Growing up, I used to gaze across Lake Erie and imagine seeing Canada on the other side. It’s 88 km, so there wasn’t much chance of that happening. But I always wondered how they put up with the fact that the air pollution from the heavy industry that we used to have in northern Ohio got conveniently (for us, at least) blown north-eastwards. It landed in Canada, killing off huge swathes of trees.
What kind of people would put up with this, I mused.
The answer: Canadians. That’s because they are what I refer to as the better Americans: indistinguishable to the amateur but clearly identifiable to the expert. For example, Canadians have the same accent as Americans, at least until you hear them say “out” and “about” – but they’re not as loud and in your face as Americans are. They are not arrogant, either, a side benefit of not being a superpower. You never hear about Canadians invading anybody. When they do go abroad, they don’t wear army uniforms but sweatshirts, shorts, and baseball caps, like other tourists, and they know how to disappear in a crowd. That is something Americans require extensive training to pull off.
In short, you can rely on Canadians to be sensible, low-key and generally nice folks.
The film director Michael Moore demonstrates this beautifully in the movie Bowling for Columbine, in which he decries the violence and gun culture of the U.S. He interviews many Canadians just across the bridge from Detroit, Michigan, in Windsor, Canada. It’s just a short bridge but it separates two worlds. These Canadians report leaving their doors unlocked and not worrying about people breaking in. And if they do break in, “Aw, it was just some teenagers looking for alcohol.” In the U.S., they shoot you just for jogging past the house. Especially if you’re the wrong color.
And now this very bridge is the site of the kind of protests I thought were contained in the lower 48 States. This is hard to stomach. What’s happening here? If we can’t rely on Canadians to be rational, I’m not sure who to turn to.
Canada has a prime minister who not only knows where France is, he even speaks French! Of course, this is because of Quebec, which is French-speaking for historic reasons, but it’s hard to imagine a similar arrangement in the U.S. Seeing the handsome, perfectly-mannered, diplomatic Trudeau on the TV screen next to Donald Trump evoked an emotion I can only describe in German: fremdschämen, which means being ashamed on someone else’s behalf, the kind of feeling that makes you go hide in the bathroom until it’s over. It’s the feeling you got when you watched those college guys in the 1970s movie Animal House.
During Trump’s presidency I spent several months hiding in the bathroom. I’d better be sure it’s habitable just in case he gets reelected in two years.
Canadians have had universal healthcare for decades. I can almost hear them snicker at their southern cousins who long ago sold their health to big business and big medicine, meaning hospitals, medical specialists, HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations) and the like.
Except they’re too polite to snicker.
France is full of people protesting at the COVID virus, too. Apparently the virus doesn’t speak French, though, because the protests aren’t making it go away. But as for the French people, it’s worth remembering that protesting is part of their culture. It’s as French as baguettes, red wine and snails.
“Escargot to the protest?” one might say to a friend.
“Non, I’m walking.”
Going to demonstrations is a national sport in France. I’ve read that French parents will reminisce with their kids:
“Ah oui, I remember when I also used to go to demonstrations…” The topics may change over time, but it’s protester all the way.
No, not New Zealand, too!
Now New Zealand, that other bastion of rationality, has also joined the fray of COVID protesters. This is the country whose prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, gave birth to a baby in office. Ten points for women empowerment!
But far more impressive was her reaction to the mass shooting of dozens of people at a mosque. She immediately arrived at the scene, showing respect by wearing a headscarf, comforting people, speaking to victims’ families, and exhibiting extreme empathy. Jacinda Ardern did all the things organizational psychologist Adam Grant recommends his LinkedIn posts and books but that you rarely see put into practice.
So now Kiwis are protesting, too, outside of the New Zealand parliament in the capital, Wellington. But their government has the good sense to take extreme measures to put an end to the nonsense. The protesters are being blasted.
With music, that is. The government has set up giant speakers and is playing songs by James Blunt, Barry Manilow (surprisingly, people are sticking around even when that is played), and the song Happy by Pharrell Williams. OK, I would stay for that song, too.
Some sensible countermeasures
What we’re seeing is that the protests started by truckers in Canada have spread across the world via social media, the root of all modern evil. How about flooding social media with positive messages instead? This is Random Act of Kindness week. The perfect opportunity.
We could also take our cue from one of our closest primate cousins, the bonobo monkeys. These monkeys were separated over time from their chimpanzee cousins by the giant Congo River in Africa. This river is so wide that no monkey could ever cross it, so two separate subspecies developed over time. The bonobo monkey troops are headed by females, unlike their chimpanzee cousins, which are male-dominated.
There was a time when it was believed that humans were the sole animals to kill their own species in an organized way. But researchers have since discovered that chimpanzees wage war on other chimpanzees. Not only that, they eat their victims.
And the bonobo monkeys? Under the leadership of the females, they don’t make war, they make love. I’m not kidding. And this was long before the hippie movement of the 1960s.
I’ll leave it to you to decide what implications the bonobos’ behavior might have for the world of homo sapiens.