Our ignorance is their bliss


Knowing what we know today, is it likely we’ll forget it all by tomorrow?

Human nature inveighs against the better angels of our civilized character. Memory doesn’t so much serve us, as pester us.

Consider, for example, higher education in New Brunswick.

For decades, we assumed that a broad, liberal course of study – in the undergraduate years – would prepare students in this province to take their places in the productive working world. They might go on to specialize in any number of disciplines: law, medicine, business management, architecture, theatre, even (gasp!) journalism.

Now, we require them to choose their paths in society before they even know their own minds – to, in effect, forget their youthful passions in the service of actuarial accounts that determine who will be useful, and who will not, to the common weal. Memory is the sentimental enemy of the current political good; so get with the program, kids.

Similarly, we imagine that life for New Brunswickers aboard the good ship Stephen Harper has been either uniformly splendid, or utterly awful. Again, our capacity for accurate recollection fails us.

Once, not so very long ago, the prime minister toured these environs and declared, in so many words, that Atlantic Canada must fight its culture of “defeatism”. We screamed and cried, as we are wont to do. But was he entirely wrong in his sentiments? We said he was.

On the other hand, within scant years, Mr. Harper made it perfectly clear to New Brunswick that Ottawa would guarantee a culture of defeatism here by eviscerating social programs, capping health-care transfers and knee-capping local MPs in his own party if they dared speak truth to power. Was he entirely right? We said he was.

Does memory serve, or merely pester?

Why have we forgotten about the enormous potential of renewable energy technologies in this province? What happened to wind, tidal and biomass, fading into our collective memory of hope and grace? What about early childhood education, universally accessible to all in New Brunswick? Was it just a dream, a faint memory of a better future, idly conjured in the past?

All of which raises the question: If we know what we know today, is it inevitable that we’ll forget it all by tomorrow?

If human nature inveighs against the better angels of our civilized character, shouldn’t we conjure stronger angels to shepherd our finest instincts? If memory doesn’t so much serve us, as pester us, oughtn’t we banish the tyranny that accompanies habitually following those who desperately want to erase that which we would otherwise remember? (Spoiler alert: the babies we elect to high office).

In fact, I adore the memories that pester me. I love remembering when a boy or girl could expect a straight shot at a decent job for life, thanks to a tax-payer-funded training program.

I relish thinking about my own (non-tax-payer-funded) apprenticeships at Canadian Press, CFDR Radio in Dartmouth, and Atlantic Insight Magazine in Halifax. These are images from my life, lessons I have learned, cherished recollections of a society that – while not perfect, by any measure – embraced the ever-spinning wheel of history; past, present and future.

I grew up at a time when Tommy Douglas’ words still resonated: “Courage, my friends; ’tis not too late to build a better world.”

Indeed, we are made of sterner stuff than the current basket of expectations that Ottawa and Fredericton retails daily: Believe what we tell you, try not to think too much; your ignorance is our bliss.

Blow it to bits, friends; and never forget.

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