Finally — Survey Results I Can Understand


July 8, 2009

I guess silly season must have struck at the Globe & Mail (Canada's National Newspaper) a week or so ago. I actually missed the online survey, but in this one they asked a particularly mindless question:  "Should immigrants be encouraged to give up their customs and traditions in order to assimilate into Canadian society?"

These little polls are intended as filler, really, and I doubt if anyone considers them important enough or accurate enough to quote in any papers, major or otherwise. However, a survey question as absurd as this does give one reason to pause.

Now I know that I have expressed concern about immigrants bringing their political problems with them, but really! Getting people to leave political attitudes and grudges behind is hard enough but getting people to abandon cultural attitudes is likely to be impossible.

Assuming we can figure out a way to do this, and Canadian sociologists are as eager as anyone to get government grants, what might some of the effects be?

Now, remember that the only workable definition of a Canadian is "an immigrant with seniority" so how would we determine which immigrants we mean. Presumably we would have to set some future date to give people fair warning, so immigrants who show up next year, for example, would have to be culture-free.

That leaves us with the problem that there is an odds-on chance that members of any given immigrant's culture are already here so the culture is already here too. Does this mean that the new person could not associate with any members of the established community from the native culture that we remove? Obviously the solution would be to avoid this problem by making the law retroactive so that all of us immigrants would have to abandon whatever culture our grandparents brought over with them.

My ancestry is a combination of Scottish and Welsh and I must tell you that giving up haggis and bagpipes would not seem overly odious to me. Welsh cooking, with the exception of rhubarb pies and tarts, could go too. After all, the two rules in Welsh cuisine are: "If you can taste it, it's over seasoned and if you can cut it, it's undercooked."  You can see I would not be all that upset about that either.

Other ramifications loom, however. We are, or rather our ancestors were, immigrants at one time or another. Essentially all of us European Canadians would have give up our culture. This would leave us to desperately emulate the aboriginal peoples around us, but only those who could demonstrate that they weren't following any cultural practices from across the Bering Strait.

Given the absurd results that even a conservative interpretation of the results of such a policy would be, one wonders what the folks at Globe and Mail were consuming at breakfast on the day they concocted the question.

However, one statistic in relation to this survey reassures about my fellow Canadians–nobody voted.

Doug Thomas is an English teacher and novelist, an agnostic member of SOFREE (Society of Ontario Freethinkers), and an active member of the Humanist Association of Canada. He is also Managing Editor of Canadian Freethinker.