Slavenka Drakulic & Bill Reid

Saturday, 15 March 1997, 7:16 am, Vancouver, BC

Early meeting yesterday, in my capacity as executive director, with the museological consultants, the Museum Commission, and the City of Vancouver on the second renovations project for the Museum of Vancouver. It started late; but, in any case, the necessary negotiations on cost-sharing were achieved.

To the University of British Columbia to hear a second lecture of Slavenka Drakulic’s. This was over the noon hour, in the Buchanan complex. Her subject was that guilt can only be individual, but responsibility can be collective. Her exegesis was well thought through; and her format was the same as Wednesday’s: introduction, a reading, and questions.

Slavenka Drakulic: Cafe Europa (Courtesy: slavenkadrakulic.com)

Slavenka Drakulic: Cafe Europa (Courtesy: slavenkadrakulic.com)

Two ideas struck me forcefully. First, that those who are called monsters are called that in order to become the public’s instruments of self-absolution. In other words, that normal, ordinary people are capable of the greatest evil or of the greatest good. (And as writers and artists are also normal, so they, too, as she argued Wednesday.) This I also finally found a rational underpinning for Amnesty International’s philosophy that all killing, even of killers, is immoral.

And second, that acquiescent silence or inaction is, or at least implies, collaboration or corroboration of the objectives of the political leaders; this silence or inaction being as superficially innocuous as not protesting when those who are of different race or religion are persecuted because of either of those; or, not greeting them in the street — even if they have been neighbours or fellow citizens for years. The equally interesting corollary to this, I thought to myself, is that one can never be neutral, or, for that matter, amoral. And further, that morality is a necessary attribute of human action, for our actions are guided by our capacity, and our ability, to choose. And thus, I think this morning, does our ability to choose bring us to the reality of conscience.

If in a society that is not civil, i.e., one without democratic political organization and institutions, one can explain away the excesses of anarchy, as we this week see tragically in Albania, how does one explain away, for example, Dresden or Hiroshima? which were genocidal attacks. Or that the Germans, one of the most cultured nations of the earth, supported Hitler, the European war, and the liquidation of the Jews and millions of others?

Bill Reid: The Spirit of Haida Gwaii (Courtesy: theravenscall.ca)

Bill Reid: The Spirit of Haida Gwaii (Courtesy: theravenscall.ca)

Around two, I arrived at M.’s apartment, and there, for some four hours, we talked over and reviewed her archival matter on Bill Reid, and his descent from one of the finest artists of his days into fraudulence. It is a complicated matter; and there is little doubt he has been unjust to M. and others. But I find his behaviour so tragically human that, I confess, although superficially I cannot condone it, I find it impossible to summon up the fullness of either condemnation or contempt. M. would not like this in me, and it would appall her. She has a great mind and is a person of the greatest sensitivity, gentle and delicate, and with a view of integrity that borders on the naive; and she always, I expect, will have a need to have others’ protection to flourish. I like her immensely.

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