A Cure For All Diseases - Paul St. PierreMonday, November 10, 2008
Death is a cure for all diseases.
Sir Thomas Browne, 1605-1682
Death has been in my mind in the last couple of weeks. First I read Julian Barnes's
nothing to be frightened of and last night I finished Reginald Hill's A Cure for All Diseases. The previous Hill novel also featuring Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel was called Death Comes for the Fat Man. I have a friend who is rapidly divesting himself of his posessions and wants to be able to die with as little as he came into this world 86 years ago - nothing.
I was shocked then to open my Vancouver Sun this morning and see Paul St. Pierre's essay A Voice from the Grave's Edge. It is a rant but I considered a few things before I would dismiss it. And of course I didn't dismiss it. I had met Paul St. Pierre in November 1993 when I photographed him for an article in the Globe & Mail. St. Pierre had come to my house for his portrait session. We talked about our fondness for Mexico and our admiration for the Mexican concept of death - they live with death and don't avoid it. So I photographed St. Pierre (above, left) with a Mexican pottery version of the Last Supper.
Paul St. Pierre is 86-years old and obviously somebody in the Vancouver Sun wrote the headline for his piece for some reason. I sent an email to Malcolm Parry to see if he could confirm one way or another St. Pierre's situation. Mac's answer was typical:
I took him at his word. Mac
I hope the folks at the Vancouver Sun will forgive me for putting here the whole essay. I know that if I link it the link will disappear after a few weeks or months. Here is Paul St. Pierre's essay. If we are not to forget that the man is 86 and that at one time we showed a large measure of respect to those older than we are, you just might understand that there is some good sense under the obvious rant. Bless him.
A voice from the grave's edge
Paul St. Pierre
Special to the Sun
Monday, November 10, 2008
As life's end nears, two unpaid debts remain to trouble me. One is to my mother, who is not here to be paid, and the other is to my native land, which provided me a good life.
This is a payment, at least a token payment, to my country.
Few will read all this and fewer will heed. When Dwight D. Eisenhower left office he warned the Americans about the sinister power of the military-industrial complex. Had he been heeded, millions of lives would have been saved or made better, but nobody paid much attention. He was just an old president pegging out. Why listen?
So why should you listen to an old man on the way out, who can only claim to have been a fair newspaperman, a so-so politician, a Western-only novelist and a man no better than average as a wing shot? That's all right. This is not written for a lot of people but for those who are, at this moment, few. If this message reaches only one in 10,000 readers it was worth it.
Listen, I speak to you in the head, peoples.
Our Canada is now very close to a condition in which everything that is not compulsory is forbidden. We have become prisoners of the state. Like modern jail prisoners, all our needs for balanced diet, climate-controlled shelter, approved and tested medication, mental health counselling, higher education, suitable entertainment, grief counselling and consensual safe sex are available free. The inmate lacks only freedom itself.
When I was young, Canadians were born almost free; now we are born in manacles of silk and gold.
To the recent generations, this is hyperbole. I understand that. I also understand that young people cannot be expected to miss freedom. How can you miss what you never had? But a few of the old may remember and a few of the young might feel the tug of curiosity. I hope so.
Scarcely a day passes when our rulers do not devise some new law or regulation having the force of law, complete with fines and prison penalties. No one knows how many there are. Even the rulers couldn't find the number when they tried a few years ago. Suffice to say there are enough that everyone is a criminal now.
Here and there a free voice rings out. The Law Reform Commission of Canada quoted, in its first report, the old Roman senator, Cato: "The more the laws, the more the criminals." Even half a century ago, the commission recognized that there were already so many laws that nobody could know more than a few of them and that whether or not you are hauled into court to answer for a crime is not so much a matter of justice but a bureaucratic decision as to whether it seems productive to prosecute.
Among recent decisions we have accepted:
1. Our Supreme Court, repeating George Orwell, ruled that although all Canadians are equal before the law, some are more equal than others.
2. Thought Police arrived. They invent the crime which they investigate, invent the trial procedures and invent the penalties. Careers and lives have been ruined. Many more will be. Who now remembers that extraordinary woman, Queen Elizabeth I, who said it was not the business of the state to "pry into men's souls."
3. In the past 20 years we began a changeover from the British system of justice, in which every man is innocent until proven guilty, to the continental European system, often called the Napoleonic Code, in which the state obliges the citizen to prove innocence of anything the state may choose to suspect. A sample: If you have $10,001 in your pocket our rulers may simply take it and you will never get it back unless and until you prove you obtained it in a way the rulers consider suitable. In 2001 we got a gun control law under which citizens can be obliged to give evidence not only against their own family but also against themselves. Nobody seemed to much care. In Britain an ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) may commit some pranksome juvenile to prison, even though old British Common Law could not. In the United States you can be put in a cage for five or six years and never allowed to see a lawyer or learn what the charge against you is.
