Crawl Across the Ocean

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Random (pre-federal election) Question for the Day

Do we really want the kind of people who would nominate Barbara Amiel and ignore Jane Jacobs as Canada's leading public intellectual running the country?


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(hat-tip Section 15, Colby Cosh)

12 Comments:

  • "Do we really want the kind of people who would..."

    Gee - and I thought group character assassination was exclusively a neanderthal right-winger trait. I can almost picture the words as spoken by Lady Astor during a dinner party at Cliveden...

    By Blogger deaner, at 5:43 PM  

  • The difference between me and Lady Astor is that she is concerned abotut class where I am concerned about ability to make good policy.

    Are you saying there's no correlation between the views of National Post columnists and likely Conservative party policy? Or that the nominations are a good reflection of Canada's greatest public intellectuals?

    That's all I meant by 'kind of people' - the kind who put their ideology ahead of their common sense. I wasn't suggesting they have cooties or anything.

    By Blogger Declan, at 7:10 PM  

  • Seaks volumes doesn't it? There are days I think jane jacobs ought to be running the whole place...

    By Blogger Mike, at 6:52 AM  

  • "That's all I meant by 'kind of people' - the kind who put their ideology ahead of their common sense."

    Right - and if someone has a different idea of "greatest public intellectual" then they couldn't possibly have good policy prescriptions. In fact, if they even read a newspaper written by such cretins - well, we all know where they are coming from, don't we, dear heart?

    Yes, Mr Pot - the kettle is calling from over that way...

    By Blogger deaner, at 9:38 PM  

  • I'm not sure what your point is Dean. I don't really see the connection between someone who reads a newspaper and somone who makes a nomination for Canada's greatest intellectual. Are you really suggesting these are equivalent activities somehow?

    Are you saying that if someone nominated, say, Eric Lindros for Canada's greatest intellectual (and they really meant it) that that wouldn't affect your opinion of their judgement?

    Or that it would be hypocritical for you to change your opinion of that person based on them nominating Lindros if you happened to be a reader of the newspaper they write for?

    I'm not following.

    By Blogger Declan, at 10:55 PM  

  • Declan - I think I read more into your comments than was inteneded - when you referred to "these kind of people" I thought you wer including Nat Post readers, as well as staffers. If not, then my comment makes no sense.

    That aside, I still think your original comment betrays an elitist stance, Declan. Barbara Amiel may not be your cup of tea, but she did write a column in the country's largest circulation magazine for a good long stretch (seven years or so? - I only caught it periodically when I saw MacLeans at my Dad's place). That column dealt largely with conservative political ideology at a time when that ideology wasn't popular or well-received. The comparision to nominating Eric Lindros as an intellectual doesn't hold. I agree that she is no Jane Jacobs - but on the other hand I bet the proportion of Canadians who actually recognize her name (remember, "public intellectual") is significantly higher. I don't normally pay any atention to these sorts of contests, but I recall some pretty vacuous thinkers included in the last of them that managed to get my attention - where was your disdain then?

    "Are you saying there's no correlation between the views of National Post columnists and likely Conservative party policy?"

    There may well be. Equally, there may well not be. Debating the validity of CPC policy on the basis of the other opinions of those who contribute to it is as useful as dismissing Liberal policy (to the extent there is any) or NDP policy on the basis that it was conceived by Leafs fans - to return to your hockey analogy ;). Instead, why not concentrate on the policies themselves, instead of preparing in advance for an ad hominem argument? Finally, the implication that "people like these" (who might think more highly of Barbara Amiel than Jane Jacobs) are not capable of making good policy is absolutely on a par with every other "people like these" argument I have ever heard -although they usually involve people with divergent levels of melanin, religious affiliation, or national or ethnic origin.

    By Blogger deaner, at 10:48 AM  

  • There's something amusing about being called elitist for criticizing Barbara Amiel, but if your point is that I think Jacobs is a defensible choice and Amiel isn't and that makes me elitist, well so be it. The fact that she had her own column for a while doesn't qualify her as an intellectual in my book.

    To clarify, I wasn't saying that she was as poor a choice as Lindros, the only point of the Lndros example was that the choice of who to nominate *could* reflect poorly on the judgement of the nominator.

    As for my lack of disdain for previous contests, I don't really buy the argument that by not commenting on some idiocy in the past I forver forfeit the right to comment on similar idiocy in the future.

    Unless you are saying that I'm only picking on the National Post because they are right wing or something like that. But I'm not sure I've seen any high profile equivalents from the other side of the spectrum. The CBC had a contest for greatest Canadian a while back, but their nominations were driven by voting from the public if I recall correctly.

    I will concentrate on the policies, once platforms get nailed down a little more, but I think this kind of thing is important (enough for a one line post) because it points to the disconnect between what the right wing sees as its intellectual leaders and the policies they are proposing.

    Finally, I don't really see your point about 'people like this' arguements. For an argument of that type to be valid, two things have to hold: 1) The people have to really be like 'this'. In my case, is there a connection between who the national post nominates and likely Conservative party policy in government?

    2) 'this' has to be what you say it is. In this case, is picking Amiel & Co. over Jacobs et al, really a sign of bad, ideologically-blinded judgement?

    Say I asked, 'given the recent shootings (involving black people) in Toronto, do we really want a black person to be coach of our Olympic hockey team?

    This would fail on condition #1 because it makes a faulty assumption that all black people are the same, but it is O.K. on #2 because we don't (generally) want murderers and gang members as coach of our Olympic hockey team.

