By Ryan Peteranna
Argumentation is tough to get right.
Julie Bindel, a long-time campaigner against violence towards women, recently said she was derided as a fascist for thinking full-face veils are “a symbol of women’s oppression”.
The key flaw of these opponents is not necessarily the views themselves, but how these manifest themselves.
People from both the left and right can become regressive, retreat to their own bubbles, and use the same terms to vent their indignation on opponents, even if those ‘opponents’ are actually on the same side.
Social justice warriors. Alt-right racists. Snowflakes. Neo-Nazis.
The ‘Undebateables’ see their side as the true moral arbiters and their opposition as authoritarian and hysterical – otherwise, they would not (logically) be the opposition.
All too often, people tend to see things, not as shades of grey, but as black and white (and especially the latter, as far as actual Neo-Nazis are concerned).
Social media, with its obliging algorithms, willingly feed their bloodthirsty consumers.
This appetite for division has not escaped Stirling’s campus.
At an October meeting, in response to the president’s favourable remarks about an anti-nuclear weapons protest, two students put forward a motion calling on the student union to be “politically neutral”. This motion had the fatal flaw of being vaguely worded.
Its opponents ruthlessly exploited this weakness, arguing it would mean an end to the days of combatting transphobia, climate change and gendered violence.
Realising this, the motion’s advocates offered a more nuanced proposition – to put the matter aside for a month and open discussions about how the student union should represent us.
Instead, some students proceeded to vote for an amendment effectively gutting the original motion, utilising their assembled core to legitimise their case.
They suggested it was unfair that “everyone will have to come back in November” to look at the matter again and that their amendment “clarifies ambiguity”.
Some would call that shutting down the debate.
The question of the Union’s political neutrality will likely be revisited at some point. In the meantime, we should all learn to open our doors and challenge our perspectives, even on matters we consider fundamental.
People can and do change views, and in the most astonishing of ways.
In Northern Ireland, the joint leadership of unionist Ian Paisley and nationalist Martin McGuinness seemed previously unthinkable, but both politicians matured.
Despite decades of constitutional conflict, parties from both sides went on to form a coalition government in 2007, and it may still be there after the election next month.
In the United States, Glenn Beck, at one time an apoplectic star of Fox News Channel and a possible precursor to the alt-right movement, once derided Barack Obama as an anti-white president.
Yet, seven years later, there he was telling The New Yorker that Obama made him a better man, taking back the previous remarks, and that he now supports Black Lives Matter.
“There are things unique to the African-American experience that I cannot relate to,” he said. “I had to listen to them.”
This cuts to the heart of what deliberative democracy and open dialogue is all about.
Although it sounds wishy-washy to take a group of people, put them in a room together and talk their feelings out, it can yield positive results.
In Ireland, for example, a constitutional convention gathered citizens and legislators to discuss sensitive issues of the day, including same-sex marriage.
Some would think it impossible for same-sex marriage to pass in a referendum in such a heavily Catholic country, but it did — resoundingly.
Matt Teitelbaum, President of College Democrats of Maryland, recently argued in favour of allowing Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on campus.
You may not agree with the Breitbart senior editor’s colourful words on social justice, but as recent political events illustrate, there is a significant market for that, and addressing their audience’s concerns is important if we wish to consider constructive steps forward.
“It’s important for people from different sides of the isle [sic] to listen to one another,” Teitelbaum writes.
“That’s how you find common ground and come to a consensus.
“It’s how you change minds and strengthen your movement.”
The debate on our future is just getting started.