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Two Psychological Televangelists

Steven Pinker (left) and Jordan Peterson (right) Canada has long been an incubator of 'public intellectuals' achieving international acclaim, from Marshall McLuhan to Malcolm Gladwell. Lately, two academic psychologists have cast nearly all rivals for public attention into the shade: Steven Pinker, evolutionary psychologist, language theorist, and popularizer of science-based humanism, and Jordan Peterson, psychoanalytical analyst of of individual abnormality and political pathology. Both have Montreal connections. Pinker was born here (1954), and studied at Dawson College and McGill, before parting for several American Ivy League appointments and settling into a Harvard professorship, Peterson, eight years younger, after growing up and beginning his college life in Alberta, took his Ph.D. at McGill, He spent some years of his own at Harvard, but returned to Canada to teach at the U. of Toronto. Both show some stigmata of their age cohort. Pinker is a baby boomer from the classic boomer years, those entering late adolescence in the great upheaval decade of 1965-75, while Peterson is from the tail end of the boom, he and others in this age group entering their university years as the radical fevers of the late 1960s, while still burning, were being accompanied by second thoughts and multiple disillusions. Ever since the 1920s, psychologists and psychoanalysts have made a great noise in the U.S. as a secular or quasi-secular new clergy. Most of the older generation were e'migre' Europeans, Freudian or near-Freudian. Throughout the century, bookstores, newsstand magazines, and even mass circulation newspapers featured regular pontifications from Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow, Bruno Bettelheim, Viktor Frankl, and Erik Erikson, all born around 1900. Maslow's 'hierarchy of needs' invaded business courses in marketing; Bettekheim and Frankl drew on personal experience in Nazi concentration camps in theorizing about victims and their victimizers.  Erikson entranced some readers and exasperated others by… Read More

Tesla Technophilia and Little Miss Marker’s View

Tesla, Inc. is suddenly in deep trouble, with both its cars and its stock market valuation. Elon Musk has expanded far beyond the original Tesla Motors, created by two talented electrical engineers in the 1990s. They were eventually shoved aside by Musk, although they were responsible for putting Tesla on the map with the pretty 'Roadster' sports car, its design and construction drawing partly on the small but expert English Lotus company, while the Americans provided the electric motor and associated components. But Musk, their largest investor, soon began to build a far larger operation, not just making cars, but working on steadily improving lithium batteries and other high tech products, growing in the last four years to over 37,000 employees (see the fascinating account, 'The Making of Tesla; Invention, Betrayal, and the Birth of the Roadster' , Drake Baer, Business Insider, 11.11.14). But the firm, facing many technical and financial problems throughout it history, has been hit hard since the fatal and fiery crash of one of its cars testing the self-driving 'autopilot' last May, and Musk is now dealing with other failures, including a giant recall. Replacement of new company founders by an arriving later, more ambitious and financially powerful partner is a familiar business tale. Musk held from the start a vision of a future grand market for more varied and newer products still only imagined. Still, the projected auto business was the great jewel in the crown. He continued the development of bigger and better ultra-high-performance sports cars with astronomical price tags, powerful enough to be very appealing as 'muscle cars' (the instant high torque of electrical power provides breathtaking acceleration). Such vehicles are often given free publicity by movie star purchasers: Clark Gable and Gary Cooper bought Duesenbergs in the 1930s; George Clooney bought one… Read More

The Fall of a Texas Titan

March 31 will be exactly fifty years from the day Lyndon Johnson astonished the world by declaring that he would not run again for President in the coming November election. It was nothing like an anticipated retirement. No figure in American history had so passionately wanted to become President, won so large a first mandate, shepherded into force so many laws of enduring fundamental importance, and kept such narrow and firm hold on the reins of power throughout his years in office. His physical health was poor: he had had a heart attack t 47, and died of another one only five years later, when only 64. but he still appeared indestructible. Over six feet tall, imposing and sometimes intimidating, he devoured whiskey, steaks, cigarettes, sexual liaisons, and lesser mortals. When he had chosen to send half a million American troops to Vietnam four years earlier, he had declared that he would not be the first American President to lose a war, but that was what he was doing, even if it took another seven years for Nixon to complete the messy extrication. A master of professional politics, he had failed as a war lord. The familiar summary of LBJ's rise and fall has been that he was highly successful, even 'great', in introducing domestic policies, above all in civil rights and practical gains for black Americans, drawing on a combination of his own past Congressional expertise and the wave of idealism that swept the country after Kennedy's assassination. But he had fallen from grace, due to both the problems of the war itself, and to its public opposition, both magnified in impact by television. That leaves out a great deal. Johnson's ambitious 'Great Society' domestic policies were not just unpopular with unbending Southern white supremacists; they were widely disliked… Read More

