The Backwoods Rebellion

July 25, 2010

“I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”

With the concluding words of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Samuel Clemmons gives voice to a rebellion against the American culture which plays out in extreme form today in the far right of the Republican Party and the current machinations of the Harper Government and Sun Media. The conflict is between the City with its central government and careful record keeping, and the Backwoods, with its romantic individualist, accountable to no one but himself and his small tribe, driven by memories and myths. It’s a revolt of the right brain against the left, the irrational romantic against the rational pragmatist, and it seems as if the Backwoods is on the offensive in Canada at the moment.

Clemmons uses Huck Finn’s willful stupidity to satiric effect throughout the novel. For example there’s the time he sells his fortune in pirate gold to Judge Thatcher for one dollar. The Judge can’t fathom what Huck intends by this, but he does what his client asks. Turns out Huck uses this dodge to get his money out from under the control of his abusive father, Pap. Huck has no real conception of numbers, but he understands Pap’s power to hurt.

If we can assume that Stephen Harper has a copy of Huckleberry Finn on his bedside table, then what can we expect from his government’s Backwoods attitude?

1. Huck sees nothing morally wrong with the fibs and deceptions he uses to pull off his cons. In fact he delights in living by his wits and respects only those whom he cannot deceive or who deceive him.
2. Huck rattles around driven by strong emotions, but he’s not very aware of himself. For example he blames himself for “stealing” Miss Watson’s Jim, and when he does not turn his friend in to the slavers, he decides, “I’ll just have to go to Hell, then.”
3. Huck’s is a world steeped in racism, where a suppressed and poorly-documented underclass does the work.
4. “Life is mighty free and easy on a raft.” Huck and Jim have a great time drifting along the lawless Mississippi, surviving on salvaged items and outright theft.
5. Opponents can be panicked into line through fear. Huck works a smallpox epidemic into immunity from questions to cover their passage on the river.
6. When off the raft Huck defers to his friend Tom Sawyer far too much. Tom’s half-understood schemes lead to grandiose and useless decorations, needless hardship for others, great expense, abused and confused citizens and policemen, and most seriously, the utter objectivization of Jim.

But why am I rambling on about Huck, you ask?

I’m concerned about a couple of things you might have missed this week:  the purge at Sun Media and the resignation of Dr. Munir Sheikh.

Sun Media has not only hired Tory Teneycke, Stephen Harper’s former director of communications, but this week they fired six moderate columnists from the newspaper chain. Eric Margolis, Greg Weston, Elizabeth Thompson, Christina Spencer, Peter Zimonjic and Michael Harris have been dumped.

I didn’t often agree with Greg Weston’s views, but they did show some balance. Now he and his colleagues are gone, casualties of a Backwoods rebellion against rational thought.

The Harper Government’s attack on the census has all the marks of a Tom Sawyer scheme gone bad. It fell to Canada’s chief statistician, Dr. Munir Sheikh, to show the world what an honourable man does in the face of this mess of illogic and deceit. His letter of resignation was a resounding “No, it cannot” from the rational part of our society to those who would pervert the census into another organ of Conservative government propaganda.

For the census seems rather like Huck’s dollar. It’s the next step which I fear. If aboriginal peoples, ethnic minorities, immigrants and the poor are well-represented on the census, then government is obliged to provide services for them. If the census becomes less exacting and its data less trustworthy, then it becomes much easier to ignore those at the corners of society.

And Treasury Board President Stockwell Day is looming in the wings with a planned re-examination of affirmative action. That’s like conducting seismic tests in the Arctic to see if the seabed is a good place for a whale sanctuary. There won’t be any whales left by the time they’re done, so they might as well drill for oil as long as they’re there.

Arctic oil exploration is much easier if no one knows or cares about the Inuit. The Backwoods man says, “If they aren’t Conservative supporters, why count them? Let the other parties pay for their own research.” This narrow, tribal attitude seems to pervade Sun newspapers lately, and we are the less for it.

If you believe census data (back to that) we’ll soon face a labour shortage in Canada. Americans make extensive use of migrant laborers. Maybe the plan is to look outside the country for an underclass to do the work. An exacting census would make this kind of two-tier citizenship difficult.

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One Response to “The Backwoods Rebellion”

  1. Mark Says:

    Samuel _Clemens_, using the pen name Mark Twain, was the author of Huckleberry Finn.


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