Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, by Michael Adams
Penguin Canada, 0143014234, 224 pp. (incl. appendices, glossaries and index), 2003
Adams clearly states in the introduction that this is a book intended for a Canadian audience, however he does ‘hope it may be of interest to Americans who may be intrigued by a glimpse of a country so seemingly near and yet with their mental postures far from their own’ and adds that ‘Europeans, Australians and even the Queen’s subjects in Tony Blair’s Britain who are ambivalent about American influence on their societies might also find some useful lessons in the Canada-U.S. nexus’.1 As he says ‘Canadians may like Americans, speak the same language, and consume more their fast food and popular culture, but we embrace a different hierarchy of values. Moreover, the differences, as I have attempted to show, are increasing rather than decreasing with economic integration’.2
Fire and Ice came from years of research into the ideals and values held by Canadians from 1983 to 2000, Adam states that he was ‘impressed with just how much Canadians’ social values seemed to be diverging from those of Americans. (After all, we are frequently made to feel we have become nothing more than unarmed Americans with health insurance.)’3 – and this is even before September 11th.
He notes being particularly interested in finding out ‘why an initially “conservative” society like Canada has ended up producing an autonomous, inner-directed, flexible, tolerant, socially liberal, and spiritually eclectic people while an intentionally “liberal” society like the United States has ended up producing a people who are, relatively speaking, materialistic, outer-directed, intolerant, socially conservative, and deferential to traditional institutional authority. Why do these two societies seem to prove the law of unintended consequences?’.4
Despite relying heavily on the statistics produced by Environics, the company he co-founded, Adams is able interpret the findings so they’re more or less understandable to the layperson. He brings up current events, and there are numerous references to pop culture, everything from Rockstar Games’ Vice City, Eminem’s 8-Mile, to Blade Runner – however with a decidedly American flavour.
In writing this book Adams offers Canadians a more detailed description of our national identity than the traditional ‘not American’ retort. In particular, his ‘reading of Canadian values tells me that none has become more important in this country than autonomy – and that autonomy, in the context of interdependence, is valued at every level from the individual right up to the nation’.5
Fire and Ice makes for an entertaining and insightful read into the Canadian and American psyches. However far as his aim to remain impartial goes, he falls somewhat short of the mark. Without slandering America, there is a discernable favouring of Canadian ideals and values – completely understandable as Adams himself is Canadian. Highly recommended reading to sceptical Canadians, Americans interested in viewing themselves through a maple-leaf shaped lens, and, heck, everyone else.Footnotes: