About Your Author

Ask anyone who’s suffered through (who knows, perhaps enjoyed?) being a subscriber to my Facebook timeline, my Twitter feed or my Google+ stream and the reason my nom de plume for this blog is “PassionateObserver” will start to become clear. I’m interested in a lot, don’t feel particularly restrained about commenting on it, and like to share with others.

But about me: I’m a baby boom generation Canadian, born in Toronto, who has lived in Ontario, British Columbia, and outside Canada in Connecticut, USA, and The Netherlands. LinkedIn can show you more about my career and what employees, colleagues, clients and fellow travellers have said about me. My degrees are in Philosophy, with an emphasis on the Philosophy of History, and I tend to work from a phenomenological starting point. I’m also an accredited Cognitive Edge practitioner, which means I use complexity science in my thinking.

I love history — often my posts will include some, because I do think you need to know some relevant things from the past to judge the present situation and potential futures properly — and, unsurprisingly, that makes me what I call a red-green tory politically, a position for which you’ll find no party and no party leader standing up and saluting. “Tory” because I believe our society has inherited much of value from the past, that we would be well-advised to consider carefully before running out to rip up, replace, change or toss on the ash-heap of history, and that we have a duty of care for this to pass it on to future generations, well-tended. Change is often more necessary in institutions — they are always in need of reform, but reform to bring them back into line with the purposes they were established to fulfil from our traditions. Traditions, too, need change, but more slowly and carefully. So I’m big on the “conserve” part of “conservative”.

But I’m not a right-winger as we know them today. I do believe in individuals and their liberties, and want smaller, less intrusive government powers because our institutions of governance have become far too intrusive upon each of us. “What that state does, it should do well and in fairness, but it should do nothing it need not do” is at least a starting point for me. On the other hand, other big institutions in society require equal restraint, so I’m not anti-regulation and I certainly do not think governments should be in bed with other big institutions (so I don’t support “deals” with unions, corporations or other governments, in general).

As I put individuals first, I tend not to be a supporter of “group rights” — indeed, “with rights, come responsibilities” and if you want to assert a right you had best tell me what obligations you accept and fulfil that come with that, or I’m really not disposed to spend effort on your “right”. But also, because I put individuals first, I tend to be in favour of the small and the local over the big and global.

I do believe it is part of the reason we have more than purely minimalist government to prepare the way for the future: from the decision to open the Canadian West with structure and police already in place, to building the transcontinental railways, to building out distinctive Canadian media, we have used governments to handle being a land with a lot of geography and not many people. So I’m in favour of good infrastructure and investing in it, and investing in people. That’s the “red” part.

I also believe that only a fool fouls their own home. (We have a lot of fools on this planet, apparently.) I am aware that the science around climate change continues to evolve, and, indeed, I’ll circulate thoughts from both the “we’re killing the planet unless we act now” side and the “we forgot about this and so the models aren’t sound” side because good scientific enquiry is about study, experiment, discovery and challenging testing, not merely adopting a position and telling everyone else “shape up or else”. Yes, there are theories that are so well established that to act as though they’re wrong is to, Wile E. Coyote-style, expect to hang in mid-air in defiance of gravity. (Hint: it doesn’t work.) Evolution is one such. So is TANSTAAFL (“there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”).

But it seems to me that there’s no need to foul the air with carbon compounds if there are other forms of energy that could be used than hydrocarbons; there’s no need to dump waste products if better system design allowed them to be used; to build big structures that lack resilience if decentralised, local systems can be built. That’s the kind of “green” that fits into me.

As for the left-right nonsense (why we still worry about where factions sat in a U-shaped structure during the French Revolution is beyond me), all I can say is that progressives find me regressive, and right-wingers find me far too classically liberal for their corporatist-populist hearts. But I enjoy “not fitting in”, so I’m fine with that too.

My regular topics I study include our energy resources and deployment, our economy, our society, politics (which to my mind is “the ethics of group action” and therefore worth thinking about even if the political system and what it throws up leaves me cold most of the time), and of course from a professional point of view I must think about how organisations function and how technology plays its part. I have a passion for transit issues, and never think of citizens as voter, consumers or taxpayers (which may explain why I’ll toil in the ditches of despair thinking about politicians). I’m not a scientist, but I do a fair bit of reading about science, and I’m not religious, although there’s barely a week goes by I’m not looking deeper into one or another faith’s thought. “I am human; what we do interests me.”

Bruce Stewart

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  1. A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS: OR THE DEVALUATION OF WISDOM
    BY LEN SIVE

