Sunday, 27 December 2009

Thanking Outside the Box

And so, after crawling blindly back into the light of consciousness through the dark, dank alleyways of Kahlua-induced hangovers, we scan the news to see what of interest happened during the Commonwealth's only indigenous holiday.

Naturally, preachy socialists and Jesus-loving wimps expect headlines such as, "Christmas Day madness: Affluent Canadians descend on soup kitchens looking for homeless to feed". We get this instead, the "Christian" West at its evangelical, philanthropic best--showing those backward Muslims what an advanced culture looks like. God bless Canada, as our prime minister used to say (before deciding that kissing ass in agnostic but riding-rich Central Canada as a path to power was far preferable to sticking to religious principle and being a failure or martyr, like those silly primitive Papist losers).

The good news: Christmas--that ironic observance which manages to defile the only time of year when we're expected to be nominally civilised to each other by stressing, demoralising and disgusting us into being even more dreadful to each other than usual--has expired. Now we may begin the arduous task of recovering our humanity and re-discovering the capacity to treat our fellow children of Cain respectfully without the Pavlovian stimuli broadcast by the sickly-sweet emotional extortion and forced bonhomie designed by the marketing mercenaries who service Coke, Smirnoff and Apple.

For a start, we'll need to detox. We've all of us some kind of seasonally metabolised poison to purge. Perhaps it's the cyanide of having spent Christmas Eve with the redneck in-laws in Thunder Bay; perhaps it's the strychnine of having had to listen to two hours of Uncle Harry drunkenly reciting his best “Paki” jokes; perhaps it's the arsenic of realising that the just-hired executive assistant to whom you clumsily proposed a quickie in the photocopy room at the office Christmas party was, in fact, the boss's fiancée; perhaps it's the botulism of having been pulled over by the OPP whilst driving home from the aforementioned party and being forced to score Stephen Hawking's IQ on the breathalyser. Whatever your poison is, the sooner it's gone, the better.

My poison is the unassimilable psychic residue left over from toxic over-exposure to what today passes for Christmas carols. Whether it be Justin Timberlake drowning "Silent Night" in the giant cistern of a sewage treatment plant, Beyoncé Knowles running over "Jingle Bells" with the nose gear of a fully-fuelled Airbus A330, or Madonna bloodily dismembering "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" with a 24-bar chainsaw, there's hardly a once-bearable festive ditty that hasn't been mutilated beyond human tolerance for the sole purpose of providing to retailers a species of canned ambient music that bores within the shopping public an existential void so massive that we must anesthetise ourselves with reams of useless purchases before succumbing to the visceral urge to commit immediate suicide using whatever marginally feasible instrument of fatality we may find to hand. Not more than a few seconds of labouring under the devastating influence of Joan Jett's unlawful carnal knowledge of "O Come All Ye Faithful" need elapse before one is tempted to look upon the leather band of one's wrist-watch as a perfectly serviceable garrotte. Simultaneously, that $300 Gap t-shirt begins to look, like, totally irresistible.

My post-holiday purgative consists of listening to real music. Thus, to continue in the spirit of the subversively sacrosanct paganism I invoked a few days ago, I offer you what I think is a quite beautiful artefact from a musical passion of mine. My favourite, early-70's incarnation of the legendary Fairport Convention sings "Now Be Thankful" at a 1970 concert in Maidstone, Kent.

The song is a graceful hymn-like piece that one feels must be a Wesleyan devotional standard. In fact, it was written by a long-haired gaggle of ale-drenched North London twenty-year-olds. This soulful song by those agnostic, grass-smoking English kids always reminds me of the firm organic hold that faith has on the peoples of Europe and how easy it is to be an unconscious Christian there no matter how patently atheist one may otherwise be. Therein we see a profound mystery at work, and it explains, I think, much of the difference between the North American and the British/European world views. At any rate, it certainly explains why Voltaire and Bertrand Russell, apostates both, were closer to Christ than Pat Robertson and William J. Bennett will ever be.

For those who might prefer the production gloss of the song's official studio version, I append it beneath the live performance. Enjoy!

 



47 comments:

Ti-Guy said...

We've all of us some kind of seasonally metabolised poison to purge.

