How the Discourse Is Being Hollowed out in Canada’s Public Square

September 28, 2020 Updated: September 28, 2020


Increasingly, it seems, serious thinking in the public square is becoming more unfashionable while at the same time society’s problems are becoming more difficult.

Public debate in Canada is being hollowed out, and by the day, the gatekeepers find more ways to limit what are permissible points of discussion. The discourse around a concept as vague as “systemic racism” has perhaps most demonstrated this of late.

“Systemic racism” found its way into the recent throne speech, with pledges to commit to the struggle against it. This includes promises to address systemic racism through such measures as combating hate speech online and increasing representation on executive boards. All might sound well and good, but the problem lying at the centre of this menace that society is supposed to mobilize against—especially when it comes to hate speech—is that nobody can ever truly define it. It’s nearly impossible, as it is in the eye of the beholder. Is it foundational and therefore everywhere in society? Is it only present in specific institutions? What exactly constitutes an act of “systemic” racism? Who knows?

It could include anything from an innocuous opinion, to poverty, to an actual act of racist harassment or discrimination.

Debates on systemic racism never interrogate the concept and what it means in any productive way. Since it is treated as something that just self-evidently exists, most debates result in cultish inquisitions that interrogate those who are skeptics.

The late Australian political philosopher Kenneth Minogue provided a good explainer for this in his 2003 essay “Christophobia and the West,” in which he broke down the rigid egalitarianism that happens to be the reigning dogma of Western society. Calling it Olympianism, he described it as a secular belief system that fuses “political conviction and moral superiority into a single package” that resembles how “religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation.”

In Olympianism, the purest form of democracy is that which rejects “all forms of authority but with no commitment to taking any serious notice of what the people actually think,” Minogue wrote. The purpose of society, then, is constant emancipation from authority and traditions, which requires changing through moral re-education those citizens who naturally might cling to such norms. And to protect the endless trek toward progress, democracy must be constrained “within a framework of rights, to which Olympian legislation is always adding,” as this helps to make certain debates off-limits and prevents any “reactionary” disruptions.

Politically, Olympians have often sidestepped the parliamentary process and relied on the courts by always framing divisive issues in the vocabulary of rights. This has been helped by enthusiastic judges who are convinced their role is to act as heroes of the resistance against reactionary forces. To challenge any resulting conclusions on abortion and assisted death is to deny one’s humanity rather than simply hold a different opinion. Practicing Christians, as a result, are cast out of the public square as their conscience compels them not to be silent on these controversial moral questions.

Journalists have also moved away from their role as professionals who inform the public, and now act instead as moral educators. This is reflected increasingly in how stories are chosen and presented. It is common to see articles that merely “expose” thought crimes and the various ways a person or group should be considered anathema to polite society.

With the struggle against “systemic racism” now being all the rage, any claim of racism, however small, is also amplified to show why society requires more social transformation. Last week, a news outlet reported that a university professor and anti-racist activist had her car broken into. The professor and other anti-racist activists said it could likely be attributed to white supremacism in the area due to her #DefundthePolice activism. Another professor interviewed for the report said the break-in was consistent with how white supremacists try to “make people of colour and indigenous people scared of speaking out.” There is little evidence for this, but it was reported on uncritically to morph a story about an unfortunate crime into a grand narrative about how our racist society forces minorities to live in constant fear.

Modern Canada serves as one of the great case studies of how progressives have captured institutions over decades and imposed their ideological vision without much opposition—something that has only intensified in this time of wokeness. This approach will continue to polarize the country while actual issues are left unaddressed, as the discourse is skewed toward progressive goals and reaffirming the monoculture the left has created.

Shane Miller is a political writer based in London, Ontario. Follow him at @Miller_Shane94.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.