“Governments, NGOs, and rent-seeking interests often originate and perpetuate issue polarization based solely on political expediency and are adept at stifling debate and fomenting division. Acceptance of contrary opinions is greeted with enthusiasm akin to how the 5th-century Romans must have welcomed the invading Barbarian horde.”
Reasonableness. It’s imbued in our lexicon as the word for which we reach when the need arises to make an appeal for fairness, moderation, tolerance, caution, or logically deduce what outcome is or was most likely: ‘Let’s be reasonable here’. ‘I’m trying to appeal to your sense of reason’. ‘Do we believe that is the most reasonable course of action?’
As a concept, it underpins our modern society. The Age of Reason precipitated this inclusion of intellectualism into our societal fabric where rapid progress in science and philosophy permeated our views, challenging old constructs to improve the human condition. Western judicial systems are based on the premise of ‘reasonable doubt’ – facts in any given case are assessed on logic to determine the likelihood of a defendants actions; one can’t simply assert guilt for it to be so.
If one assesses the current political climate within Western society through the ‘lens’ of reason primacy, it’s not a bridge too far to argue we have a diminishing connection to it as a core tenet.
We are, instead, plagued by narratives meant to divide us into camps of constrained thought where objectivity is discouraged, and fanatical adherence rewarded. An omnipresent game of societal ‘Plinko’ ensures any given economic, social, or environmental issue ricochets off the ‘pegs’ of political dogma to fall neatly into the respective silo where each side then condescends to the other and hyperbole, alarmism, and vitriol serve as the tools to shame and churn up animosity thereby repelling any hope for compromise.
Nature abhors a vacuum as people do an index finger pointed in their face.
We seem to have settled comfortably into a reality where debate is no longer viewed as the civilized mechanism through which bad ideas are countered with better ideas, but the reality is, of course, that there are few self-evident truths, and our civilization has not ebbed forward by entrenching in a position and then enveloping it in an opaque cloak to prevent the light of reason from entering.
Governments, NGOs, and rent-seeking interests often originate and perpetuate issue polarization based solely on political expediency and are adept at stifling debate and fomenting division. Acceptance of contrary opinions is greeted with enthusiasm akin to how the 5th-century Romans must have welcomed the invading Barbarian horde.
Moving away from generalities, one could choose any contemporary issue to validate whether its discussion passes a “reason” litmus test, as it were; however, few substantiate the rigid boundaries of polarization more than climate change.
Few, regardless of political affiliation, socioeconomic status, or otherwise, are opposed to protecting the environment, taking practical measures to reduce pollution and reducing negative impacts, and pursuing the most efficient, sustainable energies—old, new, or transformed.
Personally, I’m a huge advocate of “greener” technologies so long as they are economic and market friendly. Consumers matter. Taxpayers matter. The freedom to choose matters. And properly defining “green” (there are tradeoffs) must be done with care.
Vandalizing works of art or gluing oneself to a busy highway doesn’t change that fact – it’s a hollow spectacle that drives resentment. The prevailing climate-change agenda seems low on pragmatism, places the sole burden for emission reductions on an individual level, and refuses to acknowledge the limited means of a large portion of the population. Preferring instead to use doomsday clichés to stifle dissent, and, most troubling of all, pursue repressive, untenable policies that have at best dubious benefits.
In my native Canada, the Liberal Party and the triumvirate of Trudeau, Freeland, and Guilbeault display a particular exuberance for weaponizing issue polarization. Whether it be veteran affairs, the pandemic, small business owners, or climate change, it is difficult to recall a federal government so dedicated to sowing division and etching deep lines of partisanship between Canadians. They exhibit an almost ritualistic narcissism defending their crowning achievement, the Carbon Tax, and treat opposition to its efficacy as malignant, unintelligent treachery while demonstrating hypocrisy in practice.
The fundamental complexity of a carbon tax and how it is theoretically beneficial is not well understood by most, yet it is doled out to the masses as if it were self-evident. Explanations I’ve seen draw mental comparisons to John Nash scribbling on a chalkboard in “A Beautiful Mind”, but it is, at its core, a consumption tax with a game of three-card monte at the end.
Efficacy aside, during a time of immense inflationary pressures and evaporating affordability where a large majority of Canadians need to choose between paying rent or buying food, the Trudeau Government decided it prudent to proceed with planned Carbon Tax hikes; increases that the government acknowledges will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable households. A small glimmer of hope was recently revealed in the form of a temporary pause on home heating oil in Atlantic Canada but that was merely a reactionary strategy to try and mitigate a precipitous fall in the polls rather than the eureka moment for which many wished.
This is entirely devoid of reason and, frankly, a dereliction of leadership. This is not a “we shall fight on the beaches…” moment for Trudeau; it is instead merely an irrational devotion to upholding bad policy. Political theatre masquerading as an inherent danger. On a broader scale, without a globally coordinated effort with participation from the highest polluting economies, Canada’s carbon pricing scheme will have all the effect of removing a single flake of glitter from a snow globe. Public sentiment is shifting, however, as a recent survey suggests most Canadians believe the carbon tax is ineffective.
Climate policy or otherwise, we’ve stopped talking to each other and started shouting, applying labels, and name-calling. We’ve allowed activism, extremism, and political expediency to take point on the most serious issues of our time. As a society, I believe we have an innate affinity towards rational thought and action, but this intentional polarization has prevented us from using reason as the arbiter of truth or finding the line of best fit. We must reverse course, or am I being unreasonable?
Rob Ivany, CMC, is a management consultant and strategic advisor living in Stratford, Price Edward Island, Canada. His profile is here.