Oh Canada -The Folly Of Arguing Over Arbitrary Points In Time
Every now and then I get a snarky message from someone who has taken exception to something I’ve written – ok – sometimes it’s more often than every now and then. Work with me here.
Usually, it’s from some person or a group of persons who have sidled up to the latest activist movement like Occupy or Idle No More without having done much in the way of research and without any real clue about the issues or their background.
Typically these messages and comments bemuse me more than anything else. While the odd one can be quite vicious in a typical ‘social-media’ kind of way, most are witless although the odd one is actually quite funny, even clever. Almost all of them are basically adolescent name-calling rather than any serious debate on the issues. The latest one I received said I was a typical “white guy with no sense of humour.”
What a crushing bit of repartee! Oh death, where is thy sting?
Occupy was rife with people who had almost no real understanding of what they protested which is how we ended up in Canada with a group of activists protesting the 1% based on American statistics which had no relationship to income disparity in Canada. In fact, the income disparity between the 1% and the 99% in Canada at the time, was significantly lower than in the United States and narrowing. The top 1% in Canada earned only 10% of the country’s total income but paid 21% of its taxes which was more in line with Sweden than America.
Some protested banks without any understanding that pretty much the only thing the Canadian banking industry shared in common with the American was the word bank.
They then went on to protest art galleries, small business, churches and shipping ports. Eventually, Occupy in the United States even decided to stand in solidarity with prisoners in San Quentin prison. Good golly Miss Molly but the possibilities seemed limitless.
Eventually, Occupy decided that corporations and large retailers were also the enemy but it didn’t decide that until after most of its members had purchased their iGizmos and laptops from many of those same large corporations and retailers.
They didn’t see the irony in financially supporting the very things they were protesting.
But then, irony is lost on the modern protest movement.
My favourite example remains an enthusiastic environmental group who were protesting the lumber industry. “Save our forests’ was the rallying cry and they were damned serious about it. I know this because they took the time to write out their concerns on cardboard signs nailed to sticks all of which came from – well – trees cut down by the lumber industry.
You would have thought they might have come up with something more creatively in tune with their environmental sensitivities but apparently not. Creativity seems to be in as short supply with many in the modern protest industry as common sense.
This year, it’s Idle No More or as some are now calling it; Occupy II because like Occupy, it’s objectives are poorly defined, it is leaderless and supported by a lot of people who have never read a treaty or the Indian Act and who have no understanding of the real issues.
They enjoy the marching around and chanting, however. It reminds them of the good old days camping out downtown in cities across North America and gives them a sense of having accomplished something without actually having to roll up their sleeves and doing anything more constructive than making noise and pointing fingers.
What started as a simple grassroots protest about aboriginal issues aimed at both the Canadian government and the First Nations’ leadership is now just one more confused, catch-all for every activist with an axe to grind.
They’re probably going to need to cut down more trees for all the signs that will be needed.
The only thing missing so far is Michael Moore in his t-shirt and baseball hat, which surprises me because typically, Michael Moore will go to anything including the opening of an envelope.
The latest trend to come out of the Idle No More movement is to label anyone who isn’t aboriginal as being a ‘settler”. I love it. I’ve been called a lot of things but settler is new and even if it is as inaccurate as most of the other things I’ve been called, I have to admit it has a certain cachet about it.
While my family has actually been a part of Canada for many generations, with my ancestors arriving here before the Mohawks emigrated from the United States, that apparently doesn’t count. I’m still a settler and according to Idle No More and its supporters, I’m a usurper on land originally belonging to the First Nations. I always find that position more than a little ironic considering that land ownership was never actually part of any First Nations cultural heritage – but I digress.
Sometimes I feel like I should trade in my Firebird for a Conestoga wagon and a couple of oxen. (It would probably do better in the snow than The Bird so there might be some advantage to that.)
It did get me thinking, however, about all this ‘who is’ and ‘who isn’t’ a legitimate heir to the kingdom and it isn’t merely an aboriginal/non-aboriginal thing. The pur laine in Quebec share the same mentality as some of our aboriginal brothers and sisters. According to them, Quebec belongs to those who are descended from the province’s original French inhabitants and the French language must be protected because French is pure.
Well, actually it doesn’t and it isn’t.
Quebec belongs to all of its citizens equally, regardless of linguistic or cultural background. That’ just the way it is and it is ensrhined in the province’s own Charter of Rights. For it’s part, the French language descended from the spoken Latin of the Roman Empire and its development was heavily influenced by other groups as they came together over time (willingly and unwillingly) to form the country we now know as France.
France, like most countries with only a few exceptions, evolved from other smaller countries and principalities including Normandy, Burgundy and Gaul. Undoubtably, the modern French culture was influenced by its roots and evolved from the different groups and their languages and cultures that were merged into one country.
