THE GODS CANADIANS WORSHIP
A.R.M. LOWER DISCUSSES
Observing with a piercing eye, and recording with a whetted pen. the struggle of his nation to forge an identity of its very own has been the lifetime task of Arthur Reginald Marsden Lower. As Douglas Professor of Canadian History at Queen's University, he has had the perfect seat from which to view the struggle, and his several books record his findings. Now, in a new major work, Canadians in the Making (to be published soon by Longmans, Green), he dissects the deities before which, he asserts, most Canadians are blindly worshipping.
IS SOCIETY getting better or worse? It may be that society does not change a great deal; it is so complex that it goes in every direction at once. But it registers its main movements in a conspicuous way: by the gods and goddesses that it sets up for worship. If the current gods and goddesses (the real ones, underneath the labels) can be found, then perhaps the general direction things are taking can be glimpsed.
That inventive society known in Canada as “the country to the south” can create a new goddess as quickly as it makes a new car. But in making new cars, it made a new god. For the god, no
There’s th*e cherished myth of Equality ...
There’s shining Efficiency with its attendant gadgets...
There's a timid young goddess called Canada, who may (or may not) exist...
There’s rich Uncle Sam, the kindly crocodile god ...
Above all, there’s CAR —
the god that’s nearly conquered us all
Well, that’s the way it looks to Canada’s best-known historian
better name could be found than—CAR!
In one of the annual reports of a great motorcar company during the mid-century years there might be seen pictured the dignified and elegant ritual which surrounds the birth and renewal of this god—his Easter! The artist who depicts the scene has drawn a great crowd of people gathered about altars on which current images of the god CAR are displayed. In the upper left of his picture, there is a vast symphonic band, possibly a heavenly choir, its every violin bow at the ordained, precise angle. In the centre, richly but decorously dressed ladies grace a stage, beside which fountains play and from whose wings ballet dancers make appropriate obeisance. At the back of the stage, on a higher level than ladies and audience, surrounded by a nimbus of light clouds, at the point reserved in temples for the principal altar of the god, CAR is pictured midway between heaven and earth. All eyes turn to him as the Word is made flesh. “Lo, He comes, in clouds descending,” the rapturous beholders seem to cry, as they greet the great god in his form of “The New Models for the Current Year.”
CAR's worship detracted even from that of Aphrodite herself (though the two were not without their intimate relationships). “Cars outshine the stars,” says a Canadian weekly magazine, picturing a daughter of the goddess reclining languidly, though with a second-best look, against one of the elegant new images of the god.
All ranks and classes burned incense to CAR—save a few sour intellectuals who thought to avoid the industrial revolution he symbolized by ignoring it. “Yesterday I bought a Cadillac, and realized a life-long ambition.” says one of the gentlemen reported in that anthropological study of a wealthy Toronto suburb. Crestwood Heights.
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“A feudal past, instincts of a ruling class, public status — these made up ‘imperialism’ ”
CAR's devotees increase with the years. And no wonder. A patient, obedient god
who takes you where you want to go, faster than any magic carpet. A comfortable, well-upholstered god. A god whose priests well know how to gain new worshippers by appeals to the vulgar but universal quality of ostentation. And
above all, the god of power, who multiplied man’s ego manifold. Yet a ruthless god, sometimes, too, who could turn on his idolater and rend him.
CAR brought in his company a whole host of lesser godlets (most of them born
of Electra), which their worshippers called “modern conveniences” or more simply “progress"—the labor-saving devices that stood in every housewife’s kitchen, and the long series of instruments of communication such as the airplane, the radio, television and the rest. We all worshipped CAR and his fellows, that is, the innumerable by-products of science, power and human ingenuity, and some of us thought we saw these gods admitting us to a cheerful, effortless heaven. Slowly it dawned on the less simple that there was not much satisfaction in that type of "progress” which eventuates in hydrogen bombs.
CAR and his associates changed our society out of recognition. They scattered our homesteads far beyond the cities, so that many of us became once more, after a fashion, country dwellers. Others, yielding to the logic of CAR, married themselves to him for better and for worse, moving their habitation from place to place under the hauling power that he provided.
