Thursday, August 21, 2008

Paris in the Springtime


One of my friends recently asked this question:

Which country will assume economic leadership fifty years from now: China or India?

I told him the question assumes too much. The short answer: neither India nor China will be able to claim the mantle of economic leadership in 2058.

We need to take into account current and historical trends that many ignore in conducting economic analysis. I would like to be able to say that Canada will lead the world, but I think hard reality will prevent this. The political, economic, and military superpower of the mid-21st century will not be China or the United States or India. Due to political forces very much in the Canadian tradition, economic power fifty years will emanate from central Europe.

Economics is a function of labour, goods, market, and government. It follows that the leading economic system will arise in the milieu that best coordinates interactions between these four entities. If labour, goods, and markets were unaffected by politics, we would be correct in extrapolating long-term trends from a stance independent of social pressures. Models that posit the coming ascendency of China and India do not sufficiently take into account the important effect of government and culture on economic systems. Governments able to move with market and labour trends will generate economic power.

Government has an essential modulating effect on economics. The independence of politics, culture, and markets is an 18th century myth born in the heady Enlightenment days of man's liberation from the political tyranny of hereditary monarchy. The birth of individualism, codified in the North American British colonies' Declaration of Independence in 1776, was was sent to King George in the same year that Adam Smith's economic playbook ("An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations") was published. The current economic power (the US) continues to bow to Adam Smith. If not for government intervention, however, the US would not have recovered from the Great Depression, and could not have become Europe's manufacturing centre from 1940 to 1970.

The US is politically and economically stuck in the late 18th century. Because of political immaturity, it will not move forward from this position, and will soon be surpassed economically and militarily.

Government is not a mere matter of form, but a matter of participation. And government is changing. The world has moved from no participation in government (Spain, 1480-1650), to weak representative government (Britain, 1650-1914), to strong representative but low-participation government (US, 1914-1970). The obvious next phase in the trend is the movement toward strong representative, high-participation government--almost pure democracy. The leading practitioners are in central Europe.

The European Union will be the world economic leader in 2058. Driving this ascendency will be the high participation of European citizens in their political affairs. Citizens of the US are not nearly as politically involved as Europeans. The most politically active US citizens are beholden to the narrow-sighted, individualistic elements of Enlightenment thought. Individual gun ownership, privatisation of services (even healthcare), and unregulated markets are held as the essential elements of a healthy society, even though these have led to the highest rate of gun violence of death of any country in history, as well as the highest incarceration rates, healthcare costs, and mortality rates of any western country.

The descent of the US has been accelerated by political arrogance abroad, but the unmoving, 240-year-old economic thinking is at the fore of the deterioration of US economic influence. The US, in fifty years, will be a weak player. India, with low citizen involvement in politics (low voter turnout, for example), will also be a weak player. China, with no tradition of democracy, will likewise soon be a minor player. This will be due to the growing importance of participatory government and the gradual worldwide equalisation of labour and markets.

Once India and China achieve economic parity with EU countries, they will stagnate due to political immaturity, while the EU continues to grow in influence. The place to be in 2058 will not be Shanghai or Bombay. No, I'd recommend Paris or Munich. Paris in the springtime, perhaps? And Octoberfest in Munich, of course.

Pearson Moore
18 August 2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008

An Algebraic Equation

A friend of mine faces a dilemma. His older brother ignored him while they grew up. After college, he talked their parents out of their savings and wasted it on a business that went bankrupt. Now, confined to a wheelchair, he wants his young brother to take care of him.

What does the younger brother owe this man?

It is one of the oldest questions ever asked. In what way does anyone benefit by supporting this leech? Haven't people already given up enough? A degree in mathematics is not required to make a simple calculation demonstrating with certainty that the younger brother has nothing to gain and much to lose in this situation.

But there's much more to this problem than an algebraic equation. Character is not established on a profit/loss statement. Responsibility is not a function of what we have received, but the natural outcome of what we're willing to give.

We give, even when those receiving our time and expertise have no appreciation of our devotion. We stand on who we are, regardless of what others may say or think about us. This is the measure of our humanity.

Therefore, the response to this question will depend on the character of the individual facing the challenge. Those who look only at the profit/loss statement will, with complete logical and economic validity, make the decision to abandon those in need. After all, these people, especially the aged and infirm and destitute, are not able to serve us or provide adequate monetary recompense. There are compelling social arguments, supported by the most accepted elements of North American culture, demonstrating quite convincingly the moral dangers inherent in a concern for anyone other than oneself. The most celebrated philosopher of American culture, Ayn Rand, wrote in "The Virtue of Selfishness" that any philosophy upholding concern for others is the erroneous philosophy of inhuman brutes.

Some claim, based on philosophies going back millennia, before recorded time, that to give without expectation of reward is the true sign of our dignity. With greatest respect to the huge majority in North America who vigorously believe in the value of self-fulfillment and the inherent truth of capitalism, I add my voice to those old-fashioned, out-of-date conservatives who say character is a function of what I contribute, not a function of what I acquire.

I must be willing, every day, to give to the company that employs me more than I receive in return. If I refuse, the company will not be able to heat the building, pay my manager, or employ anyone who does not provide direct service to clients. No building and maintenance department, then. No human resources department.

I must give more than I receive. The very concept of civilisation demands it.

It is precisely because of our willingness to give without reward that we build up civilisation. We do this even when temptations to think of self are all around us, and inside us. To the extent that we give, we build. To the extent that we take, we tear down.

What do I owe my brother?

The real question is this: To what extent do I have the strength of character to uphold my own human dignity and the precepts of human civilisation?

Pearson Moore
16 August 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What's The Difference?


What's the Difference?

I first asked this question thirty years ago on a trip to northwest Ontario. I bicycled from Fort Frances to Dryden along the Wilderness Road in early autumn, just before the beginning of hunting season. I stopped at one of the few lodges along the road and had coffee with the owner.

Though still a teenager, I knew of one key difference between Canada and the United States: taxes, and especially business taxes, were much lower in the States. As the lodge owner told me of his travails in getting his business started, the difficulties inherent in obtaining permits and approvals, I realised he suffered disadvantages he would not even have to consider were he operating just a hundred kilometres south.

Everyone in Ontario spoke English, sent their children to school systems very much like those in the U.S., watched baseball and hockey on television, just like the Minnesotans to the south. The only difference, as I saw it from my experience, was the much higher rate of taxation in Canada. And so I posed the question this way:

Why doesn't Canada just join the U.S. as the 51st state?

I was positive the lodge owner, this entrepreneur suffering unnecessarily under Canada's oppressive tax burdens, would be immediately receptive to the idea. After all, weren't entrepreneurs much better off in an environment of lower taxes that encouraged commercial and creative freedom? I at first interpreted his furrowed brow and intense concentration on the swirls in his coffee as a sign of his strong concurrence with my common-sense position. He was silent for several moments after I asked the question, and this convinced me of his sober appreciation of my teenage wisdom.

This was the entrepreneur's response:
"I hope that border stays right where it is."

What? I don't remember my response to the man's statement, but I do remember my feelings at the time: shock, confusion, disbelief. What could possibly be more conducive to personal happiness and growth than the kind of freedom we enjoyed in the United States? The idea that the U.S. vision of freedom was illusory or not conducive to happiness never entered my head until much, much later in life. Although in my teen years I did not believe every action my country took was useful, I was certainly convinced of the cultural superiority of my country. We had life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Every other culture in the world, according to my understanding thirty years ago, was in awe of our advanced society.

Inherent in the Canadian businessman's response to my question was the truth that some other set of factors was of such great importance to the man that the attraction of lower taxes had little or no bearing on his life or the decisions he wished to face. Thirty years ago, my mind contained not a single intellectual tool to even approach this idea. In fact, I am so thick-headed that my poor brain required about two decades to even begin fabricating a concept of what the businessman had told me.

