The Clod and the Pebble and the politics of resentment

"Blessed is anyone who takes no offense" — Luke 7:23

Here is a story from Sunday's paper that will make some people happy and some people unhappy.

That's not quite it. What I mean to say is that it will be a source of happiness for happy people and a source of further unhappiness for those who have chosen to be unhappy.

Neither category of readers is directly affected by this story, so these opposite responses are a matter of choice, or of many choices over time that have come to shape habit, perception and character.

Choice, habit and character are the language of ethics, and the distinction I'm exploring here is, primarily, an ethical one. It is a matter of morality — of wrong and right, bad and good, selfish and unselfish.

But this article does not present itself as an ethical dilemma, and neither set of readers will experience it that way. Their respective reactions will seem to them, rather, as simply a matter of temperament or sentiment — a "gut reaction." And that gut reaction will be felt as either happiness or as unhappiness, depending on habit and character cultivated over time.

Since this story is, in fact, a happy one, we can further see that one such gut reaction is more appropriate — more accurate — than the other. The inaccurate response carries consequences. To respond to happiness unhappily is to live in conflict with what is — a recipe for further unhappiness.

When St. Paul advised the early church to "rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn" he was speaking mainly of empathy as a necessary prerequisite for love, justice and virtue. But he was also reminding his readers to live honestly and accurately. To mourn when others rejoice and to rejoice when others mourn is cruel, but it is also out of step with reality. Conducting your life out of step with reality is self-destructive. It will make you miserable.

Anyway, the story. What happened was that 78 poor children whose fathers are incarcerated received free back-to-school supplies provided by three area churches. Their dads were permitted to be on hand to help present these presents, getting a rare chance to spend a few hours with their young kids.

This is, unambiguously, a Good Thing. "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the needy have their needs met, children are prepared to learn, broken families experience healing, the poor have good news brought to them."

Most readers will respond to such good news appropriately — seeing it as good news. That's accurate and appropriate and therefore not very interesting. Why do these readers respond to good news as good news? Because it's good news.

The opposite, anomalous response is more interesting. Why do some readers respond to this good news with such hostility? Why does this story make them angry and unhappy?

The answer is suggested, I think, in William Blake's short poem, "The Clod and the Pebble." It reads at first like a Sunday-school jingle, but as usual with Blake, there's quite a bit more going on here.

"Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a heaven in hell's despair."

So sung a little Clod of Clay,
Trodden with the cattle's feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:

"Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another's loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven's despite."

That pebbly centrality of self is always on the lookout for new sources of unhappiness, new grievances, new slights or causes for offense and resentment. And when that is what you're looking for, that is what you're likely to find, even in a heart-warming, happy story about churches getting it right by helping poor kids get ready for school.

Here is my approximation of the unhappy response to that story. This is not entirely a product of my invention or imagination — it's based on having seen thousands of such reactions in the online comments to newspaper stories, in letters to the editor and on cable news. I'm not sure it's the most generous representation, but I don't think it's inaccurate:

Why should the children of criminals get something for free? Something that I, as a hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding citizen had to pay for? I just spent two weeks driving all over spending my hard-earned money on back-to-school supplies for my kids and nobody gave me anything. This is how the world works and it's unfair to me. I follow the rules and I always get the short end of the stick. Meanwhile, those people get handouts. The game is rigged in their favor and I'm getting screwed yet again. Freeloaders. Lucky duckies. I resent them. I resent them and I am convinced that they are the reason I have to work and scrape and scramble as much as I do.

This angry resentment is periodically a major force in American politics. It is a destructive force — destructive of self and destructive of the whole (self-destructive people always have bad aim). The Resenters rejoice when others mourn and mourn when others rejoice and their politics of resentment has the crabs-in-a-bucket effect of making things worse for everyone, themselves included — making sure that nothing ever improves, that no problem is ever solved. The politics of resentment can never be for anything. That which benefits others will provoke resentment, even if it benefits all, including the Resenters themselves. They will still manage to resent the benefit to others — mourning at their rejoicing — convincing themselves that they might have benefited more if those others hadn't also been unjustly included in the common good.

