Tuesday, April 25, 2006
"That's not me": defining ourselves by what we are not
Taoufik Mathlouthi, founder of Mecca-Cola, broadcasts a noteworthy (although hardly newsworthy) confession: mosques in Paris preach anti-french hatred.
It’s Mathlouthi himself that admits it: some mosques are propagating hatred right in the center of Paris!
Radio-Mediterranean (88.6 Mhz), this Sunday April 16 2006 – Mosques are sites for anti-french hatred.
It’s Mathlouthi that admits it first-hand in an outburst of frankness (he said he had hesitated before making the admission). “If you don’t mind, [I’m]not naming the mosque in order not to be controversial… I made my Friday prayers in a Parisian mosque… the [sermon?] preached, is not the preaching of islam that I know… hearing things like “may god destroy their state and may their goods become our booty!”,… speaking for myself as a muslim, this has nothing to do with me. … the imams are forming entire generations of young muslims from texts that reject hatred.”
Coming from the fanatical Mathlouthi himself who, several minutes beforehand had supported the Hamas government as “the only democratically elected government in the islamic world”, this is a significant confession. ……
Mecca-cola is a fascinating concept: a product born as an alternative, basing its appeal not so much on its value as a product, but on its very existence as an alternative.
We in the Great White North undoubtedly recognize the appeal of such products, for are we not bombarded every day with the slogan, “buy Canadian”? When I read “Proudly made in Canada” firmly stamped upon a product, I can’t help see it as a tacit apology: “sorry this isn’t better than the American version”. For if it was truly the superior product, why would its point of origin weigh upon my choice as a consumer? Why the invitation to reward one through a punishment of another?
Canada itself can be seen an extention of the philosophy that brought about Mecca-Cola: a deliberate rejection of America, an embrace of an alternative. All too often Canadians define themselves by simply saying they are not American, and like our entreprenial Mathlouthi, perceptions about money turn out to be at the root of the distinction.
From what I take to be Mecca-Cola’s mission statement:
“One of the perversions of capitalism lies in the generation within oneself of the most brutal and the most inhumane part of oneself.
The spirit which governed the creation of Mecca-Cola was to create a profit-making business which would help to relieve human suffering where action is still possible…”
We may roll our eyes at the destination of these charitable donations (“The most intolerable and the most immediate suffering is that of the Palestinian people...”) but my contention is that, like too many patriotic statements made about Canada, it’s all about perceptions on how we view money, compared to those "selfish, greedy" Americans.
Why the automatic mistrust towards the incentive to make money (the "evil" of the Profit Motive)? Why the reflex fear of having money (the "evil" of being "rich")? Sadly, Canadians seem to not trust themselves nearly as much as our neighbors to the south trust themselves. Surely, the more we make, the more we can share. The more prosperous we can become, the more charitable we can afford to be. The incentive to denigrate wealth creation, seems to come from a lack of trust, of oneself and one’s group. It is not “money” that is the root of all evil, it is “Love of money [that] is the root of all evil” (I Tim.6:10).
It would be, of course, naïve to automatically expect all human beings to always act in their own enlightened self-interest. Being human, we are part animal, and will frequently fall prey to our instinct to think and act in ways that satisfy short-term, not long-term, opportunities.
Is it possible to define ourselves only in the negative? Ultimately no, it is not sufficient, for there needs to be another point of comparison to measure against, in order to establish a more complete identity. We should not think in purely binary terms, “this or that”. We need to think in broader terms, along a scale, so that we may shift ourselves closer to one extreme or to another. By recognizing a broader range, we can narrow our choices to a more accurate representation.
We look at animals, and beyond their family or pack, their "tribe", we do not see them sharing their goods. Should we look at the human animal, and see him as only capable of similar behavior? It’s an easier riddle to solve, if we suggest three choices, rather than just two. “Man will never share”, vs “man will always share”, can be discounted as too absolutist; is not the more likely choice to be, “man will share, sometimes”?
A principle, not a rule.
A Golden Mean, balanced between two extremes.
Canada and the United States of America were created as nations with different understandings of where man’s trust of himself should be placed along this scale. Up here, right or wrong, better or worse, by retaining our attachment to our british identity rather than joining the colonies in rebellion, we chose a definition of ourselves as less trustworthy than our neighbors to the south. We chose to believe that we are not as able to view materialism as a means to an end. We chose to be suspicious of the profit motive, we chose to be suspicious of wealth, suspicious of ourselves.
We created Canada.
We erect enormous social safety nets to catch those who fall, because we presume they will be left to rot, unassisted by their fellows. We deny the likelyhood of charity through heavy taxation. In doing so, do we not deny mankind its proper birthright, as being positioned between two extremes? Between, at one extreme, the animal kingdom, and its self-oriented materialism, and the other, a vision of god, with all its implied spiritual elevation above the material?
Canadians do not trust themselves, as a people, as much as Americans trust themselves, to do the right thing. Whether this is a major cause of the anti-american hatred that fuels so many canadians in these sad times, I leave for another post. (mostly because I have no idea!)
It is genuinely hard to see beyond the present, and the needs of the present. To see past and future, involves a great deal of faith... and trust in the potential for change.
"Yes, I tell you that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:23-24)
I read this, not as praise of poverty, but as admission that charity is sacred. Charitable contributions being extracted at the point of a gun, through taxation, is not charity, since there is no element of choice. The difficulty of the choice, does not mean it's impossible. It's just hard. Allowing citizens to make the choice for themselves, involves a degree of trust and faith. And hope. Surely our covenant, as participants in the shared experience of this nation, should aspire to a vision of mankind that is capable of positive growth, of change for the better?
If we are to define ourselves by what we are not, let's look upward, towards spiritual magnificience, not downwards, towards an animal-oriented definition for ourselves; let's presume we are capable of more, not delude ourselves that we are doomed to be less.
An embrace of the potential for good. That's my vision for Canada.