April 14 1980


April 14 1980


Something of value

Since our institute has some claim to being a Canadian pioneer in the field of ethics studies (Life and Death Ethics, March 17) and because our approach is somewhat innovative, your readers may be interested in learning about it. We see the current crisis as double-edged. Technology has indeed given rise to urgent ethical problems, but another and more ominous side of the equation is that the sources of human self-understanding, upon which effective judgments must be based, have almost completely dried up. If we are to treat human values as real, we must first believe that we are capable of being motivated by something more exalted than the carrot or the stick. Today, however, morality is widely regarded as a mere function of material conditions and, as such, to be explained (away) by methods more appropriate to the study of physics. Thinkers in both the East and the West have seen the love of justice and truth as part of the human endowment and, indeed, as morality’s wellspring. This is no longer taken seriously. Human nature itself has become a dirty phrase and the human personality reduced to what Sigmund Koch calls the hyphen between the stimulus and the response. The universal and peculiar value of the human can be proven neither by logic nor experiment. It can, however, become intelligible when viewed, historically and comparatively, in dynamic interaction with two other values: truth and freedom. This triad provides a key for the understanding and criticism of both personal and cultural development. It is this, as Epictetus said, that enables a man to look a

tyrant in the face. Human nature transcends time and culture sufficiently to enable useful comparisons to be made. The human mind is also quite capable of synthesizing diverse experiences transmitted through varying disciplines and cultures. A new kind of systematic study of the human is thus possible. It involves an inclusive mode of knowing and, since the notorious “fact-value gap” was originally opened up by too narrow a definition of knowledge, it will help to close it. Three international conferences have been based on this approach and Saint Mary’s will soon introduce courses for credit. We will continue to address urgent human problems in the total human context and in the light of the interdependence of truth, person-hood and freedom.


Squeeze plays

Squeezing the Middle Class (March 10) by Val Ross was a very good description of our economic dilemma. It was very refreshing and encouraging to see an expression of hope at a time when everybody is busy pointing to the future, with doom and gloom.


The most intriguing notions in Val Ross’s article on the embattled middle class come, in my opinion, in the first three paragraphs. They are that two people with a combined income of $21,000 should rightfully be able to buy a house and that the middle class “could and should ... buy a house, raise a family, improve their standard of living...” This is an idea I find odd, that the mere statistical inclusion of a couple in an

arbitrary income bracket creates for them the inherent right to something most of the world would consider a privilege. Do we really have the right to these things, or do we in fact have the opportunity and freedom to strive for them? It is the common belief that these things are a right that makes them so hard for people to accept the lack of them.


Your article on the middle class was obviously a response to what is a growing concern among our friends and associates. Living “from overdraft to overdraft” the way we do makes us unhappy with the pattern of our lives, but change seems impossible. What we and the people of Canada need are some practical solutions or ways of getting ahead. It is not enough to advise us to sew our own clothes or can our own foods. The middle class, by virtue of its unique position in society, deserves to be able to own a home; that, to me, is what the term middle class connotes. Our grandparents and parents left Europe to come to Canada to try to better their lives. Owning a plot of land should not be relegated to the dreams of oppressed peoples.


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I was moved by the myriad of truths in your article on the middle class. However, I feel that a closing feature of the piece should have been an interview with a Canadian couple, and I am sure there are many of them, who, having gone in over their heads due to credit cards and the great Canadian expectation syndrome, have finally had to face reality, consolidate their debts and accept a reduced standard of living under the firm hand of a debt counsellor. Chances are they sleep much better at night.


Casting stones

Why all the fuss? (Mother's Little Helper, March 10). If people object to surrogate motherhood on Judaic-Christian grounds, they do not make much sense. Did not Abraham, when faced with a similar problem, do what amounts to the same thing? Admittedly, because of the lack of technical know-how in those days, he was forced to do it in a somewhat different manner, by spending a night in a tent with an Egyptian maid, whereas the Delaware father was only allowed to act out

his fantasies in a medical clinic. Did the Delaware father break any of the Ten Commandments? I think not.


A fitting last hurrah

Thank you for your profile on that great Canadian lady, Judy LaMarsh ( Working on the Sequel, March 3). With dignity and courage she is putting her house in order. It is a fitting last hurrah for a very classy lady.


All of us will die, including the not-yetborn, a fact that we all seem to be peculiarly opaque about. The significant question is: how many of us will achieve Judy LaMarsh’s real beauty en route to death? Thank you for the tenderness of the verbal and visual portrait.


Magnum Force

As an old philosophy student may I say with a smidgen of authority that Barbara Amiel’s article on Hans Küng ( How to Be a Heretic and Still Live Comfortably, March 10) was bang on. I like her reasoning.


Some are more equal

It is refreshing and unique to find a man of Mr. Fotheringham’s background admitting that a stenographer is something one can be reduced to, but that the duties of her position would tax the mental capabilities of “high-priced” colleagues (The Exciting Adventures of Allan in Wonderland, March 10). Although it probably wasn’t what Mr. Fotheringham intended to convey, the message comes through loud and clear: stenographers and secretaries are undervalued and underpaid. But how about those high-priced colleagues?


Soul brother

I read Barbara Amiel’s review of Ronald Segal’s biography of Trotsky with admiration, especially so because of her reference to Tibor Szamuely, a friend of mine who died a few years ago in London, England, of cancer (No White Gloves in the Kingdom of Socialism, March 3). I am a recent arrival in Canada-landed immigrant—and it does my soul good to see such political sophistication and informedness in so outstanding a Canadian magazine as yours. Again, my congratulations on a fine review.