The politics of resentment is clearly illiberal, but it is not conservative either. It doesn't present a coherent political ideology. That's part of why the purveyors of this resentment so often seem to contradict themselves. Fox News, for example, portrays itself as conservative, but it's real guiding principle is that of pebblish resentment.

Fox is quite skillful, usually, at the fine balancing act this requires. Cultivating, teaching and nurturing perpetual resentment involves a measure of restraint. The story in today's paper can be used to encourage this resentment, but take it too far and you arrive at something more obviously absurd. "I wish I was a prisoner so my kids could have it easy like prisoner's kids do." Unless one is extremely far gone, the silliness of that notion will cause the swelling resentment to burst like an over-filled balloon, forcing the Resenter to acknowledge that he or she actually is much better off than the supposed objects of resentment and exposing him or her to gratitude and empathy — the antidotes for the disease of perpetual resentment. The happiness that gratitude and empathy carry cannot be tolerated by the politics of resentment. It requires — and generates — unhappiness.

That unhappiness, more than anything else, is what interests me here. The purveyors and proselytizers of resentment make their followers unhappy. Fox News and talk radio make their viewers and listeners less happy. The closest they can come to allowing joy is schadenfreude, but all other forms of delight are forbidden. Resentment, indignation and offendedness can be addictive, and thus these outlets remain popular, but lots of addictive things are popular despite precluding joy. Smoking crack makes you feel good too, but that's not the same as making you happy.

Blake's poem, like St. Paul's maxim, conveys an essential law of the universe: Selfishness creates misery. Seeking "only Self to please" can never really succeed in pleasing self. Rejoicing and mourning at all the wrong things renders one incapable of ever really doing either.

The Resenters seek to make a virtue of selfishness, to embrace its misery and inflict it on others through their politics of resentment — building a hell in heaven's despite and forcing others to live in it with them. That effort, as I mentioned earlier, is an ethical endeavor — a matter of morality or, more precisely, of immorality. It's a sin.

But I'm not focused on morality here. Here I just want to consider happiness and the perplexingly self-destructive choice of preferring its opposite — resentment, indignation, high dudgeon, umbrage, offense, whatever you want to call it.

Bad money drives out good and this counterfeit happiness just as surely drives out the genuine article. It erodes the possibility of and the capacity for such happiness. Someone who scorns the opportunity to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn will eventually lose the ability to do so, and thus will also lose their capacity for happiness.

The Resenters have learned to be unhappy. They have been taught to respond unhappilly to happiness, taught by a steady toxic diet of Fox News and resentment radio and the demagogues of the politics of resentment. Part of our job, then, must be to help them learn again how to be capable of happiness. We must teach them, remind them, show them how to again look at a smiling child with a new backpack and to take delight instead of taking offense.

  • wendy, in search of a clever sig line

    @ CaryB
    You seem to be of the opinion that batshit whackos are some tiny little non-representative fraction of the Republicans; that the GOP is mostly reasonable people with whom we just happen to disagree. I’m sorry, but that’s just not so. A Newsweek poll out this week has 52% of Republicans saying they believe “Barack Obama sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world.” 14% say it’s definitely true, 38% say it’s probably true, 33% says it’s probably not true but might be, only 7% of Republicans are willing to concede it’s actually not true at all.
    These are not rational people. These are not people with whom we can have a reasoned discussion based on logic and evidence and, oh what’s the word, FACTS. They don’t care. They just dont. The man attended a Christian church for decades, was married in a Christian church, had his children baptized, speaks frequently of his savior Jesus. And yet more than half of Republicans think he’s a Muslim who wants to impose Sharia Law on us.
    There’s no reasoning with these people.
    and @ Amaryllis
    Beyond the pale refers to the Pale of Settlement in imperial Russia, where the Jews were quarantined. If anybody used the phrase for some other place, they were making an allegorical allusion to the shtetls.

