Salutin | Can you build a country without a dominant identity? We’re finding out

Thoughtful reflections:

Throughout my working life as a Canadian writer, I’ve wondered if it’s possible to create a cohesive national identity without some widely accepted basic content: a language, a mythology, a shared history, a revered cultural inheritance, a cuisine. In general I was dubious, even as claims for a tolerant multiculturalism as Canada’s ID kept growing.

I was influenced by living, in my formative years, in the U.S. and Israel — countries which, like most modern nations, cohered around shared cultural “glues.”

Something beyond hockey and butter tarts. I’m no longer dubious. Yes, I think you can build a hardy national identity with no central content except, paradoxically, the shared commitment to imposing no central content. What persuaded me was the impassioned, energized memorial at a London, Ont. mosque this week, which I attended onscreen. Whether building that kind of national reality is worth the heinous price paid for it is a separate question.

The event was organized and run by a youthful group of Muslim women and men entirely relaxed and in charge, though leaders from every level sat before them. That was a message itself: the creation of this kind of Canada is a historical process that unfolds through generations.

Their parents’ generation came, I’d say, based on the promises of multiculturalism — and were often disappointed and dismayed. (“What my dad didn’t prepare us for,” said one, “was being name-called and having the crap beaten out of us on the way to and from school every day.”) They don’t waste time being surprised, but they’re angry because they know they’re Canadian. They began the memorial with an acknowledgment of Indigenous land claims, since they have the right to apologize for being occupiers, like everyone else.

They’re now attacked mainly on religious grounds versus national, which as a Jew I find ridiculous. I’d call Islam the most universal and accessible of the three “Abrahamic” religions. Any specific charges (misogyny, violence) are absurd, since the major religions are so multifarious that you can find examples of anything and its opposite in all of them. They’re protean.

To state the obvious: these eruptions of hate and carnage are a sign of response to change. This is not the country it was, and they are not a sign of things getting worse. Rather, the hate is a terrified reaction to things getting better, in the sense of inclusive (or, put neutrally, significant) change. We’ve learned, quite brutally, that there will be a price paid for transforming the meaning of being Canadian, but it’s those who won’t accept the changes who now seem most marginalized. They lurk in the shadows, darting out furtively to murder others who walk in sunlight.

As I say, I’ve long wondered if you can build a society able to help people through hard times on what amounts to the absence of a core culture, since that’s what Canada seems to be trying: accept everyone, impose nothing. (With reasonable exceptions.) In fact at this point, efforts to impose tend to stink of racism and exclusion, like Maxime Bernier’s call for a “values test to screen out potential immigrants who share this barbarian [Islamic] ideology.”

Source: Opinion | Can you build a country without a dominant identity? We’re finding out

When history comes back and bites you: Salutin | Toronto Star

Rick Salutin, looking back on his play 1837, with a new Indigenous peoples awareness and perspective. I particularly like his line: “The point isn’t that we were wrong and “they” are right: they too will be found wrong in due time, it’s how history works. In fact, everyone gets a chance to be both wrong and right.”:

I’m having an odd experience: having once used history as material to make writing points, I now find my use of it being judged as I had judged.

When I was a kid studying Canadian history, we were taught that the rebellion of 1837 in Toronto was a “comic opera” event, a farce put down by British imperial authorities that came to nothing.

Then, in university in the U.S., I learned that history was often lied about, to manipulate citizens. So naturally when I returned to Canada and became a writer in the 1970s, I looked around for pieces of Canadian history to set right and seized on that one. Along with a theatre company, using the “collective” process, we made a play, 1837, which became a staple of the Canadian repertoire, even becoming a kind of rite of passage for young actors.

Now it’s been “revived,” decades later, at the Shaw Festival, with a mature, accomplished cast and production.

First irony: at the time of the original show, we considered the Shaw and Stratford festivals the enemy — villains who disparaged Canadian artistic sources in order to foist foreign cultural material on us. We aimed to bring them down. We even included a mocking scene of a haughty Brit travelling to (Shawfest site) Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Now, it appears, everyone from that original production is delighted with the revival and plans to trek down to see it.

But more bitingly, we were certain we represented the good guys — the noble Canadian farmers of the time — versus their imperial overlords and local sycophants, the “Family Compact.” But hey, time moves on, and our show is (relatively gently) charged with overlooking truer victims: the First Nations.

