Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Canada: between two harsh giants, both devolving and eroding

By Lawrence Martin, Globe and Mail, June 28, 2011
According to the Maclean’s (magazine) survey, Wilfrid Laurier is the greatest prime minister. Then comes John A. Macdonald, who is followed by five Liberals in this order: Mackenzie King, Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chrétien and Louis St. Laurent. Finally, we get more conservatives: Robert Borden is ranked eighth, followed by Brian Mulroney and John Diefenbaker.

Then there’s Mr. Harper. He’s condemned by those polled for his overly partisan and authoritarian approach to government. Says Trent University’s Dimitry Anastakis: “Harper has distinguished himself most in being the most polarizing, opportunistic, shrewd and partisan prime minister in decades.”
Even the conservatives who were surveyed rated him rather low. A disadvantage, of course, is that he’s the incumbent. Time tends to soften the image. Mr. Chrétien finished ninth in the survey when he was PM; today, he’s sixth. Another difficulty for Mr. Harper is that he lacks a stellar and memorable policy achievement. His most notable successes are in the realm of political warfare.
And here you thought I was the only critic of the current prime minster!
Not so; and the people surveyed for this historical analysis teach history in Canadian universities and have the benefits of far greater reading and reflection and scholarly analysis than your scribe.
(Also from the Martin piece)
The rankings, drawn from a survey of 117 specialists in Canadian history and politics, are a reminder of how Liberal leaders, men of the middle, have dominated and shaped the country.
Our history in Canada is not so much a matter of right versus left, but rather one of moderate versus immoderate. If we are a country of "middling leaders," that is because we know all too well the harshness of both the giant to the south and the coldness of the Arctic giant to the north. We are geographically the "meat-in-the-sandwich" on the North American continent. And the two forces above and below are extreme, in their respective qualities:
  • its blatant racism,
  • Darwinian capitalism,
  • unapologetic classism
  • rampant legalisms,
  • unabashed militarism (supportive of and supported by dozens of wars including their war of independence),
  • over-the-top star culture,
  • and her rancid and toxic fundamental, evangelical prostestantism
and the
  • her history of unrelenting cold
  • her history of bleak landscapes of ice
  • her untouchable "northwest passage" filled with ice
  • her unforgiving living conditions for human beings
  • her historic separation and alienation from the rest of Canada and the world
And yet both of these stereotypes are rapidly eroding under conditions of comparable entropy, atrophy and to some extent unsustainability.
America can no longer afford either her military or her penchant for military engagement and consequent failures (VietNam, Iraq X2, Afghanistan and potentially Libya). She has passed both the Imancipation bill in 1865 freeing slaves following the Civil War and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, giving the vote to blacks finally.
She has also birthed and engendered Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X, Medger Evers, John Lewis and now elected Barack Obama. So at least on the surface she is moving, glacially, in the right direction. Nevertheless, her addiction to money, the pursuit of profit and the accompanying culture that fosters a dog-eat-dog domestic economy and political culture dependent on the ravages of tsunamis of cash has grown exponentially in the last two or three decades since Ronald Reagan was President.
America's Supreme Court just yesterday struck down as unconstitutional, a California law passed in 2005, under then governor Arnold Schwartzenegger, banning the sale or rental of extremely violent computer video games from those under eighteen. In the judgement, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote:
 California's argument would fare better if there were a long-standing tradition in this country of specially restricting children's access to depicctions of violence, but there is none. Certainly the books we give children to read --or read to them when they are younger--contain no shortage of  gore. (quoted from a story in the Globe and Mail, June 28, 2011 by Dakshana Bascaramurty)
As if the reading of The Grimm's Tales bore the least resemblance to the physical and emotional engagement of grabbing a joy-stick and literally firing to kill humans, animals and other assorted phantasmagoric creatures in the games, not to mention the physical and emotional experience of participating in rape and other sexual assaults. Has the justice stopped breathing the oxygen flowing in and out of the lungs of the rest of the society adn found a more ethereal supply for himself?
And then in America there is the cultural addiction to the making and destroying of pop idols, for the sole purpose of generating profit for those who manage and who manipulate these innocent and empty souls, with a marginal talent for singing, or dancing or even entertaining often at 8 or 10 years of age, linked to the "stardom" of Hollywood, the NFL, the NBA, and even the NHL. Magazines, television programs, video games, CD's and digital music collectively constitute a billion-dollar industry around whose edges roam the scavengers of the drug and sex trades. However one generates profit, in the millions, and even in the billions is the definition of success...the list of billionaires grows daily in the U.S. and it is published as a mark of pride in the capitalist system succeeding, when in reality it ought to be a sign of the shame that so many children go to bed each night without food, without light to do their homework and without heat for their room, often without even a bed for themselves.
But it is America's born-again culture, that separates those who are saved from those who are not, in the minds and hearts of the elites (obviously saved), and that generates more hatred, contempt, distrust and even bigotry against the "other" in American towns and cities, and does so with impunity and the freedom of religion that is enshrined in the American constitution. Also enshrined is the right to free speech that supported the Supreme Court decision above, and the freedom to bear arms, Amendment Two, really supporting a militia two centuries ago, and clearly not meant for today's bedside table pistols for self-defence and the culture that supports such insanity. And among the "saved" are those anti-abortionists who will use their guns to kill nurses and doctors who work in clinics where therapeutic abortions are performed, as acts of religious vengance, believing as they do, that they are "doing God's work" in their killings.

And the ARCTIC is slowing melting into the seas, leaving the polar bears without habitat, and without food and the planet without the cooling influences of that large ice pack.
And so, Canada, we will have to adjust our perceptions of our place in the world, just as our own country becomes as harsh and as inhospitable and as unforgiving as both monsters above and below us have been for centuries. Thanks to Stephen Harper and his gang.

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