Playing the Indian Card

Sunday, December 05, 2021

The Way We Weren't


Marguerite de Bourgeouys sculpture, downtown Montreal

I am currently forced to homeschool my daughter. It is just as well. We’ve been going through the prescribed text for Canadian history together. It’s alarmingly bad.

Most recently, it includes a chapter of detail about everyday life in New France. This is, to begin with, not a proper subject for history. We have apparently forgotten why we study history in the first place: to learn the lessons of the past. People’s everyday lives do not, on the whole, provide such lessons, for they had little chance to make choices that might alter the course of history. History properly has to do with matters of government policy, for the most part. Life lessons are important too, no doubt, but these we get from tales of saints and heroes and villains; not the lives of average persons in aggregate.

As to government policy, the book asserts, several times, that the French government saw their North American colony as something to exploit “to make the home country rich.” They did this through the mercantile system, forcing the colony to trade with the motherland. This seems a distortion of history. It should go without saying that a colony needed to pay for itself—that the cost of defending and administering it must not be higher than it returned in taxes. But there is every evidence that the French government saw themselves as also being in North America for the benefit of the natives: in order to convert them to Catholic Christianity and teach them how to improve their lives. And the mercantile system equally committed the mother country to trade with the colonies; trade is not exploitation.

As to the lives of ordinary people, the book goes on at some length over just how exploitative the seigneurial system was, whether there was class mobility, and how large was the pre-conquest middle class. Such class analysis tends to presuppose Marxism; otherwise it is of little interest. In any case, the written records are not sufficient to draw any conclusions. It is all conjecture tainted by political agendas. And such an excursus kills any narrative flow; it is the narrative flow that makes history interesting.

The text also diverts from any narrative continuity to point out that torture was used in the Quebec courts—30 times over a century. It goes into the methods in some detail. This may entertain adolescent boys, but it is not relevant to history. It seems little more than an opportunity to gossip unfavourably about our ancestors.

As is the two pages spent on slavery in New France. This seems disproportionate for a practice that was more common almost everywhere else except continental Europe, and which had no economic impact in New France. It seems mostly, again, a chance to find fault with our ancestors.

The book is openly hostile to Catholicism. It suggests that the average habitant was really more pagan than Christian, because “Canadian children heard tales of flying canoes, werewolves, and encounters with the devil.” Even though the same could be said of Canadian children today, or children at any time or place. 

Most disturbing to me is that the book spends only a half a page on women in New France, under the segregated subhead “Women in the Workplace.” It is not just that this ignores the work of women in the home, despite the concentration on ordinary people and ordinary lives. It also omits much of the history I read and heard as a student in Quebec half a century ago. Then, we knew of Madeleine de Vercheres, who defended almost single-handed against an Iroquois attack; of Marie de l’Incarnation, who founded the first school on the continent; Margeurite de Bourgeouys, who co-founded Montreal, built the first church, and started the first school; Jeanne Mance, who started the first hospital, which grew to a string of hospitals across Eastern Canada; Marie-Marguerite d'Youville, who built the first orphanage and hospice, the origins of the Canadian social security system; and St. Kateri Tekakwitha. 

Now all we get is brief sentences about some woman running a mill, or continuing their husband’s business after his death.

Why this radical devaluation of women? In part, I imagine, because it is now politically incorrect to say anything that sounds good about Catholics or the religious; and most of these women were nuns. In part, I imagine, because it is politically incorrect to admit that women had important roles before Betty Friedan. They were supposed, after all, to be oppressed.

It would all have been a terrible miseducation for my daughter.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

A Few Reasons for Hope


Back in early 2020 we joked about how 2020 was one piece of incredibly bad news after another. And we looked forward to 2021 taking over. But 2021 has probably been worse than 2020—notably in number of covid deaths. And the bad news keeps coming.

Here are a few hopeful thoughts:

Crisis tends to precipitate change.

1. In France, a presidential election cycle is beginning. Macron, the incumbent, is a centrist. His two closest rivals are both on the right. And not the centre right, not Gaullists; on the “far right,” people The Economist used to refer to as “thugs.” The “far right” candidates may not win, but the discussion and the issues have changed. The argument always used to be between the Gaullists and the Socialists. The Socialists are pretty much out of the picture.

2. In Britain, we have seen Brexit and the historic defeat of a left-leaning Labour Party in the last general election. Even if Boris Johnson is squishy, he faces competition from the right, from Nigel Farage and UKIP, as well as from the left. If those right of him do not have a presence in parliament, Farage demonstrated in the last European election that this could soon change, if they grow dissatisfied.

3. In the USA, the Democrats narrowly won the last election cycle; but the polls show their popularity now extremely low. It is not just Joe Biden who looks as though he could not get re-elected. Kamala Harris is almost as unpopular. The current cold shower of leftist policies may inoculate the States from voting left for some time to come. Just as it was unlucky for the Republicans to be in power when the Great Depression hit, or in the 2008 financial crisis. Trump himself should have been reelected, had it not been for Covid. Now the Democrats probably own it, and more.

