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Monday, May 30, 2022

Can we move from tinkering to transformation of the North American culture?

 Ban assault rifles…implement background checks….impose red-flag laws…limit magazine capacity….???? What about teach your kids to read and to be able to discern the difference between a ‘militia’ that requires defense enabled by a personal weapon and today’s situation where, ironically, and perhaps even predictably, the enemy is the weaponized divide?

The conflation of literalism, fundamentalism, populism and the pursuit of narcissistic addiction to power for its own sake, and not for the betterment of the public good, is a recipe for dissolution, devolution, and perhaps even disintegration. As the most powerfully weaponized nation, the wealthiest nation, the ‘best educated’ nation, in terms of the preponderance of undergraduate and graduate degrees, and the most scientifically advanced nation on earth, the irony of the “sclerosis” (courtesy of Michelle Goldberg, New York Times Columnist, on MSNBC) of American politics is both tragic and models other deep geopolitical divides.

Let’s try to unpack some of the more obvious gaps in the American culture, and possibly in the American zeitgeist and psyche:

§  the macho male archetype that confronts all “impediments” with hard power,

§   the dependence of millions of non-male sycophants who also cling to that model of power,

§  the resort to militarized police and the plethora of law enforcement agencies established as a “defence” against whatever current and perceived threat/enemy that rears its ugly head,

§  the blind hubristic denial that the established “insurance policies” (both literally and metaphorically) are both inadequate and in appropriate for most crises

§  the monetizing and idealization of that goal in profits of each and every human and organizational transaction

§  the reduction of each person to an economic ‘function’ and numerical identity

§  the identification of  human ‘identity’ in superficial, empiric, manipulated and manipulatable digits

§  the dominance of the corporation, the military, the pharmaceutical and the insurance and information machines…over the legitimate needs and aspirations of individual human beings

§  the legal definition of the corporation as a ‘person’ thereby protecting it from multiple legitimate legal actions

§  the out-sourcing of what once were government/public responsibilities to the private sector, to shield the political class from criticisms and electoral defeat

§  the gerry-mandering of districts to the point at which over 90% of all elected officials are returned to office as incumbents

§  the reduction of the education of children to behavioural, measureable responses

§  the erosion of the liberal arts from the majority of universities and colleges

§  the sanctification of the scientific, algorithmic, and the digital as the triumph of the American culture

§  the win-at-all-costs enculturation of all children, in a vain attempt to embody the ‘exceptionalism’ doctrine

§  the blind hubris of the establishment that “exceptionalism” is another ‘marketing’ and ‘selling’ and self-seducing ideal, not a statement of nature

§  the glorification of the heroic in the incidental, whether that incidental is in the science laboratory, the battlefield, the stock portfolio, the entertainment theatre, the athletic field, and even the religious sanctuary

§  the fear of the ‘other’ to the white, male stereotype of successful acquisition of status regardless of how that status is achieved or in whatever field of human endeavour

§  the measurement and definition of ‘support’ for the needy exclusively in dollars, numbers of persons hired and assigned, and the headlines of those superficial decisions

§  transformation of the political theatre into another internal battlefield in which the human lives (biographies, digital comments, tragedies and failures) of all combatants become weapons to be used against all opponents

§  the elevation and sanctification of war and all of the supportive material and personnel on that idol

§  the elevation of the extrinsic to a religious and national dominance within and in relations with the rest of the world

And before any American protests that s/he has no interest in being ‘lectured’ by a Canadian about a political culture, it needs to be said from the north side of the 49th parallel that we inevitably and incontrovertibly absorb, as if by osmosis, whatever happens to be happening south of that border.

For decades, we have consumed, willingly and even enthusiastically, American television and movie productions as if, somehow, they were also integral to who we might become as Canadians. Many of our popular artists, in order to gain acceptance in Canada, had to rise to public acclaim in the U.S. as if that were the stamp of approval. That dynamic has changed, following the initiative of a “Canadian program requirement on our radio airwaves. Gradually, great Canadian talent emerged, was recognized for its inherent universality and timelessness, and an audience developed for Canadian talent. Ironically, one of America’s rock and roll icons, who chose to make his living in Canada, Ronnie Hawkins, died this weekend at 87. In the 60’s and 70’s he was an obvious exception to the cadre of Canadian talent moving to the U.S.

Always considering our military ‘might and value’ to be considerably inferior to that of the U.S., (not even up to the 2% of GDP that Prime Minister Pearson advocated decades ago, for NATO members), and certainly our economy relied heavily on U.S. trade, innovation, and even considerable financial infrastructure. The U.S. is and has been traditionally less risk-averse that Canadians and also more imaginative and louder in their support of new ideas and projects and the men and women who created them. We in Canada have much less affinity and even comprehension of ‘heroes’ both in the literal and in the metaphoric. We are a more dour people and culture, some would argue whose Scottish influence plays a strong role in our public pursuit of accounting and accountability, as a foundation of ‘good order and government’. We are much less interested in, and committed to, what we see as the American fixation with “freedom” as in freedom of speech (apparently including hate speech, which we collectively and individually abhor), and freedom to carry guns (even including assault rifles, which we have banned).

