The duelling myth postulate examined: #IdleNoMore

Our next example comes courtesy of the comment threads from this story. I highly suggest that if you read Christie Blatchford’s execrable opinion piece, you take the time to read this patient takedown from Rabble. This comment is, admittedly, cherry-picked, but it is a relatively common argument that turns up pretty much every time racial justice and historical antecedents of racial inequalities are discussed. I don’t read the National Post, so I am not sure how typical the approval the comment is receiving is for that audience, or how representative it is of the general populace, but I’ve heard this line of argument many times before. I don’t find it a particularly egregious example (even though the racism is a bit more nakedly expressed than is usually considered polite):

I know this may sound impolitic but the reality is that many of us non-Canadian Natives came from backgrounds not unlike the Canadian natives. My ancestors were badly oppressed. Their homeland was invaded time and again over hundreds of years by nasty invaders who did awful things to them, took their land, exploited and abused them. After WW2, there was no opportunity for my parents. No jobs, no prospects for a better life. What did they do? When the opportunity came to move on to better things, they took it. They came to Canada, with dreadful memories of cruel enslavement and oppression, They did crappy jobs, they were looked down on by other more established Canadians, they didn’t have influence or connections to the powerful groups in society. But they didn’t sit around and whining, drinking and looking for handouts. They made their way. They were determined to make a better life for themselves and their kids and they succeeded. Their success didn’t come from some government program or tax payer handouts. It came from being determined, having a goal and avoiding destructive behaviour and a supportive community of your own people around you.

It’s been done many, many times before and there’s no reason that the Canadian Natives can’t do it. The first step is to leave the reserves. Move to where the jobs are, where their kids can get an education, swearing off booze and drugs and developing some self-reliance and self-respect. One more thing: just as I and many other immigrants’ kids let go of aspects of our ancestors’ culture that seem backwards, destructive or just plain irrelevant in today’s world, Natives need to do the same and stop clinging to notions of living their lives as if the last 500 years haven’t happened. Things change, the world evolves, s**t happens. Deal with it and move on. I have no idea why any people would cling to the very culture of dependency that they claim to revile and why we continue to throw incredible amounts of money at them to keep them that way.

Let’s see how this argument fits into the duelling myth framework. Again, this argument is most conveniently expressed as a f-myth:

The world is fundamentally fair when it comes to treatment of aboriginal people in Canada (insofar as all minority groups are treated equally unfairly). Other minority groups have experienced discrimination in the past that is equivalent to the discrimination faced by aboriginal people in Canada. By adopting a particular pattern of behaviour (adopting the majority culture, avoiding “destructive behaviour”, not drinking apparently), immigrants to Canada managed to succeed. If aboriginals in Canada would adopt the same pattern of behaviour, they would prosper as immigrant groups have.

Because the world is fundamentally fair, demands for Treaty-negotiated rights constitute special (arbitrary) treatment that is not granted to other minority groups. Demanding special treatment is unfair, and consequently is morally reprehensible. Conversely, it is morally laudable to obstruct attempts to grant these special rights to people who could, by changing their behaviour, prosper without them. People without special legal status should not have to subsidize the unfair demands of others.

By standing in opposition to the unfair granting of special rights, my stance is morally laudable. By attempting to circumvent a fundamentally fair system of meritocratic achievement (that other groups had to go through), the goals of #IdleNoMore and other aboriginal rights activists are morally reprehensible.

And an argument from the ‘other side’ might look something like this, expressed from a u-myth:

The world is fundamentally unfair when it comes to the treatment of aboriginal people in Canada. Agreements were made between the government of Canada and First Nations that were then ignored or unilaterally altered by the government at the expense of aboriginal people. This forced changes in the lives that aboriginal people were able to live. Consequently, they were unfairly divided between a choice to abandon their way of life or continue in poverty*. Expecting aboriginal people in Canada to simply accept the violation of a legal agreement is arbitrary.

Because the world is fundamentally unfair, the government and people of Canada have a duty to honour the original agreements, or re-negotiate as partners rather than demand capitulation. Indeed, it could be argued that the government and people of Canada owe a duty of restitution for past and ongoing offences. No person, not even a powerful government, should be allowed to violate its own agreements without consultation and mutual negotiation.

By acting against an unfair system that allows governments to break their promises and force assimilation on an unwilling people, the #IdleNoMore movement’s actions are morally laudable. By arbitrarily demanding that some groups, but not other groups, be allowed to violate their agreements (while the other groups must simply accept that as ‘evolution’), the actions/beliefs of those who oppose #IdleNoMore are morally reprehensible.**

Now, as the footnotes would imply, the argument is actually much larger than this approach can incorporate in toto, but in terms of the specific “other people had it hard too, they should just get over it” claim goes, the duelling myth framework can serve as a method to frame the specific ‘sides’ of the argument.

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*There have been multiple intentional campaigns to destroy aboriginal cultures and identity over many years. Indeed, the attempted destruction of ‘the Indian’ is a long-standing Canadian tradition. This component contributes hugely to the contemporary conditions, but will be temporarily left aside.

**I am also leaving aside the fact that immigrants to Canada did receive “hand outs” that took many forms, including offers of free land and an infrastructure that was build on land that was unfairly taken from aboriginal people in Canada, but again that’s another discussion.


  1. rjpete says

    I’m wondering if you want to consider a possible third leg to this F-myth/U-myth model. It strikes me that fairness is usually equated with a kind of balance of rights/benefits but that unfairness could be viewed as tipping the scales in either direction.

    For example the oft-heard unfairness argument that claims that aboriginals actually have too many rights/benefits as it is so it is unfair to non-aboriginals. Effectively trying to argue that we have a moral duty to claw back some of the rights/benefits currently given to aboriginals to bring the system into balance/fairness.

    Do you see any benefit to expanding your model a bit to create a U-myth/F-myth/U-myth version?

  2. says

    Well if someone sincerely believes that Aboriginal people exist in a state of unfairness because they have too many rights, then that’s a claim founded in a u-myth perspective, surely.

  3. rjpete says

    Oh, of course. I’m just thinking that you could potentially have something other than just a U-myth/F-myth dichotomy in any given situation.

    If you are trying to flesh out this model as a way to frame arguments it might be worth considering the possibility of two opposing U-myths. And when the discussion involves many people you may get all three myths(and possibly more – I’m can’t imagine others at the moment but I could be missing something) coming into play.

    BTW, I’m really enjoying this line of posts. You’re putting words to and expanding concepts that I’ve had floating around in my head the past few years (and been struggling to clarify for myself).

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