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

Media and National Mythologies in the Global Marketplace

KEITH SPICER, Chairman, Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission

Let me start with a very simple theme, which is simply that wars begin in the minds of men.

The words are those of Jan Smuts – the great South African member of Churchill's war Cabinet – who virtually wrote the preamble to the UN Charter and UNESCO Charter.

The fact that wars start as ideas in somebody's mind ought to be the theme of our conference, because tribalism means understanding the idea of otherness Otherness means that you are fearful or suspicious of somebody else. I think that's how conflict essentially begins. The way to fight conflicts of this nature is by cultivating security in individuals and in nations.

I want to put to you my simple thesis that a defence, a strong and systematic defence of Western values of individualism, freedom, free speech, Parliamentary government and respect of differences, are the values that must underpin any defence of the West. And they must underpin, in fact, a prevention of tribal war.

The three aspects of this issue I think we should look at are:

How the preservation of these values can cause wars, how conflicts are caused by media who lend themselves one way or another to twisting these values.

Second, what countervailing strategies we might follow in the West.

And some very specific programs we might pursue in Canada and in the West to try to prevent war between tribes, between nations.

Let's look at how conflicts between tribes, or nations are caused.

I see the word tribalism is an umbrella word for a whole spectrum, a continuum of concepts which, to escalate from the most innocent to the most poisonous, might begin with the simple Cartesian idea of, I think, therefore I exist. Others have said: I hate, therefore I exist, or, I make love, therefore I exist..

Whatever conveys the idea of vitality and existence is what matters at the most primitive level.

The first word I think that really puts a colour in the term tribalism, is patriotism. And I think patriotism can be seen as the positive love of tribe or nation. I think of it as a positive term anyway.

I don't think it needs to imply the distrust or fear or hate of anybody else. I think patriotism is a very healthy virtue and, I suggest, that if you do not find ways in a society of respecting and channelling patriotism, that you force it and channel it into more negative and poisonous methods such as nationalism and racism.

A second degree of intimacy is nationalism itself. Michael Ignatieff has mentioned that he sees two kinds of nationalism,. One is civic nationalism, which is a perfectly defensible and American way of looking at nationalism; in other words, build a nation around values and ideas. The other one is ethno- cultural nationalism, which begins to become so objectively based on race, colour, religion and language, that it can become harmful.

The next degree – I'm mentioning degrees because I think it's important not to use tribalism as a grab-bag word – after nationalism, is chauvinism, which definitely has a tinge of contempt for the other and of triumphant glorification of the nation one belongs to. Xenophobia would be the next most virulent version of systematic contempt of the other and, finally, probably racism or bigotry however you want to define it. I don't think you can go much further than that unless you plumb the depths of insanity.

All of these terms I think have been buried in this grab-bag term of tribalism and I think we ought to be thinking of these refinements in any of theanalysis we make.

Let's start with the idea that we have to defend societies that are respectful of different nationalities, that will embrace different nationalities and that are, therefore, open.

I don't mind saying that I am hopelessly and shamelessly, unapologetically Eurocentric, because I believe these values have come from the European civilization.

I believe that a Eurocentric view of the world – which is enormously open to other cultures and it is probably the only civilization that is open to other cultures – is not only an essential one, it is the heart of the civilization of the world we are now seeing flower.

And this is spreading itself into all continents.

I am well aware that there are rhetorical debates going on in universities and in intellectual circles about multiculturalism, which are essentially at the level of sloganeering, . I believe profoundly in multiculturalism if it means joining and evolving mainstream; if it means being welcomed into an evolving mainstream. I am opposed to multiculturalism if it means assimilation or ghettoization.

In other words, I think it has to mean a kind of civilized integration. This is what makes a civilized society and I don't think it matters whether you're Tibetan or Pategonian or Canadian. I think these are truly universal values and you are seeing them becoming defined as universal values of mankind.

I make no apology for speaking of a Eurocentric view of the world, because if we don't defend these values we will lose the civilization that invented the concept of individual, the dignity of responsible government, equality of citizens and fraternity among all citizens.

If we begin with this definition, then I think we can go on to seeing the values that have been twisted in movements that have tried to sabotage liberal democracy and the kind of open multicultural society I am talking about.