CAR threatened to turn us all into nomads, and his wheels, like Juggernaut, leveled every physical and psychical obstacle they met. They invaded every urban open space and threatened to destroy every blade of urban grass. They knocked down houses. They called imperiously for straight wide roads to be carved out of our diminishing fertile fields. They tore up our precious peach orchards and ordained that factories for making new parts of CAR should be erected in their place.
More than that, CAR forced on men. far more effectively than French Revolutionary slogans could ever do, the worship of another great god. Equality (though not of Fraternity), for once surrounded by his metal-and-glass turret, every man became equal to every other man, just as every metal-and-glass turret, despite the efforts of their advertisers to the contrary, was approximately equal in value and in efficiency to every other metal-and-glass turret.
Yet it was hardly a new brotherhood that our god created for us, for once inside his fortress, a man became a world in himself, proudly independent, to whom the objects shaped like his own were threats which approached and passed, forgotten as quickly as avoided. They might contain millionaires or paupers, good men or rogues: to each other as they whirled by they were just shapes.
Were there no good words to be used of CAR? Of course there were, many. For one thing, CAR gave to many a slave promise of freedom. He offered escape from orders, from routine, from boredom. He made, or seemed to make, the humble masters of their fate. By opening up the vistas of the roads, he brought back to life the pathfinder, the explorer, the romantic in us. He was really a kindly god if worshipped with common sense. But instead his cult often carried his faithful into ecstasy and hysteria.
The effects on men of CAR worship, that is of the new mechanical society, are not yet fully discernible. That society is without question one of the most remarkable in history: it is perhaps also, all its aspects considered, the most lunatic.
It has not been our own creation and though Canadians are almost as ardent worshippers at these shrines as are Americans, they have not invented them. They do not resist the modern god, but he is not quite their god in the same sense as he is the Americans'. It has always been Americans who have worked up the folklore of this modern religion (as. for example, the stories that used to be told about the old Model T Ford—giving a squirrel away with each one to follow it and pick up the nuts), just as it has been Americans who have supplied and taken most seriously its high priests, such as the great cardinal who did so much toward establishing it, Henry Ford himself.
Henry Ford was a figure who could hirdly have been other than American. Canada did not provide a stage for such as he. Yet this was not on account of lack oft opporturiities here for accumulating wealth but rather because that process called for more betting on the sure thing than was necessary across the border.
In the United States, when men got tired of piling up millions, they were apt. in gestures of ennui, or in order to ensure monuments to themselves, to hand their money over to "foundations,'' charities, universities. This public munificence aliso proceeded from genuine patriotism, for many such men were aware that they as Americans were building the republic. In Canada public benefaction was a less familiar pattern: the Canadian rich rnan did not have the same sense of nationalism as the American and. with honorable exceptions, he frequently spent his money in ways which suggest that his patterns of conduct lay outside his own society.
There was something of the provincial about the rich man, as about other Canadians. Consequently the sub-god Croesus did not receive the semi-divine honors often accorded him by our neighbors. Nor did the activities associated with him. "The United States’ business is business," Calvin Coolidge is alleged to have said. No Canadian prime minister would ever have made such a statement.
"Toronto was a beautiful city, fifty years ago" (about 1902), proclaimed a newspaper caption of the 1950s, placed over a picture of the governor-general of that day and his lady alighting from their coach and four outside the mansion of Sir Joseph Flavelle. The way of life there depicted, coach, postilions, footmen and all, was at any rate elegant and had tradition behind it, if not Canadian tradition.
The feudal past, the instincts of a ruling class, wealth, public status (which implies some sense of responsibility), looking to a state of affairs in Great Britain which no longer existed, all these were elements in the makeup of that vast complex which we in Canada called for want of a better name "imperialism”: it was one of our Canadian sub-gods.
For a contrast between it and “tycooncry" pure and simple, Canadians could study the story of the man who had made his million before he was forty. His style of living expanded in sumptuousness, if not in wisdom, with his wealth: he kept a racing stable: he dashed back and forth across continent and ocean. Requiring a little expansion in the sexual sphere and growing tired of his wife, he arranged with his partner to do an exchange. After that last exploit he died of a hemorrhage at 54. A short time later his son fell foul of the police. Our millionaire, if he could have found a cause, might have become a useful citizen and his money might not have destroyed him and his son.
