19 January 2009

Of Left and of Right

It struck me today as I was reading through my various news sources that we have become a world that politicizes everything. Maybe this is just the way the world has always been, but today is the first day that I really thought about it. What I mean is, we take every story and idea and look at it and report on it through the lens of politics, the lens of left and right, rather than just looking at the facts and coming to our own conclusions about what those facts mean.

For example, let's look at global warming, or climate change, as we are to call it now. Our governments spend billions on attempting to reduce CO2 emissions with the hope that it will somehow stop global warming. However if anyone stops to ask if we can actually link CO2 emissions to rising temperatures, or, heaven forbid if global warming is even happening, people jump down their throat quicker than you can say "Ice Age." Invariably such people, regardless of their credentials are attacked for being right wing whackos in the pocket of mega-corporations. The same things happen when a scientist publishes or tries to publish any research that might deny the climate change theory. Why? Because people stand to make money off of the global warming fear mongering.

Another example is the ongoing embryonic stem cell debate. Some scientists claim that embryonic stem cells and embryonic stem cells alone are the only way to find a cure for things like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. And yet, in the decade or so that we've been working with stem cells, embryonic ones have given humanity exactly 0 treatments or potential treatments, while adult and cord stem cells have helped in the creation of numerous therapies; including the potential to regrow teeth. A recent report says that scientists have concluded that embryonic stem cells are of no use in fighting Alzheimer's, but that report is not making it out into the public sphere. Why? Because the embryonic stem cell community likes the advocacy and public opinion that goes with having Nancy Regan as a spokeswomen. That kind of advocacy draws in funding dollars. So what if it won't ever cure Alzheimer's, people will donate money that will help find other cures.

Recent press releases by the Vatican have been the victim of this politicization as well. Take Pope Benedict's 2008 year end address where he was accused of being homophobic and stroking the fires of homophobia. The actual text of his words received very little airtime; the reporting was on the shock, outrage and betrayal that the homosexual community felt as a result of his remarks. People spoke of the church needing to get with the times.

Take the current love-fest with the upcoming Obama inauguration. From the hype everyone is making about it, you'd think the Savior was returning. From the media coverage, I almost expect Obama to heal the sick and give sight to the blind. It's as though the man is singlehandedly going to fix every single problem the world has- and he's going to do it all on the day he's inaugurated.

I could go on with examples, but I think this is sufficient to make my point. Take any current event, and look at the coverage of that event by various new sources. I guarantee that you will find some form of spin in it; spin designed with the purpose of politicizing events so that, I think, we all take sides against each other. The media has a big role to play in this. They no longer report the news; they report opinion and slant the facts to fit their editorial bent. I have no problem with that, done in the context of the Opinion pages of the newspaper; we know that what is published there is not passing itself off on news, but when it's done (as it is regularly) in the news section, the media does us all a disservice. Why does everything have to be filtered and placed along the left/right spectrum? With a few rare exceptions, the media is left wing. Their coverage of everything is slanted to the left. Humans are smart; we are more than capable of reading something and drawing our own conclusions. And yet the media insists on making everything on the left sound like its heaven sent and everything on the right is going to destroy the world?

Before I go much further, I want to recognize that some in the right are just as guilty as some in the left, myself included. As soon as I hear a report that says the polar ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising, or that embryonic stem cells are the miracle cure for all our ailments, or that the pope has revealed himself to be a homophobe, or that Obama is going to raise the US back to the level of respect it had pre-Bush, or anything along those lines, my immediate thought is to dismiss it as "lefty crap." It's as though the first thing I do when reading something is identify the author's particular slant, decide the article is left wing crap, or God's honest truth and then I read the article, with those biases firmly in place.

Even as I write this, a part of me (the non-law side) wants to just say it must be lefty crap and leave it at that. Yet, after almost 3 years in law, I find I can't just do that, much as I might like to. The common law model of law (which Canada, the US, Britain, Australia and some other countries use) is an adversarial model. We are taught that each side will advocate for its own position as zealously as possible, and the trier of fact (either the jury or the judge) will look at the evidence on both sides and come to a conclusion about what really happened; what the truth is. Justice is supposed to be blind (trust me, it's not) but that is the ideal that we want to live up to.

However, I don't believe anyone can ever fully put their biases aside when making decisions. Anyone who tells you they can is lying, naïve or a lefty. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try, but it does mean that we have to recognize our biases, and we should candidly admit to them, so that our audience knows where we are coming from. I really realized this when listening to my little sister (she's 13) talk about politics the other night. She spoke eloquently about her political beliefs, but she couldn't defend them. She had no arguments to back them up. And I think that's partially my fault. I spend a lot of time talking about how the left is destroying this country, but I don't give her the background. She loves and trusts me, and as a result, my political beliefs have become her political beliefs, without her really understanding what they mean. I think the same thing happened to me as a child; my dad talked politics, and I love and trust him, so I adopted what he said. It wasn't until I came to university and I really had to defend them that I learned what they meant; what the values behind them actually stand for. I think that is just a part of growing up; just like an infant learning to talk- we learn by repeating what we hear, and over time we come to understand what we have been repeating, and then we either accept it, or we don't.

In some ways I think the media is still the child parroting back what it has heard at home. Until you are secure in, and understand the reasons for, your beliefs, you can't step up and say, "I am a social conservative, a Catholic and an advocate of small government; what most people would term right wing" (fill in your own political persuasions here) and I believe x because…" For a real discussion or dialogue to occur, you have to be able to identify yourself in terms that the rest of the world can relate to. Those terms may not be as precise as you would like, but they give others a frame of reference to understand your point of view. The media is still a child because they can't, or won't do this yet. They still claim to be unbiased when they are really a cheerleading squad for their beliefs. And until they grow up, we will be stuck with this left wing/right wing lens being placed on all events they cover.

I guess what I'm saying is question everything anyone says; break it down; identify biases (including your own) and then come to your own conclusion and be prepared to back them up. If you know why you believe what you do, no one can beat you in a debate. They will be reduced to name calling to try to make your point go away, because you are secure in who you are, and they don't know what to do with that.

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