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.
From France-Echos:

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.


dag said...

We see eye to eye there, Charles.

I have ot wonder about parenting in this world of ours. Who teaches children values anymore? I've argued elsewhere that ours is a feral culture. Without a clear programme to educate children in meaningful values from which they can build menaingful lives we'll continue the spiral downward. We will be what we are not: we will be totally wrecked and ruined. We will be Muslims, desperate and lost people clinging to anything at all to save us from the mad nihilism of Left idiocy.

I, a man who is uninvolved in the world of society for the most part, have a better understanding of things than those who are in charge of the nation's children. Look: I wrote some bit of brilliance on "feral orthoprxy' and another on the infantalisation of the dhimmis in loco parentis. How is it I can know simple common sense things and our experts have not a clue?

Something's right wrong with this picture. When the middle class is raving loony I think it's time for a genuine rethink of the nation's sense of self and purpose. Who are we really? We can't be as crazy as we -- we obviously are!

That's something I am not.

Charles Henry said...

Thanks Dag,
"I have to wonder about parenting in this world of ours. Who teaches children values anymore?"

I think we see that fewer and fewer believe that such things can even be taught, as the left's view of man-as-animal with a fixed animal nature starts to overshadow our older view that man's fate can be self-directed. We can do evil, but we can also choose to do good.

Our national prosperity seems so natural, it is easy to take it for granted, that it simply always existed and will remain in existence, perpetually, independantly of our participation in its propagation. As if it's part of nature, much like how the flowers go away in the fall and return in the spring.

Some good people are so good, it's easy to treat that goodness as natural as well. We must remind ourselves that it's a choice. A choice made easier, or harder by circumstance, admittedly, but nevertheless a choice.
We can always choose to do right, to sit up straight, to not chew with our mouth open. To not be animals.

Much that is good, is not natural, it is us elevating our existence above the animal, above the natural. It is Second Nature. Learned Behavior.

"Without a clear programme to educate children in meaningful values from which they can build menaingful lives we'll continue the spiral downward."

I think this has to emerge from a clearer understanding of what it is we start out as, and what it is that we can become.
A greater belief in change.

truepeers said...

Great post, Charles. I'm in the midst of a fever and last night I had a great vision of what we can build with faith... just wish i could remember it :)

Mecca Cola? I wonder what Mohammed would have thought of that? Has anyone asked - wasn't cola first chosen as a name in an appeal to western romaticization of South American, narcotic-chewing pagans?

In some sense, English Canada began as a welfare state, the refugees from the revolution being rewarded with grants of land by their protector, the king. Still, arguably from after the second American civil war to the 1960s, the US had a larger welfare state than Canada. Perhaps we have fallen out of touch with something important in our own history.

Charles Henry said...

do you think that the motivation behind choosing a new flag in the mid-60s, is tied into this change?

There must have been a lot of anti-traditionalist sentiment around, for something so integral to the nation to have been cast aside, and "improved".