Hey, Good for you, eh! (Note: Not posted to inflame - I just found it interesting - the poll is a joke - maybe a bad one, but a joke nonetheless.)
Dec. 8, 2002. 01:00 AM
It's not our fault we're morally superior to U.S.
Without intending to — his effect was actually the exact opposite of his intent — Deputy Prime Minister John Manley was praising Canadians lavishly the other day when he scolded them for harbouring a feeling of "moral superiority" toward Americans.
In fact, he's largely right in his description. Not that Canadians are morally superior to Americans, or to anyone. Our principal superior quality is that we are a lot luckier than anyone else — lots of natural wealth, lots of space, no enemies, no superpower or colonial responsibilities. (Calling the U.S. president a "moron" is, to get that out of the way early, utterly moronic.)
But a fair number of Canadians do feel morally superior to Americans. Manley, who has a distinctly schoolmasterly tone whenever pronouncing on this topic — earlier he called Canadians "immature" in their attitudes toward Americans — said this was "a sign of our insecurity."
In his diagnosis, he is dead wrong. Doubly dead wrong.
First, for Canadians to feel this way, even if wholly unjustified, is a sign of national self-confidence. It makes us unique in the world.
Lots of others resent Americans, envy them, wish they'd get out of their faces. Some people hate Americans. Many others love them. Lots of people both love them and hate them.
Only Canadians, though, dare to feel morally superior to them.
It's quite challenging to understand why we should be so bold. My own guess is it's because we feel we are better North Americans than they are; that is, we jointly possess most of the essential attributes of being a North American — optimism, love of freedom, a sense of limitless possibilities — but, in addition, have done a better job of being a collective, of having a sense of solidarity.
However you parse all of that, a lot of Canadians feel in no way inferior to Americans, even while immensely admiring their energy, their competitiveness, their boldness, their patriotism.
The big exception to this rule is the right-wing, neo-cons who want Canadians to become as indistinguishable as possible from Americans (two-tier medicine and the rest).
If all of this is good for us — certainly a lot better than our traditional, self-deprecatory foot-shuffling — it's also good for Americans.
They are absolutely certain they are superior to everyone else. Americans absorb with their mothers' milk a conviction that they are an exceptional nation, a city on the hill, a light unto others.
And then at the very moment when all of these presumptions do seem close to being confirmed — America as today's Rome — there comes from the distant, frigid north, a voice saying, "No. We're better."
What's so terrible about that? Is Manley saying that Americans cannot stand to be challenged, that they would collapse into self-doubt if another people say steadily, insistently, that the American way isn't necessarily the absolute best way?
A legitimate source of concern to worrywarts like Manley is that there should be a rise in anti-Americanism in Canada at a time when Americans are so patriotic and so likely to take offence.
Except that anti-Americanism is on the decline in Canada. As it should be.
A huge international poll on attitudes toward the U.S. was released days ago in Washington. In most countries there has been a distinct deterioration in the U.S. image since the last comparable poll, in 1999/2000 or before the attacks on New York.
In Italy, support for the U.S. has dropped from 76 per cent to 70 per cent, in Germany from 78 per cent to 61 per cent, in Britain from 83 per cent to 75 per cent. In Muslim states — unsurprisingly — support has plummeted, down to 10 per cent in Pakistan.
Canada is one of the very few exceptions. Here, the U.S.' favourable image has inched up, from 71 per cent to 72 per cent.
This doesn't mean anti-American stupidities don't exist here. But specific examples are difficult to find. Often, they are merely criticisms of U.S. foreign policy, which, even if unjustified, are perfectly proper to make, in contrast to boneheaded generalities about the American way of life.
Back to the main point. Quite a few Canadians do feel morally superior to Americans. If that nettles some Americans, good — it might help them to understand how the rest of the world feels about Americans' overwhelming presumption of superiority to everyone and everything.
As a bonus, it's good for Canadians to feel cocky in a thoroughly un-Canadian way.
Richard Gwyn appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at gwynR@sympatico.ca.