September 15, 2004
a rant on Canadian social state nostalgia
Here in Seattle, I'm a guest at the Emma Goldman Finishing School, a five level, Victorian-era redux, full of anarchists who know the real meaning of self-reliance, namely, lots of jars. The only curriculum is organic and experiential (I'm sure Emma would approve), the sum product of sincere residents; good food; bookshelves full of well-worn copies of everything; the steeling scent of beans bubbling and walls being painted; laughter and conversation; rustling trees which hug the windows and the garden out back; and the overall atmosphere of a rising tide of empowerment, in an era when most Americans are being robbed blind of the stuff. You know, nothing's perfect, but I'd like to live here.
America's funny because we Canadians often think of it as a Hellishly victimizing environment, rather than, at least potentially, an effective wake-up call to the collective problem of capitalism, and an inspiration to see the connect between their own and others' lives, globally. Canadians like to think of Canada as a more civilized place than the States, but there are really less and less fundamental differences in our societies' guiding economic principles; our nations are like trains at different places on increasingly parallel tracks. At least Americans — what with all their president's talk about taking over the world — are hard-pressed not to be aware of the place they are at.
Everyone here knows that America affects the world, if only for the sheer fact that such a connection is undeniable.The more aware see local issues as part of a global problem that has many other manifestations — and so arise great alternative places like the EGFS — while in Canada, I don't think it happens as often. The larger reasons for the fraying of Canada's social fabric do not seem apparent to a critical mass of Canadians yet; rather, there are many groups fixated on keeping their own social threads in place. As chilly as the political atmosphere in Canada is right now, most people still seem to think that, like a favourite, worn-out sweater, there's still enough there to build up from again.
It's a frustrating fact that it's the anti-capitalist speakers at our anti-Liberal rallies that cause the masses to disperse for hotdogs and cold sodas. Remember that the almost-general-strike basically failed because people weren't ready to challenge the larger structures of power, i.e. the union leaders who were kow-towing to Liberal big-businessmen, and corporate capitalism in general. Many anti-Liberal activists in my province, anyway, seem unable to see their own struggle as part of a counter-attack on the larger socio-economic system. In fact, many Canadian activists, whether they see it as a short term solution or an end goal, are working in defense of a Golden Age of the status quo, that is, our fabled "socialist state".
Chomsky has written about the difficulty of navigating the divide between one's ultimate ideals and immediately necessary actions — this is what all the anarchists backing Kerry are feeling out here right now — and I think the underlying message of his discussion is that it is important to consider both realms with equal seriousness. The lack of an obvious need for a cohesive and radically (re/de)constructive vision is leading many Canadian activist efforts down dead-end streets, and preventing empowering connections from being made with the outside world. For example, poverty is generally still treated as a sort of niche problem; even amongst some activists, it's segued off as a sort of members-only club, complete with uniforms and lingo and feelings that no outsider can possibly understand.
Our politicians take advantage of this meme of poverty as a distinct culture. Recently, a Liberal MLA went on a sort of urban safari and spent a few nights in a taiga sleeping bag. Afterwards he basically said, with the confidence of a Lonely-Planeteer, "See, homelessness ain't all bad! It's an ethnic institution, even." Such a mentality holds that poverty has to do with the closing of mental hospitals, with residential schools and cuts to welfare. Well, of course it does! But with the general maintenance of a belief that the solution is a governental return to the "old ways", popular theories of Canadian poverty develop which are without larger vision, which are disconnected from larger global-economic trends, and even from our theories of poverty in the States — where we more often, ironically, make the connections we fail to see at home.
We just don't hate our government or our state enough to see them, and I think that's partly because we don't view the rest of the world as either our comrades or our fault. International strife is America's problem, we the Dominion mumble, politely extending our handshake to said rich-and-bastardly Uncle, and wielding a beggar's bowl on the end of it, all the while.
I actually hate writing political rants.
Posted by delire at September 15, 2004 05:03 PM