The National Character

We are not nice. We are not particularly polite despite a reflexive use of ‘sorry’. Our tolerance is conditional, highly conditional. The diversity we tout is motto deep, subject to change with any news cycle.

Our collective myth doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. It runs smack dab into our actual history. The voices of power speak from atop the bone pile of expropriation and exploitation. Reconciliation is talk only, action spurred forward by judicial intervention. A judiciary that represents the thin, always contingent, line of difference between this country and the behemoth of dysfunction to the south. The behemoth we always use as a comparator for our worst impulses.

Well, at least we’re not… should be written on our currency.

Being better than awful should not be a point of pride. Of course, things could be worse. Hardly a noble or edifying target. Counting our lucky stars is a passive diversion. Contentment with the way things are and indifference to how they should be.

And what happens when things, in fact, do get worse?

The land on fire.

Too few roofs over too many heads.

Great hoards of wealth skimmed off into private vaults as the public sphere crumbles.

Bombs raining down on children in the name of self-defense.

The irrational, spoon fed in megabytes, emboldened and amplified by immoral megalomaniacs.

We line up on the wrong side, of course. Take a measured stance, feet firmly planted on both sides. Surely, we can find that middle ground between light and dark, good and evil. And it isn’t as if such things as absolute evil or good actually exist in the real world anyway. The gray zone is where our lives are lived.

This frantic need to shore up the status quo, tweak it here, polish down the rough edges there, to gloss it back to good enough, to collect up all the apples from the overturned cart off the ground, only slightly bruised, good enough, we’ll make us some applesauce, is a frank admission in a belief that things were alright before all this. Nothing that happened before in any way led to what’s happening now. The effects we’re experiencing have no preceding causes.

Everything always works out for the best. This is just a glitch. A bump in the road of progress, a road built on progress. As MLK Jr. assured us: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The moral universe.

How long has it been since we’ve actually existed inside any sort of moral universe?


In a moral universe, you don’t step over drained bodies sleeping on the sidewalk on our way to the grocery store.

In a moral universe, you do in fact judge others by the content of the character and not the colour of their skin. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

In a moral universe, you recognize the ill-effects of lifestyle choices—We need a bigger vehicle. To protect the kids! – that are detrimental to others, all others, and endeavour to make better, more selfless choices.

In a moral universe, there is no rationalization to drop bombs on babies.

That one, the last one, seems like an easy one. Like it would hardly need to be said as a thing. And yet… and yet.

We can point to lots of things to prove that we’re not the main culprits in all this. The true villainy lies elsewhere. At worst, we may be complicit. But what can we do? We are, after all, simply a middle power, if that. It’s not as if we can actually change anything, alter the course of events in any meaningful way. This is not that kind of country.

But we can always be counted on to be on the side of good, wherever that happens to be and, realistically, it’s always a moving target, the good side. In the eye of the beholder. Aspirations to build a better, more just world are admirable, and we should always put a pin in such ambitions, so we can get back to it when everything settles down. It’s pragmatism, though, that sees you through, that best helps cope with the exigencies of real life.

The well-scrubbed veneer of civility and fairness, progeny of a legitimate strain that worked its way into the mainstream a century ago from the unlikeliest places of the country, Alberta and Saskatchewan, and built out further during a postwar glow of social welfare in a much more homogenous population and always, very, very exclusive, forgotten in our fond remembrances, we now front face to mask the country we’ve actually become. Citing our regular well-placed position on the Best of Lists to ward off criticism regardless of how legitimate. How bad can it be? How bad can we be? People the world over would give anything to come here. People the world over who do give anything to come here. So what’s your problem?

Or is it all just performative griping? Destructive criticism because disruption is all the rage these days?

There are variations on disaffection. Disaffection about change and disaffection for change. This is the latter. This comes from a place of comfort and privilege. A place that acknowledges that, sure, where I live, the way I live, the quality of the life I live, in many aspects warrants a spot near the top of the Best of list. But it comes with a caveat that needs addressing: at what cost? At what cost, and who exactly has paid the full price for the way I live?


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