April 2008

Contents Related Letters

Re: “The Adventurers Are Back,” by Peter C. Newman

Peter C. Newman’s review of James Raffan’s George Simpson biography, Emperor of the North: Sir George Simpson and the Remarkable Story of Hudson’s Bay Company (“The Adventurers Are Back,” April 2008), hardly gives that book the attention it deserves. Most of the review is a petty attack on Jennifer Brown for her unflattering review, years and years ago, of one of Newman’s own Hudson’s Bay Company books. Newman has had an extraordinary career. As his recent encounter with Brian Mulroney proved again, he is a genius with an interview. But you cannot interview the dead, and Newman never got into his historical subject the way he does his live ones. His HBC histories were often tone deaf and confused, and Professor Brown did the world a service by saying so. Raffan deserves Newman’s praise; the rest should have been left lying.

Christopher Moore
Toronto, Ontario

Re: “The Prison of "Public Space",” by Mark Kingwell

I read Mark Kingwell’s “The Prison of ‘Public Space’” (April 2008) on the beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His essay left me feeling more than a little thick. I think his point is that some people regard it as a right to do private things in public spaces and get upset if they can’t. An urban planner, which I am, spends a lot of time worrying about just these issues from a practical point of view. I could certainly use a philosopher in the plaza to help figure things out.

Where is the line between public and private in the real-time city? Is it okay to have a car in the lobby of the opera house if such product placement helps pay for the opera? Do surveillance cameras and security guards in the public square enable people to enjoy its spectacles more peacefully? Is it an inalienable human right to spray graffiti on city walls, shout political slogans in the shopping mall, walk naked in the streets?

On that latter point, the endless paseo of masterpieces of male and female form along San Juan’s magnificent urban beaches made the essay all the more difficult to follow until I appreciated the relevance of the walk-by subtext. On the wave-swept sand every scanty square centimetre of clothing has been closely calibrated; calculated parts of private parts are publicly paraded according to a collectively mediated set of rules about how little is too much. The triumph of the commons.

The delightful district in which we were staying is a perfect, if subtropical, analogue of Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood, except that every night it is gated and guarded; protection from the corrosive undertow of drugs, crime and violence that now swashes through every corner of the Caribbean. The U.S. Coast Guard is omnipresent by land, patrol boat and helicopter. It leaves me personally safe but philosophically uneasy, uncomfortably searching for the line between freedom to and freedom from. But then San Juan is an ever-evolving text book on the tensions of public space. The classic town plan of the Old City—its perfectly formed squares and quarters set out in “The Laws of the Indies” and beloved by urbanists everywhere as a paradigm of public space—originates in the imperatives of colonial religious and military control. The demands of the state and the desires of the people play out to this day.

Every Saturday morning our sometime client, a senior civil servant, goes to one of the smaller squares to have his shoes shined. Under the mournful statue of the Puerto Rican musician Patricio Rijos, “king of the guacharo,” he sits in the chair receiving a line of place seekers and gossip brokers, carefully conducting his publicly private acts in a privately public space. For more serious business he retreats inside the café on the south side where, hunched over coffee and sweet pastries, his large hands rise, fall, move sideways to render judgement to the watching tables. Later that day, at dinner, he berates his teenage children for the lack of decorum in their Facebook entries, for portraying intimacies too publicly.

I think perhaps Kingwell was upset by some piece of nonsense from the Toronto Public Space Committee. He should know better than to pay any attention to the grandiose and righteous guff that emanates from such groups, a Now Magazine of the mind where there is no limit to rights but no right to limit. It ain’t so; the space between public and private may be as narrow as a bikini strap, but the strap’s still there.

Joe Berridge
Toronto, Ontario

Re: “Has Multi-Culturalism Had Its Day?,” by David Goodhart

Re: “Has Multiculturalism Had Its Day?” David Goodhart’s review of Will Kymlicka’s Multicultural Odysseys (April 2008): isn’t it typically Canadian of the LRC to ask the editor of a British magazine to examine Canada’s approach to multiculturalism? After all, mother knows best.

