Don't confuse me with the facts - Keith Roulston Editorial
The scene in a St. Thomas shopping mall last week could have been from a satirical movie if it hadn’t been so serious.
Mark Phillips got out of his car, saw a brown-skinned family and, yelling that they were terrorists, attacked them with a baseball bat. The people assaulted weren’t terrorists. They weren’t even Muslim. They were originally from Colombia but have been residents of Canada for 17 years.
Fact-checking isn’t big with people determined to hate. Before Jagmeet Singh won the leadership of the federal NDP, he was heckled at a public meeting by someone who accused him of wanting to impose Sharia law, an Islamic set of rules for religious and daily life based on the teachings of the Koran. Singh has brown skin and wears a turban as part of his practice of the Sikh religion, which has nothing to do with Islam or Sharia law.
Of course we live in an era when facts don’t matter. If we don’t like a fact, we find “alternative facts” that support our own instincts rather than do a little research, find out we’re mistaken and change our minds. Of course the most publicized man in the world these days would never even admit he could be mistaken and creates “facts” to support any argument he wants to put forward, no matter how bizarre.
People seem willing to suspend any sort of logical thinking when they get caught up in paranoia. The craziest of these cases of believing what should be unbelievable was “Pizzagate”, the wacky theory that made its way around the internet prior to last year’s U.S. Presidential election. Believers, so caught up in their hatred of Hillary Clinton, somehow bought into a conspiracy theory that Clinton and her campaign chair John Podesta were involved in a child sex trafficking scheme that was based in a popular pizza parlour in Washington, D.C.
It went further than just madness caused by their distrust of Clinton. Believers saw a conspiracy that encompassed all of government, which was part of the New World Order and was teeming with pedophiles
The craziness turned dangerous about a year ago when Edgar Maddison Welch became so disturbed by the allegations that he drove to Washington from North Carolina armed with two guns and fired shots inside the restaurant. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
Welch’s suspicions were fanned by a radio talk show host who finally apologized, but that failed to make the true believers reconsider. Even after all this they paraded in Washington wearing T-shirts proclaiming “Pizzagate is not fake news”.
Turning perception into truth is not confined to the lunatic fringe in the U.S. After the attack on the couple in St. Thomas last week, the London Free Press reached out to Barbara Perry of the Greater Toronto Area’s University of Ontario Institute of Technology, a specialist in the study of hate crimes for comment. Perry said normalized hate isn’t just an American phenomenon, but one evident in Canada as well.
“We have our own history of hate and intolerance here,” she said. “Specifically, Western Ontario — many of the communities down there have long been hotspots for right-wing extremism, in particular.”
Wait a minute! Wasn’t Mark Phillips from Toronto and only came to Western Ontario to carry out his act of hate?
I spent an hour or two last week crafting an e-mail reply to a Globe and Mail columnist who had made this kind of prejudice about rural people the basis of his column. He argued that the fact that rural ridings tend to have fewer constituents than urban ridings gave rural voters an undue influence. From this he extrapolated that made it difficult to get progressive legislation approved by Parliament because everybody knew that rural people are not progressive.
I pointed out to the columnist that it was a rural riding, Grey County, that elected Agnes Mcphail to Parliament, the first woman MP, in Canada way back in 1921, barely a couple of years after women were allowed to vote.
It was the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a farmer-backed government, that created the first free medical care system in Canada in Saskatchewan in 1947.
I have no idea if my investment in time has done anything to make this urban columnist rethink his perceptions or perhaps dig a little deeper, since he never replied or even acknowledged receipt of the message.
I’d almost have been more surprised if he had read and digested my e-mail than if he hadn’t. People seem much more comfortable sticking to their perceptions than being forced to consider that they might be wrong. It’s easy to believe that the current rejection of logic and facts is all about the current resident of the White House but he’s simply the most highly profiled practitioner of this human trait.