Not me. I've shed every last unwanted obligation to this season, mostly by eliminating the gift giving and receiving, a firm commitment I made plain several years ago shortly after returning from the 3rd World. There was a brief and relatively mild incident yesterday involving the archetypal in-law, but a strong-willed cousin took up the challenge and I was thankfully spared. A CD featuring Sarah McLaughlin's renditions of traditional Christmas music playing quietly in the background sparked an interesting discussion exactly on your topic here and resulted in a consensus that saw an alternative (something instrumental) selected.

I buy things for people I care about all year long to avoid feeling obliged at this time of year and because it's only during that time anyone ever mentions what they really need, want or could really use. And I don't need or want anything, as they all know. All I do this time of year is cook. Let me know if you're in need of a hot hors d'oeuvre. ;)

Sir Francis said...

...a strong-willed cousin took up the challenge and I was thankfully spared.

Thank God for strong-willed cousins! And for tasteful instrumental renditions of Christmas carols. Like so many things, my fondness for the latter is a reaction to childhood trauma--in this case, being forced to listen to my parents' awful collection of 70's Christmas albums. Ever been treated to the Yuletide stylings of the An Al Martino Christmas and the Liberace Sings the Holiday Classics LPs?

Apropos of nothing: are there still such things as door-to-door carollers anywhere in Canada? They were fairly common in Montreal in the 70's/80's, but I've not seen any in Ontario. I take it it's a dead art?

Ti-Guy said...

Our extended family went carolling to our neighbours and friends one evening each Christmas. It was more an excuse to party (drinks at every stop) but it helped when all 20 or so people could sing. In fact, it was a real battle to get someone to sing melody, since everyone wanted to do harmony.

I sang in a small Christmas choir during high school and we went carolling on the buses and in the malls.

There are a few benefits to growing up in a place where there isn't much to do, no stores worth doing much shopping in and where it was 1955 until 1976. Of course, that's all gone now.

Sir Francis said...

Ti:

Forgive the esprit de l'escalier, but your first comment reminded me of why it is that only the French could have coined a phrase like “savoir vivre". I really think that the French, both on the continent and in Canada, have done more to perfect the art of living than any other people on Earth.

As for carolling, I don't suppose it's practicable in these days of urban/suburban paranoia and alienation--which is a shame, really.

Ti-Guy said...

I really think that the French, both on the continent and in Canada, have done more to perfect the art of living than any other people on Earth.

Careful with the compliments. You know how arrogant we get. :)

jkg said...

As for caroling, I don't suppose it's practicable in these days of urban/suburban paranoia and alienation--which is a shame, really

In retrospect, upon my growing up in a small town in rural Ontario, I always instinctively felt there was a counterpoint over the years, as if though there was some socio-cultural transition happening. My small village, for all its self-defeating populism, at least was able to enjoy the time honored tradition of going to people's houses on Christmas Eve and caroling. My parents used to hold such a celebration, and it was grand affair. Understandably they do not do that anymore because it is a lot of work for pensioners such as them, but now, such things are non-existent.

Our village is a bedroom community due to the main factory picking up and moving to Mexico (a prime example of how voting hits close to home, though that connection has not been made yet), so it is just like suburbia, except even more listless and mechanical. People drive into city centers to do last minute shopping, fretting over meeting the materialistic demands of their hyper consuming children or their companions.

I always find that rural areas act in some cases, act as a leading indicator of what is to come. Our village descended into a stagnate local economy well before the recession. It seems odd to say that given the influence of city centers but given the vulnerability of less densely populated areas, the adjustments will probably be there first. Local volunteer organizations have been folding for years now, and rather than participating in any public initiatives, people just complain, then drive into the city to work, shop, and play.

I guess this is my first official comment over here (now that I have 'blogger' account), SF, but I glad to find such a well written blog as it is stimulates the gray matter!

Happy New Year

Catelli said...

SF:

I gotta ask, is there anything that doesn't make you grumpy?

Ti-Guy said...

I gotta ask, is there anything that doesn't make you grumpy?

I don't know about SF, but people dismissing critique (especially one that is leavened with a considerable degree of sardonic wit) as grumpiness make me very grumpy.

Sir Francis said...

