Daniel Kligerman

Me, on the web

Archive for Politics

Complexity & Disagreement

The divide between right and left has been growing to the point where the extremes of each side are dominating the discourse, and where even the more moderate are losing the ability to engage in dialogue. I’ve been observing the growth of the divide, and the breakdown of exchange of ideas, with an ever-increasing sense of dread. I believe that overcoming this divide to the point where constructive dialogue is once again possible is critical to the very functioning of the world as we know it.

To explore what is really going on, and get beyond the surface-level headlines and sound bites is not simple; it is not by accident that the left and right have been so effective at polarizing their supporters–their messages and emotional draws are powerful. As someone who identifies with the left, I found it difficult to extricate myself from the left’s ideologies sufficiently to understand the entire situation. Listening to more centre or right-wing content initially caused me to feel only frustration and defensiveness. It took many months of persistence, and exposure to a wide variety of views on both the left and right to start to develop a more fulsome understanding of what is actually going on.

The deeper my understanding, the more I realize just how complex this situation is. What is dividing the right from the left involves dozens, if not hundreds of issues, and each of these operate at many different levels. To fully grasp each issue requires a non-trivial understanding of some combination of history, psychology, linguistics, biology, sociology, logic, education, technology, law, and journalism. And yet, the vast majority of the “debate” between right and left occurs in offensive sound bites. The polarity of the overall situation is ironically paralleled by the divide between the depth of dialogue required and what is taking place.

Because of how combative things are between people with different views, negative emotions quickly take over and get in the way of any real progress towards learning the details that would foster real dialogue. In fact, people are not even getting to the point where they understand that the situation is complex or nuanced. Each side is so entrenched, so angry, and so satisfied by the simplicity of their own sound bites that delving into any further depth never occurs to them.

Somehow, we must break that cycle. Ending the increasing divide and polarization cannot occur unless there is true dialogue, and that dialogue cannot happen until people realize there is more to learn about what they believe, what others believe, and what is actually going on here. That realization must not be seen as a sign of weakness in one’s position, but as an opportunity to eventually find some degree of common ground.

Most insidious is that even questioning or exploring deeply entrenched views results in immediate attack, no matter which side you’re on. This is an example of the multiple layers at play: not only do people not realize there is complexity, they are discouraged from this realization and from learning more by the cultures within their own camps.

Given all of this, the most feasible place for people to start is by privately questioning the basis of their own views. Doing so privately avoids any risk of being attacked by your own side, or of showing the other side that there are cracks in your beliefs. I highly encourage you, no matter your affiliation, to take some time to ask yourself some fundamental, tough questions about your beliefs. Not for the sake of disproving what you believe or to move you to another point on the political spectrum, but as a means for you to start to see the complexity of our world, and plant some initial seeds that may eventually grow into the basis for true dialogue.

For example, if you are left-leaning, and you believe that in our society, women are treated unfairly, there are many questions you can ask to delve into this. Not for the sake of disproving that women are treated unfairly, but to deepen your understanding. Pick one way you believe this unfairness manifests, and learn about the history of this treatment. Learn about the biology, the sociology, and the legal aspects at play.

Again, I understand that by even admitting you’re learning about these things, you may be labeled a traitor and called all kinds of names. This is an example of the insidiousness of our current situation. But believing women are treated unfairly and understanding the situation at great depth is a much more powerful position than simply believing it arbitrarily and without question. After all, it is only once you do grasp the details that you can engage with those who disagree with you in true dialogue, rather than the current surface-level debates that quickly devolve into name-calling or worse.

Ultimately, the vast majority of people who hold views in opposition to each other don’t understand the nature of those views to a level of depth that stands up to any rigorous debate. Therefore, before we can have the kind of dialogue that is the first step towards common ground, I challenge all of us to take the time to do some serious learning, informed by unhindered self-questioning.

There is a lot more I have to say on this topic, and I plan to use this space as a means to explore both the nature of the situation, and ideas to help move things in a more positive direction.

Green Party

After spending a couple hours biking through the lovely Toronto nature paths (which are really nice, I think, especially considering they’re right in the middle of a huge city), I felt inspired to check out the Green Party’s web site.