  • Amaryllis

    lonespark: In Collapse I think Jared Diamond says the Norse in Greenland starved in part because they didn’t eat fish, or didn’t eat enough of it. That seems weird to me because I thought fish was a part of the diet in the places at least some of the settlers came from. Anyone know more about that?
    I’m no expert, but the ever-helpful wikipedia says that “isotope analysis of the bones of inhabitants shows that marine food sources supplied more and more of the diet of the Norse Greenlanders, making up between 50% and 80% of their diet by the 14th century.”
    So I don’t know: didn’t the medieval Norse in Norway eat fish?
    As for the Irish Famine, I don’t know that you can call it intentional genocide. More a misplaced but unshakeable faith in the power of the free market to meet everybody’s needs– eventually; so no one would interfere with the export of food from a starving county. Also a distaste for “encouraging a culture of dependency,” so government assistance was weak and private charity took a while to get going, and was never enough to meet the need..
    Which is why, when certain pundits start punditing about “the market must be FREE!” and “he who does not work shall not eat” and “private charity is all the safety net we need,” you just want to sit them down and teach them about “Black 47″ in detail, until they get it.
    @mmy: your family is indeed awesome. And thanks for reminding us of one of the subsets of our favorite motto: “History– It’s More Complicated Than That.”

  • Mark Z.

    Beyond the pale refers to the Pale of Settlement in imperial Russia, where the Jews were quarantined. If anybody used the phrase for some other place, they were making an allegorical allusion to the shtetls.
    I highly doubt that the phrase has such a specific origin; a “pale” is just a boundary fence.

  • Amaryllis

    @wendy: here’s an interesting discussion of “Pale” and “beyond the pale.” According to this source, the earliest recorded use of “beyond the pale” in English is a little late to refer to the Irish Pale but too early for the Russian Pale; so maybe it was always a figurative expression.
    And I am tring not to believe that there are people who mutate it into “beyond the pail.” What pail, for goodness sake!

  • Consumer Unit 5012 thinks “let the market decide” is like saying “let the car drive”.

    Amaryllis: As for the Irish Famine, I don’t know that you can call it intentional genocide. More a misplaced but unshakeable faith in the power of the free market to meet everybody’s needs– eventually;
    I forget where, but I remember Robert Anton Wilson mentioning some Potato-Famine era economist commenting that the Famine wouldn’t kill anywhere nearly enough Irish to be “worthwhile”, and it’s not called “the dismal science” for nothing. :(

  • sharky

    RE: Fish in Greenland, I thought the time of year had something to do with it; there were acceptable fish and fish that weren’t seen as food, both, and the second category was around more in the winter.
    It’s been a couple years since I read about it, though.

  • Steve Morrison

    Lonespark:
    Diamond says just that, on pp. 229–230. As you can see, he himself points out that their ancestral culture did eat quite a bit of fish, and so did the Inuits of Greenland, making their apparent disdain for fish all the harder to account for.

  • Launcifer

    Amaryllis: According to this source, the earliest recorded use of “beyond the pale” in English is a little late to refer to the Irish Pale but too early for the Russian Pale; so maybe it was always a figurative expression.
    Not exactly. A pale is pretty much as described: it’s a boundary marker, though usually for a village or estate on my little island. The difference, in English at least, is that it’s so-called because it’s white-washed to make it visible within its surroundings. I know the phrase occurs in English at least before the Reformation, because it’s an important part of at least one local festival (The Feast of the Boy Bishop, if anyone’s really interested).

  • wendy, in search of a clever sig line

    Huh. Learned something.

  • P J Evans

    The difference, in English at least, is that it’s so-called because it’s white-washed to make it visible within its surroundings.
    Folk etymology strikes again. The two words have different roots: the fence is from palus and the color is from pallidus [pallere].
    Why, yes, I do have the OED handy (the two volume edition, with the supplements).

  • Launcifer

    P.J Evans: They’ve just discontinued printing the OED, funnily enough. And I, too, have learned something this – er – morning.

