Talk…or else…

Author: Robin Browne

The title of this post is meant to catch your attention.

My argument is that people should talk more with people different from them in real life and less with people like them on line. If they don’t, things like Trump happen – and that could get people killed.

As for talking in person, Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama seem to both agree. Trudeau just launched a cross country series of town halls where he is answering Canadians’ unvetted questions – including some tough and emotional ones. In his final speech as President, Obama talked about how divisive the election was, and said, “If you’re tired of arguing with people on the Internet, try talking to them in real life.” The problem is that it seems people aren’t even arguing enough – on or off the internet. Too many of us are just reading things that reinforce our current world view – without caring whether they’re true.

An example was the story about anti-Trump forces supposedly  bussing in protesters for a demonstration in Austin, Texas shortly after Trump’s election. Even Donald Trump tweeted it. The problem is that it was completely false. The New York Times reported that Eric Tucker, a 35-year-old owner of an Austin,  Texas based marketing company, took pictures of some some buses he saw in downtown Austin because he found the buses unusual. When he later heard about the protests, he assumed they were connected and twèeted: “Anti-Trump protestors in Austin today are not as organic as they seem. Here are the busses they came in. #fakeprotests” He later realized he was wrong and that the buses had nothing to do with the protest. However, his tweeted correction got lost in the flood of right-wing shares of the original falsehood. The story was now “post truth”.

Young Quebec activists also think getting people talking is key to helping Quebec realize its full potential. “Faut qu’on se parle” or “we need to talk” is an initiative to get Quebecers talking to each other about solutions to major challenges facing the province.

It was started by nine mostly young, mostly white Quebecers including student activist leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. In fall 2016, they held a series of public consultations and “kitchen assemblies” where they met with fellow Quebecers to hear their concerns about, and solutions for, their province. The demand for the kitchen assemblies, where members of the core group met people in a host’s house, quickly outstripped the availability. They were all booked within a week. (They’re all completed now and the group is working on a report on the results.)

One of the big questions for Canada right now is, could lots of people sharing fake facts and not talking to each other help someone like Trump get elected in Canada?

One of the main challenges to answering this question is knowing just how many people in Canada feel things similar to what made nearly 1 in 5 Americans vote for a guy who bragged about sexually assaulting women. Polls won’t tell us because very few Canadians would truthfully answer the required questions – and no one would pay pollsters to ask them. These would be questions like: “Do you feel like immigrants are taking jobs from Canadians?”, “Do you think terrorists pose a threat on Canadian soil?” or “If Donald Trump were able to run for Prime Minister today, would you vote for him?”

Without solid data – or the ability to get it – we must glean what we can from anecdotal evidence. Some indication can be seen in the comments on the Yahoo News story about Justin Trudeau appointing Somali Canadian, Ahmed Hussen, as Immigration Minister. Here are two examples:”Appointing a terrorist to bring in more terrorists.” “This douche bag will open the gates of ISIS and they will pour in here like maggots.” There was not one positive comment out of about 30 when I looked.

Before the results of the US election, it would have been easy to dismiss these commentors as fringe, especially in Canada. But now, the big question is: just how many Canadians feel this way? We may not know for sure until the next election unless Canadians start talking to one another now.

One Response to “Talk…or else…”

  1. Vero Says:

    Very good post – thank you! Makes me remember how Thomas Ponniah said in 1991 something like “There is so much you can learn from and about people who don’t share your views if you actually talk to them”. Also makes me think of Van Jones’s (who I admire) effort to visit conservative homes in the US and engage in dialogue to better understand, in his series ‘The Messy Truth’ (a snippet: Only: I personally feel a bit vulnerable engaging in that kind of dialogue myself, with people who are totally on the other end of the spectrum of what I think – still a ‘growing into more maturity’ area for me …

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