They do not reason together — the centre cannot hold

How To Live Next Door To America Without Getting Burned

August 1 1970
They do not reason together — the centre cannot hold

How To Live Next Door To America Without Getting Burned

August 1 1970


What has already entered history as “the Denver speech” clarified some things for us all. It gave lucid expression to what had hitherto been only a latent popular emotion. It signaled that Canadians had stopped asking whether the American sickness was contagious and now were discussing ways to immunize themselves against it. The speech followed a period of national reflection that began two years ago when Pierre Trudeau soliloquized publicly about the danger that violent dissent in the United States could grow into civil war and spill anarchically over Canada’s border.

Traditionally, Canadians have shared vicariously in the glow of the American Dream. They have admired its Whitmanesque zeal for emancipation, its know how, power and abundance. This summer many of us see that dream becoming a nightmare.

What can we do about it? Certainly, we cannot change the menacing directions in which the complex American society is moving. Can we even cope with its marginal consequences? Perhaps the best we can do is learn from the American experience, avoid its mistakes, find more hopeful directions for ourselves.

On the following pages, Maclean’s defines five aspects of the American crisis. Then, it presents the comments of a panel of distinguished Canadian authorities. Most of - them, happily, are buoyantly optimistic about Canada’s possibilities. Together, they offer a significant pointer to Canadians who want to set about building “something that is clearly their own.”


Our neighbor’s house is on fire. If we’re not careful, we’ll get burned. Maclean’s reports on the crises in American politics, law and order, education, technology and values — and goes to the best minds in Canada for pointers on how we can stay out of crises ourselves:

America: They do not reason together — the centre cannot hold

ON THE LEFT, there’s Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman urging a violent revolution. On the Right, there’s Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew calling anti-war demonstrators “effete snobs” and “bums.” And that’s the problem. Americans no longer “reason together.” They choose up sides.

THE VANISHING MIDDLE: “Demagogy and the pressures of the most unpopular war in American history are rendering this country incapable of sane debate. On the extreme Left is the relative handful driven to acts of violence . . . Toward the Centre, protest ranges from long-haired youths and sober college administrators, respectable segments of the Establishment

. . . These middle-of-the-road voices are now being drowned out by the raucous shouts of the extreme Right, by the super patriots whose sentiments are expressed in the bumper sticker ‘America: Love it or leave it.’ ” — political commentator Fred J. Cook.

FLAG FRENZY: The flag has become a symbol of division. While growing numbers are defacing, burning, tearing up and otherwise casting contempt on the nation’s colors, the streets of New York are looking more and more like Memorial Day in New England. Fire engines and garbage trucks proudly fly the Stars and Stripes. Buses have flags pasted on their windshields. New York policemen got permission to wear little American-flag pins on their uniforms. There are jeweled pins for women, tie clips for men. Decals are popular among hard-hatted construction workers. America may be experiencing a mild economic recession, but the flag business was never better. “No one sees the flag anymore,” writes journalist Jonathan Black, “without the thought of blood and venom.”

LEADERSHIP VACUUM: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible,” said John F. Kennedy, “will make violent revolution inevitable.” America today lacks moderate leaders. There are no Martin Luther Kings or Robert Kennedys to bring the people together. The most political blacks, the most militant students, the most fervent peace people work outside the machinery of the established parties. Americans are led byGeorgeWallaces and Eldridge Cleavers, Abbie Hoffmans and Ronald Reagans.

Two weeks before a student was “accidentally” killed by police during a demonstration on the Santa Barbara campus of the University of California, Governor Reagan had said: “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement.”

THE CULTURE GAP: Life in America is a study in contrasts. “For most Americans,” says political historian Theodore White, “life has gotten better, in every way, than 20 years ago. Schools are better. The food is better. Architecture is better. Vacations are longer. Circumstances of daily life are more and more comfortable, except for what the draft does to their boys and inflation does to their wages. On the other hand, in New York we journalists stress not the present progress but the problems of the near and distant future. There is pollution, racial discrimination, violence, traffic, all sorts of problems. This New York analysis of our environment stems from areas where the institutional crisis is most acute, yet it’s heard by the people who live in the old environment and are not nearly so disturbed. That is the cultural gap.”

THE SCORECARD: Because of the danger of sniper attacks, a 70-year-old tradition of New York policemen mustering in front of their station houses at the beginning of each shift has been discontinued. “Out in the open,” explained one cop, “we were sitting ducks.” Violence on one side provokes a violent response. “I’m getting to feel like I’d actually enjoy going out and shooting some of these people,” said a Chicago salesman after a student demonstration. “They’re trying to destroy everything I’ve worked for — for myself, my wife and my children.” A sign carried by a New York construction worker during a recent demonstration read: “National Guard: 4 — Kent: 0.”

