A couple weeks ago, Spencer Fernando wrote a piece called “Good & Evil,” which made the argument that moral relativism is at fault for cultivating a tepid response to human rights abuses around the world. He called for vigilance in maintaining a rigid demarcation of our Western conceptions of right and wrong, decrying the growing wave of criticism against Canadian society and culture. He asks, “How can we defend that which we do not perceive?” Well, I would say he does a very good job of defending precisely something that he does not perceive.
I find the glaring lack of any mention regarding systemic injustice to be utterly inexcusable in an article extolling that “standing up for our human rights and the rights of all humanity is always a noble pursuit, and therefore is the moral thing to do.”
Fernando describes morality as “defending what is right, and what I view as right is personal liberty and economic independence.” Well if that is truly the case, he should re-think his proclamation that “Western society, and Canadian society in particular, have much to be praised for, we have built one of the most respectful, wealthy, and free societies that the world has ever known.”
Canada has also done a wonderful job of creating a façade of collective myths convincing us we deserve to be heralded as a benevolent society — something Fernando obviously takes to heart. Yet in reality, Canada has its own history of perpetrated genocide against First Nations populations, and we continue to prosper on the blood, sweat and resources of the global south — hardly making for a model of economic independence for either them or us. He denounces “a troubling trend has led us to the point where it seems more acceptable to criticize our government and our society, than it does to criticize governments and societies with truly awful and shameful human rights records.” Unfortunately, the well-documented actions of our government and corporate society make it obvious they fall under the latter category.
The birth of our nation came out of the intentional deception, exploitation and outright extermination of the diverse indigenous populations that lived here for thousands of years before we arrived. Today we continue to allow ongoing cultural genocide against them and refuse to invest in their future by not providing the structures necessary to address the vast socioeconomic disparity felt between them and the rest of Canadians.
Even in our short lifetimes, Canada has been anything but a moral compass or gold standard of human rights, instead morphing into a global detractor of human rights progression: an environmental pariah, attaching its economy to tar sands, producing the dirtiest commodity known to man; the most steadfast ally of Israel, remaining conspicuously stagnant in pursuing any sort of punishment for their relentless aggression; the captain of the global mining industry
that has been repeatedly connected to murder, rape, massive environmental contamination, corruption and decimation of local economies in the developing world; a thief robbing the developing world of their highly skilled workers, subsequently rejecting their credentials upon arrival, then forcing them into marginal jobs driving cabs, cleaning toilets or slaughtering pigs. These and numerous other ongoing human rights violations supported by Canada’s government and corporations absolutely cannot be ignored just because their consequences are felt on foreign soil by people other than us.
Even within our own borders, the emergence of neoliberal ideologies and their corporate champions over the past 30 years have allied with our government and are attempting to [systematically dismantle our social supports and services]. These are incredibly hard-won achievements that have become foundational to our great nation and afforded us exactly the quality of life lauded by Fernando, yet we continue to tolerate them being blatantly trampled upon.
He lays out the choice for “those who criticize the Canadian system, to those who feel that it is Canada and our allies who are the problem. [ . . . ] Would you prefer to live in a third world dictatorship? And what about our economic system? If it is so bad and ‘oppressive,’ perhaps you would prefer the liberating freedom of living in a socialist economy such as North Korea, or perhaps Cuba?”
This is a misguided, leveraged and ultimately useless question aimed at supporting his faulty argument. The questions and dilemmas facing us will not be answered by trying to exchange one attempted system for another, or by ascribing ourselves to what he considers rigid moral superiority. The answers will be found in creating a new system that is egalitarian, equitable, sustainable and attends to the needs and well-being of all. This system does not currently exist.
Fernando says, “This era of relative peace and freedom is short by the measure of history, and if we are not mindful and grateful for what we have, we risk losing it.” He argues that we need to take an ethnocentric and nationalistic stance, defiantly defending our current way of life against anyone questioning the roots of such excess property, prosperity and consumption. On the other hand, I believe we have to recognize our livelihood is intertwined with — even frequently dependent on — our connection with an incredible diversity of different nations and cultures we have a long history of subjecting to exploitation solely for our benefit.
For that reason we have to criticize our government and our way of life before we criticize others, because this is what we can immediately change. As he so eloquently puts it: “It is up to all of us to remember how blessed we are to live in this country and this society, and to protect and strengthen it for the future.” Let us remember we also have the potential, opportunity and obligation to be doing the same for the world’s future by first making sure that our own nation, government and economy — as incredibly powerful and influential as they are — become held accountable to only the highest standards in their treatment of human rights.
Kyle Hiebert is a third-year sociology major and a co-founder of the student group Docs that shows documentaries related to environmental, political, and social justice issues bi-weekly.
2: http://canadiangenocide.nativeweb.org/genocide.pdf http://toronto.nooneisillegal.org/node/380
: http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/bullet139.html l