“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Although appealing as a rhetorical call to action, this well-known aphorism on acquiescence hides the muchmore disturbing reality that “good” people are sometimes very directly involved in helping carry out atrocious travesties of jus-tice. In fact, institutionalised programs of systemic violence, abuse and exploitation can only succeed with the active support and complicity of sincere, well-meaning people.
Huge institutions filled with “good” people are actually essential to plan and conduct major crimes against peace and humanity. With the best of intentions, such people have also cre-ated and propagated eloquent narratives to justify, promote and cover up criminal transgressions. Canada is not exempt from this pattern. The history of our so-called “Peaceable Kingdom,” from its very roots, is replete with grave injustices wrought by fervent believers who thought they were doing the right thing. Driven by a profound desire to promote progress, all-too-many Canadians have collaborated in such offences as occupation, ethnic cleans-ing, land plunder, genocide, chattel slavery, internment camps,weapons exports and a slew of wars fed by corporate greed.
Despite this ongoing imperial tradition, Canadians are still ready to embrace an extremely flattering and self-righteous na-tional mythology. The official story portrays Canada as a shining beacon spreading its enlightened code of ethics and benevolent ideals throughout a dark and stormy world. Sadly, this self-satis-fied myth of Canadian exceptionalism is utter moonshine; an in-toxicating swill of political hogwash that has been lapped up as the gospel truth by generations of citizens on the right, left and centre. Now marketed under the heart-warming brand “Canadi-an values,” this cultural koolaid is regularly dispensed by nation-al cult makers. Although Canada’s soothing elixir is a strange brew laced with hypocrisy, duplicity, artificial maple flavour and patriotic Red Dye, it’s main ingredients are commonly listed as peace, multiculturalism, human rights and democracy.
The fanciful idea that Canada symbolises these worthy ideals did not arise out of thin air. Throughout the nation-build-ing project that spawned this country, the heartfelt conviction of Canada’s dominant western European settler society was that the pioneers who forged this blessed kingdom were on the imperial frontline, promoting morally-superiour “Christian values.” This proud Canadian identity myth—proclaimed with missionary zeal and hubris by progressives and conservatives alike—has repeat-edly gone beyond enthused ethnocentrism to push the limits of racism, xenophobia, religious elitism and political paranoia.
The guardians and gatekeepers of Canada’s official fairy tales have vilified and targeted certain people as enemies of pro-gress. Aboriginals, nonAngloSaxons and those feared as the po-tential recruits of radicalised socialists have been scapegoated, bullied, outlawed and forced into mass captivity on reserves, or interned in prisons and labour camps. Their supposed crimes have included threatening the status quo by standing up for justice, equality, peace and labour rights, and spreading counternarra-tives to oppose mainstream biases. Ironically, the most powerful proponents of our national myths—while posing as noble cham-pions of the deified mantra of “Canadian alues”—are the main obstacle to actually achieving these ideals.
The pattern of social stereotyping upon which Canadian identity myths are founded, is not unique. Other nations built on colonial expansion and occupation have developed similar mass delusions. Canada’s version of this imperial psychosis shares symptoms with the cultural pathologies that evolved in the US, Australia, South Africa, Israel and elsewhere. These settler societies were leav-ened with a profound sense of entitlement and superiourity—re-ligious, ethnic, economic and political. To carry on, such cultures have required convincing narratives to rationalise the seizure of indigenous peoples’ lands, the curbing of their rights, and the restriction of their movement to the point of mass captivity.
Settler syndrome is a culture-bound psychosis so deeply rooted in Canada’s mainstream identity, that it remains difficult to remedy. Like psychoses found in inpiduals, diffuse social disorders are marked by a loss of contact with reality. Being irrational, such belief systems are resistant to reason and fact. For example, the narratives used to bolster Canadian exception-alism, gloss over or deny responsibility for genocide and are out of touch with historic and present-day realities of abuse.
The Canada Syndrome also includes fantasies that paral-lel the delusions of grandeur found among megalomaniacs. Indi-viduals who overestimate their power and selfworth have grandi-ose beliefs, often involving spiritual themes. Mass pathologies may similarly be marked by complexes that rely on exaggerated tales of racial, national and/or religious superiourity.