Canada, be it said, did not really produce many pure wasters of this type. Much more typical were the self-made men. who, whatever their road up. gained respectability and became members of university boards of governors or chairmen of the local board of hospital trustees. This is hard to explain, for a “cause” in the Canada of the mid-20th century, in the sense of some impelling and noble objective, seemed just what was lacking. Were we the beneficiaries of our retarded development, still living in the substantial 19th century, with its religious and domestic values, not yet as far along the road of sophistication as our elder brethren who had had more generations of society-building behind them?
The list of men-as-gods does not stop by any means with those who became prominent because of their wealth. Statesmen, soldiers, men of letters, scientists, sportsmen, could all be scrutinized as candidates. What the process involves is finding the hero, that type of man whom a people regard as representative. What came out at once in an examination of Canadian life—English-Canadian—is that there was no hero.
Could anyone imagine an Eisenhower in Canada—a successful general vaulting into political leadership? Generals were strange beasts who roamed forests shunned by the rest of us, and after they had done their wartime duties they were to be shot on sight. Even the great air fighters of the First World War, who for a short time seemed to qualify as heroes, were soon forgotten. The officer class in our growing forces represented a throwback to those old days when there had been superiors and inferiors. Military officers do not make faithful servants of the god Equality.
As for men of letters and scholars as heroes, perish the thought! The chances of their becoming representative figures in a population such as ours were zero. Entertainers, actors, actresses, we could not believe in unless they were American. A considerable section of our youth
Who is it?
He looked tough even then. He was to become synonymous with safety, though he made a living by risking his neck. 'I‘urn to page 73 to find out who he is now.
worshipped readily enough at Hollywood shrines, but we had no local national figures of the sort. Merely rich men did not impress us, as they seemed to do our neighbors. Our labor leaders were a class on the way up but as yet they had become neither powerful enough, rich enough, nor wicked enough to have won for themselves anything like the place in national life enjoyed by some of the great tribal chieftains of labor in the United States.
Statesmen once had been heroes—one has only to think of Sir John. By midcentury they had become just “good fellows"—"Mike” or “John”—one of the boys. Could a new crop of those statues that adorn Parliament Hill in Ottawa be
imagined—dignified gentlemen in frock coats, reading portentous speeches?
We were left with our professional hockey players: it is possible that Lionel Conacher came close to a national popular figure. But hockey players could at best be the heroes of an hour. Canada might be a land fit for heroes to live in but the genius of the Canadian people seemed emphatically to make against its being a land in which heroes lived! It was a hard country on men like gods.
It is by no means the least of Canadian paradoxes that the cult of the god Equality seemed to combine well enough with older creeds which ranged men in a pyramid at whose apex was a semisupreme being receiving quasi-divine honors.
The god Equality is the image of our desires but his offspring, the god Democracy, reflects our intellects. He proved a much more taxing god than his parent and consequently his temples, while thronged with unperceiving crowds, had fewer genuine worshippers. The evidence, it is to be feared, piled up. Political meetings where Democracy was the unseen presence, once vast, could hardly be held —people preferred to enjoy their equal rights to sit at home watching a soap opera on television! At elections complaints came in over the smallness of the vote. Municipal life—the very matrix of the god’s image—quite often could not find men to fill its offices. Democracy had come down to earth and dwelt among us too easily for his own good: we took him for granted and did not value him because we had not wrestled with him.
Logic carries the worship of the god Equality into all spheres: age, sex, race, nation, body. mind. As a result many temples were consecrated in North America to Equality in regions where it
is hard to see that that worship was justified. One of these regions, a strategic one, was education. It is good Christian teaching that every soul is worth as much as every other soul. But it is a far cry from equality of souls to equality of minds. Yet many managed to convert the one belief into the other, and most of those who did so probably were indirectly influenced by the old Christian doctrine.
Once the mind and soul were equally caught up into the theology of Equality, however, the door was open to every absurdity as oblation to the great god. At mid-century a half-baked philosophy had already been emphasizing for a generation the virtues of adjustment, that is, conformity. One of the disservices of simpleton “educators” thus was to forward the trend toward simpleton democracy.