Can Canada avoid the U.S.A.’s political upheavals?

Author Jane Jacobs, an American urban-affairs critic, two years resident in Toronto: Yes — if government will “respond to human beings, not to big-business groups.” The U.S. lesson? For years American authorities “have toadied to special interests (such as apartment developers), displaying contempt for the people and ignoring their legitimate demands.”

Can Canadians avoid such frustrations?

University of Toronto economist and author James Lorimer: Perhaps — “if people can be persuaded that there’s some point in being politically active.”

Mel Hurtig, Edmonton book publisher and Liberal Party activist, tells under-25s: “Wake up to the incredible political power you have. If you want to change the country, start by taking over the constituency you live in. Anybody can do it.”

What’s to prevent grassroots action from being anti-Establishment violence, as in the U.S.?

Abraham Rotstein, political economist and managing editor of The Canadian Forum: “The persistent Canadian political tradition of operating on consensus.”

Robert Fulford, editor, Saturday Night: “Canadians are compromisers.”

Is Canadian tolerance real?

United Church moderator Dr. Robert McClure: Yes — but we’ll need much more of it in future than we have now. As cities grow more congested and social problems proliferate, our present level of tolerance won’t do. “We must educate our children in tolerance — even make it a subject in school.”

America: The citizen buys a gun and avoids the streets at night

ACCORDING TO the U.S. National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, the United States, with 10 times Canada’s population, has 50 times as many murders, 30 times as many rapes, 20 times as many robberies and 180 times as many assaults each year.

Eighty-one percent of Americans believe that law enforcement has broken down, according to recent polls, and a substantial, though much smaller number regard the law and the agencies that enforce it with cynicism and mistrust.

NOBODY’S SAFE: Between 1960 and 1968 the rate of criminal homicide in the United States increased 36%; the rate of forcible rape by 65%; the rate of aggravated assault by 67 % ; the rate of robbery by 19%. Fewer than 25% of reported crimes result in arrests. Half the women and a fifth of the men say they are afraid to walk outdoors at night. A third of American householders own a gun.

NO MAN’S LAND: In a six-block section of Harlem, 80% of the population is addicted, and on every block there are at least 12 “shooting galleries” where addicts congregate for their daily fix. “What can you expect,” says a Negro community worker, “when dealing in drugs is the easiest money in the ghetto?” In 66% of the homicides and assaults and 60% of the rapes in U.S. cities the victims are Negroes.

THE BAD TRIP: In New York city alone there are now more than 100,000 heroin addicts. Among the victims are the 300 to 900 babies born each year to addicted mothers who shortly after birth undergo all the pain and torture addicts suffer during withdrawal. More New Yorkers between the ages of 15 and 35 now die of illnesses related to heroin use than any other cause. While the courts and police stand by, apparently helpless, as many as 20 million Americans are taking dope.

GUNSMOKE, 1970: On December 4, 1969, 14 plainclothes men shot their way into a Chicago apartment, killing Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark and bringing the number of Panthers killed by police since September 1968 to 15. More than 370 have been arrested, more than 850 summoned for questioning. The Panthers call it a police vendetta. “I am skeptical,” said Yale University president Kingman Brewster Jr., “of the ability of black revolutionaries to achieve a fair trial anywhere in the United States.” Radicals claim U.S. courts are being used to snuff out dissent. Washington Post columnist Nicholas von Hoffman has described the Chicago conspiracy trial as an attempt to try Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman and company, not for their revolutionary activities but for their revolutionary beliefs.

Canada: ‘Overhaul the courts and make them more humane’

Do Canadians share Americans’ overwhelming distrust of law-enforcement agencies?

Regina Police Chief Arthur Cookson, president, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police: Far from it. “Eighty-five percent — probably more — of the Canadian public support us. But they’re the silent majority.” Police should put down the other 15% “whenever they start something.”

Maxwell Cohen, McGill University law professor: Only by applying “a sense of moderation” will police maintain the public confidence they now enjoy.

Clayton Ruby, practising lawyer and author (Law, Law, Law): The old nightstick-across-the-temple response is both wrong and ineffective because, on both sides of the border, certain offenses (such as marijuana possession, war protest marches) are bringing middle-class people into frequent confrontations with police for the first time.

Cohen: The one-law-for-all concept is obsolete. Instead, we need laws and law-enforcement policies tailored to provide three different responses to (a) fulltime criminals; (b) “riffraff” (drunks, panhandlers, occasional thieves); (c) New Leftists. Also needed: extensive overhaul of judicial system; more police commissions oriented to people rather than to police.

