Monday, July 06, 2009

True Patriot Love

On July 1st, the Prime Minister proclaimed, "Today we celebrate the most peaceful, prosperous and enduring democracy the world has ever known." A bit over the top, I'd say; but it's the kind of rhetoric that other politicians have used before. And, if the polls are to be believed, Mr. Harper was only voicing what the vast majority of Canadians accept as true. As Jeffrey Simpson wrote last week, "almost 90 percent of [Canadians] believe they live in 'the best country in the world.'"

The problem with this kind of boilerplate, Simpson wrote, is that Canadians begin to repeat the Chapters-Indigo slogan: the world needs more Canada. "The assumption supporting this assertion," he claimed, "is that we Canadians are so worthy, morally upright and generally well intentioned, that the world would be a better place, if it were more like, well, us. Which, in turn leads Canadians to their deadliest sin: an unsinkable moral superiority."

Then, to remind us that there are many less than superior accomplishments in this country, Simpson enumerates some of our shortcomings: we have the world's worst record for per capita green house gas emissions; Canada is "almost alone in flogging asbestos around the world;" and "the decline of manufacturing and the struggles of high technology reveal Canada for essentially being what it has always been -- a hewer of wood and drawer of water, a country excessively dependent not on brain power but on natural resources."

Some might view Simpson's comments as sour grapes -- what they claim is a national tendency Canadians have for raining on their own parade. But that claim misses Simpson's point: "There are admirable aspects of being Canadian," he writes, "and these have all been justly celebrated on Canada Day. But self satisfaction can lead to a refusal to acknowledge weaknesses, to allow patriotism to curb critical thought, to refuse to face hard choices, and to cover a slow, albeit comfortable, slide toward international marginality and domestic mediocrity."

It has always seemed to me that one of the reasons for prairie winters is to remind human beings -- who all too easily fall victim to their own delusions of grandeur -- that, in the grand scheme of things, they are less important than they perceive themselves to be. A prairie blizzard carries a simple message: humility is the handmaid of reality. We are, indeed, a country of vast and varied blessings. But smug self satisfaction isn't one of them. True patriot love recognizes that fact.

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