I hadn’t read John Ralston Saul’s book “A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada”, so I was happy that Patrick brought this talk from TVO’s Big Ideas to my attention. Ralston Saul’s thinking resonated in me. In particular the idea of hybrid identity resonates with me as a German-Canadian making sense of post-modernity.
To Ralston Saul, Canada was upon arrival of Europeans an aboriginal civilization of minorities, 2 million people coexisting in this land with many cultures and languages while contemporary Canada continues to exist as a country of 30 million as a mixed set of cultures and languages. This coherent sense of a polyglot civilization of complexity that Ralston Saul describes makes Canada not a new country, but a very old country. He claims that contrary to our mythology, we are not a child of Europe in the Americas, we are in our philosophy the most American country in North America while the United States is the largest experiment of European ideas that happens to be taking place outside Europe.
He claims that what works in the Canadian civilization can’t be traced back to Europe. It is a country of aboriginal inspiration, where complexity and mixedness is more interesting than clarity and homogeneity. Newcomers, in order to survive in this harsh environment, had to aboriginize themselves. They mixed with aboriginals and created a new people, the Metis. It is the only place Europeans colonized where they abandoned European modes of transportation and adopted local modes, in this case the canoe. Champlain said “our sons will marry your daughters and we will make one people”. Hudson’s Bay Company employees were under instructions to arrange marriages with the daughters of local chiefs to create military and trade alliances.
Today, we live with complexity, with multiple levels of government, with accepting differences among us. We’re a nonmonolithic nation-state. We adore negotiating, living comfortably with unresolved questions of clarity, we are in a constant state of negotiation and renegotiation. We are constantly thinking about how we can comingle individual and group rights in our Charter of Rights and constitution. Our approach to belonging, our approach to immigration and our capacity to adapt. We have taken the idea of the aboriginal Great Circle and worked through how to bring people into it. The oral traditions of aboriginal treaty rights are integrated into our legal foundations.
Ralston Saul argues for an urgent need for the incorporation of true Canadian philosophy and mythology into our sociology and political science. Harold Innis and Marshall Mcluhan and theories of communication came from here but we think they’re less important than Rousseau.