    Say on the other hand, I said something like, "do we really want the kind of person who would nominate Gretzky over Hull as best hockey player ever to be named as the coach of our olympic hockey team?

    This is O.K. on condition #1, because the person who was doing the nominating is the person we are considering for the coaching job, so there is no risk of an unfounded connection between one person and another. But it fails condition #2 because preferring Gretzky over Hull is a perfectly valid opinion which you could understand being held by someone with a sharp hockey mind.

    Finally, say I said, "do we really want the kind of person who would nominate Tie Domi over Wayne Gretzky as the greatest Hockey Player Ever to be coach of our Olympic hockey team?

    This passes both conditions #1 and #2, and I think we would all agree that the answer could well be no, we don't want that kind of person
    coaching our Olympic hockey team.

    By Blogger Declan, at 2:31 PM  

  • "In this case, is picking Amiel & Co. over Jacobs et al, really a sign of bad, ideologically-blinded judgement?:"

    I didn't know that the discussion was in reference to "Amiel & Co" - is your contention that every person on the Nat Post list is an inferior choice to Jane Jacobs, or that just Amiel is? If the former (not having seen the list - as I said, these sorts of contests really don't interest me) then I think that might be evidence of ideologically-blinded judgement. If not, then (as Emily Lattella would say) 'never mind.'

    I agree that in any list of public intellectuals (particularly Canadian public intellectuals) Jane Jacobs should be included. Where we part company is on the significance of her exclusion in light of Barbara Amiel's inclusion. First - while not a thinker for the ages, Amiel is not obviously disqualified for inclusion. While merely having written a column is insufficient grounds to be considered as a public intellectual (Heather Mallick), I think having written consistently about an ideological view of the world over an extended period does - perhaps in the same way as Paul Krugman is a "public intellectual" or John Ralston Saul.

    I don't see the inclusion of Amiel as damning the group who did so, and I don't see overlooking Jacobs in that way, either. I accept that they are value judgements and will always differ between different judges. It is possible (even likely) that they deliberately sought variety in the nominees, and a range of viewpoints - so what? The "contest" format distorts the choices to a certain extent - but even given that we are still a long way from "the Nat Post editorial board unanimously chooses B Amiel as greatest Canadian intellectual of all time."

    I agree with your analysis of "people like this" arguments, but "do we really want the kind of person who would nominate Tie Domi over Wayne Gretzky as the greatest Hockey Player Ever to be coach of our Olympic hockey team?" slightly overstates the position of Jacobs, and misrepresents the nomination being made - this is for inclusion on a list of candidates (which as noted, is probably deliberately skewed to include as wide a range as possible). It is more like, do we really want a coach (or group) who would invite Steve Yzerman and Brendan Morrison to camp? Even that overstates it, since we are not picking a coach, but a cheerleader - at the very most, a guy who does publicity in the front office

    "Unless you are saying that I'm only picking on the National Post because they are right wing or something like that."
    Yes, I guess I am

    "But I'm not sure I've seen any high profile equivalents from the other side of the spectrum."

    The BBC(?) recently ran a similar little contest - there were two Canadian nominations, one of whom was Naomi Klein (Dear God, take me now) and neither of whom was Jane Jacobs. Ideological bias, anyone?

    By Blogger deaner, at 12:21 PM  

  • Setting aside Jane Jacobs, where's John Raulston Saul, much less Stephen Lewis?

    And how Don Cherry qualify as an "intellectual" much less someone who contributes to public debate meaningfully? And Conrad Black?

    One thing this list shows is the significant danger of equating journalists with "intellectuals", as they are frequently nothing of the sort...

    By Blogger Josh Gould, at 5:22 PM  

  • Fair enough Dean. When I wrote my post I was really thinking about how screwed up the whole list was (Conrad Black, Preston Manning, Tom Flanagan, Don Cherry (the eventual winner), Mark Steyn, Michael Walker, etc. etc.) but that didn't come through im my (one line) post, so I can see where you're coming from.

    I don't know about this contest where Naomi Klein was nominated. She didn't even make the final 100 greatest Canadians in the CBC contest, did she? The other contests I've seen have had some bizarre choices but they didn't exhibit the extreme partisan bias and overlooking of obvious candidates who didn't suit someone's ideology that this one did.

    It's like with the blog awards where when SDA decided to do their own awards they had to include 'best moonbat' blog (or something like that) whereas when Robert runs his awards they are scrupulously non-partisan.

    By Blogger Declan, at 11:22 AM  

  • Declan - I only had a really quick look at the list, but I didn't think Conrad was on it - I found it surprising that he would not be, but the Missus would be. Maybe my quick look was too quick.

    From the names cited, I suspect that there was an ideological bias to the list (although without looking at all the names I can't rule out the explanation that it was biased in favour of ideological thinkers, of whatever stripe). Other than the fairly mundane observation that the NP editorial board is ideologically biased (hardly a news flash) that doesn't really bear on their ability to formulate policy. It's like saying "do we really want people who would stand up and cheer for Jean Chretien to be in charge of the government?" No matter how you feel about Chretien, the people in charge of the government are going to stand up and cheer for somebody!

    In any event, for what was supossed to be a quick throw-away line (and to be honest, a quick, throw-away rejoinder), I think we have beaten this to death!

    Dean

    By Blogger deaner, at 2:55 PM  

  • "I think we have beaten this to death!"

    Indeed, but it's always fun chatting.

    By Blogger Declan, at 6:37 PM  

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