This column’s ultimately to be about politics. But, bear with me, let’s start with a few concepts.
First, it’s our nature to be tribal.
Early humans, to survive, had to band together, to improve chances for a successful hunt and to stay safe in a dangerous world.
Your tribe was crucial. If you had to overlook things you didn’t like, or didn’t agree with, when at stake was inclusion or expulsion, you usually sided with your group, simply to survive.
That impulse was so vital, some experts say, it played a role in the evolution of our species. People who left their tribes to go it alone had a lower chance of survival than those who remained.
At the same time, the human mind abhors cognitive dissonance. By that, I mean it’s hard to stay committed to something — whether people or an idea — to which you’re deeply opposed.
Which creates a dilemma. If survival depends on staying in your group, but you fundamentally disagree with their ideals and actions, what do you do?
Enter humanity’s ability to rationalize.
To repel cognitive dissonance, experts argue, people may — even unconsciously — rationalize away offending behaviour or ideas, from making excuses for the unpalatable to outright denial they even existed.
(For more on these ideas, there’s Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, by Margaret Heffernan, and The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt.)
I’m not saying people can’t be self-aware about these tendencies. I’m saying not everyone makes the effort.
What’s this look like today?
Take sports. Die-hard fans of rival teams watch the same game, the same plays, and yet come to completely different conclusions about what they’ve seen. In hockey, for example, my team’s solid bodycheck might, in a rival fan’s eyes, be a dirty hit. And vice versa.
Or religion, for a more serious example. Vast amounts of blood have been shed throughout history in religious conflicts that essentially boiled down to my religion (or interpretation) vs. yours.
You know that old rule: No politics at family holiday dinner get-togethers. We don’t want Uncle Donnie, a life-long Liberal, throttling Cousin Joe, a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative, over whose side was right and wrong about, well, everything.
We all know people who are uber-partisan about politics. Seen another way, it’s a variation on the human tendency to stick with one’s group, complete with rationalizations to make transgressions by your side explainable — or invisible — while those by the other side are evidence of moral corruption, criminality and worse.
My tribe vs. yours.
It affects those practising politics, too.
Destructive partisanship, as seen in the extreme in the U.S., but also evidenced by the shenanigans of the Nova Scotia Liberals in limiting proper oversight of government actions by legislative committees, does not serve the public.
Here’s a thought. Imagine if we elected MLAs, but parties weren’t allowed? Imagine if we voted for candidates based not on the colour of their lawn signs but their individual merits. (I know, many do vote for the best candidate regardless of party, but they’re a minority.) Imagine if those elected then worked together on the problems of the day without checking if colleagues were “one of us” or “one of them.”
That concept — called consensus government — does exist in some places (for example, Nunavut), but nowhere of size.
Pity. One of the many pitfalls with tribalism is it’s so damn predictable.
Japan has so few women politicians that when even one is gaffe-prone, it's damaging – CNN
Toeing the boy’s club line
Strength in numbers
Snap election averted as Liberal government survives confidence vote in Commons – CBC.ca
Canadians will not be heading to the polls for a snap fall election now that the Liberal government has survived a confidence vote on a Conservative motion to create a special committee to probe the government’s ethics and pandemic spending.
MPs voted 180-146 to defeat the opposition motion.
Earlier today, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that his party would not give Prime Minister Justin Trudeau an “excuse” to send Canadians to the polls in the middle of a global pandemic — signalling that Trudeau’s government would survive today’s confidence vote.
In a news conference just two hours before a crucial confidence vote, Singh declined to say exactly how his MPs would vote or whether they might abstain.
“We are voting for Canadians. We are voting against an election,” he said.
Singh said the NDP will still work to get answers on the WE Charity scandal through the Commons ethics committee, and that his party will push the government for more pandemic support for Canadians.
“People need help right now. They need confidence in the future. They’re not looking for an election,” he said.
“So New Democrats will not give Prime Minister Trudeau the election he’s looking for. We’re not going to be used as an excuse or a cover. We’re going to continue to do the work that we need to do.”
The Bloc Québécois had already confirmed it will support the Conservative motion, while the Green Party indicated that its three MPs would vote against the motion.
The vote is expected to happen around 3:15 p.m. ET and CBCNews.ca is carrying it live.
The opposition day motion would have created a special committee to probe the Trudeau government’s ethics and spending in response to the pandemic — including the controversial WE Charity contract to administer a student volunteer grant program.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not recuse himself from talks on the agreement, even though several of his family members had been paid for speaking engagements by the organization.
The Liberal government has declared the vote on the Conservative motion a matter of confidence that could trigger an election — a high-stakes move that NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called a “farce.”
In a news conference before the vote, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said if the motion doesn’t pass, he would continue to work with other parties to hold the government to account. He criticized the government and Trudeau for framing the vote as a confidence matter.
“His designation of this vote as a confidence vote shows that he’s willing to put the electoral fortunes of the Liberal Party ahead of the health, safety and well-being of Canadians,” he said.
“Most Canadians would think that’s unacceptable.”
WATCH / Erin O’Toole on confidence vote:
Speaking to reporters after the Liberal caucus meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government needs the confidence of the House to do its job.
“I really believe at the end of the day common sense will prevail and we’re going to get through this,” she said.
Freeland also said that legislation for several new pandemic supports for Canadians and businesses needs to be passed and an election could jeopardize that.
WATCH / Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on possible election:
Heading into their weekly caucus meeting this morning, NDP MPs said they had not yet decided on a path forward and would talk about how to proceed behind closed doors.
