… just a difference of opinion?
Much has been written lately about the polarisation of uppercase-P-Politics in Western societies – Brexit in the UK, the recent presidential election in the US, Marine LePen’s ascendancy in France, etc. To that I would add lowercase-p-politics – the politics of religion, of race, of socio-economic status, of citizenship, and the list goes on. We see this every day, sometimes in the form of political correctness gone berserk, other times in the way those who agree with us are labelled “winners” while those who disagree are “losers”, and yet others where the overly sensitive among us are “traumatized” when they find out there may actually be dissenting opinions out there, the anti-Trump protests/riots being a good example.
And then we muse about how this all got started in the first place. We’ll here’s a clue. http://www.macdonaldlaurier.ca/how-cultural-relativism-on-campus-has-chilled-freedom-of-expression-philip-carl-salzman-in-inside-policy/
When I went to university, back in the Pleistocene, diversity of opinion was considered healthy. Universities weren’t merely echo chambers where one constantly heard only the most “correct” viewpoints on any topic. Sure, we had our problems, and we had our riots (the Vietnam war being the main, but not the only, cause), but no one ever demanded counselling after Nixon’s win, had classes cancelled to mourn Humphrey’s loss, or needed a trigger warning every time South East Asia was mentioned in geography class. It got ugly sometimes but we coped and, more importantly, we learned.
If opposing viewpoints belong anywhere, then surely they belong in our institutes of higher learning. Even if one accepts Foucault’s assertion that politics is war by other means, any competent military leader since Sun Tzu will tell you that understanding the enemy is key to winning. And that understanding doesn’t come from putting one’s fingers in one’s ears while chanting, “Nyah, nyah, nyah, I can’t hear you”.
Some blame helicoptering parents and their need to protect their children’s sensitive ears from non-conforming (by their definition) views. Others blame the “everyone is special” movement where no child ever loses – at anything. But to my mind most of the blame lies clearly at the feet of a liberal academia where disagreement is conflated with discrimination and non-compliant thoughts are considered dangerous.
Instead of being “safe zones” our colleges and universities should be “unsafe zones”, places where unpopular and/or uncomfortable viewpoints are debated, places that are the very antithesis of political correctness. (Now to be clear I am not advocating an open forum for extremist and targeted hate speech, although I consider the term “hate speech” to mean matters of true hate rather than its present broad brush application to virtually anything or anyone with which one disagrees.)
It’s a lot more difficult to defend an untenable position in public than it is to simply "like" the latest Facebook clickbait posting that supports your world view, and in doing so in an open and honest way both sides will come to a better understanding of the battlefield on which they are engaging.
And if they did that then maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to find a few more people who are interested in actually discussing politics rather than simply assuming the fingers in the ears position and shouting slogans and spitting epithets. After all, it is just a matter of a difference of opinion.