  • Spearmint, who hated Legolas before it was cool

    You’re seriously comparing the Republican Party to a fundamentalist Islamic near-terrorist organization?
    …as far as unprovoked foreign wars of aggression go, the Republican Party and Hezbollah are tied. And Hezbollah’s stupid war didn’t involve a land invasion and had some relationship to quasi-legitimate underlying grievances, so maybe they should come out ahead on that scorecard. To be honest, I feel pretty comfortable comparing them.
    This is the part where you step back, take a few deep breaths and realize that these are people you disagree with politically
    So are Hezbollah. So are a lot of people. What does that have to do with anything?
    You ever notice how the people that actually made a difference didn’t act divisively?
    I’m not sure “making a difference” is the metric you want to use here. Hitler and Stalin “made a difference.” “Improved things” might be a better metric. I also don’t remember MLK and Gandhi only ever saying nice things about their enemies. Hell, MLK had some pretty harsh things to say about his (crappy) allies. There’s a difference between practicing non-violence and practicing never calling people out on their bullshit.
    “All these Southeners are a bunch of dumb, racist, cracker assholes.”
    MLK never said this because he had a better vocabulary, not because he wasn’t willing to thoroughly denounce racists.
    Unless you want to go be a Parisian ex-pat, these are your fellow citizens.
    If I was Lebanese Hezbollah would be my fellow citizens. Again, what does this have to do with anything?
    They’re PEOPLE, Spearmint
    So are Hezbollah. I’ll still confused about what your point is supposed to be.
    They aren’t stupid
    Some of them are. Some of them are malicious. A lot of them are just confused or scared. But understanding why they are wrong doesn’t mean we can’t condemn them for being wrong, any more than understanding Hezbollah means we can’t condemn them for being wrong. It would be patronizing to do otherwise, to treat them like children who can’t be expected to know what they are doing or held accountable for their actions. They are adults and they are hurting people. One of the consequences of hurting people is that people call you a jerk. One of the consequences of voluntarily associating with bullies is that people think you are a bully. This isn’t just a difference of political opinion. The modern conservative movement is incredibly, provably, dangerously, and if we believe Fred deliberately wrong on a host of issues, and I see no problem whatsoever with telling them so.
    Re. your second post, what hapax and Ursula said. A political party is not a worldwide religion. American Muslims have no more control over Al Qeada than Mexican Catholics have over the IRA, and are no more accountable for their actions. American conservatives have as much control over the Republican Party as Lebanese islamists have over Hezbollah, and are equally accountable for their actions.

  • P J Evans

    Launcifer, I heard about that. I don’t really blame them for not wanting to print it: it’s huge, and too expensive for a lot of smaller libraries. (I suspect that it also intimidates a lot of people.)

  • Spearmint, who hated Legolas before it was cool

    Hezbollah’s stupid war didn’t involve a land invasion
    Er, a land invasion by Lebanon. *cough*

  • hf, Supreme High Lamb-y Dragon-y Person of Christians for the Antichrist

    On this genocide of the Irish: Brad DeLong discusses the quote here, after the more important matter of academic protocol. His defense of the British economist imputes to him the belief that 4 million Irish people should die.

  • Ursula L

    Regarding the OED, I wonder if they’ll make it available in print using POD technology?
    I could see that working. The whole OED was a huge investment, but I could see someone who wanted a (near) full print version buying a POD volume, starting with “A”, and then when they can afford the next, starting with the word that’s last in their old version. It wouldn’t be a “complete” OED in the sense of the whole thing at on moment in time, but it would provide a complete print A-Z bought over several yeas.
    I could also see gifts of a single volume, such as when a baby is born giving the volume their given name would fall in. Just because dictionaries are cool.
    There aren’t enough copies needed to justify conventional printing, but there are people who want print copies. And as a matter of archiving, having a few thousand print copies at various points in the world is better than having only electronic versions.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    In Collapse I think Jared Diamond says the Norse in Greenland starved in part because they didn’t eat fish, or didn’t eat enough of it. That seems weird to me because I thought fish was a part of the diet in the places at least some of the settlers came from. Anyone know more about that?
    Posted by: Lonespark
    ————————–
    IIRC, they didn’t starve because they didn’t eat fish/seafood, but because (unlike the natives) they couldn’t catch enough of it. They didn’t know the techniques the locals knew, and refused to learn anything from them, and starved while the locals continued to hunt seals and ate well.
    (*I have forgoten the local tribal name, and refuse to use the generic and geographically inaccurate and possibly offensive term commonly used)

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com/ Ross

    Why yes, my mother did love history. And yes Henry of Navarre was her favourite King of France. And yes, we gossiped about just how well Eleanor “knew” Henry’s father before she finally married Henry. What, everybody doesn’t while the time away while doing household chores by telling stories from world history?

