Sunday, May 28, 2017

Put Values in my pipe and smoke them.

Food is still far and away the best cure for hunger. 

I didn’t count, but I think that as I watched the Conservative leadership convention last night, I must have heard the expressions “core values” and “Canadian core values” a hundred times or more. Brad Trost and Kellie Leitch hung their hopes of winning the leadership on convincing Tory membership that there exists a common Canadian value system and that we must be vigilant guardians of that system. 

No real mention was made of where these values come from and what actions they precipitate. Are they Christian imperatives? Were they handed down to each new wave of immigrants by the indigenous elders who would know because they’d occupied this land for thousands and thousands of years? Are they a natural outgrowth of gluttony on American television fare? Are they a consequence of our northern geography and climate which makes us robust lovers of life and ardent conservationists? Whence came these values we supposedly all hold because we’re Canadian?

Maybe it’s an ingredient in our beer that’s always been produced using only water from fresh, cold mountain streams.

Let’s make no mistake. Canadian values were “shot to hell” when the first European set foot on this soil, planted a flag, claimed the land for some shallow, belly-scratching foreign king and declared the indigenous inhabitants to be heathens and savages and therefore unworthy of the land God had provided for them. If there is a “set” or “system” of values held by Canadians, it’s in that reality that we ought to be looking for at least one source.

We use the values word too loosely; we confuse it with policy. Some would claim that opposition to giving women the choice to abort a pregnancy or not arises from their value of respect for life. You can’t really preach that position without implying that the policy of giving women choice in the matter signals that lawmakers who enacted the policy of choice don’t value life. So if the law regarding abortion is favoured by 65-70% of the population, how then can a Conservative policy on the subject be labeled a “Canadian value?” Well, it apparently can be if you’re running for leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada in 2017!

But let’s consider that what were touted as values at the convention were words, words, words, and nothing but words. The authenticity of a claim to own values is not shown in blather, it’s in the actions and choices that values precipitate. Person A earns a modest income and often teeters on the brink of bankruptcy because he donates so much of his means to an organization that treats eye problems in an African country. Person B earns a modest income but hoards his means, spends his time on the computer looking for the best return on his savings. Their actions derive from different value sets. Both are Canadian. They both live on our street. They curl on the same team.

There’s a lot we do and/or tolerate as Canadians that insults my values—and yours, I’m sure. I’m also certain that they’re not the same things for you as for me. Martial parades, policemen in uniform, the eulogizing of our soldiers at sports events, all these raise my hackles because I’ve had the idea instilled in me going back at least 50 generations that true peace can’t be won through the application of force and fear. In the light of my values on the subject, making and/or brandishing an AK47 seems not only repulsive but also stupid, a product of a fixation that is na├»ve, self-destructive. But I have coffee with people who may well value the idea that our freedom, our way of life depends on the ability to engage successfully in warfare.

The other emphasis of the convention that struck me was the oft-repeated, blatant declaration that this was about 2019 and choosing the leader and adopting the strategy that would defeat Justin Trudeau and his Liberals in the next election. The NHL draft with its competition for acquiring hot, new prospects came to mind.

There’s no harm in talking about, comparing values. But when we do, we ought to be looking at what it is that we do, and working backwards to determine what there is about us that makes us do what we do. That determination will describe our true values. Say you believe in protecting God’s creation while throwing your plastic waste into the garbage can? Think again. Then tell me if you value conservation over convenience. Say you value the admonition to “love your neighbour as yourself” while protesting the reception of refugees from Syria? I don’t think so.

Could be that our blather on our greatness as Canadians is only blather: perhaps our real Canadian values are more like dog eat dog, exploit creation while you can, save up for yourself treasure on earth, to the strongest go the spoils and get as much as you can for as little effort as possible. Try running for the leadership of the CPC on that values-laden platform!

So here’s a secret: it wasn’t our values that brought us to whatever greatness we can claim, it was our luck in landing on a part of the globe where creation has provided far more resources than would be required to sustain us. It’s only that that separates us from Bangladesh, or Nicaragua, or Chad. Were values the measure of our greatness, I fear we’d be judged on the values that guided us to be chintzy and selfish in the disposal of our surplus in a world where whole populations could survive on the food we discard, where whole communities of Canadians are destined to live their lives in abject poverty.

It’s time to put that tobacco in our pipes and inhale deeply. (This is a metaphor; don’t smoke unless you place little value on your health.)