We can’t figure out how to define our disagreements
I spend a lot of time thinking about community in the context of how Hidelight and AR might help bring us together. While thinking on the topic a convoy of truckers rolled into town, and for the last two weeks, I’ve been distracted. So I wrote about why I think the two sides are so far apart on this issue.
If you’re like me you really hate what you’ve been seeing in the news over the last two weeks. It may be because you support one side, and you think the other ignorant in the extreme. That is not what I despise about the narrative that I’m seeing played out. I see divisive politics playing an ever-greater role in the Canadian discussion. We got here because we couldn’t figure out how to define our disagreements. Of course, it’s always been this way, but it’s getting worse.
I’ve noticed in social media and comment sections on news sites each side acts at keeping an open mind. I’ve seen a few instances where commentators agree to disagree, but mostly I see one group repeatedly using the same bunch of arguments against the others’ equally unchanging talking points. The outcome is disagreement and belittling the other’s beliefs. I have yet to see any evidence of one side convincing the other. This isn’t a generalization; I’ve spent the last two weeks doom-scrolling and not once have I seen anyone persuaded by a rival assertion. As someone who has often allowed myself to be swayed by a good argument, I am shocked at how far apart we are on the topic of the convoy occupying Ottawa.
Before I go further I must confess I’m extremely biased. I have a dog in this race and I’m angry as hell at the other side. I’ve seen a lot of bad behaviour over the past two weeks, not second-hand stuff, I’ve gone deep into the other side’s space and I’ve personally experienced some repulsive situations. People I know and trust have reported similar first-hand events. It’s probably obvious which side I support, but that’s not the issue I’m writing about here. I’m going to do my best to set my opinions aside and address something else I’ve found glaringly obvious.
The dilemma is that everything happening is being distilled down to two camps and each one is having a different discussion. It’s less that we have two opposing sides, instead, there are two different games being played and each side is playing a different sport. Both sides are lacking an opponent, meaning each is arguing unrelated topics. We’ve all seen this played out in political debates where candidates take turns answering the moderator’s questions. The speaker doesn’t even bother replying to what they’re asked, they respond with their talking points. The moderator might ask them how they plan on tackling the national debt, or what are the Colonel’s 11 secret herbs and spices, and their responses would be the same.
A simplified distillation of the debate happening right now is that we all want to be rid of the pandemic. The people against the convoy mostly trust science. They want to let public health professionals, scientists and politicians create a strategy that guides us as a group. Folks supporting the Convoy think they should be allowed to decide what goes into their body. They want to exercise the freedoms they’re used to without government intervention and determine for themselves what is safe.
While my synopsis above may be the root of our differences, this is not where we currently find ourselves opposed. We’re not arguing the pros or cons of the above statements, we aren’t arguing the same points; like the social media confrontations, we’ll never be able to agree.
One side of the argument we’re having is that people in Ottawa are angry about being occupied and sick of the noise. People across the country that have an opinion and are on team Ottawa think the convoy consists of a bunch of fanatics that should leave or be forced out. We’re angry about finding our neighbourhoods overrun, our lives violently interrupted and the possibility that in the future any group with a gripe will decide to occupy our city.
Meanwhile, team convoy is angry about vaccine mandates. At least that is where their arguments started. While their message has shifted (many times) they continue to focus on political and public health demands. They want their lives to return to the way they remember them before anyone heard of COVID-19.
Some of our anger comes from a similar place. In Ottawa, we’re angry at our municipal leadership. We can’t understand how they let this occupation happen. Theories are being conceivable floated that those in power not only bungled this event but tacitly approved of it and possibly helped with logistics. We’ve long experienced a lack of direction from our municipal politicians. After many local instances where we’ve laughed, banged our heads or rolled our eyes at the ineptitude of those in charge, we’re finally seeing the serious repercussions of having people without vision running our city.
Many of the same statements are being made by the convoy about our federal leaders. They think the people at the top have treated them, and our country, in much the same way that locals feel let down by leadership in Ottawa. They think that ineptitude and possibly even criminal negligence have brought us to the point where we have been unable to live our lives. They don’t believe in the science the federal government is using as their North Star, instead, they feel that they should be able to choose what’s right for their family. They are angry at our federal leaders and have created theories to help explain the negligence they see.
