Is a Boring Democracy a Healthy Democracy?

Are we really all that boring? According to a far-right Brazilian magazine, Veja, the answer is a direct, if not somewhat insulting: yes. The article, written in early February 2016 by Vilma Gryzinski, took critical aim, both at our Prime Minister and Canada itself. Overall, Gryzinski noted a contrast between “well-behaved Canadians” and the “creative chaos of the United States”. Throughout the article she describes Canada as simultaneously “well organized” and “boring”and, furthermore, succinctly describes the trend of Canadian celebrities migrating to America for greater fame. Gryzinski’s observations, although politically charged, are indicative of the kind of truth that can only be attained through an outsider’s perspective. Especially when one is native to a far more ‘happening’ location such as Brazil, Canadians do appear somewhat bland. After all, we do proudly adorn our travelling backpacks with the maple leaf, not purely out of nationalist pride, but so as to avoid any misidentifying whispers of “porc typique stupide américaine”. When one journeys through representations of Canadians on foreign film, one is generally greeted by a stereotype of politeness and niceness (see; Do-Right, Dudley). And our naivety! I remember the words a Parisian tour guide shared with my class during a European school trip:

You Canadians, you are very nice and you are very nice because you are very young. You are considered an island by us, séparé et isolé. Many of you wonder why multiculturalism is not so enthusiastically embraced as it is in Canada. That is because you are naive with the rest of the world. You are the final frontier of optimism”.

This little quip resonated with me. Was this a warning or cynicism? I never considered my fellow citizens as Utopian optimists, jovially embracing a united world with gusto and pride. No…Tristan did not necessarily view us in such a way either. As he spoke to himself on that crowded bus, he was more than likely treated to a scene of passivity and polite disinterest. Like Gryzinski, he may have even recognized our very group as boring. Is such a view simply misinformed? After all, we are significantly young (as a sovereign country). Comparing our ‘interestingness’ to bustling France and tumultuous Brazil isn’t necessarily fair. Furthermore, however complimentary the intention of labelling us as “nice” and “naive” stands, is there not some level of derogatory weight attached? Perhaps this external commentary isn’t entirely warranted. Perhaps (although this is said with little confidence), Canada is simply hiding its excitatory character from the eyes of the world. Firstly, if one is to investigate the validity of our international image as bland, we must find a mechanism that can adequately measure the extent of our blandness. This is where I must welcome you to the Canadian news headline…

It’s quite a strange, if not hilarious, experience when one compares foreign media to our own. Within the Middle-East, a constant barrage of dissenting opinions by stations such as Al Jazeera conflict with state-owned journalism. In Europe, the pressure of large-scale immigration, Brexit, and the geographical closeness of each border, causes an intensive flow of issues through newspapers and televised voices. And our very own American friends that greet every issue with polarization (from gay marriage to coffee cup design), experience an endless Trump fiasco filled with weekly Telenovela-esque twists. Contrasted with the talking-heads and colourful graphics of so many TV channels across the world, there suddenly appears a certain validity to this observed blandness.

Despite a rising fear of ISIS and the launch of Trump’s campaign, CBC News published a ‘thrilling’ July 2015 article with the headline “Kanata Couple Angered By City Order To Change Veggie Garden”. Within the piece, homeowner Will Needham ‘threatened’ the municipal government, stating “when they come on July 30 I’ll sit on my garden and I won’t move”. In December 2–15, as the Brazilian President Rousseff began her impeachment, the UN Climate Summit agreed to a Global Pact, and the San Bernardino shooting terrorized America, Canada’s Guardian paper published an article titled: “P.E.I government salt and sand moved to new garage site”.

And some may recall that, in May of 2016, Justin Trudeau ‘violently’ assaulted opposition members during the discussion of a bill. This ‘violent act of outrage’ led to various responses from other MP’s, such as the Conservative Peter Loan, who described Trudeau’s conduct as a “physical molestation”. NDP Niki Ashton went as far as to say “…He made us feel unsafe and we’re deeply troubled by the conduct of the prime minister of this country.” After five hours of discussion, Trudeau eventually apologized, and the Canadian media’s 24 hour frenzy halted. If unfamiliar with the details of “Elbow-gate” (following the trend of every ‘-gate’ scandal, from Nixon to Brady), the scene of the ‘crime’ occurred during a reading of Bill C-14 (the euthanasia bill). Nearing the sessions end, Trudeau crossed the floor to assist the PC’s chief opposition whip, Gord Brown, after he had been blocked off by three NDP MP’s, a strategy to delay reading closure. After guiding Brown out of the group, Trudeau’s elbow (infamously) made forceful contact with NDP Ruth Ellen Brousseau. Brousseau was reportedly ‘so overwhelmed’ by this barbaric act that she was forced to leave the chambers and, subsequently, missed the vote.

What is so intriguing about this case isn’t necessarily the incident itself but, more so, the media’s intensive pursuit of a story. Andrew Coyne, a PostMedia national-affairs columnist, repeatedly and passionately used the word ‘erratic’ to describe the situation on CBC’s “At Issue” panel. “Does elbowgate hysteria undermine feminism?” asked the National Observer. And for viewers tuning into “The National”, they were immediately greeted by Mansbridge’s somber delivery of the latest Elbow-Gate update. That’s right. In a month where India experienced a record heat wave and NASA reported the previous seven months as being the hottest recorded our national media discussed Trudeau’s unintentional body contact with another politician.

