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Cuudian Review of American Studies/ Revue ca11adiem1e d'hudes amencaines Volume 27, Number 3, 1997, pp. 127-134 Commerce, Culture, and Identity After NAFTA: Prospects at the Millennium Mavor Moore 127 Let us beware of Millenarianism. Millenarianism is a form of collective masochism, in which a society takes its temperature at increasingly shorter mtervals in an artificial countdown to a phony climax. Which Viennese wit was it who said one of the most widespread diseases is diagnosis? 1 Well, we've got it again. The exercise would be easier if we could get a proper handle on the subiects under study: commerce, culture, identity; but each of them is unprecedentedly unstable. This decade is unhinging some of the oldest and most solid of civilizations; for the uncertain Canadians it may well be devastating. John Ralston Saul (1995) calls ours the "unconscious civilization"; Ithink we are conscious, but dazed. To link two fashionable metaphors, we are at a crossroads with a window of opportunity. What do we do with it? Through the fog, there is no shortage of advice from foreign and domestic spmts. Some voices tell us we can do nothing, because our fate has been predetermined by the stars. Here is the financial editor Dt~r~;i!t-,mcis,writing in M,Jdemrs Magazine: Canadians understand what has to happen. The swing to the right is totally in sync with the new planetary reality, with national borders disappearing, as free trade ascends permanently .... Nations can no longer indulge in nationalism of any kind. (1995) 128 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue ca11ad1l'nnl'd'etudR-, am(mcaines Or animals in animalism, humans in humanism? Other voices assure us that our will is free to choose, but only between climbing aboard the global bandwagon and being left behind to rot: Hobson's choice. The messianic ring of such certitudes reminds one of the medieval Crusades. And "crusade" is the very word Seymour Martin Lipset uses, in his recent book American Exceptionalism (1996), to describe the zeal with which his fellow Americans are spreading their current politico-religio-economic dogma. By their own account some have already discovered the Holy Grail. But common prudence suggests that those in the crusaders' path pause before putting all their eggs in one chalice. Modern Americans haue made a masterful discovery, however, a secret weapon unlisted in the Star Wars catalogue: popular culture. Camouflaging its armies as entertainers, America has conquered the world, validating Irving Berlin's prophetic title, There's No Business Like Show Business. What American leaders have grasped, with a speed and drive that have left the rest of the world reeling (including the dazed Canadians), is that politics, commerce, and war are no longer the most effective methods of gaining or establishing power-and indeed often prove counterproductive. Until the rest of us catch on, however, U.S. administrations have found it a useful diversionary tactic to put up a show of faith in these old weapons. During the original North American free trade negotiations in the 1980s, U.S. officials would regularly accuse the Canadians of using culture as a smoke screen for economic advantage while themselves using economics as a smoke screen for cultural advantage, knowing the latter to be more important. Today, politics is ruled by television, commerce by advertising, and wars by the media. Decades ago, Karl Polanyi and other European social democrats flagged the switch: politics, economics, and war following culture, not vice versa. But it was U.S. thinkers, often on the political right, who took the flag and ran with it. As early as the 1940s, the conservative economist Frank Wright was arguing that in eliminating social struggle the economic factor was both superficial and unimportant. By 1980, Milton Friedman considered the world's great challenges to be "based more in philosophy and ideas than simple economics" (1980). In the same year, Kenneth Boulding, in an mfluential essay 111Interaction, postulated "the separating out in the world of two Mavor Mo01eI 129 cultural systems, the superculture on the one hand and traditional cultures on the other," conduding that "all the major problems of the world todtlY revolve around the tension betr.veen these tu,o...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 127-134
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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