Randal Marlin – philosopher and educator
Never a dull moment with Bhat Boy

Randal Marlin – philosopher and educator

Randal Marlin in 2013.

Randal Marlin in 2013.

by David Pritchard

I suspect that few of Randal Marlin’s friends and neighbours have read the long entry about him in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. This accolade testifies to the importance of his research into the philosophy of propaganda, for which he is known internationally. Yet it only represents one aspect of the man described in a 2005 Ottawa Express article as “Randal – Mr. Known-by-All.”

Marlin has been integral to our local community for so long that his cosmopolitan background comes as a surprise. His father, born Irving Hirsch to a poor Jewish family in New York, won a scholarship to Hamilton College, an elite school in upper New York State. After experiencing the prejudice against Jews among the upper classes of the era, he changed his name to Ervin “Spike” Marlin and converted to Protestantism. Ervin then raised money to continue his education by working as a waiter on a cruise liner, and enrolling at Trinity College, Dublin. There he courted and married Hilda van Stockum, the sister of a close friend. From a distinguished Dutch-Irish background, she was a writer and illustrator who published over 20 children’s books and was Honorary Fellow of the Royal Hibernian Academy. Her best-known book, The Winged Watchmen, is about two boys helping the Dutch Resistance during the German occupation.

Randal Marlin, the third of the couple’s six children, was born in 1938 in Washington, D.C. When he was a year old, his mother became a Roman Catholic, and had her son conditionally re-baptised into the faith that he still practises. During the Second World War, Ervin Marlin was recruited by the U.S. intelligence service, the OSS (later to become the CIA), and posted to neutral Ireland. In 1946 he joined the newly founded United Nations and moved with his family to Montreal as co-founder of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

In 1950 the Marlin family returned to Ireland, a country that Hilda considered her spiritual home. Shortly afterwards, Randal Marlin left for Ampleforth College, a Catholic boarding school in England run by the Benedictine Order. Having, in his own words, “an unusually rebellious nature even for a 14-year-old boy,” he had mixed, though generally positive, feelings about the school, which seemed largely to be run by the older pupils. He was struck by the way in which Ampleforth’s hierarchical reward-and-punishment structure, underpinned by the example of the devout monks, worked so effectively in keeping the boys under control.

In 1955 Marlin entered Princeton University. He first studied physics, but in his second year grew tired of the difficult mathematics and took a course in Greek philosophy. Deciding that the Greeks were asking “the really fundamental questions that the science I was doing wasn’t bothering with,” he decided to pursue philosophy at graduate school.

Marlin’s other great interest at Princeton was journalism. He began reporting for the student newspaper The Daily Princetonian and eventually worked his way up to Editorial Chairman. Afterwards, he spent two summers working at the Montreal Star newspaper. Marlin’s fascination with journalism has never abated, as his numerous articles over the decades attest. Never shy to express his opinions and thoughts, his letters still regularly enliven the pages of our newspapers.

Following his graduation, Marlin’s academic progress took him to Montreal’s McGill University, Trinity College (Oxford), the Institute for American Universities in Aix en Provence and the University of Toronto. His main areas of interest during this period were the 20th-century philosophical movements, phenomenology and existentialism, although he admits to occasionally neglecting his studies for all-night poker sessions.

In 1966 Marlin accepted a philosophy teaching post at Ottawa’s Carleton University, partly because it possessed an excellent school of journalism. Founded in 1942, the university had moved from First Avenue to its current campus in 1959. By the time Marlin arrived it was expanding rapidly, although student numbers were only a fraction of today’s 26,000 plus.

Randal Marlin in his study, 1972. Photo: Otto Graser

Randal Marlin in his study, 1972. Photo: Otto Graser

The next few years were particularly happy for the young academic. While the pay was not especially good, his respected position at Carleton opened many doors for him. He spent much of his leisure time at the Wasteland Cafe in the University of Ottawa, and it was there that he met Elaine, who has been his partner for over 40 years. The couple married in 1969 and moved into their first home at 1 Regent Street. They have resided in the Glebe ever since, later moving to a bigger property on Third Avenue. Despite the many demands of their careers and community activities, Elaine and Randal Marlin have raised six children, all but one born in the neighbourhood.