What are the methods that are used?

They're classic.

One is to look backward and look forward. Dig deep into history to find the angers and the injustices of centuries ago that you can nourish and amplify and keep alive. And above all do not look hopefully forward. I think these are the instruments of political tribalists who want to avoid a truly multicultural society in a sense of a society that welcomes everybody to a evolving mainstream.

A second technique that the promoters of this kind of suffocating society would use is to cultivate ignorance. Ignorance is the first step towards fear, which is the next step towards anger and hate. This is the lethal equation I think of all bigotries. You must cultivate ignorance in the people you hope to befuddle and in the hope that you can then fan fear and lead them towards some kind of exclusion of another group.

These are the principle methods of groups that want to suffocate the idea of open societies and you can apply these to almost any ultra-nationalist movement you care to mention.

Another method of dealing with the negative connotations of tribalism is to glorify the exploits of fictitious heroes in the past.

I think you'll find that there are heroes who have been buried and dug up several times in the course of history. In the case of Serbia, people (have been) dug up in 14th century, who are now brought to bear as national heroes – as though they lived yesterday.

I think the methods that have been perpetuated by the media in these countries are classic ways of shutting the minds of people.

We're talking now of how governments close the minds of people. The essential way they do it is to use such myths of looking backwards, digging up grievances, preventing people from understanding the hope and potential of the future, and using these to infiltrate and dominate the media.

If you look at how the various dictators of our times have done this, we can run through some classic examples.

In the Cuban war of 1898, the Hearst (newspaper) chain was using a campaign of hysteria against the Hispanics. There was a gunboat, called the Maine, that exploded in the harbour of Cuba. The slogan was "remember the Maine and to hell with Spain". It was a hysterical campaign that allowed Theodore Roosevelt to invade and to seize Cuba as a colony.

In the First World War, you had Germany, France and Britain, in effect, delving into jingoism as a way of creating hysteria among their populations to prepare them for war. The evil was implanted in the minds of citizens by calculating politicians and either cowardly, lazy or thoughtless media people. The media were always used to exploit the potential of war.

Hitler, of course, did the same in the 1930s. Hitler prepared his population by first of all taking over the media. This is hardly a discovery. But the way he did it, and it's followed the classical methods ever since, was to terrorize and replace editors and to create an orthodoxy that was so intensive, so frightening and oppressive that no one dared to contest it.

In the present circumstances, the obvious examples are Serbia and Rwanda.

There's a book, Forging War by Mark Thompson, who is married to a Croatian woman, that tells how the Serbian and Croatian press prepared the war that we all now see on our television screens.

What Milosevic did was to terrorize the editors, make death threats against journalists, cut off newsprint, make horrific propaganda against individuals, organized personal scandals about people, in order to gut and take over the national press service. The honest journalists were chased out and they were taken over by essentially racist propagandists.

Milosevic, of course, left a couple of harmless intellectual papers going.

Milosevic is concentrating on Channel 1 television; the only television that the 90 per cent of Serbs can receive. And this television is what is purveying the imagery of ancient grievance, of anger, of fury, ignorance and hate that serves his purpose.

Television is really the instrument by which dictatorship has prepared this war. This war was a media war. It began as a war of ideas, of a few intellectuals, but unscrupulous politicians picked their intellectuals, used them to give credit to these poisonous ideas, put them in the media, used the media as a transmission belt of these horrific ideas and then made the population hysterical and paranoid.

This is why I say it is not a myth to talk of national mythologies being exploited by the media. The textbook case of this will always be Yugoslavia.

Another example, much less documented, is Rwanda. This has been a radio war in many ways. The Hutus essentially used radio to create terror, to create horror and to create hate against the Tutsi's and preach the destruction of these people. Once that had been done, they established in Zaire a radio that tried to discourage the Hutus from going back, saying, you will be massacred.

So that is the past and present.

What about the future? I see an essential issue in Eastern Europe.

Eastern Europe, I think, is trying to establish democracy. I don't think you can have a vigorous democracy just by electing people, just by having the beginnings of institutions,or a stock market. I think you have to have an incredibly vigorous, free independent press with good values, solid confident traditions, a fearless approach to its own values.