Our play opened with squatting farmers being evicted from “their” land by an arrogant official on behalf of an absentee landlord. They vow to stay and fight on. It never occurred to us to ask who that land came from. People knew in fact but the issue hadn’t, as it were, occupied the main stage, the way it has since. The Shaw version copes with this by having its main set concealed by a native-inflected drop, which is then pulled off to reveal a corduroy road.

But the whole sense of place remains contentious. We set scenes boldly in locations like “Bay and Adelaide, southeast corner,” to show history happened here, as much as at Waterloo. If audiences snickered, actors took it as a challenge to make them respond solemnly to our own reality.

Yet today, events from hockey games to school announcements to political assemblies often open with an acknowledgment that “we” are meeting on the traditional territory of First Nations, based on an Indigenous protocol — great word — as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was even employed at Shaw this season.

It’s one of the redemptive qualities of Canada that this ritual has taken root with relative ease, even been embraced enthusiastically, like asking fans at hockey games to rise for, “O Canada,” “if you are able.”

It may come easier if you’re younger. My friend, musician Simone Schmidt, who does much historical research herself (like her recent release, Audible Songs from Rockwood), suggests, if you have a hard time with this, repeating the phrase, “settler-colonial” 20 times a day till it starts coming naturally.

The point isn’t that we were wrong and “they” are right: they too will be found wrong in due time, it’s how history works. In fact, everyone gets a chance to be both wrong and right. The only sure thing is, said Hegel — a history buff himself around the time our play is set — “The truth is everything!”

Overall it makes me feel, in light of the ugly phase that nationalism is passing through worldwide, that we may have been fortunate not to have had more success than we did with our nationalist projects back then.

And how’s the revival? First rule regarding your own past work: manage to avoid embarrassment. Alan Jay Lerner — My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, Camelot — said when his last play opened on Broadway, that he used to hope for success, now he just wanted to escape humiliation. No problem there. Once past that, I enjoyed the show a lot, especially since I saw the opening with my 18-year-old son — though I’ve never known whether family counts as history or something … other.

Source: When history comes back and bites you: Salutin | Toronto Star

More than a hashtag: Making diverse, inclusive theatre the norm

Interesting story on some of the challenges in improving diversity in theatre:

Personal stories of race, gender and sexuality shared in a Caribbean hair stylist’s chair. A glimpse into a convenience store and an Asian-Canadian family’s struggles. A thoroughly remixed Hamlet delivered in English and American Sign Language.

Canada is no stranger to acclaimed plays told from diverse perspectives, but a new wave of theatre artists is pushing past existing boundaries to make inclusive storytelling the new normal.

“I want a contemporary colour palette. I want the people of the world that I see around me to be telling those stories,” says director Ravi Jain.

“That homogenous world that I see onstage [traditionally]? It’s just not my world. I don’t recognize that.”

Toronto-based Jain’s latest work is his Shakespeare reboot Prince Hamlet, featuring actors in gender-swapped roles, performers from different racial backgrounds and a key character who is deaf and narrates the story in American Sign Language.

Prince Hamlet

Why Not Theatre’s latest production is Prince Hamlet, a reboot of the Bard featuring actors in gender-swapped roles, performers from different racial backgrounds and a key character who narrates the story in American Sign Language. (Bronwen Sharp/Why Not Theatre)

It’s the latest reason his aptly named Why Not Theatre, currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, has earned kudos for innovative, thought-provoking and entertaining productions that offer something fresh to devoted theatre-goers, while also appealing to communities underrepresented in the performing arts.

“That’s the thing for me,” he says. “Can we let people be their fullest selves when we tell stories and let their experiences they had growing up be the lens through which we see the story told?”

Making change

Canada has seen past blockbusters like Trey Anthony’s da Kink in my Hair or Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience and the work of indie troupes such as Cahoots, FuGEN and Obsidian, which specialize in stories from diverse communities. But Canadian theatre overall has long been a bastion of white, European stories. There’s still a distance to go toward more inclusive representation, especially for the larger, more established companies.

“If you look around, you go to the theatre and a lot of times – especially at the established ones – the audience is predominantly aging white people,” admits Martin Morrow, president of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association.

