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9 October 2009

Canadians are never alone

Did you read the title of this post? That’s one argument made in “Letter from Canada: The Return of the Native,” Adam Gopnik’s recent New Yorker profile about Canadian academic-cum-politician Michael Ignatieff.

I am going to find a way to tie this notion to independent rock’n’roll, just you wait.

In contrast to our northern neighbors, the profile says Americans are strident individualists. Maybe that’s why Ignatieff is pointing at us in that photo up there: “You, yes you, I see you, you selfish bastard.”

The article spends a fair bit of time detailing the prime controversy of Ignatieff’s new political career. He spent much of the ’80s & ’90s away from his native Canada, teaching in the US & Europe and establishing his reputation; his emergence on the Canadian political stage caused some to paint him as an expat carpetbagger. Where the profile shines, however, is in its detailing why his long time residency outside of Canada matters.

Most Americans don’t consider Canadian identity to be distinct from that of us in the US. This article is passionate about the fact that it is. The argument is that Canadians often embrace the collective will over unhindered, American-style individual liberty. A key quote and my indie rock connection after the jump.

“We are not, and have never been, the Canadian collectivists argue — in conscious opposition to older Anglo-American traditions — the rational individuals of liberal contract theory. No man is an island, and rules made for imaginary islands ignore the fragile ecology of the actual archipelago. We are people who live in communities, and our sense of who we are derives from what the people around us like. To exalt the individual and his rights at the expense of nurturing the tenuous threads of togetherness leads violence, alienation, political apathy, and the growth of crazy movements that can supply, in moonshine form, the sense of solidarity that pure ‘rights’ liberalism can’t — the very traits that Canadians see in a nearby country, they name no names.”

Now, I am the first to admit that Canada has its fair share of loner loonies. But can we credit the success of large, amorphously organized Canadian bands like Arcade Fire, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Broken Social Scene to that nation’s yearning for collective decision making? Raising this as a possible explanation may strike you as facetious but I’m quite serious.

I will leave it to you to determine if the BSS video which follows is the result of collectivism or silliness.

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis

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  1. On 2009-10-9 K-sky said:

    Setting aside for a minute the collective ethos of the various bands, you can definitely assume that the more generous Canadian social sector makes it easier to start a band. From Yglesias:

    Consider that in the United States quitting your day job to focus on your promising band can have dire implications for your ability to obtain health insurance. This is particularly the case if you have the misfortune of a pre-existing medical condition. An up-and-coming Canadian or British guitarist is taking a financial risk by choosing to focus on the band, but an American can be really putting his life on the line.

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