I don't think it's much exaggerated to say that if we don't anchor the free media in Eastern Europe in the next five years, we may have much more dramatic events on our hands. We may have more Yugoslavia's.

I don't think we will be able to control all of the tribal conflicts there.

I really think that the classical diplomacy of the Wstern world is missing the boat. I think we're looking at Eastern Europe – probably the most promising, yet dangerous area of the world today – through totally inadequate diplomatic means: economic, military, immigration, cultural methods.

One of our very top priorities ought to be anchoring the free media and helping the free media there become at ease, become confident in their ways of dealing with the government.

Let me explain why. I've been talking to a few Eastern European journalists at various conferences in the last couple of years and when I've asked them what they really need to feel at ease in their new role as a free media, they say, well, we need newsprint, we need ink, we also need to figure out some ways not to be assassinated by the secret police.

This is not in all countries. Certainly not in Poland or in the Czech Republic.

I'm talking more about Romania and also of central Asia, because some of these countries are actually members of the Helsinki group under which the Eastern Europeans also come.

We have about five years maximum to help these journalists, whether they're print, but especially radio and most of all television journalists – because they reach about 90 per cent of the people – to anchor themselves and to become vital players in their democracies.

I think that the journalists of these countries want to know how to avoid self-censorship. One of the biggest problems they mention is that they are their own worst enemies.They were trained as propagandists, they were trained to be fearful and they don't know how to write a straight news story.

We have to, in a totally unpretentious and very responsive and sensitive way, try to work with these people for the next five years. And I think this will pay fantastic dividends if we do and it will be disastrous if we don't.

How can you deal with any political issue, any political crisis unless you have honest, courageous, principled journalists. You simply can't.

Those are some of the ways in which the media can do good and bad things in relation to inter-tribal conflict. If you have well established free independent journalists, chances are you can limit the dangers of inter-tribal wars or international wars based on culture and language because there will be different versions of the truth that will emerge if you have a number of versions of truth contending, chances are an intelligent population – and Eastern Europeans are very, very well educated – that the truth will out.

What should be the general strategies the West ought to consider in dealing with the media in these countries? I think the first lesson, and this is directly applicable to Canada, is that when you're dealing with inter-tribal hate and antagonism, it's pretty futile if you dabble in negative propaganda, in attacking mythological or even economical positions of the other.

I think the first principle is that you have to present to people a higher dream and I'm not a completely irrational idealist. I happened to believe that the hardest nosed realism is usually clear headed idealism.

Why? Because people want to feel good about themselves, whoever they are. Tat's how dictators succeed. By making people feel that they're doing something exceptional, not ordinary, not average, not passable, but exceptional. And I think that the way you win tribal conflict is to present a higher dream.

A second principle, a second countervailing strategy against villainous tribal propaganda is to cultivate strong, viable examples of societies that work. I think is well exemplified by the European Union, where you have a dozen countries or more coming together, even though they may pull each other's hair from time to time and they may argue over what degree of subsidiary they ought to have, and decentralization they ought to have, in essence they're working towards a common dream.

And this is very hopeful for humanity. It's not a laughable or naive dream at all. It's not something you should chuckle about when the European union stumbles or has to fall back because Britain or Denmark gets upset about the price of a cigar.

We need examples of Societies that embrace different nationalities successfully.

Canada is another one, so far. I suspect that we will continue being successful. I think that what we're living through now is the 23rd stage of a 50 act play or more, and I think this is just the way Canadians are.

I've always thought of Canada as the Woody Allen of nations. A country whose anxiety is its identity. Really. Our identity is our identity crisis. This is who we are. This is how we do things. We anguish over these things.

We'll go on and whatever happens I'm fairly optimistic it'll turn out in some civilized way.

You really can't see what Canada means until you leave it.

I wouldn't say until you've lost it. That's when we really understand what Canada was.

The great argument for Canada – talking of eclipsing dreams and higher dreams – is that the world needs us. We don't understand it when we're home. We see this archipelago of enemies through a microscope; we see these little islands of populations scattered along the U.S. border and say, they've got something we don't have, so let's nail them.