JKG:

The process you describe reminds me of what I saw happen to Kitchener a few years after my family moved there in '84. The late '80's/early '90's recession was socially devastating--with hordes of middle-aged line workers losing their union jobs only to be "re-trained" for casual work in call centres and Radio Shacks; meanwhile, upwardly mobile local kids just out of university were either moving to Toronto or commuting to and from work every day (I actually did that for a few months during a UW work term).

The effect was to take a close-knit European community where the immigrant experience of the Canadian Dream had been on proud display and brutally hollow it out. It may have improved recently, but King Street looked pretty sad last time I was in Kitchener/Waterloo--dotted with cheap pizza joints and tattoo parlours.

Sir Francis said...

Catelli:

Cute little kittens don't make me grumpy. That's about it, really. ;)

Catelli said...

SF: LOL

Ti-guy: In my normal ham-fisted way I'm trying to figure out how SF ticks. My admiration for SF's intellect and how he imparts it is well documented. But in this supposed season of joy, SF's posts unbalanced me somewhat. (Yes that's my problem, not his.)

I just hope he didn't have a "Blue Christmas", that's all! ;)

Ti-Guy said...

If you find yourself getting overly grumpy about what's happening down there, in that country (as an American in-law living here always refers to her native land now), I recommend listening to PRI's This American Life podcast, SF. The latest edition, featuring David Sedaris, is a real hoot...especially the segment involving a theatre critic's reviews of local school Christmas pageants.

Ti-Guy said...

Ti-guy: In my normal ham-fisted way I'm trying to figure out how SF ticks.

I can't speak for SF, but I myself am just not that energised by what simply works. Equilibrium and stasis is the natural state of reality. It's imbalance, loss of kilter, skewing, dysfunction, crisis, decline etc. that are novel and interesting and represent events that quite often reveal the true nature of things.

I recently came across this work (which I haven't read yet), Stripping Bare the Body, the thesis of which is that calamities such as war and financial collapse reveal the true nature of American civilisation. The depressing part is that America is no longer capable of reform, but it does make the point that these events strip away all the pointless dishonesty, artifice and complexity to present reality as it really is, which is often a lot less mystifying than we are led to believe.

Catelli said...

I think its time I got a library card. Time to expand my reading beyond fiction...

Is any nation truly capable of reform? Aversion to change (an inherent human trait) combined with complex systems (our political structure) makes for a daunting re-engineering task. America has its problems, but so does any nation, including our own.

Humanity only enacts change when those imbalances tip the current system (and you're quite right on that front). It could be a sudden event, or the cumulation of imbalances over many years.

I think what's depressing is that human societies are always reactive, and rarely proactive even when the signs indicating doom are clear. Hell, even after this latest economic crises, it is my firm belief that none of us clearly learned any lessons and we're rushing forward to make all the same mistakes over again. In other words, it wasn't enough of a crises to provoke a reaction.

Ti-Guy said...

Is any nation truly capable of reform?

Short answer, yes. There are many such examples, Britain, Germany, South Africa, Russia (although perhaps too soon to tell). Canada itself was transformed after WW2.

But sacrifices have to made and the US is not yet in a position where it *has* to. This guy, Morris Berman believes that the US cannot, under any circumstances, reform itself, since the cause of its destruction lays in forces that brought about America's creation and which sustain it. Admittedly, it's not something I've got a clear grasp of, but America is a singularly exceptional nation.

I like the metaphor that compares America to Oliver Wendell Holmes's The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay: an apparatus so beauteously engineered and crafted that it remains in the same state and functions well up until the day it collapses completely.

Sir Francis said...

SF's posts unbalanced me somewhat.

Well, someone had to do it. ;)

This latest post was actually intended to restore whatever balance the previous ones had upset. Music soothes the savage breast, after all.

Is any nation truly capable of reform?

I think organic nations--those which acknowledge the inevitability and desirability of socio-cultural development along the lines set out by their founding premises--can indeed be reformed, or, better, restored.

Nations established on inflexible abstract principles--divorced from the reality of inevitable change and committed instead to the futile attempt to transform human nature according to those abstract principles--are virtually impossible to reform; such reform as is feasible will usually occur through either unimaginable violence or brutal state-sponsored coercion.

