Hall of Infamy

In times of distress and uncertainty, many of us turn to respected leaders from days of yore to find solace or encouragement from their words.  A number of their declarations deservedly occupy a place in the hall of fame for inspiring messages.

But I have often wondered if there might be a hall of infamy for utterances that do just the opposite: reveal hateful philosophies that denigrate and belittle the spirit of humankind.  Goodness knows, there is no shortage of despicable characters from our history to whom we might turn for such messages.

We might think, for example, of Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Al Capone, Mao Zedong, Lenin, even Caligula.  All men, they made many dystopian claims during their respective reigns of terror.

A small sampling of these follows—

What good fortune for governments that the people do not think.

To read too many books is harmful.

A lie told often enough becomes the truth.

Make the lie big [and] simple.  Keep saying it…eventually people will believe it.

The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.

Politics is saying you are going to do one thing while intending to do another.

Vote early and vote often.

Death is the solution to all problems.  No man, no problem.

One death is a tragedy; one million deaths is a statistic.

It is true that liberty is precious; so precious that it must be carefully rationed.

Religion is the opiate of the masses.

I don’t care if they respect me, so long as they fear me.

despots

Any search on the internet will turn up dozens and dozens of such statements by these men and others.  And it’s interesting to note that those who said these things might have actually believed them.  Even if we find their sentiments monstrous, they could have been telling the truth as they saw it.

Or, conversely, they might have been deliberately making such utterances, knowing they were false, to further their own ends.

But what of today?  Are there statements like these being made in our own time, perhaps believed by the person uttering them, even if misanthropic and obviously false?

Let us consider this next sample in the context of the coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping the planet—

Looks like the story was an exaggeration…Fake News…

It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control.

One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.

We’re doing a great job with it.  Just stay calm.  It will go away.

I felt it was a pandemic before it was called a pandemic.

If somebody wants to be tested right now, they’ll be able to be tested.

I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute…is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?

We’ve taken the most aggressive actions…the most aggressive by any country.

Cases, Cases, Cases! If we didn’t test so much and so successfully, we would have very few cases.

Now we have tested almost 40m people. By so doing, we show cases, 99% of which are totally harmless.

Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won.

We’re on our way to a tremendous victory. It’s going to happen and it’s going to happen big.

How likely is it, do you suppose, that the person who made these statements truly believed them at the time they were uttered?  Could anyone in a major global-leadership position be that deluded?  That ignorant of science?

Or perhaps he knew what he was saying was false, but did it anyway to advance his own agenda.  Could that be so?

Each of us must make of it what we will.

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The bigger problem, of course, is that the person who has spoken these words is the democratically-elected leader of more than 330 million people—just a tad more than four percent of the planet’s population—whose nation is presently being overwhelmed by almost twenty-five percent of Covid-19 infections in the world.

More tragically, at the time of writing, the number of deaths is almost one-quarter of the worldwide total.  One-quarter!

All this from a country ranked first in the world in 2020 in GDP (gross domestic product)—presumably the best-equipped nation to deal with such a crisis—yet only the fifty-eighth safest nation in the world in the face of the pandemic.

So bad is the situation that four of the fifty states of the union occupy spots in the list of top-five world nations for Covid-19 infections.

When future generations seek an explanation for all of this, they may well focus on leadership—or its absence—at the very highest level.  And they may study carefully the statements made by the man at the pinnacle, some of which were listed above, to ascertain how effectively he grasped the dire situation, owned it, and set about to vanquish it.

If so, they may have to look no further than this remarkable statement from that very man—

I don’t take responsibility at all!

For the Hall of Infamy, I nominate…

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Philosophy 101

Philosophy 101 posed an interesting question:  If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to witness it, does it make a noise?

“Of course it does,” one person might answer.  “Noise is governed by the laws of physics, regardless of human presence.”

“Not so fast,” another person might argue.  “Sound waves from any source emit no noise on their own.  It is only when they are received that those waves generate noise.”

Which, if either, is the correct answer?  I’ve heard persuasive arguments mounted on both sides of the question, but I’ve always been struck by the impossibility of being able to prove either position.  One cannot be simultaneously there and not-there when the tree falls in order to determine if it makes a noise.

And it probably doesn’t matter, anyway.  The tree fell.  Who cares?

tree

Here’s another question:  If a person is unaware that (s)he is doing wrong, does the action still constitute wrongful behaviour?

“Of course it does,” one person might say.  “The concept of right and wrong is an absolute, and ignorance of the wrongfulness is no excuse.”

“Not so fast,” another person might argue.  “The concept and definition of right vs. wrong are not universally-accepted.  They are ethnocentric, based upon cultural and religious teachings, only some of which might overlap.”

Here once again, as with the first question, one might shrug off the relevance or importance of the answer.  We already know bad things often happen to good people, so what difference does it make if they are the result of unknowing wrongdoing or merely random happenstance?  The result is the same.  Who cares?

Well, the answer to this second question, I believe, does matter, indeed.

I’ve been thinking a good deal about this since beginning work on a novel, my fifth, which has as its backdrop the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls currently underway in Canada.  Researching the subject leads, inescapably, to a list of similar situations—the forced sterilization of Indigenous women, and the forced relocation of Indigenous children and their enrollment in residential schools, to cite but two examples—both undertaken as official government policy well into the twentieth century.

res school

Most Canadians now, I think, see these actions for what they are: atrocities.  To those who don’t, I would simply ask, “What if they were to come for you, or your children, tomorrow?  Because of your skin-colour, perhaps.  Or your religious beliefs, your sexual orientation, or your political stance.”

Governments today, federally and provincially, are apologizing and attempting to make amends to the descendants of those who were victimized.  Some Canadians, it is true, believe such efforts are unwise and unnecessary, given that it was not we who committed the deeds, but our predecessors.

It begs another question:  Why should we be held accountable for the actions of people who died long before we were even born?

In answering this question, it’s instructive, I think, to try to determine if those actions were wilful or merely misguided.

Did those in authority in that earlier time think they would somehow improve the Anglo-Saxon bloodlines of our populace by sterilizing Indigenous women to prevent the birth of what some of them termed defectives?

Did our predecessors know—even as they did it—that they were wrong to uproot children from their families, to send them far away, to inflict the terrors of residential schools upon them?

Or, were they just trying to do the right thing, what the orthodoxy of those imperialistic times demanded, the assimilation of conquered, native peoples into the colonial mainstream?

“Of course they were right,” one person might claim.  “They weren’t monsters!  Many of them were clergy, nuns, teachers, all doing what they believed to be right.”

“Not so fast,” another person might say—especially a person of Indigenous descent.  “They were rapacious invaders who took everything from our forebears—their land, their culture, their language, and their children.  Would they have considered it right and just, had the tables been turned?”

I suspect the truth lies, to some extent, in both answers.  Surely there were good and faithful people among the newcomers who believed they were doing God’s will, just as there were avaricious adventure-capitalists, determined to seize the riches of the new land for king and country (and their shareholders).

But the fact is, most Canadians today have come to a realization that those actions were wrong, regardless of motive.  Even if the best among our predecessors were unaware they were acting wrongfully, their actions still constitute wrongful behaviour by today’s standards.  And, they were knowingly carried out with government approval under the banner of Canada—under an authority that endures from generation to generation.

kid

So, here is a fourth question:  If hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people who lived in territory under the jurisdiction of Canada were severely mistreated by their government, and if no one alive today was there to witness it, does it matter, and should the government of today be held to account for those misdeeds?

The answer to this last question will not be found in Philosophy 101.  But I choose to believe you and I, if we seek the truth, will find it.

Within ourselves.