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Russell Wangersky: A quiet word

Anger online
Anger online

Hello. How are you today? Work getting you down? How’s that coffee?

Russell Wangersky

Away from the office, I’m a gab-bag.

I’m happy to talk to you at the office, too, as long as your second sentence doesn’t label me a “cuck,” a “rape-culture apologist,” a “Libtard,” a “media elite” or a “mouthpiece of the patriarchy.”

Problem is, all too often, the second sentence in any communication so often tends to be exactly that now.

I had been called all five — the entire range of the left- and right-wing spectrum — by Tuesday of last week.

I am, apparently, a part of every problem, and a solution to none.

Now, part of that may be that I’ve learned to take social media far too seriously. I’m working on that.

I’m gradually detuning my Twitter feed to what it’s meant to be: a land where slapstick quick comments rule, like, describing Donald Trump thusly: “gigantic colicky infant sobs as his lollipop is once again slapped out of his hand by one of the poors.”

In other words, it’s merely entertainment, not argument or news source. At best, it’s sometimes a starting-point for research, because I’ve recognized that 140 characters does not a rational argument make.

Neither does yelling into an echo chamber (Facebook) and hearing all my like-minded friends chant “Hello … hello … hello” back at ever-diminishing volume. It’s not a reasonable sample-set for establishing the tenor of broad-based opinion.

In fact, it creates a false and frustrating word of otherwise-unreproducable results.

The fact is that we’re all pretty much the same: we hold opinions, often strongly, and when we sense we’re losing a rational argument, we devolve to a shouty, non-rational one. I think the tools we’re using, especially online, make that devolution happen more quickly.

Take it from our neighbours: Hugh MacLennan wrote the famous “Two Solitudes,” which deals with English and French tensions in Quebec in 1945, but that term is now more apt for those to the south of us.

Americans on two different sides of the political spectrum listen to — and believe — two separate streams of media, and end up working from two different fact-bases, while all the while deriding the media on the other side as “fake news.” That’s two solitudes in action; I was in the U.S. for an extended period last fall, and politics had become such a stratified topic that customers didn’t even talk about it in diners anymore.

If the discussion is “I’m right and you’re wrong and that’s it,” well, it’s essentially over.

It builds walls. It doesn’t break them down.

It also gives the advantage to politicians who seek to exploit one side for their own gain. Divide and conquer.

I think it would work here, despite the fact we often pride ourselves on having some kind of higher level of national tolerance.

Thing is, we can’t just run away from talking about the problems there are in this country, whether it’s intolerance for immigrants or entrenched sexism or the frustrations that arise from the loss of what used to be the standard of well-paid manufacturing jobs.

I go to Twitter for a description of where that takes us: “PREDICTION: This year's hottest home renovation will be the addition of a screaming room.” In a room. Alone. Screaming.

If we want to get things done — if we want meaningful change — we can’t just talk amongst our friends and shout down whole groups that we perceive as our enemies.

We actually have to learn to talk to each other again.

And we have to use our inside voices sometimes, too — because, face it. I’m human, too. Call me a “cuck” or a “rape-culture apologist,” and I stop listening, no matter how big and empowered it makes you feel.

Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at — Twitter: @Wangersky.

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