Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Good intentions aren’t enough. Once broken, some things cannot be mended.
Democracy – otherwise known as self-rule, self-determination, and government by consent of the governed – simply can’t happen without distinct countries and well-defined borders (see my previous post).
But borders are under siege. Many powerful, influential people feel little allegiance to any country. They view themselves as global citizens. They think borders are passé.
These folks are entitled to their opinion, but their worldview rests on a fantasy. If only countries could be made to disappear, they insist, international peace and harmony would magically follow. If only national loyalty would vanish, so too would conflict, inequality, and injustice.
But erasing lines on a map won’t alter human nature. Children will still spend hours each day pushing, shoving, taunting, and bickering with their siblings. Obnoxious neighbours won’t disappear, nor will back-stabbing coworkers, military strongmen, parasitically corrupt officials, or China’s Communist government – which currently oppresses one in five human beings.
Healthy communities don’t just happen. They take work, discipline, commitment, and self-sacrifice. Crucially, they rely on shared values and expectations.
the virtues of civility and responsible citizenship are cultural achievements which many societies have failed to realize. Democratic habits are not genetically transmitted, but consolidated over generations in specific social, cultural, and historical contexts.
…the system we have inherited and its underlying values of equality before the law, a free and diverse press, impartiality of public officials and judges, and individual responsibility, do not “grow on trees”; they must be nourished and maintained by a certain type of culture.
Like it or not, group and cultural dynamics vary dramatically…if you indiscriminately tear down the borders between cultures and societies, what you get is not universal peace and harmony, but a socially destructive clash of attitudes, languages, expectations, and habits.
Those immersed in cultures which lack a strong work ethic will not learn a Germanic work ethic by the mere fact of crossing the German border. Those educated in cultures in which blasphemy is considered a crime deserving hanging will not become religiously tolerant just because they have crossed into a liberal jurisdiction. Those brought up to believe that women are inherently inferior to men will not suddenly recognize the political equality of women just because they have crossed into a more egalitarian jurisdiction.
Healthy societies may carry on for some time after being joined by small numbers of people whose cultural norms contrast starkly with their own. But there’s almost certainly a breaking point beyond which everything degrades and collapses.
Doris Lessing’s novel, The Fifth Child, comes to mind. The lives of a happy family, comprised of two parents and four children, change forever after the arrival of an additional child.
Wired differently from the others, out of sync with their cultural values, he is an outsider despite sharing their flesh and blood.
This child alarms and frightens them. They sincerely try to socialize him, they do their best. But even though he’s outnumbered six to one, his presence shatters their tranquility and robs their lives of joy.
It is, of course, impossible for this family to turn back the clock. What was whole is now broken.
|The Fifth Child