Since 1998, a single question has preoccupied my mind. I have sought the answer in some fourteen books by Pierre Berton, three difficult-to-digest literary, almost academic tomes by John Ralston Saul, and innumerable trips to Vancouver, Edmonton, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Barrie, Montreal, and Quebec City. I have studied la Revolution tranquille and les Rebellions de 1837. I've conducted intensive research in Wendat and Iroquois culture. I've had long conversations in both official languages.

This is the question that has occupied my faculties for the last ten years:

What's the difference?

I now know that there are many differences between the two cultures, some of them profound, and many of them quite subtle. The basic difference is simple, though I believe that coming to an adequate appreciation of the true difference is something that requires a good deal of thoughtful consideration.

The basic difference is this:
The culture of the U.S. is biased toward individualism
The culture of Canada is biased toward the common good

There are nuances even in this basic difference, of course. Some Canadians are indifferent to the needs of their neighbours; some Americans live only for others. But I think the statements above constitute an accurate broad-brush distinction between the two cultures. There are important secondary differences. Again, I feel the following statements are helpful in distinguishing the two cultures from each other:

1. Canada institutionalises most individual needs
2. The U.S. institutionalises most individual freedoms

Basic individual needs are life, food, clothing, shelter, health, and education. Basic individual freedoms are life, personal autonomy and social freedom. Individual needs are met to a higher degree in Canada than in the U.S. Except for the freedom to live one's life, individual freedoms are exercised more completely in the United States. The freedom to live, of course, is contingent upon the fulfillment of basic needs, which are not emphasised in the culture of the U.S.

The expression of personal freedom is of such importance in the U.S. that speech aimed at destroying alien cultures and individuals is protected and encouraged. The image of city police in full riot gear protecting a handful of Nazis so that they can "exercise their constitutional rights of free speech" is iconic and unique to American culture. Such a gathering in Canada or other civilised countries would be subject to laws regulating hate speech and hate crimes. This is because free speech, while important to society, is not deemed to outweigh the basic individual rights of life and health. Allowing a group of people to openly express ideas of genocide or murder is not consistent with the basic functions of society.

The maintenance of personal needs is of such importance in Canada and other civilised countries that most ulitities and personal services are run by the state or are heavily regulated by the state. The most obvious distinguishing example is health care. If you are a Canadian citizen and you require a million dollars worth of care, it is taken care of and you suffer little or no monetary loss. If you are a U.S. citizen and your require this level of care, you will likely lose your house and all of your possessions, even if you are insured. This is because health care is a private, for-profit industry in the U.S., and health insurance companies employ entire divisions of workers who find every legal loophole available and pry into every document or record in the patient's history to find a legally-defensible way of avoiding payment. This is encouraged, since capitalism is one of the supreme individual freedoms. Even if one person's monetary gain means the death of a hundred people, individual freedom is to be cultivated and encouraged.

Another interesting manifestation of the primary cultural difference between Canada and the U.S. was described most forcefully and persuasively in Michael Moore's film "Bowling for Columbine." Gun ownership in both countries is very high. Yet, in Canada, population 34 million, about 160 people per year are murdered by handguns. In the U.S., population 300 million, about 12,000 people each year are murdered by handguns. On a per capita basis, you are ten times more likely to be killed in the U.S. than in Canada.

There are two reasons. First, Canadians are more ingrained with a sense of the worth of the individual, while Americans have more of a sense of individual and property rights and much less concern for the life of neighbour or foe. Again, "trespassers will be shot" and "this house protected by Smith and Wesson" (a common handgun brand) is a common sign found throughout the U.S. Second, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is often interpreted by common citizens as a guarantee of their right to bear arms.

This is just the beginning. This blog is an atttempt to explore the deep truths supporting the sometimes strong, sometimes subtle, sometimes nuanced cultural differences and the corollary legal and social distinctions between the two countries. I find this exploration endlessly fascinating and worthy of my energy and intense and sustained concentration and attention. I'm glad you've decided to explore with me, and I invite you to join me in future journeys on this most interesting path of cultural discovery.

PM
12 Aug 2008

Friday, July 18, 2008

We're All In This Together



Flashpoint:
The new television series on CTV and CBS


In his masterpiece, The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett needed to depict a culture vastly different from that of the late 20th century United Kingdom. He needed a scene to set the stage at the beginning of the book--a single dramatic scene--that told readers they were entering a barbaric world of cruelty and inhumanity.

He chose a hanging.

He described the tense anticipation of the gathering villagers, the boys eager for front-row position so they could see the noose go around the criminal's neck, hear his neck snap, and experience every twitch of the dying man's convulsing body. A hanging was first-rate entertainment in 12th century England. Back then, there were good guys, and there were bad guys. Bad guys got what was coming to them. Good guys got to enjoy seeing the bad guys suffer and die.

As it turns out, the entertainment choices in 21st century North America are not all that different from those of 12th century England. The last hanging in the UK occurred in 1964. The UK abolished the death penalty in 1969, and Canada followed suit in 1976. But south of the border, where most of our entertainment is manufactured, capital punishment is used frequently. After all, the criminals are bad guys. And it's a lot of fun to see the bad guys suffer and die. The American demand for retribution is a defining aspect of 21st century American culture. Crime dramas in the States must end with the criminal facing "justice."

Tonight, a movie director, David Frazee, needed to depict a culture very different from normal television fare. He had to create a cop show that did not appeal to our thirst for blood and our 12th century demands for "justice." He needed to depict a law enforcement culture that drew its very effectiveness and focus from the greater culture of its city and country.

He gave us Flashpoint.

The very last image of the show was not of an angry, unrepentant man being led in chains to the electric chair. We didn't even have the "satisfaction" of hearing a judge tell the bad guy he would be executed by lethal injection, or that he would spend the rest of his life in prison. The last image was of Sergeant Greg Parker gently placing his hand on a man's shoulder, one human being consoling another. The image was startling because the man Sergeant Parker was consoling, Jack Swanson, was the same person who hours earlier had almost killed a room full of doctors.

Every expectation we had going into the programme was shattered as the show progressed.

Sam Braddock, new to Toronto's Strategic Response Team and former special ops in JTF2, never misses a shot. But we learn police work is not about shooting. Sam, unfortunately, is from a very different culture, and he's a little slow to understand.

Sam Braddock: "Why don't we just take down the perp?"
Ed Lane: "He's a subject, not a perp."
Sam Braddock: "He's a guy with a gun."
Jules Callaghan: "He's a father in trouble."

The big guy from JTF2 who never misses a shot is not going to be much help on this first assignment, and Ed Lane knows what he has to do with the newbie. Picking up hospital blueprints, Ed tells Sam, "You need to walk down this hallway, through these double doors, down this set of stairs outside. Now this is dangerous, 'cause you have to cross a busy street to this Timmie's over here. I like two sugar, one cream."

This was not namby-pamby Caring Canucks versus Aggressive Americans (or American-influenced Sam). There were no group hugs at any time. In fact, I have a hard time imagining anyone hugging Ed Lane. The "man with a gun" was taken down in the usual way: disorienting explosive charges, lots of cops with guns converging, and lots of shouting while they put him in cuffs. He wasn't given counseling and sent home--he was sent to prison.

At one point, Sergeant Parker told the distraught man, Jack Swanson, "If I were in your situation I can't tell you I wouldn't do exactly what you're doing." This was not Toronto-speak for "There but for the grace of God go I." And Parker certainly was not saying that Jack Swanson's actions were in any way acceptable. But the Sergeant understood. And we did, too. If something bad enough happens to a "regular guy" he can "just snap" and make a bad decision. Any one of us could end up on the receiving end of a police sniper's rifle.

This series does not portray the superiority of Toronto police culture. Many police forces, even in the US, have specially trained negotiators. The United States military is training more of its soldiers in cultural sensitivity.

There is a long, long way to go. Only months ago, prisoners at Abu Ghraib were beaten, tortured, and forced by their American overlords to strip naked and perform sex acts. Capital punishment is widely performed and enthusiastically supported by the citizens of the US. Americans thirst for blood and humiliation in their entertainment, and in their justice.

