Uncle Gnarley on Objectivity and Altruism

“Nav”, says Uncle Gnarley, “there are still some
serious economists who prowl the halls of academe”.  “Of course”, I volunteered, “our very own university
boasts more than a few”.   “Yes”, says
Gnarley, “several good ones, in fact; one or two who taught with me in the
Department of Economics, are probably still around”.

“One of them is quite an advocate for Muskrat”, I
ventured. “He seems to think the project is better than sliced bread, though he
did seem to be a bit confused as to whether the cost of the transmission line
was included in his numbers.  That’s a
bit like buying a car and not being sure if it includes the motor, isn’t it,
Uncle Gnarley”?  Needling the old
Professor was a favourite pastime and I seldom passed up an opportunity to keep
in check the ego of one who was deeply proud of his years engaged in the
subject. “Do all you economists add up numbers that way”, my harangue
continued, knowing I would pay a dear price later for such insolence.

Uncle Gnarley was completely non-plussed by my sudden
charge on his profession.  “Now Nav,
don’t confuse advocate and academic, as perhaps that professor may have; advocate
and academic can be one and the same, but they rarely are”. “By jing”, says
Gnarley, “the data had better be compelling when you try to do both.  There is a big risk of conflict”. 

“If you want to be in the persuasion business and
still be a true academic”, he commented, as he looked up at the ceiling, in
deep contemplation of the circumstance I had described, “I think”, he uttered
finally, “you should decide in which of the two you really are engaged”. By now
his curled lip had become an evident facial scar, making his mouth appear
twisted, even grim.  I had not intended
to cause him such anguish but I found the occasion irresistible.  He could get obnoxiously patronizing. But for
Uncle Gnarley, the issue, though not about him, was clearly personal. This was serious
business. Indeed, I thought he had finished, but he was really just getting started.

“Nav, there are special people in this world and you
are not one of them”, came the opening volley. 
What is it again that you studied? Perhaps, it was at a modest
undergraduate level. Not offering me a chance to respond, Gnarley continued his
monologue.  “Now take, for example, this
fellow known only as “JM”, who submitted no less than a one hundred and sixty seven
page review of the Muskrat Falls project to the PUB, under that acronym.  You could never hope, Nav, to be anything like
that person. No mean feat for any mortal, clearly he was an economist”, Gnarley
announced proudly, “and a fine academic”. 
“JM”, he continued, obviously thought he might suffer recrimination if
he published under his real name (and I say, “he”, Gnarley interjected, but it
could have been “she”, for all that matters, but let’s assume the masculine
gender). Evidently, JM was not prepared to compromise the analysis by
disclosing his identity, which could have been a result of he, or someone he
knew, being affected by his research”.

“Now, Nav”, Gnarley continued, “who would have
undertaken such a demanding project? Who would have made such a commitment knowing
that he could neither benefit financially nor on an academic level?  After weeks of difficult research, the
decision to sign off on the work, under the anonymous “JM”, had to be tough.  Whoever JM was, Nav, I believe he left the signature
of a real academic; a person in pursuit of the truth rather than any reward,
not even self-aggrandizement”. 

“OK, Ok, Uncle, I understand what you are getting
at.  But, are you suggesting that JM actually
has that whole Muskrat project figured out and that Nalcor, is all wet”?, now trying
out one of my little witticisms on the great man.  “No”, replied the bearded one, without any
acknowledgement of my sarcasm, “I don’t entirely hold that view, though he
succeeded in exposing some very serious questions.  JM understood that there is more to research
than just a bunch of figures and conclusions”.

Obviously, Nav, you are none too bright and I will
have to dig deep for the patience to explain this properly.  “Now numbskull, have you read the novelist
and poet, Toba Beta, by any chance”?  “As
a matter of fact, I have not, Uncle Gnar..”. 
“Well, ..er, I thought as much, but you see, I have”, said Gnarley, more
than a little pompously, “and he wrote many good works, but there is one line of
his that keeps reappearing, in my mind,  as I work through these Muskrat papers”. 
His pause was long, forcing me to enquire: “What
line is that”?  The ‘presence’ took a
deep breath, following which he slowly mouthed the words like someone under the
spell of a  mentor’s exalted status:
The clarity of
perception makes reality look as it is”.
  The words hung, as if
in rarefied air, by the force of his singular respect for their author, though
I have to admit, my attention had already been diverted to the ‘beneficial vapors’
of a certain Scotch whiskey bottle.  

Continued
the great one; now wishing to finish his point, “I am convinced it is that very
wisdom that JM possessed.  JM was clearly
someone who had enjoyed something more than merely position and knowledge of
the question as to whether there existed a rational and studied basis for the Muskrat
project.  You see, Nav, JM had the gift
of a mind unconflicted”.  Now, I
understood; as much he sometimes bored me, the man was clearly still on his
game. Someone did understand Muskrat and it just might not be Nalcor!

Uncle Gnarley: “Nav,
you did mention the possibility of a single malt. Perhaps, you want to talk about kayaking or
hiking, or some other of your great ‘mental’ challenges”. I knew it was time to
change the subject, though it was clear Uncle Gnarley was not finished with “JM”.

Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.

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