Hello U.S. Readers, (and others too)
Since I believe your C.I.A. isn’t allowed to operate on this continent,
meaning: your spies can’t do “man in the street” echolocation,
I thought I’d offer you some intelligence,
while also providing you, in case you meet Canadians on your holidays,
with some dynamic conversation starters.
It occurs to me that my dear U.S. readers, affectionately known as Yankees, may be wondering: “Up north, what is Canadian culture? Presumably it’s different than ours.”
Yes it’s different. In fact, the Free Trade Agreement, which, once it was put in place, LATER, to the BIG SURPRISE of the average Canadian in the street, added Mexico and became the North American Free Trade Agreement, was only signed… after… Americans promised that Canadians would be legally allowed to keep their own culture. If you are of U.S. aboriginal decent, then you know how much the Great White Father’s promises are worth.
Part of us having our own culture includes a certain legal percentage of radio songs being mandated to be “Canadian content.” There were other legal things too—but fewer now, as I once read that every time the Americans legally challenge the Canadians, the Americans would always win. Was I surprised? Only at first, then I reflected, “It figures.” Part of your U.S. culture, with “plausible denial” by the man in the street, is that your country is so expert, expert I say, at imperializing.
Back when I was a boy, back when you guys officially believed America was a melting pot—I get the impression you have since mostly changed to believing in pluralism, maybe even making it official, but you would know better than I if such a change has happened—Canada switched to officially believing in a multi-cultural mosaic. Partly, I guess, this was a reaction to you guys being so extreme: I remember my school principal telling us how a bus driver was so rude to an English father and his son who were trying to cope with Yankee currency, “he almost made them get off the bus.” I “get it” how the driver was only doing what he and his peers thought was right: You can’t expect folks to melt in without a little heat.
In the early 1970’s a Royal Commission, without writing “unlike the dam Yankees,” reported that Canadians believed anyone should be allowed another language provided they had one of the two official languages,” English or French. I’m sure this was true at the time, and is still true in the vast majority of Canada. But I have grave doubts about whether this is now true for our big U.S.-sized city, Toronto. It’s big enough to have “housing projects” (as I learned after a heinous crime made the newspapers here out west) something Canada’s third, forth, and fifth largest cities, according to my direct casual observation, do not have.
A colleague told me he and his wife relocated from there to live here, in the west, for the sake of their son. This was because in Toronto, he said, it was too easy to always speak a certain nonofficial language. (Perhaps this is from Toronto’s “culture,” and lack of leadership, and not merely from its “big size”) He added that an arrogant idiot discouraged his move, saying that “the English” should learn to speak their language! Right now, outside of Toronto, using a foreign language is what reporters call “man bites dog.” (No journalist writes a headline Dog Bites Man) When a condominium board over in another province (not in Toronto) conducted their meetings totally in a foreign language, the news was reported out here in Alberta.
Back to the mosaic: Our theory is that each irregularly shaped nice pretty piece of tile is embedded in a floor that is common to all. Am I responsible for knowing the floor? As in our common constitution, culture, and so forth? Yes. Am I responsible for knowing each and every tile? No: When I took an evening university class in aboriginal culture, our longhaired Indian instructor told us calmly and confidently that he didn’t know anything about Vietnamese culture. He said we were in class to learn about indigenous culture for the first time. My classmates, I might add, were majoring in social work.
What I suppose the Royal Commission implied, if you substitute the word culture for language, was that we don’t mind anyone having a second culture, providing they also have the bedrock mainstream culture. At present, certain richer, more powerful Canadians, are saying our personal tiles should take priority over our common culture, but the average Canadian still does not believe this.
Perhaps because we are bi-lingual, perhaps because we have a greater percentage per capita than the U.S. does of immigrants, and of refugees too, I for one feel no special sacred awe for “language.” And so, for both the U.S. and Canada, my earnest plea is: Let’s not make a fetish out of language. As I see it, a person whose tile is, say, of indigenous heritage, can speak English and simultaneously have an aboriginal culture, a non-English one, just as a person can be a self-described Jew and simultaneously be an atheist. (If you doubt that last bit, go ask “a person of Jewish heritage,” not “a person of the Jewish persuasion”)
Meanwhile, I recently read where a U.S. mother was teaching her American-born children her native Portuguese. She was tired of fellow-Americans assuming that she was, along with teaching language, also raising her kids in her old country’s Portuguese culture—No way! She thought the idea was silly. I think language merely reflects culture, it does not cause it. I believe religions and cultures are all social constructs: They don’t exist in nature; they aren’t magically tied to language. So I won’t fetishize language.
I mentioned the “richer, more powerful” Canadians. The problem with “love of power” is that your political power doesn’t truly exist, does not materialize, until you can make others do things against their better judgment. I suspect that explains how political parties here, of the left, right and center, will so often go against common sense.
There has long been suspicion (ever since the days when a princess would go off to the continent to find her prince, without the active encouragement of the commoners) that rich folk have less attachment to their own country than we do. Maybe because they fly a lot. I read once that the British upper class wanted Britain to switch over from the pound sterling to the eurodollar: Mostly so they could easily go shopping when they flew to the continent. Luckily for Britain, the common people had a stubborn sentimental attachment to their traditional pounds, as eventually along came Brexit.
