OPINION: “Progress” and “backsliding” are up for interpretation

“Progress can backslide.”

Those were the words of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau June 3, at Women Deliver 2019, a global conference on gender equality.

Well Mr. Trudeau, that is certainly true. Progress can backslide. For instance, the Canadian government can change from a Harper government to a government led by you.

Now, whether you are a Conservative supporter or disliked Harper and his policies, just looking at the qualifications of the past PM and the current, the argument could be made that the quality of the country’s leader has regressed.

The fact is, Harper was a seasoned politician and holds a master’s degree in economics. Trudeau was a part-time drama teacher before being elected.

Case in point: It’s not really possible to determine whether progress is backsliding until you define what progress actually means. Inevitably, progress will look different to different people.

In history, the most successful societies were ones that adhered to a unified philosophy or a value system. Whether those values today would be deemed positive or not, those societies were strong until there was a breaking down of that value system.

Examples could include ancient Rome, the vikings, or the early years of America.

Both the vikings and Romans believed in the strong’s right to take from the weak, to conquer and pillage. Although, in modern times we’d say their goals were immoral, they were successful at meeting those goals, for a time. America was founded on the idea of equal opportunity for all that would come and work hard, as there was no caste system.

To some extent, it could be said those societies prospered until infighting led to their downfall. With the current climate of discontent and divided politics in the United States, with their constitution constantly in debate, it’s fair to say our neighbours to the south have departed from their original values, or struggle now to discern what they even were and are.

There certainly have been times in the history of the world where mankind has been thrust into periods of darkness — darkness so complete that for those not party to the crimes, the atrocities committed were inconceivable: the Holocaust of WWII, the genocide in Rwanda, or terrorism. In those cases, in simple terms, a group with an extreme ideology inflicted harm on other groups of differing ideologies.

So yes, progress can backslide, in isolated societies or in Homo sapiens as a collective whole.

The world today is at a precipice. One could say that there has never before been so many differing voices and divisive issues: gun laws, abortion laws, mass shootings, environmental concerns versus the economy, public health versus individual choice on vaccinating — the list goes on and on.

The problem is, without a guiding value system, these issues will be decided by whomever has the loudest voice or the most power, and there will always be someone on the losing side, someone for which the changes are not progress, but “backsliding.”

Trudeau told the conference that “hatred is creeping back into public debate with interest groups trying to roll back women’s rights while politicians are giving into the public pressure.”

One could infer that he is referring to the State of Alabama’s recent laws restricting abortion. What one person sees as backsliding, another could see as a return to an original value system.

Though there are issues facing women today that are real and troubling and there is much progress needed to end violence against women, it seems a stretch to say women are still routinely facing “misogyny, racism and hatred” as a blanket statement.

Trudeau said that it’s never been easier to taunt and spread abhorrent views on social media.

Although there certainly is an element online that is hateful, that is a convenient label to slap on anyone whose point of view goes against the mainstream agenda being presented. There should be room for all respectful debate.

His reaffirmation of his feminine status is laughable but he did say one thing right: “No one person has the monopoly on all the right answers.”

It’s not realistic to expect everyone to agree, or even desirable to return to a time when values were dictated by a totalitarian governing body to ensure everyone followed the accepted dogma, but surely there is enough intelligent people in the world that palatable solutions could be found through cooperation.

Surely we can find some middle ground.

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