Here is my idiosyncratic news culled from the last couple of days:
- The Americans approach the "fiscal cliff" because Republicans refuse to tax the wealthy.
- Demonstrations occur in Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, where government cutbacks have created instability and high levels of unemployment. In Spain, they blame the bankers. Maybe we need to update Shakespeare's line from Henry VI about the lawyers: "First thing we do, let's kill all the bankers."
- My environmental network is telling me that the current managers of the PFRA lands, which the provincial government wants to sell, are being muzzled, forbidden to comment on the value of the million acres of native prairie and sustainably grazed pasture, in spite of the fact that they know that land and understand its importance and its management from the inside out. Nevertheless Candace Savage, recent winner of the Hillary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Non-Fiction, will be speaking to interested people on Thursday November 22 at 7 in the Education Auditorium, and a group of people interested in saving the PFRA lands from the auction block will gather on Friday, November 23 at the Orr Centre, 4400 4th Avenue (on 4th and Lewvan Drive).
- Meanwhile, Harper is calling into question the charitable status of any organization that doesn't tow the conservative line, particularly on environmental issues.
- Then, of course, we come to the Faculty of Arts and the English Department. In some ways, what is happening here is clear: the provincial government is demanding that U of R become "more efficient," and is forcing that efficiency on us by threatening to give us no increase in our funding or by holding us to a 2% increase. (A 2% increase is, in effect, a decrease, since our costs rise by about 5% a year.) The other clear fact here is that Saskatchewan, currently a "have" province, ranks 9th among the provinces in the amount of money it provides to post-secondary education. It is unclear whether the Faculty of Arts is being asked to take more of a financial hit than other, more profession-oriented faculties. I am hoping that Paul Bogdan's excellent piece, "Is this a dagger which I see before me?" in The Carillon and David Fraser's briefer piece in the Leader-Post will shake down some answers to our questions.
- Chris Hedges believes, as do a number of people I respect, that governments are attempting to "silence" or "starve" the humanities and the social sciences because we're the ones who teach the troublemakers--if we aren't troublemakers ourselves. We ask the uncomfortable questions. We don't take the government or corporate line for granted, nor do we share their vision of "prosperity"--that it is synonymous with "profit." We don't believe that the lives and the societies and the environments they have in mind for us are either the best or the only possibilities.
It's the title of the first chapter of Kenneth Clark's Civilization, the one that describes the dark ages between the fall of Rome and "The Great Thaw" that began, from his perspective, in 1100 C.E. I nodded inwardly, realizing that we are heading, possibly world-wide, toward a twenty-first-century Dark Age, one where the barbarian hordes are those who believe that profit and wealth are the only true "good," in spite of the fact that the economists of happiness and the cognitive psychologists will tell them that their hunger can never be assuaged. So I went back to Kenneth Clark's book, and found both some disturbing parallels and some hope.
First, the devout St. Gregory burned countless volumes of the Classical literature we had inherited from Greece and Rome because they "seduced men's minds away from the study of holy write" (17). He is the precursor, then, of ideologues who want to silence dissent and free thought. On the other hand, there was Charlemagne, who, with the "help of an outstanding teacher and librarian named Alcuin of York...collected books and had them copied....Our whole knowledge of ancient literature is due to the collecting and copying that began under Charlemagne" (18).
In some ways, I keep hope alive by writing this blog, by finding a place where literally no one stands between you and me. It means, unfortunately, trying to ignore the fact that Candace Savage won the Hillary Weston Non-fiction prize for a book published by Greystone, and imprint of the now-bankrupt and restructuring Douglas and McIntyre publishing firm. That, in turn, makes me think of book stores...and forces me to take a deep breath before I spiral down yet again.
It makes me want to spend time with creative writers, as I will be doing on Saturday when the English Department hosts a Creative Writing Open House. Creative people are the only ones who can get us out of this. That's not only because they are the ones who will entertain us on the improbably dark nights that are ahead or who can make history live in our memories so we know where human progress left off. They are the ones who will help us be subversive, if not the ones who come up with the solutions. But more than that: creative people know the joy of making something, not simply buying it. They can't be bought off.