Book review: newsmakers and fakers

Derek Knights
Wednesday May 09, 2018
Written by Derek Knights
When I first saw James Hoggan’s book, “I’m Right and You’re an Idiot,” I sadly thought, Well, there goes my autobiography title.

But then I noted the subtitle, “The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How To Clean It Up,” and I realized this would be a more important read than anything about me. Author Hoggan runs a PR firm in Canada, chairs the David Suzuki Foundation board, and has spent a great deal of time working through the morass of opinions and “toxic discourse” in climate change controversies.

This book is not expressly about climate change but it’s a topic used for examples. Facetious title aside, it’s about the widening gap between knowledge and expertise, and opinion and feelings — which plays right into today’s concerns about “fake news.” It’s both fascinating and maddening.

The book comprises two parts and several sections with chapters detailing the author’s interviews with experts and laypeople from varied sources, such as academia, business, science and theology. Each speaks to the world’s inability to adequately face challenges because humans have lost the ability to communicate effectively.

One interviewee lamented, “Our culture favours debate, advocacy and conflict over dialogue and deliberation.” Another said that when someone confronts us aggressively, we react much the same way, because we “commonly allow our stance to be determined by other people’s behaviour” instead of our own.

Yet another discusses how we hold on to discredited concepts for unreasonably long times because of a stubborn denial that we might be wrong.

There are some specific discussions in here for security professionals such as when Hoggan speaks of oil pipeline protests. These protests are currently a concern for the security departments of many industries, even banks, which provide financing for the projects. But both sides of any debate these days tend to mire themselves in a difficult position simply because neither believes they can be completely right unless they prove the other side is completely wrong. The easy way out is to use any means to attack your opponent, rather than present your argument intelligently.

Wise readers can bring the concepts this book explores into the workplace and learn to deal with conflict and opposition in very different and likely much better ways than they have used before. In the security and investigations world, we can learn much about conflict and respect, both of which will become more poignant as we face more directed challenges about hostile attackers/active shooters, sexual harassment and other issues in the workplace.

Hoggan’s book can also help managers deal with thoughts and opinions brought into the workplace by staff — otherwise intelligent staff! — who have picked up beliefs from “toxic discourse” in social media and fake news. The
vitriol in myriad ad hoc news websites, publishing “truths” they claim the “mainstream media” is hiding is creating a surprisingly large cohort of those the author calls idiots! When this nonsense starts to permeate the way staff — up to and including, in some instances, CEOs — deals with customers or the public at large, any organization could find themselves with reputational or security risks in addition to credibility loss.

It’s a new responsibility for everyone to debunk fake news and promote rational discussions. HR and business managers need to consider this during recruiting, training and day-to-day business interactions. Techniques in this book will help you do that.



Derek Knights, CPP, CISSP, CFE CIPP/C, PCI, is the senior manager, strategic initiatives, global security and investigations, at the TD Bank Group (www.tdbank.com).

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of Canadian Security.

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