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In the Deputy Editor's Notebook | Practicing Intellectual Humility

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Published at 1:10 am. Updated at 5:00 am.


When we talk about polarization, we immediately think of the distance that arises between opposing positions. We think of opinions that are moving away, that are becoming radicalized, that are preventing any debate.

This is exactly what has been happening for several years, we can see it clearly. Positions are increasingly less gray: they are black or white, especially on social networks where we tweet whatever you want.

But there is something even more damaging about this environmental divide: our growing difficulty in even listening to the position that is opposite to ours.

It's one thing to disagree with your neighbor. Disagreements are healthy and normal. Light also arises from the collision of ideas.

Throughout history, we have debated, we have argued, we have persisted, and we have had much good done to us. We have the right to our opinions, to our beliefs and even to the firmness of our positions… provided that we are able to accept and listen to the position of our counterpart in order to evaluate, analyze and judge it on to examine its merits and even to dismantle it.

And that is exactly what seems to be missing most from public debate today: intellectual humility.

In his recent book, The Tears, essayist Alex Gagnon beautifully shows the connection between this tension of opinion and the identity surge we see almost everywhere.

Gagnon argues that we are in some ways trapped in our ideological identities: I think on the left, that's why I think this is such a debate. Point. Without further reflection on the issue, the relevance of the positions, the strength of each party's arguments.

In this way, Gagnon argues, controversy is often less a dialogue or debate than a classification exercise in which we classify others by classifying ourselves.

A current example. Anyone who is on the left and is environmentally sensitive has a good chance of being against the Northvolt factory, because environmentalists are against it. And if we are to the right, we risk being pro-construction. And we are eliminating, on one side or the other, all shades of green from this very current debate, which ranges from protecting the natural environment to the necessary transition to electric power.

So we adopt attitudes linked to the camp with which we identify, we include ourselves in our family of thoughts without daring to question our positions and, above all, without wanting to agree with them who see things differently.

In the United States we talk about tribalism. In France there is an “archipellization”1 of a society divided into islands or even a “Netflixization”2 of the life of ideas with opinions “on demand” in niches of meaning that no longer communicate with each other.

Various expressions that lead to an observation: we move away, we eliminate counterarguments, we stop giving preference to those who think differently. In short, we no longer even bother to listen to what the other person has to say.

I will say a word about this at the beginning of the year because I sense that the desire to get back into the dialogue is growing. I am even seeing an increase in calls for more openness and humility in debate, in the public and private spheres, with one's neighbor, with those who are stubborn, with those who do not think like we do.

For example, I read this in Alex Gagnon's essay. As in “Éloge du retrospective” by David Crête and in “Le mut de la nuance” by Jean Birnbaum.

I recently read this from the pens of Mario Girard3 and Professor Frédéric Morneau-Guérin in Le Devoir4.

This is also the desire at La Presse, where we focus more than ever on dialogue and the pluralism of ideas, promoting respectful exchanges between those who think differently, by presenting the diversity of points of view that express themselves publicly and this to you enable you to react to our publications.

We also publish collaborations and open letters that support the journal's opinion pieces as well as those who oppose them, in the spirit of listening to the opposing viewpoint. Even the positions that attack us: think, moreover, of Boucar Diouf, who criticized us for giving too much importance to the son of Jean Charest5, or of Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, who considers us incapable of accepting criticism ( in a text we wrote). publish on our own platforms)6.

The aim is to stimulate thought. A reflection that is only possible if we return together to the idea of ​​exchange and dialogue, which would force us to pause, to listen to those who do not think like us, to weigh up, to make a decision. And sometimes, to recognize that we agree with a person on one point but disagree on another, which requires listening, openness and humility.

Exactly what I wish for us together in 2024. And I'm using the last days of January to wish you, dear readers, a Happy New Year, full of discussion, reason and reflection.

1. Jérôme Fourquet, The French Archipelago

2. Eugénie Bastié, The War of Ideas

Calling everyone

And you, do you practice intellectual humility? Are you trying to listen to the position that contradicts yours? Do you read books that challenge your opinions? Are you trying to understand points of view that you don't agree with?