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Posts Tagged ‘clash of ideologies

[BRIEF NOTE] On the need to cultivate our gardens

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As Canada seems to be heading for an unpleasantly personalized trade war with Trump’s United States and as I and most of my friends in Ontario are dealing with a provincial election that made the decidedly discreditable Doug Ford Jr. premier–perhaps we are being unfair; perhaps The Globe and Mail‘s 2013 investigation suggesting that Doug Ford sold hashish in the 1980s was wrong–it would be quite easy to slide into despair. The world feels as if it is on the brink of general catastrophe, the climate changing and tensions rising and people fleeing disasters both human and natural by the millions with little apparent sign of anything changing for the good, and these things happen?

I keep coming back, though, these days to Voltaire’s Candide. More specifically, I keep finding myself caught by the very end of this novel, with its subtle ambiguities.

— Je sais aussi, dit Candide, qu’il faut cultiver notre jardin. — Vous avez raison, dit Pangloss ; car, quand l’homme fut mis dans le jardin d’Éden, il y fut mis ut operaretur eum, pour qu’il travaillât : ce qui prouve que l’homme n’est pas né pour le repos. — Travaillons sans raisonner, dit Martin ; c’est le seul moyen de rendre la vie supportable. »

Toute la petite société entra dans ce louable dessein ; chacun se mit à exercer ses talents. La petite terre rapporta beaucoup. Cunégonde était, à la vérité, bien laide ; mais elle devint une excellente pâtissière ; Paquette broda ; la vieille eut soin du linge. Il n’y eut pas jusqu’à frère Giroflée qui ne rendît service ; il fut un très-bon menuisier, et même devint honnête homme ; et Pangloss disait quelquefois à Candide : « Tous les événements sont enchaînés dans le meilleur des mondes possibles : car enfin si vous n’aviez pas été chassé d’un beau château à grands coups de pied dans le derrière pour l’amour de Mlle Cunégonde, si vous n’aviez pas été mis à l’Inquisition, si vous n’aviez pas couru l’Amérique à pied, si vous n’aviez pas donné un bon coup d’épée au baron, si vous n’aviez pas perdu tous vos moutons du bon pays d’Eldorado, vous ne mangeriez pas ici des cédrats confits et des pistaches. — Cela est bien dit, répondit Candide, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin. »

Project Gutenberg’s English translation accurately conveys the sense of Voltaire’s language.

“I know also,” said Candide, “that we must cultivate our garden.”

“You are right,” said Pangloss, “for when man was first placed in the Garden of Eden, he was put there ut operaretur eum, that he might cultivate it; which shows that man was not born to be idle.”

“Let us work,” said Martin, “without disputing; it is the only way to render life tolerable.”

The whole little society entered into this laudable design, according to their different abilities. Their little plot of land produced plentiful crops. Cunegonde was, indeed, very ugly, but she became an excellent pastry cook; Paquette worked at embroidery; the old woman looked after the[Pg 168] linen. They were all, not excepting Friar Giroflée, of some service or other; for he made a good joiner, and became a very honest man.

Pangloss sometimes said to Candide:

“There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds: for if you had not been kicked out of a magnificent castle for love of Miss Cunegonde: if you had not been put into the Inquisition: if you had not walked over America: if you had not stabbed the Baron: if you had not lost all your sheep from the fine country of El Dorado: you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio-nuts.”

“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.”

What did Voltaire mean when he had his hapless protagonist conclude, after years of travel and torture and witnessing the best and the worst that the world had to offer, that he and his friends had to join to “cultivate our garden”? When I was introduced to Candide, it was suggested to me that this final sentence represented Candide’s withdrawal from the world, that it marked the defeat of Candide’s optimism and a decision on the part of all concerned to secure some safety. It was only later, after I read Adam Gopnik’s 2005 essay in The New Yorker, “Voltaire’s Garden”, that I became aware of a different reading.

Against the horrors of religious cruelty and the emptiness of religious apologia, Voltaire proposes—what, exactly? Burton Raffel, the more daring of the two new translators, takes that most familiar ending, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin,” and translates it not as “We must cultivate our garden” but, startlingly, as “We need to work our fields.” (Raffel is a translator who doesn’t mind shocking his readers—his version of “The Red and the Black” was one long provocation.) His change of the book’s famous moral is obviously meant, in one way, to protect Voltaire from the charge of Petit Trianonism. After so much suffering, cultivating our garden seems too . . . cultivated. (“Crush the horror! Crush the horror!” Voltaire’s friend D’Alembert wrote to him once. “That is easily said when one is a hundred leagues from the bastards and the fanatics, when one has an independent income of a hundred thousand livres!”)