    Why just the other day, I explained to my wife over cleaning up after dinner how the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars overlapped, and why France went through about a half-dozen governments in the early part of the nineteenth century. (I also had to explain that, no, neither Oliver Cromwell nor Cardinal Richelieu were involved in the French Revolution. In return, she explained to me that George IV was extremely fat, which I had totally not expected, having for some reason always imagined him as looking like a young Hugh Laurie). This also led to us looking up the War of 1812 to see who actually did win* (I know canadians think they won. But I was taught in school that the US won. And that Canada was not actually involved in the war. According to Wikipedia, in fact, as of 2009 roughly equal numbers of Canadians answered “Canada”, “The United States”, and “I’ve never heard of the war of 1812″ when asked who won. Outside of Ontario, where apparently no one cares. I also discovered that the only land to actually change hands in the war was a city in Alabama that the US took from Spain, prompting me to discover that Spain had holdings in Alabama in 1812.)

    So let’s navigate this worldview: if a fetus is conceived, it MUST be carried and birthed, but it doesn’t have the right to health care after it leaves the mother’s body. EXCEPT if by some unhappy accident it ever ends up on life support. And then it doesn’t have the right to get taken off life support.

    It may be unfair. It may be mean. But if you just always assume that the republicans support whichever policies most increase human suffering, you will usually be right.
    * Officially, it was a tie. This is actually in the peace treaty.

  • Will Wildman

    Canadians were devastating in the land-based portion of the War of 1812, which is what we got taught about in school, but it was only years later that I found out how much more there was to it than “We took Detroit without a fight because the Americans were @#$%ing terrified of our First Nations allies, then we burned down the White House after eating their ice cream”. Apparently there were sea battles? Weird.

  • http://cereselle.livejournal.com cereselle

    Ursula L: The mindset seems to be more that the outcome of a pregnancy must be left to chance, rather than medical intervention, whether that intervention is an abortion at the choice of the pregnant woman or medical care to support the pregnancy.
    Yep. And if the pregnant woman dies, oh well, she’s a martyr and will be praised in heaven. As for the baby, it’s weak, so if it dies that’s its own fault. It should have raised itself up by its bootstraps.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    Ross: I visited forts almost within cannon-shot of each other on either side of the Canadian-American borders which each had a plaque explaining how “our side won the war.”
    @Ross: Outside of Ontario, where apparently no one cares.
    That certainly wasn’t true in any of the places I lived in Ontario while I was growing up. Learned about the war in schools — and there are lots of places still named after battles. Also — ever hear of Laura Secord? We certainly did.
    @Will Wildman: Apparently there were sea battles?
    To quote a relative only the “bloody Brits” cared about the sea battles. The UELs focused on payback for having their own homes destroyed.

  • gallantrose

    @mmy: Laura Secord! Darling of the War of 1812! (from the “everything I know about Canadian history I learned from Kate Beaton” files)

  • http://www.agirlcalledraven.blogspot.com sarah

    Ireland also has Seamus Heaney. That man made Beowulf wonderful to read. Plus, The Cure at Troy:
    History says don’t hope
    On this side of the grave.
    But then, once in a lifetime,
    The longed-for tidal wave
    Of justice can rise up
    And hope and history rhyme.
    So hope for a great sea-change
    on the far side of revenge.
    Believe that a further shore
    is reachable from here.
    Believe in miracles
    and cures and healing wells…

  • ajay

    then we burned down the White House after eating their ice cream”. Apparently there were sea battles? Weird.
    The sea battles, like the Burning of Washington, involved Brits, not Canadians. Look it up; the name you want is George Cockburn. I have no idea why Canadians all seem so convinced that they burned the White House, but they didn’t; that was the Royal Navy and the British Army.
    The Canadians can be proud of giving the lie to the first US politician who said “Let’s invade! It’ll be easy! They’ll welcome us as liberators!”