Not long after settling in their new house, the Marlins became involved in the struggle over the future of the Glebe. Over the next few years, they figured prominently in the successful grassroots campaign to thwart the City’s intrusive road and urban development schemes.

Curiously, this period helped focus Marlin’s attention on the uses and nature of propaganda. He remembers the words of an unknown activist at a Glebe Community Association meeting in 1971. “If there is an accident in your area, exploit it. That’s the time people will act to make changes in the traffic patterns. So don’t miss this opportunity when something like that comes up.” These observations set him thinking about the ways that public opinion can be guided by the manipulation of the truth. One of the earliest theoreticians of propaganda was the Englishman George Orwell, writing in the 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” and the novel Nineteen Eighty-four (Marlin has sometimes been called “Ottawa’s Orwell” because of his own research into the subject). A more significant influence, however, was the French philosopher and theologian Jacques Ellul (1912-94). In 1979, after reading Ellul’s The Technological Society and Propaganda: the Formation of Men’s Attitudes, Marlin applied for a Canadian Department of Defence fellowship to study propaganda, on the grounds that it was just as important a part of modern warfare as weapons and tactics. To his utter surprise he received a grant for $12,000, allowing him to spend 1979-80 working with Ellul at the University of Bordeaux.

After returning from France in 1980, Marlin instituted his renowned “Truth and Propaganda” lecture course. Even though he retired from full-time academia in 2001, he remains Adjunct Research Professor at Carleton and still teaches today. Marlin’s clinical and often witty dissections of the uses of propaganda by governments and the private sector have enlightened and inspired thousands of students over the decades, making “Truth and Propaganda” one of Carleton’s most enduring courses.

“Our papers have been subservient to the major developers and we have seen journalistic ideals corrupted to the detriment of community thriving – witness Lansdowne Park.” —Randal Marlin

Marlin once told an interviewer, “What I see as important is the need to be witness to the truth,” a belief that guided his actions as president of the Civil Liberties League in the capital region for several years. He has often spoken out against injustices against the individual, most notably during the uproar that followed the 1998 appointment of David Levine, a member of the Quebec Separatist Party, as head of the Ottawa Hospital. Marlin saw the administrator as a victim of anti-Francophone hysteria, cynically whipped up by English-language newspapers to increase their circulations. His book, The David Levine Affair; Separatist Betrayal or McCarthyism North, examined the role of the media in the controversy, and the threat to Canadian unity caused by “a strident patriotism, which reduced complex questions to a simple us-and-them mentality.”

IMG_4651In 2002 Marlin published Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion, which represents the culmination of his academic career. In this work, the fruit of over 20 years of research and thought, he explored the history, definitions and technique of propaganda, which he describes as “the organized attempt through communication to affect belief or action or inculcate attitudes in a large audience in ways that circumvent or suppress an individual’s adequately informed, rational, reflective judgment.”

In recent years Marlin has been able to devote more time to music – a passion he was often forced to neglect due to his other responsibilities. He cites his parents, who encouraged his childhood piano and violin lessons, as his earliest musical influences. Having inherited his mother’s love of Ireland, he has focused his skills as a fiddler on the haunting airs of Thomas Moore’s melodies and traditional jigs and reels. Many Glebe residents will be familiar with his lively playing at the Great Glebe Garage Sale and other community events.

Now in his mid-seventies, Marlin remains active in community and academic affairs. At the moment he is organizing an international conference on his mentor, Jacques Ellul, to be held in Ottawa in July 2014, 20 years after the philosopher’s death. He has also just published a new and revamped edition of Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion, which he feels is even more relevant today than it was in 2002. “Media have always been subject to influence by major advertisers or whoever sustains the publication. In the United States the mainstream media have become ridiculously subservient to the influence of the military- industrial-surveillance society. Here our papers have been subservient to the major developers and we have seen journalistic ideals corrupted to the detriment of community thriving – witness Lansdowne Park.”

Throughout his distinguished career, Marlin has been a hands-on person – whether as a teacher or in his works as a community activist and guardian of individual rights. “Borrowing an expression from mid-twentieth century radical journalist I.F. Stone, Marlin concludes about his own work (with a chuckle), ‘I’ve had so much fun I should be arrested’.”

Glebe resident David Pritchard is an author who focuses on Irish history and culture.

