June 22nd, 2005

[LINK] What's up with Markland?

pompe asks Canadians what's going on in Canada for, it seems, news coverage in Sweden of Canadian affairs is limited.

[W]hen there's Canada in the newspaper, it essentially boils down to three categories. The first one is naturally hockey. The second one is fairly short snippets in what I'd like to call "America Bullies Civilized Neighbour"-category, deporting Canadian citizens and such. The third one, and that's the one this was about as it wasn't in the sports section or in a sidebar, is separatism.
  • Current Mood

[LINK] I don't get this mentality

As someone who was deeply involved in New Age and metaphysical practices, I can tell you from experience: There is a spiritual realm in this world. There are spiritual battles being fought. And there are frightening things from which we need to run--even if, like that Ouija board, they look benign on the surface.

Holly Vicente Robaina at Christianity Today, writing about the spiritual threats of yoga to Christians.

You know, if you're a conservative Christian in the United states in the early 21st century, the outside world must be terrifying.
  • Current Music
    Pet Shop Boys, "Can You Forgive Her?" [MK Remix]

[BRIEF NOTE] Why I Won't Watch War of the Worlds

I'm familiar with much of the War of the Worlds-verse. Alas, I'm unlucky enough to never have heard the 1938 Orson Welles broadcast though I have watched most of the risible yet camp two-season television series. I have, of course, read the original novel by H.G. Wells. I will certainly not be going to see the new War of the Worlds film, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise.

Why? H.G. Wells wrote War of the Worlds back in the first years of the 20th century with the intent of writing an anti-imperialist text, or more precisely, a text that challenged in good Rawlsian fashion the social Darwinism that was the implicit basis for the imperialisms of the belle époque.

Before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?

Wells wrote War of the Worlds with the intent of describing the fragility of civilization, and the insanity of those people--like his artilleryman--who enjoyed unrelenting brutality.

We can't have any weak or silly. Life is real again, and the useless and cumbersome and mischievous have to die. They ought to die. They ought to be willing to die. It's a sort of disloyalty, after all, to live and taint the race. And they can't be happy. Moreover, dying's none so dreadful; it's the funking makes it bad.

What will we get from this new movie version? I doubt that we'll get anything as challenging as Wells' original novel. Spielberg's soft-focus nostalgic camera certainly won't encompass anything like analogies between the situations of Americans and Iraqis, or challenge the brutal survivalism that is increasingly prevalent in our society and infects everything from popular religion to military science fiction. We'll just get eye candy.

So, I won't go. It's a one-man boycott that will do little if anything to halt the lobotomization of literature and the cinema, but it means something to me.

UPDATE (5:41 PM, 23 June 2005) : Crossposted at rec.arts.sf.written.

[BRIEF NOTE] Rome, Revived

In my most interesting game of Europa Universalis II to date, I played Byzantium. The game started in 1420, with Constantinople only ruling Thrace and the Morea. I took advantage of the Frank-ruled Duchy of Athens's war with Albania to wage a peaceful conquest of the former Greek-populated state, then forged a military alliance with a dynamic Empire of Trebizond that managed to conquer its immediate hinterland in northeastern Anatolia. A decade of peace followed, during which I built up my armies and engaged in productive diplomacy with the courts of Orthodox Europe and even with certain of the more notable Frankish states. And then, I unleashed my armies on an Ottoman Empire distracted by wars with other Turkish states in Anatolia, liberating first Rumelia then the eastern shores of the Aegean and Marmara. I managed to restore the eastern empire of Rome, even as Trebizond became Europe's march and the Greek cities of the Crimea declared their independence in a miniature empire stretching into southern Ukraine. If not for an attack by the Venetians, fearing Byzantine interests in their Hellenic island possessions, Byzantium would have been nicely poised to take part in Europe's 15th and 16th century expansion. Already, I already had trade colonies on the Arabian coast.

If ever I write alternate-history fiction, I'd like to include this as a fragment of background. What effect might a revived and dynamic Byzantium have had on the world?

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] Montenegro Through an Atlantic Canadian Prism

A while back, I linked approvingly to Douglas Muir's Halfway Down the Danube post, "Free Montenegro! Or maybe not.". This post was critical of Montenegro's progression to independence on multiple grounds. nwhyte rightly asked me why I was so critical. It isn't because of any prejudice of mine against small states, highly successful and dynamic countries like Luxembourg, Singapore, Estonia, Slovenia, or Barbados. It certainly because I dislike small human islands, geographical or social. Rather, it's because of my biography.

* * *

First, some historical background.

For a time, in the 1970s and the 1980s, there was an annoying tendency among certain Canadian nationalists to identify Canada as a semi-colonial territory. Margaret Atwood, in her seminal 1972 survey Survival, argued (in my view, correctly) that Canadian literature and its authors have been preoccupied by attempts to survive in the midst of a hostile natural environment, and that this marginality is accented by Canada's location under the wing of one or another Great Power. Endurance is one key to Canadian identity.

The central symbol for Canada--and this is based on numerous instances of its occurrence in both English and French Canadian literature--is undoubtedly Survival, la Survivance. Like the Frontier and The Island, it is a multi-faceted and adaptable idea. For early explorers and settlers, it meant bare survival in the face of "hostile" elements and/or natives: carving out a place and a way of keeping alive. But the word can also suggest survival of a crisis or disaster, like a hurricane or a wreck, and many Canadian poems have this kind of survival as a theme; what you might call 'grim' survival as opposed to 'bare' survival. For French Canada after the English took over it became cultural survival, hanging on as a people, retaining a religion and a language under an alien government. And in English Canada now while the Americans are taking over it is acquiring a similar meaning. (Atwood 32)

Unfortunately, some people overly enamoured of Immannuel Wallerstein's world system theory went too far. Immanuel Wallerstein proposed that the world as a human system is united by what he calls the "world-economy"--a global capitalist economy that is the product of the immense European expansion overseas that began in the 15th century--and is divided between prosperous "core" economies and marginal "peripheral" economies. There further exists a special category of intermediate economies (the "semiperiphery") that may rank with core economies in a particular aspect such as living standards, control over natural resources, or a large domestic market, but which are ultimately dependent upon core economies for their intermediate status.

