Saturday, August 27, 2022

We used to be able to disagree without thinking you're being controlled by a global elitist cabal

Taking a break from food reviews because this is too long for Twitter. The harassment of female journalists and politicians has been highlighted by high-profile incidents in recent weeks. They deserve to be called out. But these are not unique incidents. They’re signs of a breaking down of societal norms, of the rules of a civilized society we once took for granted being washed away.

It increased during the pandemic, but that’s not the cause. Social media probably hasn’t helped. But I’m no a sociologist.

But I do triage the public email inbox for an MP and monitor the social media. And the number of people that jump straight to hatred and vitriol is crazy. Because they disagree with your policy, they view you as unworthy of common courtesy. As something other than a fellow human being, trying to do the best they can.

I used to think, you’re tough behind a keyboard but would you say that to her face? Well, as we have seen in Alberta with Chrystia Freeland, the answer is yes, they would. Though the online bullying and harassment faced by journalists like Rachel Gilmore is just as chilling. And as we’ve seen, online harassment and threats do often carry over into in person acts. Certainly, it’s just as injurious to mental health.

All I can think is, this isn’t how my Mother raised me. Even when deeply angered, I couldn’t imagine talking to someone rudely, never mind threatening violence and harassment. Maybe passive aggressive or sarcastic comments.

I had a dream a few years ago I think is illustrative. Short version, I was on the Hill and then former PM Harper walked by me. A friend said “Prime Minister” while I said “Steve”, which earned me a glare. I felt bad, so I later found him to apologize and say, while I don’t believe in calling people by former titles like the Americans do, I should have been more respectful and called him Mr. Harper. He called me a hack and walked away, but that’s besides the point.

We used to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. We may disagree on policy, but we’re all trying our best to build a better country. We could respect the office, if not the holder. We could find common ground in fundamental values, like racism is bad. That there’s not a global conspiracy to control the British Pound and keep the Metric System down.

Now, it seems like we’re no longer living in the same world with one another. If we can’t agree that the sky is blue, left is left and right is right, it’s hard to agree on much of anything.

And it’s hard to not fire back in kind. The number of angry email replies I have written in my head could fill a book. Politely providing facts doesn’t seem to help; they have their own facts and won’t be dissuaded – their sky is a different colour. Polite non-engagement seems the only way.

As I said, I don’t know the cause. It’s probably a dozen different things. Social media echo chambers. Decline of trusted news sources, and trust in news sources. Stress and fear and anxiety fueled not just by a pandemic and inflation, but by longer-term economic and social trends.

I don’t think it’s caused by or linked to partisanship. It exists outside partisanship. But I do think some partisans are trying to exploit it, and that shouldn’t be glossed over. It should be called out when it happens. And if you’re a political leader trying to harness it for your own partisan ends, you’re playing with fire and you’re going to get burned yourself. Because they will turn on you when they see you have no solutions but the blame game and empty platitudes.

I think we all have a role to play here. The media need to get out of their “some say the sky is blue, some say it’s yellow” laziness and do actual reporting. Facts aren’t partisan. The sky is blue, you can say so. Just report the truth. When the truth is being distorted, say so. That’s not partisan. That’s journalism.

Political parties and groups need to stop pandering to conspiracy theorists and sending dog whistles to racists. Call out, and cast out, the devils in your own tent. Anger is a powerful motivator, but short-lived. Hope is stronger and longer-lasting.

Governments must not descend into the muck. Resist the urge to fire back in kind. Craft policies that meet the needs of the people and do your best to explain them. Help those that need help. Stand for values. Reach out to others with good ideas willing to work with you. Trust that most people will see you’re trying to do right by them. Admit when you get it wrong, fix it as best you can, and do better in the future.

And I would urge everyone condemning what happened in Grand Prairie last week (and I thank you) to also take the weekend to reflect on your own words and actions. Look back on your own rhetoric. Do you disagree without demonizing your opponents? Do you attack the idea or the person? Because while you assuredly don’t like where we’ve ended up, when you break down the societal norms we used to agree on this is where we end up. Do you lean on fear as a rhetorical crutch?

I’ll end with the words of a great philosopher, Yoda.

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

PS While this isn't limited to women they do seem to be the most targeted. So it's misogyny layered on top of everything else.

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