Matt Gurney: In desperate search for some consistent standards
I don't care what you think. I am politely requesting you think it consistently, though.
Good? Bad? Depends? Photo by Matt Gurney
By: Matt Gurney
It was a bit over a year ago when Paul Wells, in one of the best pieces of his I’ve ever read, created the concept of the “slopes of Lyle.” The “Lyle” refers to some polling published by Greg Lyle, of Innovative Research Group. I won’t spend a ton of time recapping the polling or what Paul drew from it, beyond the necessary: Lyle found and could graph what amounts, in effect, to political hypocrisy. Using the example of whether governments should meet with protesters, even if those protesters have broken the law, Lyle found that one’s opinion on the matter hinged less on any overall value-neutral philosophical belief and more on the specifics of the protesters. Left-leaning Canadians (NDP and Liberal voters, in Lyle’s poll) were a lot more sympathetic to a government that would meet with Indigenous Canadians (and supporters) protesting a new pipeline than they were with the Ottawa convoy protesters. CPC-supporting Canadians — and who’da thunk it?! — felt the reverse. Graphing out these positions resulted in those slopes Paul noticed — left-wing and right-wing support for governments meeting with protesters tanked when you changed who the protesters were.
The slopes of Lyle.
It’s been basically a month since the appalling assault by Hamas into southern Israel. Israel’s war against Hamas grinds on, and is producing the kind of horrible collateral damage we all feared. People across the West, including very much here at home in North America, are devastated by what they’re seeing, hearing and reading, and of course they are. It’s awful, every bit of it. There have been large rallies and protests and from them, we’re starting to see some of those Lyle-ian slopes emerge. It’s predictable, but it’s still bad, and it’s worth noting. Because we can do better, and it’s not hard to try.
Consider one issue: whether or not a protest is defined by the worst elements within it. Personally, I say no. Any large group of people necessarily becomes impossible for any organizer to control, and if terrible people show up to wave terrible signs, chant terrible slogans and do terrible things, I don’t think that reflects badly on everyone who showed up. That’s my overall philosophical view on such matters. I felt that way about the convoy in Ottawa, as some of you may remember — I tried really hard in my pieces from the capital to hammer home how the crowd there was a blend of the nasty and the harmlessly well-meaning. At the time, many were portraying the entire event as harmless — just a bunch of bouncy castle fans, folks! Others were portraying every last one of them as Confederate Nazis. Neither was accurate, and I said so then, and I’ve said so since.
Ditto with the protests we’re seeing in Canadian cities of late. I have no problem agreeing that many, probably even most, of the people showing up are good people, motivated by genuine concern over the plight of the Palestinian people, both in the broader sense of their aspirations for a better future but also over their current endangered state, as the war grinds on around them. I’m also not blind to the fact that some of what we’ve seen — some of the flags, some of the chants and slogans, some of the signs being waved, and some of the behaviour — has been wildly inappropriate, perhaps even illegal, and has absolutely gone well beyond simple criticism of Israel into outright antisemitism. There’s just no way to deny that we’ve had antisemites marching through our streets, saying and doing antisemitic things. Loud and proud, out in the open.
And yet I’ve noticed some, ahem, difficulty in admitting this or acknowledging this. And that’s interesting, because some of the very same people who will go to their deathbed believing the convoy was a Nazi uprising get very upset at the suggestion that there’s much to be worried about in the anti-Israel protests or that we should read much into people who want Jews killed for the mere fact of their Judaism.
So that’s a conundrum, eh? I don’t care what side you take. I really don’t. I just want you to be consistent. So I’ll just ask the question: does the presence of a radical group with a larger protest invalidate the protest and even tarnish the cause, or nah? Again, I don’t care which way you vote. But kindly put yourself on the record.
I’ve noticed something similar happening with the idea of “cancel” vs. “consequences” culture. We’ve all seen in recent years careers ended by what can now be simply termed “a bad tweet.” Sometimes it’s not actually a tweet — it could be on any platform. But a bad tweet is when someone posts something dumb — usually sexist or racist — that surfaces and makes them professionally radioactive. Sometimes it’s a new tweet, sometimes it’s from many years ago. Some people have decried this as “cancel culture” and others have contended that it’s actually “consequences culture” — and often, a long overdue corrective to too much privilege.
Again, I don’t care. I don’t. My own view is that cancellation is sometimes warranted, though I do give more leeway for youthful idiocy — we were all young once, and it doesn’t hurt to remember your stupidest moment before judging another’s. But overall, again, I’m not actually going to tell anyone what to think or insist you agree with me. I’m just asking you all to take a consistent position, because I can’t help but notice a huge inversion under way among some people. They’re slipping down those slopes of Lyle hard and fast now that it’s not some idiot posting something dumb and racist about brown people, but people ripping down posters of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas (or worse).
So again, let’s boil it down to a simple question: if you do something dumb and it blows up on social media and if you face some kind of professional reckoning for that, is that a cancellation or a consequence?
And then, of course, there’s this one, which is so on the nose I spent 30 minutes this morning trying to make sure it wasn’t some kind of hoax. But no, it seems to be legit. At a recent protest in Ottawa, children with Palestinian flags posed with the Terry Fox statue near Parliament Hill. See photo below.
Some of you may remember how controversial it was, during the convoy, when people incorporated Fox’s statue and memory into that protest. It was such a big deal that when I was there, I made a point of getting a picture of the statue that also captured the surroundings.
Personally, I don’t think we should drag Terry Fox into current protests or controversies. It pissed me off when it happened during the convoy, and it pissed me off again when it was about Gaza. But who cares what I think, right? You can make up your own minds. So, one more time and with feeling, I simply put a question to you: Terry Fox statues — fair game, or better avoided?
The war in Gaza is likely to grind on for some time. That sucks, but it’s my read on this situation. And that’s the best-case scenario. If this escalates into a regional conflict — that seems a little less likely now than a few weeks ago, but it’s still a real danger — things can get even worse. And if they do, the protests we see here at home will get worse, too. In any case, they’re likely to continue for months.
And that’s fine. That’s democracy. All I’m asking for, before we settle in for what may prove the long haul, is that we decide what we’re comfortable with, without a care for whether it’s Indigenous Canadians protesting a pipeline, truckers protesting a vaccine mandate or Canadians protesting Israeli military action in Gaza. A good, clear consistent standard is a useful thing to have, and a useful thing to hold others to. The slopes of Lyle are a bad place to be — bad for you, and bad for the country. And it’s really easy to avoid them. You just need to have the guts to apply a roughly coherent standard to the guys waving Confederate flags and the guys calling for Israel’s destruction, with all that would inevitably entail.
It’s not hard. It’s actually really easy. And the fact that this seems to be something people are struggling with leaves me forced to simply quote my colleague Jen Gerson, and end my column with the exact same words she recently ended one of hers with: “It's going to be difficult for the rest of us to take any of you fuckers seriously ever again.”
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