Wednesday, May 25, 2005
As Doug says, interesting use of the word 'was'
Clifford Krauss (of whom I've been unable to find a bio, despite extensive googling; he's the Times' regular Canada writer, and I'm always frustrated reading his articles -- generally correct on facts, but eerily off on tone), writing in the NY Times, asks, Was Canada Just Too Good to Be True?. (Thanks to Doug the Jesuit for forwarding me the article).
I just wanted to say a few things about it.
First, from something near the end of the piece:
The discussion over what exactly is Canada's identity - and whether its favored definition is perhaps a piece of Liberal propaganda - is beginning to emerge in the political debate between the struggling Liberals and the challenging Conservatives.
The discussion about Canada's identity is beginning to emerge? What!? Beginning? We've been talking about this for aeons.
Second -- he suggests that Canadians have blinkers on about the problems in our country: racism, the treatment of members of the First Nations, protectionism/free trade, the nature of our commitment to Kyoto, the status of our health care system, etc., etc., etc. I doubt that the Canadians who pay attention to politics/society at all (i.e., those who might read the NY Times) have great illusions about the problems we face.
Of course, quite a few nations have an embellished sense of righteousness, not least among them, many would say, Canada's southern neighbor. But perhaps no other country puts such a high premium on its own virtue than does Canada.
"That's why the sponsorship scandal stings as much as it does," said Janice Stein, director of the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto. With a touch of irony, she added, "We're not like this; we're nice and good."
The recent spectacle of scandal and tawdry politics has some Canadians now wondering if all the self-congratulatory virtue is not mixed with some old-fashioned hypocrisy, or what Robert Fulford, a leading literary journalist and columnist characterizes as "a fable" expounded by generations of Liberal leaders.
"During recent decades our politicians have told us a sweet bedtime story about Canada being an exceptionally compassionate country, a world leader in multiculturalism and wonderfully generous to the poor countries," Mr. Fulford said. "All of this expresses something called 'Canadian values.' All lies."
Would any Canadian who regularly read the paper really think that we actually live up to this ideal? Of course Canadians are hypocrites. Everyone's a hypocrite; who actually lives up to their ideals? Politics is always betrayal (thanks, Levinas and Derrida). Politics always involves giving up some things for others, weighing, calculating, etc. Canadian politics are no different. And is anyone surprised if a party that has been in power for aeons has some corruption going on? Actually, to restate: is anyone surprised if any organized human endeavour has some corruption going on? (the public sector is far from having a monopoly on corruption, contrary to what my father might think)
The problem with this article is that it lays out the areas in which Canada's ideals and its practices fail to connect -- our real treatment of the environment, immigrants, etc., etc., etc. -- as if these areas come as a surprise to thinking Canadians. We know these problems. We're working on them. We also know that we don't look so stellar on the peacekeeper front either. Yes. Krauss's article suggests that there is an unseemly reality behind a goody-goody mask. But anyone who knows Canada knows about the reality -- or at least that, of course, that goody-goody image is too good to be true.
Of course it's too good to be true. It would be too good for any country. We're a struggling, recently-formed democracy -- how could there be anything but problems? Further, anyone looking carefully at group of human beings professing some ideal will see the ways in which they fail to live up to that ideal (e.g., look at the power politics & abuses that go on within lefty activist circles).
It's as if, in an article about America, someone said that "Americans are beginning to have doubts about their status as perfect emblem of freedom and democracy." Of course Americans have doubts about that -- even the conservatives I know. Any Canadians who honestly believed that Canada was as perfect as its politicians orate are as dumb as Americans who believe everything Bush says in the State of the Union address. And frankly, I don't care what they think. And besides, they wouldn't read Krauss's article anyway.
Krauss concludes his article thus:
At a recent Liberal party convention, Mr. Martin pledged that "our most important commitment to the Canadian people was our pledge to protect and defend the values that define us: Liberal values, Canadian values." To which Stephen Harper, the Conservative leader, shot back at a rally of his own: "Corruption is not a Canadian value."
No, of course it isn't. Corruption isn't something you value, it's something that happens when human beings in an organization let their guard down and start thinking that something might be OK, no one would get hurt, as long as they don't get caught -- and the process snowballs. Are the Liberals genuinely committed to the same values as the Conservatives or the NDP are? I won't even try to answer that (it would probably take a book), but I will say that I do believe that (most) people who enter politics do so in genuine willingness to serve their nation, and (for the most part) do the best they think they can, and that humans are fallible and corruptible, and that we should try to work together as best we can, believing good of each other. We won't get far by writing off whole swaths of the political spectrum as monolithically corrupt/evil. That's no way to move forward.
I think that living up to your values, whether collectively as a country or individually as a person, is something that doesn't come easily, but that you can work on & ultimately get better at. (This is something my friend Doug explains really well, in the context of his Jesuit vows).
Krauss's primary mistake was in his use of the past tense: "Was Canada Just Too Good to Be True?". No country was. No country is. But maybe, maybe, maybe, Canada might someday become closer to the vision its ideals articulate. That's what we can hope for. That's what we can work toward. And dammit, I like those ideals.
jane 1:09 PM [+]