Goodhart is undoubtedly entitled to his opinions, but his knowledge of this country appears to be scanty at best. In fact, I see very little of substance at all about Canada, much less regarding Kymlicka’s analysis of multiculturalism in the Canadian context. There is a good deal about multiculturalism in Britain and on the international scene, most of it gloomy, but nowhere do I see a substantive case against the Canadian multicultural experience.

Although he concedes that Canada is “an impressive social model,” Goodhart apparently sees no connection between that fact and our multiculturalism policy. I think a more objective observer would accept that the policy is a success, whatever it may be in Europe, and that that success has something to do with the peaceful integration of immigrants that we have known in this country. The argument he advances to the effect that it may be more closely related to Canada being “discriminating about who it lets in” is hard to sustain when one considers the large numbers of “family class” immigrants, refugees and others that Canada has admitted over the years.

Goodhart also suggests that “it is not even clear … that Canada is more multicultural than Britain.” He bases this conclusion inter alia on what he deems to be a more “relaxed” attitude to faith-based schools and declarations such as the archbishop of Canterbury’s “qualified welcome” of sharia courts. Has he heard nothing of the considerable number of minority religious schools of all sorts, from Christian and other denominations, that have existed in this country for many years? Granted there was recently a fuss in Ontario about sharia law, but I would suggest that the reaction in Britain to the good archbishop’s suggestion was markedly more ferocious.

More important, has he any knowledge of our latest census data that reveal a remarkable degree of untroubled integration of immigrants, even in recent years when the racial makeup of the immigrant population has changed substantially? “Canada,” the well-known pollster and commentator Michael Adams writes, “has the highest immigration rate in the world, but … Canadians are by far the most likely of any G8 country to say immigrants are good for the country.” As to the reaction of the newcomers themselves, he continues, “after four years in Canada, 84 per cent of immigrants say they would make the same decision again and come to Canada.” Indeed, many of them report the most serious misfortune they have to deal with is the weather.

Multiculturalism is alive and well in Canada and likely to stay that way. If I have a choice between Goodhart’s musings, and Chief Justice McLachlin’s observation that “Canada is historically pluralistic … and for Canada it has thus far worked,” I’ll take her version any day.

Maxwell Yalden
Ottawa, Ontario

David Goodhart fails to understand Canadian multiculturalism because he is like many other European observers who view it mainly through the lens of their own national experience. Our pluralism’s roots lie in the seemingly counterintuitive accommodation of the French fact in the aftermath of the Conquest. Two centuries later, biculturalism was extended into multiculturalism in response to the demands of other long-settled European-origin minorities. Canadian approaches to diversity therefore relate not only to contemporary newcomers but also to the historically pluralist character of the population. This differs significantly from Europe, where it is singularly linked with immigration.

Canadian multiculturalism’s fundamental contribution to politics is the presentation of a framework of national belonging for a diverse population. All could participate in the public sphere regardless of culture. However, this failed to satisfy the Québécois and aboriginal senses of distinctness, prompting separate federal policies for these “national minorities” (Will Kymlicka’s term). All these approaches are designed to foster participation in the nation through what Charles Taylor calls “the politics of recognition.” Goodhart’s proposal for “a post-ethnic ethos of national citizenship” disregards the resilience of ethnicity—as witnessed in the former Yugoslavia, to say nothing of Wales or Scotland. It is this very tension between solidarity and diversity that Trudeau sought to address in 1971 with multiculturalism.

Contrary to Goodhart’s implications, the policy is not the preserve of small- or large-L liberalism. National surveys have shown consistently widespread support for it. The Multiculturalism Act in 1988 was passed under Brian Mulroney, and former Reform politicians in the current Tory government have put away their opposition to the policy to back the establishment of a new Global Centre for Pluralism.

