Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Brilliant explanation of why Americans are more tolerant than Canadians

We link to a lot of writing at this blog. I think the following is really exceptional, brilliant in its lucid, straightforward illustration and explanation of basic questions - the nature of tolerance and freedom - we often muddle.

Pete Vere (co-author, with the equally exceptional Kathy Shaidle, of The Tyranny of Nice - the story of Canada's "human rights" commissions) tells a couple of stories to illustrate his keen argument. I'm not sure I believe the second story - Canada can't be that insane a place, can it? - but it doesn't really matter. Sometimes fiction is the best vehicle for clarifying truths otherwise muddled by our rhetorical habits:
...We talk about tolerance in Canada. More often than not, as our electoral choices show, Canadian tolerance is just an excuse to avoid discussing our differences. Thus Canadians stick to what’s comfortable, what’s least likely to offend the most people. We don’t want our differences to cause division and disrupt the social peace.

Americans, on the other hand, relish their differences. Tolerance is created by confronting their differences, then discovering that they share many of the same values and concerns. Americans understand, rightly, that tolerance is a product of free speech. The First Amendment allows them to get past their differences, correct misconceptions, and move on to more pressing issues.

As an aside, I recently spoke with a former neighbor who was even more segregationist than Bill. Yet he’s voting for Obama. I won’t repeat what he said about the Democratic nominee, “but at least he ain’t a Republican. I don’t have to visit the White House while he’s president.”

On the other hand, the folly of subjecting free speech to tolerance and multiculturalism was demonstrated to me during my undergraduate years at a small university in Northern Ontario. During multiculturalism and tolerance week, the university brought in a human rights ‘expert’ from Toronto. She worked for the government, if I recall correctly. She had come to address ‘lingering and systematic discrimination’ among the student body.

Her two prime examples? Two jewels of our Northeastern Ontario geography. Lake Nipissing contained the word ‘nip’ in it, this white woman said, which was a derogatory term for Asians. Obviously whoever named this lake was insensitive to the local Asian community. The other example was Manitoulin Island, which she cited as a misogynous reference to the first white males to settle the island.

Wrong on both counts, something she would have discovered had she brushed up on her local history before pontificating to us rubes living outside of the Greater Toronto Area. But as is so often the case, history and local culture are ignored by government bureaucrats seeking to impose by fiat their enlightened ideology.

In reality, both words are First Nations in origin. Nipissing is the Algonquin word for ‘big water’ and Manitoulin is the Ojibwe word for ‘spirit island’. In retrospect, it’s unfortunate our local First Nations communities did not lodge a human rights complaint over this. This is one complaint I would have supported.

The weeks following this incident were typical of Canadian tolerance and multiculturalism: Everybody avoided everyone different, for fear of giving offense. The Asians, who often visited the lake and who took no offense to the name, felt awkward around the First Nations students. The First Nations students felt persecuted by white people who had once again failed to understand their culture. And feminists and Caucasians didn’t disagree. The latter were horrified that this so-called ‘expert’ was one of them. But how to maneuver these tricky waters without further provoking the First Nations students or causing additional embarrassment to Asian students?

Everyone knew what the problem was. Yet nobody wanted to address it, less they be misinterpreted as intolerant. As for our human rights ‘expert’, she returned to Toronto, blissfully unaware of the division she had sowed among the student body.

Finally, two American students - both black, and both female - said what everyone else was thinking. “This is bullshit, and the only way to end it is to speak freely.”
Read the whole thing.

Pete and Kathy are releasing their new book on Canada's Human Rights Commissions/Tribunals next week. You can order The Tyranny of Nice, at this link.


Eowyn said...

"We talk about tolerance in Canada. More often than not, as our electoral choices show, Canadian tolerance is just an excuse to avoid discussing our differences.

"Thus Canadians stick to what’s comfortable, what’s least likely to offend the most people.

"We don’t want our differences to cause division and disrupt the social peace."

"Americans, on the other hand, relish their differences."


"Americans, on the other hand, relish their differences."


Those differences include the fact that I disagree with you, but the law allows -- ("The law" = read" what we have AGREED is the law) -- Gives you the right to disagree. AND the law allows us to hash out, in a court of law, what is right.

I don't need to remind you of these primary points of sommon sense.

But ... well, in todzy's world, these are things we must remind ourselves and our compatriots of, daily.

*Sigh* ... not easy to surf these curls.

We are living in interesting times, to say the least.

Eowyn said...

Ugh. Many apologies for typo errors.

And sincerely hoping errors don't lead to misunderstanding.

Charles Henry said...

well, in todzy's world...

I just thought you were back onto Tolkien again, Eowyn.. ;)

truepeers said...

I think it was George Jonas who was writing recently that when he came to Canada in the 40s or 50s one commonly heard, in response to a difference of opinion, the expression "well, it's a free country". He noted we don't say that much anymore...

Dag said...

George Jonas must have come here after the '56 revolt in Hungary against the Russians. That would make him an old guy, one not easily taken in by youthful fads and flights of childish fancy: an old guy who knows civil war and exile firsthand.

Today we have a case of ease that clouds the minds of many. Too bad, because it leads many to want to vote for creatures such as Osama Barka. It makes me sick. I can hardly sleep. I'm not near as old as Jonas and I can see it coming clearly. But many my age haven't got a clue and replace that with stupidity they burnish to a sheen. Scary.

Eowyn said...


You all are very tolerant of my (almost always) emotional responses :)

And thanks for seeing what I meant :)

We're all "Canadians" ... or "Americans" .... if we want what is right for ourselves and us all.