“There’s definitely a serious awareness of a lack of diversity in the past and a real sincere attempt to improve that today,” he says.

Theatre has yet to regularly reach some large, untapped audiences – in part “because what people are seeing on the stage are not the faces on the street,” according to Morrow.

Chantelle Han and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee in Kim's Convenience.

Despite the massive success of plays like Kim’s Convenience, truly diverse stories and productions are still more the exception than the norm in Canadian theatre. (Bruce Monk)

A generation of artists raised on traditional Canadian theatre is now changing the game, settling into roles as sought-after and influential creators, leaders and decision-makers.

They’re revitalizing the scene by casting a wider net of collaborators and highlighting unheard perspectives. The argument heard in the past, that Canada didn’t have the necessary pool of diverse actors, directors, playwrights and other creators, no longer holds. Being inclusive – as other industries have shown – makes financial sense.

“The private sector figured out that it was good for business and good for society to have a more diversified workforce and to try to promote change at all levels of leadership. It seems like we’re just figuring that out now [in theatre],” says director and playwright Jovanni Sy,

The challenge of every theatre company in Canada, especially in urban centres, is to navigate the divide between engaging existing subscribers and attracting new ones, he says. Sy has seen thousands of new audience members visit Richmond, B.C.’s Gateway Theatre for the first time after he introduced a contemporary, Chinese-language adjunct to the mainstage offering: one that appeals directly to residents of Chinese heritage (who comprise nearly half of Richmond’s total population).

As artistic director, Sy’s approach has been two-pronged: choosing programming that “shows the rich, multicultural nature of modern-day Richmond,” and reaching out with initiatives like the Gateway Pacific Theatre Festival “as a way of opening our doors and making a bigger tent.

“People want what’s comfortable to them,” he explains, but “one of the beautiful things about theatre is it lets you glimpse into someone else’s reality, lets you sit in someone else’s shoes for a couple of hours.”

Source: More than a hashtag: Making diverse, inclusive theatre the norm – Entertainment – CBC News

Rick Salutin’s related comments about entry barriers to the arts, particularly for those from less wealthy families:

A recent depressing study of Toronto schools found that kids who go into public high schools for the arts are disproportionately white and wealthy: 67 per cent white versus 29 per cent in the general school population.

Half of the students come from 18 “feeder schools” that lacked diversity; a quarter from just five largely “homogeneous” schools; 57 per cent come from “high income” families versus about half that in the general school population.

Not surprising since the former, unlamented school board director Chris Spence once said the purpose of “academies” and special schools was to offer “private school opportunities within the public system.” Whose kids did you think all those special programs (including French immersion) were created for?

But it got me thinking about who rules in the arts altogether. A few years ago I found myself frequently checking family backgrounds of actors, mostly because with Wikipedia, you can: they usually start with family background.

So Hugh Grant’s forebears are “a tapestry of warriors, empire-builders and aristocracy.” Zooey Deschanel’s parents were a cinematographer and actor. Benedict Cumberbatch’s are actors; his granddad was from “London high society” and his great-granddad was Queen Victoria’s consul-general in Turkey. Gene Hackman’s dad, though, was a typesetter who abandoned the family.

Let’s not overstate. The arts have typically implied nepotism and privilege, even in cases of black sheep who scorned the family firm to run off with a theatre troupe. But there was something down-market about the arts that made room for the lower orders — especially with the mass audience that came along with movies. Most of all, you didn’t need a university degree to get a foot in.

There were outsiders and scalawags like Charlie Chaplin, who grew up rough and learned to hate middle class dogooding social workers; or Edward G. Robinson, who lived in a tenement and became a toney art collector to compensate. There was a coarser look to many of them; you didn’t need perfect features. It was even was an asset not to have them since that mass movie audience could identify. Charles Laughton actually played romantic roles. One of the last was Hackman, who didn’t seem to know he wasn’t Cary Grant. (Grant’s parents, on the other hand, were a factory worker and a seamstress.)

But the privilege element has now moved up to another level. This is partly due to the so-called “culturalization” of the economy, where art is no longer economically peripheral. It’s as gainful and respected (or more so) to be an actor, musician (or news anchor) than a tycoon. In fact, they all sort of blend.

