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Thom Barker: The question is not whether to discuss politics, but how

Thom Barker
Thom Barker - Submitted

There is an old phrase that asserts one should never discuss politics and religion.
That, of course, is patently ridiculous. These two topics are arguably the most important things we must discuss, and certainly among the most interesting. 
The origins of the axiom are murky and it is incomplete the way it is commonly expressed today. Originally, we were not to do it “in mixed company” (when women were present), or in “polite company” (in a cultural milieu) or at the dinner table, the latter to which was added the topics of sex, and money. 


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In any event, it is neither possible nor desirable to avoid discussing politics and religion. What we increasingly need to do is learn how to discuss them in a civil manner.
I fully admit, it is not easy in today’s climate of extreme partisanship, mixed with ubiquitous everyone-is-a-journalist media—a chicken-and-egg scenario if there ever was one.
A big part of the problem is the human penchant for absolute certainty that what we believe is the same as the truth. This is often the case even when something is demonstrably false. Certitude in one’s rightness makes it very easy to dismiss others as morons, libtards, cucks, fascists, commies or whatever the contextual insult-du-jour happens to be. Facebook and Twitter make it even easier to not only be dismissive, but to express it publicly, without much in the way of concrete consequence.
It should not be necessary to state, but unfortunately perhaps is, that insults are not constructive. If you ever want to entrench someone’s irrational belief, call them an idiot for believing it. 
I am not a relativist. I do not think all points of view are equally valid. Some positions are contemptible, but treating people with contempt, even if they hold contemptible views, is a recipe for disaster.
So, how do we get past the contempt and on to civil discussion?
The first thing, perhaps, is to stop attributing the most extreme positions to our political opponents. For example, just because you don’t like Justin Trudeau’s immigration policy, does not mean he or his supporters want to institute Shariah in Canada. Assuming the worst about a person is not only uncharitable, it is, in most cases, almost certainly wrong. 
This tactic is also being used to discredit mainstream media from both sides of the political spectrum by accusing objective journalistic outlets of being hyper-partisan. If you are not looking at Rebel Media on the right, or Press Progress on the left, and you see bias, it is probably your bias.
We also need to stop making hypothetical comparisons. This takes the form of, “can you imagine the outrage on the right, if Obama did what Trump is doing?”
Hypocrisy truly is aggravating and politics is rife with it. But even in our own lives we routinely forgive transgressions of our friends we would not tolerate in strangers. People are flawed and complicated and hard-wired for cognitive dissonance, but that does not necessarily make them evil or stupid.
A companion to this is “whataboutism,” or what used to be known in logical circles as “tu quoque,” or an appeal to hypocrisy. It is an attempt to deflect criticism without defending indefensible behaviour by casting aspersions on another. The inference is that your guy did it (or something equally or more egregious) and got away with it, so my guy should get a pass.
To quote another old saying: “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Finally, although my three points do not in any way make an exhaustive list, we have to stop accusing people of lying because we disagree with them. Reasonable people can come to different positions based on different priorities, life experience or any number of other factors.
People can, in fact, be wrong without being dishonest. People can, in fact, change their minds when presented with new facts. General socioeconomic or geopolitical conditions can change to the point where a sincerely held position or honestly offered promise becomes untenable. Because someone says one thing today contrary to what she said before does not necessarily mean she was lying when she stated her previous belief, that she is lying now, or that she is just a big, fat, pathological liar.
She may also, heaven forbid, be right. I am constantly re-examining my opinions to ensure I hold them based on evidence, and not because I want to believe them because they fit a comfortable narrative. Even then, I know I am susceptible to confirmation bias and not always successful. In short, I confess, I have been guilty of all of the above and will probably not make it to my grave without committing them again.
More extreme, but related, we absolutely must stop conflating differences of opinion with criminality. Your political opponent does not deserve to be “locked up” because they have different policy objectives.
I believe most people want the best for the country and for the world, although we may have very big differences in how we think we get there. One of the ways we express those differences is in how we vote. Recently, I responded to a Facebook post that I would never vote for Andrew Scheer—not in the direct sense because I no longer live in his riding, but indirectly by not supporting my local Conservative. 
Being told I must be very rich (I’m not) to love Trudeau so much (I don’t, nor did I even mention him) or I must be an idiot libtard (I’m sure I’m not, at least not in the spirit the commenter meant it), and probably both, is not helping me come around to a conservative point of view.

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