Tuesday, 15 November 2016

When is a difference of opinion…

… 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.


  1. I agree with the professor's take on this issue. There is nothing like a face to face, civilized debate to bare the strengths and weaknesses of either position. To be able to state your position without necessarily being on the "winning side" or being negatively labelled is a good thing....imho.

    1. Gary - And the louder you shout, the weaker your argument.

  2. I think opinions are just that. Your opinion is your opinion, it is not right and it is not wrong, it is an opinion. Your take on things, your perspective and not everyone will agree with it.

    Now facts......those are a different animal. Mind you people still can't agree on those either.

    1. Brandy - Exactly. Don't agree with my opinion? Then lets have a discussion. Maybe you'll change my mind or maybe I'll change yours. Either way there's nothing lost.

  3. David it's all good fun, until people start dying.

    That wouldn't happen in a debate.

    And that's why debate is essential. I believe that if you have a voice you should speak. If you are a proponent of one side, or the other, speak. If you have a pen, a microphone or a keyboard, a channel, a blog, or a soap box, use it. Speak up. Express yourself. Stand up and be counted.

    The greatest harm comes from keeping your thoughts unexpressed.

    The hope is that once all the opinions are expressed, intelligence, common sense and compassion will prevail over ignorance, exclusion, partisanship, and oppression.

    When that fails, things get ugly and the real fighting starts.

    There are such things as deadly sins and there are people who practice them as if they were a higher calling.

    Those people, over time, have proven to be in a small minority. It might seem otherwise if the majority of good people fail to speak up.

    Thank you for speaking up.

  4. "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." - 100% Agreed

    And to take it a step further, when I attempt to question college students on how they came to that conclusion or why they believe/disbelieve the way that they do, they see my questions as a personal and very real attack on them. I have to quantify every question with, "I mean no disrespect towards you AT ALL - I'm just truly curious on how you came to feel that way."

    I'm also quick to turn it around back to them: "I understand how you feel because I felt the same 4 years ago..." My cousin posted a "Please pray for our country!" shout-out on her Facebook page shortly after this year's election and I replied with, "I have been for the last 8 years!"

    No matter the age group, I feel as though this current culture of "Don't question anything while being offended at everything" stems from the internet...

    It's so quick to find someone else who agrees with you, click like and move on. There's no REAL face-to-face communication anymore. Not around the dinner table, the classroom, or even out in public.

    Lost & need directions? Mapquest.com Need a recipe? Foodie.com Want advice on how to grow your garden? Alamanac.com Nobody really talks to each other anymore.... not like they used to anyways.

    We've all got our heads buried in technology (and yes, I'll include myself in that group!) that we're ignorant to everyone else.

    1. Dawn - Sorry it took a while to publish this - got lost in the spam filter for some reason. Anyway you're quite right - it often seems we live in an echo chamber, only interested in viewpoints we share. Too bad really.


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