Presidents, sacred texts, and their helpful scribes

Le bon Dieu n'en avait que dix! --George Clemenceau (1841-1929), 'Le Tigre', Premier of France 1917-1920, on Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, proclaimed on January 8, 1918. *** Donald Trump's National Security Strategy speech of December 18 contained some of his usual rhetoric, but was prosaic and conventional compared to his last standards. The speech was in a long tradition. American Presidents, far more than leaders of other countries, have repeatedly been fond of producing grand public declarations of principles in foreign affairs. The most famous, or notorious, appeared exactly a century ago: Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points. They somewhat resembled, as Clemenceau sourly observed, God's Laws brought down from the mountaintop to instruct the peoples of the world, but with more ambiguous impact. They did guarantee some permanent fascination with Wilson himself. Other such pronouncements, earlier or later, while also identified with the Presidents who made them, have usually been recognized as also revealing wider currents of ideas and the backstage advisers who helped form them: The Monroe Doctrine, for example, was in both theory and practice, more the achievement of John Quincy Adams and British Foreign Secretary George Canning than of President Monroe, and the recent one of George Bush was largely shaped by neoconservative policy wonks. But this backstage aspect has received less attention in the case of the Fourteen Points. Wilson was a PhD. in political science and prolific scholarly author, of books on government, the classic academic intellectual in public affairs. Nonetheless, his Points had been constructed with the aid of his own kind of brains trust, and reveal more about the American 'progressive' ideology of their time than of war and diplomacy in 1917-18. They have also cast long shadows in American dealings with the world ever since. Wilson's list included some straightforward war aims, like… Read More

The Year of the Pot: A Fantasia

  [May be sung to the air of 'California Dreaming']   Old taboos are down, and state gays are gay; Pardoned by the crown, Justin's sunny way. Natives cease to frown, star in P. M.'s play; Marijuana's coming, so provinces make hay.   It was Justin's vision, in his bold campaign, But did not envision, how he would attain; So he drew young voters, he dare not disappoint; Or they'll turn to floaters, ceasing to anoint.   Quebec is still resisting, legal reefers' lure; Government insisting, for us no high bonjour; Still would like a big tax, should demand increase; Growers in their pot shacks, will greet new Pot Police.   Albertans don't worry, lack Quebec's alarms; Wildcatters now hurry, to plant their dreaming farms. Real estate's declining, oil no longer hot; To keep on gourmet dining, time to bet on pot.   Cash and pot will change hands, on Pacific coasts; Okanagan prime brands, are a special boast. Speed boats filled with hash bricks, take their slice of pie; Armed to prevent cash tricks, crews already high.   On Atlantic waters, more smuggling may return, As Newfie antic plotters replace their fish with fern. Nightly trucks in convoys, transfer leaf to boats; Bringing bucks for old boys, all in U.S. notes.   New taxes hit our lumber, as thump of Trump is heard; But do not ruin our slumber. as all our loins regird; Our U.S. trade may flourish, one export always sold; We merely need to nourish, our Acapulco Gold.   The reefers go back aeons, but always in hot climes; Brought joy to sweating peons, relief from tiresome times. But never has the weed smoke blown over wintry lands So pray it's not a grim joke, a stink bomb in our hands.   If a bomb it… Read More

Liberal Nationalism and Demographic Realism

Doug Saunders and David K. Foot Globe & Mail international affairs journalist Doug Saunders has just published a book intended to influence public policy, Maximum Canada: Why 35 Million Canadians is Not Enough (Knopf, 2017). Having already written a not entirely convincing refutation of the Europe-focused alarmism of writers like Mark Steyn about the impact of mass Muslim migration, Saunders this time concentrates on Canada, more on is its reception of new people of all backgrounds than about their composition. It presently looks fairly likely that Canada may slowly acquire several tens of millions of additional population over the coming century, just plugging along with roughly present immigration practices and domestic birth rates, but Saunders wants to see a more rapid and consistent growth policy, moving the country to 100 million as rapidly as possible. He offers empirical and theoretical arguments in support. Most of the pros and cons of adapting such a course could be made in a few pages, but Saunders expands on the pros with two themes. The first is a selective history of the 'failing' quality of government policies from the 19th to the mid-20th century, nearly all years marked by large emigration, sometimes as substantial as the scale of new arrivals, with slow net domestic growth. The second is to portray even the more recent rapidly growing populations of the three or four largest Canadian cities as actually insufficient to provide the internal markets and domestic tax bases to maintain adequate services, thus making it very difficult, for example, for these cities to introduce much of the high-tech rapid public transport found in many large cities elsewhere. Saunders is a much better writer than his enthusiastic policy wonk supporter Irvin Studin, whose G&M review of Maximum Canada is a model of fatuous reasoning and bad… Read More
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