Never a dull moment with Bhat Boy

By Pamela Hilchie

Celebrating at a Causeway volunteer appreciation event are (left to right) Janice Hilchie, Bhat Boy, Carl Brunet, and Pamela Hilchie. Photo: Caroline Tseng

Celebrating at a Causeway volunteer appreciation event are (left to right) Janice Hilchie, Bhat Boy, Carl Brunet, and Pamela Hilchie. Photo: Caroline Tseng

Innovative artist, conscientious activist and community contributor all come to mind when you think of Bhat Boy. He is a resident of Ottawa with deep connections to the Glebe. Born in England, his parents immigrated by ship when he was a child. He remembers all his grandparents seeing his family off at the pier.

Bhat Boy grew up in the Glebe on the very romantic sounding Sunset Boulevard, and went to Mutchmor School and Glebe Collegiate Institute. When asked about early inspiration and memories of his talent during school days, Bhat Boy replies, “In grade two, I remember we went to see The Nutcracker and we were all supposed to do a drawing. I did my drawing of The Nutcracker and my teacher sent it back and told me I could do better. I was like, ‘Well, I never!’ because my drawing was probably the best one in the class. She sent it back because she recognized I had this ability. Her name was Mrs. Kostach, and she had a tremendous influence on me. Then when I was about 13, we had a lodger on the third floor of our house. She was a Swiss woman who was studying art history and was very interested in my art. She used to pay me to make Christmas cards, which was probably my first commission.”

In high school, Bhat Boy became more serious about his craft when he began selling ink drawings of local places as well as house portraits. “When it became clear that being an artist was what I wanted to do with my life, I went to art college. And while at the Ontario College of Art and Design, I spent a year in Florence.” His primary interest has been in traditional and fine-arts form, as opposed to modern art, and his year in Florence reinforced his talent and skill.

After college and spending some time in England, Bhat Boy returned to the Glebe to establish his career as an artist. This meant connecting with his community in a more meaningful way, giving back, and making a pathway for other artists in the area. He founded Art in the Park, the largest outdoor fine-arts festival between Montreal and Toronto. Now known as The New Art Festival, it provides a platform for emerging artists to exhibit their work, and today numbers more than 250 juried artists. Bhat Boy was also instrumental in the initiative to save the Glebe Community Centre when it was threatened with closure in favour of building elsewhere. In honour of its preservation, Bhat Boy has featured the community centre, with its well-recognized Palladian-styled dome, in much of his work.

“ It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” Photo : Bhat Boy

“ It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” Photo : Bhat Boy

When asked about his style, Bhat Boy calls himself an “envisionist,” imagining the way things could be, and moving and changing things accordingly. Anyone who has seen his work, “Winter on the Rideau Canal,” made into a thousand-piece Ravensburger puzzle, will know what this means. Many of Ottawa’s iconic buildings are featured, but in a random pattern and on different scales. The effect is whimsical and somewhat disorienting. It invites people to lean in to identify familiar landmarks and landscapes. Bhat Boy also features recurring themes, of which dragons, goldfish and nuns are the most renowned. According to Bhat Boy, “Goldfish represent the environment and the forces of nature, dragons represent the mavericks and the boyish mischief, and nuns represent the traditions in society.”

The nuns will be making a return visit to the 2013 Causeway Foundation holiday card campaign, on the card entitled “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” For the fourth year, Bhat Boy has donated the use of his art for Causeway’s annual fundraiser, which assists those with mental health issues and other disabilities to find their way to employment and independent living. “I support the Causeway program and am happy to contribute the use of my work again this year,” he says. “There is no shortage of inspiration, only time. The use of work from my existing collection to raise money for Causeway provides opportunities for its inspired work.”

Causeway’s holiday cards will be available for sale at the Glebe Craft and Artisan Fair at the Glebe Community Centre, November 15 through 17, and at a number of supportive retail outlets on Bank Street in the Glebe.

Ever restless in his search for new subjects, Bhat Boy recently put together a new body of work. His next public exhibition, entitled Heroes and Heroines, will be full of surprises and will start on November 14, 2013, at the Orange Gallery.

Pamela Hilchie is chair of the 2013 Causeway Foundation holiday card campaign.

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