Sunday, October 21, 2012

Culture clash comes to Canada...tragically and perhaps irreparably

The real battle everywhere is between extremists of all kinds and more levelheaded people

Canada is no longer a united country. An unbridgeable gap has grown between what we can broadly label conservatives and liberals. In the United States, reactionaries like Pat Buchanan for years insisted that the country was engaged in a ferocious internal culture war, and today no one doubts it. The Tea Party, the Koch brothers, the National Rifle Association, anti-choice absolutists and many others consider themselves to be at war, however metaphoric, with all who disagree with them.
(In Canada, Harper's 30%  base) disproportionately opposes abortion, gay marriage and gun control and denies global warming and evolution. Many, paradoxically, belong to the 99 per cent. As in the U.S. and Europe, culture often trumps class. They resent more successful peers rather than the 1 per cent.

These are the new conservatives, threatened by a world where the only certainty is constant dizzying change. They find less and less in common with other Canadians who in turn find them baffling, strangers in a strange land. The two groups can barely connect with each other. (From Gerald Caplan's piece Culture Clash spits Canadians over basic values, Globe and Mail, October 20, 2102, below)
Having spent nearly two decades in both formal training for and professional practice of ministry in one of the so-called mainline protestant churches, on both sides of the 49th parallel, I found this split in both values and in theology within the church. Those who saw God as a rule-giver and religion as a morality play, the fundamentalists, evangelicals, biblical literalists, apocalypticists, fear-mongers and hate-spreaders profoundly and unalterably ostracized those who preferred a more liberal position, who favoured the ordination of gays, the blessing of gay unions and marriages, the social gospel, the preservation of the environment, the teaching of relationship-education, such as it was then known as "sex-ed," the acccess to therapeutic abortion and contraception and the movement toward some kind of rapprochment between and among the various "christian" groups.
The divide showed itself, in stark terms, in a first-year class in seminary, where five liberals were numerically outnumbered, outgunned and treated with contempt by the twelve "fundies" as we called them. They were out to "save the world" from sin, where the liberals were more interested in searching for a healthy relationship with God and with all things spiritual.
In some parishes, we were the heathens, the black-sheep, the unconverted, the unwashed and the "ones for whom the born-again's prayed" even though those prayers were neither sought nor desired.
The "conservatives" saw the world in black and white terms, were unwilling to discuss different interpretations of anything, including scripture, and found liberals contemptible. Some parishoners of their ilk would stop at nothing to drive their liberal clergy from their jobs. Often these 'conservatives' were supported by the financial interests, the corporate donors who believed in spreading their wealth to support a "good cause".
Liberals, on the other hand, struggled for funds, for adherents and for political support within the hierarchy.
Now that this divide has spread into the wider culture, with or without the religious component of its earlier identity, and the dialogue of the deaf (as Margaret Atwood once dubbed the relationship between Quebec sovereignists and the federalists in the rest of Canada) has taken on new demographics, Quebec having become irrelevant to Harper's majority government, Canadian culture is given voice by a right-wing media conglomerate, Sun media, the acolyte to Fox News in the U.S., including the National Post and to a large extent the Globe and Mail, with the Toronto Star holding the fort for something approximating the liberal position. Yet, even that position has shifted to the right, and corporate "religion and ideology" have taken centre stage in Canada.
And Mr. Caplan is right; this is not the country we grew up in; it does not have the same values as those that successfully grew its Canadian identity, both at home and around the world. Peacekeeping has given way to militarism, multiculturalism has given way to niche marketing to segregated ethnicities for the purpose of scoring votes in elections, now that the Harper gang is in permanent "campaign battle mode", rehabilitation of miscreants has been replaced by longer sentences, more prisons, and more "security" initiatives, including armed border guards, and the spectre of selling our resources to a Chinese state-controlled conglomerate, as well as our technology infrastructure (when other countries like the U.S. and Australia have banned that initiative in the interests of national security), remains the position of a government dedicated to the support of the corporate business agenda, and its proponents who fund their agenda.
Workers, especially those who are members of legitimate unions, are disparaged and their long and hard-fought gains for all workers are being eroded, given the neo-con penchant for and addiction to military engagements, to deportation of illegal immigrants, to the purity of a society purged of therapeutic abortions, contraception and gays and an elimination of pensions, health benefits and job security especially for public employees while those same corporate leaders ship their jobs to foreign countries where labour is dirt cheap and environmental protecctions are non-existent and where the products of their manufacturing sector become the widgets we purchase to keep the economy afloat.
Income inequality is growing at a gallop; unemployment is still too high, too many families are in need of food banks and/or foodstamps, schools are falling apart and academic achievement is falling, in the U.S. more than in Canada and some other countries.
Conversations between the Canadian government and the Canadian people are either "in camera" or non-existent. Public pressure on this government is like waving a white flag in a tornado, it only points to the thrust of the tornado, without either stopping or re-directing the wind. And the people of Toronto elected both Ford and Harper, in some inexplicable and perhaps even contemptuous and derisive move to show disdain for all political leaders...what else could explain their electoral insanity?
And the country lurches between those who truly distrust and despise their federal government and the "believers" who think valhalla has finally come to Ottawa, leaving Quebec out of the national equation, Ontario struggling for both political leadership and a role in the national dialogue (of which there really is none!) and First Nations and the environment playing second fiddle to a brass band that blasts all other voices out of the room, gleefully and contemptuously.
And all this inside a country that was once known as one of the more mature and stable and peaceful and respected nations on the planet! 
Culture clash splits Canadians over basic values
By Gerald Caplan, Globe and Mail, October 20, 2012
The clash of cultures has come to Canada. Some might call it a clash of civilizations. I don’t mean the non-existent conflict not between the entire Muslim world and the “civilized’ world, which Muslim-baiting demagogues have invented. The real battle everywhere is between extremists of all kinds and more levelheaded people
Canada is no longer a united country. An unbridgeable gap has grown between what we can broadly label conservatives and liberals. In the United States, reactionaries like Pat Buchanan for years insisted that the country was engaged in a ferocious internal culture war, and today no one doubts it. The Tea Party, the Koch brothers, the National Rifle Association, anti-choice absolutists and many others consider themselves to be at war, however metaphoric, with all who disagree with them.