  • http://lyorn.livejournal.com/ inge

    Lee, mmy: I think the difference is what you learn from history. History can teach you not to make the same mistakes again, can inoculate you against nostalgia, it can show you that an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind and that keeping grudges has killed more people than the yellow fever. But you have to ask history to teach you, not to justify you.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    @ajay: I have no idea why Canadians all seem so convinced that they burned the White House, but they didn’t; that was the Royal Navy and the British Army.
    The thing is there wasn’t a Canada then (as a country) there were colonials, various Amerindian nations that didn’t trust this new country to the south one damn bit, people who had come to New France or Upper Canada to make a better life and a whole lot of United Empire Loyalists. Who were really, really angry about waking up to find on our doorstep a new major power that wanted to colonize us.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    @inge: History can teach you not to make the same mistakes again, can inoculate you against nostalgia, it can show you that an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind and that keeping grudges has killed more people than the yellow fever.
    And history, as I learned it from my mother, is a reminder that we are all humans here. We all bleed, we all fear, we all hunger. We all love our children. Just recently I saw a heart-rending video of a Pakistani man carrying his father on his back through the flood. I grew up hearing about how Aeneas carried his father on his back out of the burning city of Troy. Different men, different times, different cultures — are the actions of that (to me) nameless man in Pakistan any less glorious and heroic than those of the legendary founder of Rome?
    History teaches you that you were neither the first to love nor the first to hate. How many mighty empires have fallen into ruin making exactly the same mistakes you are planning to make today?
    History is the voices of our mothers and our fathers echoing down the ages to tell us about the joys that lie ahead and the terrors behind every rock.

  • ajay

    Well, yes, mmy, but it’s still pretty much wrong for Canadians to say “we burned the White House”. The people who did that weren’t from any of the territories that later became Canada. They were British. That’s where they were from, that’s how they thought of themselves.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    @ajay: Can I presume you are not Canadian? Because you are talking about the self-identity of people who at the time were legally citizens of the British Empire and would have described themselves as such. My great-greats called themselves United EMPIRE loyalists and even in the first World War would, if they wished to accept commissions, been correctly described as officers of the British Army.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    *points* what mmy said, ajay.
    Personally, I was starting to get a little squinty at you. Like this. (>_<)

  • ajay

    No, I’m not Canadian. At the time, of course, the people you’re talking about wouldn’t have described themselves as “citizens of the British Empire”, because there was no such thing, and there never has been; they were British subjects.
    I’m not sure what point you are trying to make here by talking about Canadian national identity. The people who burned the White House were British subjects from Britain. (And Ireland, most probably.) They weren’t from any of the territories that later became Canada. Saying “the Canadians burned the White House” is as accurate as saying “The Canadians won the Battle of Trafalgar” or “The Duke of Wellington was a Canadian”.
    The people who fought the battles on land were British subjects too, but given that many of them – the militia that won at Queenston Heights, for example – were born in the territories that would later become Canada, I don’t have a problem with their being called “Canadian” avant la lettre, as it were.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    @ajay: I’m not sure what point you are trying to make here by talking about Canadian national identity. The people who burned the White House were British subjects from Britain.
    Do you have a record of the place of birth of every single person who served in the British forces at the time? No you don’t. The distinctions you are talking about were not made them.
    No, Britain (usually) did not call itself an empire at that point (though it functioned as one) — but we (the ancestors of the present day Canadians — who lived in Upper Canada) were British subjects at the time. Some were born in England and moved to the colonial territories. Some moved back and forth. Some were pressed into service in England. Some went to England to join the forces.
    The people who fought the battles on land were British subjects too, but given that many of them – the militia that won at Queenston Heights, for example – were born in the territories that would later become Canada, I don’t have a problem with their being called “Canadian” avant la lettre, as it were.
    How very bloody good of you to have no problem. How bloody patronizing as well.
    The relationship between the colonies and “the motherland” is far too complicated to reduce to a few sentences but I refuse to let an American tell me when and how I can identify with other members of what was then the commonwealth in making.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    @ajay: Re “do we care” “does anyone still know about the war of 1812″ — to do some fact checking (as opposed to rest one opinions of the world on one’s own limited experiences) to quote my source who has access to the current curriculum guidelines for Ontario “the causes, the events of, and the short
    and long term consequences of The War of 1812 is a major theme in the Grade 7 History “

