One of Canada’s top public relations professionals and environmentalists is coming to TRU to explain the dangers of public dialogue today and how people can fix it.
James Hoggan is the author of the book I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean it Up. It explores how dialogue in the public sphere is “polluted” by polarized conversations and why these messages are dangerous in a democratic society. The book was released earlier this year in May.
Speaking from his office on Salt Spring Island, Hoggan told The Omega that the aim of his lectures is to bring to light how discourse by figures in the media is often designed to shut down discussion and to demonize opposition.
One of the reasons Hoggan decided to look into the state of public discourse by writing his book was because he had noticed that while society is aware of the dangers of climate change, it is “alarming” how little is being done about it.
“Instead of thoughtfulness and reasonableness, what you see is ad hominem attacks on environmentalists, and vice versa,” Hoggan said. Ad hominem attacks are arguments based on a debater’s character rather than addressing the facts at hand.
“Instead of reasonableness and action, you see inaction and increasing levels of unreasonableness.”
According to Hoggan, in order to heal public discourse, both individuals and groups must learn to discuss ideas in a way that is more open and does not demonize the opposition.
“We need to get a lot better at telling our stories in a more pluralistic way so that we don’t fall into the trap of polarizing the hell out of these issues that shouldn’t be polarized,” Hoggan said.
His second lecture, Foreign Funded Radicals, looks into how oil industry spokespeople, and later politicians following that same message, demonized environmental groups opposed to oilsands development, invalidating their arguments by calling them radicals.
“They were even comparing them to terrorists. We had federal ministers saying that they were un-Canadian,” Hoggan said.
Hoggan has spent the last decade as the chair of the David Suzuki Foundation’s board of directors and uses both climate change and politics in his book as examples of dialogue filled with what he believes to be toxic discourse. The book also features interviews from top scholars and spiritual leaders worldwide, including MIT professor Peter Senge and the Dalai Lama.
Hoggan has also spent decades in crisis communications and runs Hoggan & Associates, a successful public relations firm in Vancouver that has assisted organizations with issues from food poisoning to taser death scandals.
Before writing I’m Right and You’re An Idiot, Hoggan also wrote two other books, one on climate change and the other on how to ethically get public support. He also runs the blog DeSmogBlog, which aims to demystify claims by anti-climate change campaigns.
Hoggan’s lectures are presented by TRU’s Office of Environment and Sustainability, TRU Faculty Association and the Kamloops chapter of the Council of Canadians.
Hoggan will be holding the first lecture starting at 7 p.m. in the Alumni Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 12. His second lecture will be held on Thursday, Oct. 13 at 2:30 p.m. in AE 162.