Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Culture Wars and Canada

Responding to Scott McLemee:

To first addres the subject of ‘American’...

There is no continent called ‘America’. There is North America and South America, and together they are called the Americas. If you wish to denote continental identity, you should refer then to a ‘North American’.

People living in the United States long ago appropriated the word ‘American’ to refer to themselves (and we see it used in that context every day). They are welcome to keep it — and rather less than welcome to include Canadians under the umbrella of whatever constitutes ‘being American’.

As to the rest of the column...

Conservative pundits in Canada have long pined for a ‘national identity’ they could pin on everyone who lives here.

When people, like Cohen, express fears about “the elements of our character: the failure of memory, the weakness of citizenship, the tolerance of ethnic nationalism, the willingness to compromise one too many times” it is seen by the rest of us as code for wanting a nation that is “white, right and polite.”

Despite our occasional export of neo-cons like Conrad Black, David Frum, Mark Steyn, and others, it is very much a minority view, one that struggles for lip service even in Canada’s right wing Conservative Party.

The vast majority of Canadians have embraced a far different picture, one that not only includes our social programs (including public health care) and non-violence, but which also explicitly endorses a ’salad bowl’ model of society.

If there is a ‘culture war’ in this country, it’s more an American-inspired insurgency among those who have difficulty tolerating people who are different from themselves.

The rest of us take things like freedom of religion to heart. We encourage people to celebrate their heritage, whatever it may be. And that’s why you see things like gay marriage accepted in Canada (and not merely tolerated).

It’s a popular fiction, for some reason promulgated among Americans, that we have simply ‘fallen into’ our national character, and that we will continue to ‘muddle through’. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In a paper I wrote a few years ago, My Canada, I argue that our national character is one of deliberate choice and policy — that we chose to be open, diverse, peaceful and accepting — and that we built it into the fibre of our nation. http://www.downes.ca/post/57

We are very proud to be Canadians — proud, not because we are all the same, but because we are all different, each of us with something unique and valuable to bring to the table, united by values of openness, sharing, and support.

The insurgency likes to depict Canadians as people who define themselves as not being American, but Canadians know better. Defining us in American terms distorts the picture; painting us in opposition to American values misses entirely the things that make us who we are.

The United States has ‘culture wars’, perhaps, but the same concept cannot be applied to Canada. There is no sense in which we expect one culture can reign supreme in this country — and it would be a very sad day for us all if one did.

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