  • Bryan Feir

    I always liked the comment, I believe originally from Pierre Berton:

    Ask a Canadian about the War of 1812, and they’ll say ‘The Americans tried to take us over, but we fought them back.’ Ask an American about the War of 1812, and they’ll say, ‘The British tried to take away our independence, but we fought them back.’ Ask an Englishman about the war of 1812, and they’ll say, ‘What war?’

    And while the naval battles were mostly British forces, yes, the land battles had to be pretty much all colonials, militias, and natives, because most of the British army was tied down fighting with Napolean at the time, and the War of 1812 had already been going on for a while before news of it even reached England.
    And yeah, the Battle of New Orleans took place after the armistice was signed but before news of that made it back to North America.
    (I’m suddenly reminded of one of the Sharpe’s Rifles stories, where a plot point hung around the fact that there were supposedly-American newspapers fomenting rebellion amongst the Irish serving in the army against Napolean, and Sharpe pointed out that the newspaper was obviously a fake because the date was too recent for the paper to have actually made it over to Europe on any ship yet built.)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    @Bryan Feir: — I love that Pierre Berton quote.
    I think why the Ontario curriculum still emphasizes the importance of The War of 1812 is that it was a key step in our evolution towards being a nation in our own right. The residents of the areas that would one day become Canada might not yet have been ready to declare independence from Britain but they were sure as hell not willing to become part of the United States.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/rajexplorer Raj

    mmy: And history, as I learned it from my mother, is a reminder that we are all humans here. We all bleed, we all fear, we all hunger. We all love our children. Just recently I saw a heart-rending video of a Pakistani man carrying his father on his back through the flood. I grew up hearing about how Aeneas carried his father on his back out of the burning city of Troy. Different men, different times, different cultures — are the actions of that (to me) nameless man in Pakistan any less glorious and heroic than those of the legendary founder of Rome?
    Your comment immediately brought to mind this bit of insight Darwin had in South America:

    This spot is notorious from having been, for a long time, the residence of some runaway slaves, who, by cultivating a little ground near the top, contrived to eke out a subsistence. At length they were discovered, and a party of soldiers being sent, the whole were seized with the exception of one old woman, who, sooner than again be led into slavery, dashed herself to pieces from the summit of the mountain. In a Roman matron this would have been called the noble love of freedom: in a poor negress (sic) it is mere brutal obstinacy.
    - Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    @Raj: Wow — wonderful quote.

  • Consumer Unit 5012 is prejudiced against lying, ignorant bigots. How horrible.

    Ross: * Officially, it was a tie. This is actually in the peace treaty.
    I wonder how much crap we could have avoided over the last 30-odd years if we’d done that with Vietnam?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    @Consumer Unit: Officially, it was a tie. This is actually in the peace treaty.
    I wonder how much crap we could have avoided over the last 30-odd years if we’d done that with Vietnam?

    I actually have heard people suggest that the best way for the US to get out of [Afghanistan/Iraq] is to declare they have won and just leave. The other side would be quite free to declare that THEY were the side that actually won. Both sides would save face and millions of lives would be saved.
    Of course, it is unfortunately likely that they would then fight a war over the question of who won the war.

