The divide with the U.S. will widen in 2022

The gap between Canadian and American values will grow wider in 2022.

image: Globe and Mail

Once, what seems long ago, we were happy with our southerly neighbours. The mood soured with the improbable election of Donald Trump in 2017. Then the proportion of Canadians who saw the United States as “a negative force in today’s world” grew to 6 out of 10. In the eyes of Canadians, that made America the most negative country.

Canadians even saw North Korea as less negative than the U.S.  North Korea  was second at 46 per cent.

Before the election of Trump, we had an overwhelmingly positive opinion of the U.S.

And why not? We have historically had a positive opinion of the U.S. for good reason. Our friends, relatives, and business partners in the U.S. are often within driving range.

My dad was born in the U.S. and became a Canadian citizen when he married my mom. I often visited my aunt in Ventura, California when she was still alive.

Like many Canadians, I once saw the United States as a bustling place where exciting developments in technology and culture were constantly taking shape.

Today, I see a dangerously fractured society that is diminished and dangerous.

Political events in the U.S. are alarming.

One year ago the impossible happened when thousands of radicalized, ill-informed Americans stormed the Capitol building to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden as president.

It’s astonishing that 39 percent of the Republican Party refuse to accept Biden as president.

The angry mob that attacked The Capital was encouraged by the maniacal demigod Donald Trump. They included present and former members of the military.

As the anniversary of the insurrection on January 6 approaches, three retired U.S. generals have warned that another insurrection could occur after the 2024 presidential election and that the military could instigate it.

In their article in the Washington Post they said: “In short: We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.”

One of those generals, retired General Paul Eaton, told National Public Radio in the U.S.:

“I believe that we need to war-game the possibility of a problem and what we are going to do. The fact that we were caught completely unprepared — militarily, and from a policing function — on Jan. 6 is incomprehensible to me. Civilian control of the military is sacrosanct in the U.S. and that is a position that we need to reinforce.”

Trump channels the values and attitudes of a segment of American society whose numbers and influence are in decline: generally older, white voters, disproportionately male, who are alarmed by demographic and social change.

Pollster Michael Adams finds a widening gap between U.S. Democrats and Republicans that is not evident in Canada (Globe and Mail, January 1, 2022)

Even Albertans, generally said to be the most conservative Canadians, are more likely to be aligned with Democrats in the U.S. than Republicans.

As for the Conservative Party, the social values of its supporters are much more similar to those of Liberal supporters than the values of Republicans.

The ugly wound on the American body politic will not heal in the foreseeable future.

Canadians can only look nervously to the south at the unraveling of a once proud nation.

Facebook knows you best

Does Facebook know you better than your friends do, or even better than you know yourself? Lily Ames conducted an experiment to find out and reported the results to CBC Radio’s technology program Spark.

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The personality program she tried is called Apply Magic Sauce, developed by The University of Cambridge Psychometrics Centre. It takes your Facebook “likes” and gives you a score based on a database of six million social media profiles.

When Lily ran her Facebook likes through the program, she was surprised at how well it scored on most of 20 things. It nailed her age within two years, religion, gender, education in journalism.

Then she compared those results with a standard test from Cambridge. It categorized her personality in five areas: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. She agreed with the test results with the exception of extraversion which she thought was low, especially when she considered extraversion as one of her defining traits.

Then five of Lily’s friends filled out a questionnaire on her personality. Surprisingly, the Facebook likes corresponded more closely to the standard test than either her own opinion or those generated by her friends.

Not so surprising says David Stillwell, a researcher at the Psychometrics Centre. Who we are is a philosophical question. Then, maybe we are not just one but different personalities; our self-impressions, the digital projection of ourselves online, and our personality as perceived by friends.

I was curious about what my Facebook likes would reveal about me so I tried the Apply Magic Sauce algorithm only to find that I didn’t have enough likes on Facebook to make an assessment. “Sorry, we are unable to generate a prediction.” was the reply “An insufficient number of your Likes match with those in our database, and we don’t believe in guesswork. Please take our full personality test, if you would still like to receive scientific feedback on your traits. Thanks!”

So I did. I took the full personality test and here’s the results. I scored highest on openness,73%, which reflects intellectual curiosity. Next was agreeableness, 69%, which suggests that I’m easy to get along with. Then conscientiousness, 66%, a measure of how organized I am. Extraversion, 54%, a gauge of social interaction. Finally neuroticism, 24%, my response to life’s demands. “Based on your responses, you come across as someone who is rarely bothered by things, and when they do get you down the feeling does not persist for very long,” the assessment elaborated.

It seemed fairly accurate, but then, why wouldn’t it when I’m the one who answered the questions?

Social media such as Facebook contain a wealth of data about ourselves that we may not intentionally reveal. Lily couldn’t even remember liking the Saskatchewan Roughriders. And a she was only being ironic when she “liked” new fashion trend.

No problem, says Stillwell. “From a prediction perspective, it doesn’t matter, as long as there is a link between people liking something and their personality. If everyone likes it because they are being ironic, then maybe it would be related to low agreeableness. But it doesn’t matter because the prediction still works.”