Well, how about that–they have a full-fledged <a href=”http://www.greenparty.ca/platform2004/en/”>platform</a> that includes more than just the einvornment.  Of course it’s all based on being envionrmentally responsible, but nothing wrong with that.

Going to do some more reading, but I think the Greens may end up with my vote.  Their ideas and policies seem to be a lot more straightforward and make much more sense than most of the other parties’ patforms.

Politics

With the Canadian federal election coming up tommorow, I’ve been trying to figure out who to vote for.  This is an excerpt from an email exchange I’ve been having with a friend of mine, who lives in Thunder Bay, who is voting Green:

It’s great to know you’ve been able to get to know your local Green candidate.  I think that’s an advantage of living in a smaller place–with less people,  the candidates have more time for anyone who is interested in talking to them.  Mind you, I’ll bet the Green candidate in my area would do the same; I’ve only  seen one Green lawn sign here, although the rest are a fairly even mix of  Liberal and NDP, with a couple blues.

I definitely support the environmental ideas of the Green party.  Although in saying that I feel more than a little hyporitical, being someone who I’m sure uses at least the average amount of energy (which is a lot).  Always room for improvement, I guess.

I think the thing I find strange about the Green party is that they only seem to have ideas on that one issue–the environment–and nothing else.  Maybe I’m wrong, and their platform is more widely developed; I’ll have to check it out. But for me, I’d like to be able to vote for a party that has ideas on all aspects of what it takes to set policy in the country… although I guess that’s what makes it hard to agree with any of them!

My problem with the Liberals is the same as everyone’s: they’ve spent the past years stealing our money.  While I agree with their stand on a lot of issues, which is usually somewhere in the middle, they’re length of time in power has made them arrogant, which has led to so much waste, as you said.

My problem with the Conservatives is similar to yours: I don’t have any desire to increase military spending, and they do align with the Bush government in some respects.  I don’t think they are quite as evil as that, or as some of the media has made them out to be, and I do agree with some of their other ideas, although I’m not sure to what extent (Does smaller government mean  privitization?  Is privitization always bad?  Will tax cuts stimulate the economy or  result in program cuts?  And so on).

There is one issue I do agree and applaud the Conservaties on, and that is their stand on Israel.  The Librals have consistently failed to support Israel at the United Nations.  It is obviously a long and complex issue, and I believe both  sides have been at fault and both sides deserve better, but no matter which way you look at it suicide bombings that target civilians are acts of terror.  The  Conservatives emphatically support Israel’s right to exist, and to defend that right.

My problem with the NDP is that it’s easy for them to talk big when they know they’ll never form a government.  I don’t know that their ideas are all that realistic.  Sure, I’ll plant a vegetable garden on my roof if it’ll help the greater  good, but for some reason that doesn’t strike me as a vote-clincher.  Also, my local NDP candidate was previously the head of Greenpeace, and had some shady encounters with their union that has made him not so popular.  Otherwise, I probably would have gone with him.

So in the end, maybe Green is the way to go.  At least there is not much in their platform I can really take issue with.

I think my other problem is that I’m not sure where I stand on a lot of main election ideas.  Without really spending a lot of time and effort uncovering the complexities of each issue, I have trouble taking one side over the other.  Who has the time?  It already takes a serious commitment to understand the differences between the parties at a high level, let alone trying to become an expert on each topic.

Mike Harris

My flight back to Toronto was delayed two hours because the Calgary airport had had a power outage the night before I left.  I spent the time in the Air Canada lounge, which includes a full office environment where you can work at a desk, get on-line, and make phone calls.

While I was brewing an especially good cup of coffee in the very fancy coffee maker, I turned to see Mike Harris, the former Premier of Ontario, waiting for me to finish so he could brew his own cup of java.  Later, Mr. Harris was sitting in a room next to where I was working, talking on his cell phone about dinner plans.

It was an odd experience to see a “famous” person (by Canadian standards) in an ordinary scenario, such as being delayed in an airport and waiting to make a cup of coffee.  Not sure why.

My flight was not delayed any further, so Mike and I parted ways, and I am now back in Toronto enjoying an abnormally spring-like weekend for the elongated end of February.

