Dangerous thoughts

We seemed to have reached a critical juncture in this country.  No this is not a reference to the pandemic, nor the staggering debt that is being incurred as a result of the favoured government approach to the virus, nor the damage done, to those in the low income groups in terms of future employment. 

This is not about the fact that the two most powerful political leaders in this country Mr. Morneau and Mr. Trudeau are ethically bereft; unable to understand life outside the gilded cages they inherited. Even though it is getting a little compelling that this is their second trip across that ethical and moral divide. 

 This is a reference to something more opaque and potentially more lethal to this country.  

This is a reference to the fact that we have become a nation of people where freedom of thought is now being challenged, tossed to the side, squandered away in the interest of correctness, in the interest of a far left liberal agenda.

We have become a country whose influencers are trumpeting a cause in which they clearly believe; but to be sustained they believe that there is no room for dissent or discussion. Follow and agree, or be expunged. Any contrarian voice will be drowned out by their myopic shouts— emphatic in their belief that they and only they, have seen the light. Only they can understand right from wrong. Only they possess the right to determine what and who goes forward. 

This is not a conspiratorial theory.  Valid conspiracies require orchestrated goals and some form of structure.  Rather, what we are allowed to hear or read is being controlled through some twisted form of protest osmosis, driven by a manic adherence to correctness, and a hysterical group of government leaders playing to an audience of progressives. And, it is being done with a level of arrogance not often seen in this country. 

The frenetic dialogue demanding acceptance of the progressive theories is often bizarre and unhinged from a factual foundation. The riots, the violence and the destruction which flows behind the placards is accompanied by an underlying discourse which in itself is intolerant of alternate views. 

We have developed a bad habit in this country of wanting to mimic the United States. True to form this call to action and form of censorship has been seeded and watered in the U.S. The issues of the United States are being portrayed as one and the same in Canada.  The history of racism, slavery and segregation to the south of us, is according to the fanatical few in this country, is one and the same as the plight of blacks or the indigenous in this country. This is patently untrue, but if repeated incessantly then it must be legitimate.  

There is a long list of censorship stories being told in the United States and in Canada. 

In the U.S. Steven Pinker, a best-selling author and Harvard professor who has often appeared on PBS and Joe Rogan where he deals with what one would call the more “difficult” subjects has been one of the recent victims.  His last book is entitled “Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress”. Bill Gates has called it his favourite book of all time. If Mr. Pinker has a theme to his writings, it is one of reason and science. 

This same Mr. Pinker has now been accused of racial insensitivity. In fact five hundred and fifty academics signed a letter seeking to remove him from the list of “distinguished fellows” of the Linguistic Society of America. Their charge is that Professor Pinker “minimizes racial injustices and drowns out the voices of those who suffer sexist and racist indignities.“ 

Professor Pinker’s real offence may be the fact that he has denounced what he sees as the close mindedness of the heavily liberal American universities and he has written about innate differences between the sexes and the different ethnic and racial groups. He is not playing along to their truth, therefore, he is now a high level target for those demanding his censorship. 

In contrast, in Canada, one of the “go to” experts on the CBC for Indigenous issues is Ryerson University Chair in Indigenous Governance Pamela Palmater. A person farther from Mr. Pinker in demeanour and speech could not be found. She, has seemingly unrestricted ability to spout her theories of colonialism, or to accuse police of “murder” in any cases involving the Indigenous. She took the occasion of Canada’s 150th birthday to describe it as a “celebration of indigenous genocide”.   

Ms Palmater, a lawyer, we need to remember is also a professor.  Yet, she is allowed to foist her beliefs and innuendo without regard to any objectivity and is never forced to point to the evidence. She is a fermenter of radicalism disguised as an academic. Apparently being indigenous allows her the freedom to launch disdain and invective on the police or others who may or may not agree with her concepts.

There are too many examples of this blinkered political narrative to list here, however this drive to censoring by the progressives is not going totally without notice. 

This month, 153 intellectuals and writers, signed a letter to Harper’s magazine on July 7, 2020 that criticized the current intellectual climate as “constricted” and “intolerant”. The signatories included Mr. Pinker, but also people such as J.K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood and Noam Chomsky. It criticized the present state of “illiberalism”. 

They called Trump “a real threat to democracy”, which no one should debate, but also hinted that the “cancel culture” on the left was as much as a threat.  The signatories included academics from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia University.  

Michael Ignatieff was also a signatory, the former head of the Liberal Party of Canada. It is hard not to notice this paradox. 

Of course there was pushback to this letter too, and reflexively the left accused the signatories of representing “large platforms” at the expense of “marginalized groups”.  They said these writers who penned the letters were elitist and hypocritical. The “letter” has now become a rallying point for the left and they are now openly targeting those that dared signed. 

Michelle Goldberg an opinion columnist for the NY Times describes the climate of the newspaper as being “punitive heretic-hunting”. She describes illiberalism having set in, and now being enforced, in some cases, through workplace discipline, “including firings”. She believes that the “involvement of human resources departments in compelling adherence with rapidly changing new norms of speech and debate” is “frightening.” 

At this same newspaper, an Op-Ed piece was penned by right wing Senator Tom Cotton calling for a military response to civic unrest in American cities during the protests. It was an opinion, voiced in the opinion column.