My aspiration is that Canada will maintain its espousal of the Anglo-European organicism which has so far given it its unique “progressive conservatism” (which is an excellent way to describe Canada's 20th-century cultural disposition). The highly sophisticated but radically anti-social rationalist positivism that has motivated American society and which too many of our élites seek to import is clearly unsustainable.

Sir Francis said...

The depressing part is that America is no longer capable of reform...

Thanks for posting those links.

Post-imperial pessimism among American thinkers, and the best among them, is becoming quite common, and it's hard to gainsay after reading someone like Chalmers Johnson.

What's hard for many of us to understand is that national decline is comfortably coextensive with unprecedented and (apparently) incontestable global power. In that regard, I find stimulating Joseph Tainter’s description of how a thickening mass of problem-solving technologies can, in itself, become the engine of a society's decline.

Ti-Guy said...

I find stimulating Joseph Tainter’s description of how a thickening mass of problem-solving technologies can, in itself, become the engine of a society's decline.

No argument here.

jkg said...

Equilibrium and stasis is the natural state of reality. It's imbalance, loss of kilter, skewing, dysfunction, crisis, decline etc. that are novel and interesting and represent events that quite often reveal the true nature of things.

I would submit that often it is a false reality of this perceived equilibrium state. In nature, its vast complex system gives the illusion of stasis only due to a matter of scale. However, it is very true that novel and stochastic events are far more revealing, but their frequency is often underestimated. In the field of evolutionary ecology, researchers are now challenging what is known as the "panglossian adaptationist program" first questioned by Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould. Biological theory, even in ecology, has rested on assumptions that largely the environment is predictably variable, which can give rise to stable states and equilibria.

Curiously, this line of thinking is found in essence in the human inclination against change; it is buttressed by the view that the world is largely static and whatever disturbance is quickly 'balanced' back to whatever comfortable state before. This could be a spectre of colonialist thinking perhaps (with nature being fully understood, managed, and regarded as relatively benign).

In that regard, I find stimulating Joseph Tainter’s description of how a thickening mass of problem-solving technologies can, in itself, become the engine of a society's decline.

I studied Jared Diamond in my undergraduate programme because of his immense contribution to ecology, so I have actually heard of Tainter. I always felt that Diamond's thesis, which is coupled with others like demographic determinism, on this subject can be aligned with Tainter's. In sociobiology, the concept of division of labour is often cited when explaining species behaviour. Mice studies present an illuminating example in that the social structure of mice tries to absorb changes in environment but eventually collapses because such adjustments eventually result in a system of diminished returns just as Tainter described. In fact, systems of diminished returns are even discussed in life history studies as well.

Normally, you don't see much of this crossover into the social or psychological sciences because when it happens, it usually results in whatever was learned in the original field gets watered down and misrepresented as is the case with Evolutionary Psychology . A notable neuroscientist, Vilayanur Ramachandran wrote an article explaining scientifically why men prefer blondes; it was meant as a joke at his fellow evolutionary psychologists, and it got published in one of the journals.

Catelli said...

There's equilibrium as a stasis, and equilibrium as net cause and effect.

As societies evolve, equilibrium can be maintained. Equilibrium can be equated with social order, or contentment of the populace. One way to look at it is how quickly people resume their normal daily activities.

Related to this discussion is Dawg's takedown of Robert Sibley. Sibley's making hysterical claims that our current social order is at threat in an epic clash of civilizations. Equilibrium of western values must be maintained, and they are threat by the Mooslims! To war! To war!

Speaking of Inflexible Unorganic One-Hoss Shay's... Quebec anyone?

Sir Francis said...

This could be a spectre of colonialist thinking perhaps (with nature being fully understood, managed, and regarded as relatively benign).

Indeed. It cannot be coincidental that Europe's colonial energies reached their peak at a time when scholarly debates into the relative merits of the "picturesque" and the "sublime" were at their most intense. Obviously, colonists viewed their possessions as ideal sites for picturesque arrangements but learned soon enough of their inherent sublimity.

Vilayanur Ramachandran wrote an article explaining scientifically why men prefer blondes; it was meant as a joke...

...but was it methodologically sound? ;)

Now let me just take a moment to congratulate myself on the quality of my commenters and the level of their discourse. Here we are at twenty comments, and not a single "Fuck you, asshole" or equivalent has been deemed necessary. Where else--except perhaps in the thread for the Dalai Lama's latest blog post--may one find such a thing?

