Title: Leaving Beringia
Author: Robin Molineux
Publisher: First Choice Books, Victoria, BC
Date: 2021
Review by Bob Lane

What a great title! Do you know about Beringia? This reviewer had to look it up.

The Canadian Encylopedia tells us:
 “The importance of Beringia is twofold: it provided a pathway for intercontinental exchanges of plants and animals during glacial periods and for interoceanic exchanges during interglacials; it has been a centre of evolution and has supported apparently unique plant and animal communities. The history of Beringia is important not only in the evolution of landscapes but also in that of plants and animals. . . . And, Because of its aridity, much of Beringia remained unglaciated during the ice ages. The stratigraphy of long sequences of nonglacial sediment exposed at various sites can be correlated with alpine and continental glacial advances elsewhere. Fossils from such sediments are often exceptionally abundant and well preserved. They include pollen grains, plant fossils, invertebrates and vertebrate bones. Studies of fossils and of the sediments in which they occur have permitted tentative reconstructions of paleo-environments in western and eastern Beringia. Beringia is of special importance in the study of human prehistory since it is most likely the area through which man first entered the western hemisphere, presumably following the migrations of large mammals, known from fossil evidence to have roamed eastward across the Bering Land Bridge.   – Morlan, Richard E.. “Beringia”, The Canadian Encyclopedia.

The author tells us:
“I imagine you have read about Beringia; the area surrounded by glaciers during the last ice age, where people could, and did, survive over thousands of years. They knew nothing of what lay beyond those walls of ice. Then, over hundreds of years the ice melted, the walls came down and those people began to think of what lay beyond. Once they began to leave the safe land, nothing stopped them. There was no rest. There was no satisfaction. They went on. . . . Had they found what they were looking for when they left Beringia?” (141)

The book is a travelogue. Not in the usual sense, although Os does take many journeys to many places from Victoria, British Columbia to Newfoundland, Australia, Japan, but the important travel takes place in the human mind and personality and its way of dealing with loss, with hope, with new experiences, love, new friends, new places, and life itself.   The main character, Os, has lost his wife to illness and is rocked by the loss. They were very close, and the loss has hit him hard. He continues to operate his bike shop but is continually thinking of his departed wife. Together they raised one child who is distant and withdrawn.  He makes friends with other bikers and begins to travel a bit with these friends. They travel about Canada, the USA, and other locations. Finally, in Japan, he learns from a Master:

Perhaps Os might consider looking at the death of his wife, and the burden of his continued life in these ways. Beautiful things break. We are as fragile as the most delicate pottery.  . . . An irreplaceable bowl falls by accident and is in several pieces. It came to be that we learned how to make the bowl whole again; with lacquer and gold . . . it is whole but a different bowl. It is beautiful but with a different beauty. It is not restoration but a new creation. The second suggestion . . . is this. We are impermanent, everything we believe we have is impermanent. I ask that you see this not as a cause for grief but a joy that we are living. (220)

Os is a skilled bicycle repair man whose business is doing quite well. He is the father of one daughter who is slightly weird and the husband of Grace, a thoughtful woman who loves him as much as he loves her. But, of course, “beautiful things break”. Grace contracts cancer and dies, leaving Os wondering about the ways of the world.

After some time he visits Nara in Japan, listens to the Master, and meets yet another traveler, who tells him:
“Where will you go when you leave Nara?” I said I had no plans, that I had come to live and travel this way for many years.
“May I suggest that you consider a pilgrimage? Are you a religious man?”
“I thought not. Shikoku, the eight temples of Shikoku, that is my suggestion . . . . I believe that you are ready.”

This is a thought-provoking novel; always interesting – and the journey we take is internal as Os learns to accept life – and death.

Bob Lane is Philosophy Professor Emeritus at Vancouver Island University.

Epistemologies: ‘Objectivity’ and perspective

Journalists often pursue the goal of “objectivity.” Of course, language isn’t neutral, and any human writer or reader inevitably has our own personal perspective. Even deciding which facts to mention requires personal judgment.

There are many facts, but not all facts are equal,” Brian Klaas wrote recently in the Washington Post.

