ASC Stories: Sticking Together Means Disagreeing
I had a roommate in my undergrad, a friend of mine from our days in residence. He was from a wealthy, conservative family, and accordingly approached issues from a very conservative perspective and without the nuance he would later attain when he was older. I am a (self-described) moderate liberal, albeit one who leans reasonably left on economics. As you would expect from two overachieving Political Science majors, we frequently disagreed on politics. However, we still frequently engaged in political matters.
We watched much of the 2012 election cycle together- I still have never met anybody who was such a passionate Mitt Romney supporter. Like most liberally-minded Canadians, I heavily preferred Barack Obama but when we watched the debates together, we had healthy discussions, and attempted fair analysis of their arguments and performance. After Obama’s lacklustre performance in the first debate, I remember ruefully conceding that Romney undoubtedly won the night. My roommate did the same when Obama came storming back in a fiery town hall debate later that month. We fundamentally disagreed on so many aspects of politics, but we were watching the same debate, approaching arguments with a similar set of facts, and were able to see points on the other side.
“We fundamentally disagreed on so many aspects of politics, but we were watching the same debate, approaching arguments with a similar set of facts, and were able to see points on the other side.”
There was also a very close childhood friend who I often disagreed with around this same time period- again, two naïve undergrad students thinking they had the solutions to all that ails the body politic. Ours was more of a directly confrontational political disagreement- we most frequently discussed politics over beers, in elevated tones and with a reasonable sprinkling of ad hominem insults befitting of two well-lubricated 19-year-olds.
Despite the admitted sloppiness of both our arguments and our manner of approaching these arguments, we learned a great deal from one another. Because of him, I bought a Milton Friedman book, in order to better understand his arguments, because of me, he read Joseph Stiglitz. Skip a few years, and we’ve become far more aligned on the political spectrum than we were in the past. We learned to approach arguments with greater nuance, and from a place of understanding the positions of others rather than merely having contempt for them.
This example is not to advocate for the uniformity of political ideas, or the welding of ideologies into the mushy middle. While compromise and agreement is ideal where possible, it is more realistic, and less egoistic, for us to accept that not everyone will agree with our ideas. People will always disagree – this same friend and I had a significant political disagreement mere weeks ago. It is the manner in which we disagree that is critical to growth, learning, and stemming the tide of toxicity that has risen around the world.
It is the manner in which we disagree that is critical to growth, learning, and stemming the tide of toxicity that has risen around the world.
These political disagreements that I’ve had with my roommate and my friend now seem quaint compared to the poisonous rhetoric being exchanged by strangers on the dark, depressing corners of the internet. In my case, these political disagreements had positive outcomes- my roommate has since moderated many of his blindest conservative impulses, and has supported candidates ranging from Jeb Bush to Emmanuel Macron. My close friend and I have come to an understanding on many of the issues we used to vociferously disagree over. But these anecdotal tales are statistical anomalies against the prevailing tide of echo-chambery, ideological isolation, and retreat into the political fringes that has occurred in recent years.
But these anecdotal tales are statistical anomalies against the prevailing tide of echo-chambery, ideological isolation, and retreat into the political fringes that has occurred in recent years.
I had often wondered what can be done here in Canada to stop such ‘fringing’ of our national politics, and was thrilled to find that A Strong Canada had an answer. Through bringing back dialogue, seeking out facts, and most importantly of all, understanding the positions of others by engaging with them. Myself and others in A Strong Canada are joining our local Electoral District Associations (EDAs) of federal political parties that we do not tend to align with personally, in order to provide a moderating voice on radical behaviour in the party grassroots.
This strategy, coined as ‘cross-partisan activism’, is beneficial not only to help shape the local dialogue of our politics and steer policy in a more moderated direction- it also forces us to engage with people who we typically disagree with as though they were that university roommate, that colleague, or that close friend.
If we are to ensure that Canada is spared the brunt of the toxic rhetoric that has debased the politics of other countries, the first essential step is to bring back real dialogue and engagement. With a mind to my positive experiences from political disagreement in the past, I look forward to beginning that process all over again, and carrying out my small part in keeping Canadian politics diverse, veracious, and respectful.