America: Schools are blamed for dropouts, dope and weird kids

NEXT MONTH AMERICA’S seven million college and 50 million school students begin the most uncertain educational year since the Civil War. Meanwhile, the cost of education in the U.S. this year will rise to $42.5 billion (or more than half of Canada’s Gross National Product). □ THE TAXPAYERS’ REVOLT : “We don’t know what’s going on in the schools,” complains James E. Patrick, vice chairman of the Valley National Bank, Phoenix. “We don’t know what you teachers are producing — except dope and dropouts and a lot of weird-looking kids.” The people who pay the shot are edgy about student radicalism. New Mexico Governor David Cargo recently lost his bid for the U.S. Senate as a result of indignation over university uprisings. Private eastern universities report alumni contributions down. The California legislature is cutting faculty salaries by 5% to compensate for damage to campus property. As a result of this backlash, some universities are running high deficits. Many others border on insolvency. Christian College, a private university in Missouri, recently ran a newspaper ad offering to name itself after any donor who would put up five million dollars. There were no takers.

MESSAGE FROM THE STUDENTS: In June a student stabbed a Brooklyn schoolteacher, bringing to 175 the number of assaults on teachers in New York schools in the last school year. In an atmosphere of general violence outside, 1969-70 was the most violent in U.S. history inside the classrooms, too. Some 1,000 demonstrations erupted on more than 200 campuses, causing millions of dollars’ worth of damage. As New York University President James Hester says, “The message of dissatisfaction is getting through.”

Canada: ‘Education doesn’t create our problems, but it can solve them’

What are schools doing wrong that makes communities so critical of their students?

Lloyd Dennis, co-author of Ontario’s widely acclaimed 1968 Hall-Dennis report on education: An irrelevant question. “Alienation, drugs and other problems are not products of the school system but of the culture.” The James E. Patricks of Canada should be asking: How can the educational system help solve our cultural problems? And “if we watch what’s happening in the States and benefit from what we see, we could probably put our educational system to work to good advantage.”

Is Berkeley-style campus unrest likely in Canada?

Dr. Edward Sheffield, professor of higher education, University of Toronto: Possible — but not likely. Radical-led national student organizations (English and French) have collapsed through lack of wide support.

America: Astronauts walk on the moon while the cities rot

“THE FIRST PRINCIPLE of America’s technological society is the maxim that something ought to be done because it is technically possible to do it. If it is possible to build nuclear weapons, they must be built, even if they might destroy us all. If it is possible to travel to the moon or to the planets, it must be done, even if at the expense of many unfulfilled needs here on earth.” — U.S. psychoanalyst Erich Fromm.

But America’s love affair with technology is cooling off.

GOOD HOUSEKEEPING: Almost every other day public schools in Los Angeles forbid children to exercise outdoors, lest they breathe too deeply the city’s air. In New York, just breathing is said to be the equivalent of smoking 38 cigarettes a day. South of St. Louis, the Mississippi is so toxic that signs warn against eating near the bank. Twenty-two species of American wildlife are extinct, another 80 nearly so. Young Americans carry Strontium 90 in their bones, asbestos in their lungs, iodine 131 in their thyroid and DDT in their fat. The estimated cost of undoing the damage already done to the American environment: $100 billion.

LIFE IN THE CITY: The cities of the United States, writes urbanologist Ron M. Linton, were made “to produce goods efficiently, to provide for new technology, to exploit the industrial revolution.” But are they livable? Only 18 million of the 50 million families in the United States today can afford a house of average value. Housing, says Housing Secretary George Romney, is the number one problem. “But there are others. We have obsolete schools, obsolete recreation facilities, a lack of adequate transportation.” Americans spend twice as much on roads as on education, yet most cities are hopelessly congested. In 1907 horse-drawn vehicles moved through New York streets at an average 11.5 miles per hour; automobiles crawl along today at an average daytime speed of six miles per hour.

GROWING NADERISM: An average 100 accidents a day on U.S. railways account for 2,400 deaths a year. More Americans died last year in highway accidents than in all the Vietnam war. There were two million cases of salmonella food poisoning last year. About 100,000 Americans a year are injured walking through safety glass. The author of all these facts is crusading lawyer Ralph Nader. Like millions of American consumers, he wonders why a technology that can put men on the moon can’t build a dashboard clock that keeps time.

Canada: ‘Technology can help us — but we must be pioneers’

Why can’t we control our technology?

