|Montreal, September 15, 2001 / No 88
by Harry Valentine
The culture of any society is comprised of many factors which include the history of the culture, the struggles and hardships preceding generations endured, their religious devotion, the levels of education people attained, the art and literature which they produced and to which they were exposed. These factors will contribute to the values the society or culture embraces as well as how individuals in the particular culture perceive themselves.
Do the individual members of the society seek to play the role of followers,
uncritically obeying the culture's leaders, or do the individual members
view themselves as autonomous people with a right to their own lives as
well as a right to their own minds? If they choose the latter, then there
would exist in the culture, members who seek to explore, to solve problems
and to create opportunities.
People in history
A great impetus has existed in Quebec to seek to preserve the French culture as well as the French language, including through political independence or secession from Canada. The culture of Quebec is ultimately based on the history of the people whose families have lived in Quebec through several generations. This history has to reflect people living under severe hardship and successfully dealing with the setbacks and challenges they confronted. The history needs to reflect how people helped each other struggle through the severity of the hardships which previous generations lived through. The success of the earlier generations at dealing with the severe hardships they faced assured the survival of the generations which followed. The success does more than just assure physical survival, it is a deep spiritual gift and legacy that the earlier generation of Quebeckers have bestowed to later generations.
The history of people being successful at establishing themselves in a harsh and inhospitable land, then using their ingenuity to tame the harsh land, forms the basis of Quebec's rich, non-political cultural history. Within traditional Quebec families, there would be stories of how their forefathers and relatives of earlier generations successfully took on monumental tasks to deal with the challenges of the earlier times. What the forefathers had to achieve was nothing short of heroic in the face of a harsh and unforgiving environment. When the modern day descendants come together at family reunions in various parts of Quebec, what ultimately has to be acknowledged and celebrated is the cultural history of the family, that is, of ancestors who work together in an environment that demanded heroism, co-operation and achievement, for the sake of the family's survival.
The task of preserving the cultural history of Quebec is the sacred task of the families, that is, the modern day descendants of the people who successfully made the harsh environment of an untamed Quebec into a home. The quest of politicians who claim that they are on a mission to preserve Quebec's history is nothing but sheer political opportunism. The cultural history of the people who made a home in Quebec already exists and is already preserved in the same manner in which the cultural history of Greece is preserved. The cultural history of a society is preserved by the people who preserve their family histories by recording the events of the past, through paintings, drawings, songs and stories.
The politicians have a second quest, that is, they not only wish to preserve the cultural history of Quebec, the want to preserve its culture, an even bigger farce. It is a farce because in the long term, government will ultimately fail to control the direction in which a society evolves culturally.
During the late 1970's the Government of Quebec undertook the task of preserving the French language in Quebec, through force of law, which included unilingual road signs, prominent French in the signs of businesses and compulsory French instruction in the schools. In 2001, the Government of Quebec revealed that the use of French was declining in the Montreal area and that it may continue to decline. This is a classic example of government ultimately achieving the exact opposite of what it originally set out to do. To remedy this awful situation, the government of Quebec organised a commission to study the problem and develop recommendations.
People ultimately are going to choose the language they are going to speak by their own free will, irrespective of what the government dictates. Initiating forcible coercion against one group of peaceful citizens, just for the sake of appeasing another group of citizens, is not the legitimate role of a government. It is an act of abuse of governmental power. Trying to direct the cultural evolution of its citizens is similarly not the proper role of government. It is a government assuming the role of the jester in medieval royal chambers and appointing a minister to assume that post. People themselves, acting purely by their own freedom of choice, will be the contributors to the cultural evolution of the society in which they live. They will do this by the choice of books they read, the art they wish to perceive and to contemplate, their choice of music, their choice of theatrical plays. The writers, artists, composers, musicians, thinkers and facilitators of entertainment will all contribute to the cultural evolution of a society, regardless of their own origins. People will ultimately choose for themselves what they wish to see, hear, contemplate and value.
Power to the people
Governments have tried to circumvent the freedom of choice of their citizens, indirectly, by enacting laws to restrict what kinds of literature, art and music their citizens have access to. This may be done covertly, with government trying use an invisible hand that citizens would not notice, such as is the case in Canada and in Quebec. Governments may use this invisible hand by giving out grant money to politically favoured writers, musicians and artists, as a means of subtly guiding or just influencing the process of cultural evolution. Often, the public at large disregards most politically favoured artists, opting instead to patronise the works of an artist or writer who had no political connections, or who has scorned such affiliation. In doing so, people assert their sovereignty as individuals who have a right to their own minds and their own lives. This form of self-assertion is a quiet rebellion against the state, the Church and other forms of authoritarian power.
The people of Quebec have been quietly rebelling for more than a quarter of a century. In traditional Quebec culture, young ladies were taught by Catholic nuns. Their sacred mission in life was to get married soon after leaving their senior year at school, to a good, educated, French Canadian catholic gentleman, then begin to raise a family soon afterward. By their own freedom of choice, Quebec women chose a different path: they went on to college and university, then into careers following graduation. This was not only people-chosen cultural evolution, it was a repudiation of traditional Quebec cultural practices and traditions. And at the time this cultural evolution occurred, the Quebec cultural affairs minister wore trousers (though his belt may have dropped to the level of his ankles). The hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which at an earlier time guided the cultural development of Quebec, was virtually powerless to control the new direction of Quebec's cultural evolution.
In traditional Quebec culture and society, a lady would often have her first child nine months after her wedding day. The government and the Church were united in upholding that the family unit was the building block of a good, stable Quebec society. Then the people rebelled and single motherhood started to appear. Now the Quebec government gives support payments to single mothers, in direct contradiction of its alleged mission to preserve Quebec culture and its cultural identity. One government ministry endeavours to preserve Quebec's cultural heritage, while another department of the same government provides funding to achieve the exact opposite result. And the department doing the latter seems to be outperforming the department trying to do the former, making the entire exercise of preserving and promoting Quebec's cultural heritage nothing more than an elaborate farce. It is impossible to preserve the cultural identity, uniqueness and heritage of an evolving and changing culture.
The nature of work and the workplace in the changing modern economy has brought about a great deal of change in Quebec, centered mainly around Montreal, where an increasingly well educated workforce is employed. A large percentage of these workers are university educated, employed in jobs related to information technology. These are the people who are most likely to go to theatres, invest in music, buy books on a variety of subjects....
What is happening in such companies is that people are striving forward to succeed and achieve in the face of competition and market adversity, risking failure in a similar way to the early generation of Quebec people who carved out a place for themselves in a harsh and unforgiving land. Educated modern day descendants of the early generation of Quebeckers now pay homage and respect to their ancestors in the new generation companies which shun governmental assistance, by choosing to achieve and succeed on their own merit and by their own honest effort.
The proud tradition of Quebec culture is still alive and well, being preserved in a few areas of Quebec. It is not the government which is preserving this legacy and heritage, it is some of the people themselves doing so without any assistance or guidance from the state. The agency most responsible for undermining Quebec's proud cultural heritage and alienating Quebec citizens from that proud heritage is none other that the government itself.
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