“At the end of the day we have a lot of moving parts and we’re still in a pandemic and we’re still committed to fighting for Canadians and we’re going to continue to do that,” said Ontario NDP MP Matthew Green.
“We have to look at what all the variables are going in to this discussion and do what’s best for the country.”
Asked by reporters if the NDP had an obligation to support the Conservative motion, NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said, “There’s many ways to skin a cat, my friends.”
WATCH / NDP MPs on today’s confidence vote:
Conservative House leader Gérard Deltell said the ethical questions surrounding the government require a special committee with a clear mandate. He said it’s the “duty” of opposition parties to hold the government to account.
“This is what the issue is all about with this motion, and what we see right now is a prime minister who will do whatever it takes to call an election,” he said.
“The only Canadian who would like to have an election today is the prime minister. The only Canadian who would like to freeze the government for a few months is the prime minister by calling an election.”
The Conservatives amended the original motion to state that voting to launch the committee should not be considered grounds to order an election.
It also dropped the “anti-corruption committee” label it initially proposed.
Bloc Québécois House leader Alain Therrien said the WE Charity issue is so complex that it requires a special committee to get answers.
He said the Liberals’ “scorched-earth” approach to politics is the product of a “club of cronyism” and renders compromise impossible.
He also criticized the NDP, suggesting the party’s MPs have obediently followed Liberal demands.
“The NDP have acted in the last little while a little like the Liberals’ lap dog,” he said.
‘Unwelcome drama’: Paul
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul issued a statement urging the parties to cool their jets, calling the brinkmanship “unwelcome drama.”
“The Liberal and Conservative parties’ high-stakes, high-tech game of chicken can have no winner,” she said.
“They should leave such games outside of Parliament, and focus on the urgent needs of people in Canada. I ask members of Parliament to dial down the rhetoric, which is not in keeping with the seriousness of this unprecedented moment, so that we can get back to working on the critical matters at hand.”
Strategies Can Help Teach Students to Discuss Politics – NC State News
The election is underway and the holidays are around the corner, so it’s good news that researchers are working on strategies to help adults and young people productively discuss political differences.
In the journal Social Education, researchers from NC State described efforts to launch an event series called “Dinner with Democracy” to get students involved in political discussions and help train future social studies teachers. This year, the event will be held virtually Oct. 21. Through these events, researchers hope to help students develop skills valuable to life in a democracy.
“Democracy is grounded on the idea that we will talk to each other and work through our problems,” said the study’s lead author Paula McAvoy, an assistant professor in NC State’s College of Education. “So my research has been about engaging students in controversial political issues in the classroom.”
McAvoy was lead author of the paper, which was co-authored by Christy Byrd, assistant professor at NC State, and graduate students Arine Lowery and Nada Wafa. The Abstract sat down with McAvoy to talk about engaging students in political discussions in advance of the virtual Dinner with Democracy event.
The Abstract: You talk about disagreement being a fundamental part of democracy. What do you mean?
McAvoy: Democracies are founded on the idea that people should be given an opportunity to participate in the creation of the laws that govern them and that people can work together to come up with solutions that they can all live with. Inherent in that is you’re going to disagree. We have to get used to the idea that we disagree, there are good reasons to disagree and we need to learn how to give reasons to each other and hear each other.
TA: Why did you want to highlight Dinner with Democracy?
McAvoy: What I liked with Dinner with Democracy is that it’s a multigenerational approach to not only to help young people talk about issues in the classroom, but also to help parents join in the discussion. We can show how we can talk about our differences, hear each other and be willing to be kind to one another.
TA: How did this come about?
McAvoy: Two teachers heard about the concept at the North Carolina Council for Social Studies conference from a teacher who had students find an adult to have a meal with, talk about political issues with that person and report back. After hearing that, the two teachers decided to make it a school event by inviting parents and students to a potluck where students presented discussion questions for each course of the meal. We took that idea to NC State and made it a public event for middle and high school students, teachers, NC State students, faculty and the community.
TA: What was the structure of your event?
McAvoy: In an event like this, you want people to be able to listen to each other. We did several rounds of small group discussions with a facilitator that began with a three-to-five minute setup of the question they were going to talk about.
At the beginning of the discussion, everyone shared personal reflections. The rule was that everyone had to listen to your answer without interrupting or arguing; everyone had to hear from everyone in the group. That did two things: It first promotes the idea that we’re all going to listen to one another, and second, it puts everyone’s humanity into the discussion so we know where we are coming from. So it promotes empathy. You bring yourself first, and political views second.
Then we used a discussion strategy called the “Tug-of-War,” which asks the group to collectively think of reasons for and against an issue. That puts everyone on the same side – we’re working together to come up reasons for and against.
The last thing you do is try to explain what you think about the issue.
TA: How did participants respond?
McAvoy: I was very happy that in the evaluations, the participants said they felt their discussions were productive and fair and there was a sense of civility.
TA: What lessons can teachers and students learn from this?
McAvoy: There are different ways to have classroom discussions or engage with students.
One thing that’s tempting is to have students debate. A debate is what you associate with elections. In today’s polarized climate, the debate format exacerbates our differences, and it teaches people to get a view and hold onto it. You teach people to become entrenched in their views.
The activities that we did promote deliberation, which is a different type of discussion. That’s what we model in Dinner with Democracy. Deliberation is about trying to come to a common understanding rather than winning.
In the classroom today, I hear from a lot of teachers that parents are leery, teachers are leery; they don’t want things to get out of hand. We are trying to show that being very careful and intentional about how you are going to have your discussions is essential for having them go well.
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