There’s something I’ve noticed about public discourse of late. It’s no longer a genteel pursuit.
Debate that involves genuine give-and-take, a sharing of opposing opinions and people shifting their positions a few notches given what’s been said is a thing of the past.
Lately, it seems, there is an inciting incident immediately followed by a shrill demand that we all think the same way.
Media outlets and social media erupt with not only an agreed agenda that requires no further discussion, but the implication that anyone who doesn’t 100% comply is some kind of fucking psycho deserving of no place in polite society.
It’s as if all those Chinese propaganda posters urging that the running dogs of capitalism and counter-revolutionary thought be crushed have found a new life and new acolytes.
And like those days, there has arisen a need to not only disagree with someone but parade them through the public square in a dunce cap with a sign around their necks reading “Reactionary”.
Within my social media feeds are people who post endlessly about partisan politics, their disdain of capitalism or socialism, hatred of religion (one in particular or all in aggregate) or atheism and the various ways we’re poisoning ourselves or killing the planet.
And I don’t have a single problem with anybody having any kind of opinion on anything. I assume that’s a right we all share.
Except we don’t anymore.
There’s a lot of “my way or the highway” going on and it’s starting to feel scarier than the sexually frustrated glare of the pompadoured teenager with a pack of Luckys rolled in the sleeve of his T-Shirt who first coined that term.
Friday, a week after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, a representative of the National Rifle Association held a news conference in which he asked for a larger discussion surrounding gun control; one that included issues like mental health, violent films and video games as well as placing armed guards in schools.
It wasn’t a sophisticated presentation to say the least and deserved much of the criticism that ensued. But debunking his approach to the problem didn’t seem to be enough. The man had to be branded as psychotic and dangerous as well.
“What kind of an idiot would put guns in schools!” said some, apparently forgetting that President Bill Clinton had proposed exactly the same thing after the Columbine shooting, while additionally ignoring the reality that 1/3 of American public schools already have them.
I was also treated to the sight of the same CNN anchor who had demanded censorship of violent video games after the Virginia Tech shootings now scoffing that anyone could be so deluded.
A New York newspaper, righteous with indignation, published the names and addresses of every legal gun owner in its jurisdiction, following the philosophy that, like sex offenders, their readers had a right to know what dangers lurked in their neighborhood.
Perhaps they didn’t realize or maybe simply didn’t care that this turned people who hadn’t broken any law into potential targets for someone eager to possess a weapon but not having the mental or legal capacity to properly acquire one.
In an equally ill-conceived erasure of basic human decency from the other end of the spectrum, gun owners launched a petition to demand CNN host Piers Morgan be deported for, as a resident-alien, attacking the American Bill of Rights.
Start a petition requesting Morgan get the boot for being a salacious ghoul who lowers whatever standards remain for television and you might be onto something.
But just because he doesn’t agree with your point of view? Although, sadly, I don’t think that’s a sentiment Morgan’s world view allows him to share.
Meanwhile, those angered by the newspaper reversed their invasions of privacy by releasing the names, addresses and personal information (including photos of their children) of its editors and reporters.
This included reminding readers that these folks probably had no way of defending themselves against a home invasion and by the look of it owned some pretty cool stuff and even had swell places to hide on their properties.
And if you think that’s as low as we could sink, you’re wrong. This week the ecological journal “Earth First” published a list of corporate CEOs and government lobbyists it felt should be assassinated.
Couched in a lot of “of course we’re just kidding” rhetoric, there’s no mistaking the message -- or the targets –- anybody who doesn’t agree with them. Last on the list is Brandon Darby, a conservative blogger who unearthed a plot to fire bomb the 2008 Republican convention and called in the FBI.
For which duty as a responsible human being Mother Jones magazine branded him a “snitch” and “Earth First” now apparently thinks he should be whacked.
Where exactly did we not only lose our ability to respect an opposing opinion but start demanding that those who hold them be “removed” –- if not to a retraining camp then permanently?
When did we all put on these blinkers and filters that prevent us from seeing all but one path?
How did we get to a place where a crucifix in urine is art but a Koran in a toilet is reprehensibly insensitive?
Why is it wrong to consider someone laughingly obese except if they’re the Mayor of Toronto?
How do so many people tweeting their disgust with Walmart paying bribes in Mexico not realize they’re doing it on a device filled with rare earth minerals mined by slaves or assembled in a suicide inducing sweatshop?
And this isn’t just the way of the desperate for attention on Facebook. After the Newtown slaughter, award winning novelist and PEN humanitarian Joyce Carol Oates tweeted…
So let me tell you about something else that happened on Friday.
There was a local demonstration featuring aboriginal drummers and environmental activists protesting the latest outrage related to the oil sands or pipelines or recent environmental legislation. Perhaps all three.
Banners and signs proclaimed the Prime Minister’s hatred of all things ecological and the greed and insensitivity of capitalism.
Meanwhile, I was a block away, filming a sleek Tesla Roadster as it pulled up to Mile Zero of the Trans-Canada Highway.
This electric car had just driven the entire length of Canada (something electric cars are not supposed to do) thanks to a small company from Saskatchewan called “Sun Country”.
A year ago, Sun Country set itself the goal of making the nation accessible to fully electric, no-emission vehicles. It was their contribution to reducing greenhouse gases while turning the electric car into a reliable option for anyone wanting to stop using fossil fuels.
In mid-November, they installed the last of the electric vehicle charging stations that have transformed Canada’s Highway One into the longest Green highway on the planet.
And in the process, they have opened up many lesser thoroughfares to electric vehicles, including the entire province of Prince Edward Island and every inch of Vancouver Island.
There were fireworks and speeches and a bottle of Atlantic seawater poured into the Pacific. Nearby sat a humongous electric pick-up truck, the next stage of Sun Country’s grand plan to save the planet.
If all goes well, they’ll build this environmentally responsible replacement for the ubiquitous Canadian half ton in Saskatchewan, creating 3000 jobs while saving cities and municipalities the carbon penalties they face if they don’t improve the energy efficiency of their vehicle fleets.
The trucks would also save farmers and tradesmen the $1000/month most of them now spend on petroleum products just to do their jobs.
It was a good story.
One not one single member of the media showed up to cover.
They were all at the demonstration.
That was where the social rage was as palpable and the indignation as righteous as it has become daily on Facebook and Twitter and the 24 hour News networks.
As I listened to the drumming and the rhyming chants, it struck me that a small (but somehow nonetheless evil) corporation had, under the rule of an uncaring government harboring its hatred for things green, still made a tremendous positive difference.
They were now poised to share that mission with thousands of future employees who would have good jobs building tens of thousands of vehicles to further benefit the planet –- and make an even bigger difference.
It made me wonder why anyone would spend time beating war drums and spouting an approved script while demonizing those with a different opinion when it was possible to just go out and change things for the better.
And maybe just by realizing that there might be a different way to look at the issue.