All this is not to say that multiculturalism has been a resounding success in Canada. It has not been able to eradicate residual inter-ethnic rivalries or to produce an undivided loyalty to the nation (but then this has also not been achieved in similar societies, including the United States). Unemployment among visible minorities tends to be inordinately high (although not when compared to aboriginal people), pointing to an underlying racism in Canadian economic structures. Nevertheless, even marginalized minorities express higher levels of satisfaction with their lives in Canada compared to those in other countries, notes pollster Michael Adams. This is also true of Muslims, whom Goodhart monolithically presents as seeking to opt out of post-Enlightenment society’s social contract.

Karim H. Karim
Ottawa, Ontario

Re: “Sentimental Journey from Hell,” by Graham Harley

In reference to Graham Harley’s review of my book, Finding Home (“Sentimental Journey from Hell,” April 2008), it is plain to see that Mr. Harley had as much fun composing his review as I had in writing the book.

Eric Wright
Toronto, Ontario

Re: “Penicillin of the Mind?,” by Vivian Rakoff

Re: “Penicillin of the Mind” by Vivian Rakoff (April 2008), the best cures are out of fashion. If you’ve humiliated a defenceless friend, try a dose of guilt-easing self-flagellation; if jealous because your lover has cheated on you, send him to the guillotine. Since I doubt that guilt and jealousy are diseases, it is moot whether these are cures. The same goes for our psychiatric patients: since I doubt that anxiety, despondency and extreme oddity are diseases, it is moot whether shocks, drugs and psychotherapy are cures. That is why psychiatrists do neither physical examinations nor diagnostic tests. Through conversation, we assess our patients’ social practices, then diagnose them as normal or pathological—evaluative euphemisms that stand in for approval or disapproval. Like literary critics, we are social adjudicators: the former appraise artistic performance; we appraise behavioural performance.

We have given up on whips, guillotines and blood-letting—and (mostly) on electric shock treatment: it is out of fashion. It is not that ECT does harm; running a marathon and a good pummelling at the hands of a favourite dominatrix may well wipe out more neurons than a modern ECT machine. Harmless or not, physical treatments are no longer our style. I expect that the hopes of Edward Shorter and David Healey for a resurgence of shock therapy will be dashed; since psychiatric treatments are social practices, deeply rooted in tradition, we will use ECT only in cases so extreme that dramatic measures are called on.

Pharmaceutical cures are more refined, but it’s well known that, if effective at all, antidepressants are barely better than sugar pills. Until therapeutic fashions change, doctors will prescribe and patients will ask for antidepressants. Then another pill, herb or diet will take over. Like meeting with a talking doctor, swallowing things is one of our permanent infatuations. Vivian Rakoff is right that prescribing medications is, and always will be, popular, although, like for those given ECT, there is no medical sign of anything that drugs could cure. Except for those pesky testimonials, the ones gleefully collected by quacks and charlatans—and fools.

Finding the right talking doctor is as tricky as finding the right pill. My bias is to tell you to pick someone who has thought seriously about Freud, The Brothers Karamazov and cultural anthropology, but lots of those who love Mick Jagger, read The Da Vinci Code and attend to the musings of Oprah Winfrey are perfectly good talking doctors. My ex-wife once said that marriage is luck. Well, finding a good talking doctor is luck, too.

Gordon Warme
Toronto, Ontario

Re: “The Nunavummiut: Politically Engaged Citizens,” by John Baglow

No one would criticize the Literary Review of Canada for not running sports scores or interviews with hockey players. The LRC’s objective is covering literary matters, not sports, and its target audience wants discussion of books, not athletes. Too bad John Baglow’s review of Ailsa Henderson’s fine book, Nunavut: Rethinking Political Culture, didn’t follow the same principles (“The Nunavummiut: Politically Engaged Citizens,” April 2008). His review criticizes Henderson for not writing the book he wanted; he ignores or discounts large sections of the book because he disagrees with or does not understand her methods, and he fails to appreciate her purpose in writing the book. Along the way he engages in selective misquotation and gets facts wrong.

As Henderson explains in Chapter One, she is writing for the political science community. In addition to explicating Nunavut political culture using the tools of political science, she addresses various theoretical questions about the contentious concept of political culture that interest political scientists. If Baglow thinks all this is a crock (“incommensurable theory, unintelligible tables of data … and paltry conclusions”), why not just say so and leave reviewing the book to someone who is interested in whether it achieves its objectives?

