Monday, December 31, 2007

Canada's Happiest City - The Tao of Canadian propaganda.

Those who know me well usually dismiss me as a pessimist. Actually, I am just a garden variety cynic. At my age I find it near impossible to trust any message without turning it over to determine point of origin. But then, some propaganda is counterfeit. You can't trust the hallmark or the shipping label. Sadly, we live in a world where almost all communication is loaded with deceit. I mean, everyone is his or her own propagandist, are they not?
Shouldn't we be smart enough, we individual products of the "greatest public education system yet conceived," to know when we have it good? If everything is so rosy why then do four levels of government annually squander millions of our tax dollars in an agitating attempt to convince us that we live in the greatest city (or town), in the greatest province, and the greatest country in the world? I don't have to be persuaded to reach for a juicy red apple. Do you?

I live in B.C. That's significant because we have four levels of government out here; three tiers are elected and one is appointed. All four entities tax us and all four generate good news messages. That's a heap of propaganda capability!

I think about the hyped messages a lot, especially as we are now in the run-up to the super-duper Olympics extravaganza scheduled for 2010 - a party which I will not attend, but a bill which I will be paying for until the year I die. I thought about MESSAGE a lot over the weekend because of a news story on Friday which reported the results of a Canadian "happiness poll". I came out to B.C. in 1981 and noticed straight away that public messages did not match many of my experiences. After being subjected to 25 years of thought shaping and other forms of social engineering, I thought I was the only one tuning OUT the messages. But I was wrong.

"Canada's most satisfied citizens found in Saint John, N.B." (CanWest News Service), December 29, 2007 [Link] Saint John! That's the city I was born into, raised and educated in. And it's also a city which hardly ever makes the news out here on the left coast. So what gives? Why was Vancouver ranked eleventh on the "happy" list? Was this just a sneaky propaganda handout from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency ? Well no. The lead researcher on the project was John Helliwell, an economist employed here at the University of B.C. and a fellow actually born in Vancouver. A rare boast!

It turns out that Canada's great multi-cultural centres are wonderful engines of commerce, but our smaller cities, which tend to be mono-cultures, are the places where people are more content with their lives. Well, I am no liar. I admit that cultural makeup is just one factor making Saint Johners more content than Vancouverites. But this is a blog, not a book. ...Hell, many in S.J. would rankle at the suggestion that they live in a mono-culture. Everything is relative. My wife, a Taiwanese, is a devout Tao and did not enjoy her brief life in Saint John. She does not share my nostalgia.

Rather than bitch about the barrage of propaganda, I guess I'll arm myself for the good fight... with more sustained and careful reading and listening.

The City of Saint John is not a topic which jumps to the lips of the average Vancouverite or... scarcely anyone on this coast. They will simply sneer at the implications of this charming little poll. Still, Helliwell's research is global in nature and these people do love to ponder anything smacking of GLOBALIZATION. He has their ear when he compares their town to any "World Class" rival. It remains to be decided if Dr. Helliwell is a "world class" economist, but his report on Canada's happiest cities added a little zest to the conversation in our household over Christmas.

Postscript : on Multiculturalism, or why Middle and Upper Class Canadian communities may register low for "Happiness" - I shouldn't have to add, but I will, that my views are tempered by careful reading, and are not merely a reaction to news stories. If you are interested enough to dig into the subject of our national self image and the forces actively shaping it, there is plenty to read. When I studied at U.B.C. in 1983 we used a textbook called TEACHING ISSUES IN A CANADIAN CONTEXT (OISE 1982) which first opened my eyes to Trudeau's winning formula for innovating a nation without a cultural centre. In the early days, indoctrination of teachers involved getting beyond mere understanding of multiculturalism to genuine acceptance of the imperative. We are now there. After a lifetime of watching teachers in the wild, their behavior confirms they are the most effective political cadres in the country. Volunteer constituency workers may get out the vote but its the public schools which pattern young minds, and many of the "paradigm shifts" on the horizon (techno/political) will not fit the template we like to call "Canadian identity".
Exibit C - The largest mono-culture on the planet - People's China - aggressively planning for and budgeting a confrontation with the largest multi-culture - the United States. When "C-Day "comes, it's going to confuse the hell out of Canadian "nationalists" who prepared for their retirement but not for cultural extinction.
If you like to read, and can find it, try Tony Wilden's THE IMAGINARY CANADIAN, Pulp Press 1980. I highly recommend a brilliant piece of analysis by Prof. Rachel Nash of T.R.U. here in B.C. It is entitled "Legalizing Multiculturalism: Changes in Discourse, Changes in Attitude", TEXTUAL STUDIES IN CANADA 13/14 Canada's Journal of Cultural Literacy. She articulates what many of us who took Orwell's message to heart, have long understood about "debate" in a ballot box democracy. You are already winning the argument when the opponent is forced to use your grammar, your vocabulary and is constrained by your limits on time. A counterpoint, and a quick read which I often use in tutorials, is The Myth of Canadian Diversity (G&M, June 13, 1994). The three great myths it defines are easy for anyone to remember. The piece is found in a writing text called CANADIAN CONTENT, 4th Ed.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas comes but once a year...

One of the greatest thrills of my youth.... earthrise from a lunar orbit, thanks to the Apollo astronauts. From far away... she sure looks peaceful.

Defeated in two world wars, Germania found comfort in the spiritual.

Let's hope that this pompous, self-described "man of peace" finds a lump of coal in his stocking. Our world needs no political "supermen" to save it.