With the near rejection of establishment liberal politics leading to the election of Trump and the leftward swing of the Democratic party, the political sphere seems more divided than ever. This is a wonderful phenomenon, as it has led to the propagation of more diverse opinions in mainstream politics. It has also, however, led to a lot of ignorance and hatred between the political wings. The best way to bridge this gap is to support the notion of freedom of speech. The best way to do this is for people on all sides of the political spectrum to follow and befriend those on their opposite wings.

My belief in such a solution arose when I began attending my university in 2017. At that time I was a staunch Soviet-style communist. I joined my campus New Democrats (which was the most left I could go in mainstream politics) in 2018. I refused to politically engage with my Liberal and Conservative friends. 

While I did maintain my non-political comradery with people across the wings, my determination to engage in political masturbation left me dumb in my echo chamber. When I actually mustered the courage to have an intellectual discussion with people I disagreed with, I found myself on the back foot. 

I had to escape my household of ignorance.

My escape began when I went to an event called “Breakfast with Andrew Scheer” in early 2019. He is the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. There, I met veteran right-wingers who I never thought I would ever mingle with. And here I was, challenging the very foundation of my beliefs by listening to their arguments and opinions.

To my satisfaction, it worked out well.

I found myself questioning the vase of my beliefs, which my fellow right-wingers had exposed cracks in. I changed some of my viewpoints while retaining most of the original ones. This continued as I went to more events hosted by both the Conservatives and New Democrats.

What I learnt was that everyone has their own story; their own struggle; their own reasons. Not everyone is a blind follower of a belief simply because they have been told to follow it. Some people want to pay fewer taxes to save more money; others would not mind paying more taxes for quality government programs.

It is this aspect of the discussion that made me cherish perhaps my greatest learning from this episode: the right to freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech guarantees such discussions. Discussions that change your mind, your views, and your avowals. To protect one’s own belief requires the common protection of this principle.

I engaged in more such discussions with my friends on campus and it seemed that they, too, had their views changed along with mine. This basic tenet of understanding and being open to ideas is a fundamental aspect of the aforementioned freedom.

Today, my beliefs have drastically evolved from what they used to be. From an avowed supporter of the Soviet Union, I grew to become a left-libertarian. I saw the basic flaws in the social structures of capitalist society and my beliefs of Marxism-Leninism, while eventually embracing the logical notion of free markets coupled with worker ownership.

My views further enhanced when this month, I changed my political allegiance from Bernie Sanders to Andrew Yang. Not to say I don’t support Bernie or don’t have some sort of nostalgic hope for him, but my refined beliefs distilled my choices.

I could still very much be wrong, and I am open to changing my mind. 

In my view, it is this principle that could help potential deradicalization and bridge the ideological divide. Today, freedom of speech is under attack online and in universities. I am not a conservative myself. But I find, at times, a lot of my conservative friends are not given equal opportunities to present their view. For example, free-speech advocate Lindsay Shepherd was removed from Twitter.

This is a scary precedent for the future of our society. Regardless of views, a robust belief in equal opportunities for everyone should not be struck down. With the encouragement of debate amongst various beliefs, no matter how wild they are, we could neutralize the threats that have culminated in the demise of our liberal society.

Maybe sitting down together on the “table of brotherhood” could better help us understand the complexities of our diverse beliefs. If beliefs are forced down our throats as we struggle to represent our views, we will end up in mobocracy. 

The signs of this mobocracy produced far-left groups like Antifa and far-right groups like the Proud Boys. Both have indulged in heinous acts of political violence that would put any constitutionalist to shame.

The only way to deradicalize society and bridge our divides is to listen to your opposing side. An agreement would be miles away, but if an Antifa member and a Proud Boy could sit at the table and have a simple peaceful discussion, they would find out they actually do have quite a bit in common.

Perhaps one of the best examples of such debate would be when Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks debated Ben Shapiro of The Daily Wire. Or something more recent, the debate between Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Žižek. Leftists, who blatantly labelled Peterson a fascist, found a sense of agreement on some issues with him. 

For instance, Žižek and Peterson both disavowed political correctness and identity politics.

While a lot of disagreements exist, a free debate can highlight our similarities. That we are human beings and have our own interpretation of things which we must respect.

I, in this case, found myself in agreement with Žižek on the idiocy of the term “Cultural Marxism.” I found myself in agreement with Peterson on the issue of “clean up your room.”

While having a political debate at the stage of Žižek and Peterson would not be possible for everyone, they can instead follow people with opposing viewpoints on social media.

If you’re a socialist, follow and engage with a libertarian; if you’re a conservative, follow and engage with a liberal. You’ll find a great deal of agreement with those across from your aisle.

It is with this debate and openness to uphold freedom of speech that we as a society can improve and fill the cracks in our beliefs. In doing so, we may combat extremism and misrepresentation of our beliefs, while furthering our cause to those that would have once opposed it.  

If I were to ask myself whether my decision to attend an event by the Conservative Party was a good idea, I would say yes. In fact, if I could go back in time to when I joined my university, I would tell myself to join the campus NDP, Liberals, and Conservatives. 

And that’s what we should do. Attend meetings and discussions in a civil manner, and follow those you disagree with. The cure to deradicalization and political division is free speech, and open discussion, itself.