Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Torch song for my ge-ge-generation

(This started out as a comment on Dana's lament for a nation the other day and as any good comment, it kind pof got out of control, so I thought I might as well turn it into a post of its own. Go get a drink, this may take a while)

Dana, one my fellow inkstained wretches over at the Galloping Beaver, appears to have the blues lately about the direction Canada is headed.

Not without reason-- Dana is not some green-as-grass kid who hasn't seen hard times. He's 60 years old, of my dad's generation more or less, so he's been around a while and hardly seems prone to alarmism. If he's worried, he's got his reasons. Admittedly, things have been a bit crappy of late, what with Steve Harper and Conservatives trying to turn the clocks back to what they think 1955 looked like, our troops involved in a quagmire of a war overseas, our neighbour to the south is sliding more rapidly toward fascism, the environment suffering, the mounties murdering immigrants in the Vancouver airport. Hell - its been 15 years since the Habs- or any other Canadian team- won the cup. In short, things are looking like that Loudon Wainwright song.

Dana seems convinced that Canada is headed back to its pre 1967 greyness.

"Once again we becoming a parochial, timid, repressed, subservient, narrow minded people subtly suppressed by both church and state into a kind of numbing grey fog of judgemental apathy."

Nope, not gonna happen Dana.

Not on my generation's watch.

I know I throw a lot of negativity around on this blog, and I'm not always a "glass half full" kinda guy, but I'm happy to shed sunshine on your parade for a change.

Not to be glib, but don' t let the bastards get you down. And by bastards I mean the people of your generation that spent the '60s in doors bitching about hippies and not having any fun. The offspring of the very "ruling elites" you speak of in your eloquent post. Those people are heading into the sunset as we speak.

Those people who think we need to drag Canada back to the 1950's are the people who grew up then -- your generation. For me and mine, who grew up in the 60's and 70's with multiculturalism, a burgeoning non-white immigrant population, no church on Sunday and daily French classes, that notion of a lily-white, monolingual (except or the "frogs") Christian conservative nation in thrall to England or the United States just ain't gonna fly any more.

Despite what the fundamentalist whackjobs would have you believe, the churches are largely finished as a political force in Canada. Nearly 20% of us are non-believers now.
Just look what happened to John Tory in the Ontario election if you want to see how Canadians feel these days about mixing religion and politics. Twenty years from now, I think we will have gotten rid of public funding for Catholic schools.

We are now a mostly urban, cosmopolitan society. Politically, we are just waiting for the distribution of seats in the House of Commons to catch up with reality - right now rural voters wield disproportionate power, but that can't, and won't last.

International globalization, increased global mobility and cultural diversity have taken their toll on the notion that everything those people do overseas is weird and inferior. More Canadians have traveled to or are from other parts of the world now than ever before. When you were growing up, the idea that you or your peers would just jump on jet and go to Thailand on a week-long vacation, or go to live in Japan or China or Hungary or Peru for a few years, just for the hell of it, was largely beyond the pale. Not anymore.

Social mobility and education are at an all time high, racism and xenophobia at a historic low, despite the best efforts of Global and FOX news and the SUN newspapers to keep us parochial and provincial, Canadians like to play in the big sandbox and we like to invite others in to play in our sandbox. The last two censuses have shown that just over half the population of Toronto were born outside Canada. That was probably true in your parents day too, but now most of those people aren't from the British Isles any more. Can you imagine the impact that has for diversifying our national culture? Toronto is now one of the most international cities in the world, with Vancouver - once a hive of British expatriate remittance men - a close second and a thriving center of Asian-Western cultural crossover. The stuffy old reactionaries and the young fogies decry this, but most people my age and younger celebrate it or accept it as established fact. The day of the WASP ruling class is over.

For your parents generation a racially mixed marriage would have been unthinkable, even a religiously mixed one would have been scandalous. For your generation, Catholic and Protestants intermarrying was acceptable, but miscegenation was still very, very rare. Today, it barely rates a raised eyebrow among my generation, and is commonplace among those younger. Third and fourth generation immigrants don't feel limited to their own ethnic or racial group any more.

