Our recent election exposed how polarized we are. Quebec endorses a party that will promote their interests, the Maritimes will not forgive Harper’s treatment of their region, nor will the prairies forgive the Trudeaus’ (both of them) treatment of their region.
Our election (like the 2016 U.S. vote) was won by the party that came second in popular vote. Two-thirds of the country voted in favour of parties pushing a more extreme environmental agenda, but two-thirds also voted for parties supporting the pipeline expansion.
Now we have a growing Wexit movement. We’re back to the regionalization of the early 90s.
(Analyzing deeper, I found that only Manitoba, New Brunswick, and BC’s election results came close to reflecting the will of the people in those provinces.)
Our political polarization is not unique; it mirrors what’s happening worldwide. Our polarization may not yet be as sharp as that of the U.S., but it is not far behind.
The primary culprit, it seems to me, is the internet, particularly, the way we use it.
The worldwide web has done us a world of good, facilitating the posting and distribution of ideas, forums and dialogue. It provides access to far more information than before and allows us to dig deeper into our personal interests. And that has enriched us immensely.
But its blessing is also its curse: the glut of information means we are more selective of what we read, and for the most part, people tend to read those things that reinforce their views and biases. Few of us take a more disciplined, thoughtful approach, deliberately exploring a broad range of ideas. The result is that, increasingly, we find comfort and affirmation in ever narrowing individual solitudes.
This does not make us better people. It leads to narrow-mindedness, ignorance, intolerance, and sometimes bigotry!
And that’s not confined to politics. Fringe communities within our societies are flourishing and, in many cases becoming more radicalized as the spiral of bias reinforcement builds. And so we end up with extreme behaviours, such as a crazed member of the (so-called) “InCel community” mowing down innocent people on the streets of Toronto (to identify but one example).
The antidotes are several, it seems to me:
- Traditional media. We need traditional print and broadcast media to survive the digital trend, and for people to continue to read/watch/listen to them. They may not be entirely free from bias, either, but (for their own survival, if not other reasons) the public vetting of their content forces them to maintain some measure of balance, or at least diversity. Hard copy print media, especially, forces us to be exposed to a broader range of ideas, and exposure tends to broaden, not narrow, our individual perspectives.
- Travel. In his book Ten Years a Nomad (which I’ve just finished reading, and highly recommend), Matthew Kepnes argues strongly for the value of travel in exposing us to the variety of cultures around the world, and to the acceptance of people, lifestyles, and perspectives other than our own. From personal experience, though much more limited than Kepnes’, I would strongly agree.
We don’t need to embark on worldwide or extended “nomadic” travel lifestyle (but, “tourism” to all-inclusive resorts, where we are catered to by our own Western standards, does not count!) Exposing ourselves to other parts of this great country will help to mitigate our own regionalizations. It is shocking to me, how many people I encounter in the Lower Mainland/Fraser Valley, who have never been beyond the Rocky Mountains! This is tragic!
- Historic reflection. Remembrance Day reminded us how we all benefited from our involvement in a war a continent away. Old Canadians, new Canadians and, in fact, the whole world, is better off because our soldiers fought for our freedoms. No one is favoured because of their sacrifice; we are all in a better place than we might otherwise be because of them.
Such days and moments (even if only a minute of reflection) help us appreciate the larger context of world history. They remind us of how small our individual perspectives are within the global context, and that surely should humble us.
And that is a first step toward broader acceptance and understanding—and a better world.
At least that’s how I see it . . .