Baglow criticizes Henderson’s understanding of Inuit culture: “she claims that the Inuit had an ‘Enlightenment ethos’.” He takes her to task for simplistically believing that the transition from shamanism to Christianity was “almost seamless.” What Henderson actually wrote was: “In many respects, Inuit possessed an Enlightenment vision of the world: that it could be known, understood, and explained.” After elaborating, she cites important ways in which Inuit spirituality made for decidedly non-Enlightenment understandings. Her discussion of Inuit values leads her to observe that “in some respects, this could have made the transition to Christianity almost seamless, at least in terms of values”—a rather more nuanced analysis than Baglow suggests.

Facts? Baglow writes “she continually confuses the ‘government’ with the executive (cabinet).” Someone is indeed confused but it is not Henderson. In a Westminister system, as Nunavut has, the government is the cabinet; regular members of the legislative assembly are not, whatever the rhetoric and mythology of “consensus government,” the government. According to Baglow, “Nunavummiut electors vote in territorial elections in greater numbers than do Canadians in any other province or territory.” This is simply wrong. If Baglow had read Chapter Seven with any care (it’s one with those icky statistics), he would have seen that turnout for territorial elections is not in the 90 percent range but more like 60 percent—well below that in various provinces. Speaking of statistics, on what basis does Baglow make the astonishing claim that “as many as half of the children are deaf due to chronic ear infections”?

Nunavut has much to offer non-political scientists interested in the fascinating politics of this remarkable place. But readers who pick it up should not expect either anthropology or ethnography, as Baglow would apparently prefer, since that is not what Henderson does. Nor should they be surprised that a book written for political scientists should employ the tools of the discipline, including theoretical analysis and simple statistical methods.

Graham White
Toronto, Ontario

Graham White accuses me of “selective misquotation and get[ting] facts wrong.” Despite the seriousness of the former allegation, he provides no evidence of misquotation, selective or otherwise. Ideal with his claims of factual inaccuracy below.

With respect to an alleged Inuit “Enlightenment ethos” or “Enlightenment vision,” Henderson expands: “Inuit sought to explain the world aroundthem.” But no people in the worldhave not, with the possible exception of the Pirahã of the upper Amazon. Using the word “Enlightenment” in this manner robs the term of any meaning.

The main difference between Inuit and Enlightenment explanations, Henderson argues, is that the former included a spiritual dimension. There is a more radical difference, however: traditional Inuit knowledge is experiential and embodied, not abstract and Cartesian. But in any event the Inuit belief in an animate universe, spirits, and the notion that current behaviour could influence future events hardly suffices to make the transition to Christianity “almost seamless,” as Henderson claims it was. Similar spiritual beliefs would have made such transitions “almost seamless” for nearly every missionized/colonized people in the world, which was clearly not the case.

White dismisses consensus government as mythology and rhetoric, but the Nunavummiut do not. The cabinet and the premier are elected (and may be removed) by the legislature as a whole. There are no political parties, and there is no “official opposition,” despite what Henderson suggests.

Regarding voter turnout for territorial elections, readers will have to judge for themselves. Admittedly, the official figures seem suspiciously high: 88 percent in 1999 and 98 percent in 2004. Henderson does make a good case that the turnout in 2004 was more likely 63 percent, putting it above Ontario and Alberta but below that of the other provinces and territories. The 1999 election, however, has yet to be analyzed in this respect.

Finally, my source for the shockingly high rate of deafness among Inuit children is Thomas Berger’s landmark final conciliator’s report on the implementation of the Nunavut land claim, issued on March 1, 2006. This may be found online at http://www.cba.org/nunavut/pdf/NU_finalreport.pdf. Berger notes that between one third and one half of Inuit children in Nunavut suffer some form of hearing loss, likely due to overcrowded housing and exposure to tobacco smoke.

John Baglow
Ottawa, Ontario

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