Sunday 22 September 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'Why we must meet halfway in political debate'

'The right is growing because the left won't listen to its concerns'
'The right is growing because the left won't listen to its concerns'

I've been thinking a lot about politics recently. I've written here before about the rise of the right - in Europe, America and most recently Brazil. There are many reasons why it's happening. Some are economic. Some are to do with law and order. Some are to do with immigration. All are to do with fear.

Fear of someone taking your job, changing your culture, undermining your position, making you worse off in some way. I've argued with people online many times about whether or not free speech should apply to people who express right-wing or far-right views - lots of people say no - they should be de-platformed and prevented from spreading their ideology. I still believe yes.

And I'll tell you why. I don't believe the right is rising in isolation. I believe politics is, in fact, polarising. So as the right has been growing, an equivalent hard-left position has grown correspondingly. We don't mind that - because we don't fear the left in the way we fear the right. But the poles are pulling people in two different directions, and as that happens, consensus and agreement become increasingly hard.

So what's currently occurring is someone in Eastern Europe saying; We're experiencing rapid immigration and it's causing problems. The left says; You're wrong! You can't say that, you racist! REFUGEES ARE WELCOME! The right says; You're right! Don't listen to the politically correct! MUSLIMS ARE THE SOURCE OF ALL OUR PROBLEMS!

Neither is actually true. Immigration is posing challenges culturally, and logistically, that need to be managed like any other societal issue. This isn't the fault of migrants fleeing war or famine - but pretending there are no issues and insulting those who express concern around this, is no solution either.

The person concerned about immigration in their area, hears one side calling them a racist and telling them there's nothing to see here - when they know that's not the case. And they hear the other side acknowledging their worries and playing on their fears and so the right grows. The right isn't growing just because of people expressing prejudiced, hateful views. It's also happening because the left will not hear of any concerns that don't fit with their ideology.

We are forgetting that it isn't only the right that's dangerous. Polarisation in, and of itself, is bad. Where there is no compromise, no agreement - there will always ultimately be conflict and that conflict can very easily become bloody. And before you yell - fascist apologist, dog whistler for racists and all the other things people say nowadays when their conviction in their own right-mindedness is challenged. I dislike the right as much as anybody. I don't want to see them rise.

I don't want to see hate or prejudice triumph. But I also don't believe every person to the right of Trotsky is a fascist, or a racist, and I don't believe polarised politics, or firing insults at anyone who disagrees with you achieves anything at all.

At a time like this, those in the centre must realise they have a role to play, that those hurling anger and hate from the extremes never will. That of finding consensus. That of downplaying fear while addressing concerns.

We've been largely spared these issues here, being immersed as we were in civil war politics for the past 100 years. But with Fianna Fail now propping up Fine Gael in government, we can no longer pretend they're in opposition to each other. And a left/right divide is emerging.

But a time is coming when all of us will be asked what side we're on, and people will try and force us to choose. But the very nature of that question is problematic. How about trying to pull people back from the extremes? How about we try not to be dragged to either end of the spectrum but instead use calm discourse, diplomacy, education, good economic planning and a refusal to insult or denigrate people who disagree with us? Dissenting voices aren't bad. But how we deal with them is very important and we're messing it up. No good can come of it.

@ciarakellydoc Ciara presents Lunchtime Live on Newstalk weekdays 12-2

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