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On Being A Nation

I had a dream this morning that was rather vivid. In the dream, I had written a book entitled On Being a Nation which was meant to inspire people by reminding them what it means to be a nation. In the book I outlined the responsibilities and privileges that come with nationality and surprisingly enough, it turned out to be quite popular.

Dreams are strange things. I used to dream a lot and was convinced that many of them were revelatory in some way. Perhaps they were. At least a few of them translated into actual experiences, and others provided wisdom and encouragement for people that I dreamt about. At the very least, they motivated me to pray about the situations and people I encountered while I slept. I kept journals for many years of my dreams, even wrote a novel based on a set of dreams about a specific person (you can read chapter one here), but for the most part, dreams remain a mystery to me.

Nevertheless, they do sometimes set my mind in a direction that I never would have gone during my waking hours, so I try to give a bit of thought to the tangents I go on in my dreams, just in case there is something worth mining there. And so today, I am thinking about what it means to be part of a nation. If I were to write a book by that title, these might be the synopses for the first three chapters.

Chapter One: Nation as United Aggregate
Yep, being part of a nation means that in some sense, we are one. We are many (aggregate), but we effectively act as one (united). Not in the sense of the mind-controlling, dehumanising Borg from Star Trek, but like a family unit, or an Olympic rowing team. All the parts (people) come together to become something greater than they are by themselves. On occasion we are witness to this unique collective, synergetic way of thinking. When team Canada plays hockey against team USA, we all become hot-blooded Canadians bonding over the event. Should a disaster befall some part of the country or a beloved public figure, we rally around to offer support. However, when no one is threatening our hockey prowess or there is no looming disaster to heighten our sense of responsibility to each other, we all too quickly invent our own disasters and tensions by turning on each other. We have forgotten what it is to be a nation.

Chapter Two: United
Unity continues to be a hot topic in Canada. I live in Quebec where separation is never far from the political agenda; this takes the form of provincial and federal parties who have both written separation into their mandate. Our governmental and judicial systems are founded on adversarial models which, to no one's surprise, result in people working against each other instead of with each other in the pursuit of a just, strong, and healthy nation. We tend to spend so much energy on trying to ensure our own well-being by taking it from another that we have forgotten that we are in effect, taking from the whole to which we belong. We are united, whether we like it or not, and how we treat each other affects our nation. If you have ever been witness to or part of a bickering family, you understand how extremely toxic and destructive an adversarial mindset can be. It is not the Liberals against the Conservatives. It is not Quebec against the rest of Canada. It is not the prosecution against the defense. It is not even the Canadiens against the Maple Leafs. Until we realise that we are not against each other, we will not truly be a nation.

Chapter Three: Aggregate
One of the reasons that I love living in Montreal is because of its multicultural, multilingual dynamic. Here, I am always in the minority in some shape or form, and that is good for me. It reminds me that I am a significant, though small part of this vibrant city. I am not superior to or more powerful than my neighbour. Even though she is better at French and accounting than I am, and I am probably better at theology and English than she is, we are not in competition. We have much to offer each other. At this point you might think that I sound like a champion of communism, and that would be true to the extent that we are talking about healthy community life. However, I take strong issue with the kind of commonality that sacrifices valuable differences in the name of manageable uniformity.

As an example: if you are an audiophile, you will know that much of today's music makes use of two recording tools (compression and pitch correction) that are useful in producing a very polished product, but alter the natural characteristics of the voice so that it sounds somewhat synthetic. In my experience, after a steady of diet of this artificial sound it is refreshing to hear the raw, true quality of a real, live, unadulterated voice. The natural voice showcases an artist much better than some snazzy studio production, because the little nuances are intact. Have we forgotten how to celebrate and highlight the nuances of our nation? Have we have forgotten how to sing with our real voices, in harmony with each other, in a song that is uniquely our own as a nation?

And that's as far as my ideas go on the book. Perhaps you have your own to offer.

This is a photo of the Canadian flag I own.


Anonymous said…
The nationhood you are describing is that of the "left" in Canadian politics. It values community, equality, diversity, justice, etc. The values of the Canadian "right" are fundamentally in opposition and favour, as you put it, "commonality that sacrifices valuable differences". The right is adversarial, presenting life as competition within a "free" economy: it is every man for himself. Commonality within the rhetoric of the right is that of the free market, that of an "equal" playing field. But while espousing freedom and equality, the right does nothing but feed the systems responsible for the creation of inequality in the first place, widening the gulf between the haves and the have-nots, while squeezing and indebting the middle class.

I do not believe most Canadians who vote right share the ideology of their political leaders. Most Canadians share the values you are describing. Sadly, many vote right because they feel the pressures of the "crises" of the current economic system ("crises" which will not go away until we start to think differently). While I do not see the left as having the answers, it is at least willing to honestly address the very real problems we are facing as Canadians and citizens of this planet (environment, human rights, social justice, etc). The right's answers to the world's problems are unsustainable economic development, wars driven by corporate interests (but fought in the name of "freedom"), and xenophobic moral legislation (the best the right can do).