Cultures that overvalue themselves, typically devalue oth-ers, treating them with suspicion and fear. Like other settler states, Canada has endured prolonged episodes of mass paranoia that were deeply rooted in racism and classism. These social outbreaks of political and religious xenophobia have been driven by delud-ed, self-righteous missions that cloaked abusive behaviour be-hind lofty-sounding pretexts like the protection of Canada’s civ-ilised, Christian culture. Such collective obsessions are spread with fearmongering narratives that can reach fruition in pandem-ics of mass hysteria, moral panic and war fever. In Canada, set-tler psychosis painted First Nations, nonWestern Europeans, and radical leftists as foes to be contained, physically or otherwise.
The Canada Syndrome is a cultural malady that closely parallels what psychiatrists label “Antisocial Personality Disor-der.” The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has described this mental illness as “a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others…as indicated” by such behav-iours as “deceitfulness,…repeated lying,…or conning others for personal profit,” “aggressiveness” and “lack of remorse” and “being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen” from others.Health Canada’s official Report on Mental Illnesses in Canada relies on this US definition.
But besides relying on the APA, the Canadian Psychiatric Association also uses the World Health Organization (WHO) as a prime source for pidgeonholing mental illnesses. Both sources define psychiatric disorders as being outside the boundaries of accepted “social norms.” For example, the WHO defines “Disso-cial Personality Disorder” in terms of a “gross disparity” between the inpidual’s “behaviour and the prevailing social norms.”
Similarly, APA criteria for “Antisocial Personality Disorder” in-cludes “failure to conform to social norms.” This focus fails to deal with psychopathic inpiduals whose delusions and behav-iour do conform to the broadly-accepted norms of society at large.
When Social Norms are AntiSocial Forty five years ago, a group of Black psychiatrists asked the APA to recognise “extreme bigotry…as a mental disorder.” APA officials rejected the idea, says Harvard psychiatrist Alvin Pous-saint, “because so many Americans are racist, even extreme rac-ism in this country is normative—a cultural problem rather than an indication of psychopathology.” Poussaint has continued to argue that the APA should “designate extreme racism as a mental health problem by recognizing it as a delusional psychotic symp-tom.”
Racism, like other chauvinisms, is a delusion that is symp-tomatic of both inpidual and mass psychosis. Neither form of pathology should be rationalised away.Just as inpiduals with antisocial disorders rationalise their abuse, so too do captive institutions create narratives to justify their crimes. Predatory, state institutions survive by disguising structural violence behind stories that legitimise their malevolent programs as if they benefited victims. This process rewards those who create and disseminate progressive-sounding narratives that soothe society’s collective conscience. While inpiduals seized by psychosis may remain com-pletely unaware of their illness, those spellbound by a mass psy-chosis find it as hard to perceive as their own accent or ethnicity.Captives of Canada’s settler syndrome may become unsettled if the sweet rhetoric of their myths clashes with bitter reality. To retain a sense of normalcy within a fictive state founded on bliss-ful ignorance, many Canadians still cling to the national faith with poetic folktales of a “Peaceable Kingdom.”When poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the phrase willing suspension of disbelief,” he described literary devices that use mundane, natural, real-world imagery to create a “sem-blance of truth” in order to instill “poetic faith” in imaginary,“supernatural” phenomena.People willingly accept unreal premises so they can be carried away by a momentary indulgence in an artform. But what of citizens who suspend their disbelief for prolonged periods by putting blind faith in state narratives?Consumers of such political artifice are like unwitting test sub-jects trapped in a lifelong, nationwide PR experiment without prior, informed consent. Suspending disbelief in order to enjoy a contrivance, also exists in law. “Legal fictions” are lies that are accepted as truth in order to gain some benefit. A key example is “terra nullius” (“empty land”), which has long been used to justi-fy the seizure and occupation of Aboriginal territories by Cana-da, the US, Australia and other settler states.
Captives of culture-bound psychoses like the Canada Syn-drome are ardent nationalists who remain blind to the official myths that have abducted them. This parallels a psychological phenomenon in which kidnap victims adopt glowing attitudes to-ward their captors and even promote their interests. The Canada Syndrome is the Stockholm Syndrome on steroids.
