Beware of darkness

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I’m not sure if people were always this simplistic, or is it the result of too much Facebook and Twitter and other “platforms” that have encouraged this approach to life in all its aspects? What I mean is this increasing policy of zero sum issues.

That means having the attitude that if I win, you lose, and if you win, I lose. It shows itself in the stand people take that says, everything is either good or evil, people are either great or devils, politics is all about good guys and bad guys.

There seems little room for discussion, for sharing differing views and considering other points of view.

Perhaps I am being a bit jaded with things these days. And perhaps we’re all suffering unexpected effects of the pandemic, of restrictions and lockdowns and business closures and a lack of fun.

We’re all a bit tetchy, impatient, wanting to get back to the way things were before. That may be understandable on an individual level, but it seems to have spread far wider, infecting our behaviour on social media platforms, in politics, everywhere.

Things were bad enough before when it came to people’s comments on Facebook and other such places. Rude, crude, racist, angry, and downright unpleasant things were being posted in ways that would not have happened in person-to-person conversations. People just seemed to think the worst of those who expressed views and attitudes that didn’t conform to their own.

Democracy should mean that we can openly and critically debate issues without resorting to winner-loser behaviour. Agree to disagree, and feel free to state your position either way. Drawing lines in the sand generally means everyone loses in the long run. Of course, no-one likes to be criticised – even more, no-one likes to be condemned for what they believe or think.

What makes criticism particularly hard to take is when those doing the criticising clearly don’t know the full story.

I have been roundly condemned by a few people over an article I wrote about an Indian Residential School at Spanish, on Lake Huron. The mistake I made, apparently, was to say it was “one of the best” of its type. The very suggestion that it was not a pit of depravity, rape, torture and genocide was enough to make me a racist in the eyes of my critics. Zero sum, again.

If it is not great, it’s awful; if it’s not the worst, then someone is lying. It was besides the fact that I happened to have researched and written a book on that school’s history, or that I have spent my entire professional career working for and with indigenous people. No, these people who had done none of the research, none of the reading of the Truth and Reconciliation report on IRS institutions, felt quite qualified to make accusations of racism, lying, distorting facts, etc., with apparent ease and self righteousness.

This has to stop.

People need to think between the lines, to realise that not everything is one thing or another: that there are good and bad, right and wrong, in almost every aspect of life. None of us is perfectly right all the time. Nor are we perfectly wrong all the time either. It is perfectly fine to disagree with another person’s opinion, as long as it is done on an informed basis. Informed: that is surely the key here.

Too much of our political debate is not as informed as it perhaps should be. Likewise, much of our media coverage of issues like the IRS scandal is uninformed, knee-jerk reaction designed to make headlines, not informed discussion of issues that deserve better than they get.

But that may be too much to hope for. We’ve just had President Biden state that Facebook is causing the deaths of many because they allow misinformation about covid and vaccines to go unchecked.

Commentators on various media outlets are doing the same thing, not because they believe the lies they’re spreading, but because they know that, in the current climate of zero sum politics, the more conspiracies you can spread, the more viewers you get, or more hits on your blog or webpage.

It’s not just me that’s feeling a bit cynical, it seems.

What ever happened to integrity, honour, professional pride? Remember when the media held those things in high regard? When Lloyd Robertson or Walter Cronkite were voices you trusted to tell you the truth? There are many still like that, but the problem is, we’re not sure who they are anymore.

Who can you trust to tell you the honest truth? Where can you find reliable factual reporting? Zero sum: if I’m right, then everyone who disagrees with me is not only wrong, but lying and misleading people.

We have to learn to talk and work together, especially when we disagree. We have to relearn the value of trust and giving others the benefit of the doubt, of accepting that they are genuinely convinced of their case. And we have to listen to each other with that attitude.

The sad fact I am facing, even as I write this, is that haters will hate, there will always be those who will jump at the chance to criticise, judge, condemn. To quote Kris Kristofferson: “everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on, who they can feel better than at any time they please”.

Or, perhaps more importantly, the words of George Harrison: “Watch out now. Take care, beware the thoughts that linger, winding up inside your head. Beware of darkness”.

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