This prompted more than a 1000 staff members of the NY Times to sign a petition demanding that the editorial page editor resign for allowing this opinion. He was forced to quit a few days later. The power brokers at NY Times, the paper that advertises itself as printing all the news that is fit to print, said that the opinion piece should not have been allowed as it “fell short of our standards”. Apparently free speech is not one of the “standards” of the newspaper. 

In a similar but lesser vein a B.C. RCMP officer , Dustin Dahlman was “suspended” and then resigned following a single person’s complaint that alleged that he re-posted “racially insensitive, rage-fuelled and anti-government” material on Facebook. 

He had posted about “too soft” police responses but the big offence was a re-posting a video where a man says: “If Black Lives mattered so much to you Blacks, then you wouldn’t be burning down our country like a bunch of offing heathens”. 

Let’s be clear that Dahlman didn’t say it, he re-posted it, thus implying being in agreement.  

My guess there is many in this country and especially in the United States who are not happy with the burning and looting which has followed many of the protests. Is  Mr. Dahlman’s comment  an inappropriate comment from a police officer? Yes. Should someone be fired for saying what hundreds of thousands of others are saying?  Admittedly, it is hard to defend in this case what seems illogical or even stupid, but if you believe in free speech then defend it you must.

There was a recent ridiculous story which came out of the San Francisco Police Department last week where the Chief has decided to not issue “mug shots” because according to the black Chief of Police William Scott, “This policy emerges from compelling research suggesting that he widespread publication of police booking photos in the news and on social media creates an illusory correlation for viewers that fosters racial bias and vastly overstates the propensity of Black and brown men engage in criminal behaviour”.

There is no mention where the “compelling research “ can be found, nor does he explain how it “overstates” the involvement in crime behaviour. 

In Vancouver the current City counsel has proposed that the Vancouver City Police eliminate street checks. The underlying fact that has stimulated this move is the apparent statement and belief of the progressives that there is racial targeting in these “street checks”. Again, they offer the total number of checks and the theory of “over representation”, but nothing further is explored in terms of a possible explanation.  It is a ridiculous policy based on specious research.

The CBC always ready to jump with both feet in the progressive cause, recently unveiled an in-house “investigation” that said that police shootings are up and that indigenous and persons of colour are disproportionately targeted. It is being broadcast as fact, irrefutable. A mild mention is given to the vast majority of the “over represented” victims having underlying mental health issues and substance abuse problems, but no mention of geographic locations or the high-crime areas in which they occur. 

In their story they make a great deal of the fact that in Winnipeg that Indigenous people represent 2/3rds of the victims but only 10% of the population. There is no mention that the most serious violent gang groups in Winnipeg are the Indigenous gangs.  

 Of the 461 police fatal encounters they “investigated” in the years 2000-2017 (which amounts to an an average of 27 a year across the Nation), only 18 resulted in charges against the police; nudge nudge wink wink . Despite the innuendo and heavy hanging “facts” hey do not present any evidence of a cover up. 

Some may suggest that this is just part of the intellectual pendulum in this country?  Maybe. But history suggest that it could go on for decades. 

There were times when the right tried to harness the ideas of the left, but one needs to go back to the 1960’s. The Woodstock generation was the harbinger of the exploration of liberal and leftist ideas. The protests against the “man” in those times fomented the seeds for the violence of the Black Panthers; the comedy of Lenny Bruce who went after the institutions like the Catholic Church; and the leftist separatist movement in Quebec which led to the formation of the FLQ in this country. The history tells us that attempts to ban and curtail the thoughts and ideas of the left by the right failed dismally.  

 The grand children of that leftist 1960’s viewpoint have now taken up the “new”cause.  The Panthers have morphed into the radical fringe of Black Lives Matter.  But likely, they will also find that censoring or banning the thoughts of the middle and the right, as part of their agenda, will also end in failure. 

Banning a second viewpoint, ostracizing those that hesitate to join their righteous movement will only serve to fertilize the neo-right. That is a separate and real danger which is now brewing in many parts of Europe and South America.  

It seems that this generation of protest has learned nothing from history and the mistakes of those that try to suffocate reasoned thought.

Instead of tearing down statues— study them, learn  what they represent. Change is possible, but it resonates only when it is founded on reason and respect. 

Photo Courtesy of Chris McBrien via Flickr Commons – Some Rights Reserved http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmcbrien/4188306468

3 thoughts on “Dangerous thoughts

  1. This was an excellent essay. Pinker is Canadian, and he mentioned in his book on the topic of violence the Montreal Police Strike and the resultant rioting and looting. I had no idea that something like that had even happened in Canada before I had read the book.

    I had no idea Pinker was being taken to task by his peers. It’s very odd, he is quite unpolitical, at least in his writing on linguistics.

    I worked with Dustin Dahlman as well. He was always a level headed and common sense kind of guy. A hard worker. Another one off to the Gulag.

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  2. Well written essay, but I need to comment on one part of it. As I’m sure you know well, the media does not report on every part of the story and there are often many other sides to it and bits of information that get left out. In the case of Dahlman, there were actually 3 complaints made to the RCMP (and several others that were considering making complaints and would have at some point in the future). There were around 60 posts that were reported and on further investigation, more that were found to be problematic. There is a lot more than what I’ve added to this story (as you can imagine), but I’ll leave it there. It doesn’t take away from your point, I just feel it needs to be shared.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts and elaboration. There is always more than makes it in to the story for sure, and sometimes as observers we are not always cognizant of that and sometimes the devil is in the details…I think the argument arises over the question as to who gets to decide what is “problematic”. Thanks for reading.

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