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If you don’t know anything about Canada, when you think of “Canadian Identity” or “Canadian Culture” you probably think of snow, beavers, maple syrup, legal weed, and hockey.
Maybe bagged milk
If you live in Canada, or if you’ve been watching Justin Trudeau, you’ve probably heard that Canada has no Identity or Culture, besides Multiculturalism™.
I’m here to tell you why that’s bullshit.
Types Of Multiculturalism
There are three relevant types of multiculturalism, and it’s important to understand the differences between them in order to understand Canadian multiculturalism.
The first type is the American model, also known as the Melting Pot theory. Essentially, everyone comes to America with their own cultures, but they assimilate into American culture. If there’s something really great about their culture, it might become a part of American culture. There are pros and cons to this type of multiculturalism, but this article is not the place for that discussion. John Derbyshire has a decent article that touches on the topic here.
The second type of multiculturalism, the kind that is pushed for regularly in Canada, is the Salad Bowl theory. It argues that Canada has no distinct culture of its own, and that “Canadian” culture is just the patchwork of cultures that each person brings to Canada. This is an awful system for a number of reasons, most notably because it emphasizes the differences between peoples that leads to the loss of social cohesion discussed in Robert Putnam’s landmark study on diversity.
To be clear, any kind of diversity will decrease social cohesion and trust. But the Salad Bowl theory, instead of passively allowing the differences that lead to social friction to exist, actively promotes those differences as the most important thing in society. Society is like a family. The Melting Pot is like that family adopting a child. The Salad Bowl is like polyamory: if everyone involved is a High-IQ Homo Economicus then it might work out, but if not, you are just ruining everything for everyone.
The third type of multiculturalism is the kind that Canada was founded on, and actually explains a lot of the odd things about Canada. There isn’t a name for this kind of multiculturalism as far as I know, so I will refer to it as Garrison Multiculturalism for reasons that will become clear shortly.
No, he’s from Montana, not Canada.
Whereas Melting Pot has all of the different cultures converging into one culture, Garrison Multiculturalism has the cultures remaining separate. After a few generations, an Italian-American family becomes simply an American family. An Italian-Canadian family remains an Italian-Canadian family. The difference between Garrison Multiculturalism and the Salad Bowl is that Garrison Multiculturalism insists that the cultures coming to Canada adopt certain aspects of Canadian culture, whereas the Salad Bowl does not.
There are two origins of Garrison Multiculturalism, the boring one and the interesting one. The boring one is that when Canada was founded, there were three cultures, all insisting on their own continued existence: British, French, and Native. The solution our founders came to was to agree that all three cultures were distinct but equally Canadian. As I said, this is the boring answer. But the question now is, why was that the solution the founders came to, instead of the American model or some other solution? The answer to that brings us to the interesting origin of Garrison Multiculturalism: The Garrison Mentality.
The Garrison Mentality
The Garrison Mentality is a term coined by Northrop Frye, perhaps the best literary critic of the 20th century, to explain a running theme in Canadian literature. It was expanded upon somewhat by Margaret Atwood, but it was still confined to Canadian literature. I propose that the Garrison Mentality actually explains many aspects of Canadian culture, including our multiculturalism.
The Garrison Mentality refers to the fact that during the early years of Canada, the winters were extremely harsh, so everyone would spend the winter huddled together in the local fort(or garrison). In the summer they would have their own homes, but the winters were too cold for individuals to go it alone. Frye argues that cultural memories of these times inspired Canadian writers to use the theme of Man vs. Nature much more than American authors, who focused on Man vs. Man and Man vs. Himself. But this idea also explains so much about Canadians generally. Why are Canadians so polite? Because the person you are rude to might be the one with the last spare blanket when winter comes. Why are Canadians accepting of other cultures? Because who cares if the guy with a hot bowl of soup down the street speaks English or French, as long as you can communicate “Do you have any extra?” to him.
This does not, however, imply a blanket acceptance of all other peoples no matter what, like we’re led to believe by the Salad Bowl proponents. The unstated implication of the Garrison Mentality is that there are consequences to not going along. Think of it as the iterated prisoner’s dilemma. The Garrison Mentality has the first prisoner cooperating no matter what on the first two turns, but after that matching whatever the second prisoner did on the previous turn.
So Canadians try not to piss anyone off (cooperating on the first turn). If someone bumps into a Canadian (defects on the first turn), the Canadian will apologize (cooperating on the second turn). If the stranger tells the apologizing Canadian to “fuck off” at that point (defecting on the second turn), the Canadian will respond in kind by telling the stranger to “take off, eh?” (defecting on the third turn). If the stranger then apologizes for the misunderstanding (cooperating on the third turn), the Canadian will also apologize (cooperating on the fourth turn) and will continue to cooperate for as long as the stranger does as well.
The macro point to all of this is that the Garrison Mentality means that Canadians cooperate with those willing to cooperate. The Canadian is not just the man apologizing for fear of offending the man with the last spare blanket, he is also the man with the last spare blanket willing to not share if he is sufficiently offended. If there is no fear of repercussions, there is nothing stopping everyone defecting all the time, taking advantage of the cooperating Canadians.
This, then, is the difference between Salad Bowl and Garrison Multiculturalism. Salad Bowl teaches Canadians to cooperate no matter what, which leads to outside groups taking advantage of the willingness to cooperate. Garrison Multiculturalism teaches Canadians to give people the benefit of the doubt, and after that cooperate with them as long as they are willing to cooperate with you. Anyone can become a Canadian, as long as they are willing and able to cooperate in this way. If they are not, then they are not Canadian, they are just taking advantage of Canada.
So when you hear about Canada being built on multiculturalism, don’t picture Toronto, divided up into ethnic enclaves, presided over by the Rootless Cosmopolitan Justin Trudeau, ensuring by force that no one is subject to disparate impact. Picture a Frenchman, an Iroquois, and an Englishman sharing their last blanket and a pot of soup, because if they didn’t, all three would die. They don’t like the fact that they’re different, they tolerate that fact because survival is more important. But if one of them started refusing to pull his own weight…
Bill Marchant is a Canadian author living with his wife Rose in a houseboat on James Bay in Canada. He has a website, a book, and a Twitter account. If you would like to support him, leave a review on Amazon for his book.