Thursday, September 15, 2016

A conversation about Canadian values, round 2

Mea Culpa.

Commenters Russ Campbell and 'Dollops' call me to task for the following phrase in "A conversation about Canadian values":
"If she’s sincere in not understanding this, and not simply trying to froth up a corrosive populist rage for personal political gain…"
They are, of course, correct. This phrasing falls far short of the standard I do my best to hold myself to in debate. Nobody likes to eat crow, but sometimes it has to be done. The original phrasing, now in strikethrough, links to this post and its apology. It was indulgent to use such language, no matter how troubled I am by the topic.

That needs to be said. But then Dollops continues:
"Discrimination, Ms Bufton, is good; it is how we common folk separate wholesome change from unwanted adventures."
Dollops is correct again - discrimination is important. And discriminating is what I was doing in my post.

The mindset that says only a nebulous, elite group could disagree with your position and the idea that your ideas alone should be institutionalised as soon as that elite group can be overthrown is dangerous to the values that underpin a liberal democratic society like Canada's. Discrimination against unwholesome adventures departing from Canada's foundational values of free inquiry and democratic discussion need to be levelled at populist ideas for this very reason. It is incumbent upon us to take part in it.

Too many conservatives to whom the idea of 'values-screening' is appealing seem ill-prepared for the idea that their values seem as dangerous to a large part - not a small elite - of the Canadian polity when assessed by someone like me as my ideas appear to someone like them.

What would it mean for people like Dollops if every Canadian were to inform themselves, think about it carefully, and turn out to vote, and we found that conservatives who agreed with them were a decided minority, after all? Would they, then, decide to accept the position of the majority as moral and good? No. The ballot box is not the tool we use to determine what's right and what's wrong.

To be in favour of a discussion of Canadian values only if it reaches the conclusion that we've come to is not to be in favour of that discussion. To be unprepared for the idea that 'traditional' Canadian values are not set and long-held, but a snapshot of where we are now in a fluid, democratic process that has the potential to improve them is to be opposed to allowing the conversation to continue. 

The peace that must be struck between wholly incompatible viewpoints is precisely the sort of nuanced thing that the state is ill-equipped to marshal, settle, and institutionalise. It may set out the rules, but we see to the rest. Tearing down the foundations of a building because it doesn't suit the purposes of those who want to stop the process in order to replace it with something intended to be permanent and decided is exactly what those looking to replace a conversation about values with a snapshot of what they are today are looking to do. 

My interlocutors have provided exactly the sort of feedback we should search for: They held me to account for my failings and remind me to do better, and they've helped think more about my position by providing an apt example.

My sincere thanks to you both for the comments.


Russ Campbell said...

Janet, you made me smile when I saw this piece. Good on you! And, yes, I did find your essay thought-provoking. Personally, I don't find the idea of values screening off-putting, but I do believe it's unworkable for all sorts of reasons. For starters, any "barbaric cultural practices" I'm aware of are already against Canadian law, so perhaps we should just stress law enforcement. I also think the media has done this topic to death and we need to move on, even if Ms. Leitch has decided to dig in and double down on this.

Janet Bufton said...

Russ, I think it's good for the soul to admit our mistakes. I'm relieved I met the bar in this one, because I really do think that our inability to talk to one another is a real problem.

I agree with you that there are practical concerns with values screening, even though they're not the ones that trouble me most. I think that any attempt to pursue this policy will have costs without clear benefits. What lost benefits did we see when values screening was eliminated in 2002? It seems like the Leitch campaign has identified this issue as one that allows her to control the narrative, and as long as that's true I don't think we should expect to see it dropped.