This shift gets most noted, naturally, in the U.K. with its hyper sense of class. There’s debate about a takeover by “posh” actors: Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Tom Hollander — stars of The Night Manager — who all went to the same private elementary school; the former two went on to Eton, alongside Eddie Redmayne and Damien Lewis. Almost everyone attended Oxford. This may underpin the “Downtonization” of British TV drama. In Canada, we tend to phrase these trends in terms of race, but it largely amounts to the same thing.

Much (in fact, too much) depends on education, especially with the decline of other routes to the arts, like provincial rep companies in the U.K. In the early years there are arts programs, where wealthier parents can fundraise for supplies, such as musical instruments or theatre trips — though here they can’t yet buy actual arts teachers for their kids’ schools.

Then come university programs that are harder to access with rising tuition; and even if you get there as a poor kid, you probably need to work rather than try out for plays.

The grad programs follow, which require auditions (which often demand fees) and prepping for those. The same goes for writing, where postgrad creative writing degrees have become ubiquitous, though what they mostly provide is simply time to write.

What gets lost? Voices — literally in the case of actors. I knew a theatre director who made a note during auditions: “has access to class.” That won’t matter much if you don’t have writers who write about class, as David Fennario did in Canada.

What would’ve been lost if Mozart’s or Chopin’s dads hadn’t been composers and teachers? But wait — what of all the latent Mozarts and Chopins whose dads weren’t? How much richer might the world that kids arrive in have been?

Not to mention the small matter of justice (social variant).

Source: Guess who’s coming to auditions: SalutinThe arts use to be more welcoming of outsiders and scalawags but now appears to be the domain of the privileged.

ICYMI: How a country gets forged in the classrooms: Salutin

Good piece on the integrative role of the public school:

My friend and neighbour Rob Vipond, who’s a political science prof and whose daughter Susanna looks after our cat and turtle when we’re at the lake, has written a neighbourhood book brimming with love. It’ll be out this spring. He says it’s the “biography of a school” — Clinton Street Junior Public, where both our kids went. It’s a nonacademic book, full of academic rigour and insight.

He had the great idea of focusing on public schools as incubators of citizenship. Private schools can teach about citizenship but can’t ever embody it, since people go there in a private role, vs. as taxpaying members of society. Public schools are labs, not just for studying citizens but for growing them.

As a poli-sci guy, Rob is also chronically fascinated by the place of the state and formal political structures, and schools are an ideal field for study since, as he says, they are “the one state institution with which many citizens have daily and recurring interaction.” In a downtown school in The Six, like Clinton, those interactions for about a century have revolved around dealing with newcomers.

So he tells three stories. One is about “Jewish Clinton,” during the first half of the last century, when Clinton was largely Jewish. Canada still saw itself as a “Christian country,” making it hard for Jewish arrivals to feel like full citizens. Then in 1944, Ontario’s Tory premier made religious i.e., Christian, instruction mandatory, like math or science.

Clinton’s response was basically to ignore the law without kicking up a fuss. It was brilliant, a subtle form of civil disobedience, which made it possible for Jewish families to gradually acquire a full sense of being Canadian rather than having second-class quality thrust upon them.

The eras of Italian Clinton and Global Clinton followed, during which Canada groped its way toward “multiculturalism” while governments added laws and bureaucracies. But at Clinton, the effort to construct “multicultural citizenship” was “all part of the daily routine.” The meaning of multicultural got sorted out right there — in classrooms and at recess. The challenge was “to pay respect to the country’s … legacy” while adapting it to “the needs and aspirations” of newcomers.

Could you integrate them without stigmatizing their heritage as “an obstacle course to overcome?” Could they contribute as themselves? “A real sense of belonging” is hard to attain if it means betraying your own identity, which you brought with you. These issues are still unresolved, as Tory leadership provocateur Kellie Leitch reminds us. But practically speaking, at Clinton, it meant “Toronto’s students might well learn something from their newly arrived classmates.”

Let me add a footnote here, based on my own teaching of a half course in the Canadian studies program at U of T over several decades. The names on my class lists have changed mightily, as Clinton’s did over a longer time. When I started, the program seemed more or less designed for people from north Toronto. The courses were basically variations on Atwood (for culture) and Innis (for social science/history): two Canadian academic staples, like timber or the beaver.