Flashpoint is about a group of highly trained police officers trying to keep Toronto safe. It's not a show about American-style justice. Flashpoint is about a culture far removed from the cruelty and inhumanity of 12th century England and 21st century America.

Crime has not changed much over the millennia. Criminals' motivations have not evolved. But our response to crime can change. In the UK, in Europe, in Canada--in the civilised world--our response has indeed changed. We no longer execute our enemies. We act respectfully, even when leading a man in handcuffs to jail. We do not torture or degrade our prisoners, or make fun of their religious beliefs. Our response to crime is an indicator of who we are as a people and a culture.

Keeping our society safe at times may require that we use a rifle or a flash grenade. But the most effective means of keeping our society safe is to cultivate an awareness of and respect for those around us. We're all in this together. Flashpoint teaches us that. It's a lesson worth learning. And it's a lot of fun to watch!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

An Open Letter to Senator John McCain

Several weeks ago on LinkedIn, Senator John McCain, candidate for President in the US, asked this question:

What is the biggest issue facing America?

I am pleased to offer my response below.

Dear Senator McCain:

I think the biggest issue is the willingness to go beyond what many in our culture uphold as the "Virtue of Selfishness." As you... see more say on your website, you must be willing to give yourself to "a cause greater than your own self interest." I think in that simple phrase you have captured precisely the way in which all of us have to work to realign our personal, professional, and communal values.

I see many instances in your military and professional career that serve as excellent examples of serving a greater cause. Certainly your courage in North Vietnam for so many years is an example to all, and I have used your story many times in trying to instill an appreciation for the value of life, courage, and service in my son.

None of us is perfect, and I do not expect perfection. But there are two particulars in your record that I find troublesome. In 1998 you voted "guilty" on both articles of the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. While I think his affair with Monica Lewinsky was a terrible choice for himself and his family, I do not see how this affected the country to the degree that impeachment and removal from office was justified. I see the action to impeach as a desperate, politically despicable act that did much more harm to political climate and process than a small stain on a blue dress. I hold that a vote to impeach in this case may have been politically expedient, good in the short term for those in power in the Senate, but in the long run, damaging to your country.

Many will argue technicalities. Perjury was involved, and so on. The essential fact is that President Clinton had an illicit affair. While reprehensible, it did not warrant formal impeachment.

The second case involves your judgment on foreign policy issues. We now know that misleading information was submitted to the House and Senate to justify military action in Iraq. We were told for months that Iraq contained weapons of mass destruction. Information to the contrary was suppressed, even to the point that members of Mr. Cheney's office revealed the name of a CIA agent when her husband refuted the validity of evidence of nuclear weapons that had been fabricated by the Bush administration. Due to misleading and fabricated information, then, we have lost over 4000 of our friends and neighbours, and over 30,000 of our friends and neighbours are permanently disabled.

Your country has spent nearly 2 trillion dollars on a war that did not have to be, and that is not likely to bring any higher degree of stability to the middle east than existed before the military action you approved. Does the loss of 4000 lives and trillions of taxpayer dollars warrant at least an investigation into possible misleading and fabricated evidence? If these losses do not warrant investigation, what level of loss would you consider sufficient trigger for a formal investigation?

I will always admire you, Senator. But on the basis of your lack of good judgment in two areas that have brought disgrace to your country and pain to so many families, I cannot support your intentions for a leadership position in the Senate, and certainly not for the office of President.


Respectfully and With Best Regards,

Pearson Moore

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Negotiation, Not Revolution



The distinctive feature of Canada is simply this:
Canada is an idea forged in negotiation, not in revolution.


Fetons nos 400 ans!
Le quadricentenaire:
3 juillet 2008

It rained all morning today. Appropriate, since Samuel de Champlain’s records of the morning of July 3, 1608, indicate a hard rain. It was the day he founded his “Abitation.” It was the day he founded Québec. It was the day Canada was born.

A few seconds before eleven, the church bells began ringing all around us inside the walled city. No steady, monotonous rhythm, but bells of every tone, spanning octaves, running scales, hundreds of bells pealing without end. To this happy sound we added our cheers and shouts of “Felicitations!” The dignitaries around the statue—those whose hands were not gripping umbrellas—applauded. The enormous television monitor on the square showed us churches in Vancouver, Edmonton, and Toronto, all the churches across the country, ringing bells at this very moment.

As the bells pealed, I wondered about the significance of this event. How should it be remembered? Just what are we celebrating today?

The speeches began. The first, most appropriately, was by Grand Chief Max Gros-Louis, host of the festivities, and head of the Wendat (Huron) Nation, the nation that became Champlain’s closest ally. It was the tolerant culture of the Wendat Confederacy and that of their allies, the various Algonkin nations, that provided the foundation for Québec and Canada. South of the Great Lakes, the American Indians had significance only to the extent that they occupied land desired by the settlers; the indians were “savages” to be pushed off the land—by gunpoint if necessary. In Québec, Champlain and his men, it is true, referred to the Aboriginals as “sauvages.” But Champlain, in addition to desiring trade, was keen on understanding and adapting to First Nations culture and expectations. In the first years after his arrival, he dispatched men to live with and learn from the Wendat and the Algonkin. Within a year, he had established an alliance that positioned Canada as the most powerful nation in North America for the next 160 years.

As the speeches continued, I realised there were no official pronouncements about the subject of our celebration. “Fetons nos 400 ans!” was as official as it got. I found myself asking “Four hundred years of what?” Québec City? Québec? La culture québécoise? Canada?

The Prime Minister of France, François Fillon, had his say. He and Prime Minister Harper were the only two leaders of countries (en français: pays—pronounced “pay-EE” in English) present at the event. But M. Fillon addressed his remarks to “Monsieur le Premier ministre” Jean Charest, Premier of Québec. Now, to those outside Canada, the distinction between “nation” and “country” may not have any significance. In Canada a huge chasm exists between the meaning of the two words. Canada is one country composed of several nations (French, English, First Nations, Inuit, etc.). Foreign dignitaries, since 1967 anyway, have known that uttering the wrong word can get them ejected from the country.

Several times during M. Fillon’s speech, he referred to Québec as a pays. After he used the word the third time I half expected Stephen Harper to call the Mounties right then and there to haul the man away. At least the French leader didn’t shout “Vive le Québec libre!” as his predecessor, Charles de Gaulle, exclaimed in Montréal in the summer of 1967. De Gaulle might as well have said “People of Québec revolt!” Understandably, that very night, my namesake, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, appeared on nationwide television and basically declared de Gaulle persona non grata. De Gaulle left the country and was never invited back.

Fillon’s remarks were foolish and inappropriate, but they helped clarify my thoughts. My eyes are covered by the blinding scales of my upbringing in the land south of the 49th parallel, and I have great difficulty seeing what is clear and obvious to most anyone else not fettered in this way. But thanks to M. Fillon, I began to see more clearly.

In the 1600s an English lion laid an egg that in 1776 hatched as an American eagle. Everyone in the mid-1770s knew what was going to happen, and a third of the population of the thirteen colonies walked north, to what is now Ontario, because they wanted no part of illegal rebellion and treason. Another third of the population was loyal but couldn’t escape. The remaining third supported the rebellion, many half-heartedly, but not financially (“no taxation without representation” even from the first really meant in practice “no taxation, period.”), and a couple thousand underpaid, malnourished, poorly-equipped farmers under a Virginia plantation owner, with the help of several thousand disciplined French soliders, took on the entire British armed forces and somehow won their independence. All they wanted was freedom: freedom from taxation, freedom from government, freedom to “pursue happiness,” freedom from each other. In fact, they disliked each other so much, that for many years there was no unity among the thirteen nation-states, and only a very weak “Confederation” that ensured (or maybe “hoped”?) the state militias would come to each other’s aid in case of attack. A major source of state revenue was collected at border stations from visitors and tradespeople of the other states. It wasn’t until 1787—a full eleven years after the Declaration of Independence—that the thirteen nation-states, grudgingly consented to establish a federal government, and only because “the powers not delegated” to the federal government were “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

In 1608 a French rooster came to the shores of the St. Lawrence River. A rooster, of course, does not lay eggs. Roosters are inquisitive creatures, though, and this particular rooster began to take up a conversation with a turtle and several other animals of the First Nations. Over the decades and the centuries, the animals in this conversation never lost their individual identities, but they decided to make the beaver their representative. The distinctive feature of this animal was her acceptance and encouragement of diversity, and her reliance on negotiation.