And while we notice, and some even adhere to, the glitz of affluence in America, we are nevertheless, more complex in our understanding and pursuit of contentment and peace, rather than the “pursuit of happiness”, which seems to currently obstruct much of what is now considered the American culture. This trait does not make us ‘better’ or ‘worse’ but simply very different. Our federation, unlike the American republic, while seemingly engaged in federal-provincial yin-yang tensions, is less exercised about ‘states rights’ when it comes to the separation of powers between Ottawa and the provincial capitals. Trends, in so many fields, once seeded in the U.S., and then documented in Canada, reflected upon as potential here, are not always adopted, and when we turn away from such initiatives, we are proud of our ‘independence’. One example is the well-known and celebrated refusal of Prime Minister Chretien to join the coalition of the willing to attack Iraq in 2003. Another is our adoption of a woman’s right to choose, in the midst of a strong Roman Catholic demographic.

While both Canada and the U.S. both struggle with minority race relations, our primary minority are the indigenous population in all provinces and territories, whose lives and children have been seriously and blatantly and inexcusably colonized by the white ‘European’ majority. Only recently has our society and culture generally wakened to our shame, culpability and the beginning of a national commitment to begin the process of reconciliation. On the other hand, blacks in America, while a larger percentage of the population that First Nations in Canada, have endured centuries of overt abuse at all levels and to various degrees. That abuse has taken the form of “slaves ownership and selling and trading slaves, lynchings, poll taxes, criminalizing minor offences,….and the list is only beginning. Whether the American treatment of blacks is more heinous and despicable than the Canadian treatment of indigenous seems mute given that on both sides of the 49th parallel white supremacy reigned and to a considerable extent continues even into the 21st century

Militarily, Canada has, however, allied with the U.S, in both world wars, in Afghanistan, and now in Ukraine. The perception and the conception of this conflict is one shared by many ‘western’ nations, given the Russian invasion that was allegedly not prompted by any single act of Ukraine. The arguments that the expansion of NATO significantly contributed to the Russian impulse for both aggression and national aggrandizement, (not to exclude the inflation of the personal, historic ego of Putin himself) have received little if any public notice in both the U.S. and Canada, given the empathic impulse in both countries that stirs the heart of many to open their homes and nation to Ukrainian refugees.

And in terms of generosity, the Americans doubtless, far outstrip both the Canadians and much of the rest of the world, given their compassion and their enthusiastic record of coming to the aid of the helpless, especially following a catastrophe, whether man-made, an act of nature or an unjustified military attack. Prevention of these catastrophes, as a cornerstone of public policy and integral to the process of governance, however, has received little attention politically, to some degree in both Canada and the U.S., the arguments against prevention including that it is ‘less sexy’ and ‘less able to be accounted for’ in terms of measurable results. How does the public know that that “$x billions” prevented that storm surge, or that hurricane? And given the cause-effect binary reductionism that lies at the core of most if not all public issues, especially including their diagnosis and proposed remediation, in all western governments, it is no surprise that prevention takes a back seat to crisis management.

Some argue that “hate” is now the core value in the United States. Canadians, on the other hand, would argue that we have not crossed that threshold yet, although hate was a prominent verbal bullet in the recent trucker blockade in Ottawa and on the Peace Bridge that connects Windsor and Detroit. Hatred of pandemic restrictions, government overreach, the tyranny of the “woke” and the rebellion of the “ordinary folk” who have, to some extent on both sides of the border, taken up arms, in proportions that we have not seen before.

The flow of money from the south, the United States, into the truckers’ blockade movement, and the hatred of government, especially the Canadian Prime Minister, has now prompted debate among Canadian security officials and scholars, not merely to take note of the American influence in Canada, but also to prepare for more, and to shore up our defences against further malignant, populist, right-wing, anarchist developments. On-line, social media influencers are on steroids not only to expand sales of consumer products and services; they are also rampant in “radicalizing” those mal-contents on both sides of the border, mostly bored, disengaged, minimally educated young men, who are easily induced into whatever excitement and incitement temps them.

Although religion and the church attendance in both countries has fallen precipitously over the last decades, not without just cause in many cases, a comment from a grandfather of one of the murdered children in Uvalde Texas had a pithy observation that seems to sum up much of the current zeitgeist, at least in the United States, where mass shootings are now the ‘new normal’…

“We used to be a nation under God; now we are a nation under guns!” was his comment. His wisdom, insight and clarity, while not embraced in the halls of power, is, nevertheless, like the insight, clarity and wisdom of the children who survived the latest massacre, prophetic and!

Can we hear the voice of the prophets amid the noise of our

“micro-nano-second-quick-fix-instant-gratification” perspective?

Proactive prevention, demands a transformation of the culture in both Canada and the U.S. as well as elsewhere.

Are we up to that degree of change?

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