We ought to talk about the teaching of Canadian history to kids and how we tell Canadians where they came from and what they mean and so on. Because I don't think our Woody Allen odyssey has to go on for ever.

Another example, which we haven't heard nearly enough about, is NAFTA in North America and I think that there has been a major cycle geo-political change with the creation of NAFTA. I think the idea that Mexico and Canada are no longer alone individually against the U.S. is a fundamental new factor.

We have a chance, I think, to project almost a new patriotism. And I use the word advisedly.

I think there is a potential here. It's going to take two or three decades to work itself out, but I think this is fundamental stuff and it's a great example for the world. I think we have the potential of a new North American identity that will emerge from the three North American identities and I think we should be looking ahead to this with some excitement, because it's very constructive news for the whole world if we can bring these three countries together.

The Canadians and Mexicans will understand it in about five years, the Americans wil,l in 30, but it will happen.

Let's look now at a third way of dealing with countervailing strategies, and that is that when you are facing a vicious tribal propaganda you have to fight back.

I think it's essential that we recognize that the tribal wars that are coming, that are here now, are wars of ideas and they have to be fought at that level and vigorously and with enlightenment and with enormous patience and perseverance – for decades, if necessary.

One of the obvious disadvantages of democracy is that the political system thinks in terms of three or four or five years.

It's very hard to get anything long term going in a democracy. I'm not attacking democracy, I'm just pointing out that this is a built in disadvantage. We have to deal with this. We have to find ways of deepening the response to negative tribalism.

Finally, let's look finally at some specific programs that might work, or might not work. First of all we have to look at what states can do and then look at what non-state action can do.

I said at the beginning that I thought we had to defend Western values of individualism, democracy, free speech and social solidarity with passion and lucidity. If we don't our civilization will not deserve to last. No civilization lasts unless somebody defends it.

We should not be spooked into abandoning values that are sometimes denounced by some thoughtless people as Eurocentric, therefore bad; a bunch of dead white guys thought these things up, therefore, they're awful.

I don't believe that. I love dead, white guys, I think they come up with some wonderful ideas and I think that our civilization needs to make few apologies.

It's had it's bloody moments but in the end a lot of people in Asia, Africa and Latin America are knocking at the door to get in to the system of values. So it can't all that bad and we shouldn't be guilt-tripped into dumping all over the Western values that the world as a whole is tending to adopt now.

Let's look, first of all, at what states can do – I'm talking again of the Western states – and what people outside states can do. States I think can do two things.

Since we're talking about war ideas in the media, I believe very much in international radio and television as a general purveyor of values.

Let me just focus, since we're in Canada, on Radio-Canada International, the abandoned child of Canadian broadcasting. Now it has been kicked out of the CBC in a budgetary sense it's now over in foreign affairs and the guys over there are saying what is this animal, why is it here?

And I think they now need to be educated as to what this means to Canada.

What it means to Canada is that this is one of the few powerful voices that defends our values abroad. And it says who we are in the world and, incidentally, because I know we're all becoming accountants in Ottawa now, this little radio system can probably sell a lot of Canadian stuff, goods and services.

I think the strongest supporter of RCI ought to be the Minister of International Trade. I think somebody's got to get it to that fellow and tell him, look, this should be your thing; you should triple the budget.

If you look at Britain, the United States and Germany, they are spending 50, 100, 500 times what we, because they consider (radio) in their national interests. They think that it promotes Western values abroad. They think it promotes exports.

Yet, many people have never heard anything about Canada. They've never seen a Canadian movie, a Canadian television show or heard a Canadian radio show.

That's why RCI is important, a long term deep image creation.

A second thing that we can do, and I say this only in wartime, is to conduct very hard-nosed, counter-propaganda to nasty enemies. I have thought this is what should have been done in the former Yugoslavia long ago.

I think we should have been in the former Yugoslavia very quickly, sudying how we could have used planes to bombard Serbia with honest television.

Milosevic dominates television. He has total exclusive control of television. If we could open one or two more channels and give other news, I'm not talking of stupid line propaganda, I'm talking of honest propaganda,... stories about how Serbs and Croats and Muslims have historically mainly got along well together.