Thanks to Monsieur Fillon, I realised this today: Canada is an idea, ever changing and evolving. It is a healthy, radiant plant whose seeds were sown four hundred years ago in rich soil. While I am not in the habit of quoting Tory leaders, I think Prime Minister Harper summed it up best when he said, “Les graines semées ici il y a 400 ans aujourd’hui ont fleuri pour créer cette ville magnifique, une nation québécoise confiante et fière, et un grand pays canadien fort et libre.” [“The seeds planted here 400 years ago today have flowered to create a wonderful city, a confident and proud Nation of Québec, and a great Canadian country, strong and free”—the last words recalling the National Anthem’s invocation of the “True North, strong and free”]. And though it has changed over the centuries, it has maintained its essential identity and ideals, all the while growing stronger and more vibrant.

A few historians say Nouvelle France began on July 24, 1534, with Cartier’s claim. Many say Canada was born on July 3, 1608, the occasion we celebrate today. A few argue she was born on September 13, 1759, on the Plains of Abraham. Some American historians claim Canada went its own way on October 7, 1774, with the British Parliament’s Quebec Act, allowing the province to practice Roman Catholicism and French law—an “Intolerable Act” to the minds of the English-speaking WASPs of New England.

Perhaps most people would say Canada was founded on July 1, 1867, the date of Confederation, now celebrated as Canada Day. But a few hold out for April 9, 1917, at Vimy Ridge. Some historians say it occurred on December 11, 1931 (Statute of Westminster, granting equality to all Commonwealth parliaments), or January 1, 1947 (first granting of Canadian citizenship) or even April 17, 1982 (Patriation of the Constitution and establishment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms).

What I realized today, standing in the rain in the town square below the statue of Samuel de Champlain, is that the idea of Canada was not formulated and then implemented by force, as with the revolutionary ideas of 1776 or 1789. I was reminded of a well-known answer to the question regarding the nature of the two North American countries:

Q: “What is the difference between the United States and Canada?”

A: “The difference is that you fought for freedom; we requested it.”


The distinctive feature of Canada is simply this:
Canada is an idea forged in negotiation, not in revolution.


Any idea or invention must claim necessity—or nature—as its mother. Canada called her mother Aataentsic [“Ah-TEN-sick”]. But this invention also had a father—human kindness—which Canada called Iouskeha [“You-SKAY-ha”].

For a thousand years, the Iroquoian nations that became the Wendat Confederacy were the last northern outpost of agriculture. Nations to the north, on the Canadian Shield, could not sustain crops of any kind in the thin, rocky soil. They fished and hunted more than they needed, and brought the excess south, to the Wendat. The Wendat in turn planted and harvested more corn, beans, and squash than they needed, and kept generous reserves for the northern Algonkin nations. What occurred between these nations was more like an exchange of gifts than what we might think of as trade. The culture of all the nations involved in the exchange had an extreme bias toward generosity, to the point that selfish individuals were considered not only anti-social, but were berated for acting against the dictates of their religion and tradition. Extremely selfish individuals were considered to be acting illegally, and were officially branded and tried as witches. The exchange of gifts was carefully orchestrated so as to show greatest cultural sensitivity toward the other nations. Trust, cooperation, negotiation, and generosity were valued far above any other aspect of human interaction. Trade arrangements and military pacts were often sealed with the supreme demonstration of absolute trust: the exchange of children.

-----

The rain seemed to intensify as the military parade passed by the statue of Champlain and down the steep avenue leading to the lower part of the walled city. Some of the individuals in the units—drawn from four hundred years of Canadian history—clearly did not like the rain pouring down on them. But drawing up the rear—the men and women in tan four-cornered Stetson hats, red serge jackets, black pants with yellow stripes, and brown riding boots—the Mounties—were uniformly expressionless or smiling. After all, there would be no such celebration again for at least another hundred years.

-----

Into the midst of the tolerant and diplomatic Aboriginal cultures, Champlain arrived in 1608. Having worked for the Spanish Navy from 1598 to 1600, he spent months in the West Indies, several weeks in what is now Panama, and a full month in Mexico. He witnessed first-hand the way the Spaniards enslaved the Aboriginals, and vowed to have no part in this. He and his compagnie, more than even the other French, and much more than the British and Dutch traders, endeavoured to learn about and understand these new cultures. His closest lieutenants spent years living with and learning from their Wendat and Algonkin allies, and the Wendat began living with Champlain’s people.

I do not write through rosey-coloured glasses. The French—including Champlain—acted in many ways with an air of superiority and contempt. Champlain referred to his closest Aboriginal allies as “sauvages.” The Wendat and the Algonkin not only ritually tortured their captured enemies, but in many cases ritually consumed the dead bodies of enemy warriors. European law of the time specified punishments such as drawing and quartering, disembowelment, decapitation and mounting of heads, and torture of heretics, witches, and spies. In fact, within weeks of establishing Québec, Champlain believed one of his men, Jean Duval, to be plotting against him. He had the man killed and skewered his severed head on a tall pike for all to see. Theft, jealousy, murder, and all manner of vice occurred in both Aboriginal and French camps. The motivations of neither Wendat nor French were entirely pure, at any time.

Nevertheless, the dominant factors guiding the Huron-French Alliance were trust, tolerance, and negotiation. This alliance between vastly different cultures was something new to the world, and it resulted in a unique culture that has thrived and grown stronger over the last four hundred years.

The cooperation between Huron and French inevitably led to Governor General James Murray’s recognition of the tremendous value of québécoise culture, and his many years of vocal agitation in favour of French Canadian rights, resulting in the Quebec Act of 1774. Cooperation and mutual respect between French and British inevitably led to the shared government of anglophone legislator Robert Baldwin and francophone legislator Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine in 1842, with Baldwin at one point representing a riding in French-speaking Lower Canada (Québec) and LaFontaine representing an English-speaking Upper Canada (Ontario) riding.

A modern natural outcome of Canada’s emphasis on negotiation and diplomacy is Lester B. Pearson’s brilliant crafting of, tireless advocacy for, and careful implementation of a United Nations Peacekeeping Force, which successfully ended the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956. In return for giving the world this practical, non-violent means of ending armed conflict, Lester Pearson was awarded the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize.

Tonight, standing near the sparkling water of the St. Lawrence, we witnessed the most spectacular fireworks display since the Americans’ bicentennial in 1976. It seemed that at any given moment six or eight or fifteen radiant bursts illuminated the sky above us. Many times twenty or thirty rockets must have been exploding simultaneously, and during the finale the sky became a brilliant display of fifty or sixty shells all bursting at the same time.

Today, we celebrate four hundred years of rich culture and heritage. It is a proud heritage of nations in a great land, coalescing to form a radiant jewel of humanity.

Just what do we celebrate today?
We celebrate trust, cooperation, negotiation, and generosity.
We celebrate all that is best in the human tradition.
We celebrate Canada.

Pearson Moore
Québec City, QC
Le 3 juillet 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

No Riding on the Grass


Culture comes in packages large and small. Sometimes it is the small package we most appreciate. And if the package is given and received without regard to cost, it is a gift to be savoured.