But over the years, Canadian studies added Asian-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, Jewish-Canadian, aboriginal, etc., courses and “chairs” — the lively mélange would probably have been unimaginable to those who set it up in the late 1970s. The north Toronto contingent still attends but, as Rob says, they learn something in return from their more recently arrived classmates.

In fact, we all win. For those of us teaching, we can’t just toss out headings (federal-provincial relations, Rocket Richard, the nativity story). We can toss them out, but we also have to fill them in. It’s good for us, it reveals our assumptions, especially to ourselves, and leads to treatment of glossed-over issues.

We, in turn, learn about, oh: Model Minorities and Cooking in Madeleine Thien’s Simple Recipes; The Critical Role of Cultural Beliefs in Shaping the Perceptions of Mental Health by Chinese-Canadians; The Emergence of Queer Punk in Toronto; along with old friends like, An Appraisal of the War of 1812 and, BlackBerry: Canadian or Not? (All covered in the CanStudies student journal, IMAGINATIONS.)

This doesn’t just reflect what Canadian studies has become, it’s what Canada has become, despite the urgent efforts of Leitch and others to dictate our meaning to us, from the top down. Maybe she should sign up for some courses.

Source: How a country gets forged in the classrooms: Salutin | Toronto Star

Lessons learned from ‘The Jewish Hour’

Rick Salutin comments on some of the insights from the early Jewish community in Toronto and how they may apply to today’s integration challenges:

That community, in Toronto, is described in a lovely, loving new book by the late Michael Mandel: The Jewish Hour. He focuses on weekly radio shows in Yiddish, in Toronto — in 1938 there were three competing “Jewish Hours” — and on local newspapers from the 1930s to the 1950s. The papers were in Yiddish, but helped integrate their readers by covering Toronto events, unlike the dominant New York Yiddish press, which was devoured here.

By the 1930s, Jews were less than 10 per cent of Toronto — far fewer than the quarter to a third in New York or Warsaw — but still the largest non-British group. You could say they were white, unlike today’s minorities, but in ways they were viewed as non-white. They were assumed to have distinct, identifiable physical traits though they could sometimes “pass,” much like other non-Caucasians. You could also say they shared Canada’s “Judeo-Christian” heritage, but you’d be wrong. Canada was then universally considered a “Christian nation.” As part of the integration of Canadian Jews, the term slowly expanded to Judeo-Christian.

To some degree at least, that process of integration is unstoppable. Mandel’s dad, who was a regular on radio, was known in the Yiddish press as a “showman” — spelled out literally in the 1,000-year-old language of Eastern European Jews. Toronto’s many cantors — leaders in prayer — often crossed over to secular performances, just like Al Jolson in the first talkie, The Jazz Singer.

In return, newcomers made their contributions. The Yiddish papers had no illusions about the rise of Hitler, from the start. They warned Canada. When the war ended, they had no illusions about what would follow: “If we are going to have an era of peace, it is only because humanity is now exhausted and broken — not because it finally realizes the absurdity of the atrocities of war.”

Like every immigrant community, there were fierce internal differences, about which the larger society tends to be oblivious. Instead it tries to homogenize groups, as it now does with Muslims. But there were communist Jews, socialists, Zionists and anti-Zionists, Tories and Liberals, rich versus poor — who attacked each other regularly. The presence of a crisis, such as 9/11 or the Holocaust, sharpens the differences while underlining the need for unity.

The outlets declined as Yiddish did. In 1931, 96 per cent of Jews here called it their first language. By 1951, it was 51 per cent, and 11 per cent in 1981. The papers tried to adapt with English sections: the Star’s memorable theatre critic, Nathan Cohen, edited the English pages for the communist “Vochenblatt.”

Till the end, the voices were eloquent: “That is how it goes in Jewish history, from Moses’s time till the present: the presidents and rich ones commit themselves only when there is an ark” — meaning a secure shelter like Noah’s — “and a place of honour.” You can’t get enough of that kind of journalistic feistiness, in any language.

I know there are different challenges with racialized immigrations, like those of the last 50 years. But I don’t think they’re insuperable, due to both the will of immigrants to join their new society and its urgent need for what they offer.