    In today’s globalized market, where things, or ideas that can eventually produce things, are the only real global currency, the ancient Greek concepts of episteme (systematic knowledge) and sophia (wisdom) hold little value. In the US, both conservatives and liberals alike increasingly view education as merely a means to an end and not as an end in itself, i.e., as the way to deepen, enhance, and “heighten” life through the passionate and life-long pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty—regardless of their market value. In other words, education, as we have known it in the West now for over 2500 years (called “the liberal arts”), has been reduced from wisdom and the joy of discovery (including self-discovery) to mere job-training and job-seeking. Wisdom has been set aside for the single-minded pursuit of profit and (therefore) power. And in the process, humanity has forsaken its true home in the realm of the sublime, which alone makes life worth living, in order to embrace instead the intellectual vacuity of vocational education. And along with this fundamental change in the purpose and conduct of education goes any chance of forging an ordered, well-regulated, rational society and government: For a people without rationality can never govern itself wisely.
    Ever since Socrates, education was meant to counter the nihilism of a person wrongly valuing riches, fame, sensuality, and power in order to rightly value the passionate and life-long search for truth, goodness, and beauty, a quest begun here in this life but continued into the next. From Socrates and the great Greek tragedians (among many others) have come that wisdom which is cathartic in expelling vice and ignorance, and which has been handed down in unbroken succession in the West—until now—for over two and a half millennia.
    But with conservatives, foundations, think-tanks, and CEOs stressing education simply for jobs; universities stressing increasing profits; and liberals stressing education merely for the glorification or indulgence of self; the passionate and life-long search for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, which has given western civilization its Homer and its Sophocles, its Shakespeare and its Dante, its Goethe, Newton and Tolstoy, among others too numerous to mention—these monuments to intellect, goodness and beauty are no longer forming, or informing, our youngest minds. And the result, if finalized, can only be a permanent desiccation of their intellect and soul that cannot but make life even more difficult and more troubling both for them and for society than it already is.
    A Liberal Arts education is the one true oasis in the desert of specialization and job-training. It is literally what men live and die for—what makes life worth living. Without it, we become merely obedient and clever dogs—we can (for either government or employer) run on cue, chase our tails, and bark at shadows…but most assuredly we cannot think—not as human beings should think, and were created to think. Humans alone share this ability to think, this capability, with God (“man was created in the imago Dei,” in God’s image), and it is this, the thinking of “divine” thoughts, that separates us humans from all other creatures on earth. For only we can aspire to and sacrifice for truth, give of ourselves to others out of goodness, and create works of indescribable and lasting beauty—that can wring tears from our souls, expressive of life’s deepest and most profound meanings.
    But so little does this view of education obtain today that one is tempted to say that it is dead—moribund it most certainly is, but in many places, alas, also dead… and buried. And if this is true in the US, with its long and storied history of liberal arts, that once turned our European barbarian ancestors of earlier ages into more civilized human beings, and along the way gave to humanity (and not just to the West) democracy, the rule of law, justice tempered with mercy, constitutions, the separation of powers, universities, hospitals, the arts, philosophy, the theater, opera, mathematics, literature, science, inter alia—one must expect it to be true a fortiori in Asia where there is no millennia-long history of liberal arts to draw upon, and where technology, and the use of technology, now passes for “culture.” But lap-tops, cell phones, and TV are not, nor can they ever become, the equal of a Shakespeare, a Plato, a Bach, or a Michelangelo.
    In Korea, e.g., where I now live and teach, and where the traditions and wisdom of a Confucius or a Buddha seem largely forgotten (or where remembered, so watered down as to be of virtually no help for living), education, as in so many other Asian countries, is merely for the sake of obtaining a well-paying job, period: And test-taking is the sole means to that end. Education in Korea, put in classical Greek terms, is mere, and only, techne (Gk. skill), not a broader search for truth, understanding, or general principles with which to guide one’s life by, let alone a passionate love of and devotion to truth and wisdom in order to bring joy and peace to one’s soul, and to make a contribution to one’s family, community, nation, or the world. As we know from Socrates, education was to reach through the individual to the larger community in which he lived. It was never intended to be an idiosyncratic (private) pursuit which could not help, directly or indirectly, one’s fellow citizens on the path and pilgrimage of Life.
    So strong is the idea in Asia in general, and Korea in particular, that education is simply for jobs; and so willing and eager are Koreans to pay high fees in order to achieve this positive job-result, that offering to teach education for free, as I have done, simply for the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty for their own sakes, is taken to be either a sign of madness or incompetence or else a subterfuge for baser motives. For no one here takes the western liberal arts view of education seriously. The life of the mind here (as our great teacher Socrates instructed us as to how it should be) in Korea is a “dangerous idea”, just as it was in Greece for Socrates himself (who was accused of “corrupting the young” and “introducing new gods” and was executed by Athens as a result—he, Socrates, the wisest and best man of his time according to Plato).
    There is indeed nothing so dangerous, so revolutionary, so upsetting, both to families and to governments, than an individual’s life-long, single-minded devotion to the pursuit of truth, and the living out, as best one can, of a life of goodness, supported by deep and passionate attachment to beauty (in its various guises of poetry, piety, art, architecture, empathy, self-giving love, literature, etc). Forget the dangers of revolutionaries like Marx. Nothing in history has proven to be more dangerous to the status quo than a person who can think—truly think—for himself. As tyrants like Kim Jong-Il of North Korea know only too well, you can kill the body but you cannot kill an idea—and so it is with ideas—especially ideas of justice, goodness, and righteousness—that make every tyrant’s soul tremble the most. (This trembling, of course, being but a foretaste of divine judgment.)
    The whole revolutionary idea of Western culture, of the liberal arts, may be conveniently summed up in the extraordinary words of Jesus: “The truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) Alas, there are many among us who choose to continue to live in prisons of their own making. And when they do so, they thereby encourage tyrants, like Kim Jong-Il, to make prisons for their bodies as well. For prisons of the mind inevitably and necessarily lead to shackles for the body. Only the Truth can set man free.

    If this interests you, Bruce, I’d like to engage in a dialogue about differfent aspects of our culture and our dying civilization. –Len Sive
    Lensive@hotmail.com

  2. I have no memory of writing to you, Bruce. Someone took this piece off the Internet and pretended that it was me who sent it to you. It was not.

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