Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Canadian Cultural Identity & Rural Life





Ode to rural life and the new urbanised Canada
"Canada was built on rural life and values; independent people seeing to their own needs and answerable to themselves."
"In rural life children are exposed to the facts of life and the realities of natural systems early, inherent in their existence is an attachment to the land and our tentative alliance with it and its other inhabitants."  
"There is a temptation to wax on about the bucolic majesty of rural existence, I find it hard to overstate rural existence’s value or to lament thoroughly enough its waning influence." 

As a child I spent time following my father around the farm as he did his work and as many farmers, he had a dog – Tweed a hard-working Border Collie. Tweed and I stood approximately the same height and in Tweed’s mind that put us on equal footing. Equal footing in Tweed's mind met he felt the need to attempt to assert dominance, so in my father’s absence, I found myself often seeking safety from Tweeds bared, bright white canine teeth. At nearly age five my father passed away leaving Tweed and me to live life by whatever arrangements we might make. In the spring of the following year on a sunny day I had taken up a spot on a sheet of plywood on a sawdust pile; sitting there day dreaming and enjoying the sun. I looked up to see Tweed slowly making his way toward me, given our previous exchanges this was a less than welcome occurrence. With nowhere to go, I choose to sit quietly and let things unfold, and there I sat – in suspense, waiting to endure whatever outcome befell me. Tweed circled wide around me in an arching pattern and slowly with his head down made his way to me, when he was a couple feet away the situation was growing more uncomfortable; then, to my relief, rather than baring his teeth, he lay down beside me and put his head on my lap. Gingerly I placed my hand on his head and stroked him as my father had done. It seemed in my father’s extended absence Tweed preferred my company to none. Tweed never became my dog, but an amicable truce lasted until Tweed's usefulness around the farm was over. 

In rural life, children are exposed to the facts of life and the realities of natural systems early, inherent in their existence is an attachment to the land and our tentative alliance with it and its other inhabitants. Tweed taught me about vulnerability and to seek remedy through language unspoken – one neurological system to another. The lessons associated with rural life are many and all valuable. The lessons provisioned by rural life are sorely absent now as our children exist in an urbanised world.

There is a temptation to wax on about the bucolic majesty of rural existence, I find it hard to overstate rural existence’s value or to lament thoroughly enough its waning influence. The farm teaches appreciation of the strong and the value of the weak, as even a sickly animal, if nurtured properly has value. Rural life teaches self-reliance, exposure to natural systems and all the related sundry experiences make it possible to judge the seriousness of an illness without going to the emergency ward and provides the inclination to exercise such judgment. Most rural circumstance has people exposed to the full gambit of endeavour, from building the shed, playing midwife to a heifer, to planning a risk management strategy for their wheat crop and inputs. It is rare in an urbanised setting for a single individual to gain exposure to the whole production chain, particularly one as complex and containing the natural systems related to rural life.

Canada was built on rural life and values; independent people seeing to their own needs and answerable to themselves. Most people in a gainful occupation in a rural setting produced and sold a commodity. The wondrous thing about a commodity is that the channels to market are absent of any direct customer, products are sold into a large pooled market or at auction. This met people who derived their livelihood from the land really were able, more than others dependent on employers or exposed to public opinion in some way, to be critical thinkers. Critical thinkers, self-reliant with limited exposure to public pressure and a thorough knowledge of natural systems, it is hard to imagine a better collection of people to build a country.

Living in a sparsely populated rural setting often your only help was a neighbour, your only social opportunity was a neighbour – needless to say, you valued your neighbour whether you liked them or not; this is a unique type of association that builds tolerance for difference. The community was tight and small, which breeds accountability. E. F. Schumacher in his book Small is Beautiful gave an enlightened example of small community life, he said when you live in a community of 100 people it’s pretty hard to steal your neighbour’s shirt because he’ll see you wearing it. Even in the absence of the strong citizenship that rural community developed, small communities have a way of making you accountable to people that is absent in large urban settings.

The harsher side of our reliance on the land is found in rural settings. I once spoke to a teacher that use to take kids to a slaughter house every year so they could become acquainted with the realities of harvesting livestock for food. In the 1970’s he would ask the students if they had ever killed anything, 70% would respond in the affirmative the same question 20 years later failed to yield more than a couple affirmative responses. I suspect you would find similar responses to a question related to weeding the garden. The almost complete divorce from husbandry and interaction with natural systems creates a mindset of alienation to sources of sustenance and their processing. I believe, even though there is a dominate acceptance of the utilisation of animals for human sustenance, there will be growth in the animal rights movement as people evolve away from immediate contact with animal husbandry.  

When one contemplates the complete complex associated with traditional rural life in Canada, one realises what an effective rearing environment it was/is for children. The rural community’s waning size and hence influence on our society has reduced the input of a unique and important component of Canadian society and along with that input, an important part of Canadian identity.  

The urbanisation of Canada is accelerating. Cities offer a technological, cultural and social dynamic that fuel effectively the new and complex economy. In contrast to our urban settings, in the rural setting’s socioeconomic mingling was a natural element to daily life, keeping all walks of life in contact in the same social complex. In urban centres, it is possible, in fact likely, that people can occupy an entire day having only engaged within their socioeconomic strata or perhaps as specific as the same occupation. The irony of the mass of humanity in large urban centres is you’re likely to see less of humanity and experience isolation. This creates social cliques who tend to breathe their own air while the world outside a specific area of endeavour passes by. Again, in contrast to rural society, occupation is so finely specialised peoples scope of thought tends to narrow. Where the farmer is contemplating fiddleheads, Fallopian tubes and finance, the computer programmer is writing one piece of code for a program, or a biotech worker is manipulating a gene for a given bacteria. As was once said, “An expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less until, eventually, he knows everything about nothing.” As a student of Adam Smith, specialisation is enthusiastically embraced; however, a large bank of broad spectrum thinkers is most useful in the process of building a nation and a nation’s identity. 
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