  • P J Evans

    ISTR that the UEL was based on the loyalists who left what is now the US because they didn’t want to be part of it. So I’d say there was more than a little payback involved from their point of view.
    As far as ‘who was from where’ – one of the English commanders (Thomas Graves) in the Anglo-Dutch wars was a resident of Charlestown, Massachusetts.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    @P J Evans: ISTR that the UEL was based on the loyalists who left what is now the US because they didn’t want to be part of it. So I’d say there was more than a little payback involved from their point of view.
    Yeah, some of the UELs fled American colonies with nothing but the clothes on their back — driven from their homes as “traitors.” There was a hell of a lot of payback going on.
    Exactly what the legal relationship any Canadian has to Britain is a wonderfully complicated (and very Canadian) thing. I just checked my Canadian passport and the rights granted to me therein are requested by “The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada” in the name of Her Majesty the Queen, and holders of Canadian passports are instructed that “in countries where there is no Canadian office, application may be made in an emergency to the nearest British diplomatic or consular office.”
    So my right to travel abroad is proclaimed in the name of the Queen and I can call upon the British diplomatic services if I am unable to find Canadian representation.

  • Andrew Glasgow

    Discussion of the War of 1812 cannot continue without the input of Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie

  • ajay

    The relationship between the colonies and “the motherland” is far too complicated to reduce to a few sentences but I refuse to let an American tell me when and how I can identify with other members of what was then the commonwealth in making.
    Good for you. And if an American ever tries to tell you that, I hope you tell her where to get off. I, however, am not an American.
    But if it’s your position that you have the right to identify with whatever bits of the empire and commonwealth you want – to say not only “Canadians burned the White House” but also “Canadians won the Battle of Trafalgar” (and, for all I know, “Canadians built the Sydney Harbour Bridge” and “Gandhi led thousands of Canadians on the Salt March”), and any disagreement is insulting to your Canadianness… well, there’s not a lot one can say to that except “I hope you enjoy life in your universe”.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/femgeek1 Melle

    mmy: I remember, when a student responded in wonder “are you saying that the British were in Afghanistan?”
    Heh. That reminds me of several critiques/comments I’ve read about the BBC’s new Sherlock Holmes series. A number of commenters thought that making Watson an Army doctor injured in Afghanistan was pointless and clearly Stephen Moffat was trying twisting a classic of literature to make some sort of point, etc., apparently blissfully unaware that in the original books, Watson was … an Army doctor injured in Afghanistan*. *facepalm*
    (* Plus ca change …)

  • ako

    A number of commenters thought that making Watson an Army doctor injured in Afghanistan was pointless and clearly Stephen Moffat was trying twisting a classic of literature to make some sort of point, etc.,
    Seriously? Wow.
    What’s next? “How dare you suggest Sherlock Holmes would take drugs!”

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy_working through the list one book at a time

    @Ajay: first: the only apology you will get from me is misremembering (if I ever knew it) your citizenship.
    second: There is a long and very scholarly history behind present-day Canadians considering themselves part of a group that they ancestors were part of. If you think you know more than generations of scholars then
    PLONK

  • Le Jardin

    You’re thoroughly confused. You have no evidence that Fox News, or any conservative, would react negatively to, or resent, this story. I know this, because they wouldn’t. You’re entirely missing the point of why they WOULD react negatively to a similar story: They would resent the GOVERNMENT giving free handouts… not churches! When churches decide to do this, it is their own business, and the business of those who donate to them (willingly and wittingly). When the handouts come from the tax-payers, who occasionally fund this sort of thing UNwillingly and UNwittingly, then of course they’re resentful. But there are no conservatives who are “choosing to be unhappy” in this scenario, you’ve made it up entirely!!!

  • Andrew Glasgow

    @Le Jardin: Dude, click the link in Fred’s post and read the comments. Plenty of butt-hurt conservatives there.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    They’re so bent on depriving prisoners of anything nice in their lives that they’re wailing and moaning about this?
    This is how I feel about that.

  • Drake Pope

    @Le Jardin: Dude, click the link in Fred’s post and read the comments. Plenty of butt-hurt conservatives there.

    To be fair, you don’t know that those are conservatives. They could just be assholes. Yes, yes, I know, but there are plenty of people who are just… plain…. mean. Especially in the safety of a newspaper article comment thread.


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