When I ask progressive separatists, especially those who are not members of the white francophone majority, why Quebec xenophobia exists today, they invariably tell me that it’s a function of economic stresses brought on by neoliberalism, stresses that would be gone in a socially-democratic, independent Quebec. I’m always shocked by this argument, because I really don’t think they’ve thought it through. After all, only a fool would deny that separation from Canada would, at least initially, cause a great deal of economic stress. So, if, as these progressives argue, the ugliness we see in Quebec politics is all just a function of economic stress, how much uglier would Quebec politics become during this tumultuous transition period, when economic stresses would be far more intense than they are today?
When asked about the problem of Russian antisemitism, many credulous Jewish communists insisted that it would evaporate right after the revolution. Most of them lived to regret that miscalculation, many of them paid for it with their lives. I can’t help but think of them when progressive separatists tell me Quebec xenophobia is going to evaporate soon after separation.
Be that as it may, there are those here in Quebec, and elsewhere, that view separatism as an albatross around the neck of the body politic, a bedeviling dream that distracts us from more important matters. They long for a resolution. Everything would be so great, they say, if we could just move the fuck on! Though I sometimes sympathize with this sentiment, it’s important to recognize that the dream of moving on is—itself—just another albatross. Separatism isn’t going anywhere, not in a Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain sense; it’s going to fade away slowly, decade after increasingly deplorable decade, like one of those geriatric boomer bands that used to be awesome but has become a pathetic caricature of itself.
There’s little difference, at bottom, between these two statements: (1) everything would be great if we could just get over this separatism thing and move on; & (2) everything would be great if we could just separate from Canada and move on. Both positions allow you to live in a fantasy land of the future, whilst avoiding the real problems of the present. To some extent, then, they’re both akin to the worst kind of messianic thinking: namely, premillennialism.
Like many Christian fundamentalists, those who prioritize separatism or the demise of separatism, above all else, remain fixated upon a radical break with history—a world-historical game-changer—which will lead us into the Promised Land: a paradise of pristine purity, pregnant with possibility. Only there, in this latter-day Eden, can our dreams of social justice come true. Only then—after this new beginning, this fresh start—can we hope for solutions to the problems we face. But we never seem to get to then or there. Instead, we gaze off dreamily into a distant and hoped for future, while things down here in the real world go from bad to worse.
—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)