Monday, June 13, 2011

Ignorance Sauce: Now In Americanized Flavor

When I first moved to Canada, I was kind of surprised to hear that you can call something here "American" and it is an insult.  That you can demonize anything by calling it Americanized. General Rick Hillier was viewed by his critics as too American, that he was tainted by his tour as Deputy Commander of the III Corps at Fort Hood. It is an old trick that keeps on giving: "Further proof of the Americanization of our politics: the journalistic elevation of the drunkard’s walk known as Stephen Harper’s foreign policy to the level of a “doctrine.”"*
* The author of the piece, Andrew Potter, was joking in his use of Americanization.  Too bad the rest of the folks do not use it the same way.
I wholeheartedly concur (and tweeted earlier today before I saw this article) that calling something a doctrine tends to be an effort to impose non-existent coherence on a set of policies, like the Obama Doctrine or the Harper Doctrine, as in this case.  BUT calling something "Americanized" is just a Canadian way to cover something with ignorance sauce.  Yes, I have a new sauce to go with the other four sauces: perspective, denial, awesome, and denial  Ignorance sauce seems like denial sauce, but it is a bit different.  Rather than denying an existing reality, this sauce disguises whatever is going on and adds just a bit of bitterness.  Too much salt?

The US is a lot of things, both good and bad.  To say something is too American means what exactly?  Too brash?  Too bold?  Too loud?  Sure, the American F-16s this weekend seemed louder than the Canadian F-18s.  And that means what?  It is an easy punchline to say something is too American up here.  I am guilty of something similar, using "Concordia" in some of my jokes at the other English University in town since most McGill students will take pleasure in cheap shots at the neighbor to which they feel superior.

As an American, this insult activates my patriotism and my identity as an American.  As a social scientist, I find the trope problematic since there are heaps of bases of comparison in addition to the US.  Comparing the Canadian health care system to the American one can make Canadians feel good, but really does not bring much light to the conversation.  Indeed, it usually fosters ignorance, as invoking the US allows one to stop thinking. 

I do think that the US and Canada are far more alike than they are different, in all of the most meaningful ways, as tolerant, vibrant, fun-loving, hard-working societies.  As a scholar of ethnic politics, I am only too well aware that folks will make more of their differences when the gaps are narrow than when they are broad.  So, I see what is going on here.  I just would prefer that Canadians pay a bit more attention to their strengths and weaknesses without invoking the US.  Of course, they would prefer that the Americans pay some attention up north so that some Americans opinions are not covered in ignorance sauce of the old kind--just plain ignorance.

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