John Ralston Saul in Wellington

I see that John Ralston Saul is in Wellington for a couple of days this week. I’d love to be there* to hear what he has to say to our local Government Managers and the Wellington City Council. 

Saul’s books are some of the best and most important I’ve ever read. They take commitment and time to devour but your brain will thank you later.

In my opinion we need more commentators like Saul who can hold a mirror up to our foibles and come up with some articulate reflections that can make us look better if we listen well.

Back in February of this year, Saul had an Op Ed piece published in the Vancouver Sun on immigration, Canada and the importance of intention. Much of what he had to say about Canada could be also be said of New Zealand.

My favourite quote from that piece is

“Civilizations are intentional. Highly original civilizations like ours require a consciously applied intentionality which we as a country have not yet embraced.”

Here a few more snips from that article

“People everywhere are fascinated by our non-derivative experiment: 250,000 new citizens sworn in every year; people chosen from the widest possible range of countries; our expectation that these immigrants will become citizens within about four years; our assumption that new Canadians will take up the full range of citizen duties as fast as possible.

By every international per capita measurement of immigration and citizenship, we are No. 1 in the world. We are not a few percentage points ahead, but two, three, four times further out on the cutting edge than anyone else.

And it is all going reasonably well. There is a national consensus in favour. People from around the world come to look; some to learn, some convinced that they will find signs of imminent catastrophe.

Meanwhile, we roll on, scarcely conscious of the originality of our civilization, apparently not curious about how we do it, about why it works, about whether it could go wrong, about what we must do to ensure it goes ever more right.

Two conclusions come to mind.

First, our easy self-confidence is an illustration of how old and stable this society is. In spite of our periodic errors and horrors along the way — our residential schools, head taxes, expulsions, exclusions, seizures — we have been able to build a non-monolithic society because we began as a non-monolithic society.

For centuries we have been making our way from the original complexity of our aboriginal, francophone, anglophone foundations, step by complicated step to something which is the precise opposite of the Anglo-European-American model of monolithic citizenship. And that is original and fascinating.

The second conclusion — which doesn’t contradict the first — is that we are intellectually lazy, with little curiosity about how our talent for cultural experimentation works.”

If you are going please send us a comment on Johns presentations please.

Note on John Ralston Saul’s books. See redesigned book covers here. and more links including a great description of JRSaul by Rabsteen – “He writes of recent history as though he has a backstage pass“.

Saul is best known for his philosophical trilogy – Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West , The Doubter’s Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense and The Unconscious Civilization. This was followed by a meditation on the trilogy – On Equilibrium: Six Qualities of the New Humanism. His reinterpretation of the nature of Canada – Reflections of a Siamese Twin (1997) –was a groundbreaking reassessment of Canada and launched a national debate.

*All of this reminds me of a song from the Muttonbirds a few years back.

“I wish I was in Wellington, the weather’s not so good
The wind it cuts right through you and
it rains more than it should
But I’d be there tomorrow, if I only could”…

by Alan Gregg and the Muttonbirds.

I also wrote about his book The Collapse of Globalism which uses New Zealand examples and experience to illustrate some of its observations in an earlier post called Thinking Global=Personal Commitment.

This is Saul’s 4th trip to New Zealand and it would seem that many significant and useful discussions are going on unreported in the backrooms of the capital. For some reason local media haven’t spoken with Saul with the exception of student radio interview provided below (so far.)

Will try to find some more links if/when they get published.

Update: BFM’s Mikey spoke with John earlier this week
MP3, 14m19s, 3.3MB, first broadcast 29 August 2007 –

“Acclaimed Canadian author and philosopher John Ralston Saul talks to Mikey about what it means to be a true citizen. He is in the country to speak at a Council managers conference in Wellington.”

Click below to listen

Here is a quote from Saul in 2005 in discussion with Brian Easton of the Listener. In a nutshell – this is why it is worth checking out the man and his writing.

The most interesting conversation that is not taking place is that almost all of our economic theory was based on the civilisation of scarcity of production. Today, we are in surplus in almost every way. And that is at the heart of what is not functioning.”