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Justin Trudeau has done a great job as Prime Minister. Recently, I was in a bar for a pub trivia night and teamed up with some Americans who were in Montreal for spring break. I asked them what they thought about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Oh, he’s great. I mean, compared to what we have in America right now, he’s awesome. He seems like he has good intentions and like he really cares,” one of them said.
“Canada must be proud to have such a tolerant, accepting Prime Minister!” said the other.
It was nice to hear! And they have a point! Trudeau, internationally, is a good representation of Canada. He’s a diplomat, he’s funny, and represents Canadian values such as openness, and progressive thought.
Trudeau may not be the most intelligent man in the world, but there is absolutely something of value, some might say more valuable than intelligence and competence. Emotional understanding. A value that Trudeau has that we have not seen in a prime minister since his father.
That’s what I would say if I were to play devil’s advocate.
In common vernacular, the term devil’s advocate describes someone who, given a certain point of view, takes a position they do not necessarily agree with for the sake of debate or to explore the thought further. As a society, we have strayed from this practice to a degree that has become worrying, and perhaps irredeemably so.
To play devil’s advocate is to understand the arguments surrounding a topic so well that you could argue for the opposite of the position you see as correct. It’s a healthy form of mental exercise that forces you to put yourself in the shoes of those who counter your ideas. But sadly, taking things out of context has become a tool used by ideologues to misrepresent public thinkers.
There’s no shortage of examples. Who is your favorite public figure? Chances are, they have been misrepresented at some point. With the popularization of long-form podcasts, it’s incredibly easy to grab a quote and display it as a reflection of a person’s values.
Devoiding a statement of its context makes it easy to weaponize someone’s own words against themselves. This makes it difficult to play devil’s advocate, as the fear of being taken out of context is far too great.
How many times has Dr. Jordan Peterson expressed himself on a podcast such as The Joe Rogan Experience, and presented an idea that may not be 100% thought through? A half cooked theory that he himself is still mapping out, attempting to iron out kinks to eventually have a decent, fully formed idea?
There’s been a general change in attitude to playing devil’s advocate in a number of areas. In a recent think piece released on Slate, the author Maya Rupert equates saying “Just to play devil’s advocate,” with “not to sound racist, but…”. It sounds almost authoritarian. Believe what we consider to be correct, and to question our facts is a cardinal sin.
Another problem nowadays with the devil’s advocate stance is that no one is willing to listen to each other anymore.
Think of a sentence as an iceberg. A large amount of the iceberg is hidden underwater and isn’t seen at surface level. We have seemingly lost the ability to dissect statements and figure out what lies underneath. Nuance, intent, context, humour. All of these things have been pushed to the side, and are instead attacked.
When a person cannot play devil’s advocate in public, they turn to do it in private. When a person is not allowed to speak and healthy dialogue cannot be had, it reaffirms their negative beliefs of people who oppose them. And thanks in part to those who have aided in shutting down healthy discourse, we have seen a sharp increase in unhealthy discourse.
What happens when there is something that the public agrees to be true, that turns out to be false? What would 12 Angry Men be without that “pesky” Juror 8? Juror 8, who argues that the accused deserves some deliberation! The juror who irritates the other jurors, the juror who wants a quick deliberation because they have tickets for that evening’s Yankees game. Those who don’t want to get into the trenches, the details, the nitty-gritty of a subject.
The devil’s advocate is an important role in a society that puts a high value on public discourse. It is not often that there are ideas so heinous that there is absolutely nothing of value that can be taken away from the evidence presented. The concept is under attack, and it seems as though now, just the idea being a devil’s advocate, needs a devil’s advocate itself.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.