This is a larger, more esoteric blog than merely defending my use of North Korea and Canada in the same sentence. But, okay, I am also defending my use of North Korea and Canada in the same sentence.
Some of the Twitter comment reminded me of something one of my high school teachers told me when I saw her decades later. She said, “I don’t get students like you anymore.” To which I demurred, insisting students were just as bright now surely. And she tried to explain, “No, I get bright students. They just do not understand irony. I have to explain everything. They are overly literal.”
Based on the Twitterverse response to my tweet about Canada being “the North Korea of environmental law,” I am wondering if becoming overly literal is a general trend. Are we conditioned by political correctness or some more banal form of intellectual myopia to the extent that irony, metaphor and analogy have no place because alarm bells ring as though a literal comparison was being made?
So, here’s the thing. If I had said, “Canada is just like North Korea” — that would be irrational and loopy. If I had said, “Canada is a bit like North Korea” that would also be quite wrong. But in trying to convey to Canadians just how bizarre and shocking it is to people around the world, or to Canadians who have worked as diplomats or in multilateral efforts, that we would, for no reason and out of the blue, be the only country in the world to pull out of a legally binding treaty to address drought and desertification, I sought an analogy. It is clear we have gone rogue. Law-abiding nations simply do not break their treaty obligations as though they were last year’s election promises.
We have a universally understood standard for a rogue nation. It is North Korea. So to say Canada has gone rogue, as many have said (The head of Oxfam said it on CBC national last night), does not really convey to Canadians how really shocking this is. It was shameful enough to be the only country on earth to legally withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. That was the first time in our history we ever withdrew from a treaty we had ratified. But now, with no notice to other parties in the Convention, nor to the Convention Secretariat, Canada is cutting and running from the treaty to deal with growing droughts and deserts. The analogy is that in one context only — global environmental treaties — Canada is acting rogue, and since North Korea is the most shocking example of a rogue state, the analogy is to North Korea.
Here’s the Mirriam-Webster definition for analogy: “resemblance in some particulars between things otherwise unlike.”
Clearly, tweets present a challenge in communication. Former diplomat Robert Fowler said much the same thing, but more eloquently, in a long email to journalists. Calling our withdrawal from the treaty “a departure from global citizenship,” here’s what he said:
“It [the Harper administration] has taken climate-change denial, the abandonment of collective efforts to manage global crises and disregard the pain and suffering of the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa (among many others) to quite a different level.”
Responding to Foreign Minister John Baird’s defence that Canada won’t “go along to get along,” Fowler continued:
“No, by jingo, we’re not going to go along to get along! Such vainglorious nose-thumbing at the international community’s efforts to tame a very present threat to hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest and most desperate is nothing short of incomprehensible.”
Given the challenges of Twitter, I think saying Canada is the North Korea of environmental treaties captures it very well. Not literally true in any respect. But as an analogy, it explains just how shocking Stephen Harper’s actions really are.
The way things are going, citizens in other countries may start using Canada as the standard for rogue environmental behaviour to shock their own compatriots. “New Zealand is becoming the Canada of….” And the Twitterverse in New Zealand will light up to attack such an analogy as unfair to New Zealand.
Originally posted on Huffington Post.