Municipal Election

Yesterday was the Toronto municipal election.  Our voting location happened to be Frankland Community School, which is where we take Cookie (the dog) for a walk most evenings.  So while Cookie played with her friends (Oscar, Rudy, Leo, Rosie, and Lizzie), off we went to stand in the unusually long lineup of people waiting to vote.

The voting system was computerized: my voting card was fed into a machine that then reported whether or not it was able to understand your markings.  Because of this, they were able to tally the votes within a few minutes of the polls closing.  Too bad government can’t be that efficient the rest of the time.

One of our dog-owner friends is friends with one of the people running for school trustee in our district.  Before we went into the school to vote, he came to the park and it was nice to chat with him.  He was buzzed and a little stressed, but handling it well, despite the resulting chain-smoking.  Unfortunately, he didn’t win, which was dissappointing to us in a much more significant way since we had met him and come to know him.

Anyhow, the end result of the mayoral race is that David Miller is our new Mayor.  I think he’ll do a good job, and it’s certainly a relief to have Mel out of there.

The Final Countdown

As another weekend comes to a close and another work-week begins, our wedding is less than three weeks away.  It’s hard to believe it’s so soon; it seems like we were just commenting how it was only a year away, then six months away, then one month, and now only weeks!

Almost everything has been done, but there are still some minor things to do.  Merita needs to buy some outfits for the Saturday dinner her family is having, and we need to work on speeches, seating plans, and details like that.

Definitely looking forward to it; it’s going to be a blast.

In other news, today is the Toronto municipal election.  Yay, we’re finally getting rid of dumb Mel Lastman.  It’ll be nice to have a mayor who doesn’t embarrass the city every time he opens his mouth.  Not sure who I’m going to vote for yet, but definitely Miller or Tory, who are neck and neck for the lead according to the latest polls.

Hockey Parents

Last week, the Canadian Hockey Association (CHA) launched a public service campaign designed to educate the public about obnoxiously overenthusiastic hockey parents, entitled “Relax, it’s just a game”. The gist of it goes like this: Some kids have parents who come to their hockey games only to scream and swear at them, at the referees, and at the coaches. Apparently the motivation behind this behaviour is the parent’s deep-down belief that their kid is surely to be the next Great One, if only the proper dosage of motivation is supplied.

Don Cherry, on Coach’s Corner last Saturday night, claimed that this campaign is merely the CHA’s way of justifying its existence, and that hockey parents are “the best people in the world”. As Grapes sees it, there are a few “kooks” who exhibit the behaviour the CHA warns against, but to imply that hockey parents in general behave this way is just plain wrong.

The resulting debate has consumed an astounding amount of time on the airwaves and space in the newspapers of the country.

Meanwhile, in Nigeria, hundreds died and a thousand were injured due to riots spurred as a result of issues surrounding the “Miss World” contest, originally scheduled to be held there. In one incident, an independent newspapaer’s offices were burned to the ground because of a controversial opinion they printed regarding the contest.

How’s that for overenthusiasm?

There are two lessons I think we should take from this: First, we should consider ourselves fortunate that in our country, a “serious” issue is distasteful and counter-productive hockey parents, and that we are able to debate the issue in a mature and non-violent way. Second, perhaps we should keep in mind that because of our good fortune, we could dedicate a little more of our time, thought, and energy to do what we can to improve matters in parts of the world where “Relax, it’s just a game” doesn’t fly.

At War

On a dark and gloomy Friday afternoon, mother nature seems to be in tune with the atmosphere of the times.

It feels like war.

Last week, terrorists hijacked four aircrafts and crashed two of them into the World Trade Centre, one into the Pentagon, and the fourth, thankfully, into a corn field. Last night, the president of the United States, to the repeated standing  ovations of the congress, declared war on terrorists, and promised not to rest until that war was won.

People of my generation have not experienced a time of war first-hand. Regardless of the fact that the current situation  differs in many respects from conflicts that took place in the past, the effect on people seems to be the same.  People are anxious, apprehensive, and even terrified about the immediate and long-term future.

It has been many years since the world has had to live through the uncertainty that results from a time of conflict.  Let’s hope the storm clears soon.