Source: Lessons learned from ‘The Jewish Hour’ | Toronto Star

Liberals should beware ‘deliverology’ guru: Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin’s contrary note to deliverology, not without merit for the caution it brings (similar note to David Reevely’s: Ontario’s experience shows serious flaws in ‘deliverology’ governance):

For me, the scariest signal yet sent by the Trudeau government was bringing English “deliverologist” Sir Michael Barber, to their Alberta cabinet retreat, to tell them how they’re doing. They imported a British con man who was a perfect accessory during the Blair years, and — now that slippery Tony is gone, replaced by the rawer, more authentic Jeremy Corbyn — he moves on to the colonies. Barber has delivered his spiel in Australia, the Punjab and Maryland. Are we impressed to be in that company?

It’s an early warning sign that the Trudeau folk are starting to believe their own BS. I’m not particularly against BS, everyone in power deploys it; the danger point comes when you start gulping it yourself and not just spooning it out to others. That’s when the vultures start swanning around the retreats.

CBC’s Terry Milewski interviewed colleague Rosie Barton, who was on site, re: the scam. Rosie seemed dubious but said the Brit told his marks they were doing rawther well. Terry, sounding like a true rube, i.e., someone who has no idea that’s what he is — or a candidate for Private Eye’s pseuds corner — said he counts on Rosie for hip terms like deliverology. It’s about as fresh as the 500 channel universe. I happen to own a copy of Barber’s Deliverology 101, from 2011. I won’t say I read it, it’s not really meant for that, but I sort of flapped through it once. It’s loaded with charts, checklists, bullet points: nobody reads these things but they’re meant to make you feel like a practical, can-do type, not someone who wastes time on books — a profile rife in the upper regions of education administrators, who happen to be Barber’s natural habitat.

I’ve avoided defining deliverology because it doesn’t actually exist. It’s just mouthfuls of verbiage. Barber told Paul Wells of Maclean’s, at an earlier cabinet retreat, that he’d been recruited to “the prime minister’s delivery unit” in order to rescue Blair’s government. “It’s not tremendously exciting, but it’s really important, getting the priorities, the definitions of success, the trajectories, the data” — I should’ve said gobfuls of verbiage. You could do a close analysis of his language to show how vacuousness is literarily constructed but it seems to hypnotize people like Wells, who views himself as deeply skeptical. If a Canadian talked in such vapours, Wells would shred him. What is it — the accent?

But of course, as Donald Savoie notes extensively, a lot of what government is good at is “mouthfuls of verbiage.”

Source: Liberals should beware ‘deliverology’ guru: Salutin | Toronto Star

Canada, the country that nationalism side-swiped: Salutin | Toronto Star

Salutin on the perverse, counter-intuitive nature of Canadian nationalism:

Here’s where it starts to get paradoxical. Stephen Harper, during his reign, tried to become the voice of Canadian nationalism in the traditional, exclusivist sense. He promoted militarism, including symbols like the Highway of Heroes, and shopworn imperial imagery like the Royal Family. He promoted undercurrents of xenophobia, nativism and racism in his policies toward immigrants and especially refugees, who were despicably treated. These became overcurrents during the election, with his attacks on Muslim headgear, the “barbaric cultural practices” snitch line and revocable citizenship.

What’s fascinating is that Justin Trudeau didn’t oppose him by declaring he was anti-nationalist, as you’d have to in, say, Serbia or Hungary. He fought back as a Canadian nationalist, defining it in terms of tolerance or even, the glory of diversity — a sharp rebuttal to most contemporary nationalism. It also had weird echoes. Justin’s dad, Pierre, rejected Quebec nationalism as parochial but embraced Canadian nationalism as a way to fight it. When he ran against Tory leader Joe Clark in 1979, Trudeau père scorned Clark’s notion that Canada was just a “community of communities,” for being wishy-washy and contentless.

Yet that’s essentially what his son endorsed. Now picture Harper: beaten not only by the son of his most reviled Canadian predecessor; but by the son’s embrace of the vision of Harper’s most loathed Conservative antecedent, Joe Clark. It’s beyond Shakespearean. Who says we don’t have a colourful history?

If we’d been more successful in creating a robust, conventional Canadian nationalism, who knows — the country mightn’t have as handily beaten back the nasty nativism cultivated by Harper. It could have provided unintended grist for his mill. So the real strength of Canadian nationalism might turn out to be its relative weakness. We’re the land that nationalism side-swiped. Lucky us.

