Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pipeline, Anyone??

Historical CNR Caboose.  
Far be it from me to say the two are the same . . . but:

Tuesday’s news highlighted:
1) President Assad’s defiant speech to the Syrian people and the world, and
2) the Canadian government’s statements regarding the mass of people registered to intervene at the opening of hearings on the Northern Gateway Pipeline from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, BC.
Not the same, of course, but both news items bear one eerie similarity. In both cases, the entities in power applied the ad hominem argument to their opponents, a tactic that has been historically typical of tyrannies but hardly becomes the leadership of a democracy.
               It’s always a temptation in a debate—especially when truth is not firmly on your side—to bolster your chances by denigrating the opposition. President Assad and the Harper government both fell prey to this temptation yesterday and labelled their oppositions as:
a) being a uniform pack of agitators, and
b) supported by foreign interests.
The first assertion is an attempt to make the opposition appear to be an ignorant and/or malevolent mob, the latter an appeal to the nationalist sentiment in the population.
Neither addresses the merits or demerits of the argument.
Perhaps both Harper and Assad can be forgiven; the temptation to label and homogenize our opponents is deeply embedded in all of us. We practice it in our education systems, in our churches, in our municipal and provincial politics (especially at election time), even in our families. It is, after all, far simpler than the hard work of open, honest negotiation and reasoned debate. It raises its ugly head in families, for instance, when an exasperated father tells his son, “You’re nothing but a little thief,” when the son borrows a tool without asking and leaves it out in the rain. It shows itself in churches when people are grouped and labelled on the basis of differing interpretations of the faith. It’s implicit in party politics and the labels that attach to proponents of one viewpoint or the other.

“An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it. Ad hominem reasoning is normally described as a logical fallacy.” (Wikipedia)

The government of Canada is convinced that the economic benefit to the country of being able to ship volumes of oil-sands oil to the Orient outweighs the danger of accidents and the compromising of the natural world that accompanies any project of this magnitude. The Aboriginal nations along its route see the pipeline as yet another infringement on their territories and their traditional way of life, besides being environmentally very risky.
These are major considerations. They need to be weighed soberly and respectfully.
Our government’s ad hominem intrusion into the atmosphere of the hearings before they even get started is inconsistent with the ideals of democracy.
Assad’s, on the other hand, is simply an affront to all that is reasoned, noble and generous in the human spirit.

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