Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Not quite ready, aye...

I really enjoyed the way this article illustrates the feelings of the majority of Canadians who, while supporting the war on terrorism, were unable to condone or justify an invasion of Iraq based on the evidence that had been presented, and why the differences of thought occur between American and Canadian citizens. It certainly expresses what I sometimes strive to articulate when my views are questioned or challenged, so I will reprint it here for you to read.

This article was written by MICHAEL ADAMS on Tuesday, May 20th 2003, for the Globe and Mail. Michael Adams is President of the Environics (research) group of companies and author of Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, published by Penguin this month.

Neighbours growing apart

Nothing in history is inevitable. But I believe the U.S. decision to invade Iraq — and Canada's decision not to participate — both make sense in the context of the increasingly divergent values of the people of the two nations.

Since the early 1980s in Canada and the early 1990s in the United States, my colleagues and I have been tracking the social values of North Americans. For us, values are the beliefs that motivate people to behave the way they do in their roles as parents, employees, consumers and citizens. Our research was conducted before 9/11 and before the United States, in defiance of the United Nations Security Council, led coalition forces into a war of regime change in Iraq.

Even before these momentous events, our research was showing us the cultural seeds of divergent American and Canadian decisions. In 41 of the 56 comparable trends in our data, we found strong evidence of dissimilar values in Canada and the U.S. On 24 trends, the gap actually widened between 1992 and 2000. At a time when the political, economic and technological forces of globalization suggested convergence, Canadians' social values were becoming more distinct from those of Americans.

The portrait of these two distinct societies of North America starts with a comparison of their religious convictions. We know that Christian fundamentalism has far deeper and more enduring roots in the U.S., particularly in the Bible Belt, than in Canada. Yet not so long ago, we were more conventionally religious. In the mid-1950s, 60 per cent of Canadians told pollsters they went to church each Sunday; the proportion in the U.S. then was only 50 per cent. Today, only a fifth of Canadians claim weekly church attendance, whereas the proportion in the U.S. is four in 10. A 2002 Pew Research Center poll found religion to be important to six in 10 Americans (the highest proportion of all the developed nations it surveyed) and to only three in 10 Canadians, a rate similar to that found in Britain and Italy. In less than a generation, Canadians have evolved from being much more religious than Americans to being much less religious.

When President George W. Bush inadvertently referred to American plans for the Middle East as a "crusade," he was speaking to the majority of his citizens who see the war in Iraq as fulfilling biblical prophecies. Only a small proportion of Canadians hold these same views (there is not even consensus among practising Christians). Our leaders invoke not the Christian God but the secular principles and the man-made rules of international law.

Since the 1950s, many Canadians have begun to replace traditional religious authority with either secular humanism or more personal spirituality. Americans seem to cling to institutions, particularly religious institutions as anchors in a chaotic, Darwinian society.

Further evidence of Canadians' growing predilection for personal autonomy over institutional authority is their orientation to leadership. When asked whether decisions in an organization should be made by one person or as many people as possible, 28 per cent of Canadians in 1996 preferred one person. We found a similar proportion in 2000. In the U.S., the story was marginally different in 1996 (31 per cent wanted the leader to make the decisions), but significantly different in 2000 when 38 per cent wanted the boss to decide.

All this deference to authority south of the border was registered before 9/11. After those terrorist attacks, the proportion of Americans wanting their commander-in-chief to take change has gone through the roof. Canada has seen no similar surge in support for dirigiste leadership.

To monitor orientation to nationalism, we asked respondents in each country if they enjoyed showing foreigners how much smarter and stronger "we" are than "they." Reflecting our increasingly modest place on this planet, only 17 per cent of Canadians in 1992 said they enjoyed demonstrating Canadian superiority, a proportion that dropped to 14 per cent in 2000. Consistent with the view from CNN and Fox News, the numbers in the U.S. are much higher: 27 per cent in 1992, and 31 per cent in 2000, more than double the proportion in Canada.

American deference to patriarchal and hierarchical authority in the hyperpatriotic post-9/11 environment has led to much rallying about the flag. Even half of Democrats polled feel it is unpatriotic to question their president, and the American Civil Liberties Union warns of a climate of severely muffled dissent and debate in that country. Just ask the Dixie Chicks.

Canada has a leader of the opposition whose job it is to question the prime minister and his government. Not questioning the prime minister is seen as a failure if not of democratic verve, then of intelligence. Who is the leader of the opposition in the United States — Michael Moore? Our research suggests that it is the supposedly bold, individualistic Americans who are the nodding conformists, and the supposedly shy, deferential and law-abiding Canadians who are most likely to assert their personal autonomy and political agency.

In U.S. politics, to quote political sociologist Ben Wattenberg, "values matter most." The strongest values of Bush supporters in the 2000 campaign in our research had to do with family, ethics, religiosity, duty and propriety. True to the values he stressed in pre-9/11 America, the newly elected President instituted a suit-and-tie dress code in the White House and cut off foreign aid to groups that might counsel abortion as an option in family planning.

In 2000, the U.S. electoral system elected a president predisposed to moralism, religiosity and patriarchal authority. He seemed at sea until that day when 19 fanatical disciples of Osama bin Laden hijacked those airplanes. Suddenly, he was in a presidential role not seen since Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, in a revenge movie whose plot is familiar: Establish moral superiority, wait for provocation — and blow them away.

North of the border, meanwhile, Canadians responded to 9/11 with heartfelt sympathy and outrage, but also with many questions. They asked why young Muslims would do what they did in New York and Washington. Canadians supported their government's decision to participate in the war on terrorism, but, like many around the world, did not think the U.S. government had made a convincing case for the invasion of Iraq. Moreover, they were determined to support the UN. The individual autonomy Canadians wanted for themselves, they also wanted for their government.

Values do matter most.

And the large and widening gap between the values of ordinary Canadians and Americans — and between the governments both societies elect or choose — have never been more apparent than in the post-9/11 world.

The minority of Canadians who say "Ready, aye, ready" in support of America's global Monroe Doctrine will remain a minority and are fortunate to live in a country where minority opinion is encouraged.

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