4. The shakiness of the Chinese economy may be bad news for the world’s markets, and may cause recession or depression. That’s the bad news. But it may also cause the regime to fall. That would be much more significant good news. China under the current regime is the main threat to freedom and to world peace. It is more than a little perverse to worry about a bad Chinese economy. 

5. There is a chance that the new Omicron variant of covid is milder—we do not know yet. If it is milder, it may be to our benefit that it out-competes more dangerous strains. If it is not milder, the next strain may be. We may settle down to a covid that is no more dangerous than the seasonal flu.

6. The left is fighting back harder and harder, and making more and more outlandish claims and demands. They are more obviously simply denying truths we can all see for ourselves. This feels like the final act. “First they ignore you. Then they mock you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” The left is spending quickly any moral capital they once claimed. As it gets harder for good people and for intelligent people to be on the left, people may soon be ashamed to admit they are on the left, for fear of scorn or ridicule. When this happens, and it feels close, it is over.

7. The left is now in a position, thanks to political correctness and open denial of realities, of finding humour hostile. As a result, Saturday Night Live is no longer funny; Gutfield is. Stephen Colbert is no longer funny. Steven Crowder is. Nobody hears from The Onion any longer. It is now always the Babylon Bee. When it is no longer fun to be on one side, the other side wins. We saw this in the Sixties when the funny stuff was all on the left: National Lampoon, Month Python, George Carlin, Lenny Bruce. It was the best evidence that the right was intellectually bankrupt then. Now it shows the positions have flipped.

8. More and more public personalities who used to be on the left, or whom we assumed to be on the left, are now moving to or coming out as rightist. Dr. Oz is one recent example. When he announced for the Senate, I automatically assumed it was for the Democrats. He was Hollywood, and he was Oprah. Not so. He was a closet Republican. Tim Poole has stopped insisting he is on the left. Joe Rogan sounds more right wing. Jon Stewart sounds more right-wing. Jimmy Dore sounds more right-wing. People are walking away. I suspect that soon it will not be cool to be on the left.

9. It looks as though the Supreme Court might, by summer, overturn or restrict Roe v. Wade. While this would make no immediate difference even in the USA, it would be a heavy blow to the argument that abortion is a human right, accepted in Canada and perhaps elsewhere largely on the American model.

10. In the end, you cannot hold back the avalanche of information on the Internet.

Hope this helps.

Friday, December 03, 2021

Happily Ever After?


Do you recognize the person in this picture?

Nobody seems to get fairy tales.

A text from which I am currently teaching uses Cinderella as a hook. “Almost everyone knows how the story of Cinderella ends, but do people actually think about how she spent her days before she met the prince?”

Suprisingly, at least to me, few students seem to find the answer obvious. Even though without it, without Cinderella’s initial state of neglect and abuse, there is no story. Even though it is made her and the story’s defining characteristic: “Ella-in-the-cinders.” Everyone seems to think of her only as the happily-ever-after princess, in a princess gown.

But my text itself seems not to get it. It goes on to comment, “If someone had asked Cinderella what chores she did not particularly like, she probably would have answered, ‘Why none, of course. Housework is my duty.’” As though she was perfectly content with sleeping in the cinders while her sisters went to the ball. 

Why this weird blindness to what is, primarily, a tale of child abuse?

So, indeed, are most fairy tales. Snow White’s mother wants to kill her and eat her. Beauty’s father allows her to do all the work, while her two sisters abuse her relentlessly. Then he expects her to give up her life for his. Hansel and Gretel’s parents abandon them twice to be eaten by wolves. Rapunzel’s parents trade her for a mess of potage, then her stepmother locks her in an exitless tower.

Yet nobody seems to notice. Over time, most fairy tales have been sanitized, supposedly to remove anything that would upset small children. The violence is taken out, and any sexual innuendo. Witches or trolls may be too scary. Yet the abuse tends to remain, as though no one notices it—although, to be fair, it is so central to the stories that they would probably be meaningless without it.

It is not just child abuse which seems to be invisible in storyland. Jesus’s parables, too, are invariably misinterpreted. For example, nobody seems to notice the critical point of “The Good Samaritan”—although it is also apparent in its common title. It is not just the obvious point that it is good to do good; it is that the one person who did good was a Samaritan. After thieves had done evil, and a priest and a Levite ignored it.

The parable of the Prodigal Son I have seen similarly misinterpreted, even though the point is again in the standard title. Some apparently think that it is all about condemning the one son for wanting to leave the family farm.

In the Parable of the Talents, nobody seems to notice that the servant who is praised for good stewardship has made the money by lending at interest—prohibited by the Mosaic Law.

