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Therefore Choose Life

Therefore Choose Life

The Found Massey Lectures
by George Wald
foreword by Elijah Wald
introduction by Lewis Auerbach
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback eBook
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One with the Universe

All men, everywhere, have asked the same questions: Whence we come, what kind of thing we are, and at least some intimation of what may become of us. Seeking answers to these questions, men have followed many paths. I hope I may be forgiven for believing that science offers perhaps the surest of those paths.

We have special need now for answers to those questions. Our society is adrift. We are in a crisis of conviction, of mission, of commitment — a kind of worldwide identity crisis. Indeed, technology having obliterated distance, man needs more than ever before to become a community. Unless we can achieve some commonly accepted sense of human needs and goals, we’re lost.

So, that is the kind of thing I shall be talking about. I shall be asking the question: From what base can a scientist, dealing as a scientist, make moral and political judgements? I would like to examine that base — my base. Perhaps it can become yours.

What I am looking for is some sort of context that can serve as a guide to decision and action. In a sense, this is my religion — the entirely secular religion of one scientist. It contains no supernatural elements. Nature is enough for me — enough of awe, enough of beauty, enough of reason.

I would like to begin by sorting out some basic ideas. We need to know what we are talking about. Man has been engaged, ever since we have known him, in an unending struggle to know. I think that is epitomized in science — science is an attempt to understand all reality. Reality covers a very broad province — not only such relatively simple things as stones falling and the structures of atomic nuclei, but much more complicated things such as poets writing sonnets, people weeping, people praying. I think that some of those more complicated things science will never understand; but we’ll keep on trying.

The point of the whole enterprise is to achieve understanding. Facts are only the raw material of science. Some time ago I read for the first time (though not the last) Herman Hesse’s book Siddhartha, and I came out of that first reading with a wonderful sentence: “One can gain knowledge from words, but wisdom only from things.”

I think that’s what science is about: it’s a deep-seated attempt to extract the wisdom from things. As such, as that deep and consistent attempt to understand reality, science is altogether good (as our culture interprets “the good”) — there can be no such thing as bad science. Any other view would be a plea for ignorance, and there can be no possible quarrel with science that ignorance can improve.

There is another entirely different enterprise: the application of science to useful ends — technology. I have just finished saying that science is altogether good, but I would never dream of saying that about technology!

Technology is for use, and in any properly conducted society, every enterprise in technology, new and old, should be under constant review and judgement in terms of the needs and goals and aspirations of that society.

One of the troubles with our present society is that we tend to regard all technology, without question, as progress — sometimes the more unpleasant aspects of technology as aspects of fate. But that’s altogether wrong.

One needs to ask: Should one do everything one can? All too often the answer one is given is, Why, yes! Of course, one does everything one can — one travels as far and as rapidly, and makes as big a bomb as one can, and all those other things, as soon as one becomes able to. But the proper answer is: Of course not! Among all those things that can be done, a decision needs to be made as to which to do and which not to do, and that in terms of our essential human social needs.

Who is to make those decisions? Well, another trouble with our present society is that those decisions are being made almost entirely by the producers of technology — by those who see in that technology opportunities for wealth, or power, or status. One should listen to all that such interest parties have to say. But then that final decision should be made quite otherwise. That final decision should be made not by the producers of technology, but by those who will have to live with the products.

So, I think the position is this: Know all you can, but do only what seems socially useful and beneficial to do.

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No Is Not Enough

No Is Not Enough

Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need
edition:Audiobook
also available: Paperback
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Dynasties and Interludes

Dynasties and Interludes

Past and Present in Canadian Electoral Politics
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover Paperback eBook
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The Macdonald and Laurier Dynasties

Two political dynasties founded and sustained the Canadian dominion, established the country’s first party system, and produced the expectation by the voting public that strong leaders would emerge to control the nation’s affairs. These two political dynasties also established the building blocks around which subsequent elections would be won and lost. John A. Macdonald (Prime Minister from 1867-1874, and 1878-1891) fashioned the Conservative Party (then called the Liberal-Conservative Party) into the main vehicle for national government during the whole period from Confederation to 1896. During Macdonald’s lifetime, Conservatives had strength in all regions of the country and among all classes of voters, though they were particularly dependent for their finances on manufacturing, railway and banking interests. Wilfrid Laurier (Prime Minister from 1896-1911) created a mastery over the Canadian political system, and established the dominance of the Liberal Party which continued for much of the Twentieth Century. Laurier did this by virtue of his sweeping personal appeal in Quebec, and his mollification of commercial interests, together with appeals to traditional Liberal support among farmers and working class voters who were entering the eligible electorate in greater numbers with the expansion of the suffrage. Even though the Laurier Liberals were defeated in 1911, the basis of the Liberal dynasty had been laid so well that it survived the party’s ill fortunes during the First World War. Conservatives, starting with Borden and continuing with Meighen, Bennett, Diefenbaker, Clark and Mulroney, produced only interludes, despite election victories, sometimes decisive ones. King, (followed by St. Laurent), Trudeau (following Pearson) and Chrétien (with Martin), on the other hand, established and maintained Liberal dynasties. Legitimating the new Canadian Confederation was no easy task. For the architects of the agreement, led by Macdonald and his Quebec lieutenant, George-Etienne Cartier, the job had to be undertaken without a cohesive national political party to rely on. The first three elections -- 1867, 1872 and 1874 -- took place separately in the different provinces, in different months of the year. John A. Macdonald skillfully exploited his position as the popular architect of the Confederation agreement (popular at least in Ontario and Quebec) to obtain early victories in elections which established the legitimacy of the new state. His goal was to solidify a popular commitment to the Confederation gamble. Economic growth, railway building, and regional development were important reasons for supporting the Macdonald Conservatives. The Liberal opposition was initially in disarray. The fact that their leaders, including George Brown and Edward Blake, had joined with Macdonald and his Conservative colleagues to support Confederation had removed a major issue that might have allowed them to distinguish themselves and their party from the Tories. The main issue of national unity at that period was support for Confederation itself, and the main battleground was in the Maritimes. The success of anti-Confederate forces in the first elections in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia undermined the opposition’s ability to present a united front to the electorate. It also meant that the Liberals had to rely more on economic policy to distinguish themselves from the Conservatives. Attempts to do this by emphasizing free trade within North America were largely unsuccessful, as we shall see in this chapter.

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