Apart from their efforts, the trend had its own dynamic for the worship of the god did not rest quite as directly on the Christian teaching as it had in previous generations. Two wars had caused a hardening process to set in and had given that much more opportunity for another logic to be worked out, that of CAR. a synonym for which was efficiency. If we still organized anti-cancer, anti-polio and anti-other disease associations (such associations neatly mark the swing in Protestant societies from belief in the worth of souls to belief in the worth of bodies), it was not entirely because of our passionate concern for our fellow men. but also because of our drive toward an efficient society, which CAR demands.
Yet it was mainly the old humane attitude which had become responsible for educational and intellectual chaos, for it assumed that “you couldn’t have too much of a good thing" and sentimentalized the situation in such cries as “every child should have his chance.” This led to keeping as many children in school as long as possible and the enunciation of the doctrine of "exposure.” But many did not profit from this “exposure” to education and so the next step was to temper the wind to the shorn lamb. Nothing contributed more effectively to the decay of the inherited culture, though such sentimentality did not succeed in providing a substitute for it.
Our Canadian schoolteachers, but not the pseudo-philosophers of education, made a good fight against the new educational quackeries. Yet while many schools continued to offer the same old reliable brand of goods as before (a patent reason for its inferiority, in the eyes of the second-raters) others yielded. One of the major educational tasks of the future will be to escape from too zealous worship of the gods Equality and Democracy, w'hile avoiding the complete desertion of their altars.
Not only in education but in every other field the god Equality required his offerings. All occupations tended to be reduced to the same level: you might choose to be a clergyman, I might prefer to run a dance hall. The idea, carried far enough, would equate the banker and the bank robber.
On the aesthetic world the sacrifice to Equality was, it w'ould seem, disastrous. lí allowed a person to say of a work of art, a poem or a play, “Well, that may be your preference, but it is not mine —and no canon of criticism could be set up against such personal judgments, for “everyone is entitled to his choice. To this it was no retort to say that the market would determine the outlines of a culture. The great cultures were built by great artists and by men of great taste and discernment, not by Everyman.
Everyman has had little taste and he has worshipped the god Equality under his other titles of Sameness or Conformity. Consequently he has invariably taken what the mass producers have given him. At mid-century the major point of the salesman-priests who forced their products upon him was that these w'ere “the very latest": the "very latest" both salesman-priest and those over whom he cast his spells would have agreed must be "the very best.” But how could mere change for change’s sake have any but accidental relationships to beauty and to worth?
Thus the twin gods Equality and CAR (the latter under his cognomen “Perpetual Industrial Revolution") drove society on toward the deadly average.
The worship of Equality was not all dark rite: it had its services of song and of joy. The god dampened down some of our human irrationalities. He persuaded many an English Canadian to think of Erench Canadians as fellow citizens rather than as "these Erench.” He lessened anti-Semitic prejudices and induced some tolerance for the foreign immigrant. Though opportunities for the display of them in Canada are limited, he succeeded in having color prejudices frowned upon. For much of all this, that most ubiquitous and industrious of his altar boys, the public school, was directly responsible.
From out of Equality’s heaven proceeded that upon which we invariably prided ourselves the most: our classless society. While not even the great god himself was able to prevent some from thinking themselves “better” than others and from amassing more in the way of power or pelf or education or ancestors than others, while, that is, the class line develops easily and quickly everywhere, yet in general our pride has been founded on fact. As a rule, here in Canada,
men have been judged on their own qualifications. Since Confederation, if not before it, not many public men have had any background of education, culture or wealth other than what they have acquired for themselves. We have suffered, as a result, from shortsightedness and the difficulty self-made men have of thinking in general terms, but we have kept our social ladder free for all hands to climb.
At mid-century. Equality had come close to being the official deity of the Canadian state. In this straining for mystical union with him, whether for bet-
ter or for worse — and it is not selfevident that a desire to stand the society of men and of nations on its head is for the better — Canada was in the same current as was sweeping along the whole human race. Equality had become a universal deity.
In a country like Canada, where the background of most people has been narrow and the opportunities they have had for learning something about the great world few', it is the mass gods who must be worshipped. Deviations are reprobated by the average man. precisely
because he senses that they stand for an order of things which would displace him from his representative position and threaten his power. "Democracy,” the average man would say, “has no room for the fellow' who wants to be different.” The problem is a vast one; how to maintain a society with the equalitarian values of the pioneer and at the same time gradually build a national culture which in the distinctions it makes is not overly concerned with the shrine of Equality.