4. By the beginning of this millennium the shape of things to come was clear for those many Canadians, almost all of us, indeed, whose ancestors fled the Old World seeking freedom. Arbitrary rule, Star Chamber courts, class distinction, the creation of a courtier class who have almost exclusive access to the ears of the rulers, and finally the deadly dreary cult of political correctness.
5. Already ordinary people have learned to watch their tongues. This piece would be far more open and more honest were it not for the fear that some Oldspeak or Badthink would prevent it ever being printed. We are all individuals but because of our very individualism, we have permitted tyranny. Individualism does not nourish quick or concerted actions. We individuals drifted lazily into tyranny, accepting the view that the common people can never behave decently unless controlled by carrots and whips. James Madison, a framer of the U.S. Constitution, foresaw it. Americans, he said, could be depended upon to reject a tyrant who came against them bloody sword in hand, but they might surrender freedoms, one by one, to people who assured them it was for their own good. That is exactly what happened, in the United States as in Canada. The Americans try to disguise their wretched state of submission to the rulers by hooting and shrieking the word freedom, tossing firecrackers around and, most recently -- the supreme irony -- calling unconstitutional and oppressive legislation The Patriot Act. An American must bullshit. His health demands it. If he cannot bullshit a foreigner he will bullshit himself, but he has to do it.
6. There is worse. Americans now have revived practices of the Spanish Inquisition and permit their police to torture suspects to obtain appropriate "confessions." Where Americans lead, Canadians usually follow. Statism and totalitarianism, which we spent so much blood and money to fight in the Second World War and the Cold War, rise everywhere. They will keep rising until the private, secret impulse to freedom among individual men and women becomes a working majority. It will. First this majority will be silent and almost invisible. Then, overnight it will seem, it will emerge as a tempest which will sweep most of what we know today into history's garbage can, both the good and the bad. Blood will run.
Is there nothing we can do?
Of course there is, otherwise why waste this space?
1. Put no faith in any major political party. The allegedly profound philosophic differences among big parties are either trivial or imaginary. By their very nature big parties, like big newspapers, cannot lead, they can only follow what they judge to be public taste.
2. Act within small groups. You may be effective as a member of your local school board or Gladiola Society. You are unlikely to have an even detectable impact on a big political party as a voter or on a big company as an employee.
3. Soon we shall be permitted to walk around in our Canada only by carrying internal passports, a more elaborate document than the driver's licence which at present serves for control of the proletariat. What can one do? There is an answer. When internal passports become law, do as terrorists and gangsters do -- obtain more than one workable identity.
4. Try to increase the readership of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four and Animal Farm, and J.B. Priestley's Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited. If it did not violate a basic principle, I would urge these books be compulsory reading in our schools. Those were the most prescient writers of the 20th century.
5. Never forget this: Any government may lie, cheat, murder and steal, for "the public good."
6. Remember Canada is small and remember also that a big world power can never be a true friend of a small power. Read Tito.
7. Although family is a diminishing force and may continue to fade, it remains the best social organism ever known to mankind. Sacrifice for it.
8. Without losing too much sleep, join the underground economy.
9. Fight for the Internet. It may be our last, best hope. Oppose, evade or sabotage every state attempt to control it, yes, even at the cost of permitting such obvious social evils as racial bigotry or child pornography. It is the common man's strongest available instrument and will be the target of sophisticated attacks by all rulers.
10. Support the Canadian Civil Liberties Union. Future generations will see it as a lonely champion of liberty during long, dark years. When it supports a cause that you find obnoxious, trivial or dangerous, increase your donation.
11. Above all, beware of priests, particularly those persuasive ones in the evangelist movement who claim they are not priests. And if you think allegiance to one true God will solve everything, look at Northern Ireland and the Middle East and think again. Seek a world in which religion, like sex, is completely free but practised only in private. You may find it necessary to speak with the many but you can think with the few.
12. Never despair. Keep the faith. Despite Big Brother's awesome and growing power, in the still, dark and secret places of the soul, ordinary men and women retain hopes, dreams and high ethics. Out of that fathomless, still pool of the soul, freedom will emerge again, some day.
Paul St. Pierre is a former Vancouver Sun columnist and member of Parliament who lives in Fort Langley and Mexico.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008
even more death
and even more death
I didn't think it was my prerogative to point out that Brave New World was not written by J.B. Priestly. In letters to the editor, the next day in the Vancouver Sun, this was pointed out by a reader.