Sir Francis said...

Sibley's making hysterical claims that our current social order is at threat in an epic clash of civilizations.

It's really a shame. You would think that Victorian liberals cum faux-conservatives like Sibley would be smart enough to know that they've been evacuated of all credibility first by signing on to Fukuyama's proto-neocon "end-of-history" nonsense in the early '90's, then by gibbering like over-stimulated kids about the presumed "cake-walk" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I was actually shocked to read the Sibley piece that Dawg ripped apart. I had thought that the "clash of civilisations" thesis, once all the rage, had been relegated to the odd glancing reference on The O'Reilly Factor and in commencement addresses at Texan liberal arts colleges. Sad.

Ti-Guy said...

Speaking of Inflexible Unorganic One-Hoss Shay's... Quebec anyone?

What about it? Quebec transformed from a religious, autocratic, mostly agrarian society to a secular, liberal, urban one in just a few decades.

Sir Francis said...

Quebec transformed from a religious...society to a secular, liberal, urban one in just a few decades...

...by following the thoroughly Jesuitical (and quasi-Dominican) principles that had informed the ethos of their elite for generations. There’s nothing inorganic about that.

There was hardly a senior member of the secularising Lesage/Bourassa/Lévesque cabinets who wasn’t an avowed disciple of l’abbé Groulx.

Aeneas the Younger said...

Burke diagnosed the problem in 1796.

jkg said...

Here we are at twenty comments, and not a single "Fuck you, asshole" or equivalent has been deemed necessary.

Though, you were graced, as was I when it was only my second or third comment at Red Tory, with "Fill your boots" Tomm. I like to think of it as a badge of honour. I am surprised, with your commenting over at Macleans, that more Stephen Harper cheerleaders have not tried to swarm your blog. I used to comment over there, but I just got tired of it.

I was actually shocked to read the Sibley piece that Dawg ripped apart

I think Dawg did a good illustration of the cunningness of some of these commentators in that after piling on disparate premise after another, they attempt to shift into constructing an anti-Western Other upon which it would be easy to assail. To the average reader, that type of logical reasoning is unnoticeable perhaps even subtle, and since it plays into common memes wrt The War of Terra, it easily becomes embedded in the general discourse. I somehow get the feeling that Daniel Dennett is writing another book somewhere. This clash of civilizations effectively eliminates any complexity in discussing this issue; it is almost a form of 'disruptive selection': only two real average positions are viable, anything in between is selected out. The question is whether or not this model has reached its zenith yet. I say it hasn't, but it is becoming darn effective at marginalizing any innovative insight.

Sir Francis said...

...you were graced, as was I...at Red Tory, with "Fill your boots" Tomm.

At least Tomm never swears. Oh, no. He finds more genteel ways of being offensive--like being sanctimoniously, aggressively, consistently obtuse.

Red Tory used to be a far rougher and more troll-ridden place than it is now. I wrote my first comment there a little more than two years ago, in response to which a now-defunct neocon knuckle-walker called "Canadian Sentinel" invited me to go down to the local free injection site and hand out needles to crack junkies--and that was in answer to a fairly mild, politely stated observation.

I am surprised...that more Stephen Harper cheerleaders have not tried to swarm your blog.

Well, do dolphins seek out the company of sharks?

Catelli said...

I was referring to the rigid attempts to control culture and language with in Quebec. It appears that they believe culture stasis can be maintained, that the natural evolution of culture can be stopped.

In my too brief recent visit to Belgium (too brief as in not enough time to cement the following impression) I believe I saw this difference between the Dutch and French sides. The Dutch are more easy going and comfortable in Dutch, English and French. They handle the intersection of cultures with aplomb and switch back and forth with relative ease. The French appeared to be more restrained(?) and locked into their culture.

How astute an observation that is, I don't know. My own preconceptions probably had a large part in that conclusion. But I do believe that there was a distinct difference in how each group handled individuals outside their native culture/upbringing.

Catelli said...

We're also have different definitions of reform. I see Quebec's change to an urban secular society as evolutionary. It was reforming, true, and there was even a crises to precipitate it. However since it was form the bottom up, social change I don't see it as abrupt imposed reform, especially at the political levels.

