Skip to comments.Americans, as a rule, believe
Posted on 12/01/2004 8:40:35 AM PST by UpHereEh
In the days and weeks before President Bush's visit, the Canadian media were busy performing their appointed ritual on such occasions -- well, all occasions, really -- reminding Canadians of the many and profound ways in which they are different from Americans. In case these should momentarily escape notice.
A snap poll commissioned by The Globe and Mail, for example, found that 84% of Canadians feel their children receive a good education, whereas only 59% of Americans believe this. Which proves ... what? That Canadians are more complacent? That Canadians are more gullible? That more Canadians are teachers?
The traditional cottage industry in minor differences has experienced something of a boom of late, spurred on by the much-quoted pollster Michael Fire and Ice Adams, whose research suggests that Canadians are more compassionate, more tolerant, more concerned about the environment, and so on -- attitudes that by an amazing coincidence just happen to correspond exactly with his own.
But then, the evidence is all around us: gay marriage, marijuana decriminalization, Kyoto, issues ripped from the headlines, showing how much the two countries have diverged in recent years. Except they haven't. To read the press, you'd never know that opinion is just as divided on gay marriage in Canada as it is in the United States -- so much so that no government has yet dared to legislate on it; that eight American states have already decriminalized simple possession of pot, while it remains a crime in every part of Canada; that the government of Canada has no more intention of meeting its Kyoto targets than does the Bush administration. (As it happens, I favour all three. I just don't pretend to speak for all Canadians.)
Adams's work is particularly egregious, inasmuch as it assumes what it sets out to prove: namely, that the key indicator of social values is nationality, that the best predictor of how a person thinks is whether they live north or south of the 49th. In fact, when data from the two countries is disaggregated by region, a far different picture emerges. Across much of Canada and the United States, attitudes are broadly similar, with two outliers: Quebec (more liberal) and the South (more conservative). It is the subnational distinctions that count; what are observed at the national level are simply muted echoes of these.
It's only if one is looking for differences on national lines that these can be forced to emerge, their significance in turn depending on overlooking the much larger areas of congruence. In other words, it's a scam, part of the nationalists' long campaign to recreate the Canadian nation in their own image.
There is one area of life, however, in which the distinction is genuine: religion. A much larger percentage of Americans profess a religion than do Canadians -- larger, in fact, than in any other Western democracy. This is commonly written off as some peculiar American eccentricity, like their exalted sense of patriotism. In fact both are quite explicable, and stem from a common source.
It isn't just in religious matters that Americans are more likely to be believers: it's true in general. Americans, as a rule, believe. They believe in themselves, they believe in their ideals, they believe in their country. Or rather, they believe in their country because they believe in their ideals.
The American who salutes the flag, who tears up at the anthem, is not indulging in some cheap sentiment or mindless ritual. Rather, he is saluting "the republic for which it stands" -- not the state, as such, but the ideals it embodies: about the rights of the individual, about the prerogatives of society, about the relationship between the two. What is significant in this is not that he should invest so much of his ideals in the American state, but that he has so much in the way of ideals to invest.
This unique capacity for belief obviously owes much to America's origins, both religious and revolutionary. But in larger part, I think, it inheres in a sense of responsibility. As citizens of the mightiest power on Earth, on which the very freedom of the world depends, they do not have the luxury of cynicism. An American president could challenge his citizens to "ask what you can do for your country," to "pay any price, bear any burden," and expect them to respond affirmatively. The thought would not occur to a Canadian prime minister.
You see, in Canada we gave up believing years ago: in religion, in ideals, in much of anything, really. Secure as we were under the American defence umbrella, we were infantilized; having no need to defend ourselves, we could not understand why anyone else would have more. Or perhaps it was this: having renounced even the wish to defend ourselves, having absorbed the notion that the country could be destroyed at any moment by a vote of half the population of one province, what was left to believe?
If we cannot even bring ourselves to believe in the country's existence -- as a first principle, from which all others follow -- how is it possible to take a definitive stand on any other question? And so, by and large, we haven't.
Very interesting column...
I am one of those Americans who attends church, who salutes the flag, and who tears up when singing The Star Spangled Banner.
It had never occurred to me that it is an American trait to believe in something.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out something like that.
the Stars and Stripes flys from my porch, I tear up when I hear the Star Spangled Banner and I love my American grandkids. I AM CANADIAN.
Another Albertan here...someone noticed this morning that Bush was wearing a small USA emblem in his lapel..Martin was not wearing a similar Canadian emblem. A tiny thing in the scheme of world news..but even so it shows who is the most passionate about his country.
Even though I live in the Washington, DC (and have since 1974), I grew up in Nebraska, where I still have family.
I have been to Canada several times -- but I have never been to Alberta.
If the people of Alberta are as hospitable, kind, and generous as the people of my home state (and I sense that they are), then I must make a trip to Alberta a priority.
Most likely, a trip to Alberta for me would involve a trip during the Spring or Summer.
Excellent observation and very symbolic of the differences between our countries.
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