readers almost as much as his early and brilliant science fiction tales, and bringing him a gushing letter of praise from Franklin Roosevelt, which exulted ‘…our [sic] biggest success is in making people think.’ FDR was then creating his New Deal ‘brains trust’, which did somewhat resemble one of Wells’s many calls for the establishment of such expert cabals. But the need for ‘scientific planners’ was a popular commonplace in the 1930s anyway: American New Dealers and Soviet Communists could alike look back to such proposals from the French Enlightenment’s Henri de Saint-Simon, and even to Plato.

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