Author Jane Jacobs: We can — if we try. But we’re deluding ourselves about it. Delusion No. 1: technology is progressing so rapidly that society can’t adjust to it. Nonsense: “There hasn’t been any rapid advance in technology in transportation, in noise prevention, in waste recycling, in capturing air pollutants, in sewage disposal, in house construction. It’s all stultifying.” And stultification, not rapid advance, is causing the problems. Delusion No. 2: we haven’t the means in Canada to embark on new technological ground; we must let Americans take the lead. “If Canada is going to wait for everything to be proved out first in the U.S. — why, yes, Canada will be stultified. But there’s no reason why it has to. There’s no reason why Canada can’t be creative about waste recycling, for instance, or about new methods of construction or new kinds of zoning.” In fact we have a better chance than Americans had, at the same stage, of saving decaying cities: Canadians have “a sort of basic sanity” that’s lacking in her fellow Americans.

America: The hippie psychology rubs off— to hell with work

“So OUR AMERICAN Dad is maybe 40 or 50 and what can he possibly look you in the eye and tell you is important to live for? How could it be love and honestly knowing other people, when he’s spent his whole life working hard, planning for his compensations? How could he tell you he’s been living for the wrong things all his life, for goals which are superficial and illusionary and in the final human analysis will mean nothing?” —from an underground high-school newspaper.

The disenchantment began in the 1950s with the beatniks and grew in the 1960s with the hippies. Today it’s rubbing off on millions of Americans who haven’t dropped out.

LAW SCHOOL TO LEAN TO: “The Radcliffe girls I know are going to law school,” says a graduating Harvard student. “The boys are going to New Hampshire to build a lean-to.” A Fortune magazine survey reports that 40% of college students — “the forerunners,” Fortune calls them — are dissatisfied with “American values.”

LIFE BEGINS AT QUITTING TIME: Americans are no longer turned on by the Protestant ethic that hard work is a virtue, says Harvard business professor Abraham Zaleznik. “There has been a consistent reduction in the commitment of men to work as a way of life,” agrees Lane Kirkland, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIOL, “and a great tendency to choose leisure over additions to income.”

FIVE O’CLOCK HIGH:

One 55-year-old partner in a New York law firm gets marijuana regularly from a younger colleague and says his favorite relaxation is getting together with some of the under-30s after hours for a “sociable joint.” Drug use is becoming prevalent among the middleclass 20-to-40 age group. A New York doctor says he knows of a company where “half the computer operators are frequently zonked.”

NEVER TOO LATE: Nathan R. Rothschild Jr. recently resigned as president of the New York department store Abraham and Straus to devote himself fully “to urban renewal, poverty and education.” He is 49. According to Dean J. E. Bourne of Columbia University’s school of general studies, more and more middle-aged Americans are moving from profit-making careers into public service. “It’s a characteristic of the age.”

Canada: ‘Kids should work for happiness, not more leisure’

Do young Canadians reject the old work ethic?

United Church moderator Dr. Robert McClure: “Young Canadians aren’t picking leisure instead of work. They’re picking happiness” (searching for sounder motives than money, status or conventionality).

Robert Fulford, critic-broadcaster - editor: “For the first time, even the middle class are asking themselves, ‘Why am I working?’ ”

Author Jane Jacobs: The trend isn’t to revolt against the Protestant ethic but a return to it. “The young aren’t willing to work for greedy, superficial purposes but out of pride and for satisfaction.”

“WE LIVE IN A fireproof house, far from inflammable materials.” A Canadian spokesman said that at the old League of Nations. He was wrong then. He’d be dead wrong now. We see the fire for ourselves, and not just on TV : during the long hot summer of 1967, Canadians in Windsor were distracted from Centennial celebrations by black clouds of smoke rolling across the skyline of Detroit, half a mile away.

The United States — our neighbor of necessity, our ally if we choose — is deep in darkest difficulty. All of us know the troubles she’s seeing. In Indochina, the longest, meanest war in U.S. history is eating at her body politic like some wasting, enfeebling disease, and the patient still shrinks from radical surgery, which is its only cure. Back home, her more perfect union has come apart at its seams. Gone, seemingly beyond recall, is Martin Luther King’s dream of brotherhood among Americans black and white. Bigotry once more pays off at the polls. Polio is conquered but there’s heroin instead. Putrid flows the Potomac. Push comes to shove, shove stays to scuffle, scuffle turns to shoot, and so are martyrs made.

Images do matter for they imply a policy. If we in Canada have as our personal vision of America in torment a society swept by flames or ravaged by pestilence, the remedies are obvious: we should keep our distance, get to work on firebreaks, impose a quarantine.

But this won’t do us any good and could do us some harm. The border is no firebreak at all. Lifestyles cross it without a visa, and we can no more keep them out than the models for next year’s cars, the plats du jour of the latest macrobiotic diet rushed fresh from San Francisco.

