Saturday, July 8, 2017

We All Have An 'Opinion'

In a democracy, it is hardly expected that we will all be of one accord on anything. Opinion and debate are the lifeblood of a healthy and free society. The problem arises, of course, when the debate is fueled, not by reason and facts, but by rancour and misinformation. Such perhaps is the price to be paid in the name of egalitarianism.

In her column today, Susan Delacourt discuses the flurry of opinion prompted by the Omar Kadhr settlement.
....the widely different views on Khadr were also an apt illustration of something not so constructive in 21st-century politics: polarization, and the increasing tendency of political partisans to divide the world into black-and-white, good-versus-evil teams.
The more that politics gets polarized, needless to say, the less we talk about finding middle ground or brokerage roles for political parties. We also don’t think much about changing minds or opinions.
This phenomenon of polarization and absolutism has, of course, been aided and abetted by the platform that social media provide for anyone with an opinion. Unfiltered and unrestrained by the conventions that sometimes make for balance in the MSM, one can snort and vent and pontificate on virtually any topic, secure in the knowledge that fellow travellers and purveyors of ignorance are but a mouse click away. Affirmation of even the most diseased views readily abound.
Polarized political people don’t debate to persuade the other side; they argue to prove who’s louder or more right.
Delacourt offers a better way, something well-worth consideration:
I was curious to see this week whether anyone did have a change of mind about Khadr after hearing the news of the potential $10-million payout. It seemed like a good case study for where journalism fits when political issues separate the public into sharply, passionately divided camps.

The good news, at least as I see it for my business, is that some journalism did make a difference this week amid the cacophony of opinion about Khadr.

I asked on my Facebook page whether anyone had changed his or her opinion about the settlement — for or against — because of something they’d read or seen in the media.

I got a lot of response: some of it privately, some of it posted on the Facebook page. Some people wanted to vent outrage; others told me that further information really had made a difference.

Generally, the extra information turned opponents of the Khadr settlement into supporters: maybe grudging supporters, but supporters nonetheless.

Some cited the work that’s been done by the Star’s own Michelle Shephard, author of the book on Khadr, Guantanamo’s Child, and part of the journalistic team behind the documentary of the same name.
The director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Aaron Wudrick, made this telling observation:
Wudrick told me that people’s views seemed to be influenced by which part of the story they were focused on: Khadr’s experience in Afghanistan or his life in prison and the courts afterward.
Delacourt draws a very interesting conclusion from this entire experience:
In all, this small glimpse into a highly polarized debate in Canada this week persuaded me that we political journalists may want to tell more stories about how and when people change their minds. Rather than seeing endless panels on TV, with people expressing their strong opinions on some political development or another, what about having people talking about how their opinions changed?
Yet another example of the vital role conventional media still play in the health of a democracy.


  1. Interesting that the self-styled progressive, WK, castigates those who suspend their critical faculties to chant "Charter rights" and "child soldier." He asks what of the constitutional rights of the US soldier Khadr may or may not have killed if he was the one who threw the grenade that killed the sergeant. This guy never misses an opportunity to prove that his progressive instincts are mere pretension.

    It reminds me of his travelogue on his visit (junket) to Israel. He wrote how, as his aircraft descended for landing, he could discern the lush productive Israeli territory from the barren scrub land of the Palestinians. The stupid bastard had no clue that the Israeli army controls access to water from the Palestinian aquifer and supplies Palestinian water freely to Israeli settlers while denying it to Palestinian farmers whose family have worked their land for centuries.

    1. Seeing what we want to see seems to be an entrenched part of our natures, Mound. True critical thinking requires that we try to surmount the kind of blinkered and absolutist thinking that Mr.K displays. It is never easy, and we often fail, but we must never stop trying.

  2. Delacourt reminds us that good journalists start -- first and foremost -- with a story, Lorne. That's where the facts are to be found. Everything else comes after that.

    1. I wish more people saw the value in good journalism, Owen. When I read stories that reflect the depth of research and analysis put into them, I realize how impoverished we would all be without those who tell our stories.

  3. .. btw .. who is WK .. ?
    I have a vague recollection re the lush view from an aircraft ..
    perhaps that same person needs to fly over the border
    of Dominican Republic & Haiti ..

    But back to The Khadr Affair..
    Few are willing to read or absorb source documents & background.. or context or history for that matter. Afghanistan.. should I rely on my childhood reads of Rudyard Kipling or delve further.. out of curiosity? Do I understand what a 'firefight' entails.. or how Khadr ended up with massive exit wounds on his chest? Do I give a fig for the opinion of Andrew Scheer vs a field commander like Dallaire?

    Owen had a blog entry the other day.. about media.. Michael Harris.. and it had me thinking about how polarizing the story is. Kinsella who's first name starts with W had an astonishing number of comments re how his family is divided

    I began many many years ago, to recognize how irresponsible mainstream media could be.. A key to defeating that, or defending ourselves.. is education and enhancing our ability to READ .. yes, read.. So at home, in school.. wherever.. that is a prime directive. If you cannot read, comprehend or understand facts you are probably prone to accepting non nutritious baloney, fiction, fabrications or complete falsehoods.. This aint science fiction.. dumbing down the population is an age old trick.. stretching back to the initial copy editing of the scripture & bible by monks.. Along came Gutenberg eh !

    1. I always regard the MSM as a starting point, not an end in itself, but an important link in the journey of self-education and critical thinking, Sal. The wealth of alternative but very reputable media with critical analyses and informed, reasoned opinion are there for all who care to look, and therein seems to lie the problem. The antidote to 'bread and circuses' is there, but too few are moved to seek it out.

      Some of my best memories in teaching, and I know I have written about them before, revolve around the language and critical-thinking unit I taught to seniors that began with Orwell's "Politics and the English Language." Even though they weren't used to it, I made my students analyse articles for their misuse of language and their logical fallacies. I don't know if the unit had any long-term benefit in their lives, but I took a great deal of satisfaction engaging in what more conservative folks and neoliberals might have regarded as a subversive act.

    2. Lorne, that sounds like a fascinating course! Might you consider teaching it via email to an aging carpentress?

    3. It would be my pleasure, Karen. Please send me your email address via the blogger contact form, (located in the upper left hand side of this blog) and I will see if I can reconstruct things. Unfortunately, most of my old stuff is on an old defunct computer, so it will take me a bit of time to try to get things together.