Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Democracy of Sentiment

Now as we all know, the reason why the Bloc, the NDP and the Liberals believe it necessary that the Peace Tower flag should be lowered to half-staff every time a Canadian soldier dies in combat has nothing to do with their position on the war in Afghanistan (or, anyway, their position re. the current government). Rather, it is because they consider it a moral obligation and, more importantly, one that reflects the opinion of a majority of Canadians.

Well, there might be something to this, actually, as a recent Ipsos Reid poll reveals:

A strong majority of Canadians -- two out of three -- say they want the Canadian flag atop the Peace Tower to fly at half-staff every time a soldier dies overseas, according to a new Ipsos Reid poll that shows the Conservative government's policy of refusing to lower the flag is unpopular, and particularly so with women.

The survey, conducted for Canwest News Service and Global National, said 66 per cent of Canadians wanted the flag lowered to mark individual deaths, as well as on Nov. 11, the day set aside to collectively honour all fallen soldiers.

Go figure. Still, I find this detail rather telling:
The poll says women are significantly more likely than men to think the flag should be lowered each time a soldier is killed. The split was 72 per cent to 60 per cent.


Mr. Bricker speculated it reflected a greater tendency of women to sympathize with the mother of a fallen soldier and put themselves in her shoes.

There's something jarring about that last line, don't you think?

And no, I don't mean that it indicates the increasing feminization of policy decisions in this country. I fully acknowledge that Mr. Bricker was merely speculating. And, anyway, it doesn't change the fact that an average of 2 out of 3 Canadian women and men disagree with the government's current position on half-masting the Peace Tower flag.

No. Rather, the line--with its simpering evocation of "sympathy" and the need for us to put ourselves in the shoes of those who mourn--throws into stark relief the dubiousness of this whole issue. I.E. That Canadians are up in arms, not because the government refuses to honour its dead, but because it doesn't do it enough, or the right way. The issue, we see, is not just personal, it is self-conscious. Apparently, our feelings should be a matter of very specific rules. That it is not enough that we regret, but that we should empathize. And that we should be seen, often, to do so.

Well, I'm sorry, but if the debate is to be couched in such adolescent terms then it would be far more to the point if the average Canadian's desire to empathize correctly were informed by the opinions of those with whom they think they're empathizing. Ipsos Reid would be doing us all a tremendous favour if they were to poll a cross-section of Canadian military personnel, and their families, to see what they have to say about half-masting. The results, I suspect, would have a very sobering effect on two-thirds of the Canadian public.