We arrived at the west lawn of Parliament Hill at 6:55 a.m. Our only neighbour at that early hour, a nurse from Ottawa, engaged us in discussions of her favourite city while Canadian Forces officers marked off precise lengths on the lawn in front of us. Others began arriving in small groups, one or two or three every few minutes, and by 7:30 a steady trickle of red and white-clad people began filling in the spaces on the rope line. By 8:30, we were at the front line of a sea of people extending back toward the gate and beyond, a solid mass of humanity, hundreds of thousands strong, six city blocks wide and two blocks deep.

On the pristine lawn in front of us, four police officers in black slacks with yellow stripes and green-gray shirts covered with black body armour rode their bicycles westward to prepare for the flag-raising ceremony. No riding on the grass! a man next to me shouted. The bicycle-mounted RCMP officer, a young woman, turned her head to look at the man, and flashed a beautiful smile. Everyone in the vicinity laughed, including the four RCMP officers, and they continued on their way across the grass.

In his introductory remarks on the 250th anniversary of parliamentary democracy in Nova Scotia, Dr. John Hamm, former Premier of Nova Scotia, spoke of the dangers facing Canada. To his mind, the greatest among these dangers was the possibility that hundreds of years of democratic tradition could be wiped out, not by enemies foreign or domestic, but by the apathy of this countrys own people. As Dr. Hamm noted, only twenty-five percent of young Canadians voted in the last election. If we do not exercise the privileges and traditions of our democratic heritage, he said, we are in danger of losing these most precious of the rights of man.

As we watched military units from four hundred years of Canadian history fill the lawn in front of us, another officer in black and gray-green walked by, greeted by a girl near the barricade. She rushed over to his side and he stopped just long enough for her father to snap a quick picture. The girl thanked him and they smiled as he continued on his way.

Canadians know well that their beloved RCMP last year tazered to death a defenceless man. Mounties have roughed up people who had committed no crime. RCMP officers, far from the Hollywood image, are human beings, no different from any of us.

This evening, as Diane Dufresne sang with spirit and energy, a young woman stopped an officer in black and gray-green. How do you salute? she asked. The officer raised his right arm, and palm out, drew his forearm back while simultaneously snapping his heels together. The woman tried, but her attempt was ragged. The RCMP officer demonstrated again, and the woman tried again. Though a big ragged, she mirrored the officer. You got it! he said for all around us to hear, and he moved on through the crowd.

They wear black and grey-green. And yet, even in this everyday attire, they carry themselves with the same dignity that they bear when dressed in formal riding boots, red serge jacket, and four-sided Stetson hat. The smile is the same. The bearing is the same. And the reaction of those they serve and protect is the same, too.

As Blue Rodeo and a dozen other artists on the huge stage led the million Canadians in front of them in a spirited rendition of the National Anthem, I did not even try to suppress my tears. Today, I realised, I was witness to gifts even greater than the gift of democracy. In this land of Peace Order and Good Government, a love affair continues. This love story began over 120 years ago. It is a love grounded in the founding principles of 1867 and the friendship of LaFontaine and Baldwin and four hundred years of Aboriginal-European cooperation. And just as the bond between francophone LaFontaine and anglophone Baldwin was the inevitable result of an identity as Siamese Twins, the affection Canadians show for their beloved Mounties is no aberration.

Tonight, watching the fireworks explode above the Peace Tower, I knew I was in Canada, where I belong. I knew this not because of the Governor Generals speech, nor the adrenalin rush of the Snowbirds thunderous flyover, nor the displays of pomp and pride. I knew I was in Canada because a woman on a bicycle had a sense of humour and a man with broad mustache had time for an adoring girl. I knew I was in Canada, because teaching a woman how to execute a perfect palm-out salute had the same importance as crowd control and security. I knew I was in Canada because this is the place where women and men, even in their imperfection, are granted respect and affection simply, even if they are on bicycles and not on horses. The affection and respect are not given because of the patch on their arm that says RCMP-GRC. The affection and respect are the result of a simple truth: These women and men, though drawn from every background and social sphere, have pledged to uphold not only the law, but the culture of a great land. And in this, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. The fleeting and insignificant acquires the durability of centuries and significance to subsume all thought and speech.

Today, the smiles of three Canadians meant more than fireworks, music, and ceremony. Today, I appreciated the small gift that is the greatest gift: spending time with people who have built a great and enduring culture. Today, I celebrated with Canada.

Pearson Moore
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada Day 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

An Open Letter to Senator Barack Obama

Today on LinkedIn, Senator Barack Obama asked this question:

What ideas do you have to keep America competitive in the years ahead?

I am pleased to provide below my response to Senator Obama's inquiry.


Dear Senator Obama,


Respect and Innovation will keep America competitive.


You must offer qualities seen as desirable to those seeking goods and services. You must respect those with whom you collaborate or offer products for sale, and you must offer true innovation.

In the business world and in the broader marketplace, in any human interaction really, effective leaders have two questions:


Can I trust this person?
Does this person offer me anything of value?


No other questions have anywhere near the level of importance. Your country's industries, government, and military must be led by trustworthy people, or those potential business partners in other cultures will look to industries in more trustworthy environments. That is, unless you earn trust, your industries will continue to lose markets.

To establish trust, your industries must demonstrate a sustained respect for and interest in people and their needs. Agreements such as NAFTA, which trample the needs of others by allowing corporations to pollute or force out local competition, are deadly to your country's image, and therefore reduce trust in your country. Allowing your military and your secret police (the CIA, for example) to torture and strip your own citizens of their rights of citizenship further reduces others' estimation of your humanity, and therefore causes people to place less trust in you. You must re-negotiate agreements such as NAFTA in such a way that human rights and local government rights are respected and given precedence over any privileges accorded industries. You must expel political and military leaders who assert the value of torture, and replace these misfits with people of integrity. In every action you take with other nations, you must demonstrate respect.

To establish value, you must offer physical goods and truly valuable services. Anyone dealing with you will expect at least value parity. No longer will you be able to reap inordinate rewards for low-value goods or low-quality services. You must be able to offer your goods and services at a competitive price. This will require innovation in the development, production, and distribution of those goods and services. But more importantly, you will have to develop truly innovative products. This will be difficult for you, since over the last forty or so years, your industries have vigorously sought to divest themselves of R&D capabilities. You are at a distinct disadvantage compared to other countries that are now vigorously accelerating their technical prowess in all areas.

Honestly, I think what is most required, in order to achieve the goal of demonstrating respect and achieving innovation, is a cultural shift. An over-reliance on capitalist values (Ayn Rand's "Virtue of Selfishness") has reduced your country's industry and has caused many around the world to perceive many of your actions as exuding a kind of arrogance. An ignorance of the value of other cultures has further reinforced this perception.

Your country, for many years, was a paragon of liberty and innovation. You have lost both of these qualities. What you have not lost, though, is potential. Many good people, with justifiable pride, call themselves Americans. Your country is full of such people: people of deep integrity, people of great character, people carrying great respect for themselves and others.

Emphasize respect. Emphasize the inherent value of innovation: discovery as an end in itself and not as a means to wealth. If you do this, markets will open, business partners will come. And your country will prosper.

All the best,

Pearson Moore

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Leadership


Leadership is not always easy.

According to the CBC, 83 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2002. More deaths, on a proportional basis, than any other country fighting the Taliban, including the US. Asked about the significance of Canada's sacrifice, Arif Lalani yesterday said this:

"Leadership is not always easy."

Ambassador Lalani expressed in these five words a sentiment pervasive in Canadian thought over the last ninety years. Leadership is not easy. But when the world needs a leader, when the world needs valor and willingness to sacrifice, Canada is there.

The Taliban did not attack the CN Tower in Toronto. Osama Bin Laden did not laugh in glee over deaths in Vancouver or Calgary, Montréal or Halifax. Religious sociopaths did not attempt to fly planes into the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. In this war on terror, innocent Canadians have been tortured and imprisoned by over-zealous Americans. Maher Arar is only the most celebrated of these. Many other Canadians, their only sins a connection to the Middle East and a love for Allah, have suffered undeserved punishment.

