The aim of a debate should not be to win, but to find the truth. -Tweet from David Lucas (@_davidlucas_)
I recently attended a conference at which former Ontario Premier David Peterson lamented the state of political discourse today. There used to be real and respectful debate, he said, but it has degenerated into: “my truth is better than your truth instead of let’s work together.”
That is a classy way of putting it. Another way of putting it is that we’re becoming a bunch of assholes: shouting, stubborn assholes entrenched in our views and refusing to find middle ground.
It’s been said before but it bears repeating: politics – through our politicians and pundits – is becoming increasingly polarizing and extreme. More and more we’re giving the microphones, podiums and elected positions to people who are more interested in winning fights than improving the world. Who stand at opposing sides of the table (or legislature) shouting about why the other side is wrong.
There are a lot of problems with this, including the fact that it really dumbs things down. “My truth is better than your truth” does not lend itself to thoughtful discussion and outcomes.
For example, at the same conference, there was a panel of two Canadian media pundits.
One of them was poo-pooing environmental concerns and making the case for the Alberta oil sands. He was doing this by disparaging wind farms. He told the audience about a YouTube video in which a bird flies into a wind turbine and is ripped apart. He called wind turbines “bird blenders.”
The audience muttered in shock and outrage, gave Mr. Pundit a round of applause and, just like that, appeared to toss away all hope for the prospect of wind power as an energy option.
That’s a clever turn of phrase and a great sound bite but it’s not an argument. It’s not a reason.
And it sure as hell shouldn’t be the final word in a discussion about climate change, fossil fuel and renewable energy – an issue we all know, or should know, is incredibly complicated and requires real discussion, compromise, long-term thinking and realistic solutions.
But no – fucking bird blenders. That’ll do for now.
Another painful example of the perils of “my truth is better than your truth” is Toronto city council. And no, I’m not talking about drug use, alcoholic stupors and having enough to eat at home. I’m talking about a city council with two opposing factions duking it out day after day and accomplishing very little for the people they are supposed to be serving. It’s a place where belligerent bullies rule because belligerent bullies do much better when the name of the game is win or lose rather than find compromise.
Most disconcerting is how they’re dragging the rest of us down with them. Toronto residents are fast becoming as polarized as our elected officials. I recently met a guy with whom I happened to mention the startling behaviour and comments of Mayor Rob Ford. His response: “But still better than that commie pinko ______.”
So that’s where I fear this is going, Pal: no middle ground, just everyone hating and yelling and winning or losing.
A bunch of assholes.
But no. Because the reality is the vast majority of us aren’t like that; we are rational, moderate and agreeable. We’ve just been giving too much of our attention to the wrong people. We’ve been hypnotized by their simple arguments, snappy catch phrases and entertaining antics.
So how about this: let’s agree to turn our backs on the assholes – to turn them off when they roar onto our TVs and to stop checking their names on the ballots. And let’s make sure we’re giving voice, power and influence to people like the rest of us; people who will do as Tweeter David Lucas says at the top of this post – debate not to win but to find the truth, and then implement changes intended to improve things.
Granted, things will be less entertaining — not as many “bird blenders” to chuckle at – but it should ensure we continue to make this world a better place.
(Up next, in part two, I’ll talk about one issue that can’t be anything but polarizing. It’s also the reason I’m an asshole.)