Monday, July 2, 2012

Identity Debates After All These Years

Holidays celebrating the nation tend to bring out all kinds of folks to debate what it means to be x or y.  Canada Day is no exception.  Some of this stuff, of course, is utter crap.  But they still reflect something.  In an essay about the change from Dominion Day to Canada Day, David Warren does two things that drive me crazy: talking about something being lost and trying to insult by tying his bete noire to the U.S.

First, phrasing something as lost implies that it was something someone owned to begin with.  Who lost China?  Who lost Canada?  I don't know enough about Canadian history, but I am not sure that Dominion Day was something that was lost.  It evolved, which is different. Maybe the evolution was progressive, maybe it was not.  But no one misplaced Dominion Day or used it as part of a wager and lost because the cards were bad?

Second, the phrasing in a key piece in this article is incredibly retrograde, I think:
"This is all quite unCanadian, of course. Worse, it is downright American. And I, at least, long for a return to quiet understated monarchist dignity, from the jingo airhead flag-waving to which we have degenerated."
Who should be insulted more? While one could suggest Americans for being worse than being unCanadian (I thought those terms were synonymous), I think, um, monarchists should be for being associated with this crap.  I understand that Canadians have Americans as a focal point/other in their identity.  It is only natural to try to distinguish oneself from the larger group nearby especially when, dare I say it, the differences are narrow.  That is, when two groups are very different, one does not need to find ways to sharpen the distinctions and focus on the other.  But when two groups have much in common, as Americans and Canadians generally do, then there is a temptation to demonize the other to make sure one is certain of one's own identity.

Yes, Americans and Canadians are different, as Quebeckers are from Albertans and Texans are from ... everyone.  But they have much in common, mostly the important stuff.  Democratic, prosperous, humorous, sensible (on average, not everyone, not always), not aristocratic, spacious, rich in resources, generations of immigrants with flawed histories with the folks who were here first, and so on.

I humbly submit that I am the best barometer of US/CA differences, as I have lived in both countries and practice social science on a daily basis.  I have observed that I am far more comfortable in Canada (even in Montreal) than I was in Texas.  I am far less The Other up here than I was down there.  Canadians are not Americans, and Americans are not Canadians, but Canadians have enough good stuff on their own that they do not have make them feel better by denigrating Americans.

One last thought: patriotism with the "jingo airhead flag-waving" is not so wrong.  Pride in country is a good thing if one focuses on what one's country is and is not and what its potential should be.  Flag-waving is fine on one's country's day of celebration.  It is not fine when people compete to wave the biggest flag (unless one is a car dealership) or denigrate folks for not wearing a flag pin.

Canadians have much to be proud about.  I am pretty proud to live in such a fantastic place, even if it has flaws (all countries have flaws).  Too much flag-waving is not one of them.   The right to be incredibly wrong in newspaper columns is not one of them either.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


1) Where is the line between nationalism focusing on "what one's country is" and nationalism on a country's "potential"?

2) Is this line distinct enough so that the majority of a nationalist population can continuously find it?

There are just too many problems associated with trying to salvage some form of nationalism. People can define "the nation" in different ways, or do so through a recursive process of marginalization.