The Lines that Bind Us
I like maps. I like knowing where I am and what’s around me. I like to imagine the places I’ve never been. I like the way they make you think.
Which is why I often wonder why the lines on a map are drawn where they are drawn. Those lines that represent environmental features are obvious enough, but what about all those political lines? The national, provincial, state, county, municipal, and other lines that we take for granted as having real meaning and purpose behind them.
In the age of globalization, these lines are losing more and more of their relevance each day. The EU, NAFTA and other economic unions are dissolving boundaries for all things economic faster than you can say “Made in China”. As goes economic control, so too goes political power. Although the nation state remains the base unit for United Nations authority and OECD statistics, national sovereignty is under attack from all sides as cities, regions, companies, NGOs, and various international conglomerations of the above take on a greater political presence in the minds of citizens. As these meanings fall away, it is becoming harder to discern exactly what the purpose and value of the lines on most maps really represent.
One meaning these lines are still holding on to is the portrayal of people who share a culture. This can be seen by the proliferation of new map lines that have been created over the past few decades. The break-ups of Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, Indonesia, and other large countries have created new nations based largely on cultural distinctions (ethnicity, language and religion all being part and parcel of the cultural character of a place). But what does this mean for the lines that define the place we call Canada?
At a time when borders mainly demarcate distinct cultural identities, Canada remains an anomalous collection of diverse interests and beliefs. Trying to define Canadian culture has become something of a national pastime with no clear winner in sight. We may know who we are not, but still struggle to express who we are.
Canadian values, on the other hand, are somewhat more tangible. It is fair to say that most, if not all, Canadians are bound together by a shared respect and belief in certain core values. Democracy. Equality. Tolerance. Peace. Excessive politeness (sorry). What I find interesting in this list is that what may be classified as Canadian values could just as easily be classified as universal values.
Maybe this explains the paradox of Canada’s borders. They define a place where people share a certain view of the world. And who yearn for a time when these borders won’t matter.