I’ve been experiencing a political crisis of conscience. Not in my allegiance; I’m a lifelong leftist, and that won’t change.
No, what I’m brooding over is deeper and harder to admit. In my passionate support of liberal politics and social justice, I worry I’ve become the antithesis of the good person I’ve always believed I was. When I encounter conservatives, especially on the internet, my rage boils over. On social media, I make scornful comments that I’d never utter in person. Worse, I’ve noticed my attacks have sometimes been aimed at people, not policies. It’s making me wonder: is this attitude really consistent with my inclusive values?
I know people who vote Conservative, and they’re not bad people. Nor are they uneducated or ignorant. Some even share my own fervour for social justice. Yet their voting record often incenses me, and I find myself erroneously assuming conservatives care only about money and little for humanity’s oppressed.
To make things worse, I fear my denigration of conservative viewpoints has gone so far that I dismiss without consideration any argument coming from the right. The people I engage with on social media are all firmly on the left, and in person, too, I primarily socialize with those who share my views. I worry that I am helping curate an echo chamber of left-only intellectual ignorance with this lack of political debate. Am I a hypocrite who ardently upholds diversity in all aspects of life but politics?
More on Broadview: MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes on racism in Canadian politics
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt of New York University has studied viewpoint diversity. He’s spoken widely about the dangers of having a student body and academic leadership that only leans left in American universities. In interviews and a TED Talk, he has lamented the political “purification” that a lack of respectful disagreement generates. Haidt warns that both moderate liberals and moderate conservatives are necessary to keep humanity evolving in a healthy political system of checks and balances.
I agree with Haidt. By blocking out the opinions, priorities and ideas of moderate Conservatives (I say moderate because alt-right, extremist or oppressive beliefs will never have my respect), my Liberal, NDP and Green party friends and I are creating social and political silos that encourage hard lines of division rather than a desire to find some common ground.
As we prepare to vote this October, I hope we can reframe politics outside the self-righteous, good-versus-evil binary. I hope we ask our friends and family what they’d like out of Canada’s next government, even if we feel we’re unlikely to agree.
If we move to a broader spectrum of civil discourse this election, one where left and right listen to one another and seek shared goals, we may just be able to keep our country as strong and free as our anthem claims we are.
This column first appeared in the October 2019 issue of Broadview with the title “This election, let’s get over our anger and engage with each other as human beings.” For more of Broadview’s award-winning content, subscribe to the magazine today.