Murphy’s matters of opinion

Rex Murphy’s latest book proves Pamela Anderson, Conrad Black and Tim Horton can fall onto the same page


In reading this book, I was reminded of the theme song to the Yogi Bear show, when the song goes, “Yogi Bear is smarter than the average bear.” I believe that for someone to read, and take an interest in Canada and Other Matters of Opinion by Rex Murphy, they need to be smarter than the average bear, and ready to dive into a challenging and complex book.

This book is a compilation of Murphy’s former columns called “Point of View” for CBC’s The National. In this revised edition of the book, Murphy has edited some of his past articles and added comments. Due to the specific nature of the content Murphy is commenting on, in order to read the book, one must be well enough acquainted with the subject matter. Basically, a strong interest in politics and the news is needed in order to read and understand most of this book.

Murphy is a strongly opinionated individual. His writing is clever and interesting. Murphy’s signature use of humor through paradoxes and hyperboles allows him to clearly (and sometimes overzealously) express his opinions. While this book is mainly an interesting critique on Canadian politics and foreign relations, it also focuses on literature, pop culture, and the general demise of the world. Murphy makes it clear that we, as a society are doing things wrong, and you’d better believe he has something to say about it.

While I always respect someone who is brave enough to speak their mind, Murphy often comes off as a being condescending and over bearing. The realistic-looking caricature of Murphy on the front cover isn’t scowling and angry looking for nothing.

Murphy’s critiques of modern society remind me of the philosophers Gabriel Marcel and Nietzsche. In Man Against Mass Society by Gabriel Marcel, the thinker talks about the decent of society into a non-unique, unified mass that thinks and acts the same due to the prevalence of technology and science in the 21st century.

Marcel fears that we have lost our sense of individualism and our basic fraternal connections with each other as human beings. Murphy does not explicitly make the connection between our social demise and the increasing prevalence of technology, but he does develop the idea that our society is reaching an age of crisis because we believe in false ideals, such as the importance of celebrity and money, and the white-washing of life via political correctness.

If Murphy were to believe Nietzsche’s theory that our rejection of religion and spiritual belief has led to the “death of God” holds true, then for Murphy we have replaced God with the belief in anything that simplifies or makes life more comfortable and easy.

Amongst the many different columns, there were a few that stood out to me in both good and bad ways. A column I really liked was Murphy’s column called “Keith Richards- out of his tree”. I liked this piece because out of all of Murphy’s columns I felt it was his most honest. It was also more of a gentle and comedic observation than his other columns. The intent of the specific article was not to prove his argument in an obnoxiously loud way (like many of his other columns do) but, ironically enough, to enlighten the world on the merits of having the relaxed and devil-may-care attitudes which Richards naturally possesses.

Murphy’s book has both a blessing and the curse in that it fearlessly tackles some controversial subject matter.

If Murphy was to suddenly shy away from controversy, he would not be the tenaciously opinionated individual who he has come to be known through his expressive columns. And while it’s true that good art and literature sometimes need to be shocking or different from social norms, I believe there can be a point at which someone takes it too far. The article which Murphy wrote that shocked and offended me the most was his article called “Silly Bitching”.

In this article Murphy was trying to make his case for the importance of freedom of expression as “a basic human right”, which is innately and boundlessly valuable and essential to every human being. To deny this right in any way is foolish, ignorant, and beyond a person’s prerogative.

This is a long standing theme of Murphy’s and runs throughout the book, spanning several different articles and categories. While I agree with this point, I disagree with Murphy’s view that political correctness in any form is a suppressive institution that is created to hinder our ability to speak freely.

I agree that sometimes in our culture we go too far in trying to sanitize issues or ideas to a level of acceptability. Political correctness sometimes does away with the essence of the idea to the point where we lose the original purpose of the idea.

I believe, however, that political correctness is a necessary thing. While this may be the product of my admittedly liberal and hippy education, I see nothing wrong with being a little bit politically correct, so that we do not hurt or offend one another’s feelings. Like other social institutions, political correctness helps us put boundaries and outlines on how we treat and interact with other people.

Murphy never leaves the audience guessing. It’s always made very clear where he stands on a topic and who he holds in high or low regard. I did find this book enjoyable and interesting, but not captivating or compelling enough to leave me on the edge of my seat, wanting more. I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in politics or current affairs, but I would not recommend it for someone looking for an entertaining read as a means of escaping the reality of every day life.

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