As I’ve grown up, I’ve often become less and less sure about where I stand on…well…most issues, really. I look at this as a good thing; that lack of surety often arises directly from learning more about the issue and realizing that I haven’t fully understood things—but that doesn’t make it any easier to admit that I may have had my head up my ass.
There have been a number of big-ticket items in the last decade:
-coming from a firmly NDP (left-wing) family, I’ve been forced to understand that not everything private enterprise necessarily possesses goat hooves and horns.
-Once upon a time I would have declared myself a proud atheist and flagrantly denounced organized religion of all kinds;
-Clearly, any time I have disagreed with my wife (I kid); and
-Where I once thought fairly blatantly that aboriginals in Canada should suck it up, deal with what IS, and not what WAS, I now understand that the effects of colonialism didn’t end in the “long ago” and that there is significant attention and effort required on all sides to move things forward.
None of these questions are brain surgery to deal with, but they’re all deeply rooted in values, beliefs, and prejudices; that makes them incredibly difficult to deconstruct and examine on a personal level, let alone in a broader platform.
Let’s start with politics. The family I come from is very left-wing and pro-labour, and I’ve grown up with those values ingrained in me. It wasn’t until late university, when I was working closely with my thesis supervisor, that I began to take off my blinders a little bit and apply my critical thinking skills more broadly. Now, there are things that she could never have convinced me of—she thought the election of the Harper government was a great thing for the country (though she may have changed her mind now)—but she did make me question some of the core beliefs that I had taken on faith, without the critical dissection that they warranted.
Ultimately, what I began to understand is that ideologies are stupid. Sorry, that’s a terrible summary, but it’s pretty close to the truth. Individual issues require individual attention, and throwing your lot entirely behind one ideology is both reckless and ignorant, in my opinion. There will be times when the efficiency of private enterprise trumps the accountability of public works, and vice versa. There is merit in helping those that need help, but programs need structure and intelligent limits to avoid monetary hemorrhage. Being tough on crime is well and dandy, but if there’s no personal reformation, then punishment is a waste of time and money; we need to be jailing the people we are afraid of, not those we are mad at.
Lesson: Deconstruct as many of your existing political biases as you can and question all things, not from an ideological standpoint, but from an intellectual one. Be prepared to change your mind—it’s only an opinion, after all.
Religion. Religion and I have had a rocky history. Theoretically, I suppose, I’m actually Catholic; my father converted (total lip-service) when he married my mother, though I don’t think he ever actually went to church with her. My mother stopped going, as well, when the demand for tithes got to be too much while my Dad struggled to bring home enough to keep us fed and pay the mortgage. As a result, I was raised agnostic.
I took a lot of detours and checked out a lot of sideshows trying to decide what level of spiritualism or religion made sense to me. At one point, I would have called myself a pure atheist. At another, I was fairly entrenched in a mishmash of Wiccan, Shamanism, and Naturalism—even aura seeing, the whole nine yards. From there, I moved toward a more general karmatic belief system, where you basically get what you give, sooner or later. The uniting belief behind all of them was distinctly anti-organized religion; if it involved any form of clergy or gathering, it was clearly a sham designed to dupe people into giving away their money.
Well, I still think that some religions are specifically organized for the accumulation of wealth (Scientology, I’m looking at you here) but I’m willing to accept that the relationship between congregation and clergy may be more symbiotic than parasitic. I’ve also considered just how valuable the gathering and sharing of organized religion can be, and how great a tool it can be to teach morality—though I often disagree with the vagaries of the lessons, and the method of indoctrination chosen.
As for God, I find myself much more open to the possibility of “something else,” be it a deity or a guiding force, or even the embodiment of cause and effect, both natural and karmatic. I can also appreciate how belief in a deity can make people feel as though they aren’t alone, even in their loneliest times, and I respect the value in that, even if I can’t share in it.
Lesson: It doesn’t really matter what precisely is out there; it matters how we treat each other, and ourselves. If an organized religion helps with that, then it’s a good thing. If it promotes ostracization, exclusion of other groups, and self-punishment, it has the potential to become another form of mental, emotional, and financial slavery.
Aboriginal Rights. Is there a touchier subject in Canada? I used to think I understood this issue, and I distinctly recall sitting in my English 100 class debating with the prof over one of Maria Campbell’s (a well-known Métis author) stories, in which a mother is unable to cross the Canada/U.S. border because she refuses to identify herself as either Canadian or American—she states only that she is “Blackfoot.” The point, I was told, is that her identity is not based on her residence in Canada, but her ethnicity, and that the Blackfoot tribe and territories predate the creation of the country. I disagreed, quite strongly; after all, once the Romans had taken over a territory, all the peoples therein became part of the Roman Empire, or they were slaughtered. Further, the idea that we collectively “owed” aboriginal people for anything, hundreds of years after colonialism had ended, seemed preposterous.
Ignorance is bliss. I’ve learned a lot about Aboriginal issues since I began working in public policy, almost five years ago. Most importantly, I learned that I (a typical representative of an average Canadian) new precisely JACK about the issues at stake. I had no idea, for instance, that residential schools didn’t end in the early 1900s; the last was closed down (I believe) in the 1970s. I learned that these schools were an attempt at systematic cultural genocide, forcing Aboriginal children into Anglicization. Worse, they removed generations of Aboriginal people from observing proper parenting and adult conduct, replacing it with, in many cases, torture and abuse.
I also came to understand what a poor job our Federal Government has done “caring for” Aboriginal people. They have given them neither the authority nor the sustainable funding to care for themselves, instead opting for photo-op style lump-sum handouts, and carefully earmarked funds that often ignore community needs. I admit that I still have no idea what Aboriginal groups really mean when they call for self-government (and I have asked people I know a number of times without ever receiving a straight answer), but the fact that reserves operate without the same level of autonomy and responsibility that municipal governments have baffles me.
NOTE: Today Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada announced that First Nations will be able to “opt out” of the Indian Act provisions that require them to seek ministerial approval to spend the money held “in trust” by the Federal Government. It requires that a Financial Code be in place with a number of reasonable provisions, but funding and assistance are promised for those that require it. I’m not sure about all the fine print, but this may be the first in a very important series of steps that lead toward municipal-style self-governance for First Nations reserves.
I’ve never been a fan of hand-outs; I truly believe that throwing money at a problem is, at best, a temporary solution—and that’s only if it doesn’t make the problem worse. But Canada is supposed to be built on the idea of equality. If we have a portion of the population that has been so badly damaged and mistreated that it can’t move forward without help, then we should help it—not because a treaty forces us to, but because it’s the right thing to do.
How we do that is a whole other matter, but I believe the most important steps must necessarily focus on inclusion and cooperation. I don’t believe that Aboriginal issues are merely Aboriginal issues; they are societal issues, in the same way that feminist issues are societal issues; like it or not, we’re all in this together.
Lesson: Issues like inequality are rarely simple, never one-sided, and require cooperation and understanding to resolve. I’m still not a Maria Campbell fan, but that’s another issue.
So here’s the question: WHY AM I WRITING THIS?
My opinions mean nothing in the larger world context; I’m just one random guy in a sea of random guys—but I’m also a Dad.
I want my sons to understand that it’s not shameful to admit that you were ignorant and are now mildly less so. Being able to change your mind is not a flaw—it shows that you haven’t stopped learning, and I want my boys to understand that you should never stop learning.
I also want my sons to understand that hate doesn’t fix anything; putting people into camps of “us” and “them” doesn’t solve problems; and seeking to understand and empathize with other people does not mean that you have no core values to uphold, or that you’re betraying your ideals. Let’s leave that to the politicians; it’s what they’re best at.