That's what a visiting speaker from Murray Bookchin's Institute for Social Ecology said at a presentation I attended at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario a number of years back.
She was reacting to the level of sophistication of the questions from the audience following her presentation. Evidently, when she spoke at US campuses, the questioners revealed an inability to let go of numerous stultifying preconceptions about the inevitability of "free markets" for solutions to economic and environmental problems, as well as notions of the inability of ordinary people to run their own affairs.
I hadn't been particularly impressed by the questions. They seemed to be logical and relevant enquiries about the subject just presented. I was struck by how happy the speaker was to not have to reinvent the wheel during this discussion. It was depressing to think that the listeners at US campuses, who would probably be among the most "liberal" of the student population (choosing to go and hear a presentation about anarcho-eco-socialism for the evening's activity), that is itself one of the most "liberal" demographic groups in the United States, would have such a narrow outlook on the possibilities of society.
I don't remember as many details, but we had another speaker from the United States at McMaster, talking about the Gulf War of Bush I or Latin America, who responded similarly to the Social Ecology speaker, during the question and answer period. He was happy to be in Canada and not have to hear useless questions about fanatical Arabs, evil Cubans, or similar drivel. Stuff he would have to inevitably slog through on US campuses.
I mention this because I've just finished reading a disturbing article in the latest issue of Z Magazine. It's called "Execution Class" by Gary Olson, and while it first appeared way back in 1988, something tells me that things have only gotten worse on US campuses since then, as the spirit of brazen stupidity and lying of the Reagan Administration has been built upon by successive waves of vermin like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, FOX News, and now, the unelected bush II regime. (The article is not yet available on line. Buy the magazine!!!)
Olson taught a class on international political economy at a small liberal college in Pennsylvania, in which he took the class through an eye-opening examination of the imperialist agenda of US foreign policy. To his dismay, it turned out that a majority of the class (who had all written essays professing belief in the sordid, cynical roots of the international system) agreed with the few honest contrarians who had written essays supporting what the US was doing.
For the most part, his class admitted that they didn't care about the nasty stuff their country was doing. It was necessary to keep resources cheap. To keep tropical fruits and vegetables cheap and available. To make sweat-shop labels affordable. It was necessary to keep these beautiful American youngsters in the manner they'd become accustomed to. And it was necessary to preserve a world system that would allow them to go on and become "rich" in the future.
Olson manages to change some minds the next day by having these students graphically put their theory into practice in a highly charged "execution" of an African classmate who volunteered to stand in for the hundreds of millions of people these callow youth wished to condemn to unrelenting oppression, poverty, and occasionally, violent death. There was a human face standing before their materialistic bravado, and the majority of his students changed their minds about their value system.
As a Canadian, my response was that such open expressions of callous greed, shallowness, materialism, would not have happened on a Canadian campus. Not because Canadians are more moral, or intelligent, or compassionate, or whatever.
I say this because I believe, as I've believed ever since the debacle of Hurrican Katrina exposed the callousness and incompetence and open racism of the bush II regime, that the political culture in the United States has become deformed by the monopoly on the public mind of late-capitalism, and that only there would people be raised in a culture that celebrates nothing so much as getting rich and stomping on anyone who would get in your way.
And you would get "rich" in order to buy "stuff." Wealth wouldn't necessarily bring culture, or respect, or influence. Like laughing idiots, people are to repeat the joke: "Whoever dies with the most toys wins," except that it wouldn't be a joke.
Canadians have to grapple with Quebec nationalism. What makes a nation? Is Canada a nation? Should it be a nation? If we're to be a nation, we obviously can't force everyone to conform to one uniform culture. Thanks to Quebec, Canadians are forced to be open to the reality that diversity exists, and we're forced to take concrete steps to respect and preserve diversity.
Thanks to relatively strong provinces and to historical chance, there is a still-relevant social democratic political movement in this country, and that in turn has helped create viable public programs that are living proof of the promise of collective action. As well, the social democratic parties have provided needed political support to the Canadian labour movement, that has itself given valuable support to alternative social justice movements. I wish that the NDP would lean even more favourably towards labour (and quit with the anti-labour stuff), but what they have done, as frustratingly limited as it is, has also been crucial.
Canadians aren't less gullible, more intelligent, more compassionate, less greedy, less callous than Americans. But the political culture is such that open professions of muderous, callous, materialism are still unacceptable. While many Americans are quite vocal about their anti-Arab racism, and their joy over their "kicking ass" in the Middle East, there are far fewer Canadians who express their support of our presence in Afghanistan in such terms. Most Canadians imagine that we're helping in Afghanistan, and fewer want us to be there to kick Muslim ass. (I'm aware that many in the US believe they're bulding democracy in Iraq, and only a minority are naked racists. What I'm saying is that I think that our openly racist warmongers are a smaller proportion of the population than are openly racist warmongers in the United States.)
And I believe this is so because our political culture is less celebratory of mindless patriotism and mindless consumerism, and arrogant indifference to the rest of the world.
The bottom 30% of our country's intellect (the Free Dominion, SDA, "Common Sense Revolution" types, are working to infect our political culture here. But they lack the financial resources to build the network of hacks that advances original (if ridiculous) ideas that the US right-wing has, and they are forced to temper their racism, fascism, and cruelty, to conform with our less debased political culture.