In his book, Benedict Anderson quoted Walter Benjamin’s passage on the angel of history — based on a Paul Klee print. The angel stands looking backward sadly as history’s failures and disasters pile up at his feet. So, as history’s wind blows him into the future, he can’t see, behind him, the progress that may be about to arrive. You could call it, back to the future, in a literal sense.

Send in the psychologists to study the psychologists: Salutin | Toronto Star

Salutin on the role of psychologists and other social scientists, and the need to recognize for them to abandon some of their scientific pretensions:

New York Times’ reporter James Risen, a U.S. Senate committee which included former torture victim John McCain and, finally, a report commissioned by the APA itself, all confirmed the odious role played by psychologists and the APA. Top executives, including their chief of ethics, have been let go/resigned. All this is percolating through formal and informal sessions at the convention.

The social sciences have always generated ethical outrages — they deal, after all, with people, not electrons or chemical compounds. But nothing stimulates bad behaviour among the expert class like wars or terror attacks.

Anthropologists for instance have had a long, questionable record among the “primitive” peoples they first “examined” — either with noble intentions or as straight imperial tools. But since 9/11 the Human Terrain Systems (HTS) approach has been under fire, much like the APA situation. In Afghanistan or Iraq the idea was to use their “ethnographic” info to help “map” local societies in order, ultimately, to control and even “target” individuals, either for assassination (recently, by drones) or capture and interrogation, in which case, presumably, the guys from the APA could step up and join in.

What’s surprising about this is that anyone’s surprised. The root of their stupefaction, I’d say, is the delusion that the sciences — psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics etc. — are sciences at all, in the sense of the physical sciences. They aren’t.

They lack the basic qualities of “real” sciences, like clear terms, definitions, and theories, as Noam Chomsky recently noted. The terms they have are used “very loosely,” with a “strong ideological component.” In the 19th century, when their modern versions arose, they hitchhiked on the prestige and success of the natural sciences, appropriating the very word; and basked in the glow of Galileo or Newton. Unlike Prometheus, they didn’t so much steal fire from the gods to give to men; they stole false fire and hawked it. Economists, for instance, failed to see the housing bubble and the crash of 2008. True, some scruffy outsiders, like American Dean Baker, got it right, but all they did was look at the evidence and apply common sense, much as Aristotle would have.

In fact they should probably just drop the science pretensions and go back to where they belong: the inexact realm of the humanities, with the inevitable downgrading that would entail. Psychology was part of the philosophy departments not so long ago; and politics wasn’t a science — it went with economics in something called Political Economy that was more like history.

The late John Seeley, a superb sociologist and psychologist, spent much of his career effectively pursuing his own tail; pondering how to study something of which you were a part and which had made you what you were. It was like studying your own back at the same time as it relentlessly pushed you forward. “We may also hear,” he wrote, “in any serious piece of social science writing as in any poem — the cry of a soul calling for attention, obliquely but obstinately, to who he is, what he is, what he wants, what he suffers, who is with him and against.”

He’d have understood how objective “scientists” could happily verify that waterboarding isn’t torture. They aren’t just social observers, they’re social agents, with their own motives and needs that also deserve careful research.

Send in the psychologists to study the psychologists: Salutin | Toronto Star.

More Ottawa Shooting Commentary

Further to yesterday’s round-up of the recent shootings, more of the better commentary or more interesting commentary that has crossed my eye.

Wesley Wark: Reducing the risk of terrorism provides a sober assessment of the ongoing risks and the need neither to over or under act, but learn the lessons from any failures and gaps in security.

In the theme of let’s not get carried away, André Pratte in La réponse and Stephen Maher Time to reflect on the courage of our ancestors remind us to have balance and perspective. Doug Saunders notes how the public space around parliaments the world over has been whittled down by successive security threats in Don’t let the seat of government become a fortress.

On the other side, Journal de Montréal’s Richard Martineau is characteristically alarmist in Terrorisme: appelons les choses par leur nom.

