From a guy named Hymie Rubenstein, what would we expect? If the ‘Rubenstein’ isn’t a dead giveaway, surely the ‘Hymie’ is the clincher. An accountant, probably, but certainly a nebbish, right?

Well, apparently not. As it happens Hymie Rubenstein is a retired professor of cultural anthropology from the University of Manitoba. And – if I’m allowed an editorial moment – an intellectual giant, second only to that equally obscure professor of philosophy at that other Canadian university two Provinces to the west.

To my shame, I have only recently discovered Hymie. But to my delight, he seems to belong to that growing cadre of – in every other wise left-leaning – Jewish intellectuals who find themselves liberated – in his case by retirement, in mine by tenure – to blow the whistle on what counts as progressivism in the academy, but is really just invertebrate and unthinking virtue-signaling.

I say we’re in every other wise left-leaning because, being Jewish, we’re not stupid. I’m even compelled to count Ben Shapiro among us, since his libertarianism, though philosophically juvenile, is as incompatible with conservatism as a stance can get.

So much for throat-clearing. Now to the particular:

Among Rubenstein’s beefs, as among mine, is the myth of indigenous exceptionalism. In our view indigenous Canadians, whether as persons or as a people, are – now whodathunkit? – as morally ‘variegated’ as the rest of us.

Question: They don’t pretend otherwise, so why do we?

Answer: Because we don’t give a shit about the burden of sainthood we might impose on others to service our need to virtue-signal.

For what little it’s worth, my own contribution to (what is clearly) Hymie’s and my racist agenda, is to observe that this exceptionalism does a crippling disservice – whether as persons or as a people – to indigenous Canadians. Exceptionalism doesn’t honour, it infantilizes. The 19th Century term for this being-mere-children was ‘nonage’. And what does John Stuart Mill say about nonage? That it’s a disqualifier for the liberties the rest of us (European adults) are entitled to.

The concept of reconciliation implies that there are two distinct peoples to be reconciled. But there aren’t, any more than there are Celts and Normans. There are only 21st Century Brits. And there are only 21st Century Canadians. Brits and Canadians and Italians and Poles all want the same thing. They want flush toilets and smartphones. Which, come to think of it, is precisely what all my indigenous students want.

In fact I offer the following as almost a tautology: A culture that no one wants anymore – a culture without flush toilets and smartphones – is not a culture worth preserving. Gosh, might that explain why it hasn’t been preserved?!

And the proof that there never was anything exceptional about the indigenous people of this continent is that five hundred years ago for our heresy, Hymie’s and mine, we’d have been burned at the stake as readily in Spain.

A couple of years back we were all outraged by the beheadings carried out by ISIS, notwithstanding that the French didn’t retire the guillotine until 1977. Either no one gets a moral pass or we all do. Indigenous people are people. The real racists are those who suppose otherwise.

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy

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1 reply

  1. The concept of reconciliation with First Nations reminds me of when my daughter was four years old and we were driving from Toronto to Montreal to visit my parents. This is a 5 hour drive. After about 30 minutes she asked “Daddy, are we nearly there yet?”. The same question arises with reconciliation: are we there yet? If not yet, how will we know when we are there?

    Canada has some 600 First Nations. Do all of them, or any particular number of them have to announce that they feel reconciled with everyone else Canada? Why should any First Nation ever say that they are reconciled? There are strong economic incentives for any First Nation to refuse to say they are reconciled because then federal support may be diminished, along with media and public sympathy for the past. There are no benefits to saying they are reconciled.


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