Reflections of a Siamese Twin: Canada at the End of the Twentieth Century
John Ralston Saul
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In Reflections of a Siamese Twin, Saul turns his eye from a reinterpretation of the Western world to an examination of Canada itself. Caught up in crises-political, economic, and social-Canada continues to flounder, unable to solve or even really identify its problems. Instead, we assert absolute differences between ourselves: we are English or we are French; Natives or Europeans; early immigrants or newly arrived, from the east or from the west. Or we bow to ideologies and deny all differences in the name of nationalism, unity, or equality. In a startling exercise in reorientation, John Ralston Saul makes sense of Canadian myths-real, false, denied-and reconciles them with the reality of today's politics, culture, and economics.
It is an illusion to believe that countries are built on personally shared experiences. Usually it is the catastrophes that are shared—wars, floods and economic collapse. These disasters break the sedentary bonds and mix up the population as if in a cocktail shaker. What is true is that a small élite travels endlessly—politicians, creative people, businessmen. If they are observant and committed, they will come to know the country and understand what makes it function. In Canada that élite is larger than average and travels more than in most other countries because the decentralized nature of power and the vitality of the regions means that you cannot do your job by sitting in one particular city.
There was constant violence over the nature of government. As for France, there was a brief violent fling with democracy in the 1790s; followed by violent dictatorship until 1830, when 504 were killed in the revolution; followed by a non-violent dictatorship until 1848, when 1,500 were killed in the change of regime and 6,000 deported. At that point the whole of Europe went into a short period of hope which ended almost everywhere with repression. These same decades in the United States turned on low levels of franchise, a growing use of slavery and unimaginable levels of public corruption.
There was therefore no reason to expect Quebecers to react any more positively to these threats than other Canadians would. In following this logic the federal government placed themselves to the right of centre on the political spectrum, an atypical position from which to defend Canada; one which in the past has never borne long-term fruit. And in doing this, they vacated the more humanist position in the debate, leaving it for the PQ to occupy unchallenged and with little real justification. As the Quebec government’s actions in the year following the referendum have revealed, its left-of-centre position was rhetorical and not an expression of real intent.
What those in positions of responsibility know is that a victim is an individual programmed to be afraid. Fear is thus the chief tool of colonial-minded leadership. In spreading fear among the citizenry, it could be said that the élites are exporting their own sense of being victims, which is another way of expressing their own fear that they are inferior. Of course not everyone falls into the category of these attitudes. Much of this book is about the non-colonial élites. But the history of Canada is filled with waves of recurring insecurity among those who lead us.
The new truth tries to obscure this stubborn reality by assigning blame to those who can’t keep up. Indeed, the whole theory of a single economic model for all circumstances isn’t even good capitalist theory. It is essentially a derivative of very old-fashioned turn-of-the-century management methodology in which content is treated as interchangeable filler for the ideal management form. The history of Canada bears no relationship to these economic theories. Of course there are always moments when belts must be tightened or when some economic factor such as debt must be concentrated on.