But Raffel is wrong, surely, in thinking that by cultivating one’s garden Voltaire meant anything save cultivating one’s garden. By “garden” Voltaire meant a garden, not a field—not the land and task to which we are chained by nature but the better place we build by love. The force of that last great injunction, “We must cultivate our garden,” is that our responsibility is local, and concentrated on immediate action. In the aftermath of the tsunami, William Safire argued that this “surge of generosity” actually “refutes Voltaire’s cynicism,” as expressed in “Candide.” Yet American charity is not a refutation of Voltaire’s cynicism; it is Voltaire’s cynicism, an expression of the Enlightenment tradition of individual responsibility that he promoted. Voltaire was a gardener and believed in gardens, even if other people were gardening them. His residual optimism lies in that alone.

The horror that Voltaire wanted crushed, cruelty in the name of God and civilization, was a specific and contingent thing. His satire of optimism is in this sense an optimistic book—optimistic not only in its gaiety, which implies the possibility of seeing things as they are, but also in its argument. Voltaire did not believe that there was any justice or balance in the world, but he believed that bad ideas made people bad. The villains in the book are not, as in Samuel Johnson’s exactly contemporary and parallel “Rasselas,” the fatality of the world and the mortality of man. The villains are the villains: Jesuits and Inquisitors and English judges and Muslim clerics and fanatics of all kinds. If they went away, life would be much better. He knew that the flood would get your garden no matter what you did; but you could at least try to keep the priests and the policemen off the grass. It wasn’t enough, but it was something.

This reading appeals to me. Is the world at risk of burning down? Fine: Surely there must be something we can do, locally at least? If not the world, what of our country, our province, our city, our neighbourhood? What of the other communities, geographically dispersed or united by shared commonalities, that we belong to? Even if nothing can be done to change the great impersonal sweep of world events, we can still do things locally. It’s just a matter–“just”, I know–of finding something, some angle, some corner.

This is not meant only for others, mind. It’s for me, too. I try to garden. I’ve a garden right now, in fact.

Peonies growing over garlic in the night #toronto #dovercourtvillage #gardens #garlic #flowers #peonies #pink #night

What should I cultivate, I wonder?

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Written by Randy McDonald

June 11, 2018 at 12:00 am

[NEWS] Twelve 2018 Ontario general election links (#onpoli, #elxn2018)

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  • John Lorinc at Spacing takes a look at Ontario’s “crazy-ass” election and warns about what a Ford government might do, based on Toronto precedents.
  • blogTO reports on a house on Dupont at Franklin, in the Junction Triangle, that has a fantastic political lawn sign display.
  • “General Zod for Ontario Premier”, indeed. The National Post reports on some imaginative signage.
  • Mitch Potter reports from Egansville, a small town in the Ottawa Valley in eastern Ontario, to look at some of the causes of Ford’s strength there.
  • Peter Biesterfeld at NOW Toronto reports on the fear of many that Doug Ford could be an even worse version of Mike Harris.
  • Robyn Urback suggests that, had the Liberals under Wynne tried to position themselves as thoroughly centrist, they might have had a chance. CBC has it.
  • Rob Salerno wonders at Daily Xtra if the unpopularity of Kathleen Wynne, a politician whose policies are popular and being substantially copied by rivals, has anything to do with homophobia.
  • Will Kathleen Wynne be able to keep her riding of Don Valley North? The jury is still out there. The Toronto Star reports.
  • The riding of Guelph may well be where the Green Party of Ontario will elect its first MPP. The Toronto Star reports.
  • Meagan Campbell takes a look at Andrea Horvath, and her journey from working-class Hamilton to NDP leadership and perhaps beyond, over at MacLean’s.
  • Tim Harper takes a look, two decades later, at the controversial NDP government of Bob Rae. Does it still cast as much of a shadow over Ontario? The Toronto Star has it.
  • Steve Munro takes a look at the idea of uploading the Toronto subway system to Metrolinx, and at the many ways this Doug Ford proposal would make things terribly complicated.

[NEWS] Five Canadian politics links: Doug Ford, Kathleen Wynne, Canadian citizens, Three Percenters

  • Doug Ford hired a crowd of actors to pretend to be supporters. Is this astroturfing a sign of American influence on Canadian politics? The Toronto Star reports.
  • Andrew MacDougall at MacLean’s argues a question tossed off in passing by Doug Ford to Kathleen Wynne, asking where she lost her way, resonates at a deep level about her government. The article is ,a href=”https://www.macleans.ca/opinion/doug-ford-nails-kathleen-wynne-to-a-losing-way/”>here.
  • Steve Paikin wonders about the extent to which an unvoiced homophobia may be contributing to the low popularity levels of a Kathleen Wynne who, herself, has not done much outright wrong. His TVO blog has it.
  • NOW Toronto is entirely right to recommend people born Canadian citizens take witness, at least, of citizenship ceremonies for new Canadians. I can testify that it really is moving.
  • The Three Percenters are the latest nativist social media-driven militia group in Canada, worthy of attention and concern. CBC reports.

