elephantsA Nationalist Manifesto

There are too many elephants in the room. During our teens it was understandable, but this country is almost 140 years old. It’s time to stop ignoring the obvious. The 21st century might be filled with promise, but not if we don’t change course.

As it stands, we are far too dependant on natural resources, and they’re far too dependant on us. Our Prime Minister, under a majority mandate, is essentially a dictator. Our immigrants are both our biggest asset and our biggest liability. China is real. So is Afghanistan. We spend nearly $150 billion a year on a crippled healthcare system and throwing more money at the problem will not make it work. Our best and brightest are quick to jump ship. Canada’s GDP is 4% of the total global economy, and we’re only a footnote in the annals of our time.

People who haven’t traveled beyond the Christianized West, Mexico and the Caribbean complain way too much. People who have should complain a lot more. Multiculturalism isn’t an identity. Bombardier isn’t a success story. Fort McMurry isn’t our salvation. We’re almost out of power, European hockey is better to watch, and Celine Dion is better off south of the border. The mafia runs our nightclubs. The government runs our liquor. The Angels run our drugs. The banks run everything else.

These aren’t difficult concepts to embrace. They’re facts, like a friend’s addiction to gambling that we somehow choose to ignore. They beg some of the bigger questions facing modern sovereign states. When did we lose our way? Why didn’t we see it coming? Where do we go from here? How will the others respond?

Historically, we’ve been isolated. We’ve been peripheral. We’ve been auxiliary and in many ways dependant on the charity and self-interest of our closest trading partners. Our humility is not always a virtue. Peace is not always an option. The true north isn’t all that strong, but it certainly is free, and that’s a great place to start out the new millennium.

Going forward, we need to be more catalytic, more self-interested, more independant, more willing to attack and more willing to defend. We need to grow into our oversized skin. We are the elephant in the room. We are the next big thing.

It’s time to stand up and be heard.

6 comments to “elephants”
  1. This is an interesting tour de force of some of the future challenges of tomorrow, and drives towards what I believe is the fundamental question that we are currently facing.

    How can we take a firm position, particularly one grounded under the auspices of morality, when there is so much uncertainty about truth, and so many notions of a desirable end.

    When the world was governed by relatively few European powers that agreed on the basic tenents of how a society functions, winning or losing was an academic question. Who would govern was in play, but how they would govern was a given.

    Moral questions were clearly defined – Nazism was bad, Stalinism was bad, European imperalism was useful but bad, freedom was good. White people mattered, non white people were commodities. America was honest, Canada followed its heart in trying to establish an identity.

    Now we are confused, and as a consequence, afraid to formulate a position. Iraq is a beautiful example. Since Hitler, there are few instances of people that were so clearly very bad as Saddam. Going to war was right. He killed his own people, he was indifferent to destabalizing the world, he was capable of very bad things, he should be deposed. 20th century logic made this seem like an easy conclusion, details aside.

    Now we are saying that this was a bad decision. Certainly he was bad, but we see that without direction, the world has the potential to be a much worse place when left to its own devices. Sitations, and segregations, real or imagined can easily evoke hatred deeper than the urge to live a productive life. In the 20th century mentality, it was expected that the concept of liberator held, and that if you get rid of the tyrant, people will rejoice.

    This is no longer true. There are many salespeople in the global marketplace of ideas, of truth. It seems as though despite my certainty, I was wrong about Iraq, and I don’t want to be wrong again.

    The author of the post reminded us that there is a wrong, there is a right, and we have to be moral agents who are not afraid of taking a position because the world needs us. I hope that this call to end inaction sparks the same response in the other readers.

    Forget Canada in 2020. Think of the World in 2020, and what we can do to try and make it a better place. We should complain more, and not fear the uncertain. This is should be our objective, and most certainly is our responsibility.

  2. Moral agency is one thing, and in that respect, I think Canada and its lawmakers are on stable political ground. We’ve managed to wade rather successfully through most of the world’s imperial conquests — themselves the products of myopic xenophobia and cultural fanaticism — owing in no small part to our growing multi-ethnic character. We’ve integrated ourselves into the global marketplace, albeit peripherally, and benefit from all of the economic prosperity that follows international trade. We’ve created a social environment that is, at least on its surface, equally accepting of race, religion and sexual orientation. And perhaps most notoriously, we’ve developed an awkward humility when called to speak, typically as a peace-broker, among our larger global peers.

    What concerns me more is that despite all the opportunity in the world, most patriotic Canadians believe that our current status quo is an acceptable benchmark for the future. Nowhere does it say that change must necessarily be bad. Nowhere is it written that the nice guy (or girl) must finish near the middle of the pack. For all of the greatness that this country has demonstrated in its 140 short years of existence, I truly believe that the best is yet to come.

