Sunday, December 28, 2014

Parting Words

"It is obvious to the whole world that a service is better than an injury, that gentleness is preferable to anger.  It only remains, therefore, to use our reason to discern the shades of goodness and badness." So wrote Voltaire in the eighteenth century.

In his television series and book, Civilization, Kenneth Clark elaborated on this theme: "I believe that order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction, I prefer gentleness to violence, forgiveness to vendetta. On the whole, I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable the ideology . . . I believe in courtesy, the ritual by which we avoid hurting other people's feelings by satisfying our own egos . . . Above all, I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals, and I value a society that makes their existence possible."

Clark, nevertheless, concluded his beliefs on a note of pessimism: "One may be optimistic, but one can't exactly be joyful at the prospect before us." This was in the 1960s.

And  three decades or so later, historian Eric Hobsbawm writing of the family, social and political institutions as the foundations of civilization: "Their future is obscure. That is why, at the end of the [twentieth] century, I cannot look to the future with great optimism."

Thursday, December 11, 2014

That "S" word again.

Among too many others, the word "sexist" trips off the tongue rather easily in this age of hyper-political correctness and sensitivity. The latest example comes from the Ontario Legislature. The issue at hand was a report from auditor general  Bonnie Lysyk critical of the government's handling of matters pertaining to electricity.

Energy Minister  Bob Chiarelli questioned the financial data in the report. "Why are my numbers more credible than hers?" he asked. "Electricity is very complex, is very difficult to understand. Some of our senior managers, in discussing these issues with some of the representatives of the auditor general's office, had the feeling they did not understand of some of the elements of it."

New Democrat leader Andrea Horwath claimed these remarks were "patronizing" and "sexist."  Progressive Conservative MPP Christine Elliott described the tone of Chiarelli's remarks as "completely condescending and sexist."

The Minister maintained that his criticism of the report was aimed at the auditor general's staff, not her personally. The auditor said she did not take offence at the comments, "I didn't even read anything into it."

When Premier Kathleen Wynne defended her minister, Horwath asked,"how can this premier, the first women premier of this province . . . not only support but pile on to this minister's arrogant and sexist behaviour."

Wynne's delightful reaction was to plead "Honest to God."