More on the common elements to the two most recent cases of radicalization, Martin Couture-Rouleau  and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau:

Martin Couture-Rouleau et Michael Zehaf-Bibeau partagent plusieurs points en commun : ils étaient jeunes (25 ans et 32 ans), ils s’étaient récemment convertis à l’islam radical, la GRC avait confisqué leur passeport par crainte qu’ils rejoignent le groupe État islamique, et ils auraient agi tels des « loups solitaires ».

Pour les autorités policières, c’est le cauchemar. Les deux jeunes ont agi de leur propre chef, sans même avoir été initiés au combat par des groupes extrémistes à l’étranger. Ils sont difficiles à repérer et à neutraliser.

Un loup solitaire aux motivations inconnues

And further details about the troubled life of the shooter, Zehaf-Bibeau in the Globe in Drugs and religion key themes in Ottawa shooter’s troubled life and in the Post in Details of Zehaf-Bibeau’s life paint picture of a man derailed by homelessness, crime and addiction, detailing his drug addiction, quarrelsome personality and his failed efforts to use his faith to control both.

Canadian Muslims are quick to respond and express outrage in Canadian Muslims denounce recent attacks, fear backlash.

Matt Gurney challenges the military’s decision in Canadian soldiers don’t hide in their own damn country — rescind the order to not wear uniforms in public.

Barbara Kay covers a different angle in The unique anguish of a terrorist’s mother:

If it is inevitable, why feel guilty about these “bad seeds”? And yet, inevitably, parents do. Our sympathetic embrace for the real victims should therefore be wide enough to include their murderers’ collateral damage.

A great deal of favourable commentary on Parliament yesterday, how each leader struck the right tone, the hugs of support, and the deserved standing ovation for Sergeant-at-Arms Vickers starting with Jeffrey Simpson in Tribute, solidarity and back to politics (with some barbs at the difference between Government rhetoric and funding).

Jonathan Kay noted the contrast between this time and 30 years ago, when the then Sergeant-at-Arms was able to talk armed Denis Lortie into surrendering in Two Sergeants-at-Arms, two kinds of heroism.

Rick Salutin, similarly praises Kevin Vickers, but provocatively, and accurately, rubbishes the idea of Canadian innocence in We didn’t lose our innocence. We never had it.

Andrew Coyne, perceptively noted the nuances in the various positions and how that hopefully portended more serious political dialogue and debate in Politics weren’t put aside during the Ottawa hug-out, they were just made over for the occasion:

For Mr. Harper, it was “to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe here at home,” as well as “to work with our allies” in the fight against “the terrorist organizations” abroad who hope “to bring their savagery to our shores.” For Mr. Mulcair, it was “our commitment to each other and to a peaceful world.” For Mr. Trudeau, it was “staying true to our values” of “fairness, justice and the rule of law.”

“We will not be intimidated,” Mr. Harper vowed. “That is not going to happen,” Mr. Mulcair seconded. “We will not be intimidated into changing that,” Mr. Trudeau agreed. But they meant very different things.

And the still and video images of the citizens of Ottawa paying their tribute to fallen soldier Nathan Cirillo (as well as the accounts of those who tried to save him in ‘You’re breathing — keep breathing’), as well as to democratic values, were moving.


Mo3 and the risky idealism of youth: Salutin | Toronto Star

Rick Salutin on the one-sided language and focus on revocation and similar measures, rather than helping families and communities on prevention:

But ensuring decent options isn’t a task that parents can take on alone. It’s for all of society, especially its leaders. And believe me, pious denunciations of evil at the UN, by leaders with their own hideous, ongoing records to be ashamed of, won’t cut it with the young. I have that on vivid recall.

This week an Alberta leader of Somali Canadians asked the Harper government to expand outreach programs for youth. Their only response was a promise to protect “law-abiding Canadian families” by stripping citizenship under their new law for “dual-nationals who engage in terrorism.”

Well, these are law-abiding Canadian families whose kids are at risk and any criminal acts, including treason, can be dealt with already. All revoking citizenship does is dehumanize its targets, since citizenship is a human right. Do we really want Stephen Harper or Chris Alexander to decide who counts as human and who to exclude as monsters? This is sheer incitement of more anger and alienation. I’m against revoking anyone’s citizenship but if you were going to do it for encouraging radical, violent behaviour, you’d start with these official, elected provocateurs.

Mo3 and the risky idealism of youth: Salutin | Toronto Star.