Although not a parable, the story of the woman taken in adultery is a similar case. Everybody seems to insist that Jesus overlooks the sin of the woman caught in adultery. He does not; he calls her out for it, and tells her to go and sin no more. The point is that he is not prepared to stone her to death, to give up on her.

My friend Xerxes, quoting some Protestant theologian, recently asserted that Jesus’s parables on the Kingdom of Heaven were really about the value of friendship. Heaven was being a friend to all. None of this nonsense about sheep and goats.

It occurs to me that there is a common thread here. It is a general denial of evil. We refuse to see evils committed in front of us; we pretend they do not exist.

To do so, to wash our hands and ask, with Pilate, “what is truth?” is itself the ultimate evil. Anyone might do an evil act. But to categorically deny the existence of evil is to crucify Christ in the flesh.

So You Thought It Was Over?


Is there really a bat in here?

Two bits of troubling information on Covid. First, confirmation that people who have previously had Covid can be reinfected with the Omicron variant. Second, 80% of a sampling of white-tail deer have or have had Covid. So Covid now has an “animal reservoir” from which to re-emerge forever in new variants, even if we eliminate it in the human population.

Pandora’s box is well and fully open now. 

But as with Pandora’s box, one hope remains: that Omicron will be milder in its effects.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

The Words of the Prophets are Erased from the Tenement Halls


I am horrified to learn what has happened to the Tenement Museum in New York.

I saw it perhaps 12 or 15 years ago, and it was a high point of the trip. Although I can claim no personal ties to that history, I grew up to my Irish grandmother’s rendition of “The Sidewalks of New York.” It was a kind of anthem to North American Irish. We looked to New York as a kind of ethnic capital, since there was little left to us back in Ireland.

Growing up, there were still areas of Montreal and Kingston, too, that we were told never to go to as kids. They were the tenements our Irish ancestors had inhabited. We were still to insecure in our status to be comfortable about them. Be seen there, and we might easily be taken for “that kind” of Irish. Goose Village, Griffintown, Point St. Charles. In Kingston, the entire north quadrant was as if roped off. In Toronto, it was Cabbagetown, Corktown, St. James Town.

I have been warned on several occasions, by women, almost on first meeting, that their mothers had made them promise never to become involved with anyone Irish. In college, the student newspaper once published an opi9nion piece titled “Let’s sink Ireland for a Day.”

The historic discrimination against the Irish, or the Jews, or the Poles, has not abated; it is still common. It is the life experience of many now living; Jews are still the most common target of all hate crimes. Yet now we Irish, Jews, and Poles, are having our own history here erased while being falsely accused of being the “oppressors” of other groups with whom our ancestors rarely came in contact. Or when they did, met as equals and most often comrades at the bottom of the greased pole. 

I suspect it is just a continuation of the same discrimination; just a new excuse to discriminate against the Irish or the Jews, while using them as a scapegoat for the sins of others. Like scapegoating poor Scots-Irish “rednecks” in the South for supposed discrimination and slavery, when their own ancestors never owned slaves, and came as indentured servants, a kind of term-limited slavery, themselves.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

In the Bleak Midwinter


It is time for Advent music. 

Inthe real world, nothing else seems to matter as much.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Racism and Tribalism


Those on the left are these days portraying what they call “racism” as something permeating all our institutions. Most recently, the Salvation Army has endorsed this concept. It warns of “systemic racism,” “the well-institutionalized pattern of discrimination that cuts across major political, economic and social organizations in a society,” leading to “inequity.”

Historically speaking, “racism” is only a recent problem. The concept of race in the human context is more or less a product of Social Darwinism, from the scientism of the 19th century. Before that, people were aware of breeding, heredity, and culture—that is, social class—but not race. Nor, before that time, did the average person in most parts of in the world have any experience of people of races other than their own.

That’s too recent for anything like an original sin. Any structures that pre-exist Darwin, like the US Constitution, or the English common law, or liberal democracy, are necessarily innocent of the charge.

Tribalism—seeing only members of your own culture or social group as fully human—is an older problem. It is a universal and instinctive tendency, but obviously more thoroughly indulged in tribal societies, and less with a social philosophy or culture that claims to apply to all mankind. Accordingly, the best means to reduce the tendency to tribalism is to insist on the doctrine of universal human rights and support the major universalist religions like Christianity.

Yet this is exactly what the modern left want to tear down. They are quite openly pushing for a return to tribalism and group conflict.

The Devil commonly uses words to mean their opposite.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Hopeful News--or at Least, Hopeful Thought


While initial reports of the new Omicron variant of Covid were alarming, the news has more recently looked a little brighter. The South African doctor who first detected the strain says she has only seen mild cases. 

If Omicron is extremely contagious yet causes only mild symptoms, it may actually work like a vaccine, quickly inoculating large populations. 

Here’s hoping…