England and the English language aren’t any purer. The language evolved from Latin, Saxon, French (Norman), Celtic and a few smaller regional languages tossed in for good measure. At various times, England was governed by the Romans, the Normans and the Saxons all of whom influenced the development of what is now England and English culture.
Germany evolved in the late 1800s from Prussia and a variety of smaller German states. It is the same with Italy which really got its boost from Julius Caesar who was seriously into empire building.
Even the United States, which many think was ‘settled’ by one people, is actually a country that evolved out of the amalgamation of areas that were owned by France, Britain, Spain and Mexico, as well as, territories that were inhabited by various aboriginal nations. South Africa was built by indigenous Africans, Dutch settlers (the Boers) and the British. Most Middle Eastern countries are amalgams of various Arab and Bedouin tribes, the Turks and some North Africans.
If science is to believed, humanity emerged out of Africa and spread around the globe over God knows how many centuries which would seem to suggest that everyone except pure Africans in their native lands are descendant from settlers.
Even Canada was pretty much an empty shell until the first aboriginal ‘settlers’ arrived here at some point after a rather inconvenient hike across a land bridge that used to span the Bering Sea.
The point is that language and culture, like most countries are organic. Almost none are pure. They have all evolved from the blending of whoever first settled there, conquered them, were conquered by them, emigrated to them and were built by them over the centuries. As various peoples came together, countries and their languages and cultures evolved over time.
Trying to deny that evolution, as some seem intent on doing these days, is like trying to deny that nothing is more constant than change.
Remember Latin? It was once the spoken language of most of the western civilized world. While it became the base for many modern languages, Latin itself is all but dead.
Mutantur omnia nos et mutamur in illis (all things change and we change with them).
And that really is the point. Change is inevitable and as things change so do we and that creates an evolutionary change in our shared cultures and our language. Nothing remains constant. Our laws change and our political systems change. Our values and knowledge base changes and along with all of that change come an inevitable change in our culture and our language.
We used to believe the earth was flat and that the sun orbited the earth but even that understanding has changed for most, although not all of us, apparently.
For some reason, we have decided that it is somehow appropriate and even makes sense to pick arbitrary points in history as the point at which we lock in a specific language or culture. We then proceed to assign the people from that point with rights that are not applied to those who went before them or who have come after them. It’s an absurd proposition.
History is a mess. It would be easier to press the reset button and start all over again than to try to figure out just who actually owns a language or a culture or the land based on some arbitrary point in time. There are very few countries in this world, like China and Japan for example, which were relatively shielded from the influences of other cultures and languages although the Japanese written language is based on the Chinese. Even that is changing though and we see the influence of western culture on their cultures and to a lesser extent the influence of theirs on ours.
We are increasingly more connected and connection breeds change to how we think, communicate and to our various cultures. Consider the impact of technology and social media on language. The need for brevity is helping to create an entirely new language where words like ‘great’ become ‘gr8’ and ‘you as well’ becomes ‘u 2’.
It is the natural way of things. The simple reality is that if you are going to have immigration, you’re going to have cultural and linguistic evolution. People from different cultures intermarry, their children intermarry and that evolves older cultures into newer ones. It is a healthy natural process that breathes new life and ideas into a national culture. It opens doors to the future rather than builds fences around a past that no longer exists or that is relevant in the present.
My heritage is Scottish/Irish, my wife’s is Dutch. We have Japanese nieces and Nigerian cousins. It would be absurd to try and decide which cultural tradition would be the one culture to which my family should adhere.
One evolving national culture is stronger than several small, semi-insulated and hyphenated cultures.
It really doesn’t matter who came to Canada first whether it was most First Nations, English and French Explorers, the Vikings or later, the Mohawks. The reality is that this country was built by the descendants of all of them along with the countless immigrants from countries all over the world who have arrived here since.
It is this country that exists today, not the wide-open empty land inhabited by small, scattered communities of indigenous people and a lot of wild animals four hundred years ago. It is this country that we all have to learn to live within. Clinging to some point in the past as the definitive point for one culture and society or another is like pointing to a picture of yourself at four and insisting that’s how you should look, dress and speak at forty.
We can continue to argue about it which seems to only slow us down and create unnecessary animosity or we can accept that we have a shared history, not all of which is very pleasant I grant; but we are in this together now whether some of us like it or not. We are part of a great country with real opportunity for everyone if we take our heads out of our asses and start working together instead of against each other.
I doubt it will happen though. As Occupy I and now Occupy II have pretty much demonstrated, common sense is nowhere near as much fun as protesting, marching about and killing trees.
© 2013 Maggie’s Bear
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