Crucial American needs for reform (and the current Canadian need for reform) exist at the political level. Both systems (in different ways) are consolidating unaccountable power to the highest offices. Changes to those systems are what occur to me when I think of a "reform".

There is also an attitude in the population that needs change, especially in light of the demands climate change is and will place on us. Unconsciously, we are choosing a gradual evolutionary approach to this. A process that many (including myself) believe will take too long to be effective. We can choose to impose abrupt reform now (through legislation and social pressures to redefine social norms) or wait to have to reactively change (due to environmental changes that cause our current model of sustainability to collapse).

Though its not a apples to apples comparison, changes due to the Quiet Revolution were generated from within, the Great Depression imposed from without.

Catelli said...

Well, do dolphins seek out the company of sharks?

Call me a dolphin. Very much aware of the sharks that circle around this blog. I ain't going to tell you (or any of the other regulars here to F off!) heh. Not that anyone has earned it. Yet. 8)

Ti-Guy said...

What's the total amount of time you've spent in Belgium and Québec/French Canada, Catelli?

Bilingual people are generally more outgoing, kindly-disposed to strangers and find different cultures fascinating (not scary), since those are the qualities that motivate second-language learning. Historically, the Flemish, who had lower socio-economic status in Belgium were the ones who *had* to be bilingual (French-Dutch). Since the 60's, that situation has reversed and the transition hasn't gone very well. The Wallons have not adjusted very well to their diminished status and the Flemish have been indifferent, bordering on vindictive now that they're more economically and demographically powerful. The loss of conciliation in the country has been unfortunate. The issue of speaking English is something else altogether. Everyone involved in business these days speaks English and for Dutch speakers, it's a relatively easy language to learn.

Catelli said...

Not a lot, I admit that. The observations I've been able to make as an outsider indicates a defensive stance towards maintaining a cultural status quo. I am not arguing that there are not justified reasons for this reaction. I just see these as examples as inflexible and inorganic responses.

Long term I believe it to be an unwinnable proposition. Time will tell.

Ti-Guy said...

I just see these as examples as inflexible and inorganic responses.

I believe this impression is entirely mistaken. The reason a lot of people want to maintain their culture, is that, quite often, it is objectively better in some respects than what is competing with it.

Where Quebec was inflexible in its language policies was the lack of resources it provided to help integrate newcomers, but that was only for a short period while the furore died down and people adjusted to a new reality or simply left the province (something the separatists actually wanted, to their eternal shame). Immigrants who are not prepared to integrate (as they are required to elsewhere in Canada by doing nothing much else but learning the common language) can also choose to live elsewhere.

Your attitude strikes me as a bit too American, an attitude that assumes one's own culture, way of living and doing business is simply the most natural (or organic) and that everyone else is just delaying the inevitable. It never allows for the possibility that a lot of people find the American way of life, in many respects (but not all), unpleasant or unappealing. It fact, Americans are quite often startled and very hostile to that suggestion.

I find the easy appeal of American cultural products attractive (something SF would never admit, by the way). It doesn't take much time or work or background information to acquire a taste for a block buster, or for pop music, or for a Disneyfied museum or for their cuisine and one can practically always guarantee a relatively satisfying experience. But that kind of living has its drawbacks as well; it's unchallenging, it's conformist, it shuts out truly novel experiences that emerge at the edges of culture, it encourages passivity, sloth and discourages critical thinking and reflection. It's also extremely dependent on material goods, without which, there is practically no 'culture' to speak of at all. But worst of all, it prevents alternatives from competing because it's also rather easy and inexpensive to replicate.

Jack Mitchell said...

I can never quite believe that your first (co-first?) language is French, Ti-Guy, because your style in English is so felicitous.

But while we're on the subject, what is your theory about why the Quiet Revolution happened? If it was not evolutionary and not top-down but rather quite spontaneous and quite grassroots, perhaps hope remains for various promised lands (shuffling off of consumerism, end of mass consciousness, etc. etc.).

Sir Francis said...

I find the easy appeal of American cultural products attractive (something SF would never admit, by the way).

Yeah. I'm so predictable. ;)

That’s not quite fair. I do find many American cultural products attractive--but not because their appeal is easy. On the contrary, I find that their appeal is generally rather complex. In fact, their complexity is their only point of interest, as they usually have no aesthetic virtue to recommend them.

