Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A difference in values

From Michael Adams, "Canadian and American Values Divergences," in Canada and the United States: Differences That Count, ed. David M. Thomas and Barbara Boyle Torrey (2008):

Canadians reacted so strongly to the Bush administration because it embodied and emphasized precisely the values on which Canadians and Americans diverge most sharply: hierarchy, patriarchy, religiosity, and openness to violence.

By any measure, Americans are considerably more religious than Canadians, more likely to believe that religion and morality are inextricably linked. Canadians, who tend to espouse more autonomous values, are more likely to trust their own reasoning and intuition. Americans are more likely to believe that there is an ultimate truth about right and wrong -- and that that truth emanates from a single divine source.

Patriarchy, family, gender, and social belonging
Americans are vastly more likely (52 per cent) than Canadians (18 per cent) to believe that "The father of the family must be master in his own house." In perhaps the purest formulation of sexism, more than a third (35 per cent) of Americans believe that "Men have a certain natural superiority over women and nothing can change this" (vs. a quarter of Canadians). In Canada same-sex couples gained the right to officially marry in 2005. Gay sex has been legal since 1969; seven in ten Canadians (69 per cent) believe that "Homosexuality should be accepted by society." Canadians were by far the most likely (77 per cent) to believe that overall, immigrants had a positive influence on the country. Only about half of Americans (49 per cent) thought so.

Extremes and moderation
The United States is a relatively traditional society in contrast to Canada's relative liberalism and flexibility. The interaction between the simultaneous license and moralism of American society is no secret; the moralism may be a reaction to the license -- and vice versa. The United States has been the nation that has tended more toward extremes, while Canada has tended more toward moderation. The rub of living in a nation where anything is possible is that the possibilities are not all good ones.

English Canada and US border states
The Canadian-American border does matter. Values related to traditional social codes are not the most important sites of difference between these two regions. More striking are differences in the orientation to status-seeking, hierarchy, and competition. Conveying social status through material possessions, particularly the home, is a more important priority south of the border. The United States is a profoundly aspirational society, whose dominant metaphor is a dream of material fulfillment. Every American region is more likely than any Canadian region to see a car as a reflection of personality. In a culture where the material signs of success suggest so much about the individual -- one's intelligence, work ethic, creativity, moral worth, as well as one's grasp of the symbols of the social system -- the fruits of success sometimes supersede success itself as desired ends.

There is not an inevitable one-to-one relationship between social values and political outcomes; but political systems and institutions do not invent candidates or dream up ideas that do not come from the society itself. Americans will remain more religious, more deferential to patriarchal authority, more intent on order and tradition. Canadians will remain on their trajectory of secularism, gender equality, and multiculturalism. It is an uncertain world, and values are not immutable, but nor will they be undone in a day on either side of the border -- whatever that day might bring. Image source and background article here.