The term Stockholm Syndrome was coined by a Swedish, police psychologist when hostages identified with their captors during a 1973 bank heist. A few months later, this made-to-order syndrome, now called capture bonding, was made famous by the kidnapping of American media heiress Patty Hearst. After con-spiring with her captors in various felonies—including armed rob-bery, bomb making, hijacking, assault and kidnapping—Hearst was arrested and put on trial. Saying she had been brainwashed,Hearst’s lawyer used the Stockholm Syndrome as a efence.Thanks to Pres. Carter, Hearst served only two years of her sev-en-year sentence. She was later pardoned by Pres. Clinton.
Hearst’s grandfather, William Randolf Hearst, was a cor-porate tycoon and Democratic Congressman. As the “Father of Yellow Journalism,” and the hegemon of a newspaper empire, he fabricated vast webs of deceit to perpetuate mass psychoses like the “war fever” that fuelled the highly-profitable Spanish-Amer-ican war of 1898. The Hearst-family story reminds us that while inpiduals may at times be kidnapped by the narratives of their hostage takers, masses of people are captured heart and mind every day by the crime-promoting myths of news companies owned by “law-abiding,” billionaire media moguls.
Although carefully-crafted narratives are key to seizing the public mind, one should not imagine that everyone who cre-ates and spreads these myths are necessarily intent on deception. Propagandists are often captivated by the narratives that they are diffusing. In fact, the most eloquent and convincing champions of farfetched narratives are those true believers who blindly see their enslaving delusions as if they were liberating ideas that must be spread in order to make others free.
Renditions: From Extraordinary to Banal
In studying the captivating power of myths, we inevitably invoke different meanings of “rendition.” Narrative renditions of histo-ry capture and organise perse versions of past events. They also seize and express feelings of identity based on cultural con-structs like race, ethnicity, nationality and ideology. “Rendition”also refers to the act of taking prisoners, including covert abduc-tions that spirit away alleged enemies of the state.
While secret CIA teams use “extraordinary rendition” to illegally grab victims under cover of darkness, the popular narra-tives that abduct people en masse, and in broad daylight, are con-sidered legal. Carried away in plain sight by delusional beliefs, victims of “ordinary rendition” can be moved to profess anything as truth, from false histories to utopian fantasies. In contrast, victims of torture will confess anything just to free themselves. But those rendered captive by myths are blissfully unaware of their captivity and cannot even imagine the need to escape. As such, no chains, fences, walls or bars are needed to immobilise them. Held hostage by false narratives, some quietly acquiesce to abetting harmful programs, while others take active roles in grave crimes—even kidnapping and torture—because they truly believe they are aiding the greater good.
The official narratives used to capture hearts and minds are as mundane and prosaic as the institutions that fabricate and distribute them. State bureaucracies, political parties, the mass media, corporations, NGOs, churches, the family and other ubiq-uitous institutions of culture, are the chief purveyors of Canada’s prevailing mythos. Speeches, sermons, lectures, news items, nov-els and bedtime stories serve as common delivery systems for the memes that have coddled Canadians into complicity. Using hack-neyed clichés and platitudes, beguiling myths are conjured up to render state crimes as if they were noble efforts to protect our ever-precious “Canadian values.”
When a psychopathy like the Canada Syndrome becomes normalised, decent ordinary people may feel a disturbing sense that the cultural system they inhabit is mad. To suppress such qualms of cultural dissonance, captives of a mass psychosis rely on rational-sounding justifications to suspend their disbelief, keep calm and carry on. The talking points supplied by their pious narratives allow people to maintain a blissful ignorance of state crimes, and their role in supporting them.
Are hostages of official myths culpable for their wrong-doing? Should such captives be held accountable, if they meant no harm, but were only trying to do good? In law, liability rests on whether reasonable care was taken to avoid actions or omis-sions that could reasonably be foreseen as likely to harm others.So, yes, they are guilty, if they should have known better.
“Plausible deniability” is usually applied to figures in spy agencies, or corporate and political bureaucracies, who hide their guilt from the public eye. The term is also useful in seeing how captives of mass psychoses cover up the truth, not from others, but from themselves. It is a mental alibi. By avoiding facts that conflict with their false narratives, inpiduals can retain a stud-ied ignorance that keeps them happily unaware of their own guilt. This careful inattention to facts may become such a reckless dis-regard for truth as to cause gross negligence.