Canada has not received so much as a thank you for its sacrifice in Afghanistan. Even when U.S. fighter pilots recklessly bombed Canadian positions in Afghanistan, resulting in the death of four Canadian soldiers, Canada fought on.

Why does Canada fight?

There is much hand-wringing in the land I love concerning identity. What does it mean to be a Canadian? Books have been written on the subject. Entire hour-long CBC broadcasts have been devoted to an examination of the question. The great icons of modern culture--Rick Mercer, George Stroumboulopoulos, Paul Gross--have not rendered a verdict. Not even Peter Mansbridge can tell us. The answer is not recorded in any of Pierre Berton's many tomes. John Ralston Saul is silent.

Why does Canada fight?

The answer is as old as Vimy Ridge, and as new as Prime Minister Harper's visit to the front lines in Kandahar in May, 2007. The answer encompasses Lester Pearson's Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 and Roméo Dallaire's defiance of the United Nations in 1994. We find it in the friendship of Baldwin and LaFontaine in the 1830s and David Suzuki's televised entreaties in the 1990s.

The answer is unique to Canada.

The answer is engrained in the Canadian soul. As much as hockey, the answer defines the national character, and imbues every Canadian with a sense of self and a pride in this land.

Vimy Ridge, April 9, 1917, marked the first great Allied victory of World War I. Conceived, designed, and executed by Canadian soldiers, it was regarded in Canada as the country's entry on the world stage. Arif Lalani probably never heard a "Vimy Veteran" at his grade school. But his teachers undoubtedly did. And even if Mr. Lalani, in his youth, did not have a direct connection to Vimy, he had continual reminders of his heritage. The greatest poem of World War I, the poem that inspired the poppies worn on Armistice Day, Memorial Day, Veterans' Day, and Remembrance Day, was written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian:

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Remembrance Day (Veterans' Day in the United States, Armistice Day elsewhere in the world) is celebrated in cities and towns across the country. It is a day to remember sacrifice, but also a day to consider the call to leadership. The flavour of this day of celebrations and thoughtful contemplation has a deeper sense of purpose than the memorials south of the border, and more of a connection with the future than the solemn observations in the U.K. The poppy becomes an emblem. The little red flower in the lapel says the sacrifices of our fathers were meaningful. They inform our decisions today. They instill in us a sober recognition of necessary sacrifice.

The answer has nothing at all to do with fighting. There must be a willingness to fight, but above all, there must be a willingness to lead. Even the leadership has a purpose.

This is the way Lester B. Pearson concluded his address "The Four Faces of Freedom," in 1957:

"Above all we must find out why men... can become... animals under the incitements of collective action.... It was posed for me in a new and dramatic way one Christmas Eve in London during World War II. The air raid sirens had given their grim and accustomed warning.... the anti-aircraft guns began.... In between their bursts I could hear the deeper, more menacing sound of bombs. It wasn't much of a raid, really, but one or two of the bombs seemed to fall too close to my room. I was reading in bed and to drown out or at least take my mind off the bombs, I reached out and turned on the radio.... the room was flooded with the beauty and peace of Christmas carol music. Glorious waves of it wiped out the sound of war.... Then the announcer spoke -- in German. For it was a German station and they were Germans who were singing those carols. Nazi bombs screaming through the air with their message of war and death; German music drafting through the air with its message of peace and salvation."

The paradox he cites is always with us: humanity is a mixture of compassion and corruption. Pearson's answer to this was leadership.

In the midst of the Suez Canal crisis of 1956, he proposed that the United Nations create an Emergency Force to be placed as a buffer between the two sides. Since then, UN Peacekeepers--Pearson's "Emergency Force"--have saved hundreds of thousands of lives and have prevented suffering around the world. Canadian ideals, played out on the world stage, lead to the upholding of human compassion, and the diminishing of corruption.

The answer is distinctly and uniquely Canadian. Canada fights in Afghanistan because in doing so Canada upholds compassion and rejects corruption. Canada fights in Afghanistan because in doing so Canada promotes the common good and rejects nationalist and religious pathologies.

Leadership is not always easy.

Life, though, has never had any necessary connection with ease. In the tradition of Baldwin and LaFontaine, in the words of John McCrae, in the example of Lester Pearson and Tommy Douglas and David Suzuki and Terry Fox, we see the true meaning of leadership:

Leadership reaches beyond self, to community and country.
Leadership rejects personal desires, to fulfill others' needs.
Leadership accepts sacrifice, for the common good.

Leadership defines the character of a people. Leadership defines Canada.

PM 4 Jun 2008

Friday, May 30, 2008

The LRT


Edmonton is one of my favourite cities. Since writing the essay below, I established contractual consulting relationships with three companies in the city, and I was (briefly!) a student at the U of A. I wrote "The LRT" after my second trip to Edmonton in 2000.


The LRT



“Dad, you have snow on your shoe,” my five-year-old son said last week.


I looked down and saw the sprinkling of off-white powder on my boot, and laughed. “That’s not snow, Jerome, it’s Celite.”


“What’s Celite?” he asked, puzzled by the word.


“Well, Celite is sometimes called ‘diatomaceous earth.’ It’s kind of like dirt,” I tried to explain.


“Dirt? What’s it for?”


“We use it for purifying things in the lab.” I realized this would only lead to further inquiry, since Jerome had probably never heard the word ‘purify.’ I attempted to phrase this in a way he would understand: “When we purify things, it’s kind of like cleaning them,” I said, confident now that he would have a basic understanding of my work.


“Cleaning?” he wondered aloud. “You use dirt to clean things?”


I laughed again. Sometimes things are not at all what they seem. Sometimes, try as we might, we simply cannot explain our own experience of life.


#


I thought about Jerome’s words as I made my way south along a sidestreet near the busy downtown of a large city. I had to walk several blocks south to get to Corona Station, one of the gateways to the LRT. I had to travel from Corona to University, then Haven St. , and finally to Canada Station. It was the first time in several years that I would be riding a subway. And a subway in a foreign land, no less.


My thoughts drifted to studies I completed long ago. In my youth I was a student of the Russian language. This was not easy in the mid-seventies, since the early Cold War emphasis on teaching Russian to high school students had long since passed. So I wrote an independent study course and traveled by bicycle once each week across town to a junior high school. There I received instruction from one of the few teachers remaining in the school system who knew the language.


Perhaps the most interesting piece of information I found during my high school studies did not concern the Russian language at all but the culture of the time. The Moscow subway system was a jewel of Soviet culture. The subway was beautiful, brightly lit, with marbled and tiled floors and walls, and even chandeliers. The most interesting fact about the Moscow subway, though, was the cleanliness. There was certainly no graffiti of any kind, but neither was there even a trace of any kind of trash anywhere. The floors were always sparkling clean.


I knew from personal experience about the subways in my own country. I had seen the dirt and trash rubbed and ground into concrete floors, the walls covered in graffiti. I had felt the fear of being alone in a noisy and ugly place among thousands of strangers.


Why was there such a difference between the two subways? As I began studies in college toward a bachelor’s degree in Russian, I was given an answer: The heavy hand of the Soviet military frightened the Russian people into submission. It was the unwholesome character of the totalitarian state that accidentally resulted in a clean and beautiful subway. Left to their own, given the same freedom that we enjoy in this country, the people would litter and strew graffiti just as Americans do.


I continued walking south along the sidestreet, and saw that I was approaching a very busy cross street, with no traffic lights. Edmonton, I already knew, was the largest city in North America, at least in terms of square kilometre area. But the city proper also had a population of 776,000, making it one of the biggest cities by population, also. I stopped at the corner, and waited for a break in traffic. As soon as I stopped, I saw that an oncoming city bus slowed and stopped on the other side of the intersection. No one came off the bus. I saw no bus-stop there. I looked to my right, and saw the blue and white bus-stop sign. Why was the bus stopped on the wrong side of the intersection? Seconds later, a car slowed and finally stopped in the lane next to the bus. Then I looked down: in front of me were the double white lines of a crosswalk. The cars were waiting for me to cross! This had never happened to me that I could remember. These drivers, on a very busy city street, were yielding to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. What force of habit or quality of character had given them the presence of mind to think about pedestrians? This was indeed a foreign and strange land. I crossed and waved thanks to the waiting cars.


