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Howdy, Neighbour. You are embarking on
a voyage of discovery. Many will relish the thought of the trip and will
return home with a good feeling and a resolution to make many similar
excursions. Many will step on board with a heavy heart believing that
they are leaving a comfortable, compassionate, reliable home for a new
destination that is foreign to their experience and pre-ordained to provide
a life of misery and woe. For the fearful folks, I hope to provide reassurance
and understanding so that the new home becomes a most pleasant surprise.
Besides, when you quietly analyse the thrust of my proposals, you will
admit that rationality bubbles to the surface wherever you let it. While
you are fearful and uncertain, friendly neighbours will provide support,
but the friendly neighbours will expect you to adapt to the new surroundings
and do your part to be independent good neighbours too.
Many observers focus on what is wrong with Canada. I like to be more upbeat and constructive. To that end, my proposals do not dwell on the absurdities that we can find with little effort; rather, I hope my proposals will be likened to a new commercial product that can be proudly built, packaged, merchandised, and consumed by the masses. The merchandising strategy should emphasize the good points, work hard at eliminating the weak points, pay ongoing attention to quality, continue searching for better answers, take cognisance of the views of critics, and generally strive for the acceptance of those solid citizens who are ignored by the bleating of pockets of society.
My parents operated a small, mixed farm where they, along with their neighbours, homesteaded a new district. Dad came with virtually nothing but a grade twelve education and confidence in himself. He was 19 years old. Mom came with her family to the district and had, as her dowry, a small packet of wheat seed. Even in 1929, these were meagre beginnings. From those few resources, my parents raised five children, developed a productive farm, coached baseball, acted as executives on church, civic, and farm boards, built roads, bridges, houses, and imposed no burden on government. While my parents are special in my eyes, the whole community was populated with people who took individual responsibility and built a thriving community out of moose pasture.
While the environment changes over time, the attitude of individual responsibility is inherent in most of us. It can blossom again if we have a system that expects individual responsibility to be the order of the day.
During my high school years, I determined to raise sheep on our family farm. I bought six ewes and a ram from a neighbour and cajoled another neighbour into hauling them home. From that nucleus and more acquisitions, I built a flock of two hundred ewes and gained valuable experience from the endeavour. While the sheep raising initiative was not earth-shaking, two incidents had a significant effect on my development.
I arranged to sell four lambs through the livestock co-operative. It was customary for the co-op to give a cash advance on the livestock when they were shipped. I got a cash advance on my lambs and waited for final payment to arrive. When the envelope came, I eagerly opened it and read the cheque. My heart stopped. The cheque had all zeroes. My cash advance had been more than the net value of the lambs sold. An accompanying letter asked for something like $4.21 back from me. Many people honestly believe that business is all pleasure and no pain. They should try being a fifteen year-old running a sheep empire!
One day in the heat of summer, I noticed a ewe standing apart from the flock and looking peaked. I went over to her and she did not walk away as most animals would in an open setting. I decided to move her back to the barn where I could perhaps provide some medicine. I grabbed the wool on her back to steer her toward the barn and the wool came away from her back. Beneath her wool was a crawling mass of maggots. It nearly turned my stomach as I removed all the loose wool and ushered the ewe to a corral. The only suitable medicine I could find was peroxide. I poured it on the maggots and it fizzed profusely. The ewe returned to health. Each following year, after I sheared the flock, I was able to identify the different colour on the back of the maggot-infested ewe and reflect on the incident which was so vivid to my young mind.
I look back on the maggot incident and see it as a metaphor of the present Canadian situation. On the surface, Canada looks a little ragged, but many blindly assume that the underlying structure is sound. However, there are lots and lots of places in the Canadian system where the maggots are growing. I invite you to tug on the wool around you and, if maggots are found, persevere in a cure. Even though peroxide fizzes, it may provide a cure. You will likely find a more appropriate medicine. Let's at the least decide some medicine would be helpful.
As a wrap-up to my sheep herding comments, my co-workers tease me about being "Little David, the shepherd boy." I take the teasing well for three reasons: 1) I believe the sheep herding initiative started me on the road to believing in individual responsibility and independent enterprise; 2) I like to tease, so I have long since learned to take teasing in stride; and 3) I like to swim against the current, much as the biblical David took on an apparently overpowering Goliath. My hope is that my contribution to the debate about Canada's future will be a disproportionately positive contribution.
This book was prompted by a perceived imbalance that is becoming more pronounced with each passing day. The following analogy illustrates my concern.
We all grew up knowing about teeter-totters. A simple structure that provided hours of recreation for us as children. Very early, we discovered that modest adjustments in the distance from the pivot point would adjust the balance to close to equilibrium. Let's change the name of the teeter-totter to taker-maker. Further, let's assume that there is a physical stop at the far ends of the taker-maker. These physical stops are comprised of the truly needy on the taker end, and the cream of productive society on the maker end. We all recognize that there is a small percentage of truly needy which we all are fully prepared to support. This small percentage does not change much over time. On the other end, there are a few individuals who will thrive no matter how many hurdles and inequities we hurl in their path. Artificially inhibiting these folks is a tragedy which not only affects them but many around who would benefit from their initiatives.
In between the two extremes is a multitude; let's say 95% of the population. It is my hypothesis that this group, like a puddle of mercury, is presently nestled up against the "taker" end of the taker-maker. This is because we have allowed a system to develop that makes the taker end heavier than the maker end. We will disagree on how unbalanced the taker-maker is today, but the pervasive mood is that the taker end has gained substantial weight over the last forty years. This includes whole generations who now have experienced welfare as their way of life (whether or not this can be said to be their own fault). It also includes baby boomers who started out on a "kinder, gentler" path and created an inept system that will fail as they add more weight to the taker end of the taker-maker. How do we add some weight to the maker end of the taker-maker? I believe the answer lies in improving individual responsibility and reducing collective abuse of power.
This is the theme of this book. Welcome to a more rational Canada!
"Man cannot survive except through his mind. He comes on earth unarmed. His brain is his only weapon. Animals obtain food by force. Man has no claws, no fangs, no horns, no great strength of muscle. He must plant his food or hunt it. To plant, he needs a process of thought. To hunt, he needs weapons, and to make weapons -- a process of thought. From this simplest necessity to the highest religious abstraction, from the wheel to the skyscraper, everything we are and everything we have comes from a single attribute of man -- the function of his reasoning mind.
"But the mind is an attribute
of the individual. There is no such thing as a collective brain. There
is no such thing as a collective thought. An agreement reached by a group
of men is only a compromise or an average drawn upon many individual thoughts.
It is a secondary consequence. The primary act -- the process of reason
-- must be performed by each man alone. We can divide a meal among many
men. We cannot digest it in a collective stomach. No man can use his lungs
to breathe for another man. No man can use his brain to think for another.
All the functions of body and spirit are private. They cannot be shared
C.S. Peirce (1839-1914); Collected Papers, Ayn Rand; The Fountainhead