Home » Political Related » “Conditioning”: and its affect on our cultural cohesiveness and national psyche (#276)

“Conditioning”: and its affect on our cultural cohesiveness and national psyche (#276)

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In the last post we looked at what conditioning is, and how it can affect how people relate to one another in various contexts.

In this post, we’ll look at how conditioning plays a role in Canada’s own national and cultural story.

Human conditioning affects how we view the world and others around us.  In the case of the Two Solitudes, if affects how we relate to our own country, and view our country.   It can have the unfortunate effect of giving us (Anglophones or Francophones) only part of the picture – an incomplete picture.  It often results in us making decisions with respect to our societal interactions which do not necessarily take our entire national context into consideration.

Breaking the cycle of the negative side of conditioning is extremely difficult, but very necessary if we’re going to break the cycle of the Two Solitudes.  I do not believe anyone holds any expectations that the wall which forms the Two Solitudes can simply crumble with one big strike of a hammer.  However, breaking it down – little-by-little, one brick at time – is possible, and it is happening on many fronts.

There are signs we have been moving in this direction for quite some time (with Canada’s immersion programs, readily available information from the internet age, various provincial government initiatives across Canada, and others).  But there is still a very long way to go.

Media and pop-culture platforms as major factors of personal conditioning

Due to the vast geographic nature of Canada, it would be unrealistic for most Canadians to break the constraints of conditioning through physical exposure alone.

One cannot expect an Anglophone mother from Yellowknife (NWT) to spent three months in Victoriaville, Québec to learn about certain pillars of Francophone culture.

One cannot expect a Francophone high school graduate from Rivière-du-Loup (Qc), who is about to enter a very intense university program in journalism, to spend three months in Saskatoon to learn about pillars of Anglophone culture.

That’s not to say these things couldn’t happen, but reality and statistics simply tell us that in the vast majority of cases, such physical exchanges do not occur.   The country is just too big, personal finances are always a factor, and everyone has their own lives to worry about (let alone having to worry about a different linguistic group’s cultural tid-bits, especially when the nuances can take a lifetime of exposure to fully understand).

Thus, in a country like Canada, media and pop-culture platforms become our major (and often only) possibilities to break the cycle of unilingual cultural conditioning.  Therefore, media and pop-culture platforms are most Canadian’s only major tool with which to begin to tear down the Two Solitudes.

Owing to the sheer size of Canada, for Anglophones, it is our media and pop-culture platforms which more-often-than-not give a sense of “one-country” and of a united “Anglophone Canadian culture”.   The following are some very simple examples.

Without media or pop-culture platforms:

  • a person from Quesnel, BC would have never known Shania Twain (from Timmins, ON) or any other such singer which promotes our Canadian styles of country music.
  • those with an interest in Canadian history in Cornerbrook (NL), or Thunder Bay (ON) may have never known the late Pierre Burton (who regularly appeared on television) and how he taught two generations of Canadians about our nation-building history.
  • a whole generation of children across the country would not have known The Friendly Giant, Pokadot Door, or Mr. Dress-up (which remains a bonding point of reference of a 20 year spread of Canadians who are now in their late 20s to late 40s).  On this point, I can remember children’s programs I used to watch in BC and Alberta which were often filmed around the unique “Toronto-styled” brick-faced “corner stores” (the type with all the flowers sold outside the doorstep in older Toronto neighbourhoods).  Thus, even though I had never set foot in Toronto until I was 20, in my mind these corner stores were already a familiar part of “my” culture, even before I ever first saw my first “Toronto-style” corner store in person.
  • people from coast to coast would not have known David Suzuki, issues he champions, and matters he has brought to the fore through his television programs and radio appearances over the past 40 years (all of which have helped to shape our collective psyche on the environmental front).

I could write a book of such examples.  Little-by-little all of these have added to a sense of our collective national psyche… to a sense of Anglophone Canadians being able to share the same experiences and reference points — be it with our neighbour, our employer, our politicians, or our compatriots on the other end of the country.