In law, wilful blindness and contrived ignorance refer to the deliberate avoidance of facts. But the act of looking away confirms that one did have a blind-eye knowledge of a denied fact, or at least some good reason to suspect its existence. This awareness, known in British courts as “Nelsonian knowledge,” is named after the Admiral who put a telescope to his blind eye and then honestly said he did not see what he knew was there.
A Theory of Social Control & Social Change
We should not overlook the longlived Canadian tradition of us-ing mass confinement to enforce social control. Examples include slavery, reserves, WWI/WWII internment, 1930s “Relief Camps” and Cold-War plans to jail thousands of radical leftists. From the “Red Man” to “Reds,” those found literally or metaphorically “off the reservation,” have been forced into captivity. Even those going “beyond the pale” by merely thinking“outside the box” of acceptable political discourse, have been caged—physically and otherwise. The mere threat of detention has also served to scare whole communities into line.
This Press for Conversion! looks at WWI labour camps, and the narratives that justified them. Using the pretext of foreign war to wage a domestic crack down, Canadian authorities interned 8,000 single, poor, urban men—mostly east Europeans. These men had, not coincidentally, already been profiled as a threat to the political, economic and religious status quo.
For decades before WWI, reform-minded Christians of the Social Gospel movement demonised Aboriginals, and non-western Europeans who they saw as fearsome, radicalised aliens. Social Gospellers not only supported keeping “heathens” on re-serves, they ran genocidal residential schools, and rallied their flocks around Britain’s imperial wars, at home and abroad. These progressives also turned a blind eye to the witch hunts that target-ing godless radicals during Canada’s “Red Scares.”
Looking back on the mistakes of their forebears, some progressives are quick to absolve activists of the past by saying we cannot use our hindsight to judge history. However, there were many people in those times who did see and oppose these injus-tices. Even a century ago—besides the Aboriginal, Asian and Af-rican victims of the Canada Syndrome—there was a powerful movement of radical socialists, of largely Ukrainian, Finnish and Jewish heritage, who were not penned in place by the blind faith that Canada is a righteous “Peaceable Kingdom.”
This publication explores the conflict between radicals and those progressives who were co-opted into aiding harmful pro-grams that benefited imperial elites.Stopping such collaboration is still central to the struggle for genuine social progress.For example, many good, well-meaning activists, NGOs and politi-cal parties are now pushing the “Responsibility to Protect.” Their efforts are urging public support for this UN doctrine that ex-ploits humanitarian excuses to justify US-led wars. By backing this muscular creed, progressives are helping formalise the age-old tactic of using false pretext narratives to legitimise unjust, imperial wars. Someday, people will look back on this complici-ty and say: “They should have known better.”
1. In a 1961 speech to Parliament about “peace-loving” NATO’s moral struggle against communism, JFK falsely attributed this quote to Edmund Burke (1729-1797). John Stuart Mill came closer to these words in 1867, saying: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”
2.Textbook of Personality Disorders,2005, p.687.
3.Report on Mental Illnesses in Canada,Health Canada, 2002, p.71.
4.International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 2015, F60.2.
5. Alvin F.Poussaint, “Is Extreme Racism a Mental Illness?” Western Jour-nal of Medicine, January 2002, p.4
6. Samuel Taylor Coleridge,Biographia Literaria, Vol.2,1817, p.2.
How Canadian churches are helping their communities cope with the wildfires
As wildfires burn across Canada, churches are finding ways to support their members and the broader community directly impacted by the crisis.
According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, as of June 13, there are 462 active fires across Canada – and 236 of them classified as out of control fires.
Whether it’s through phone calls or donations to community members, here’s how a few churches across Canada are handling active wildfires and the aftermath in their regions.
Westwood Hills, N.S.: St. Nicholas Anglican Church
In Nova Scotia, St. Nicholas Anglican Church and other churches in the area are collecting money for grocery cards to give to families impacted by the Tantallon wildfire.
The fire is now considered contained, but Tanya Moxley, the treasurer at St. Nicholas is organizing efforts to get grocery gift cards into the hands of impacted families.
As of June 12, four churches in the area – St. Nicholas, Parish of French Village, St Margaret of Scotland and St John the Evangelist – raised nearly $3,500. The money will be split for families’ groceries between five schools in the area impacted by the wildfire.
Moxley said she felt driven to raise this money after she heard the principal of her child’s school was using his own money to buy groceries for impacted families in their area.