Sure there are the cultural dead-enders, the Reform Party dinosaurs, the rednecks and the racists - but they are the minority and most of them are aging fast. I look at the changes in society that have occurred since my childhood and fully expect that progress to continue.

In your lifetime, marijuana has gone from "reefer madness" to being grown by the government as medicine. Social mores have undergone tectonic shifts: Homosexuality has gone from being a jailable offence to legal gay marriage. We've had a Chinese immigrant and now a Haitian immigrant, both women, as Governor-General. Try convincing your 16 year-old self back in 1960 that would ever happen.

Where once things like police brutality, domestic violence, institutionalized racism and sexism, even drunk driving were accepted as normal, a broad swath of the population now decry them to the extent that they have gradually have become recognized as the criminal behaviours they are.

I'm 40 and when I think of the changes in society since I was a kid, I'm amazed. When I was kid, it wasn't unusually to hear the word "nigger" - otherwise respectable people told "paki" jokes - and women like my mom were just starting to enter the work force in large numbers for the first time since WW2.

Yes, there are conservatives my age and even younger. Not all the people that voted for Harper and listen to Michael Coren are cranky old reactionaries, some of them are young enough to know better. But they are vocal minority, especially in blogosphere. They gather in their little gangs and tell each other it will be all right, that white men still run the country and that their tiny little island of ignorance will not be swamped by the rising tide of cosmopolitanism. They blog and they rant on the radio and even run for office, but they have lost the culture war in Canada and it is just a rear-guard action.

I listen to what people in their 20s say today and realize to my delight that in terms of social justice, human rights and equality the things that progressives fought for in my childhood are now taken for granted. A woman working, even in senior management is normal. Yes, there is still something of a glass ceiling and there is no equal pay for equal work yet, but thirty years ago who even expected such things would be an issue? Things like racist jokes and epithets are no longer tolerated by society at large. A few curmudgeons moan about "political correctness" and how "manholes are manholes not personholes" but they carry no weight with anyone any more. No one thinks twice about saying letter carrier instead of mailman, or police officer instead of policeman. No one under 50 is surprised by a female doctor, lawyer or judge or a male nurse.

Don't let the FOX news - SUN newspaper extremists get you down. They are a dying breed. They've lost the culture war in Canada and they know it, that's why they're so vicious. The old tools of control - the churches, the schools, social pressure - are lost to them. How successful has the "wear red on Fridays to show support for the war" campaign been? Compare that to the number of people now willing to sort their trash for recycling.

Look at the situation on native issues - 40 years ago the Mohawks at Caledonia would have been thrown in jail, if they were lucky, 60 years ago they likely would have gotten off with a severe beating, 100 years ago they'd be dead. Look how many people sided with the natives over the Meech Lake Accord. There is obviously still a lot of progress to be made, but we are making baby steps toward it.

Humans are an impatient species and progress never comes fast enough for those that really need it now, but it does come over time. We should not let our guard down. We must continue to fight to make Canada the country it can be, and keep striving to make the world a better place. Eternal vigilance and all that rah rah crap is true to a degree, but in Canada, we are past the tipping point. The bell can't be unrung. We will never go back to the year of my birth, grey old 1966.

We won. And we will keep on winning.

My generation is now moving filling the middle rungs of the corporate and political ladder, in 15 years we will be the old fogies and those 20 year olds I mentioned will be next in line to run the show. And they think we are too uptight, conservative and traditional. Onward and upward.

(Unless Harper wins a majority government, then we're all off kicking and screaming to the reeducation camps to get our minds lets not let that happen by bickering about who should lead the opposition or who is more ideologically pure, let's just send Steverio back the basement apartment in Calgary where he belongs.)

Cheers, Dana. Go get yourself a glass half full of something aged a sufficient number of years and toast the future.

Can I get an "amen"?

"Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high."

(cross posted from the woodshed, and hey, the Habs are kicking ass this year

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