The Danger of Partisan Narratives

civil-discourse

Probably one of the hardest things for any writer to do is to admit when they’ve missed the mark. Once a piece has been published and your name is on the by-line, what you have said is already out there and with your name attached to it no less.

In my own case, it must appear rather hypocritical for me to be slamming partisan embellishment of positions one week and then using Vaclav Havel as a model for behaviour when it comes to the war on drugs. Something, it would seem, is not quite right.

Perhaps I should start with a brief- clarification. When discussing the methods of peaceful dissent there are few better role models than Vaclav Havel, and his philosophy is one which I feel sets the benchmark for how to peacefully exist within a system which can be the very definition of absurd.

The problem is a matter of scale. To use Havel as a comparison is to run the risk of inflating and distorting opposition to the war on drugs into something it is not. While figures such as Havel and Dr. Martin Luther King JR. are to be admired and used as role models, I feel that to make too direct a comparison in these cases is to misrepresent one’s position in what is almost an abuse of pathos.

The point is that while figures such as Havel and King are useful examples of the methodology one should employ when exercising their right to peaceful protest, to begin framing one’s own cause in the language of these movements runs the risk of stretching things dangerously out of proportion.

For this reason if my article last week crossed over into “partisan embellishment” I apologize. While I feel strongly about the subject, as a journalist my professionalism is something of value to me, and as such I will not advocate the breaking of any laws or incite others to do so. Instead, I will only say that I am opposed to the war on drugs and will continue voicing my opposition at whatever opportunities I am given.

The reason I’ve chosen to address this again rather than simply move forwards is that I feel the mistake I made is in fact a very prevalent one. There is a tendency among us of a more progressive orientation to frame our positions within a certain narrative; the valiant struggle against oppression, the defense of those who cannot defend themselves, the championing of the voiceless.

In many ways these all find root in truth of some sort.The problem is when we allow ourselves to become so engrossed in the narrative that we begin to embrace our inner Quixote. Through this lens every action of the opposition becomes a flagrant attack on our freedom, the Harper government becomes the great enemy and as each situation develops we find a way to explain why this particular herd of sheep is in fact a great army.

This is not to say that we ought not to be wary of many of the trends we see developing within our government, rather that we should at all times strive to avoid the reactionary and the oversimplified. Speaking strictly for myself, Christopher Hitchens has said that while part of a journalist’s job is being able to approach a complicated position and explain how it is in fact simpler than it appears, there is also the inverse responsibility of explaining how sometimes what appears to be simple is a great deal more complicated than it appears and I believe there is a lot of truth to that.

The problem with becoming so engrossed in a narrative is how eventually it begins to numb one to reality. Take for instance the Tea Party in all of its hateful, virulent reactionary glory. Here we have not one but hundreds of thousands of Don Quixotes, each on their own quest against the destructive threat of “socialism.”

In all aspects of their rhetoric one can see the underpinning narrative, the ugly and often out of place language reeking of something slightly larger than political disagreement. The problem is that within this world, no discourse can exist, at least no thoughtful discourse.So certain of their beliefs, so confined to the narrative are they that any discussion they have can only exist within the confines of the narrative, and as such only serves to deepen the polarization.

The issue is that we as progressives should know better. This is as much a self-rebuke as it is a reflection; however I feel the point still deserves to be made. If we truly believe ourselves to be rational and enlightened and compassionate, then we do ourselves a tremendous disservice whenever we find ourselves so engrossed in our own narrative that we begin to close ourselves to discussion.

If we believe we have that truth, and are confident in that truth then we ought not to fear testing it in a civilized discussion. If we are truly opposed to the pettiness, petulance and childishness exercised by those on the far right, then we owe it to ourselves not to become like them.

When two conflicting narratives clash, there can be no solutions, as for each the matter has already been decided. They are incompatible not only with each other, but with reality and with enough time it becomes impossible to view the world without the distortion inherent in the narrative. It is at this point that we become unable to co-exist with those who live outside of our narrative and all hope of progress from within the system becomes lost.

If we are to be progressive, then it is time we abandoned the story and begin engaging in discussion. The facts aren’t partisan, and they have no narrative to which they are inclined to conform.

I will take responsibility for myself to attempt to remain a voice of reason and sobriety, and to avoid the simplistic, knee-jerk reactionism which stands only in the way of progress. I’m no Vaclav Havel, but I am afforded an opportunity he was not, to express my opinion within the system without fear of reprisal.

As such, I will continue attempting to open doors rather than close them, and allow for the facts, not the narrative, to frame my discussions. I am done speaking the truth, I would much rather let the truth speak for me.

Images: katalusis.blogspot.com, deviantart.com

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