The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Values inherent to self-image, tested

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

- TS Eliot, The Wasteland

Most commonly, I am reactive rather than proactive in my writing. What I can conceive grounds solidly and often quite directly in what I see around me, what I might have encountered on any given day. Thus mine tends to be the riposte rather than the opening lunge: not (usually) rebuttal, but most commonly a springboard leap testing and expanding and extrapolating the constructions of others (beginning with the seeking out of sinkholes which might pre-empt a solid foundation). In the process, sometimes, I become their reflection.

I cannot speak as to the glass through which others choose to see me.
The Bush Doctrine, issued soon after 9/11, was clear: there is no distinction between terrorists and states who support terrorists. ... Let's not be legalistic. Do you really think we can annihilate al-Quaeda, leave the rest, and be any safer?

If there's a fault I have for the Bush Administration, it's that he hasn't made this quite clear enough: that the enemy is larger than al Qaeda. Perhaps if he had, we wouldn't be wasting our time arguing about legalities like WMD's. The status quo in the Middle East is the enemy. We must devote ourselves to undoing it. That is forward-thinking, revolutionary, and the only way we'll ever win.

- The Notion
In other words: personal safety is paramount, trumping freedom, trumping rights, trumping legalities, trumping even evidence; and to ensure that personal safety, everyone needs to change, should be changed, but us?

From Children of the Mind (Orson Scott Card):
Center People are not afraid of losing their identity. They take it for granted that all people want to be like them, that they are the mightiest civilization and all else is poor imitation or transient mistakes. The arrogance, oddly enough, leads to a simple humility -- they do not strut or brag or throw their weight around becaue they have no need to prove their superiority. They transform only gradually, and only by pretending that they are not changing at all.

Edge People, on the other hand, know they are not the highest civilization. Sometimes they raid and steal and stay to rule -- Vikings, Mongols, Turks, Arabs -- and sometimes they go through radical transformations in order to compete -- Greeks, Romans, Japanese -- and sometimes they simply remain shamed backwaters. But when they are on the rise, they are insufferable because they are unsure of their worth and must therefore brag and show off and prove themselves again and again -- until at last they feel themselves to be a Center People. Unfortunately, that very complacency destroys them, for they are not Center People and feeling doesn't make it so. Triumphant Edge People don't endure, like Egypt or China, they fade, as the Arabs did, and the Turks, and the Vikings, and the Mongols after their victories.
Curiously enough, at the time of publication (1997) and within this conceptual structure, Card felt that the United States had transcended its original colonial structure to evolve into the new Center nation, perhaps the Center nation of modern times. Certainly Card's choice conceptualises an idealised self-image of personal security of identity, of societal superiority: why wouldn't others wish to emulate? Although -- it does bear noting that this particular book and those conclusions were released into a pre-9/11 global environment: before the first and strongest reactions were to explain away the event as the jealousy and resentment of the varelse Other who refused to allow other cultures to freely emulate what was obviously desirable, beyond questioning. (At least, this time around. There have been other first and strongest reactions to other losses of innocence.) Perhaps ironic, perhaps inevitable: that at one and the same time as the Other is defined as incapable of rational, comprehensible, compromise-able communication, the first thing done is to place words, reasons into the Other's mouth.

By what do we test our truest natures than by the way we choose to react in the extreme situations? It is in times of crisis that the greatness of spirit can shine, just as it is in times of crisis that the deepest insecurities of spirit will force their way to the surface. How many times do we have to tell ourselves that a specific pattern of reaction is not representative before we can successfully force it into our own image of truth?


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