Canadians have long believed we were immune from such destructive divisions. For 145 years we’ve been proud to think of ourselves as one people, that whatever our disagreements they were trumped by our collective sense of Canadian-ness and the values we shared. By and large, from John A. on, while we criticized our governments, we rarely considered them treasonous.
Of course there have been exceptions aplenty to this enlightened form of democracy – the FLQ, Trudeau-loathing Albertans, as well as haters of Muslims, blacks, immigrants, Catholics, Jews and other bigots who have sullied our history, to name only some.
How do Stephen Harper and his Conservatives fit into this profound schism over our basic values? Many Canadians believe the Harper government has shattered the historic mould. Harperland is a place many Canadians do not recognize as theirs. Mr. Harper seems not to share many traditional Canadian cultural values and a good number of Canadians feel estranged from his government.
Still, not everyone agrees that the Harperites have gone so far as to radically break with the Canadians consensus. So let me offer two other examples that seem to me more definitive: our wildly conflicting attitudes towards Omar Khadr and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Each has his passionate supporters and equally passionate detractors, and each stands for something much larger than himself. And never, it seems clear, will the twain meet.
What’s fascinating about the Khadr case is how many separate aspects there are, and how sympathizers and foes disagree about every single one of them. Here’s a fast rundown: Should we be sympathetic that he was brainwashed from childhood by a fanatical father? Should we care than he was a child soldier? Should any soldier be tried for killing another soldier in combat? Did he kill U.S. Sgt. 1 st Class Christopher Speer?
Is it relevant that this 15-year old was terribly wounded in that same battle? Or that he was both physically and psychologically tortured since? That he’s been locked up, away from the world, for 10 years? That his government betrayed him and denied him his rights? That the one psychiatrist most hostile to him harbours strong anti-Muslim views? That many more experts of various kinds have found Khadr to be a sympathetic human being?
I suppose the wording of my questions give me away. Yes, on every count, I find the evidence largely to favour Khadr. But I also know that Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews, as well as a swarm of Sun Media sages, consider him a menace and a traitor, guilty on all counts. This is more than a disagreement. This reflects completely different world views that simply cannot be reconciled.
Now take Rob Ford – please. In the beginning, many Torontonians were sure it was impossible that this unprepossessing man could ever be elected their mayor. When he won in a landslide, the spotlight has focused on his cornucopia of bizarre antics, failures and self-inflicted scandals. Many feel humiliated that this man is seen as the reflection of Toronto. Yet his re-election is by no means impossible. The latest poll shows that even now a mind-boggling 77 per cent of his 2010 voters are still satisfied with the job he’s doing. He remains to them a populist hero, a perception completely unfathomable to opponents. There is no conceivable bridge between these two groups of Torontonians.
As with Omar Khadr, there’s something larger going on here. There’s an irreconcilable clash of cultures. There are two diametrically opposite ways of seeing the world constituting a profound conflict of values. So not only do the two sides disparage each other, they can’t begin to understand each other.
It’s a good bet that Rob Ford enthusiasts and Omar Khadr antagonists are mostly the same people and that both are part of Stephen Harper’s original and most reliable base. This 30 per cent – although not necessarily the support he has received beyond them, especially in the last election – disproportionately opposes abortion, gay marriage and gun control and denies global warming and evolution. Many, paradoxically, belong to the 99 per cent. As in the U.S. and Europe, culture often trumps class. They resent more successful peers rather than the 1 per cent.
These are the new conservatives, threatened by a world where the only certainty is constant dizzying change. They find less and less in common with other Canadians who in turn find them baffling, strangers in a strange land. The two groups can barely connect with each other. This is not the Canada we once knew and no one knows how to deal with it.

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