    Consider what the world was like during that first fragile year of Canadian confederation, and how much our surroundings have changed. In Europe, Prussia, Italy and the Austro-Hungarian empires were just being established, setting the stage for The War to End All Wars. In South America, the War of the Triple Alliance was the bloodiest in Latin American history, claiming half of Paraguay’s population and reminding us all of the legacy of European conquest. In the Greater Orient, the Shogun returned political authority to the Emperor in Japan, the Suez Canal saw its first commercial naval passage, and Alaska was purchased from Russia for US$7.2 million. Closer to home, the British and French were busy monetizing their earlier imperial conquest, after fighting wars in Crimea, North Africa and China over control of important routes of trade. And in America, black men were first given the right to vote, only two short years after Lincoln was assassinated for fighting for their liberty in the south.

    In the midst of all this action, our tiny British colony was (theoretically) set free, with all the privilege of belonging to the commonwealth and none of the responsibilities of sovereign adulthood. And so we’ve remained, a satellite state of our biggest economic and political partners, full of the riches of nature’s bounty but none of the will to use them to our own, independent, and even altruistic ends.

    What specifically those ends should be is really anyone’s guess. I, for one, think we’ve sat and watched for long enough as our destiny passes us by. Going forward, we ought to formulate a new vision for the country, one which respects everything it took to get this far, but at the same time, reflects the role we could and should be playing in the greater theatre of humanity. There are some very great people in this country whose voices need to be heard, but whose insights are lost in the thunderous roar of partisan political propaganda and the shameful commercialization of the fourth estate.

    Let’s just hope forums like these are able to identify and recognize these gifted Canadians, as we begin to discuss the true role of our nation in the many promising years ahead.

  3. I’m not sure new visions for the future are necessary. Visions always tend to be obscured by reality. Global events frame the agenda, and all nations need to respond.

    However, we have the perfect agency issue that is a nice example of the medium term future staring at us in the face.

    Should we be in Afghanistan?

    If so, what should we be doing there?

    Rebuilding? Fighting? Teaching our version of freedom?

    Should we be making practical deals with quasi bad people or following a clean ideology?

    Who should formulate our approach? The military, diplomats, local politicians?

    What are their incentives, and how can we keep tabs on them?

    What should the medias role be in framing the events?

    As our friend Abraham Lincoln said near the waning days of the civil war and still applies today – Reconstruction is truly the most practical expression of statesmanship.

    What do y’all think?

  4. Global events may frame the agenda, but they’re only a snapshot of the world at a singular point in time. For any realistic image of the world as it can be, these types of questions must be asked, and answered, by anyone at all interested in the fate of their future generations.

    Is Afghanistan really the issue? Or is it the Taliban? Terrorism? Broader anti-Americanism? Anti-capitalism? Poverty? Malnutrition? Mal-education? Post-imperial conquest? Resource scarcity? Strategic geography? Hobbesian war-mongering?

    I don’t mean to confound a simple question which, I agree, ought to be answered. But decisions like these are meaningless if they don’t build toward some future socio-political ideal. The context I suggest is that of a country at a crossroads, with all the potential in the world but no coherent, tangible plan; whose foreign and domestic policy has floundered under the reigns of legislators who are more concerned with modifying and “tweaking” the status quo than examining our potential role as a leader and moderator in the great 21st century debate.

    It was precisely this sort of eyes-on-the-ground approach that led us head-first into a Second World War, and will string us along in the years ahead — from flashpoint to geopolitical flashpoint — as an atavistic reaction to the existing global “agenda” instead of a proactive role in shaping it to some better, humanitarian end.

    In Afghanistan, for instance, our mission is no longer Canadian. Our objective on the ground is no longer our own, and our opinion seems to count for very little when NATO’s generals are busy playing war on the ancient maps of the Middle East. To illustrate, Karzi’s visit to Canada barely registered among the back pages of the international press, other than to remind us of his need for practice in advance of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Our role in the region may be valued, but our thoughts on the matter are peripheral at best.

    If Canada had a more tangible vision for its role in the broader NATO alliance, the issue might be worth exploring once again. But until we can establish an identify for ourselves, and a shared vision for the world of the future, the only thing we’ll be reconstructing any time soon is our national hockey program.

  5. I’m not sure where you were going with the World War II bit, but the issue is Afghanistan.

    We are talking about Canada, and what we can do to impact the world. We certainly can’t change capitalism, mal-education, or the layered issues that contribute to the rise of the taliban. It is also unlikely that we would be able to create a holistic philosophy that will address all of these issues in a reasonable period of time for at least two reasons: Most are out of our sphere of control and every 4-5 years there are federal elections, which are invariably driven by the need to convey what the next administration will do differently. Our system is implicity attention defecit.

    We also shouldn’t be scratching our heads too much to figure out what the other countries motives are. If you make the problem too big, it becomes undefinable and unanswerable. Small issues can be trumped by bigger and less tangible causes ad nauseum, leading to a paralyzing debating contest that quickly loses relevance when you try applying it. This is just as public enemy #1 G.W. Bush reasonably argued when he first went to the UN – we have a very bad man who has been in power for years, and nobody has deposed him. What are we waiting for? What issues have we not had the time to debate?