If we are arguing these points we might be able to get somewhere with this stand-off. Most people in Ottawa would accept a convoy of people arriving on foot, hiking to the Hill and maybe even camping there. They have every right to voice their displeasure with the government. In Ottawa, we host protesting citizens regularly. Unfortunately, we’re not debating this issue.
When I visited the convoy’s occupation lines I could understand how they think their movement is full of peace and love. Everybody in the Convoy is having fun, it’s like the festivals we remember from before the pandemic, where people got together, smiled and said hello. They’re singing and dancing in the streets. Hundreds are arriving downtown to visit the convoy, and they have nothing but wonderful things to report; many come back more than once. Those convoy tourists are angry about being called racists and perpetrators of violence. Most haven’t looked into the leadership behind the event or pulled a mask off of anyone’s face. They want to be free to make personal choices. When they leave the party they can’t sympathize with the people of Ottawa who don’t have a quiet place to retreat and they don’t realize what it must be like to have their neighbourhood appropriated.
Meanwhile, people in the city are being held hostage by fellow citizens seeking freedom. The irony is heaviest here. Still, this is the place where we are closest to the spirit of debate, where each party has an opposing view. The people of Ottawa want peace, and many visiting the convoy want a ruckus party. If we had this as a point of discussion, we would be able to come up with a compromise. I can imagine a big outdoor maskless festival full of peace and love, and even honking horns held somewhere far from Ottawa.
Unfortunately, we all know these aren’t the points at the root of this standoff. Our problems, once again, boil down to the opposing sides having different discussions. The convoy supporters think everyone should be on their side because they’re fighting for everyone’s freedom. People aligned with the convoy don’t understand the immense privilege they’ve enjoyed compared to other people who’ve come peacefully with their messages of opposition to Ottawa. They think they’ve taken over the city by themselves instead of through the ineptitude, and possible collusion, of the municipal powers. They feel they should have an equally unobstructed path made for them to speak with/depose our PM. They don’t understand that protesters bring their messages by foot, while people driving giant unstoppable vehicles and blocking roads are called something else.
Meanwhile, the citizens of Ottawa want the horns to stop, the diesel to disappear and the convoy gone.
By allowing these separate arguments to become a dichotomy we have fallen into another us vs them. We see this happening often lately. The people that want the convoy gone are finding themselves described as Trudeau supporting sheep, scared into forever needing masks, letting the government run our lives while supporting multinational tech, traditional media and big pharma. Meanwhile, the convoy folks are being pegged as racist, alt-right, un-educated terrorists. I don’t see myself in any of those descriptions. My opinions, like everyone else’s, are more nuanced. The problem with pegging someone down like this, especially when we’re not debating about the same things, is that once labelled we might eventually come to identify with a tag that would normally be foreign to us. If someone from the convoy side is repeatedly called alt-right then they may start to accept that classification and even come to embrace it. We are leaving less room in the middle when we start to see everyone that disagrees with us as part of a fringe.
We have reached a place where we can never resolve our differences because we can’t even agree on where we disagree. Most of the country feels disgusted by what the convoys have done to our cities, especially the capital. Now our disagreements have become a dichotomy like we’re used to. Even though we can’t agree on where we disagree it has become an us versus them situation.
Most of us don’t believe that our leadership should give in to any demands of the convoy because they are holding the city hostage and their demands don’t make sense. While the convoy won’t leave until they are granted concessions. We got here because we couldn’t figure out how to define our disagreements and talk about them. We are all playing different games so that nobody can win or even declare a draw. And if we don’t figure out how to talk about the same things soon, I don’t see how will ever be able to play together again.
We find ourselves being hoisted into opposition to people instead of talking about our differences because it’s impossible to discuss anything when we can’t define where we disagree. I don’t know if we’re picking sides because that is something our species does or if contemporary issues are becoming so complex that we can’t come together to agree on the rules for debate any longer. Or maybe it’s democracy’s fateful outcome, just like disagreements brought down the originators of the democratic ideal more than 2000 years ago. If we don’t find a way to define our disagreements I worry not only that we won’t be able to solve this problem in the capital but that greater chasms will separate the sides until each team turns on the other we burn down the arena.