Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fire and Ashes by Michael Ignatieff

Michael Ignatieff recently spoke on radio programs and got my attention enough to reserve his book.  It is very thin compared to other political memoirs, but is also very humble and insightful.

Years ago I had seen him on "The Big Idea" on TVO.  The depth of his thinking impressed me, not at all like a politician trying to get votes.

In reality he had lived a well respected comfortable life in academic circles and had been lured back into politics.  He wanted to make a difference, but was unprepared for the dirty world of politics.  Many insiders admired his intellect, but although Canadians are not as anti-intellectual as Americans we still expect something else.

Michael had been well known for his choice of words and expressing himself, but found himself trapped by words.  As he learned, every word can be mis-interpreted or turned against you.  A voter's perception can hinge on small details, often details that are irrelevant.

As he listened and observed his education of reality built up.  As he became opposition leader his adversaries paid for tv ads denouncing Michael as a visitor.  He had in fact been challenged as an intellectual who did no action.  His return to Canada was to be active.  His family and himself had a history for helping Canadians.

Still he was as he admitted pretty naive.  He came to realize that more important than knowledge was connections.  A contrast came from former room mate Bob Rae who had not only learned a lot of street political smarts, but built up a lot of connections.  They clashed and it probably benefited no one.

One notion that penetrated his brain gradually was that there is a divide in Canada (and other nations) between urban and rural.  That hit a personal nerve as I have lived (and to some degree worked) in rural and small towns as well as big cities and now live in Hamilton, formerly known for its industry.  At my Haliburton high school more than 45 years ago a teacher asked how many expected to work in that area after graduating.  Only two of twenty stuck up their hands and they both had fathers who owned grocery stores.  Michael noticed that many of our resources (sources for wealth) were in remote parts of the country like mines and forests, but that to have a better life many rural people felt they had to go to a big city.  To read more of my personal experiences with the rural-urban divide:

Michael's book is not bitter, although he recounts enough things to embitter most of us.  He is humble and urges the importance of being involved in politics.  There are a lot of noteworthy thoughts in this slim book.  Canada has lost a man of integrity and intelligence.  One hopes that politics can find room to identify more people of his caliber and nurture them instead of grinding them up.

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