They didn't always massacre each other. The times they have not gotten along is when unscrupulous politicians have seized control, exploited the poets, the priests and the literary peoples and, of course the media – their great transmission belt, – and managed to brainwash everybody into believing that they had to hate everybody.

So there are some of the things that states can do.

Let's look now at the non-state activities. The first thing I think that theWest ought to be doing, because I again I see this as the war of the West to defend values that are really universal, is to favour a multiplicity of news sources, not try to control the free media, let them do their stuff, let them compete with each other, just let them chase the news, go wherever they can and broadcast it.

I think we should try to favour probably the implementation of satellite.

I would not say this necessarily in relation to Canada because we have a completely different situation. But in the rest of the world, satellite is going to probably carry the day. And that's probably a good thing for democracy because it will make it easier to broadcast different versions of the truth into all of these countries.

So, there's a first thing.

Another way of doing this is to favour non-government organizations, such as journalists without borders. There are many foundations, volunteer groups that are trying to give different versions of the truth to help the media here and there. They are all scratching for a dollar and we should be helping these volunteer groups. Get behind them as strong as we can without taking them over.

A third method – one that is truly off the wall – is to exploit the UN radio and television system in emergencies in a well-prepared way and under the clear instructions of the Security Council to indulge in, let's call it what it is, counter-propaganda.

I'm not very optimistic about this one, because I have some inclination about how slowly the UN moves and the UN is really the U.S., Britain and France, and maybe Russia on a good day, and sometimes China.

That's what the UN is. It's not the rest of us, but if we could convince these other guys that if they want to get something done, and since we're talking about wars of ideas, wars that begin in the minds of men, then we ought to be considering that; we should be looking at it.

When the war is being caused by radio and television stations that are literally killing people, II don't see why we wouldn't use, not only military people and economic embargoes, why wouldn't we use the weapons of the war at hand, namely information, the true information, honest information, hopeful reconciling information.

Let me emphasize that 90 per cent of what I am suggesting relies on the free media. On the free play of the media, not government doing its stuff.

A fourth area which I think is longer term, deeper stuff, it's not quite going to happen right now, but in five, 10 and 20 years it will be big stuff and that is the so-called electronic highway, Internet and all of that.

I believe that we can promote the existence and creation of programs, multi-media, supra-national programs of world history to give people in these threatened countries, countries that are on the brink of war, a chance to hear another truth. I'm not naivef we want to make sure that it's harder for the bad guys to do their rotten stuff, we should create and favour through our regulatory system, government system, or any way we can, the creation of free media. enough to believe that Internet will ever rival with prime time TV, not yet.

But what we call TV and what we call the electronic highway are going to merge in the next 10 years and it's all going to be probably one so I think we ought to be considering now the content of the electronic highway and encouraging creators of curricula, multicultural, supra-national curricula, if possible, fairly objective world history so that when the time comes people are all plugged into the same universal system, that this stuff will be accessible and then it will be a matter of political will to promote it, to make it clear that it's available and to let people know.

The final program that I would suggest would be a fairly complicated, multi-faceted program to assist the media in Eastern Europe. I'd concentrate on Eastern Europe, to some extent central Asia, although they're very harder to crack.

But, I think Eastern Europe is where we can make the biggest impact because of cultural affinities, because we have a multicultural population in Canada we can deal with them because Canada is enormously respected and because Canada is not the United States. W're not threatening;we're not a great power.

I think we ought to be sending a mission to Eastern Europe in the next few months of independent journalists, newspaper owners and television and radio owners, maybe some people from the CBC, and come up with a feasibility plan whereby we can help these people. And I think this would be a shoestring effort. It would not really cost anything at all to taxpayers. I think that our media would be quite thrilled to do this.

I think the central reason would be, and I would hope that the government at a very high level would tell these guys, look, we need you to do something very important for Canada and for world peace. We want you come and help us help these countries in Eastern Europe, but we want you to run it. We don't want the government deciding the content of this. We'll pay some administrative costs, travel costs, and we would like for you to decide it and you run it and we'll just sort of back you up with a little bit of infrastructure help and lots of moral support.

I think Canadians could do it very sensitively. We're very good at this, because we have 40 years of a foreign aid program in the Third World. I believe that we could, with a dozen other countries outside the United States, come up with some options to anchor the free media in Eastern Europe that would make a decisive difference.

