It is a sad comment on the current state of political discourse that the police frequently have to separate groups of people with opposing ideas. The more important an issue, the more crucial it is that the truth – or something approximating the truth – be reached, and this can only be done through rational dialogue.
It is only through reasoned discourse that the complexities of political issues can be fully explored, and the points of contention ironed-out. If there is any hope at all of resolving some of the bitter disputes which populate our modern political landscape, it rests on the willingness of activists on both sides to control their emotions and use their higher faculties to argue their cases intelligently and, crucially, to consider that they might be wrong about some or all of what they believe. There may not be a path to compromise and conciliation on any particular topic, but if there is, it is through conversation, not conflict.
This calm, rational, self-aware truth-seeking is precisely what did not happen at Carr Hall on May 9, when pro-choice demonstrators converged to protest against anti-abortion workshops being held within. As The Varsity reported, police were called to the scene and guarded entrances while the protestors chanted outside.
Whatever ideas were being discussed inside Carr Hall — correct or incorrect, laudable or dangerous — went unchallenged. No minds were changed on either side. Nothing was accomplished, and no progress was made.
Whether or not the police presence was necessary to prevent violence is unknown and beside the point; rather than putting forth an intelligent argument or rationally engaging with the ideas to which they were opposed, the protestors waved signs and chanted slogans. They made noise rather than sense. As a result, yet another abortion clash has come and gone, and we are no closer to agreement, compromise, or conciliation.
This is the dismal reality of modern political discourse: rather than advancing and defending ideas of their own, protestors instead try to drown out or shut down ideas they oppose. Of course they will say they are not “just opposed” to these — their reasoning is that the ideas are hateful, dangerous, or both and need to be suppressed.
The possibility that their own ideas may be considered hateful or dangerous by others, and that to determine which is which requires open, intelligent discourse, does not seem to cross their minds — neither does the idea that it may not be their place to decide, on behalf of Canadian civil society, which ideas may or may not be put forth for public consideration. Still farther from their minds is the possibility that, if these ideas are really so dangerous, and if they are so correct that they are justified in censoring them unilaterally, that it might be better — indeed crucial — to publicly engage with and dispatch them through rational argument, so that they might be publicly shown to be wrong.
Abortion rights are extraordinarily important, and the more they come under attack the more crucial it is that the people defending them come across as calm, rational, and well-informed, rather than aggressive and unreasonable. It is just as crucial that they focus their attention on winning the debate rather than shutting it down, for — as with all attempts to stifle free expression — it will not be suppressed, but merely driven underground, where those with whom they refuse to engage will have no opposition.
Simon Capobianco is a fourth-year student studying math and bioethics at Woodsworth College.