I wonder, sometimes, how many people look at living in this country as a privilege, and how many expect it as a right.
I thought about that on an Ottawa street, looking at a black sedan with red diplomatic licence plates, an empty black sedan that sat under a sign that read "Diplomatic Loading Zone."
The car was impeding traffic on the street, the only stopped car on that side of the road, blocking a full lane of traffic, but never mind.
Its owner, wherever he or she was, obviously didn't care about that. It appeared to me what really mattered was not the effect their behaviour had on others, but what slender personal benefit they could enjoy from their particular status.
What does it matter if the street's blocked - or if the emergency room is full, for that matter, or if someone goes to jail under mandatory minimum sentences for manifestly unfair reasons? Just as long as it is happening to someone else.
It's an attitude that seems to be spreading throughout this country, not the least in its political culture.
Elections, at least from the point of view of voters now, are less about how we can make a better country for all of us, and more about what a potential government will do for me, me, me.
Somewhere along the way, we've become a culture where promises of tax cuts trump arguments about wise stewardship and future planning - where protecting our personal property is more important than building a country that's proportionally safer for all of us, and where the maximum number of Canadians can be helped to a fulfilling and hopefully satisfying life.
It's a sad message.
Because there should be more to a country than protecting and polishing one's own backside.
I'm not sure you could tell that from watching the last federal election - or the last provincial one, either.
The overwhelming themes of the last federal election were "protect my house" and "protect my wallet by paying the lowest taxes possible." (Lost in that combination, of course, was the fact that we still expected to benefit every bit as much in the way of public services as ever.)
It was a victory of the particular over the general: the particular, like oil and pipeline companies, should have less red tape to deal with. The general, like, say, the environment we all share, matters less. Tax back in my pocket, compared with supporting national health programs? Show me the money.
The last provincial election could probably be described as even more venal, with candidates willing to bluntly say, "Do you want the goodies a government member can bring, or do you want four years of nothing, regardless of what's needed in your district?"
Rough messages, both.
You would think, after watching greed build and burst a financial bubble of absolutely mammoth proportions, we might have, as a people, sat back and asked the tough questions of how we could take personal greed out of the government equation as much as possible, and, to the extent that we do move forward with government, how can we best assure ourselves that the largest number of people possible see the highest level of services and benefits possible.
We saw precisely where greed could lead, but left anything close to altruism on the side of the road, choosing to go back to seeking personal benefit instead. How, exactly, does that a country make?
It's even tainted the way columnists are examined across this country: columnists who speak about anything to do with improving our social networks "have an agenda." Columnists - and there are far more of these, now - who trumpet the need for capitalism and financial benefits for particular individuals are "just speaking their minds."
To make matters worse, our politicians have recognized where the electorate was leaning, and pandered directly to it - accepting, along the way, that the end justified the means.
We're seeing exactly where that kind of thinking leads, in everything from the robo-call scandal on down. Politicians are only doing what their constituents are doing: putting themselves and their own benefit absolutely at the front of the line.
It is not, in the end, a workable philosophy for running something as involved as a nation.
But we will destroy a huge number of co-operative institutions and forward-looking solutions to human problems before we finally realize that a country united is stronger - and can do more - than an individual with a few dollars more rattling around in his pocket for a year or two.
The real problem is, somewhere along the way, we decided that what we really wanted to be was that street-blocking and privileged diplomat. In fact, we decided that person was who we were.
Things change, and worlds turn. Perhaps, somewhere down the road, we'll go back to remembering that we're part of a country - part of a greater thing - rather than being the sole and exalted representatives of the country of Me.
And until then, dammit, we'll probably park any place we like. And so will everyone else, while all the while, we'll complain vociferously about the gridlock that everyone else is creating.
Russell Wangersky is the editorial page editor of The Telegram. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.