(Image Credit: Jacek Halicki via Wikimedia Commons; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
While ‘dominance of the finickiest’ is often found in advanced civilizations, Progressivism has weaponized it to keep chipping away at both the foundation and the pillars of Canadian society. Unless we stop this, the edifice may crumble.
A REAL MAZE
In an experience that has become all-too-frequent in current times, I stumbled upon a news report a couple of days ago, saying that the organizers of the Edmonton Corn Maze had to apologize for this year’s design of the maze, which was meant to commemorate RCMP’s 150th anniversary. The design featured the 150 logo, etched into the corn maze alongside a saluting Mountie. The report does not specify exactly who objected to this design, but instead quotes the owner and operator Jesse Kraay as saying that the statemen of apology was due to “some of the initial feedback that (they) received” for the design. This apology, in turn, fell afoul of some other people, so the Maze organizers had to issue a second statement to the effect that their earlier statement (of apology) did not amount to diminishing or devaluing the work that the RCMP do.
While it is trendy to bemoan the excessive scrutiny that the most mundane of actions and activities attract ‘nowadays’, the fact is that the combination of pettifogging and meddling is built into human nature. I think the only difference in current times, which leads to the ‘nowadays’ comment from many, is that information about such instances travels far and wide. If this was a new phenomenon, then terms such as ‘busybody’ wouldn’t exist. Nor is this human trait limited by geography – in my mother tongue, the word for ‘pettifoggery’ is ‘chanchu-paat’ (which literally means ‘pushing one’s beak into something’). Here, it is noteworthy that ‘chanchu-paat’ is actually a Sanskrit word, and therefore can be found in many languages of the Indian subcontinent. In a nutshell, the history of observing pettifoggery goes back a few thousand years. So, what is different about the current rash of instances of pettifogging that rankles among so many Canadians? Some personal experiences of mine may offer a clue.
HUNG OUT TO DRY
On a typical blisteringly hot August afternoon in the UAE, I found my colleague Kurien laughing while looking outof the window. “What’s up?” I asked. Kurien pointed at an apartment on the fourth floor of the adjoining building. Following Kurien’s gaze, I found myself looking at three pairs of jeans hanging on a clothesline in its balcony. Even without knowing anything about the occupants of that apartment, one could tell that the pairs belonged, respectively, to a man, a woman and a child. So, this was a young family. There were literally thousands of these in Sharjah. To put it mildly, it was the most mundane sight ever, and I struggled to identify the source of Kurien’s mirth. I looked at Kurien with questioning eyes.
He pointed to the screen of his desktop computer. It showed a news story from Malaysia about a controversy surrounding clotheslines. The gist of it was that stringing up designer underwear on clotheslines as a display of one’s financial status had become a bit of a trend in Kuala Lumpur, and this wasn’t sitting well with religious fundamentalists and an assortment of control freaks. They were demanding that the government prohibit the practice of using clotheslines altogether, especially in apartment buildings. Their opponents were seeing this as an excessive intrusion by the State into people’s private lives. “Talk about a dispute over clean laundry.” Kurien said, “People create issues over the darnedest of things.”
I was reminded of this anecdote in 2008, when the government of Ontario lifted the ban on outdoor clotheslines. It was part of their green push and was meant to enable Ontarians to cut down on energy consumption. Given our climate, however, it was unclear as to how far this would be feasible. One good measure of its relevance is provided by the fact that when another government later reinstituted the ban (in 2018), there was no hue and cry over the issue. In fact, that development passed mostly unnoticed. But this does bring to our attention the fact that governments often feel the urge to enact regulations affecting the minutiae of life – and sometimes, these interventions may have actual consequences for those to whom these laws / regulations apply. At other times, similar restrictions or regulations are demanded and enforced by pressure from citizen constituencies, with similarly dismissive attitude to the consequences.