[NEWS] Five links on populism: Doug Ford and Ontario, Randy Hillier, California, Italy

  • Sabrina Nanji takes a look at the reasons why the populism of Doug Ford is doing so well this year, over at the Toronto Star.
  • Andrew MacDougall at MacLean’s argues that, to win, Doug Ford needs to find some sort of change that he can champion.
  • Edward Keenan takes a look at the (I would say) nearly ridiculous amount of rural populism Conservative MPP Randy Hillier crams into a single tweet, here at the Toronto Star.
  • John Cassidy at The New Yorker points to the many ways that California, despite Donald Trump, is pointing away from his brand of populism.
  • If, as Foreign Policy suggests, the fragmented and mercurial and populist political scene of Italy is something that will be followed by Europe if not the wider West, we will have problems.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Anthro{dendum} links to a roundup of anthropology-relevant posts and news items.
  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait shows how the impending collision of galaxies NGC 4490 and NGC 4485 has created spectacular scenes of starbirth.
  • Centauri Dreams notes the upcoming stream of new observatories and satellites that will enable better charting of exoplanets.
  • Kieran Healy shares a cool infographic depicting the scope of the British baby boom.
  • Hornet Stories shares the amazing video for the fantastic new song by Janelle Monáe, “Pynk.”
  • JSTOR Daily notes what happens when you send Frog and Toad to a philosophy class.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money makes the obvious point that abandoning civil rights of minorities is a foolish strategy for American liberals.
  • The LRB Blog shares a reflection on Winnie Mandela, and the forces she led and represents.
  • The Map Room Blog links to detailed maps of the Rohingya refugee camps.
  • Marginal Revolution takes issue with a proposal by Zeynep Tufekci for a thorough regulation of Facebook.
  • The NYR Daily notes how Israel is making full use of the law to enable its colonization of the West Bank.
  • The Planetary Society Blog’s Emily Lakdawalla reports from inside a NASA clean room where the new InSight Mars rover is being prepared.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer talks about what is really wrong with a Trump Organization letter to the president of Panama regarding a real estate development there.
  • Strange Company looks at the life of 19th century fraudster and murdering John Birchall.

[NEWS] Five First Nations links: Louis Kamookak, Mohawk, Taushiro, jewelry, Elizabeth Warren

  • Inuit oral historian Louie Kamookak gathered vital information in the recent recovery of the ships of the Franklin expedition in the Arctic. The National Post reports.
  • A journalism class at Corcordia University is assembling a multimedia project to try to help the Mohawk language. Global News reports.
  • The older article from the New York Times tracing the sad life of the last speaker of the Taushiro language, from the Peruvian Amazon, is tragic. The article is here.
  • Jezebel notes that many recent migrants to New Mexico have, in their production of jewelry incorporating indigenous themes and materials like turquoise, harmed indigenous jewelers.
  • I have to agree that the continued insistence of Elizabeth Warren that, contrary to all manner of genealogical proofs, she can lay claim to a Cherokee ancestor speaks poorly of her. If she has problems with facts as applied to her family … Jerry Adler writes here.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Centauri Dreams shares a cool design for a mid-21st century Triton landing mission.
  • Crooked Timber argues American conservative intellectuals have descended to hackwork.
  • D-Brief notes the surprisingly important role that eyebrows may have played in human evolution.
  • Dead Things notes how a hominid fossil discovery in the Arabian desert suggests human migration to Africa occurred almost 90 thousand years ago, longer than previously believed.
  • Hornet Stories notes that biphobia in the LGBTQ community is one factor discouraging bisexuals from coming out.
  • At In Media Res, Russell Arben Fox gives a favourable review to Wendell Berry’s latest, The Art of Loading Brush.
  • JSTOR Daily explores the connections between Roman civilization and poisoning as a means for murder.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes how the early 20th century American practice of redlining, denying minorities access to good housing, still marks the maps of American cities.
  • The LRB Blog notes how the 1948 assassination of reformer Gaitan in Bogota changed Colombia and Latin America, touching the lives of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Fidel Castro.
  • The Map Room Blog notes that Spacing has launched a new contest, encouraging creators of inventive maps of Canadian cities to do their work.
  • The NYR Daily notes a new exhibit of Victorian art that explores its various mirrored influences, backwards and forwards.
  • At the Planetary Society Blog, Jason Davis explores TESS, the next generation of planet-hunting astronomy satellite from NASA.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel shares photos of planetary formation around sun-like star TW Hydrae.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that a combination of urbanization, Russian government policy, and the influence of pop culture is killing off minority languages in Russia.