Is there room for nuance? (Part one)
I want to thank Margaret Wente (Globe and Mail 11/29/14) for providing me with a handy label for a group of people who have become – largely by virtue of an asserted intellectual/educational/moral-ethical superiority – the self-appointed definers and articulators of who and what society should champion, defend, promote, even believe. They commonly hold that they are beyond meaningful challenge by virtue of their intrinsic righteousness and, in fact, they are seldom challenged because they tend to be on the “politically correct” side of many issues we commonly encounter in the press and other public forums.
This group – Wente calls them “progressives” – have become, in fact, the purveyors of a modern orthodoxy that began to undermine education long ago, that continually stifles meaningful public debate, and that poses a real threat to the long-term well-being of our province and of our country. A startling assertion on my part? Some background is necessary.
I firmly believe that Canada is involved in what is, fundamentally, an ideological struggle. As an idealist myself, the distinction between ideal and ideology is an important one in that it separates me – at least in my mind – very clearly from the idealogue.
The idealist is essentially an optimist, insisting repeatedly that good can be found in the ongoing story of human folly, folly in evidence every day, whether in the newspaper account, in something we might do ourselves, or in any number of things we might encounter in the course of a day. While some friends of mine have described me as a cynic, I have always rejected that characterization claiming, simply, that my idealism is not starry-eyed. I choose to think my idealism acknowledges a hard reality: few things are ever truly simple. A logical consequence of that position is the rejection of extremes, positive or negative. When idealism crosses over to ideology, the opportunity for close-minded extremism is abundant.
The ideologue claims a position on an issue, commonly social/political, that is essentially unassailable, a secular version of fundamentalist religion you might say. In my definition, an example would be the anti-vaccine lobby that Wente references in her article. All scientific understanding notwithstanding, the anti-vaccine ideologue accepts, as a matter of faith, the “belief” that vaccines are inherently bad, that such technological tampering with some vague notion of what is “natural” cannot help but cause harm.
The role such over-simplification plays in our reductionist, 140-character dominated public forum is insidious. The simple assertion becomes the preferred method of public discourse as few have the patience required for the consideration of a long and complex argument.