A better image, then, than that of fire or plague is the image of the storm. America in torment is America the turbulent. Turbulence — even in the violent, frightening form of a hurricane sweeping up the Missouri Valley or the New England states to wreak havoc farther north — is not without beneficial side effects. It clears the air. It fills the reservoirs. If the atmosphere were always calm, no gentle rains would fall — or useful brains migrate.

We may count yet another blessing that would not otherwise be ours. I do not believe that without the stirring, on many fronts, of conscience in America, Canada’s conscience could have come to life as it has done.

If our churches, roused from torpor and complacency, are questing and restless at last, it is because lively American theologians set out to show that reports of God’s death were greatly exaggerated, it is because American pastors and priests joined protest in the streets.

If our professions, bastions of privilege and protection, are beginning to show some slight awareness of the plight of those beyond their paid-up memberships, it is because soul-searching in the law schools and the medical schools of the United States bred that new generation of Frank Scotts and Norman Bethunes, which we showed few signs of producing on our own.

If freshets of innovation and social concern are blowing through our universities, it is because students at Berkeley and Columbia, Harvard and Wisconsin, outraged at the hypocrisies and evasions of the modern multiversity, took its destiny into their own hands. That praetorian bands of storm troopers attached themselves to these young idealists was inevitable, and ought not to cheapen the worth of their achievement. It may be seen at its best at Columbia — one of my alma maters — which began the decade with a president who spoke the language of a Wall-Street lawyer and ended it with a president who spoke the language of a student radical.

The United States serves Canada in many roles — a place to go in the winter, a model to which to aspire, someone to kick when he’s down. It is as well a giant laboratory where social inventions, as useful here as there, are tested at no expense to ourselves. We can profit, as Samoans or Trobriand Islanders may not, from their successes — where the Bill of Rights does justice, where the New Deal deals fairly, where the melting pot melts prejudice leaving pride of ancestry intact. And we can learn from their mistakes.

Mistakes abound these past few years — so much so that any laboratory paying its way would have long ago been closed. America is not now so much the scene of the controlled experiment as a living theatre of the absurd. Admission is free for everyone, but Canadians have choice seats up front. Morality plays in modern dress are performed 24 hours a day — including Sundays and holidays. For some audiences their message is obscure, but it is not at all obscure for us. As daily spectators at this lurid pageant we understand it very well, it comes in loud and clear: “Canada deserves a better fate than to become, like us, affluent but absurd, voluptuous but violent.”

The derangement of democracy in America may persist past 1972, but it can’t go on for ever. We can’t do much about it, but then we don’t need to do much about it. Americans are now their own severest critics. Along with avenging destroyers intent on burning the place down are men of goodwill intent on rescue, and we should wish them well. No people ought to found their prosperity, much less their sense of purpose, on the misfortune of another. (Prohibition was just a passing phase.)

But if America rediscovers her true mission — one cannot yet write “when” — that won’t relieve us of the job of finding one of our own. Imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery, but for a healthy Canadian nationalism it is fatal. How are we to admit that our country is only the United States at more northerly latitudes, lower levels of productivity, lesser propensities — thus far — to riot in the streets? We need to know what is uniquely Canadian in North America. Unless we make some contribution to life on this continent demonstrably and recognizably our own, there is little reason to go on paying the price of being Canadian, which in monetary terms gets more costly every year. (After Finance Minister Benson sorts things out, our national motto — A mari usque ad mare — will have to be changed to Apud Canadienses paulo carius: “Slightly higher in Canada.”)

And that Canadian contribution must be more than token or ephemeral. Three downs instead of four before you lose the ball is not enough on which to build a way of life — especially if the players are from Kansas or Kentucky. Nor even is an Expo every hundred years. But are there not awaiting discovery by our social prospectors — along with the ore bodies and oil and cure for diabetes — better ways of living in the temperate zones of plenty than Americans have devised? The care and teaching of our children. The care and nurture of our cities. Respect for age. Worship of gods. Pursuits of learning — and of happiness.

As we grapple with some agenda such as this, we ought not to be distracted by noises off and to the south. The business at hand is too intrinsically important to let drop in a paralysis of fright. If we can’t keep cool, because of the heat, we can at least keep calm. In somebody’s war memoirs is reprinted an exchange of telegrams between Winston Churchill and a British general having a hard time of it in World War II. The general’s signal told of food and supplies running low, morale running lower still, and, after much whining in this vein, concluded: “We are living under a volcano.” Churchill’s reply consisted of seven words: “Where else do you expect to live?”