Couchiching Online
nav button nav button nav button nav button nav button nav button
History Table of Contents
1994 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1994
Globalism and Tribalism: The New World Disorder?

President's Opening Remarks

DR. GORDON K. McIVOR, President, CIPA, 1994

Welcome to our great tribal gathering of Couchiching, held on the global shores of the lake carrying the same name.

Globalism and Tribalism: The New World Disorder? is the topic we are examining this year, a topic that Canadians have every reason to be interested in.

Canada is a sophisticated and tolerant country which welcomes people from all over the world, belongs to large global trading blocks and offers a shining example of diplomacy.

And yet, as a Canadian who was born in Saskatchewan, grew up in Calgary and Vancouver, spent his formative years in Ontario and a large part of his adulthood in Québec, I am constantly amazed that no matter where you go, the local population is convinced that it is totally different from anyone or anywhere else, and that you could not possibly decipher the complexity of their arcane social mores.

This, I would submit, is flourishing tribalism, and not necessarily the kind of tribalism that harbours the wisdom which Dr. David Maybury-Lewis referred to in his book and television series.

As we enter the dusk of the 20th century and the dawn of a new millennium, this cover of twilight provides the catalyst for a confrontation of old and new: old tribal loyalties and values confronting new technologies and trade agreements.

While the growth of trade binds nations, it also spurs separatism — popularized as the Global Paradox. I contend that the term Tribal Paradox would be equally relevant.

While one day NAFTA and GATT may move from being mere continental trading blocs, to the building blocks of a Global Trade Agreement, it is quite possible the world will also have imploded into fragments of hundreds of nations.

We have a remarkable line-up of speakers over the next three days and each one of them will address an aspect of our topic to help us understand it more fully.

Our keynote speaker, who I will introduce in a moment, will frame our debate with his address tonight.

Following him are names that have become familiar to us through their internationally-recognized work: I mentioned Dr. Maybury-Lewis, but equally, or perhaps even more recognized names in Canada include Keith Spicer, Edward Broadbent, and Marcel Massé.

We have everyone we wanted to get to this Conference with us — everyone that is — except one person. To have this man as a speaker truly would represent a coup, and require a back-up infrastructure of psychics and channelers. Marshall McLuhan more than anyone, I believe, gave globalism a good name long before it became the subject of conferences such as this.

It's been said that the most important thing about Marshall McLuhan was not that he was a radical, but that he was right.

During the 1960s, McLuhan proclaimed communications would make us citizens in the global village. And now 30 years later, overwhelming evidence that we live in a global village is everywhere.

Last month, 3 billion people saw three tenors sing on the night before 8 billion saw Brazil and Italy play soccer.

One Friday evening in June, 95 per cent of Americans were united by a white Ford Bronco inching its way down the L.A. Freeway.

Yesterday, a friend of mine sent a fax to Latvia from his laptop computer at the cottage 20 kilometres from here, using his cellular phone — no paper necessary — and got a reply on his computer screen five minutes later.

On the economic front, the speed of globalization means 24-hour markets not just around the world, but down the street, at the 24-hour corner store. Everybody is becoming everyone else's strategic partner, as economics makes even stranger bedfellows than politics.

So was McLuhan right? Certainly — when it comes to the 500 channel universe.

But what about when it comes to the decline of nationalism and the rise, in its place, of globalism? What about the fall of nation states and the rise of the multi-state giants that I referred to earlier, fuelled by transnational institutions?

Well, we don't have to go to the former Soviet Union, or the former Yugoslavia, or the current Palestine to discover that tribalism, with its ancient feuds and flags of freedom, is in danger of turning George Bush's "vision thing" on its head and bringing about a new world disorder.

I think it's particularly appropriate that Couchiching is turning its focus to tribalism because, like it or not, we are living in one of the hotbeds of global tribalism; a nation called Canada.

Three hundred miles east of us, the odds are excellent that next month, the province of Québec will elect a government sworn to make that province an independent nation.

Six hundred miles to the north of us, the Innuit and Native population have formed Canada's first new territory in 75 years, called Nunavut, which effectively brings self- government to one of the largest land masses and one of the smallest populations on the continent.

And, as Dr. Maybury-Lewis pointed out in his stunning series `Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World', "What if the entire world were a melting pot?" His reply: "That melting away of human diversity is the taking of power. But its victims rarely forget."

If we were just about anyone else, we'd be sitting on each other's throats. But it's a strange quality of our nation that even in the pursuit of the most fundamental parts of our identity, Canadians are polite, generally non-violent, and totally bewildering to observers in the world beyond our borders.

So it seems that Marshall McLuhan didn't get it so right after all. While we may live in a 500-channel universe, it's not out of the question that we'll someday be living in a 500-nation universe as well, those "fragments" I referred to earlier in these remarks.

That is why — over the next three days — we'll be examining both sides of both propositions: the good, the bad and the ugly of globalism and tribalism.

By Sunday afternoon, I can guarantee those of you who are first-time "Couchers" that we will not have reached consensus on anything. But, we will most certainly all be much more informed. Our prejudices will have been pin pricked. Our most cherished assumptions profoundly challenged. And our minds opened by people like our keynote speaker, Michael Ignatieff.

If you watch Channel 4 Television in Britain, his face and thoughts are familiar to you.

If you are a lover of well-wrought novels, his words will be familiar to you as the author of Asya and Scar Tissue.

If you love biography, you will know The Russian Album, his family memoirs at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, and the winner of the Royal Society of Literature Award.

If you love psychology and analysis, you will be familiar with his best-selling The Needs of Strangers.

And if you are at all interested in tribalism, which you all, by definition, are, you will be moved by Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, winner of the Montador Award, and adapted for the successful TVO series, Blood and Belonging, which aired to great acclaim and even greater ratings.

If you love academic degrees, you will be comforted by the fact that Michael Ignatieff received his doctorate from Harvard University, taught history at the University of British Columbia, and was a research fellow at King's College, Cambridge.

And finally, if you love Canadians — and who could possibly not? — you'll be cheered by the fact that Michael is one of our own, born in Toronto at approximately the same time that I was born in Saskatchewan.

Dr. Ignatieff has chosen as his subject for tonight's keynote speech "the narcissism of minor differences". This is a phrase of Sigmund Freud's that describes the fact that the smaller the differences between tribes, nations and peoples, the larger their differences loom in their imaginations.

He — Dr. Ignatieff, not Dr. Freud — believes that the narcissism of minor differences is upon us with a vengeance; whether that difference is ethnic, racial or sexual.

This explosion of identity politics, with its insistence on the absolute separateness and distinctiveness of the differences involved, are what he calls "Tribalism".

Yet, at the same time, people increasingly live alike, consume alike, aspire alike, while asserting their right to absolute difference.

How this is occurring and, more difficult, why it is occurring, is the subject of Michael Ignatieff's remarks tonight.

Ladies and gentlemen, our distinguished keynote speaker, Michael Ignatieff.