#


It was not until long after I left college that I recognized the underlying principle guiding discussions about the subway. The conclusion is that free people somehow infringe on each other’s well-being. Put another way, people are inherently selfish. This conclusion has been a source of consternation and resignation through the ages, until the mid-twentieth century. About 70 years ago, a woman named Ayn Rand began to focus her very analytical mind on the problem of selfishness. She concluded that there was no problem at all. In fact, self interest, or selfishness as Ms. Rand preferred to call it, was a virtue. “The Virtue of Selfishness,” one of her bestselling books, proclaimed in relentlessly logical fashion the argument for libertarianism in a series of short articles and speeches. Her fictional works, especially “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” are masterpieces of prose and philosophy that should be read by every American.


We are selfish. But selfishness is the virtuous quality of our character that has allowed us as a race to achieve greatness. It is the very essence of freedom.


#


I thought on the nature of humanity as I continued my journey south along the sidestreet. I was now approaching Jasper Avenue, one of the busiest streets in Edmonton. And again, I was at an intersection without traffic lights. I saw that there was no crosswalk. I would definitely have to wait at this corner, I concluded. As I slowed my stride, I appreciated the crisp, clean air. I inhaled deeply, exhaled, and smiled. Canada was a strange land, indeed. But there was something very pleasant about just walking the streets of this city. I came to the corner, and stopped.


From the oncoming direction, a very old, somewhat crumpled grey Nissan approached the intersection. I could see the driver was a man with long, black hair, and he had a single passenger in the front seat. I waited for him to pass. His car slowed and came to a stop on the other side of the intersection. And two seconds later, a red Honda stopped next to the Nissan in the other lane. I do not believe this, I thought to myself. And I laughed loudly, joyous and hearty laughter, the laughter of many years and even decades, for all of Edmonton to hear. And I crossed the intersection, waving again to the drivers of cars on both sides of the street.


What quality of character had given them the presence of mind to think about pedestrians? It seemed that the drivers were traveling not to a destination, but through a place. The place had a meaning and substance of its own equal in value to the destination, and the people in this place, even a lowly pedestrian, had an importance equal to the drivers’. I wondered, does this not go against the very core of human nature?


Gingerly, I approached Corona Station. I opened the doors leading to the stairs descending deep underground. The air was fresh and crisp, like the air outside. Not one of the steps was soiled by dirt or trash. As I descended the very clean stairs, I saw finally the underground station itself. The dark brown tile on the walls was beautiful. As the escalator descended, I saw with glowing heart, small, simple, and yet elegant: a chandelier. Some students talked quietly but earnestly in groups. Men and women in business suits sat or stood patiently, some reading the Edmonton Journal, others reading the Globe and Mail. The calm was pervasive. The clean walls and floor were immaculate. There was no fear. Perhaps everyone except me was going to school or going to work. It was just another day in Edmonton, Alberta.


This just cannot be, I thought. There must be a catch somewhere! Almost frantically, I looked around. Somewhere there must be a sign: “Six million dollar fine for littering!” I searched in vain. There were no such signs. Police! Why yes! The heavy hand of the Canadian military must be at play here. Perhaps there were soldiers patrolling with Uzi’s, ready to explode into bloody hamburger anyone who so much as dropped a gum wrapper. No. I saw no military. In fact, I couldn’t recall even seeing any police on the streets above. There were no surveillance cameras, either. Just the calm beginning to another Edmonton day.


I boarded the train and sat next to a student, Karen, who was a graduate student in petroleum engineering. I told her my impressions. She couldn’t relate to my experience in U.S. subways. Her only other experience had been on the Calgary LRT, which was entirely above ground. It was installed at the insistence of the then mayor of Calgary (who was now Premier of Alberta), Ralph Klein. “In Calgary, LRT does not mean ‘Light Rail Transit’,” she said, “It means ‘Little Ralphie’s Train.’” This was possibly more than I wanted to know about Alberta politics, but I laughed at her joke. We passed University Station; the next stops were Haven and Canada. I was staying at a hotel just outside the Canada Station.


“Why was the Edmonton LRT built?” I asked. She didn’t know. She speculated that it was probably for the students. Alberta had been spending a lot of money to attract quality professors and students to the University. “They thought that if they put down the money for the LRT, they could attract the kind of people they wanted."


“If you build it, they will come?” I asked her. “Something like that,” she smiled. The train slowed down, but I couldn’t tell which stop this was.


“Is this Haven?” I asked Karen, as she was rising to get off the train.


“No, it’s Canada,” she replied.


“This is my stop,” I said, “I’m staying here.”


“Where are you from?” she asked. “Colorado,” I replied. “Well, then, welcome to Edmonton!” and she flashed a smile as she went off to her classes.


I climbed the long flights of stairs to the street, about 25 metres above, I guessed. The walls and the stairs were immaculate. The air was fresh and crisp. I came to the last few stairs before the glass doors leading to Canada Street. On the third step from the top, near the corner of the step, I saw a lone blue-on-white LRT ticket. I smiled: nothing is perfect, I thought. I pushed open the glass door and headed toward my hotel.


Rush Limbaugh, I knew, would find nothing at all desirable in this land of caring people. After all, taxes in Canada are very, very high. And there is so much that one must learn to endure here: large houses with more bedrooms than one could ever need, clean surroundings, friendly people. And no families having to live under bridges, abandoned warehouses, or garages.


I continued to walk to my hotel, but then I slowed, and finally stopped. I paused. I thought. And I turned around then, focusing on the glass door leading to the Canada Street Station. I opened the door, descended exactly three steps, and I picked up that single LRT ticket. There was a trash can at the top of the stairs. I folded the ticket, wadded it in my palm, and released the used ticket into the black plastic-lined trash container. I pushed open the glass door, and breathed in again the wonderful air.


#


It has been argued that humanity is akin to a smoldering, seething dungheap, and that any goodness we might have is an illusion, perhaps provided by a thin veneer of freshly fallen snow. Perhaps. But I believe that the greater, stronger, more enduring truth is that we are created good. We are created equal. We are inherently able to bring light, love, and goodness into this world. And in this great truth, I think there is something worth living and dying for. We stand on guard for this truth that is bigger and brighter and truer than any personal truth. It is the truth that makes us more completely human, more human than individualism and self interest. It is the truth that makes us strong and free, glorious and free.


William Shirer and the other well-known chroniclers of the Second World War told us that we must never forget the evils of the Nazi movement. The Nazis, Shirer told us, were not born of a particularly evil race. In fact, each one of us has the potential to bring about the same evil. We are selfish. We can become evil.


Yet, we can find a haven from this evil. The haven exists in our own hearts. We can make a choice to follow our true selves – the part of us that loves other human beings, or we can choose to follow the false self – the part of us that desires only the momentary pleasures that selfishness demands. I suppose in a way we are something like Celite. We are dust, and dust we will become. But we also carry within us the divine fire. We can choose to bring God’s light and God’s love into this world, because that light has been with us from the beginning. We can choose, if we wish, to be purified, and to help purify each other.


Canada exists wherever people believe in and act on their own inherent goodness, and seek to revere the inherent goodness of others. Canada exists when groups of people realize the truth that we can, truly, build a society based on the inviolate nature of human dignity.



Pearson Moore


+ Feast of St. Alphege
Holy Wednesday, A.D. 2000
April 19



NOTES:


Everything in this story is true, except of course, the existence of Haven Station and Canada Street Station. I simply found it too difficult to resist the Heaven/Iowa – Haven/Canada parallel to “Field of Dreams.” This also became a way of acknowledging the fact, in a humourous way, that perfection does not exist. Canada faces many deep problems, and my experiences are quite likely not in keeping with the daily experience of average Canadians. Nevertheless, the character of Canadian culture is very different from that found south of the border, and is indicative of a cultural choice that any of us can make. We all have the potential to become caring, loving, unified people. The choice is ours.



