Monday, June 6, 2016

In all of us command

O Canada is due for a change.  Thankfully the government is considering a bill that will change O Canada to something a little more inclusive by getting rid of the 'all our sons' wording in favour of something that actually references all the residents of the country.  It is only a partial measure though, as the song still contains an explicit reference to God and I would greatly appreciate that getting the axe at the same time.  There are many religions in Canada, and plenty of people who are not religious, so overt calls to one specific deity isn't appropriate.

Sadly the population isn't quite as behind this change as I am.  People don't like it (check the comments), and they object in predictable ways.  The one that really frustrates me is a standard fallacy and it goes something like this:  The world has serious problems, so we shouldn't try and fix this problem.

It is true that Canada has economic difficulties.  It is true that we have a longstanding set of issues surrounding natives that need work.  It is true that we need the government to end the war on drugs and decriminalize sex work all all kinds of other things.

But none of that means that we should ignore small problems with easy fixes.  This isn't going to take up enormous amounts of government resources.  It won't cost a lot of money.  It will be a simple bill to change a simple thing in a song.  The cost of making this change is tiny, but it will send an important message:  The government of Canada believes in treating women as equal to men.  That is a message worth sending.

The problem with this fallacy is that if you accept its logic then there is only one thing worth working on - the greatest of all possible problems.  All others should be ignored.  This is of course ridiculous because we can't solve our greatest problem (even if we could agree on what it is) by throwing all of our resources and time at it.  There are diminishing returns on these things, and you can only do so much on a specific problem in a given time period.

If you find yourself saying that a problem shouldn't be fixed because there are other more serious problems at hand, you should always ask yourself if you have another real objection.  If all you have is this fallacious argument, it probably means that your real argument is "this change makes me feel uncomfortable" but you are unwilling to say that and instead resort to nonsense instead.

It is okay to say "this change makes me feel uncomfortable" but that isn't a good policy argument.  Change can be hard, and it can make you feel like you are being attacked, that things you have enjoyed or taken pride in are being sullied, but that doesn't mean that those changes shouldn't be made.  If we are to argue against a change we should be honest when our only objections lie along these lines, and we should avoid the meaningless "but there are other important things too" arguments.

Let's fix O Canada.  If all we can manage at this point is to fix the overt sexism in it, that is at least a good start, but I do hope we can repair it further in the near future to ditch the religious reference too.  It won't make the nationalism attached to an anthem palatable to me, but at least the song itself will be free of obvious bigotry, and that is something.


  1. I'm reading a book describing how the Harper government had to announce something that they didn't think would go over well, so they timed it to coincide with the announcement of the penny going away because they know that media feeds on trivia.

    There is only so much attention available to people. Is the anthem the place to direct it? Is it distracting them from more important issues?

    I'm completely in favour of changing the anthem. I'm also pretty indifferent - I'm not a fan of nationalism, and I'm not sure anthems serve much other purpose. I don't really care that people are spending a bunch of words and thought on an anthem change, but it's probably not that productive and could be put to better use.

    Also, what hundred or thousand other trivial changes aren't being made so that this one can be made? Maybe they'd benefit more people? They probably don't get the political base as riled up, and don't bring as much publicity. Is that the kind of change we want to encourage and promote?

    1. Why would you assume that this one tiny change stops 1000 good ones? You might reasonably assume it stops 1 other change, but since this change seems like pure win I can't see how that means we shouldn't do it.

      Seriously, by the logic of 'but there might be another good change, but we don't even know what that is' the government shouldn't do anything at all, because there might be something better to do instead.

      This change is good, it is simple, it requires almost no resources. Becoming a more inclusive society is important, and worth doing.

  2. While I was singing O Canada to my grandson yesterday, I had a moment of 'What's that doing in there?', when the God word came up. I didn't even remember that it was in the anthem and it didn't feel right.

  3. Singing O! Canada to my daughter (at her request) went something like this:

    O! Canada!
    My home [mumble]
    True [mumble]
    In all [mumble]
    With glowing hearts we see thee rise
    From far and wide, O! Canada
    [cough] keep our land
    [mumble] and free
    O! Canada we [mumble]
    O! Canada we [mumble]

    I'm sure if she saw through my sort of slurred "God" she would wonder why that character from veggie tales is in our national anthem.

  4. Instead of framing this as a fix to a broken national anthem, you could choose to frame it as a small step towards fixing the much larger problem of inequality.