If we don't do it in the next five years, and that's the window I see, just a gut definition of our opportunity, I think it's three to five years. If we don't do it in that time it'll be too late.

Already some of the media are being taken over by demagogues. They're giving up on the free press and so on. Others are taking strictly an American view of the world and thank goodness the Americans, very generous as they are, are in there offering a turnkey solution to freedom. Do you want freedom? We've got it here. Here's a silver platter. Here you are. Here are the books. Here's all the jobs, all the things you have to do. We'll tell you. That is a little bit intimidating to some of the East Europeans and that's why I think that the somewhat shyer, but professional Canadian style, can be a useful complement to what the Americans are doing.,

I think in the next century what we will be dealing with very clearly is a war of very old ideas. After the century of disintegration, which I suspect will be what they will call the 20th century, we have a chance to have a century of integration if we play our cards very right. It won't happen automatically.

The way we have to do this is to show tremendous patience to realize that the kind of strategies I am suggesting are not four-year democratic election kinds of things, they are 20 or 30, 50- year programs. Stuff you do in the long haul. And they also have to involve the education systems. You have to create a critical mass of credibility for certain values and the values that I think we want to see triumph in the world are the ones that made Canada the envy of the world.

I think we need to reverse the old Roman dictum that if you want peace, prepare for war. And I think you have to say, if you want peace, prepare for peace. In the minds of men, women and especially children, so that they will work like hell for the rest of their lives to make the dream come true.


I believe the problem between Anglophone and Francophone Canadians is based on a simple lack of communication. When you watch the CBC news and the Radio Canada news it's not the same news; its the same story, not the same news. Do the CBC or Radio Canada have a role in teaching groups of Canadians about the other group of Canadians, or is that possible?

Well, I have great esteem for the CBC. The Broadcasting Act, the most recent one of three years ago, redefined the CBC's role as not promoting national unity, but reflecting reality. I'm not at all in favour, and never have been, of turning the CBC into a propaganda instrument.


Why do you have this faith in what Canada can become and what are your dreams for its further unfolding?

I believe that Canada is not a normal country. It''s an exceptional country. It's a bizarre, weird country which happens to tolerate freedom to a degree that no other country in the world would. To have a leader of the opposition who is officially, passionately a separatist. We don't make any fuss when he's received by the President of the French Republic. Who else would be crazy enough to do that? This is tolerance run wild and I guess we're taking this instance gamble when a country that tolerant must be worth keeping. Must be worth improving. And I think in the end you have to believe that. Iin the end, I think the old Canadian commonsense, the sense of compromise, will come to the fore.


Could you expand on all the opportunities – not just the economic, social, political and cultural – of NAFTA?

I think NAFTA allows Canada and Mexico to play some new card games with the new psychologies.If Canada deals alone with the United States, let's say on a trade issue – because that's what we're upset about this week – it can become a very sado-masochistic relationship. We tend to give up too easily on these things. If the Mexicans are going through the same, and they usually are, I think the closer we get to them the more delightful it will be. We will have, I believe, a new confidence, a sense of being less isolated and ability to deal with American affirmation,


How do we get English Canada to accept that there are distinct societies in Canada, aboriginals and Quebec, period?

I'm tempted to quoteShakespeare by saying, first, let's kill all the lawyers. I think our political system has become infested with lawyers. They have convinced us that Canada is not a country, it's not a society of civilized individuals, it's a jurisdictional puzzle. It's a jigsaw puzzle for lawyers, a playground, a sandbox for constitutional lawyers. How do you convince English-speaking Canadians that there are distinct societies? Tthe people that believe in reality have to get off their chairs and argue this, not leave it to the arch priests of constitutional truth to say this. And I think we saw ths in the last round;it was the triumph of the constitutional lawyers. This is obscene So,if you want to talk about getting English Canadians to accept a distinct society, I think we probably do accept it within English-speaking Canada as defined by multiculturalism. If we don't build this country in the minds and hearts of children; teach them where it came from, what it means, what its values are, we literally cannot have a country. And that's why, to go back to my old slogan, war begins in the minds of men, and so do countries.