“[For] most of those people who were evacuated, the power was off in their subdivision for three, four or five days,” she said. “Even though they went home and their house was still standing, the power was off and they lost all their groceries.”
Moxley said many people in the area are still “reeling” from the fires. She said the church has an important role to help community members during this time.
“We’re called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless and all that stuff, right? So this is it. This is like where the rubber hits the road.”
Is it ever OK to steal from a grocery store?
Mythologized in the legend of Robin Hood and lyricized in Les Misérables, it’s a debate as old as time: is it ever permissible to steal food? And if so, under what conditions? Now, amid Canada’s affordability crisis, the dilemma has extended beyond theatrical debate and into grocery stores.
Although the idea that theft is wrong is both a legally enshrined and socially accepted norm, the price of groceries can also feel criminally high to some — industry data shows that grocery stores can lose between $2,000 and $5,000 a week on average from theft. According to Statistics Canada, most grocery item price increases surged by double digits between 2021 and 2022. To no one’s surprise, grocery store theft is reportedly on the rise as a result. And if recent coverage of the issue rings true, some Canadians don’t feel bad about shoplifting. But should they?
Kieran Oberman, an associate professor of philosophy at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom, coined the term “re-distributive theft” in his 2012 paper “Is Theft Wrong?” In simplest terms, redistributive theft is based on the idea that people with too little could ethically take from those who have too much.
“Everybody, when they think about it, accepts that theft is sometimes permissible if you make the case extreme enough,” Oberman tells me over Zoom. “The question is, when exactly is it permissible?”
Almost no one, Oberman argues, believes the current distribution of wealth across the world is just. We have an inkling that theft is bad, but that inequality is too. As more and more Canadians feel the pinch of inflation, grocery store heirs accumulate riches — Loblaw chair and president Galen Weston, for instance, received a 55 percent boost in compensation in 2022, taking in around $8.4 million for the year. Should someone struggling with rising prices feel guilty when they, say, “forget” to scan a bundle of zucchini?
The homeless refugee crisis in Toronto illustrates Canada’s broken promises
Canadians live in a time of threadbare morality. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Toronto’s entertainment district, where partygoers delight in spending disposable income while skirting refugees sleeping on sidewalks. The growing pile of luggage at the downtown corner of Peter and Richmond streets resembles the lost baggage section at Pearson airport but is the broken-hearted terminus at the centre of a cruel city.
At the crux of a refugee funding war between the municipal and federal governments are those who have fled persecution for the promise of Canada’s protection. Until June 1, asylum seekers used to arrive at the airport and be sent to Toronto’s Streets to Homes Referral Assessment Centre at 129 Peter St. in search of shelter beds. Now, Toronto’s overcrowded shelter system is closed to these newcomers, so they sleep on the street.
New mayor Olivia Chow pushed the federal government Wednesday for at least $160 million to cope with the surge of refugees in the shelter system. She rightly highlights that refugees are a federal responsibility. In response, the department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada points to hundreds of millions in dollars already allocated to cities across Canada through the Interim Housing Assistance Program, while Ontario says it has given nearly $100 million to organizations that support refugees. But these efforts are simply not enough to deliver on Canada’s benevolent promise to the world’s most vulnerable.
The lack of federal generosity and finger-pointing by the city has orchestrated a moral crisis. It’s reminiscent of the crisis south of the border, where Texas governor Greg Abbott keeps bussing migrants to cities located in northern Democratic states. Without the necessary resources, information, and sometimes the language skills needed to navigate the bureaucratic mazes, those who fled turbulent homelands for Canada have become political pawns.
But Torontonians haven’t always been this callous.
In Ireland Park, at Lake Ontario’s edge, five statues of gaunt and grateful refugees gaze at their new home: Toronto circa 1847. These statues honour a time when Toronto, with a population of only 20,000 people, welcomed 38,500 famine-stricken migrants from Ireland. It paralleled the “Come From Away” event of 9/11 in Gander, N.L., where the population doubled overnight, and the people discovered there was indeed more than enough for all. It was a time when the city lived up to its moniker as “Toronto, The Good.”
Now, as a wealthy city of three million people, the city’s residents are tasked with supporting far fewer newcomers. Can we not recognize the absurdity in claiming scarcity?
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