October 27, 2014

Commentary | March 31, 2014
Get out of the middle of the road
It’s time to get angry
Written by | Visual by Catherine Polcz | The McGill Daily

The first time I heard it, I was standing outside of a bar on St. Laurent, waiting for a friend to finish her cigarette. “It’s the tone,” someone was saying, “that renders The Daily unreadable, more than the argument.” Since then, I have heard this argument again and again – that the tone of this newspaper, of its writers, is one of anger and accusation, and that this devalues the words printed on the page.

The idea that an opinion is worthwhile only when palatable to others – and usually, this means to your opponents – is absurd. And yet it is everywhere. Feminists have been hearing for years that their expressions of anger are irrational, and therefore illegitimate, expressions of criticism. On campus, some of our readers subscribe to this ethos, as do generations of SSMU executives unable to make political decisions for fear of divisiveness.

Even those politicians, speakers, and writers who are respected for their ‘passion’ are not viscerally angry; theirs is a passion that deals in eloquence, rhetoric, and Standard Written English. Given these concessions, their passion fits within the bounds of civility, and is therefore deemed acceptable, productive. Not everyone can afford to deal in such currency; not everyone is given such currency.

I have heard this argument again and again – that the tone of this newspaper, of its writers, is one of anger and accusation, and that this devalues the words printed on the page.

It is this demand for civility above all else – never mind that the ‘all else’ can encompass important personal experiences or gross injustices – that I have failed to understand, despite my efforts to grapple with it.

The idea seems to be that even if you disagree, you have to be nice. Let me just say, right off, that there is neither moral superiority nor egalitarian value to being everyone’s friend. Not everybody needs your friendship – or support, or kindness – in the same way. It is much less important to the billionaire chairperson of a multinational conglomerate that you are kind, than to someone recently evicted from their home.

But too frequently it is painted as a matter of moral superiority. A good person would be kind while disagreeing, would never raise their voice, would never alarm their opponent. A good person, for example, would not accuse their peers of being products and perpetrators of systemic racism. Such a desire to coat convictions in a smarmy exterior removes the urgency of the issues, and, in many cases, places the onus on the individual to tailor the presentation of their own experiences to the tastes of others.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think all unfiltered sentiments are equal. Many are hateful, racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, and transphobic. But to demand that people who have experienced these exact sentiments, to varying and sometimes extreme degrees, continue to filter their experiences to be pleasing to the white, middle-class, male eye that so frequently lays judgement (whether solicited or not), is to deepen these insults.

Choosing to take a side and feel strongly can create anger and frustration, but it can also move us to fight against injustices. The loss of anger and frustration leads to quiet acceptance.

This desire to be amenable to both sides, to avoid displeasing anyone at all, manifests itself as moderatism within the political sphere. Certainly, believing in a stance that is squarely between left and right can be based on many factors. But increasingly, and increasingly at this school, and within its political bodies, I see moderatism for the sake of moderatism.

But moderatism is not apolitical; representation of none is not representation of all. When our student council does not throw its weight behind a student organization like CKUT, it is not saying that it agrees with all students’ opinions on that organization; it is saying that the status quo can take care of itself.

Moderatism throws strong support, in fact, behind the politics of the status quo. These are politics that allow our University to threaten student groups’ existence through systematic existence referenda and extreme financial pressure, all while removing their ability to use the McGill name. These are the same politics that allow our elected officials to manipulate voters by capitalizing on singular issues, only to renege and leave those same voters with no support. These are politics that allow our society to turn a blind eye to the disproportionate incarceration, assault, and murder of Indigenous people, while plundering their unceded territory for resources and short-term economic gain. Not one of these things is apolitical. But they are the status quo, and they are what you implicitly choose when you choose to stay in the centre of the road. The default. No opinion.

Choosing to take a side and feel strongly can create anger and frustration, but it can also move us to fight against injustices. The loss of anger and frustration leads to quiet acceptance. Students were angry when riot police were brought to campus on November 10, 2012 to end a peaceful demonstration. We have since gained a document (the ‘protest protocol’) that institutionalized the administration’s ability to continue this practice. In fact, this has become the standard response, yet students no longer raise concerns about its implementation. The enactment of the protocol to bring riot police to the Demilitarize McGill protest on March 21 – and the lack of student outrage following – demonstrates that, far from inciting students to more anger and action, this sort of intervention has bred acceptance of the status quo.

I want to celebrate our writers for daring to be angry. For daring to put down their convictions and their experiences in a way that is raw, and real, and galvanizing.

Our university administrations and our governments alike, count on us to not get angry. They profit when individuals, groups, and communities are not angry enough to fight. When they are not angry enough to resist. There is value in centrism, but not usually value for the individual. Deferring to both sides implicitly supports the systems and structures that make up that status quo, benefitting the side that already wields control.

We study and work at a university that charges its own student union $130,000 in rent, and that has added utilities to boot. A university that violates its collective agreement with a union of its workers mere days after reaching that same agreement. A university that swears its industry- and military-funded research “adhere[s] to the highest ethical standards.” Yes, we are angry about the way the University treats student space, its workers, and concerns about its role in globally and humanistically destructive endeavours. Tell me why we shouldn’t be.

I want to celebrate our writers for daring to be angry. For daring to put down their convictions and their experiences in a way that is raw, and real, and galvanizing. I want to challenge those who criticize their anger to consider why they may be angry, and you may not.
So call us radical. Call us angry. Those aren’t insults.


Anqi Zhang is the coordinating editor of The Daily, but the opinions here are her own. Get angry with (or at) her at anqi.zhang.92@gmail.com.

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