Thursday, June 30, 2005

Happy Canada Day! Down with Canadian identity!

On this almost-Canada Day,let us now celebrate the fact that we have no fucking idea who we are.

I'm not kidding. For decades, since the First World War, if not before, the central question of Canadian intellectual-wankery has been the Canadian identity. Who are we? Are we lumberjacks living in igloos? Of course not! But are we British? French? Americans with funny looking currency and the good sense not to elect pea-brained Yale graduates who aspire to redneckhood?

A recent theory - one with which I do not totally disagree - is that we are people with a European sensibility trapped on top of North America. Our approval of gay marriage, just one day before Spain did the same, tends to drive the point home that we share more values with Europeans than with Americans.

And then there is the noble beer commercial, and its bastard Siamese twin, modern rock radio. These two devils have spent the last decade or so trying to convince us that being Canadian means proudly not being American (and you thought anti-Americanism was just for intellectual liberal elites at w(h)ine tastings) and also drinking lots of beer and going camping on the weekend. Unless it's winter, in which case the commercials are all about snowboarding. Beer commercial patriots have sprouted up everywhere in this country, drawn by a rather attractive notion. This is simple: all these commercials and morning-drive DJs sell the idea that patriotism can help you get drunk and laid. Or maybe getting drunk and laid makes you patriotic. Either way, skoal!

Health care is often described as central to our national identity, which seems odd for a goverment program less than 50 years old and in danger of going into the crapper at any moment.

Here is my theory about Canada: it doesn't exist.

Not that any other country exists either. They're all just random lines on maps, imaginary nations created by overgrown children. "You build a snow fort over there, and we'll build one here. Then we'll have a war." If everyone in the world stopped playing pretend tomorrow, nations would vanish. Like cultures, they are shared delusions, and mean nothing in and of themselves. They should only be allowed to exist as long as they serve us. The minute someone asks you what you can do for your country, spit in his face and tell him to go to hell. Tell him you'll do something for your neighbour, your family, your friends, your human race, but not for a pink blob on a globe.

Canada may have a brighter future than most nations because our uncertainty about identity reflects a better, albeit imperfect, understanding of the truth. With fewer preconceptions, we can freely shape our future. We can build a better nation, because we understand that it can become anything. We need not be tied to the past. We can stop asking if we are better or worse than the Americans, and simply say, "Are we better today than we were yesterday? Will we be in a better place tomorrow? And how can we get there?"

So let there never be a Canadian identity. Let us always be in flux, ever uncertain, ever striving for a better country, one just over the next hill, imanent and just beyond our grasp.


BigMDawg said...

No replies to any of your blogs yet Matthew? Such a shame...I guess I'd better register and comment just to boost your ego a bit :D

I agree with a lot you say here. As the tightwad scientist type, I tend to see things on very fundamental levels. Like in this arguement, I think notions of patriotism or national identity are ultimately superfluous. We're all made up of nucleotides and amino acids, so creating artificial divisions between populations is merely a sign of humanities' lack of understanding (or acceptance) of who we are.

BUT, is having a strong sense of patriotism a bad thing? I admit, I'm very proud to be not-an-American. I drink Canadian beer, listen to Canadian rock music, and support Canadian sports (Curling ROCKS!!). People need to feel that they belong to something; it gives us a sense of worth and accomplishment in our lives. Things go bad when that sense of belonging runs too deep, like when the proverbial soldier guns down another countries' soldier and feels no remorse "cause they were an enemy to my country". The point is everything in moderation, I guess, and taking patriotism too far is as bad for the mind as too much religion, politics, or watching too many Martin Lawrence movies.

Matthew said...

Thanks for the post, Dr. Wally. George Orwell actually said much the same thing many years ago. He distinguished between mindless nationalism and a gentle fondness for one's own culture and region.

And yes, curling does rock.