Monday, January 9, 2012
Canada's Third Solitude
When I was a boy in elementary school, we would all stand up and sing at the end of the day when "God Save the Queen" was piped over the intercom. Later, as an adult, I moved to Quebec and mastered the French language. It would seem that I would be at home in either of Canada's two solitudes, but, in fact, I do not recognize myself in either one, and, as a result, find myself with a large number of other Canadians living in the third solitude.
In brief, those of us living in Canada's third solitude don't ponder over the significance of who won the battle on the plains of Abraham. We don't care. Abstracted from the historical propaganda that we are force fed in school, it was simply another skirmish fought between two imperial European nations that had been fighting each other off and on for a thousand years.
Yes, there were consequences. We still have a British monarch as our head of state, but at the heart of the matter was a struggle of two rapacious imperial powers that wanted to take control of a populated territory in the interests of a societal elite in each country.
In the words of Canada's cultural icon, William Shatner, otherwise known as Captain Kirk from the spaceship, Enterprise: "O Canada, our home ON native land."
In one of the other solitudes, people get warm and fuzzy feelings when they think that they are the descendants from the winning side. In the other, they get warm and fuzzy feelings thinking that they somehow survived despite being the descendants from the losing side.
In Canada's third solitude, we are profoundly indifferent to either historical narrative and find it oppressive that all the other historical narratives that have transpired here are tossed aside in favor of the means in which Canada's two charter groups proclaim the over riding importance of their respective ethnic origins.
Give me a break!
We are almost all immigrants to a settler state imposed upon an indigenous people against their will. Moreover, an occupied territory the size of a continent necessitates massive immigration if that territory's natural resources are to be exploited for the benefit of a privileged few. Consequently, given the dire conditions that the Industrial revolution brought on for the world's poor, massive migration was inevitable as millions dared to travel to a distant land in order to improve what was often a miserable lot in life.
This is hardly the manifest destiny of a glorious nation.
In the English Canadian version of the meta-narrative, economic gains are distributed on an individual basis and those at the top receive the lion's share. In the Quebec version, economic gain is more widely distributed in order to secure the continued survival of the French language and culture, which is dependent on the continued prosperity of a nation overwhelming comprised of those who share a common ethnic heritage.
In both solitudes, the monoculture of "it's all about the economy" pushes aside and marginalizes other ways of looking at and being in the world as alternative methods of organizing a society.
For example, attempts to transform Canada into a modern democratic state in which its citizens have meaningful participation in the process of self government fail repeatedly. Likewise, environmental concerns over the manner in which the exploitation of Canada's natural resources are exploited do not gain sufficient traction to bring about significant change. It is the received wisdom here that nothing can be done that would harm the economy.
It's important to remember that belonging to Canada's third solitude is not determined by one's ethnic heritage. There are a number of disenfranchised Canadians of Anglo-Saxon and old stock French origins that do not subscribe to the dictates of Canadian monoculture. However, they are not sufficient in number to alter the Canadian Zeitgeist. As well, there are a number of new Canadians who simply accept the prevailing order of things and unquestionably try to fit in by accepting the dominant values of their host country.
Consequently, the third solitude is peopled by Canadians who live their lives outside of the worldview that guides the lives of most Canadians. Some are simply trying to get by. Others manifest life narratives that are wholly divorced from seeking status by the display of conspicuous consumption. They live life by different rules. They create life narratives that fall outside of the mainstream.
My feeling is that at the beginning of the twenty-first century Canada's third solitude is a gathering force. Continued immigration and the inevitable decline of the political force of the baby boom generation will eventually weaken the grip that the two solitudes have in determining what master narratives are in play to guide Canadian society. By the middle of the century, the population of the two Charter groups will be insufficient to hold the country to the historical narratives now in place. Moreover, the rise of the Internet will create sufficient disruption in the prevailing patterns of communication so that the third solitude will gradually emerge to challenge and then subsequently displace the meta-narratives that are rooted in our colonial past.