Friday, July 13, 2007

So, what do Americans look like to Canadians?

Guest blogger here, by invitation of the blogmaster. And his question to me was: what do Americans look like right now from the point of view of Canadians? It’s a serious question, and a complex one which requires some background to appreciate the eventual answer, so bear with me.

The first thing to realize is that Canadians grew up experiencing all of the American mythologies perpetuated by the media: the Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Conquest of the West, the Saving of Europe in WWI and WWII, and the benevolent hegemony of American nuclear power keeping us safe from the Russkies from 1950 to 1990. Most of us can sing your national anthem and name your President, and most of us follow American pro sports, turn on American tv channels, and shell out $9 - $12 to eat overpriced popcorn drenched industrial grease while we watch American films. The message that many of us have received for decades is not only that America is great, but that Canada is insignificant. For us, real success is when you Move to America – like Wayne Gretzky, Anne Murray, Mary Pickford, John Kenneth Galbraith, and others. In fact, for a lot of Canadians, the first reaction to America is one of a jealous younger brother looking up to his much older, bigger, stronger, and more accomplished sibling.

The second thing to realize is that this feeling of the neglected and less significant sibling is what drives much of what Americans see as a hostile, smug, or angry view of them by their neighbours to the north. This is because, as a country of only 30 million people sharing a common culture, land mass, economy, and language with a dominant country of 300 million people, we are of necessity inclined to say, rather than “We are proud Canadians”, “We are NOT Americans!” We simply don’t have the voice, politically or otherwise, to proclaim our “Canadianness” loudly enough that the rest of the world (and indeed, our own countrymen) can hear, so we have to define ourselves by how we are not like Americans. Of course, to American ears, this coupling of the negative form with “American” makes us sound terribly negative, though we are not.

To sum up this preamble, Canadians are and have been mostly admiring of Americans, but somewhat overshadowed, and, being proud of ourselves as distinct from the other nations of North America, are constantly trying to move out of that shadow, notwithstanding the long-term cooperation and friendliness we have between us.

That was the stance until the 1980’s and Reagan. Since then the civic cultures and values of Canadians and Americans have diverged significantly. If you want a reference, look up the book, “Fire and Ice: the United States, Canada, and the Myth of Converging Values” by Michael Adams.

So having said all that: What do we (Canadians) think of you (Americans) now?

1) We are shocked, horrified, and appalled at your political establishment’s responses to events of Sept 11, 2001. We were and are adamantly opposed to your administration’s destruction of Iraq, and we find your current paranoia off-putting. A lot of Canadians deeply resent having to get a passport to visit the U.S., and the attitudes of your border guards and customs agents is are simultaneously hostile and demeaning.

2) We think the intrusion of religion into political discourse and political decisions is demented. And that is not too strong a word. Canadians deeply mistrust politicians of any stripe who wear their religion on sleeves and make their decisions based upon that. Our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, would have been elected with a large majority, as the electorate were tired of the corrupt federal Liberals, but for the fact that he is openly conservatively religious. Many, many Canadians have come from places where religious persecution was a matter of government policy, and the vast majority of us, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, et al. don’t want our leaders making religious decisions on our behalf.

3) Torture, indefinite detainment, and secret gulags have physically sickened many of us to contemplate, particularly as we had never believed that it would be possible for an American government to do this as a matter of open, public policy, rather than working discreetly through cat’s paw governments and corrupt leaders. I can’t begin to say how disgusted many Canadians are with these policies. I, for one, have vowed not to enter the U.S. again until the Torture Law is off the books.

4) We resent American politicians and public figures coming up here and mucking about in our politics and our economy. Right now in B.C. our “liberal” (read neocon) provincial government is trying to privatize our public electric utility at the behest of American “free market” economists and businessmen. Likewise, Americans are trying to get our universal healthcare system abolished. Their bought-and-paid-for Canadian politicians are managing to make the system more frustrating through moderate underfunding, but none dare abolish it, because their entire party would then be destroyed by a vengeful Canadian public. And now we have American police coming up here and getting our supine leaders to arrest Canadians on American drug charges (google “Marc Emery” for more info on that).

5) Finally, we are puzzled. Where, we ask, is the public dissent to these policies? All the Canadians I know, know Americans who are horrified with the goals and the policies of your current administration. Where are the demonstrations? The fights? The engagement of principle? And this is what is most destructive. We Canadians can differentiate between the American people as individuals who love their freedom and who are reasonable, caring persons, and the current vile and corrupt American administration only for so long. And we are worried what might happen to us if an American President and Congress try to vilify and marginalize and dominate us the way they have other nations (ie the French).

Please fix yourselves! We can’t do it! We’re only spectators looking aghast at a great country abandoning all of its great ideals which we grew up with.

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