A social consensus will suffice

The news that a dry Manitoba hamlet never had a legal ban on alcohol, but that everyone conformed as if it had, shows the power of social consensus to bind a community.

Why is this important, rather than merely an interesting but unimportant legal mistake?

Well, whoever said you had to line up at a bus stop? Or at a bank machine? What force of law acts here to keep people orderly?


Little Hanover, Manitoba (below) was dry; Steinbach (above) allowed alcohol

An interesting book by Lawrence Lessig on the same subject of how we are governed illustrated the concept with a dot surrounded on four sides by a box. Each side of the box was a different social pressure. The dot represented “the regulated subject” – you and me.

1) law (the one lawyers believe is supreme, but is not)

2) society

3) markets

4) architecture

The “architecture” side stands for the force of built and made things to shape behaviour. Kerbs on roads are raised to prevent drivers from going along sidewalks, for instance. {In Bangladesh kerbs are a foot high to prevent people in SUVs driving along sidewalks and killing pedestrians. Obviously they needed stronger architecture to constrain a bad social habit}. As Lessig expressed it, in a computer environment, “Code is law”. The construction of a space enforces social behaviour as well or better than law could.

In little Hanover, Manitoba, society had achieved an effective agreement to control the sale of alcohol. No law was needed, just the belief that the law existed. I wonder how long  residents will agree to act in future as if the ban had been and were still in place, legally? (English needs a verb tense  to express the indefinite conditional continuing past-into-the-future, which does not exist. The ban had never been in place legally, but I digress).

A friend from university days once observed that, in Rumania, in the parts that had been under Ottoman domination, no one lined up for anything, and everyone just pushed as a mob to get on the bus. [They do that in Israel, too.] In parts that had been under Christian domination, people lined up.

Thus when people blather on about the wonders of multi-culturalism, I ask them, mentally, whether they have actually observed a multi-cultural society at work, because, like Gresham’s Law of Currency, bad behaviour drives out good, particularly when the people who stick to good social behaviour are told their behaviour is “intolerant”, “microaggressive”, “racist”, “culturally insensitive” and so forth.

Just you wait. Lining up at the bank machine, or crowding around it, is what is at stake in true multiculturalism, not whether you can celebrate your ethnicity.

Why is this not obvious?

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Dalwhinnie, as you know, I am no fan of multiculturalism – a cynical ploy developed by the Liberals under Trudeau to prevent an effective English Canadian reaction to the claims of Quebecois nationalism. However, during my last years in government, I commuted to work by bus. Public transport is really where multi-ethnic Canada comes together. It was my observation, based on this limited experience, that queuing protocols have survived recent waves of immigration. (My experiences on public transport in Vancouver and Toronto, while much more limited, were to the same effect.)

My guess is that most who come to Canada want to adopt Canadian norms pretty damn fast. I look upon it as a sign of how powerful social consensus is in Canada that newcomers in the overwhelming majority adapt quickly to the public norms at least of Canadian society.

Of more concern to me is the private sphere, where honour killing, wife beating, genital mutilation, and the cultural values of the old countries survive unseen. Multiculturalism was largely about the public sphere (folk dancing, costumes, food). It’s insidiousness is that it undermines the influence of majority culture in the private acts of individuals (good for dope smokers and fornicators but bad for those with rabid anti-semitic views or intense desire to right the wrongs ostensibly done over the centuries to Islam by the West). For the same reason, I have always thought that cultural norms specific testing should have been developed and applied to admission to public service positions requiring the exercise of any significant discretion. The power of nepotism remains significant in all levels of government. I fear that the untested recruitment of persons from tribal and family based cultures may lead to some significant problems in the conduct of public administration.

Caol Islay

I agree with Oban on this matter and defer to his more recent experience in the matter of testing for admission to the public service.

My own experience is that most immigrants to Canada accept our way of life and want to conform to it. They may not fully understand the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of our values; but they do appear to not only accept them, but in many cases embrace them. They still retain many of their own cultural values such as the importance of family, the value of hard work, and a respect for authority; but these do not conflict with Canadian values. In most cases they are the basis upon which this county was built, but are now out of fashion. This is particularly true of immigrants from China, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Of course there are the exceptions, such as the Muslims, Russians, and the Jamaicans; but even there many exceptions exist. Well educated Muslims seem to accept our way of life as do many, if not most of the Jamaican women and a significant number (perhaps even a majority) of Jamaican men. The young Jamaican men who are involved in high profile crimes, especially in Toronto, may well give the other members of this community a reputation they do not deserve.

In terms of integration into Canadian society one noticeable change was the 2011 federal election when for the first time in decades new Canadians voted Conservative. For decades the Liberals had bribed and bullied these communities into voting Liberal. They used local warlords (community leaders) to spread the word that immigrants owed their lives in Canada to the Liberals, and the Conservatives were racists who would cut off the number of new entrants into Canada. This worked as long as the new Canadians were poor, ill educated and frightened of authority. However, once they became much better educated they could see for themselves that the values of the Liberal party were not their values, and that Conservatives did not seem to be racist or anti-immigrant at all. This began quietly with the Chinese slowly drifting over to the Conservatives on the issue of gay marriage. It has continued with other groups and is usually based on the fact the the Conservative Party better reflects their values on issues like abortion, gay marriage, taxation and free markets. The Liberal position on abortion will make it harder for many of them to go back. I have no idea if new Canadians will continue to vote Conservative. Like everyone else they will cast their votes based on a variety of considerations. But the fact that in 2011 they broke out of the hold the Liberals had on them and voted for the party they thought best represented them tells me that they are willingly becoming more integrated into Canadian society and sharing our values.

And by the way, the last two large immigrant groups to vote Liberal are the Muslims and, to a lesser extent, the Jamaicans.

mel wilde

Steinbach is one of two mother colonies established by Mennonites when
they came to Canada. Their history of being hard workers and people of faith provides all the answers.


Mel: Precisely my point: there is a social consensus in Hanover. Multiculturalism – in this case, even a bunch of drinking English Canadians in a Mennonite town – would likely upset it. I am not here to praise or blame either group; I observe that social consensus is threatened by real – as opposed to nominal – multiculturalism.


If you have ever followed an Oriental into a building you may have noticed that they never look back and hold the door for you.
They just open the door and let it go behind them.
Like you weren’t even there.

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