What’s in a Flag?

I’ve been noticing a lot of Canadian flags lately. In windows, on lawns, on porches. This is Canada. We aren’t American. So what’s with the flags?

Well, maybe that’s it. It’s to say we aren’t American. Many Canadian tourists wear a Canadian flag on their knapsacks for the same reason American tourists wear a Canadian flag on their knapsacks. But then why not just fly an American flag with the red slash of “No!” through it? Maybe cuz that wouldn’t be very nice. And, well, we’re Canadian. And everyone in the neighbourhood already knows that everyone here is Canadian.

So again, what’s with the flag? Are people just saying they’re proud to be Canadian? Well, they can’t. They can’t do that. I mean, how can you be proud to be Canadian? You can be proud of running a marathon in under four hours. That’s an accomplishment. Being Canadian is just an accident. In order to be proud of something, you have to have had something to do with that something. It’s nonsense for me to say I’m proud that we’ve walked on the Moon. Who’s this ‘we’? I had nothing to do with it. I certainly can’t take any credit for it. So I can’t possibly be proud of it.

So how can you be proud to be Canadian? Did you make Canada what it is today? I don’t think so.

But, then, what is Canada? What does it actually mean to be Canadian? At one level (and to my mind, the only level), to be Canadian means to have been born within certain geopolitical boundaries. No one can take credit for where they were born. They weren’t born yet. If you were born here, you haven’t even had to pass the citizenship test and memorize the oath of allegiance. (Does Canada have an oath of allegiance? I have no idea. I was born here. I guess my allegiance goes without saying.)

Alternatively, being Canadian means to have lived within these certain geopolitical boundaries for a certain period of time under certain conditions. (They’re the ones who have had to pass that citizenship test.)

For some, getting here, becoming a Canadian, is certainly an achievement, something to be proud of. But being Canadian is a little different than, I guess, becoming Canadian.

Some might say being Canadian means you have certain values. Oh yeah? Like what? Well, Canadians are friendly. Right. Our government sells weapons. The guy who sets traps in the forest won’t mark them, doesn’t care if my dog gets hurt or killed by one. And even if it were true that everyone, or even most everyone, who lives here is friendly, well I’m sure a lot of people who live in other countries are also friendly. A lot of people who don’t live in Canada drink beer and get stupid over hockey. And a lot of people who do live in Canada don’t. My point is there are no uniquely Canadian values. And even if there were, does subscribing to them mean I can take credit for them? An odd sort of question, isn’t it.

When people say they’re proud to be Canadian (or whatever), maybe what they really mean is that they’re happy to be Canadian. Well. Being proud and being happy are two different things. And frankly, I don’t see the point in making a public proclamation of either one. The first is just bragging and the second is just stupid.

Unless it’s like a gang colours thing. (In which case it’s even more bragging and more stupid.) I’m Canadian means I belong to this gang, this tribe. Yeah so? Are you trying to make me say what gang I belong to? Are you trying to pick a fight?

Still, why not proclaim that you belong to any one of a number of groups you surely belong to–why not fly the horticultural society’s flag? Why the Canadian flag? Because a nation has more power than a horticultural society and you want to be sure people know you belong to the big gang, the tough gang? Why? I guess if someone’s threatened you, you might want to announce that you’re not alone, that someone’s got your back. But I doubt anyone’s threatened these people. And I doubt Canada’s got their back. (I sure don’t.) And anyway, if they really want to make someone think twice about attacking them, wouldn’t they fly, say, the Hell’s Angels flag? (Or, well, the American flag?)

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