For too many Canadian nationalists of the 1970s and 1980s, Canada was a semi-peripheral country, exporting a wide variety of staple commodities and comparatively few manufactured goods or specialized services, yet producing some manufactured exports and investing in foreign economies. This classification is inaccurate when it is used in relation to Canada at any time after the first quarter of the 20th century, when British dominions like Canada became authentically independent states, Canada became an urbanized and an industrialized country with a very high standard of living and subsequently a major technological power and foreign investor. The idea that Canada in the 1970s was comparable to, say, Yugoslavia in any way apart from their shared status as middle powers, verges upon the ridiculous. Trudeau was not Tito no matter what Albertans might say, Slovenia is not Québec, and the RCMP is certainly not the JNA.

Even so, one comparison does come to mind. Atlantic Canada--the four eastern provinces of Canada, though you could as easily add much of eastern Québec on socioeconomic and geographical grounds to this category--is a region with a strong maritime tradition that took Atlantic Canadians away from their continental hinterland, with an agricultural economy that never really managed to modernize despite (among other factors) tourism and lags behind its continental hinterland, and (unsurprisingly) a history of mass emigration. The Adriatic coastline of the former Yugoslavia has a surprisingly similar sort of history, with strong maritime traditions, an agricultural economy that never really modernized and which remains highly dependent on tourism, and (again, unsurprisingly) histories of massive emigration. Dalmatia--the region occupying most of the coastal areas of independent Croatia--has firmly welded into the Croatian nation-state by, among other factors, the war of independence. Montenegro, an autonomous republic linked only tenuously with Serbia, seems to be shifting towards independence.

* * *

I've often imagined how I'd react if, for some bizarre reason, Prince Edward Island held a referendum on separation from Canada. I've come to the conclusion that two thoughts would take immediate precedence.

1. "Leave. Leave, by the name of all that's still holy, while you still qualify as Canadian citizens and no one can trap you on the Island."

2. "Stay, liquidate all your assets, buy up the land and other property now available at low prices, and build yourself a real-estate empire."

Within Canada, for the past century and a third the Island's democratically-elected provincial governments have presided over an uninterrupted period of relative economic decline. Once, the Island was one of the richest parts of the world, with a shipbuilding industry; now, GDP per capita seems to be on par with some of the richer newly-industrialized and post-communist countries. We are slipping down the list, and we do not know how to catch up. We want to become innovative, but how do we do that, why we decide to approach innovation as a fixed goal not as a state of constant innovation and turmoil, roll a 6 on a 12-sided die and advance to tech level 7. We want to attract more immigrants, but how do we want to do that, we want to inaugurate a system not too far removed from indentured servitude, keep our "guests" at home while we leave in droves.

Prince Edward Island has never been an independent state. It is true that, between 1867 and 1873, the Island was independent of the young Dominion of Canada, but that was because we hadn't yet exhausted our financial reserves building a provincial railway (now gone, its bed serving as a fine hiking and biking trail) and Ottawa hadn't offered to buy out our absentee landlords. Newfoundland, our near neighbour, was an independent state for a long while, poor and incapable of social advances even before it was prostrated by the Great Depression. One of the more notable facts in the last decade of our neighbour province's political history is the attempt, in 1932, of an angry mob in St. John's to lynch the prime minister. The suspension of constitutional government is a mere afterword in comparison.

Would an independent Prince Edward Island do as well as, say, an independent Newfoundland? No. Newfoundlanders have a certain dynamism about them and their culture, a strong collective identity creatively expressed, that might yet allow them to relaunch their national project. There is nothing comparable on the Island apart from a sense of collective identity verging on ethnicity that's expressed mainly in quiet soft xenophobia. Islanders are uncreative. Islanders won't change their ways unless they suffer terribly, and even then I suspect we'd try for cheap deus ex machina one-shot solutions: arranging our annexation by Japan, leasing out West Prince to China for use as a short-range missile base, encouraging the approaching Tau Cetian merchant fleet to pick us as Earth's sole entrepôt for interstellar trade. I have no confidence in Islanders' ability to manage their province's future in a way that doesn't require our dependency on some outside agency. If I did, perhaps I'd have stayed.

* * *

I know that I may be being unfair to Montenegro in saddling that nascent nation-state with the psychic baggage thrown onto me by Prince Edward Island. I certainly don't think that Montenegro should be forced to remain in a federation that a majority of Montenegrins don't seem to want, not that the federation seems to serve any constructive purpose in any case. Then again, the prospects for an independent Montenegro seem worse in many ways than the prospects for an independent Island. Are Montenegrins are a separate nation or just a variety of Serb? What future role will the Bosniak and Albanian minorities have? How can the economy be modernized? What sort of relationship can Montenegrins build with a European Union that does not seem terribly keen on the idea of expansion? I leave aside the question of Montenegro's responsibility for the 1991 siege and bombardment of Dubrovnik and the looting of that city's hinterland, and reports that the Montenegrin government has Mafia connections.

My conclusion? If the group of people leading a nascent nation-state is as incompetent as the typical Atlantic Canadian political elite, be very concerned.