Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dec. 17: The Quiet Revolution of the western world.

This is not about the Irving press. And it is not about religion, though it may seem to be. It is about moral behaviour which, very often, has little to do with religion. Morality is about what keeps a society alive and workable. A lack of it demolishes a society into chaos, suffering, and extinction.

I confess that, as a child, I spent much of my time in church. I can't say I was all that religious. We had an old bible in the house but, except for a burst of enthusiasm when I was 15 or so, I rarely looked at it. But we, like millions of other Canadian families went to church every Sunday for both morning and evening services (my parents sang in the choir). And our social life -Wolf Cubs, Boy Scouts, a wrestling club, movies, stage events were all in the church basement. They had to be. Those years were hard times, and we couldn't afford anything else.  The leadership was all by volunteers; my father was a scoutmaster.

Girls had similar experiences in Girl Guides and Canadian Girls in Training (or, as we called them, Canadian Grandmothers in Trousers).

In later years, we had a little more money, and I joined something called Young People's Union, an almost purely social group in a downtown church that the rich still went to. (It's now a wing of the art museum in Montreal.  That's where I first met really rich girls, and where I learned to intensely dislike them.

I would later learn that my Jewish friends had almost identical experiences through the synagogues, usually under the sponsorship of B'Nai Brith. In short, us kids didn't go to the church for lessons in morality. But we were soaked in the atmosphere of it, anyway.

The first thing to disappear was the Sunday evening service. That happened in the 1940s as the only other source of free entertainment, the radio, made Sunday evening its prime time. Indeed, the Sunday evening shows like Amos 'n' Andy, Bob Hope, Jack Benny were so popular that some movie theatres interrupted the film to air those shows.

By the 1960s, television finished the job of destroying the Sunday evening service.

Social activities in church dwindled, too, as more money came around after the war. People could afford to go to commercial entertainment, even to go to restaurants and lay out a quarter for a hot dog as if it were nothing. Volunteer leaders disappeared, too, so they could watch TV or go to clubs.

The churches became largely irrelevant -and empty. Take a look at the grandest of the church buildings in Moncton. most of them are over a century old, or close to it. Yes, there are some nice, modern churches. But those very big and old ones were built when Moncton had a much smaller population. (And they were filled in those days.)

With the influence (or, perhaps atmosphere) of the church gone, people did not become immoral, just amoral- with no sense of what morality is or means. And so the world entered that moral vacuum we call "consumerism."

Enter Ayn Rand. An atheist, though born into a prosperous family, she was one of those who regarded being rich as her right, and had no interest in helping anyone who wasn't rich. Not surprisingly, she was not happy with the Russian revolution. In 1922, she fled to the US, making a living as a writer.

The novel that brought her fame was Atlas Shrugged, a novel that advocated what she called 'objective egoism' - that is, one should think only of oneself, that we have no obligations to each other. That was a new (and very brief) morality that came to be known as 'Randism'. The best economic system for this, she thought, would be laissez-faire capitalism - that is, wealthy individuals acting with complete freedom from any regulations or laws.

Overwhelmingly, philosophers and other scholars, even far, right-wing ones, were not impressed by Randism. Indeed, many intellectual leaders even of the far-right, like William Buckley, thought her arguments were full of holes.

But the leaders of big business ( who are wiser than philosophers and scholars) thought this was hot stuff, and they impressed it on the minds of fellow deep thinkers like Ronald Reagan and George Bush Jr. That has made it a powerful influence in  political thinking in the whole, western world.

Christian and Jewish morality had long ago become a vacuum. Now, here as a morality to fill the gap, a morality that really meant no morality at all. It required nothing from anybody, except personal greed. And it was beautifully adapted to a world of consumerism. Above all, it gave big business a moral reason to do whatever it wanted without the slightest consideration for the effect on others.

Mind you, even big business didn't completely agree with Rand. For example, Rand's morality defined evil as any violation of the rights of others, particularly if force is involved. In fact, through, so-called laissez-faire capitalism routinely relies on force to violate the rights of others. It does it with wars (which is why Rand opposed the Vietnam war), with secret police, with torture, with corruption and bribes of governments, with ownership of newspapers to spread their propaganda.....

Rand's ideas are the ideas of a girl born to rich parents. She was concerned only about herself, and had no sense of what is required for a society to survive. (I dated a few of the type). Her ideas are shallow, and full of obvious contradictions. But hers is now the almost official morality and almost the only morality of the western world. It's no coincidence that the rise of poverty around the world, the widening of wage gaps, the lowering of taxes for the rich.....are part of the age of Randism.

A moral code, whether religious or secular, is essential to the survival of a society. You can get by without one if you're a crocodile. But that's why there have been no great, crocodile civilizatons in history.

Randism is the justification of ignoring climate change, of murdering millions all over the world, of the rise of a wage gap so wide in the US that 46,000 million Americans depend on food stamps to stay alive. It's the justification for privatizing health care, and so making it impossible for most people to afford it.  It justifies the intrusion of private business in our education systems, all so they can be used to make the very rich richer. It has been the justification for free trade with special "rules" so big business can avoid the law and taxes  while putting all of us in danger. Randism is the political religion which has created immense poverty and hunger all over the world, including a western world which, not all that long ago, was posperous. It has placed us now on the edge of a nuclear war.  Randism is a guarantee of suicide for our civilization.

A society doesn't have to be religious. But no society survives without a moral code Randism is not a moral code. Not only is it a confused hash of ideas; it's shallow and it's ignorant of the social reasons to have a morality at all.

And it's the moral code of the Irving press.

When Rand died, her admirers put a farewell by her casket. It was six feet high - an arrangement of flowers in the shape of a $,


  1. Darn, I thought I had nailed the name of the phenomenon that you were describing and that I had witnessed happening in Canada in the last few years: "Harperism"

    Alas, I have now been enlightened that Steve apparently wasn't original in that too. Apparently just as he, I mean, his speechwriter (the one with the Ph.D., the one who had to be thrown under the bus, for the "mistake") had plagiarized that speech of Howard, the Aussie Premier, it seems that this is "Randism" ..... not Harperism. I will have to remember that. ;)

    With what Danielle Smith and her merry band of Wildrosers have pulled, which had been called many things including amoral, immoral, unethical, contemptible, etc. by many, including people in the grassroots of Wildrose itself, does this mean that Alberta is a "randy" Province?

    Seriously though, thank you for a very nice article that has connected the dots for me. Somewhat similar to you, the Christian brothers in my high school days had drummed in a lot of values, values that I wonder how people like Steve Randy, sorry, Steve Harper, a Christian no less, does not seem to espouse?

    1. Alberta is, indeed, a Randist province. They are rich by virtue of sitting on a pool of oil, and have deluded themselves into believing their wealth is entirely due to their own efforts.