Through the curiosities of circumstance, Nigel Clarke finds himself marooned in Ottawa, the capital of the socialist haven of Canada. Thanks to The Progressive Army and co-conspirators who must remain nameless, Nigel is able to smuggle his thoughts on life behind the curtain to the outside world each week.
To read last week’s correspondence click here
I am, admittedly, somewhat of an unsavory looking character. The last time I cut my hair was before my cousin’s wedding. She and her husband are now on their second home and third child. The last time I cut my beard was never.
When a man of my particular appearance emerges from the nooks and crannies in a major city, it can tend to startle people. Most individuals have very poor poker faces and the look I am most often given, if just for a moment, is something between distaste and fear.
This does not offend me. My appearance is at least as much social experiment as personal pleasure.
It is an experiment which, for a straight, white, male in western society – with all the implied benefits that bestows – is about something other than race, gender, or sexuality. It is, in many ways, about class.
The way I look has been described by the more derogatory among us as homeless-chic, minus the chic part. And therein lies the heart of the response to my appearance. When presented with someone not manicured to acceptable societal standards, most will allow their minds to apply the popularized characteristics of homelessness upon that person: dangerous, desperate, dirty, perhaps deranged — and certainly, and most importantly, poor.
I have, however, started to notice an interesting variable within the issue here in socialist Canada.
What I thought was mere coincidence, I have come to realize is, in fact, part of a vital commentary on patriotism — that loaded term.
It is the power of the Tim Hortons cup.
If “America runs on Dunkin Donuts,” then Canada, it appears, runs on Tim Hortons.
Named after a hockey player (of course it was), Tim Hortons exists in the Canadian lexicon in the same way Kleenex does in the U.S. – a brand name replacing a generic term in popular use. As someone might say “my nose is running, can you pass me a Kleenex” instead of “a tissue,” in Canada coffee is often replaced with Tims; as in, “I’ll be at work shortly eh, I just have to stop for a Tims.”
Advertisements for Tim Hortons are an exercise in Canadiana; featuring people playing hockey or camping, firefighters, police officers, construction workers, or other government (‘socialist’) employees.
Walk into any Tim Hortons, at least here in Ottawa, and you will see the Canadian mosaic in action – people of all races, ages, and economic standing waiting together for a cup of black gold.
I’ve come to realize that in many ways Tim Hortons coffee acts as a beacon of Canadian patriotism.
And from my perspective, I have noticed the uncomfortable looks I get due to my appearance are reduced to essentially none whenever I am holding a Tims in my hand.
I have begun to actively explore this hypothesis; walking up at night to people on a dark side street with a coffee hidden from view and saying hello, then watching as the distress in their eyes turns to comfort the moment I lift the beloved Tims to my lips and take a deep swig. It is a curious thing…
There is an increasing tendency nowadays, among progressives in particular, to view patriotism negatively. It is hard not to understand why.
Consider patriotism in Trump’s America; used as an exclusionary force, defining us through the condemnation of them. Of course, this type of patriotism is far from unique to Trump.
When Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama was conducting military operations in at least seven countries around the world, mostly through his horrific, civilian-slaughtering drone campaigns, he received a pass, or even support, from much of the United States, Republicans and Democrats alike. This because they (the ones getting bombed) were not us – their lives not as important in this version of patriotism as America’s imperialist business interests.
Remember how opposition to the Iraq War was presented in W. Bush’s America; not as ideologically incorrect but as unpatriotic and treasonous.
When Bill and Hillary Clinton were dismantling welfare and constructing the modern mass-incarceration state, they were supported by a patriotism which defined the most vulnerable among us as those destroying the country. (I suppose you could say decimating vulnerable communities, particularly African-American, was their way to ‘Make America Great Again.’)
It is hard to ignore that, more often than not, patriotism is used to justify evil.
Certainly, Canada is not immune from this type of negative patriotism. I have discussed in previous correspondence the creation and mistreatment of ‘unpeople’ here.
But I believe my experience with Tim Hortons coffee, silly consumerist example though it may be, represents an alternate definition of patriotism, one that is not necessarily prevalent in Canada and surely not in the United States. It is a definition of patriotism that is more inclusionary and positive – the cup of Tims serving as a subconscious reminder that all are part of one community, regardless of race, religion, gender, or economic status.
I walked past a presumably homeless person this afternoon. He was sitting on the sidewalk smiling at passerby and generally enjoying the unseasonably gorgeous Ottawa sun. He was drinking a Tims.
I thought about the different ways that alternate definitions of patriotism could interact with this man – the negative viewing him as a blight on the city or country, someone to be ostracized, exploited, and rejected, and, alternately, the positive seeking to uplift all members of a community, including this man, out of a sort of communal patriotic pride.
It is no surprise that the negative usage of patriotism is the one focused upon in mainstream media and politics. Pointing out who is different and how they can, or should, be marginalized is an extremely useful tool in the justification of wars, oppression, inequality, and so on.
Perhaps this type of patriotism should be called Capitalist Patriotism, since it is usually used for the protection and expansion of corporate profits and power.
And what does a more positive definition of patriotism – the kind that encourages unity and caring for all members of a community – lead to?
It seems this would encourage things like universal health care – personally I would feel ‘patriotic’ about my community providing care to all those that are sick, injured, or infirmed – concern for the environment, racial and religious equality, and a more equal wealth distribution.
Perhaps this type of patriotism should be called Socialist Patriotism.