Just the other day here in Toronto, I (from Alberta) had a conversation with my secretary (from Nova Scotia), and an acquaintance from Toronto.  The conversation made numerous references to things we used to do as kids – and much of it had to do with points of reference we all experienced from shows we saw on television, songs we used to sing as kids, or other matters conveyed to us as kids through Canadian media.   The experiences we were referring to were uniquely Canadian, and involved having acted out, as children, things we saw on Canadian children’s programs.  Here we were, from three different parts of the country (West, Central, and East), a distance spanning more than 5000 kms – but yet our Anglophone childhood experiences were the same, filled with uniquely Anglophone Canadian reference points, owing to shared cultural experiences stemming from Canadian television programs we watched as kids.

This is a perfect example of just how powerful media and pop-culture platforms are with respect to forging national identity.  But even more important is that we all had the pre-conceived expectations that all of us would have these share experiences, even if we had not spoken about them.  The expectation component is called conditioning.

As you can see, conditioning is not necessarily a bad thing.   It’s all about expectations – and those expectations can be very important (and powerful) when we hold the expectation that our compatriots can (and will) be able to culturally relate to us.

In the above example, the three of us were “conditioned” to believe we would share certain childhood experiences (even if we had not spoken about them) by virtue of simply haven grown up in Canada (in an Anglophone Canadian settings).  We were “conditioned” to believe that those experiences had played a role in shaping our lives – from coast to coast, and that they remain major factors in our collective Canadian experience… pieces of what makes us culturally Canadian.  And thus it was natural and logical that we would have a conversation about many of the little things we had in common as children, despite 5000 kilometres of separation in three different provinces.

As an aside, you might ask how immigrants can fit into this shared Canadian experience — after all, more recent immigrants may not have these same shared Canadian experiences.  Does it make them any less “Canadian”?.  That is a legitimate and very good question to ask.   It comprises a whole other topic, but I can briefly say this:  Immigrants tend to first adapt to a Canadian value set before they will (or are able to) adapt more intricate and time-based shared cultural references.  However, with respect to “shared cultural experiences” immigrants “pick-up from where they jump in”.

This means that even if they may not share cultural reference points from the 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s, they will nonetheless begin to share in cultural reference points occurring from the moment they land in Canada, and they will build on those shared experiences, little-by-little from that point on.

They therefore move forward with all the rest of us (just as earlier generations of immigrants have – be it German, Irish, or Ukrainian migrants 80-100 years ago, Italian and Greek immigrants 50-60 years ago, Vietmanese immigrants 35 years ago, or Hong Kong immigrants 20 to 30 years ago).   Over time, everyone eventually shares the same experiences and cultural reference points, and the country continues to culturally build upon itself.

The next post

Three paragraphs above, I mentioned that conditioning is not necessarily a bad thing.

But it can have negative consequences in Canada’s national context if it gives Canadian the expectation they are culturally all from the same cloth without taking Canada’s bilingual/bi-cultural context into account (and I say this notwithstanding Canada’s multicultural nuances — but it is not necessarily to discuss multiculturalism in this context because the expectation is that multicultural communities very much operate within Canada’s two Anglophone and Francophone dominant spheres).

Just as conditioning can form a sense of collective cohesiveness through the expectation that we have shared cultural experiences, conditioning can also cause major problems in national cohesiveness if it only provides one half of Canada’s entire cultural picture.

If our conditioning gives Anglophones culturally shared experiences from only an Anglo-dominant sphere, or if conditioning gives Francophones culturally shared experiences from only a Franco-dominant sphere, problems then arise when both groups, as a consequence, begin to culturally diverge.   Because each linguistic group may not know what is being experienced in each other’s respective cultural spheres, a chasm results.  We call this chasm the Two Solitudes.

In the next post, we will look at simplified examples of how “incomplete national conditioning” (and perhaps “incorrect national conditioning”) can result in reinforcing the notion of the Two Solitudes.


SERIES:  HOW THE PRESENTATION OF EVENTS IN MODERN HISTORY WHICH HAVE CONDITIONED US ALL REGARDING HOW WE VIEW OUR PLACE IN CANADA (13 POSTS)

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