Contrary perspectives welcome

I’m not a fan of the facepalm-inducing “The Rebel” website, nor do I particularly like the fact that they seem to be the most vocal voice of Conservativism in Alberta, but the NDP decision to ban them from public events was clearly an ill-conceived idea. Like it or not, we need to subject ourselves to the views of those we disagree with.

But there seems to be a strong undercurrent in our society of rejecting divergent perspectives. And it comes from some surprising sources.

I previously blogged about the fact that my investment pitches are always greeted with challenges, “what if” scenarios and generally an attitude of deep skepticism. This is, frankly, how things ought to work. If there is one place where contrary perspectives – welcome or not – have a very high value placed on them, it is in the world of business. If a business leader is wrong, the business could be sunk and many people out of work. With that much at stake business leaders would be foolish to not consider the possibility that they are wrong as they make business decisions.

But circling the wagons and excluding contrary viewpoints is a luxury that can be enjoyed by some. One such context where said luxury is not only possible but thoroughly entrenched is in academia. I previously directed the reader to a talk by Jonathan Haidt in which he contrasts two fictitious schools, “Strengthen U” and “Coddle U.” His talk, and his work at Heterodox Academy, bring to light the reality that post-secondary schools are deeply left-leaning and openly hostile to anything that even hints of being right-leaning. Per his talk, unless we are going to slip into the realm of being coddled, we need to expose ourselves to the views of those who disagree with us. Such exposure will actually strengthen us; resistance and disagreement benefits us.

And politics is another area where people have the luxury of surrounding themselves with like-minded individuals and excluding any perspective that doesn’t toe the party line. Once elected, governments can do pretty much whatever they want without fear of reprisal. They risk losing the next election, of course, but oftentimes a great PR campaign will spin whatever mess they’ve created into a spectacular track record.

This tendency to circle the wagons and keep the savages at bay has been exemplified, repeatedly, by the Alberta NDP during the first year of their time at the helm. The exchange with The Rebel is just the last such incident; Bill 6 being a previous example.

Fortunately the NDP reversed course, rather rapidly, on the issue of whether The Rebel would be permitted to journalistic events. And given the fact that they kept the royalty structure almost exactly the same as it already was, despite the great pomp surrounding their pledged royalty review, perhaps this is a sign that they are willing to actually listen to the people they represent? Given their polling numbers, that would seem to be a good idea, even if implemented a little late in the game.

And if they are willing to allow divergent views to be heard, then that is one example we should all follow, regardless of partisanship. As Jonathan Haidt argues in his talk, humans are “anti-fragile” in the sense that resistance actually makes people stronger. When we exclude competing perspectives that does not protect us, it actually weakens us. It makes us less able to handle confrontation and more likely to lash out when challenged.

Now if only the NDP would listen to those who are expressing deep concerns about some of their other policies and initiatives. It would be great if they could work toward a “public engagement model” that looked less like Bill 6 and more like the royalty review.