Perhaps we are pretty boring when compared to the rest of the world. The national media’s somewhat pathetic attempt in pursuing anything ‘noteworthy’ appears to be a great signifier that Canada, when internationally juxtaposed, has very little to talk about. The causes for this vary. We are, undoubtedly, a young country. We are, generally, not in favour of creating a culture of extremes, an attitude that Americans appear pre-disposed to embrace. Our politicians (sans the late Rob Ford) aren’t quite as provocative as others.

Now, is being boring bad for us? Would we fare better if our media didn’t constantly churn out monotonous non-issue headlines and, instead, displayed our debates, tragedy’s, and protests as reality TV? Heidegger, a contributor to the fields of both existentialism and phenomenology, areas that delve into the very essence of the mundane, views the nature of boredom as enlightening:

“Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference. This boredom reveals being as a whole.”

Can we equate the words of Heidegger to the apparent “boringness” prevalent in Canada? Within a media bubble of nothingness do we enhance our state of being? Certainly Heidegger’s concept of ‘profound boredom’ is not necessarily one of optimistic celebration over the state of our monotonous media. If anything, referring to our boringness as a ‘muffling fog’ fails to entice any romantic image of the mundane and oh-so-Canadian headlines. And this is where the issue of being boring truly rises. Especially within a world of impassioned globalization and interconnectedness, any vessel of the bland cannot exist aesthetically. We currently live in a climate of liberal romanticism and, through our boredom, fall short of appearing participatory within its scope. We instead risk appearing detached from the ‘world noise’.

Now, more than ever, the crusade of political correctness heightens the significance of the individual. Online, social commentary extends far past the commentators own nation, as social media projects political dissent and slander upon a global pane. And a sense of ‘oneness’, through the growing influence of the UN and inevitable end to isolationism (although “Best Korea” respectfully disagrees), further heightens the feeling that we are reaching a Hegelian finale. Through the usage of ‘Hegelian’ I’m not necessarily suggesting Hegel’s very notion of ‘the pinnacle of man’ but, specifically, the liberal interpretation of the concept. A former Liberal, Michael Ignatieff, is a foremost proponent of battling boredom in the name of true, conclusive liberalism (Liberal historicism if you will).

Liberalism risks becoming nothing more than resigned managerial quietism unless those seeking a more liberating politics constantly challenge it to deliver more. Whatever our politics, we all stand in need of a historical vision that believes there is a deep logic to the unfolding of time.”

It is an interesting assumption, especially within a supposedly secular society, that there is a need to follow a ‘historical vision’. That Ignatieff suggests some sort of Hegelian logic directs the fabric of history, threatened by ‘managerial quietism’ (boredom within democracy), further proposes that mankind must always strive for progress (no matter how un-peaceful said progress appears). Of course, this urge for something interesting to happen is no newfound concept. It was John Marshall, the 4th Justice of the US, that described this urge most eloquently: “for intellectuals, there is always a craving that times would be…well, just a little more interesting”.

Intellectuals that share this craving for progression view history with the equivalence of those that have misattributed the term “evolution” to Darwin’s observations. That there is an inevitable ideal to fulfill that negates any interpretation of history as a product of chaotic chance and circumstantial adaptation. To suggest that boredom, a natural and gained trait of Canadian democracy, is negative, is to suggest that we are wrong in our unassuming quietism. Canada is, as my Paris guide so proudly stated, “séparé et isolé”. We appear as an island when compared to the rest of the world. Due to our reservedness in covering world events, we have attained traits irregular from the rest of the world, namely: boringness. We are the Galapagos of media, an anomaly, not of biology, but of journalism. Through various factors in history we exude a certain naivety that manifests into docility and, subsequently, a certain level of ‘managerial quietism’ manifests.

Yes, I am comparing the nature of Canadian society, (both our media and citizens) to the adaptive fauna of the Galapagos Islands. Both untouched regions when compared to the vast expanse of mankind. Both with minimal natural threats to their inhabitants. And consequently, both with inhabitants that do appear somewhat naive and docile. Within Canada, the beauty that exists within this noticeable reservedness is that the inhabitants are secure and thus willing to participate in rational and democratic discussion. We are boring and this is, by all accounts, a healthy thing to be in a democracy.

On June 27th, 1985, amidst the Lebanese hostage crisis, George Will wrote a Washington Post article titled: “A theory of constructive boredom”.

“The hostage episode illustrates the foreign-policy variant of the theory of constructive boredom, which is: Sometimes a democracy’s greatest, if elusive, strength is an ability to wait. Given the nature of the beast (democracy, that is), that capacity can’t come from innate discipline. It must be a byproduct of the boredom that comes naturally to a public that has a short attention span born of an addiction to novelty.”

Our boredom, like the naturally selected docility of the Galapagos creatures, has allowed us to survive within a world of ideological conflict, economic distress, and the noisiest American presidency of all time. It is within this ability to wait that we grow patient in considering all views that confront us. That our media (generally) chooses reservedness over sensationalism is, if anything, a catalyst for intelligent democratic choice. If we truly are that boring it is because we are Canadian. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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