Appetite for politics – TICE!

I’ve spent the day in reflection about my grandfather, and missing him; seeing him everywhere, as it were.  As mentioned in my poem below, he was a man who thought about politics and public policy as naturally as most people breathe; though three of my grandparents were (and are) earnestly engaged politically (my mother’s mother and both my father’s parents), my grandfather Mitchell was unique among them in always being totally up to date and in having thought about everything, not just the issues that particularly interested him.  Though he was not as passionate politically as either of my grandmothers, one nonetheless felt it more natural to talk politics around him.  That, to me, is true patriotism: when one lives a large part of one’s life in the civic sphere, not as a politician but as a citizen, and feels personally invested in the nation’s fate.

I note too that this has nothing to do with “civility,” which in my opinion is a complete red herring.  My grandfather was certainly eager to treat everyone’s opinion with respect, which is perhaps what some people mean by “civility,” i.e. basic good manners of the sort that John Baird never learned — but that is a problem for psychoanalysis, not for political science.  Too often, by contrast, I find the implication of “civility” is that we should all stop taking our duty to engage politically so seriously, i.e. we should refuse to risk anything.  This is basically just political cowardice, the opposite of citizenship, and it’s the definitive Canadian disease.  We are, without question, the most personally timid of all Western nations when it comes to politics.

An example: here’s a completely average Andrew Sullivan roundup post, surveying (in this instance) various debates on the Arizona immigration law.  A healthy debate?  Who cares?  The point is that the American blogosphere and print media alike are crammed to the gills with pundits and columnists and journalists who are willing to attack each other viciously.  And that’s just the debate on the right!  That doesn’t count all the ruthless sarcasm directed by the left at the right and vice versa!

Try and imagine anything like that in Canada — say, over the Quebec burqa law.  Oh, there’s plenty of people willing to impugn the law, willing to wonder if Quebec has lost it, etc. etc. etc.  We specialise in that kind of hand-wringing.  Because it’s entirely safe.  But did any columnist attack any other on that score?  Did any writer risk anything?  Was any blood spilt?  Heck, were any punches even landed?

Of course not!  TICE!  (“This is Canada, eh?” — my new catchphrase.)  Journalists don’t attack one another.  The pond is too small.  The frogs are too fat.  The lillypads are too damn fragile.  Moreover, nobody in the punditry business actually cares about this stuff, with the exception of perhaps Jeff Simpson.  It’s a job, a perch, a cozy nest.  They’re all Surveyors of the King’s Geese or what have you.  Getting by.  Badly educated scribblers must live, too, albeit as croupiers and bellhops for received ideas.

Well, that wasn’t my grandfather’s way.  That wasn’t his generation’s way.  They won the war, they brought us the social safety net (long before the Baby Boomers started voting), a flag, a place of respect in the world, and a certain intolerance for bullshit.  They were patriots.  They weren’t going through the motions like we are, they lived it.

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1 Comment

  1. Somewhere along the line we got so damn comfortable with ourselves; figuring that since a large percentage of us were fed, clothed, not percecuted on a daily basis, we could afford to just move along, making no real changes, deciding we don’t have to stick our necks out for the causes we believe in- because why bother? Like you said, one might upset the apple cart.
    There might be passion- actual changes might be discussed! Surely, then, it’s better to muddle along without anyone causing a ruckus, watching through a monumental state of apathy, dimly aware that something is not right- but we can’t put our fingers on it, because we don’t want to open our eyes.


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