on liberals, conservatives, good blogosphere citizens and free speech

One of the categories in the Canadian Blog Awards is "Best Blogosphere Citizen". That interesting idea made me think about what it means to be a good blog citizen. In trying to define that, I naturally thought of what a bad blog citizen looks like, and the various blog-related behaviours that I don't like.

Because I have a comment policy, and don't allow all comments at all times, many people would think I'm a bad blogosphere citizen - not to mention a hypocrite, as I'm a staunch proponent of free speech. But I'm comfortable with the rules here, which enhance the experience of this blog both for myself and most readers, and which I derived over time through trial and error. We once had a very good discussion here about controlling comments, and it helped reinforce my views. Nevertheless, to some potential commenters, my comment policy makes me full of shit.

Two of my own least favourite examples of blog behaviour showed up recently in comments.

First, a commenter stopped by to tell me what I was blogging about was trivial and undeserving of my outrage.

And next, another commenter stopped by to deliver a lecture (actually a series of lectures), because clearly I am uneducated on the issue at hand. If I knew the facts, I would have agreed with him.

I don't know if I've ever left a comment like either of those on someone's blog, but if I am ever moved to do so, I hope I remember these examples and stop myself.

Because I was not born in Canada - and especially because I am from the United States - there is a tendency among some Canadian-born Canadians to assume that, if I disagree with them, my views stem from my ignorance of Canada. And then to volunteer to teach me.

I've learned a lot about Canada since our decision to emigrate, as I've made it my life's work to learn as much as I can about my new country. I have lot left to learn, of course. But if I disagree with the views of certain Canadians, chances are high that it's not because I don't understand the issues. Indeed, if don't understand an issue, I don't espouse views on it at all: I ask questions. This blog is filled with my questions about Canada, and the wonderful wmtc commenters have helped me understand everything from the Night Of Long Knives to Canadian Tire money. But if I'm not asking questions - if I'm stating "this is how I feel" - chances are very good I understand the issue.

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There's a disturbing corollary to this. I've noticed a tendency among some liberal Canadians to denigrate conservative Canadians as being somehow less Canadian. Even unCanadian. Often the US is to blame: their conservative ideas are mimicking American conservatives, and these folks are trying to turn Canada into the US.

Now you know I'm not a conservative thinker. But why should there be one way to think that is truly Canadian? Liberal views might be the majority here in Canada, but are conservatively inclined Canadians any less Canadian than liberals?

My recent defence of free speech garnered several comments, both on wmtc and elsewhere, explaining that my American ideas, such as the belief in the unfettered right of freedom of expression, are dangerous to Canada. Yet I have met - both in person and online - many, many Canadian-born Canadians who share my views on free speech. They may be a minority here. But what of it?

In the US, conservatives seek to define what it means to be American and label liberals as unpatriotic and unAmerican. In Canada, many liberals seek to the do the same about conservatives.

Canada, with its huge geography, its populace from all over the world, its commitment to diversity and tolerance, is anything but a homogeneous country. And the social and political beliefs of Canadians are anything but monolithic.

And Canada, like every society, is not static. Immigrants coming to Canada with their own views will change Canadian society, as will successive generations of Canadian-born Canadians.

Yet I routinely read and hear Albertans denigrated as being less Canadian than other Canadians, because of their more conservative beliefs. In the past this came up around Stephen Harper; now it's come up around Ezra Levant.

First, that's as ignorant as calling New York a "blue state," ignoring most people who live north of New York City. Do we need to point out that there are progressive people in Alberta? That there are conservative people in Ontario? That there are both, everywhere?

And second, if the majority of Albertans adhere to conservative beliefs, does that make them any less Canadian?

Certain issues such as freedom of expression are not properly categorized as politically left or right. There are libertarians on both sides of that political divide. A long time ago, a conservative commenter on this blog - Canadian-born - noted that the power structure of any society will attempt to restrict freedom of expression. In the US, he said, that's the conservatives, but in Canada, it's the liberals. That observation has stayed with me a long time.

As I said, I've met many Canadians who share my views on free speech. They tend to be either very conservative or very progressive. They live all over Canada. They are not American, nor supporters of American policy. They disagree that the need to restrict free speech to maintain public order is a Canadian value. They would like to see laws restricting free speech reversed. They may (or may not) be a minority. What of it?

I strongly believe that certain human rights must be protected without regard to popular opinion. If most Canadians claim to be against abortion, it must still be a woman's right to terminate her own pregnancy. If most Canadians claim to support capital punishment, citizens should be protected from state murder. Same-sex couples should have the same rights as mixed-gender couples. And so on.

But beyond basic Charter rights, must we aspire to such an orthodoxy of thought as to claim the belief in unfettered free speech is unCanadian? And must we be so parochial as to claim that belief is best left to folks from - ewww - Alberta?

There is no one Canadian set of beliefs or values that we all must adhere to. Surely that is not the Canada I worked so hard to emigrate to.

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