One day in Nairobi, my colleague Eric told me about his son’s birthday party. The boy had turned five, and Eric’s father had given him a hen as a birthday gift. I asked Eric what that was about. Eric explained that the boy was supposed to care for the hen by himself, and that as he grew older, he would be given more livestock. At some point, he would have a goat as well. This didn’t strike me as particularly odd; I had grown up seeing people keep different kinds of animals in my city. For the most part, these were chickens and goats, but the occasional cow or buffalo wasn’t unheard of; these helped people at the lower end of the financial spectrum to supplement their income nicely.
It therefore came as a surprise for me to learn in 2012 that the city of Toronto had a ban on keeping chickens on residential property. I learned this because a dozen-odd Torontonians had defied the ban, and the Licensing and Standards Committee of the City Council unanimously voted against the idea of even studying the feasibility of allowing ‘urban hens’. I thought that at some point of time in the past, it must have been common for people in Toronto to keep chickens in their backyards.
In liberal societies, when a large number of people inhabit one location, the rules of behavior increasingly accommodate the preferences of the most finicky inhabitants. However, this rule is not without exception. For example, when a society espouses multiculturalism, it implicitly adopts the goal of accommodating behavior that most members may find to be irksome.
BUILDING ON A PLATFORM
As I explored in the very first episode of my podcast ‘Our Canadian Journey’, when a government takes a pre-existing arrangement that most people were in agreement with, and then expands it to the point of weaponization, that government moves in the direction of being a dictatorial one. I had also pointed out in that episode that ‘democracy’ and ‘dictatorship’ do not form a dichotomy, but rather, are opposing extremes on a continuum. Therefore, a democratically elected government can validly be said to be acting in a dictatorial manner in a given instance. The same logic can be applied to societies as well: the society of a democratic country can indeed act in a manner that seeks to impose the will of some people on others, against the wishes of the latter and in defiance of democratic norms. It is important to remember here that the number of people on either side is irrelevant. A majority will can be imposed on a minority in violation of democratic tenets, and vice versa.
I believe this is the aspect that makes the current chanchu-paat from (mainly, if not exclusively) Progressives a novel phenomenon: they have taken a human trait that has existed since the dawn of time, and corralled it into complaints against the institutions and history that together constitute the foundation on which Canada was built, and the pillars on which the Canadian society stands. They may seem like isolated instances such as a defiled monument here and a toppled statue there, but the effect of these instances is cumulative. This is how you end up in a situation where the acronym ACAB – which, in any other context, would be deemed highly offensive and would have invited negative consequences for anyone using it – barely raises an eyebrow or two. If we consider ‘Canadian identity’ to be composed of its institutions and history, then that identity is suffering death by a thousand cuts as a consequence of the targeted pettifoggery by Progressives.
Another important difference is that now, the chanchu-paat-ers have the backing of the State. Sometimes, this backing is overt, and at other times it is tacit. The choice between overt and tacit requires nimble judgement, which sometimes becomes a tricky thing to do, for example, when it was revealed that the group protesting a government-approved fossil fuel project had received funding from the government. Thus, on occasion, things become uncomfortable for the people in government (or in the political class, more generally), and at these times, they are witnessed wriggling away via a narrow lane – but when push comes to shove, you know which side they are going to come down on. The long and short of this exercise is that the State is condoning / encouraging / funding / participating in the targeted chanchu-paat that has the effect of undermining the State itself. While the condoning / encouraging / funding / participation is done for the personal gain of the individual politician, the adverse consequences fall on the State, and thence on the Canadian society.
It would be natural to believe that the State’s support of / participation in these pernicious tendencies would change with a change in government. However, the reality is that these forces have acquired significant momentum. A big part of this support comes from legacy media, who have unequivocally hitched their wagons to Progressivism. If and when the Conservative party forms government, it will face an uphill task in restoring Canadian institutions and history to their former places of glory – or at least, grudging respect. The only real antidote to this poison is a social revival. I am tempted to say here that we unfortunately don’t have the kind of thought leaders, or if you will, reformers, who can ignite the spark that can lead us to this revival. But if I did, I would be wrong – there is much that is extraordinary about ‘ordinary’ people. Therefore, I am confident that this revival will come. The only uncertainty in my mind relates to how much damage will be done before that revival happens, and how severe the swing-back of the pendulum will be that it will also cause its share of damage.
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