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Serious ramifications of self-aggrandizing arrogance| Ian G. Wilkinson

Tuesday, March 09, 2021 @ 1:40 PM | By Ian G. Wilkinson

Ian G. Wilkinson %>
Ian G. Wilkinson
Stephen Lewis, former UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, was asked during an interview what the most important thing a person in his position could do to bring warring parties to the table. His answer was that both sides need to recognize that the other side comes to the table from a “legitimate perspective.”

Not that they are right, or wrong or possibly mistaken about some part of their perspective, but that their grievances are not simply made up by whining crybabies.

The pandemic and problems of modern society have certainly caused changes in how we view ourselves, each other and the society in which we live. Everyone has a position that demands respect, at least in as much as its opposition needs to be able to comprehend and rephrase the other sides’ core point.

If we can’t at least do that, then we are part of the problem, not the solution. This sometimes takes no small effort and heavy mental lifting but if we don’t do it ... we will surely be forever lost in the morass of conflict and internecine strife.

This became evident to me during the series of events that led up to and included occupation of the Capitol buildings in Washington on Jan. 6. In line with how demagogues twist the meaning of words to suit their purpose the first thing to understand is that there was no “insurrection” in the conventional meaning of the word.

Watching the events of that day it becomes clear in short order that the mass of people entering the premises couldn’t, as group, organize to put their collective pants on if they tried let alone establish, plan or obtain any kind of significant goal that would even vaguely resemble some kind of takeover of power. To say otherwise is simply hyperbole.

The mob of misfits, angry demagogues and curiosity seekers were frustrated and misguided but largely politically unsophisticated. The “talking points” now used by some observers and commentators to label the events of that day as something else is an attempt to shape the historical narrative to their own political purposes.

Listen to the language from some commentators now. They say we need to increase surveillance, introduce more laws to combat hate speech (or more correctly to combat other peoples’ speech), shut down conservative talk airwaves and even change the First Amendment.

Make no mistake, such twisting of word meanings is absolutely part of the methodology of political manipulation. It can “shift the goalposts” of meaning and ideology, like the tide, surreptitiously sweeping in around you until what you thought meant one thing is being used to mean and justify something completely different.

This is the discourse of modern political rhetoric and is used with such skill and stealth that it often escapes notice even for those of us that are steeped in its use.

Language is a tool that can be used for good or evil. It contextualizes and frames meaning and understanding of reality. And context is crucial as a tool of conceptualization. Half-empty means something different than half-full. The subject in the foreground cannot be understood without being placed in front of the gestalt of the background. Again, meaning is constructed by the words that conceptualize the context.

The anger and frustration of those who support(ed) Donald Trump and occupied the Capitol buildings cannot simply be brushed away as inconsequential flailing of bitter “deplorables.” To do so would be to misunderstand the picture that was presented by those actions. That does not mean to say that people are not to take responsibility for the agency of their actions, but to dismiss those actions as entirely without cause or meaning is a form of self-aggrandizing arrogance.

As if to say “my perspective is entirely reasonable and justified while theirs can be dismissed as extremist.”

This can have serious real-world implications and consequences. The rise of Adolf Hitler is one obvious example.

Perception had it that largely, the bulk of the German population did not believe that Germany had actually lost the 1914-18 war but was betrayed by political elites, communists, Jews and fifth column elements within the German state. After all, the Allies had not even set foot on German soil and the army was still largely intact.

This doesn’t mean such sentiments were accurate but the reality was such that within 20 years resentment at the perception of that betrayal was solidified in the German national cultural psyche.

The myopic distortions people allow themselves to fall into are unfortunate and there is a seeming inability to even consider the possibility that there are legitimate perspectives on the other side.

Ian G. Wilkinson B.A., LL.B. provides litigation paralegal services throughout southwestern Ontario. You can e-mail him at or visit

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