I remember my first trip to Disney World (or was it Disney Land, in Orlando?), when I was five or six. I couldn't assimilate the place. It just frightened me. It was bewildering; it was loud, ugly, and violent. I cried and whined for hours, totally disgusting my mother, who felt she'd wasted her money and who clearly found the place as unpleasant as I did (parents always inflict these traumatic experiences on their kids for their kids' sake) I couldn't understand why someone would willingly submit to being made to vomit on one of those idiotic “rides” when just taking one's hands off one's ears or tasting the available "food" was enough to trigger immediate nausea.

Now, my reaction upon entering Baroque/Romanesque basilicas when on school-sponsored field trips to downtown Montreal was much simpler. I guess the Stations of the Cross, though superficially morbid, were easier for me to assimilate and were far more joyfully life-affirming than the sight of a grown man--probably a migrant worker getting paid minimum wage to sweat under the weight of a polyester Minnie Mouse costume--cantering down the street like a lame draught horse.

Catelli said...

Your attitude strikes me as a bit too American

Hah! You're wrong! But I think we're actually agreeing with each other, just looking at the same object through two different prisms.

Sir Francis and I (and if I speak out of turn SF, let me know) are more in tune in this area. While we are more organic and flexible, sometimes we are entirely too organic. We're so organic that we don't bother defending that which deserves it, if we could even agree what that is.

I read from your argument that Quebec did prove to be too inflexible (but something it is trying to change, which I did not know) and that our culture is too organic, or subservient to Hollywood or whatever.

Aside: this was what I found so striking about the Flemish side of Belgium. How American it was. Taxi's, personal cars, radio stations in the office all seemed to be tuned to American top 40. Any top 40. Announcers would talk in dutch, and then you'd hear 30 minutes of American pop. Weird mixes too. The most jarring was listening to Sly and the Family stone, Alanis Morrisette, Nickleback and MC Hammer back-to-back (yes I know two of those were Canadian, that's why I remembered the mix.)

In a maybe cowardly fence-sitting kind of way, I'm looking at both lawns (flexible english and in-flexible french, note this is a gross reduction on either side) and saying both are wrong. How much each needs to absorb of the other I'm not going to say.

Mayhap English Canada needs to adopt more Quebec like measures. Though how that would be achieved, I haven't the foggiest. As I mentioned earlier we're so flexible we can't even define what our culture is.

Sir Francis said...

...sometimes we are entirely too organic. We're so organic that we don't bother defending that which deserves it...

That's quite an insightful way to put the case.

And I can relate to your perception of the Belgian cultural dichotomy: the Flemish are very much self-consciously "globalised", whereas the Walloons are equally self-consciously "parochial". Those positions are hardly monolithic, but that's how each tends to self-identify.

Ti-Guy said...

I can never quite believe that your first (co-first?) language is French, Ti-Guy, because your style in English is so felicitous.

That's very kind of you.

But while we're on the subject, what is your theory about why the Quiet Revolution happened?

I'm not a Québécois and am a little too young and see the conditions following the Quiet Revolution as simply how things are. I don't have much of a theory that would be interesting. SF is the history buff here. I find most history tedious in the detail and I'm never sure I'm being exposed to evidence-based history, or an elite or purely academic interpretation of the times. As we all know, elites are quite often irrational and mistake what's going on in their beautiful mind for what is the actual reality happening around them.

Anyway, my opinion about the Quiet Revolution is that it was rooted in what has always been essential to French Canadian culture (and possibly the regions in France from where it sprang); its sense of place (you inhabit one geography and you're stuck with it) and its belief that what others think of you simply doesn't matter (by the way, the Gallic *shrug* isn't just an affection; it's a gesture to rid oneself of the physical discomfort that otherwise might lead you to continue in a pointless conflict, but I digress...)

Anyway, the attitude among French Canadians is that a people's self-determination isn't something that has to start off with conflict. You simply assert it and dare anyone who opposes you to wipe you out entirely. Canadians are fortunate to be partnered with people who are not that interested in genocides or ethnic cleansing. The Quiet Revolution was simply an acknowledgement that French Canadian society couldn't delay modernity any longer and survive, let alone thrive.

Catelli said...

