• In my last post, I worried about a new censorship from politically correct, but intellectually intolerant people accusing Dr. Phil McGraw of condoning rape when he asked a question about its definition. I argued that this kind of attack by extreme extrapolation has become a type of censorship as popular media and pundits are scared away from exploring ideas whose truth has already been settled by influential one-thought-fits-all agencies.

    This week an even more successful example of thought control has been realized in the form of a censorship crusade against the Nanaimo Daily News for publishing a letter to the editor by Bill McRitchie, which criticized the modern First Nations for “perpetuating the perceived notion that they remain under the heel of non-aboriginals” and for “making outrageous demands for land and taxpayer money.” I have read the letter and listened to Mr. McRitchie, who was interviewed on CKNW (after he was accused by many of being a racist not worthy of publication). He seems to be an articulate and well-meaning person who possesses a radical opinion, which, as he says, may ultimately be wrong or partially wrong, but which – in my opinion – is worthy of the public conversation, precisely because the current dialogue, so fearful of saying the wrong thing, has for many years been closed to nuance on this subject. It is my contention that (a) all reasoned ideas should be considered, and more importantly, (b) no arguments, barring those that promote violence, should be censored.

    Of course, people should feel free to criticize McRitchie in any way they deem accurate. However, I wish they would resist the urge to dismiss him as a racist, which, from my reading of him, is unjust. To defend himself, Mr. McRitchie noted that, according to the dictionary, a racist is a person who believes one race is better than another. He says he has no such belief; instead, it seems that he believes that modern First Nations as well as Canadians are misguided in their assumption about the means by which to reconcile. While he acknowledges that “North American aboriginals were treated terribly by those European nations that were compelled to spread their empires throughout the world and to subjugate any and all indigenous peoples who were perceived a threat to colonialism/imperialism” and that “Treaties were merely empty promises designed to overtly appease the indigenes while covertly exploiting them,” he believes that “As our country matured and demographics changed through massive immigration and the evolution of our society… the playing field began to level.” Mr. McRitchie may be wrong in this assessment, and while his motivation for coming to it might be racist (only he knows his muse), his conclusion does not suggest that the First Nations are a lesser people.

    Some critics have compared Mr. McRitchie to Holocaust deniers, noting that although he doesn’t deny the original historical horrors of colonialism (indeed, he acknowledges them up to the early 20th century), he nevertheless denies the long-term effects. This denial is similar, they contend, to the cleverer of the Holocaust deniers, who don’t so much deny the genocide as much as minimize its effects. It is an interesting comparison, but I think it is once again too simple, or at least unproven: not all cases that are similar in form are equal in content. Moreover, I’m not sure if Mr. McRitchie was saying that colonialism did not have a long-term effect on modern society. That is, I think it’s likely, or at least plausible, that he would agree to the proposition that the current suffering in First Nations communities is inextricably linked to colonialism. He argues, however, that the First Nations now have equal opportunity to everyone else, and so perhaps he thinks that maintaing a system of special status, counter-intuitively, perpetuates the disparity in well-being because people are best able to be resilient if they are treated equally to everyone else. (Again, this may be a flawed philosophy, but it is not racist to submit the idea for consideration.) I am no better able to prove this interpretation of Mr. McRitchie than are those who accuse him of being racist, but I think it is perfectly plausible, and yet, in our current public policy (of calling-people-a-racist-and-asking-questions-never), it was not given a chance.

    This closed-mindedness is evidenced by the fact that, not only were the opinions of this writer immediately accused, without evidence, of their worst possible motivation, but the newspaper who chose to publish the letter was publicly charged with crimes against decency. It is apparent to me that most Canadian media do not cover First Nations issues with the same multi-perspectival approach that they do other issues, and I can see why, when a newspaper cannot publish a letter to the editor on this subject without immediately being ridiculed for the alleged crimes and motivations of the letter writer. As a result of the outrage, the Managing Editor of the paper, Mark MacDonald, has said that he’s baffled as to what do with controversial letters in future: perhaps, he said, he would remove the letter to the editor section completely to avoid feeling obligated to censor his community.