Oh, deepest apologies, also, to my friends in Calgary. I just couldn’t resist the “Little Ralphie’s Train” bit.



PM Boulder, Colorado

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Singing in the Cathedral


Yesterday morning, standing in a pew at my parish, I sang a hymn with five hundred other parishioners. I do not sing very well. The man standing next to me could not hold the tune. I imagine that most people in the sanctuary were not singing in tune or on key, especially so early in the morning. Yet, the sound that we made collectively was beautiful. There was complexity in the Cathedral, in voices that could not agree on the notes to be sung. If some of the voices had not been present, the sound would have lacked the depth and clarity that made the hymn a vibrant affirmation of our faith in something greater than any one of us.

The thesis of John Ralston Saul's "Reflections of a Siamese Twin" is that "the central characteristic of the Canadian state is its complexity." This statement must have considerably more weight and truth for those who have spent appreciable time in other countries. The complexity of this land must be a reflection of our historical willingness to accept the truth of another recent thesis, that of the Dalai Lama, who wrote in "Ethics for the New Millennium," that "every one of us has a responsibility to act as if all our thoughts, words, and deeds matter. For really, they do. Our lives have both purpose and meaning."

If what I think and do has meaning, then surely what my neighbour thinks and does also has meaning, and the country has value and complexity only to the extent that we recognize and act on the dignity within our own hearts and the hearts of our fellow citizens.

Citizenship, it seems to me, must carry with it the somber responsibility and happy task of seeking the common good. Otherwise, I discount the importance of my neighbour and her thoughts and actions, and I help to tear down the country that I love so dearly. We stand on guard for something greater than any one of us, for something that has been and will be a unique expression of what it means to be a human being, a simple citizen in a great and beautiful land.

Civilisation is possible only to the extent that we cooperate with each other toward some set of commonly-held goals. Perhaps these goals would include such things as discovering and even implementing mechanisms intended for the alleviation of suffering, or inventions that would permit the more efficient manufacture and easier availability of necessities, or the propagation of information, education, and entertainments that stimulate the creative faculties. Civilisation demands that I act so as to further the common good. "It's what our fathers taught us," as Leo McGarry said in "West Wing."

Although it might seem clear to most people reading this that cooperation is a necessary component, or perhaps even the foundational element of civilisation, there exists a large minority who insist that cooperation is a myth. Some argue, rather convincingly, that self-interest is the only factor in cooperative projects. I think that Ayn Rand is the most authoritative proponent of this kind of philosophy. She is certainly the best equivalent to John Ralston Saul south of the border, for her philosophy really captures the U.S. trend toward capitalism/libertarianism just as Dr. Saul captures the current Canadian trend toward the peculiar brand of Canadian socialism we are discussing.

I approach the discussion from the standpoint of singular identity. I define myself in terms of my relationships to the world: I am my wife's husband, I am my daughter's father, I am my father's son, and so on. I keep the discussion somewhat at a distance. For although I can say, in continuing with the identity argument, I am a Christian, I am a Liberal (or Socialist, or Democrat for those to the south), I am a Roman Catholic, and so on, I do not include in this rambling definition my national identity. Not that this is not somehow important to me, for it is very important. But the question of national identity does not figure into the way I define myself. The question that has greater relevance to me is, "How can I best participate in building up the character of my community and my nation?"

You need only pick up the Globe and Mail or any other newspaper, or watch CBC or any other news outlet, to see the concrete manifestation of the Randian (libertarian) approach to life. Nearly 30,000 people per year die as a result of handguns in the U.S, in murders, gun battles, drive-by shootings, and the like. The U.S. rates of suicide, drug use, embezzlement, and just about any other social ill, are far higher than those of any other "civilised" nation. There is a real war going on down there. It is an ideological war, an attempt to preserve the "American Dream" of financial and social independence. It is the natural outcome of the selfishness that is masquerading as an enlightened philosophy of "self-interest" or "libertarianism." The natural culmination of this trend must be the eventual disintegration of the republic in its current form, and a reversion or evolution into some very unhealthy society and government.

Many people have well-founded reasons for conservative or Tory sentiments. I do not wish to argue that conservatism or self-interest is always wrong. I will argue, though, that at our very core, we define ourselves in terms of relationships to others, and that because of this, we can only find the complete expression of our identities in the service of others.

There are poisonous philosophies and doctrines out there. I count Ayn Rand's "Virtue of Selfishness" (the title of one of her books) as one of the worst poisons available in the ideological marketplace. For this reason alone, some form of nationalism might indeed be necessary. In preserving and strengthening the Canadian Experiment, we are perhaps helping to ensure that poisonous philosophies do not begin to tear apart the very fabric of civilisation.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Civilisation


Visiting Seattle for the last week, I've taken long walks through the city, meeting new people, making new friends. In a habit going back many years, I stop every so often, usually at a street corner, and breathe in the air. The air is fresher here than in St. Louis, in a way that makes me smile. It is not the smell of it, but the feel of it that I enjoy. I love the way it fills not only my lungs, but fills me, fills me up, heart and soul.

In St. Louis, in Chicago, in many cities, I become aware of my discontent. The air, rather than nourishing, instead suffocates. In Seattle and Vancouver, Edmonton and Montréal, I breathe free again, as if liberation were strictly a function of geographical latitude. It is not geography, though, except possibly as described by John Ralston Saul in Reflections of a Siamese Twin and Voltaire's Bastards. I understand the origin of my discontent, and its nexus is not geographical, but cultural.

Just as a dog will sniff at the air, detect a rotten odour, and walk away from its source, so too, I have become aware of cultural odours I find less than attractive. I have walked away, too. Why not? My nose has led me to clean, fresh air that nourishes me, body and soul. It is air to make me strong and free, glorious and free. Why not, then, choose this air, this delightful air found only in the true north?

My discontent is simple, explained in seven words: Civilisation is incompatible with indiscriminate personal autonomy. That's it. These seven words explain why the air is sweeter north of here, in British Columbia, sweeter in Alberta, sweeter in Ontario and Québec. These words explain why the US "red states," like Missouri and Texas, exude a particularly putrid odour.

Many good people make their home in these noisy states south of the 49th parallel. I have many friends here. I have met heartless, unkind citizens of True North in Calgary and Edmonton, Barrie and Toronto, Sherbrooke and Montréal. A few people here in the states I would trust with my life.

And though I breathe fresh air in my favourite northern cities, I do not view these cultural citadels with rosy-coloured glasses. Canada has deep problems, some unique to the modern world. How does one stuff a nation of eight million souls into the geographical boundaries between Ontario and the Atlantic and ask it to integrate fully with a second nation surrounding it on both sides, and then close it all up into a bag labeled "Sovereign Country" and pretend that it is one nation, not two? Then there is the problem of north and south, which can be characterised as First Nations v. Europeans, the problem of the "have" provinces v. the "have not" provinces (compounded by strange predictions, such as the one claiming Ontario will be a "have not." Ah bon). Je comprends, mais je ne comprends rien. I understand, but I do not understand anything.

I've studied this most wonderful land, the country I hold most dear, intensively for over ten years. Studied it, really, as if my life depended on it. Because in the end, I think, my life does depend on it. Canada, with all its deep, centuries-long problems and new problems every day, is life. In Auschwitz, the code word for freedom was not "America." If you've read your history, you know what that word was. You know it. And it's true. With all her problems, Canada is that word: Canada is freedom.

Civilisation depends on the recognition and embracing of the Common Good. Canada, with all its problems, was founded on that principle. Civilised humanity attains to greatest freedom by fulfilling the basic needs of all, by celebrating Joe's peacekeeping, not policing, diversity, not assimilation. And absolutely, positively, it is pronounced 'zed,' not 'zee.' Zed.

Pearson
Seattle, WA
(200 km south of civilisation)