The Slow Outreach of Respect in the Troll Era, Advocate, 16/01/2017

A fortunate follow-up to my analysis of troll politics this weekend. It’s a small example of a conversation that I think demonstrates how real social change happens. A story about getting people with opposing political views to sit down respectfully and work out ideas about the future of society together.

That kind of coalition-building used to be done in most state politics and governance, but not anymore in this era of demonizing the opposition and priming people for one-party rule.

A graphic representation of people's typical attitude when discussing
politics on the internet.
Qualifications first. I don’t intend this story to imply anything about how to win elections or referendums. Because this is about how to build bridges with opposition to humanize each other and restore values of friendship and brotherhood to political organizing.

So do you win elections? Present a set of genuine policy alternatives driven by a genuinely alternative political and moral philosophy that critiques and makes up for the blind spots in the current government’s approach. Then promote the hell out of that vision and drive turnout as high as you can.

But how do we end this impasse of polarization? What kind of conversation spaces can we start with our opponents that won’t immediately become cesspools of abuse?

Twitter will not be that space. Political organizing on Twitter is for peacock posturing and rallying your own troops with news, photos, and live video.

Facebook can be that space, but not the typical kind of Facebook space that’s gotten all the press this year – It won’t be partisan news pages like Eagle Rising or Addicting Info. I’m talking about interactions of personal pages and profiles.

My old friend D the Miner got into it when I posted a link to my post about troll politics, throwing some right-wing perspective into the mix. And though I cheekily confronted him about it at first, we ended up in a fairly detailed back-and-forth about how people perceive and associate political and social values, and what the future of Canadian energy should be.

Do not let the monsters determine how you live, only how you fight
Facebook comments allow people to have public conversations where each statement can carry a lot of detail. You can explain what you want to say in a comment or reply field where you can go on for a paragraph or two.

What’s more, the context of those threads are clear from their layout – if a thread is a conversation between two people, you don’t have to jump in on that exact thread if you have something different to say. You can start your own comment thread and conversation on the post.

It’s a slow process – literally just detailed conversations among friends scattered around the country and the world. But it can create a more relaxed space where people can talk in a respectful way about the different ways they experience life and society.

Because while we may be in a time of extremism now, we’ll also need to lay down the foundations of a more peaceful politics to emerge if democratic culture survives this upheaval. Those foundations are those calm spaces of conversation and fellowship between different people.

Not always appropriate for every political context. But definitely needed.

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