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In the best cases, they serve to reveal the strength of the latent bonds of trust and social solidarity that lie dormant as we hurry about the city in our private bubbles—a reminder of the strength of our institutions and our selves, in the face of infrastructure.Such was the case in New York after 9/11, and across much of the northeast during the great blackout of 2003. The slightest bit of stress works its way into the underlying cracks of the body politic, a crisis turns those cracks to fractures, and the very idea of civil society starts to look like a cheapo paint job from a chiseling body shop.At some point, charm and uniqueness betrays itself as serious dysfunction—and the famous joie de vivre starts to look like nihilism.And then a serious winter storm hits, and there is social breakdown at every stage.The EMS workers have now joined in; nothing says you’re in good hands like being driven to the hospital in an ambulance covered in stickers that read “On Strike.” While this might speak to the limited virtues of collective bargaining, the broader impact on social cohesion and trust in institutions remains corrosive.
Some have gone further and speak in terms of the "global crisis" facing secularism and the "the crisis of the secular state." Of course, there is there larger and more specifically sociological thesis about "desecularization" occurring across the world, about the development of modern economies and institutions without a decline - and, indeed, by some reversal of an earlier decline - in religious belief and practice.And it’s not just restaurants and the various housing contractors or garage owners who insist on cash—it’s also the family doctor, or the ultrasound clinic. Sure, Quebec does have the largest underground economy as a proportion of GDP in Canada, but it’s only slightly bigger than that of British Columbia.But if you look at the results from Statistics Canada’s 2013 General Social Survey, which looks at the broad measures of social capital of the sort made famous by Robert Putnam’s , his book about the collapse of the American community, the numbers for Quebec are disheartening.Then there’s the classic measure of trust, where people are asked, straightforwardly: “generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you cannot be too careful in dealing with people?” Only 36 per cent of Quebecers say that most people can be trusted; the national average is 54 per cent, and no other province clocked in at less than 50 per cent. It’s part of the place’s charm, along with the love of prog rock and the mandatory jaywalking.
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And while the episode certainly contains plenty of that, what is far more worrisome is the way it reveals the essential malaise eating away at the foundations of Quebec society.