“There was a tornado in Kentucky last week. There wasn’t a tornado in Minnesota. Only one is worth reporting. Reporters and editors make decisions about which facts to cover — and then it’s up to them to provide the reader with an appropriate sense of scale.”

Ezra Klein wrote in Why We’re Polarized (2020):

“The news is supposed to be a mirror held up to the world, but the world is far too vast to fit in our mirror. The fundamental thing the media does all day, every day, is decide what to cover—decide, that is, what is newsworthy.”

Someone holds a small triangular mirror in their thumb and forefinger. Their face is reflected in it, but their eyes are closed.
Image by Simedblack on Pixabay

“Neutral,” by the way, may be “boring and visionless, and that just loses them [media professionals] an audience,” Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote in The Left Hand of God (2006).

So, for example, as Peter Levine pointed out in We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For (2013), journalists may cover elections differently. “Who is going to win?” is a common guiding question. It reflects “one definition of news. It encourages not only regular polling, but also close coverage of the mechanics and strategies of political campaigns.” But a journalist might instead choose to “depict the public’s ‘struggle to find a middle ground’ by giving prominent attention to civil discussions among nonaligned citizens.”

In Nicole Hemmer’s 2016 book Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics, she discusses “objectivity” as a kind of epistemology.

“Some have argued that ‘objectivity’ describes a set of professional practices rather than a coherent worldview, but this understates the power of objectivity as a concept. Objectivity was more than a set of professional values—it was a claim about the best way to understand the world. In midcentury, American journalists who were invested in the ideal of objectivity claimed the trueness of their stories could best be evaluated by how well they adhered to standards of disinterestedness, accuracy, factuality, fairness, and, less overtly but no less importantly, their deference to official information and institutional authority.”

Here, then, Hemmer says, is “a different way of weighing evidence”; you observe that you and someone else are on different ideological sides. You acknowledge that this other person has “a different network of authorities, a different conception of fact and accuracy, and a different way of evaluating truth-claims.”

(I wrote more about Hemmer’s book for Medium.)

“Everyone has a frame through which we think, interpret, and speak,” wrote Lewis Raven Wallace in The View From Somewhere: Undoing the Myth of Journalistic Objectivity. “Once we are conscious of these frames, we can choose our stories and the values they reflect.”

Here’s where Wallace goes with that. Journalists who have marginalized identities should indeed feel permitted to write about issues affecting their own communities. “Oppressed people’s voices can no longer be excluded,” he says, “on the false pretense that we are biased in favor of our own humanity, that we are too close to the story.”

Today, more easily than ever before, “people can just skip stories they don’t want to hear, go only to website that reflect their own worldview.” The challenge implicitly posed to journalists, as Wallace sees it, is to help determine “how journalists can become people who don’t just impart facts, but who interact, engage, and ultimately bring meaning and shape to information.”

“While journalists are never neutral purveyors of ‘just the facts,’” he points out, “some will focus more on organizing facts while others will focus more on interpreting them or extrapolating solutions from them, and others will focus on building communities surrounding them.”

Looking back a bit . . .

From Professor Justin Kalef

At Vancouver Island University’s convocation ceremony on June 3rd this summer, something called the ‘Recognition of Academic Emeritus Designation Award’ was bestowed upon the very deserving Bob Lane. Bob, who was referred to in the program only as “Robert Lane, Professor, English (Retired)” did not speak, nor was anything really said about him when the award was conferred. There was nothing else to indicate who this man, who sat in his paradoxically imposing but gentle-looking way, is. He smiled and nodded benevolently as his name was mentioned and a witty comment was made, betraying to nobody that he was stoically sitting through the event with a sore and aching back – a ‘mala spina’, as he joked later on. It occurred to me then how odd it was that the great majority of the audience members, and indeed those on the stage behind him, had any idea who this enigmatic man was or what he had been to the former college that was now granting the degrees being conferred on stage. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine what, if anything, Vancouver Island University would be if Bob had not been a part of it. And as a friend of fan of Bob’s and a former member of the VIU Philosophy department, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that it falls in part to me to fill in that on-stage silence with a few words after the fact.

Please go here to read the piece.