SF:

I'm finding an intense parallel to our organic English culture and the current crises/predicament in Ottawa. I can't remember where I read it (Andrew Potter maybe?), but someone described how our system was setup to rely on tradition that could evolve, rather than hard and fast rules. The reasoning being that all circumstances are impossible to predict, and hard rules could do more harm than good in trying to predict the future. A political or legislative quantum affect as it were. The impact of observing/legislating affects the object being observed/legislated.

But now we are seeing the abuses that occur when limits are not in place. And are paying the price for it. It's frustrating, as this is not how the system is supposed to work. But how we do we get it back?

Sir Francis said...

Having been taught by (and listened to the war stories of) many of the “grass-roots” foot-soldiers of the Quiet Revolution in the ‘70’s, I've always felt that the Revolution was less about anti-clericalism than about the desire on the part of Quebec's intellectual élite to transform their society into an authentically Catholic one--one in which Catholic social teachings (which are essentially social-democratic) could take real, practical effect and eliminate the corrupting influence of American capital and its co-opting of indigenous roi nègres like Duplessis. Remember also that leaders such as Trudeau and Marchand worked from explicitly Catholic philosophical premises, Personalism being a particular passion of Trudeau's.

Those were, I think, the motivations of a good part of the elite. Naturally, they had no control over where the Revolution would take the province as a whole. Trudeau, Marchand and Pelletier were ultimately aghast at the results, as we know.

Ti-Guy said...

On the contrary, I find that their appeal is generally rather complex. In fact, their complexity is their only point of interest, as they usually have no aesthetic virtue to recommend them.

I don't think the opposite of easy appeal is complexity. More something along the lines of requiring prolonged exposure, dedication and engagement to acquire a taste for, which are the cultural experiences that have been most rewarding, at least for me.

Ti-Guy said...

Though how that would be achieved, I haven't the foggiest.

I can think of one way; stop cutting down your own. Ignore what doesn't measure up exactly to what the Americans, the British and the Australians have produced and concentrate on what is good about it; with encouragement people will continue to persevere and will refine what they're doing. Be more positive and tell the tedious colonised elites to shove it when they start bad-mouthing their own. As I remarked to SF a while back, the French-Canadian elite is rarely ever scathing about its mass culture.

Sir Francis said...

...our system was setup to rely on tradition that could evolve, rather than hard and fast rules...But now we are seeing the abuses that occur when limits are not in place.

True, but our system was also designed under the assumption that its basic components would survive intact despite their evolution. Thus, Sir John A. could not have predicted that the office of the Governor-General would become totally impotent constitutional window-dressing.

Ti-Guy said...

When it comes to unwritten conventions and hard and fast rules, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Mere conventions allow power abuse to occur in ways no one can predict and hard and fast rules encourage power abusers to look for ways to exploit regulations to make their abuse legal.

There is simply no system that can prevent unethical people from behaving unethically. What should have happened is that Harper and his crew should have been exposed long ago. If we had the kind of media a healthy democracy requires, that would have happened. But then, I've been listening to what average "conservatives" understand and regurgitate, not what their duplicitous public figures have been saying. That's not what the media does.

Sir Francis said...

...the French-Canadian elite is rarely ever scathing about its mass culture.

That's largely because both entities are conscious of being engaged in the same project, I think.

Tomm said...

Sir Francis,

Happy New Year.

Another entertaining post. I hope 2010 sees you in good spirits and ready to increase the height of your soap box.

I can't pass the opportunity to comment on...

"...you were graced, as was I...at Red Tory, with "Fill your boots" Tomm.

At least Tomm never swears. Oh, no. He finds more genteel ways of being offensive--like being sanctimoniously, aggressively, consistently obtuse..."

"Obtuse" is not my intention. Asking people to confront their own shortcomings and biases, perhaps...

I still haven't read any Grant, but my New Year's intentions are good.

Sir Francis said...

Asking people to confront their own shortcomings and biases, perhaps...

...and their drivel. Don't forget the drivel.

By the way, I've put away the soap-box. I'm standing on an orange crate now. Ikea had an excellent Boxing Day sale on them.

Happy New Year's to you, too, Tomm. May it bring plenty of Dred Tory posts for you to love/hate. I’ll make darn sure it does!