    Although his backup may have been wrong, like your first post implied, we can ask questions and vent forever, but lest we do something, we remain an impotent country in a deteriorating world. This isn’t to say that we should start shooting, but we should recognize the reality of the world today, and impact it to make it a better, I suppose towards 2020.

    Which brings us back to the main point – we are in Afghanistan. What are our objectives, what should we be doing, and how should we be doing it. Because they are actionable, these are the practical questions of statesmanship. They also can be the pivot on which a philosophy of intervention can evolve, which admittedly we are woefully lacking.

    Although we may be taking second fiddle to other interests in Afghanistan, we must remember the history of our nation. We defined ourselves through what we were willing and unwilling to do in times of conflict. We are founded on a history of navigating more powerful agendas. If Robert Borden had remained subserviant, then we would have represented England instead of Canada in WWI. We contributed to Europe’s war autonomously, which served as the basis for the definition of Canada in the global arena.

    I suppose similar mention could be given to Louis St.Laurant and Lester Pearson and their pivotal role in the forming of the UN, but due to my position on their creation, I’ll leave this topic to others to argue.

    The idea of acting before formulating a comprehensive strategy is for sure not the best sequencing and has led to some pretty haneous outcomes, but this just goes back to global events setting the agenda. Unless we start initiating conflicts, or get in bed with the US, we will always be responding.

    Mr.Borden didn’t know that he would become Canada’s most important prime minister by virtue of how he dealt with the mother country. Maybe NATO, or the US is the new Britain, and Harper the new Borden. Any bets? Who knows. As Bill Clinton just said, this is why ex-presidents have the capacity to take on big issues, while presidents can’t because they are distracted by the world.

  6. Big problems can certainly be daunting, and even distracting and counterproductive, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be explored.

    Take Iraq, for example, though I’m loath to reopen the debate. Rushing in to depose a Ba’athist tyrant, to both Bushes and most anyone with a shred of common sense, was a very simple, black and white decision. But when the challenge of post-war reconstruction emerged, it was chaos, not order, that followed. Not thinking far enough ahead, or heeding the warnings of those who better understood the complex history of the region, was the consequence of the same political reductionism you’re suggesting. In situations like this, shrinking down the picture can often be far more dangerous than asking the broader strategic questions up front.

    More to your point, however, seeing beyond Desert Storm, beyond Iran-Iraq, beyond King Faisal, beyond the British mandate, beyond the Balfour Declaration, beyond Lawrence, beyond the fall of the Ottoman empire, beyond the conquest of the Mamluks, beyond the rushing Mongols, the Persian Abbasids, the Sunni Umayyids, and into the depths of the young Islamic world, can delay and distract us from ever making a choice. In my own life, I’m as guilty of this as anyone; of over-analyzing to the point of inaction. But as a country, sporting an eager and innovative collective consciousness, we should realize that our destiny is shaped by more than the next parliamentary cycle, and that a real plan for the country, regardless of what happens beyond our borders, should be a strategic priority today — both in theory and in action.

    But to answer your question — and finally move beyond — I think our role in Afghanistan has been marginalized, and indeed compromised. This isn’t peacekeeping anymore, this is cracking the party (i.e Western Christendom’s) whip. But it does highlight our willingness to participate as a force for “peace” (used lightly) and good governance in the world today. And it also helps to remind us that the life we enjoy here at home is a function of decisions and actions that take place thousands of miles away.

    In centuries past, this geographic reality was never the case. Your biggest threat was always your neighbour, and a few of his toughest friends. But the economic virtues of globalization have changed all that forever. They’ve opened the door both to expanded trade, and expanded terror. The same sea routes that have fueled the global marketplace have opened a direct path to the heart of the Western empire. The same internet that furnishes your holiday presents is being used to call fundamentalists into jihad. The same airplane that delivers those gifts is now a weapon in the growing arsenal of militant anti-capitalism.

    The only question driving our decision to remain in Afghanistan should be one of both domestic and, more broadly, humanitarian calculus. Are innocent people dying because we’re there? Would fewer die if we weren’t? Will terror follow us home if we go, or will it only get worse if we stay?

    I’m neither a historian, nor a military strategist, nor a sociologist by trade, but I know this country has a tremendous amount of promise. Bickering over war budgets and gay marriage and health care is pointless if it isn’t in the service of some greater “utopian” goal (again, used lightly). Our early constitution once provided that prospective framework, but even with all the tweaks and debates along the way, we’re still a 139 year old colony consistently struggling to find its way.

    When Afghanistan is over, and the war is lost or won, what should we consider next? What “great issue” will we tackle when our troops finally return home? In my mind, the debate shouldn’t wait until it’s too late for change. The debate should begin right now.

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