Foremost, perhaps, among modern deviationists is the gifted individual whose a group of persons about to open the “Canadian National” Exhibition. Prominent among them was a tall gentleman in white naval uniform, with plenty of medals on his breast. It was he who was about to do the opening. To his right were two short gentlemen, who gazed at him in attitudes of respect. All were smiling pleasantly, but the tall gentleman was not showing the evident signs of restraint visible upon the faces of the two shorter ones: “Full well they laughed with counterfeited glee . . .” Their faces were lit up by the interior illumination which comes when the faithful stand in the presence of the elect. The tall gentleman was one of the overseas great, a prince of the blood, the shorter ones were two leaders in provincial and municipal life. Here, printed forever upon two human countenances, plain for men of discernment to decry, was the inescapable expression of that lack of self-dependence and self-confidence coming close to servility which the small feels in the presence of the great. Here was the explanation, perhaps the major explanation, for the uncertain nature of this otherwise pleasant young goddess Cemada.
“It is true that Canada, of all the English-speaking (sic) members of the Commonwealth, has the least distinctive flavor,” wrote Patrick O’Donovan in the Kingston Whig-Standard. “It is virtually without a separate culture of its own . . No wonder.
The goddess Canada made a brief appearance here on earth just after Confederation, but she was immediately ushered back whence she came by George Brown and the Toronto Globe. After that she flitted about the realm named after her, but never managed to occupy it, still less win its people’s hearts. The might and magnetism of that other lady, Britannia, were sufficient to prevent the young woman from taking possession of her own home, and as Britannia changed from a deity to something like an aging woman who had lost her money, another deity sailed into the sky—the southern sky, of course—and those who formerly had bowed down to one outside altar prepared to genuflect before the other.
Canadian businessmen accepted American leadership with alacrity, only too ready to snuggle down in the protecting wing of greatness, while the Canadian man in the street had no feeling about ownership of industry, one way or another. Labor unions were themselves leaders in the process of Americanization, and their Canadian organizations were but reflections of the greater bodies across the border. Here was a new variant of imperialism, American predominance in Canada and Canadian co-operation in American dominance elsewhere, which at
the period of writing was just reaching the initial stages of its political phase.
There was a remnant among English Canadians who objected to their goddess being displaced from her own temple by those who served another national deity. They objected, it could be said, to being swallowed even by the most kindly of crocodile gods. In their resistance they were in harmony with those of French origin, to whom neither alien deity, Britannia or America, was acceptable.
French Canada, fortified behind its language and its faith, had something that English Canada did not possess: a way of life of its own, and a way of life that by mid-century was fast developing its cultural expressions. French Canadians were a people. It' still was doubtful if English Canadians were especially, in that the immigration policy of the administration of the day appeared designed to upset whatever social homogeneity they had previously attained. On the other hand, by displacing the AngloSaxon, with his mere pushing energy, that administration may have given the land, through the scores of thousands of Europeans whom it brought in, the possibilities of a cultural future of its own and even of a political future, for they would not — like some resident Orangemen — find O Canada subversive.
If those who speak English in Canada and do not find O Canada subversive could link up with those who speak French and join to O Canada the words Terre de nos dieux, there might then be some future for the common country.
How sad and sorry Canada must remain as long as it continues to be a pale imitation of the United States. How sad and sorry when the way out appears so plainly: here is a country of two peoples, of two ways of life, of two cultures. That fact alone gives it any distinction it might happen to possess. The two have lived together for nearly two centuries, never intimately and not often happily, but without flying at each other’s throats. That in itself is no mean accomplishment, one to which there are not many parallels elsewhere in the world. They could powerfully reinforce each other—if the more extreme among the French could abandon their touchiness and their lack of interest in everything outside themselves, and if the more extreme among the English their absurd arrogance (what have they to be arrogant about? Secondhand American cars?), their silly notions of racial superiority and their narrow intolerance. Canada, bright young goddess as she seemed to her admirers ninety years before, might again become a potency if those who called themselves her votaries could rise to these necessary heights, it