    The issue of truth and reconciliation with the First Nations community is, I think, one of the most challenging in Canadian society, and Mr. McRitchie’s thoughts on it may be wrong, or mostly wrong, but I think it is unfortunate that the current conversation is too closed to hear him out. Regardless of the merit of Mr. McRitchie’s views, they are—-to use the PC term—-marginalized. Most media outlets in Canada avoid controversial opinions regarding First Nations issues likely because such perspectives are dangerous to their journalistic health. Paternalism against First Nations people, as exemplified in the residential school system, is one of Canada’s worst crimes, and so the media is loathe to question First Nations philosophy in any way that could seem like it is telling them what to think (see my rant against Vancouver Opera’s production of The Magic Flute, which tried so hard to compliment the First Nations that it forgot to be interesting). Consequently, First Nations society and leadership does not have the benefits and consequences of a rigorous and vigilant bi-partisan press that the rest of Canadian society enjoys. While such aggressive media can be a bully, it can also protect us from our own corrupt leaders.

    In trying to defend his newspaper, Mark MacDonald boasted that his publication has been “pro-First Nations” in its editorials and coverage, which would be considered bad journalism if it were applied to any other group. Perhaps such supportive coverage is what a suffering culture needs, but it doesn’t seem to have made a dent in the ills within First Nations communities so far. Thus, if there’s a chance that we as a society are approaching this subject from a wrong or oversimplified point of view, the only way we can recognize such philosophical problems is if we are able to criticize the orthodoxy. If it’s the case that Mr. McRitchie’s letter was unreasonable, then we should point that out, but when we won’t even allow the discussion, then we scare off other critics, who may be more helpful, from joining the conversation.

    Posted by SethBlog @ 2:00 PM

  • 4 Responses

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    • Natalie Says:

      Sethblogs,

      Your blog has inspired two comments:

      (1) I HATE the term “pro-First Nations.” What does that even mean? It seems to entail taking the First Nations’ side completely and unconditionally on everything as opposed to treating individual cases and issues that involve First Nations people with the critical thinking and investigation that they warrant. It also suggests that the First Nations are a uniform group, all of whom share the same perspective. It’s scary that an editor used this term to describe his newspaper; it is scary, first of all, that it should be so partisan, second that it should be so uncritically partisan.

      (2) At the factory-like children’s educational facility at which I toil, a student came into my charge, proudly toting a paper in-progress that argued simply that “We must protect the environment!” I looked at her previous drafts, which were drenched with syrupy clichés and generalities about being in harmony with nature and so on, but contained no actual research on specific types of pollution, their causes, and their negative effects. I was appalled that she had gone so far into the paper-writing process with so little substance. I looked at the other teachers’ feedback and was appalled to find, in lieu of critiques of the writing, structure, and content, commendations in the vein of “Good for you for wanting to protect the environment!” and “You should be proud of yourself for thinking this way [smiley face emoticon].” What?! People, children and otherwise, should never be praised for espousing the (in this case, left-wing) orthodoxy, nor should they be punished on the sole basis of exploring opinions outside of the status quo. The student was shocked and disgruntled (understandably, since she had previously received nothing but praise) when I told her that she must redo the assignment because it is never enough to just have an opinion; it must be backed up with specific reasons and evidence. I hope that in the education system, this misguided conflation of a politically correct opinion with a well-supported one, or of a controversial opinion with a groundless one, is a rarity, but, based on the reactions of adults to this letter to the editor, such thinking seems to be far more pervasive.

      Keep on fighting the orthodoxy!

    • SethBlog Says:

      Thank you, Natalie. Brilliantly put. Your first point perfectly encapsulates the current problem, I think, with most discussions around this topic: the debate is nuance free. One is seen as either “pro-First Nations” or “anti-First Nations,” leaving no room for contemplation. And your second point terrifyingly illustrates how elusive critical thought seems to be in many educational institutions. Even in university, I found professors in some humanities (i.e. Sociology instructors) were more concerned with measuring the students’ ability to agree with them, while others (i.e. Philosophy instructors) were interested in whether the students could construct their own ideas, and defend them logically. One of my favourite university achievements arose when a philosophy professor covered my paper in red disagreement on almost all of my points, only to give me a (rare for me) A+.

    • Tom2 Says:

      Thanks for two nicely thought out and expressed points of view. My only concern is that I’m reading the opinions of someone who rarely achieved a top mark in his university studies, and I’m assuming this weakness was in philosophy, which demanded logical defense of ideas. I’m now worried, even terrified, that the logic that I thought was evident in this piece was in fact faulty.

    • SethBlog Says:

      Thank you, Tom2, for this worthy, nearly logical analysis of my credibility. It is true my writing and spell-checking skills weren’t developed enough in university to get frequent A pluses; unfortunately for your trenchant argument, I didn’t say anything about my marks in logic courses, which were rarely measured by writing assignments. 🙂

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