Though disagreements can be difficult at times, I think the majority of us understand that honest disagreements are not only healthy but essential to growth and understanding. We have to weigh the options in life, think about the possibilities, consider not only the facts but the feelings and concerns of others. My father, may he rest in peace, taught me a great deal about the importance of honest discourse, especially in the face of radical disagreements. And to his credit, over the period of my adult life I watched my father change a great many of his ideas and opinions as a result of experience as well as through discourse. In fact I would say that my father really bucked the trend of aging people becoming more intractable and less open as they get older. It was, perhaps, his greatest gift - he taught me the importance of flexibility and compromise.
However, despite all that my father taught me concerning honest disagreements and the importance of discourse, this teaching falls flat in the face of much rightwing discourse. I have had many disagreements with rightwingers over my life that have been very basic differences of opinion on things like Gay Marriage, the death penalty etc. I have even had meaningful discussions about things as sensitive as sexism and racism. I think most of us at one time or another fall victim to some opinion without realizing the sexist or racist implication that our opinions might carry. In fact, in my last post I pointed to how Ian Capstick's support for certain kinds of immigration and refugee policies have implications that are, in fact, deeply racist. I am certain that Mr. Capstick doesn't believe that he is racist and that he even finds the prospect abhorrent.
Anyway, the point of this discussion is simply to say that we can have disagreements that are rooted in honest mistakes, errors in fact, moral or ethical differences, and the discussion of such disagreements can be, if we are honest and flexible, instructive and helpful.
The problem is, however, that not all disagreements are rooted in honest differences of opinion. This is where the rightwing ideology of a man like Harper comes in. If Harper honestly believed that his political approach would bring about a better and more prosperous society, then our differences of opinion would be just that - differences of opinion. The problem is that all the evidence (both contemporary and historical) suggest that this is just not the case. In other words that are other, unstated, goals behind contemporary rightwing rhetoric that make honest discourse impossible, to say nothing of unfruitful. As I have said here on this blog, and as a growing number of people are saying everywhere (in most cases much more effectively than I), the real goal of contemporary rightwing ideology is a massive shift in society away from generalized prosperity to an increase in poverty and weakness for the majority. The real "hidden agenda" of Harper and his cronies is not simply the return of the death penalty or greater restrictions on abortions (though I think those issue are real). The real "hidden agenda" is something much more abstract and sinister. Haper and his ilk actually seek to impoverish society, weaken people's democratic voices, and undermine many things that we have begun to see as basic human rights. And the reason for this goal is to substantially increase the power and wealth of the few (among whom he obvious considers himself). One needn't be an historian or development expert to understand that when the people are impoverished and weakened, the rich are necessarily more powerful and even richer. Though this is a huge goal, it is also one that can only be pursued subtly and in an rather underhanded manner. After all, people don't go around saying they want to make the majority poorer and powerless, because let's face it you just would have no chance of getting elected. (By the way, this ideology of impoverishment of the many is actually at the heart of Harper's eventual goal of making guns more available. A society of rampant crime and violence makes the rightwing agenda easier to pursue because it makes people afraid and allows the government to increase the power of police.) In other words, what I am saying is that Harper does indeed have a "hidden agenda" and it is a large, if subtle one. The goal is to undermine democracy, impoverish the majority, and put an end to the very concept of equality.
The problem is, of course, obvious. We cannot have honest disagreements with people who are not being honest. Even under the best of conditions, disagreements can be problematic. Some people have better access to information, a larger platform for making their opinions known, or are simply better equipped to debate a particular issue. This is one of the many reasons that people on the left seek greater equality of opportunity, to remove as much as possible the relations of power that continually haunt our differences. But when those opposing you are not only richer and more powerful, but are simply not being honest about their actual goals, then the very notion of discourse becomes meaningless. We cannot face the Harper cabal on a level playing field of debate and disagreement because they not, in fact, debating anything. Rather all their political machinations are just a sideshow to divert attention away from what they are really trying to do.
If this scenario sounds familiar, it is because we careful observers have been watching the very same thing in Palestine for over 50 years. If Israel really wanted peace with the Palestinians, one could have a meaningful debate about how that might be achieved. However, for those in power in Israel, peace has never, per se, been the goal. Rather the goal is the eventual destruction of the Palestinian identity and the absorption of all Palestinian land into the state of Israel. They therefore are engaged in a continual process of diversion - a political sleight of hand - in order to take people's attention away from what they really want. So the discourses are dragged out indefinitely and even overwhelming compromises by men like Arafat are quickly turned aside, lest peace really happen and take away Israeli's excuse for their expansionism.
Unfortunately, all of this means that we cannot rely on meaningful discourse to defeat men like Harper, or bring peace to the Middle-East. Rather, we have to rely on the gradual exposure of our opponent's real goals and their continual failures in the normal political realm. We fight, in other words, in the margins, on countless fronts, until Harper's style exposes his real goals, until environmental failures become dangerously obvious, until his political mistakes and malfeasance expose his dishonesty to more people, until the very force of history undermines his decadent cause.