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The Martians Claim Canada

Margaret Atwood (author of The Handmaid's Tale) wrote a short story about Martians who tried to travel to New York to see a Broadway musical, but got lost and landed in Canada. There were no people around, so they talked to a mushroom. Now, a mushroom understands the concept of "place" very differently from the way humans do, or Martians for that matter, but he tries his best to explain what Canada is.

‘But what is a country?’ says the third Martian.

‘Ah,’ says the mushroom. ‘You’ve heard of people?’

‘Yeah, sure, of course,’ says the first Martian. ‘Two legs, only two arms, strange-looking heads, only two eyes. You need them for putting on musicals.’

‘Okay, a country is an idea people get into their brains,’ says the mushroom. ‘Without people, there aren’t any countries. Mushrooms don’t bother with countries.’

‘That’s a start,’ says the second Martian. ‘What sort of idea, in their brains?’

‘You draw a line, you put up walls and gates and such, you say some people can’t come in and other people can’t go out, you say everything inside this country is a certain kind of thing and that’s how it is done inside the line you’ve drawn, you make laws, you have customs and a language, or two languages, or fifty-four languages, it depends. You have a flag, which is a piece of cloth with some sort of pattern on it, and it waves around in the wind. Unlike mushrooms: we don’t wave anything. Maybe you have national outfits. You have a special song that you’re supposed to sing, it’s a ceremonial thing on special occasions. You’re supposed to look really solemn and have deep emotions while doing it.’

The wacky conversation illustrates the absurdity of human constructs that we take for granted. You can read the whole story at Granta. -via Metafilter

(Image credit: Margaret Atwood)


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Someone wanted to control other people and taught his kids how to do the same. At some point, a defensible perimeter was constructed and everything inside is considered a country.
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