Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Extent of My Patriotism

Yesterday I was watching "The Daily Show"'s coverage of the Republican presidential candidates debate. One of the questions asked was "What do you like least about America?" (Or some such drivel.) "The Daily Show" played the clip of Mitt Romney stammering: "G-gosh! I-I LOVE America!" -- which was probably the "right" answer for the sort of idiot who would even introduce such a stupid question into a political debate.

This reminded me of the time, I was reading a left-wing blog and they mentioned Stephen Harper being asked whether he "loved" Canada. Harper is supposedly a cold, cerebral personality (which is not to say that he's all that bright) and apparently he replied with some qualified, sensible statement. The blogger said something to the effect that Harper should have some ready-made, patriotic platitude at hand, because that's what Canadians want to hear and that's why Harper is a cold fish.

I rather thought that a qualified response is the most sensible way to get out of such an inane question.

What does it mean exactly, to "love" one's country? Does it mean that if you find yourself on the US-Canada border, you find yourself overwhelmed by the desire to have sex with the earth on one side of the imaginary line but not the other? Does it mean you love everything Canadian, including Ontario black-flies, residue from the Alberta tar-sands project, and Paul Bernardo?

Once you say "no" to loving any of those things, or any other unappealing aspect of Canada, then you have to admit the fact that "loving" a country is a ridiculous concept. Nation-states are artificial constructs that have been designed to compel our loyalties and devotion, and they expend considerable resources to ensure that we do so. But there is no natural patriotism.

What we do share as Canadians is a heritage that has its good points and its bad points. But we don't share anything so deep as to justify the exclusion of the rest of humanity from our affections.

I am grateful to have been born in Canada, one of the few countries in the world that provides almost all of its people with a tolerable standard of living. I am grateful for the circumstances of history, and for the people who fought to make this a democratic country. I am saddened that we had to usurp this land from its original Aboriginal inhabitants, and I am ashamed of the way we have tried to eradicate those people and deny our debts to them. I am ashamed of our disgraceful imperialism in Haiti, and I am angry about the lies and deceptions of our imperialism in Afghanistan. I am proud of Canada's international reputation. I am proud of the way we tend to peacefully settle our differences. I am angry at the way that true Quebec nationalists were oppressed and brutalized after 1837, but I feel a little proud to think of the efforts of Baldwin and LaFontaine to work together to support each others' efforts to win their political rights.

Canadian politics has been too pragmatic and moderate for my tastes, but, in the long-run, perhaps that has all been for the best. It's impossible to tell if our plodding way forward was the best way that this game could have been played, and whether more radical solutions would have led us to disaster.

I think Canada has a rich, and encouraging history, and I applaud everyone who is working now to try to make this country better. But whether I "love" this space enclosed by artificial lines on the globe is something that requires a qualified answer.

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