In the U.S. the congressmen are millionaires, to be sure, but I suspect the extra strong U.S. patriotism, as well as the usual politician’s healthy paternalism, mitigates any silly temptation to regard their fellow countrymen as being, as one L.A. and N.Y. businessman put it, “those people we fly over.” When I was young here in Canada, as it happens, we had a rich member of the "jet set," a "playboy," as all the media labeled him, who became our young prime minister. (I’ve learned a lot from the essays of Pierre Trudeau) Years later his son, raised with a silver spoon in his mouth, became our current young prime minister, Justin Trudeau. Now what?
Does ever-rich Justin have the same attachment to our bedrock culture as the man in the street? I would say not. Trudeau’s disconnected enough to have professed an admiration for the communist system of China.
As you know, China would use violent force, if only it could, to “re-unite” the democratic republic of Taiwan, on the island of Formosa (population 24 million) with Mainland China. Luckily Taiwan can count on the free world for help: In practice this means: count on the U.S. navy. Call me a conspiracy guy, but I’ll always wonder if Trudeau was somehow behind a recent “man bites dog” story, widely reported here in Canada, of a Canadian official turning down a Chinese couple’s attempt to bring their adopted child with them to Canada, because the DNA of the (Chinese) child was different than theirs. Such a happy event for the communists!
I can imagine a Communist Party official seizing on that Canadian story to justify their infamous “one China” policy, to justify violently conquering an innocent republic… where even the very oldest of the senior citizens has always loved the green hills of Taiwan, has never known the evil of communism… as Taiwan’s DNA matches the mainland. So yes, I’ll always wonder if Trudeau was part of a conspiracy. We used to think it took five years to “become Canadian,” but now folks can become citizens of their adopted country in only three years. Forget DNA, look to the heart.
When our previous (conservative) government tried to tell new immigrants that certain old world practices, such as honor killing of females, and female genital mutilation, would not be allowed in Canada, and were “barbaric,” Trudeau disagreed with that wording. When the previous government said that dual citizens guilty of terrorism here in Canada should be deported to their other country, the one they presumably prefer, and have their Canadian citizenship stripped away, Trudeau and his liberals disagreed.
Most glaring of all, within the last year he has said that Canada doesn’t have a common culture, that we “could be the world’s first postnational state, with no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.” (From his New York Times interview) To this, I disagree.
My dear American friends, rest assured that Trudeau’s words were considered newsworthy here in the north, because the average person who works for a living does not believe this. It would be instructive for you to set up a journalist with microphone and camera at any Canadian Greyhound station, to have a cross section of Canadian travelers, asking people whether they agree with Trudeau that Canada has no shared culture. I think your State Department would support my opinion here: The “silent majority” of Canadians would NOT agree.
It might seem nice to be part of something bigger than Canada, as big as the whole world, or the great wide galaxy, but experience tells us humans need a little sense of security from having a smaller, nice comfy common culture, or customs.
From the book Citizen of the Galaxy (1957) by Robert Heinlein comes my ending quotation: It is instructive to substitute the word culture for customs. The scene is an anthropologist explaining things to a teenage boy, to help him get oriented, after he has been adopted into a new tribe:
“...Customs tell a man who he is, where he belongs, what he must do. Every people need their customs. Better to have irrational customs than none; men cannot live together without them...”
Western hemisphere of Terra,
In western Canada,
In sight of the Rocky Mountains,
~It was during a national discussion about signing the Free Trade Agreement (the agreement from before NAFTA) that I bought a big button that had the star and stripes but one of the stars had been replaced with a red maple leaf. The words on the pin were “No, eh?”
No offense to my U.S. readers, but I don’t want our two countries to use free trade to culturally merge: your culture is too different. For example, Canadians would never land the marines to protect the United Fruit Company against a legitimate government, the way you guys did.
~As I implied in my essay, I am sure the average U.S. citizen would deny believing in imperialism. Perhaps richer North Americans will more easily imperialize other countries because they feel less attachment to their own country. In Canada there are “election spending limit” laws. Recently Elections Canada reported foreigners were cheating, using extra money to influence our last election. The money was used not to influence pipelines in general, oh no, but to influence only two specific pipelines that would break the U.S. monopoly on our oil: Especially, the proposed first ever pipeline—none exist yet—to get our oil to the Canadian west coast “tidewater” so that the free market could set our prices.
Under President Obama many, many miles of new pipeline were built. The sole pipeline he opposed was the one that would have crossed over the U.S. to the Texas coast for international oil tankers. Coincidence? Elections Canada reported that foreign money came from an institute of U.S. millionaires. Nevertheless, I still believe the common people of the U.S. are good-hearted. I believe that if you passed a hat around among non-elite people asking for money to imperialize, then the average American would just say no. Hence the millionaires needed their institute.
Now good average Americans, who would normally despise cheaters, can plausibly deny knowing what their millionaires are doing to Canada.