There are two teams playing in Canada and it is, unfortunately, some sort of competition. Thankfully, individuals who take a serious look at the problems we are facing can not help but join the left. I mention this here because your notion of nationhood is fundamentally socialist, yet you seem to want to dissociate yourself from this team. Perhaps you would rather see yourself as a referee. But if you pay attention during the game, you will start making calls in favour of those who don't wear blue.

-Signed, an audio engineer who never uses auto-tune or compression.
Anonymous said…
Having grown-up a bilingual child of Trudeau in a French speaking Alberta town, and having lived in Quebec for more than a decade, I feel that I should additionally comment on this entry's description of the Quebec sovereignty movement.

"I live in Quebec where separation is never far from the political agenda; this takes the form of provincial and federal parties who have both written separation into their mandate."

As you (Matte) realize, the sovereignty movement in Quebec is not primarily a political movement. In "coming out of the closet...kinda" you write: "I am not a separatist, but I am not ashamed to stand with one. Perhaps that's the reason some people started talking about separation in the first place: they felt that people were not willing to stand beside them."

To understand that the Quebec sovereignty movement has cultural roots (beyond those of language) is to understand its impetus. The results of the recent federal election are a clear message to both federalists and separatists that the people of Quebec will not see their interests (sovereignty or otherwise) politically caricaturized, that they will not place ideology over pragmatism. In this regard the rest of Canada (both from the left and right of the political spectrum) can learn from Quebec: Quebec refuses to engage in ideolotry.

In order to be united, our country must overcome the ideolatry of nationhood, the ideolatry of federalism, and turn towards the pragmatism of love and the gospel. In other words, to use evangelical language, it must place Christ on the alter. It is not surprising that with regards to Quebec sovereignty the political parties that have come to understand this are those on the left of the political spectrum, which has a tendency to focus on both unity and diversity in a manner lacking on the right (see the 2011 platforms of the Green Party of Canada and the NDP). There is a sense in which the shift from ideology to love is evident in the policy of asymmetry:

"A key element in our multi-national federation is a commitment to flexibility and the accommodation of differences between provincial governments and between peoples. Asymmetry is an important means of fostering collective political identity and meaningful governmental consent when Canadians have multiple political allegiances. That is, it allows people to be comfortable as both Quebecers and Canadians." ( pp. 129-130)

Asymmetrical federalism essentially means that some provinces and peoples will have different powers than their peers. It is a policy based in love and, as you put it, the united aggregate. Asymmetry requires that the empowered recognize their status and agree to compromise their power. It is, in a sense, the essence of the words of Jesus towards the religious and political leaders of his day.

-Signed, an audio engineer who never uses auto-tune or compression.
Matte Downey said…
Thanks for the comments. While I appreciate your point of view, I would take issue with placing my points either on the left or on the right or insisting that I align myself with a team (or offering to do it for me). One of the major points of the whole post was to get past the language of competition and adversarial thinking. :-)

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that we are accustomed to slotting ideas and practices into the existing political ideologies. The 'left' has no exclusive claim on living well in community. Every political party is adversarial to some extent in my observation, which makes it problematic to make the 'right' the poster child for this type of thinking and behaviour.

I appreciate some of your points about why and how people vote. However, there are other factors as well. After this last election, I am hearing that many placed reactionary votes, trying to send a message of distrust to the Bloc and the Liberals.

The idea of assymetry is an interesting one, and while talking about 'different powers' is appealing ideologically, I wonder what it would look like practically.

One of the problems I see in Quebec is that we do not realise how much we have to offer to rest of Canada. Instead of speaking about contributing generously from our rich culture and broad resources, we are continuously seeking more power and concessions from the rest of the country.

This type of asymmetry is not helpful to the overall well-being of our great nation and says more about our own insecurity than about political positioniing. We all have much to contribute to the whole.

But that's just my humble way of seeing things.
Anonymous said…
"While I appreciate your point of view, I would take issue with placing my points either on the left or on the right or insisting that I align myself with a team (or offering to do it for me). One of the major points of the whole post was to get past the language of competition and adversarial thinking. :-)"

You should take issue. I anticipated that. I am being confrontational. I believed for a long time that I too could be a referee. But the more I investigate what is actually going on in the world, the more I realize that I am on a team whether I like it or not. Something in the culture of the Church has put us to sleep when it comes to being in the world.

"I appreciate some of your points about why and how people vote. However, there are other factors as well. After this last election, I am hearing that many placed reactionary votes, trying to send a message of distrust to the Bloc and the Liberals. "

I agree. But would also add that from my experience the people of Montreal tend to be more politically aware than many in the west.

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