The Canadian Imagination

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Two more talks in a season of talks -- and considering the reputation I am rapidly acquiring as a shit-disturber (for no other reason than that I am fearless in asking the questions that tend to shake the unquestioned foundations ... where I think there is there is some point, that is: for I see no point in questioning what is held as an article of faith): I was asked by a friend, gently, to be kind?

Half-expected in light of the subject matter and in fact it was so: that both sets of analyses were given by hard-core conservatives, high-level advisors within the Reagan and both Bush administrations.

The first, examining the new Iraqi constitution, ranked among the most solid analyses I have yet heard anywhere: underlying issues, what had gone before ... in short, not only solid identification and understanding of the core problem, but with context such as to enable a direction for true, meaningful, and long-term solution. (Yet though the audience recognised and acknowledged the sheer depth of substance and consideration, the speaker still could not resist three liberal digs: petty, against the rest.) I could not even find a question to ask here: building solutions rather than focussing on the faults of others, foundation solid beyond my capacity to pick holes, too much positive potential. It is much better than the three-territory division I had envisioned, glued together by Baghdad as separate territory. For now, suffice it to say that this has a real chance of working; that what has been built here has a real chance of (in time) holding the country together, in peace. I know I will be returning to the substance of this one later in the other blog, perhaps as part of examining federal policy as product of different approaches to multiculturalism as it applies in three or four different countries. (Iraq certainly, France certainly, one of the immigrant cultures [though I might have to treat the United States and Canada separately], maybe Yugoslavia, any other suggestions for exploration?)

The subject of the second talk was risk assessment and weapons of mass destruction / the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT): but it could have more accurately been titled something along the lines of "What We Have To Do To Preserve Our Way Of Life". The first, stated assumption of the talk was that there will always be some young men who turn out "bad" everywhere in the world: how do we minimise the chances that they will harm us? Unspoken assumptions included:
  1. the fundamental "right-ness" and benevolence of the United States and the doctrines it evangelises;
  2. the inherent rationality of those doctrines;
  3. the obligation to educate others into those doctrines, for fear of what someone not educated into those doctrines might do with modern technology;
  4. and thus that anyone who opposes those doctrines is irrational, and anyone who opposes those (non-violent, non-coercive) doctrines is BAD.
This set of assumptions leads logically to the true (if unspoken) question threading its way through the entire talk of how should we limit other countries to protect the United States? (it went without saying that there was no perceived obligation -- or even question -- of considering the inverse) -- as well as a second, quieter thread of a moral and rational superiority that our hands are somehow more trustworthy with these technologies than those of others.

I did not ask a foundation-challenging question here, for the reason stated at the first: I don't challenge another's belief structure. After much hesitation, I finally did ask one of internal consistency, and overtly identified it as of a heretical, "devil's advocate" nature: does the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty actually reduce risk of a nuclear incident?

(Someone else had already asked earlier about the credibility gaps that arise when a nation has the freedom to withdraw from a previously-signed treaty: and eventually the questioner had to bring up the point that other countries besides the traditional "rogue states" had done so ... including the United States itself. To which the answer came that there is a right way and a wrong way to withdraw from treaties ... and the rest of that answer is readily extrapolable.)

To my question, he answered that this was a valid issue, which was why the point was to explain to other nations why the NPT was in their best interest. I really didn't see the value of pursuing it further at that point.

By way of context, I offer here a hypothesis I have slowly been evolving in this blog and in the linked discussion boards, that the actualities of national policy -- or for that matter anything born of a group which shares a common group-identity -- follow the same patterns as the psychology of individuals: in which case how is the United States constitutionally-sanctioned right to bear arms fundamentally different from a sovereign nation's right to arm itself in whatever manner it sees fit?

Two talks by persons of parallel -- perhaps for all intents and voting purposes identical -- politics: yet one constructive, one destructive. One foundationed on a fundamental belief that persons of all races/colours/creeds are trustworthy with high technologies and resources and can potentially work together to build. The other foundationed on a fundamental belief that persons of other races/colours/creeds are always potentially untrustworthy with the same technologies as we need to hold for ourselves to protect ourselves from them.

Which is the true view of conservatism in the United States? Are both? Is either?


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