polarization is not the problem. the problem is fascism.

Art by Maaike Hartjes
"The problem today is that society is so polarized. We need to come together and find common ground."

I hear and read this a lot these days. 

In this analysis, opposing points of view are characterized as "extreme". The best option, it is said, lies in the middle. 

This is a deceptive and potentially dangerous belief.

When mainstream views move so far to the right that the ideas, if put into action, would destroy democracy and civil society, then it is our responsibility to oppose those views. 

When bigotry and hate are rallying cries, it is our duty to stand in opposition, and in solidarity with the targets.

When political actions offend our core values, we must call them out and oppose them.

And if that appears polarizing, it's not the fault of the people trying to build a better world -- or trying to save the crappy one we have.

The opposite of extremism may not be extreme

The "polarization is the problem" view assumes that both ends of the spectrum are always extreme, and that a common-sense approach always lies somewhere in the middle. 

So as the right wing has become more and more extreme, the definition of "centrist" -- supposedly middle ground -- has moved further to the right, too. In conversations with Canadians, I have been absolutely amazed that this is a novel concept:  people don't  seem to realize that centre is a relative term

There is no active extreme left in either the US or Canada. There may be random individuals on the extreme left, but there is no political party representing those views, no widespread people's movement, no groundswell of public opinion. 

The parties and viewpoints that oppose the extreme right are either moderate centre-right (Liberal Party, most of Democratic Party) or moderate center-left (NDP, some of Democratic Party). The Liberals, Democrats, and NDP are only far-left in a Fox News-induced fantasy world -- and through the polarization lens.

Take a look at those parties' platforms, the bills they put forward, how they vote. Not so very long ago, their positions were considered quite moderately liberal. The evidence for that is all around us: it's what's left of the public sector that the right-wing has been demolishing since the Reagan/Mulroney era. Advocating for public healthcare, affordable housing, public education, a fair tax code, green energy, and decent jobs is not extreme. Wanting an inclusive society is not extreme.

Define "greater good"

"We need to come together to work for the greater good." 

This is a familiar refrain from the "polarization is the problem" mindset. But how should those with opposing viewpoints work together -- and why?

I can agree that in Parliament and Congress it would be best if political parties could work together. If a party votes yes for something when they put it forward, and vote no on the same thing when another party puts it forward, that is partisanship. It values party loyalty over society at large. It's counterproductive, childish, and wrong. 

But when parties' values are opposed to each other, finding a so-called middle ground isn't necessarily a reasonable goal. Take healthcare, for example. If one party wants to expand the public health system, and one party wants to privatize it, those two parties can't find a middle ground and they shouldn't try. 

Should the party that wants to expand public health care "compromise" and allow some privatization? Of course not! That party should oppose all privatization and seek to roll back whatever privatization has already taken place. Those are the actions that align with their values, and presumably the values of their voters. Finding so-called common ground would mean betraying their values, their voters, and the public health system.

After hearing "we need to come together to work for the greater good," we must insist: define greater good

Can't we all just coalition?

What about a coalition? In most parliamentary systems of government, in countries throughout the world, parties enter into coalitions from time to time. Can Canada do that? Would we want it to? 

I would probably support an NDP-Liberal coalition government, so those parties could work together to defeat the Conservatives. When this was attempted in 2009, it was scuttled by a weak Liberal leader, public ignorance, and propaganda, with a huge assist from the Canadian media. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said a coalition would "overturn the results of an election" -- and no one challenged or corrected him.** (If they did it was not amplified to the point where anyone could hear it.) 

A coalition would be exciting, scary, potentially amazing. Potentially disastrous. Alas, we'll probably never know. It seems highly unlikely that we'll see a coalition government in Canada. But we could try. 

If working together for the greater good means defeating the Conservatives -- who, in the Canadian context, are far-right -- then working together is a laudable goal.

Good guys vs. fascists

All my adult life, I've heard that's it's wrong to think in terms of us vs. them. But I've never believed that. Of course it's wrong when applied to nationality or ethnic background or so-called "race". But my own us vs. them has nothing to do with personal characteristics. My us vs. them is not even about class. It's about worldviews. Values. Right and wrong. 

There are those who want justice, peace, equity. Who want everyone to have a safe and affordable place to live, quality healthcare, quality education. Those who value democracy. Who want everyone to be free to live and love as they choose, to create the families that they want, without government or religious interference. 

And there are those who want profit, empire, and power. Warmongers. Hatemongers. People who believe that where their ancestors were born makes them superior. People who think their life choices should be the only ones available. People who want to reverse social progress. As an old boss of mine, Oz Elliott, used to say: good guys and fascists. 

Being a good guy doesn't mean staying neutral or searching for common ground. It means standing up for what is right.

Polarization is, in reality, resistance. And in the face of fascism, bigotry, and hate, it's exactly what we need.


** For some US readers: A coalition does no such thing. Everyone who was elected is still elected.  What differs is who forms the government.

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