An Un-Patrotic Canadian

It’s Canada Day … again. And I am feeling distinctly un-patriotic about Canada …. as I did during the Vancouver Olympics and Armistice Day. Perhaps it’s just my contrarian nature.

Then again I don’t ever feel patriotically Swiss or British either (and I have all three nationalities). So I’m inclined to explain this lack of patriotism as a generalized lack of faith in Nationhood instead.

I do understand and appreciate that immigrants from war-torn countries who have experienced untold suffering would feel gratitude to a nation and a country for refuge. Vietnamese boat-people, for instance, have a fierce love for Canada for all it has given them in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

I confess that I felt very moved by the naturalization ceremony that I was sworn in at nearly 20 years ago. It wasn’t pledging allegiance to the Queen that moved me – it was witnessing all these other people from around the world (South East Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa) who had chosen Canada as their country – the list was long. It was moving to me because people from so many of these countries have suffered so much in the 20th century and they were adopting a country who had adopted them and given them respite.

But what is it that Canadians (especially immigrant Canadians) feel gratitude for? A “country”? Really? Or is it the institutions of democracy, human rights and free speech? Or is it the friendship and welcome of compassionate people? Or is it the affluence of a rich country that can afford these luxuries?

I think it’s fair to say that democracy, human rights and free speech are luxuries of affluence. These things aren’t affordable in places where local competitiveness is cut-throat or where the poverty of a country enable it to be are ruled by corrupt and brutal military dictatorships.

There is so much to be thankful for, without a doubt. But I don’t like being thankful to a country.  “Being Canadian” is exclusionary and divisive, at least in so far as “the other” is not Canadian. Defining one’s identity, even in part, by nationhood – or even by species for that matter (“Human Being” vs. “Cetatcean”) – creates an “us” vs. “them” kind of discrimination that separates us in ways that are at best not helpful and at worst indescribably tragic (viz. National Socialism in Germany in the 1930s.)

Not that the tragic consequence of Nationalism are very likely to prevail in Canada – except in Quebec, perhaps, where Francophone Nationalists regularly try to drum up this sentiment to rally the “pure laine” of Quebec to secede from “the rest of Canada”.

What would we celebrate then? “The rest of Canada Day”?

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2 thoughts on “An Un-Patrotic Canadian

  1. Can’t you feel Canadian and not Canadian at the same time? There are conventional as well as ultimate truths, so whilst at the level of Buddha-Awareness we are not even human let alone a particular nationality, at the conventional level, we are made up of many interdependent, constituent parts, including nationality. Recognizing the way things are is an important aspect of Buddhism, isn’t it? And whilst this may not include nationalism as such, it certainly can include gratitude – towards our parents, teachers, friends, and indeed countries. This needn’t exclude others, but simply recognize the special place that some people and things have in our lives (at the conventional level). Thought-provoking post!

  2. Thanks for your comment Gary. Yes, I have been wondering why I care more about the Moose-family that has recently taken residence in the small forest near by my work-place and less about the Moose-families in the wilderness 100 Kms away that I haven’t met but know exist.

    It is human-nature, I think, to feel grateful and compassionate towards those in your immediate vicinity. And hence to care more for fellow Canadians than for Chileans in Terra del Fuego. But that’s an accident of how our psyches work, not, as Mr. Spock might say, logical. Other beings who are not yet born, for instance are just as important to care for, even if we don’t know them in the historical dimension. Our responsibilities towards one another in the here and now are quite as significant as our responsibilities towards other beings in the future.

    Here in Canada we’ve recently been infected with this American-style “wrap yourself in the flag” kind of attitude and I do worry that it fans the flames of ignorance and self-centeredness.

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