As every kid who ever went through a mythology phase can tell you, Theseus is the Greek hero who was smart and tough enough to defeat the minotaur.
He's also lent his name to the Ship of Theseus Paradox, an idea that has kept plenty of philosophers employed since around 400 BC.
By the time the Greeks got around to writing things down after their long dark age, they noted that the ship Theseus had (allegedly) sailed to Crete, was still kicking around. It was a kind of religious artifact for the Athenians, and they had to keep it seaworthy. This meant replacing old and worn out planks, sails, oars, masts... eventually, people started to ask, is it still the same ship? When we replaced the last piece, did it cease to be the same ship? This is an interesting question for philosophers, but an even more interesting question if we apply it to politics.
Is Canada (to pick an example completely at random) the same country it was when Sir John A. Macdonald drunkenly stitched it together from a handful of British colonies? The obvious answer is no. Geographically and politically, Canada has added a heck of a lot of territory, people, and political institutions.
But politicians are always trying to draw a link between Canada-as-itexists-today and Canada-as- Witness last year's government movie-trailer-style commercials for the War of 1812 anniversary. There is seldom a politician alive who won't at one point get up on a stump and pine for the good ol' days of some past or other.
Note that for the Tories this probably means the 1950s, for the NDP it probably means the 1960s and 1970s, and for the Liberals it means any time when they were in charge.
For a lot of people, there is a definitive version of "Canada," and all changes should be made with this version in mind, i.e. to return to that state or be guided by its values.
This mindset is much, much worse in the United States, where arguing about whether the constitution should be interpreted as its original (slave-owning) farmers intended.
This is clearly stupid.
In terms of the Ship of Theseus Paradox, most people recognize that the ship is not the same materially, but many believe that democracy consists of replacing the old boards and planks (replacing doddering old fools of politicians with bright young fools of politicians) which keeps it seaworthy.
There is another opinion, which I hope is more firmly based in reality.
In the days when Theseus sailed to Crete, his ship was top of the line. Today it would be considered a curiosity.
Canada, as most other successful countries, hasn't survived by simply replacing the old with the identical, but with superficially new.
Since this country was founded, we have extended the vote from land-owning white males to women, First Nations peoples, and visible minorities.
We have stopped hanging people. We created the RCMP, made them wear pillbox hats, and then stopped doing that. Most of us now acknowledge that letting adults marry whomever they love does not cause chaos. We have learned that lead paint and chrysotile asbestos are not the best materials for building a baby nursery.
We've added so many laws, customs, and institutions over the years that Canada today would be unrecognizeable to the founders of this country. It's as if we started with the ship of Theseus, and kept upgrading it until it turned out to be a 300-metre highspeed catamaran. Is Canada the same country? No, no it's not, and thank Zeus for that.
Matthew Claxton is a reporter for the Langley
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