Daily Archives: January 28, 2011

Tunisia and Egypt: Primary Concern and Ideology

A young Egyptian woman demonstrating in Cairo

Whenever we see something like what is happening now in Tunisia and Egypt — and what was brutally stifled in Iran two years ago — it is heartening to recall Frye’s observations on the liberation movements in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  There are no guarantees when it comes to the triumph of primary concern over ideology, but there is always hope.

In conversation with David Cayley:

Cayley: Partly what I’m trying to understand are the political or real world implications of your thought.

Frye: The political implications are, again, in the direction of what I’ve called primary concern.  What has thrilled me about the movements in Eastern Europe is that they are not ideological movements.  They are movements for fundamental human rights to live and eat and to own property.  The authorities there, insofar as they are opposing these demands, are no longer saying, “We are conducting a certain course in the interest of a higher socialist identity.”  They are saying, with George Orwell, “The object of power is power, and we’re going to hang on to it as long as we’ve got the guns to shoot you with.”  The protest is made in the direction of something which breaks out of the ideological framework altogether. (CW 24, 1029-30)

TGIF: “White Teen to be Tried as a Black Adult”


We’re posting the newly launched Onion News Network again this week because its satire of cable news is not only breath-takingly detailed but infallibly deadpan.  It’s hard to believe they can hold it together so well.

In this bit, anchor Brooke Alvarez represents the now-stereotypical stilettoed faux-blonde scold whose politics lean toward the authoritarian; that is, the endlessly cloned norm at Fox News.  Rush Limbaugh coined the term “feminazi” to mock feminists on the left, but it is here the term finds its real home.

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative


“The Great Canadian Flag Debate”  (From the CBC archives but not posted by the CBC, and so viewable by non-Canadians.)

Years ago The New Republic initiated a “most boring headline” competition inspired by a column with the title, “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.”  It’s still funny, except when it’s not, like when the issue is sound banking regulation and the delivery of high quality universal health care.  See, for example, Fareed Zakaria’s article in Newsweek two years ago, “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative,” where he really means it.

On this date in 1965, after long and often rancorous debate, Parliament approved the design for what is now the Canadian flag.  As often happens here, we were united in our divisions and eventually came through with a unanimous choice, but only by way of fiercely partisan in-committee flanking maneuvers.  In other words, we tricked ourselves into it.  For spite.  This is what Frye otherwise calls our genius for compromise.

From “National Consciousness in Canadian Culture”:

And today, when not only Quebec but Western and Eastern Canada have strong separatist sentiments, separatism is neutralized by a feeling, affecting separatists and federalists alike, that the issue is not really important enough to go beyond the stage of symbolism.  Even symbolism has had a curiously muted life in Canada.  Older cultural nationalists, for example, warned us against the dangers of “flag-waving,” disregarding the fact that Canada at the time had no flag to wave.  (CW 12, 499)