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Russell Wangersky: Dangerous dogmatists

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This will come as no surprise to reasonable people.

We’ve doubled down on dogmatism.

We’ve built a wall, and neither side — once you get out to the extremes — has the high ground any more.

Anyone who reads my column probably can guess where I stand on most issues — to the left of centre, for sure. That’s meant I’ve been uncomfortable with the rabid side of right-wing politics for years. I don’t think everyone should be armed, or that everyone who commits a crime should be locked up indefinitely. I think immigration is necessary in an aging nation with a slowing birth rate. I think people deserve access to food and housing.

But I’ve begun to become just as uncomfortable with the far left — because, like most people, I think that you can’t decide to punish someone until there’s evidence enough that crime’s actually been committed. I can’t agree that it’s wrong to take someone’s vote away because the current government can fine-tune election rules, but it’s somehow fine, because you are in the currently popular group, to tell anyone what they are and aren’t allowed to write.

Look, if I write an offensive opinion, you have a lot of choices. You can write to my boss to argue I shouldn’t be published any more: you can stage a boycott of my columns and books if you like. But you can’t simply issue a diktat saying what writers like me are and aren’t allowed to write about. That’s just a slippery slope to censorship.

Hear me clearly on this, though: I’m not saying I should be absolved from the consequences of what I’ve decided to write, just that no one should get to decide what I should be allowed to write. (I’m not talking here about a blanket provision to break hate laws or laws against child porn — there are laws, after all, to deal with those issues)

But dogma is simply an order to march to the beat of particular drummer, and it doesn’t matter if that drummer is a hidebound conservative or a strident left-winger.

How do you know if you’re dogmatic? Well, there’s a simple test.

If you jump like a fish at a fly when something comes up that denigrates the other side, and you can’t move fast enough to retweet it or post it on your Facebook site — and when it’s later proven false, you say and do absolutely nothing at all, well, you’re dogmatic.

The internet has certainly made things worse. The need for speed in the media has meant that things get posted before all the needed work is done on a story.

But I also blame some of the problem on metrics: the media has never had better numbers for what people are looking at, and how far through it they are reading. I can tell you that far fewer people read through a story taking a measured look at the financial impacts of long-term government debt than read through a story about a cat rescuing five kittens from a fire. Yet the debt story could forewarn what could happen to a place for generations.

So the media, now with the best metrics ever, has been reactive.

Like I said, if you think what I’m saying is wrong, complain. But don’t claim to tell me what I am not allowed to say.

I am sure — I actually count on the fact — that there is a great majority out there who are actually reasonable, rational people, and that they are sitting on their hands during this dreck-storm and just shaking their heads. I’m also afraid that the great and silent majority may be fed up, backing away from it all.

Meanwhile, the circus, both left and right, works itself into a righteous froth. A plague on both their houses.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.

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