I’ve noticed recently that something keeps happening to me that perhaps didn’t happen so much before.
I get asked my opinion on something and the person asking me doesn’t much like the answer I give. Usually the question is on a topic which is controversial – Brexit, Donald Trump, the Iraq War, George W. Bush, Gun Control, Barack Obama – but only in the global sense. What I mean by that is within a certain demographic – European, middle-class, degree educated – these topics are not controversial at all, and everyone is in lock-step agreement on each.
Which is where I think I’m surprising people. I get asked my opinion on Brexit (let’s use that as an example) and I basically say what I said here: I would have been happy enough with a Remain victory for personal reasons, but on principle I am not unhappy to have seen the Leave campaign win because I think major reforms of the EU are long overdue and these would never happen without some cataclysmic event like Brexit forcing the issue. This is hardly an extreme view but it causes a shock reaction nonetheless.
The immediate effect is for the person to challenge what I’ve said using the first response that comes into their head (“But the British economy will collapse, all the banks will move to Frankfurt!”). My response in turn is to refute them using the same information, statistics, facts, and arguments I’ve seen presented elsewhere to the same objection. The thing is, what my interlocutor has not realised, quite understandably, is that I take a keen interest in certain things and read and re-read dozens of lengthy arguments on these subjects which take place on the Internet. I also have copious amounts of time on my hands. A lot of the time I then post my own opinions on this here blog, having taken the time to consider each angle and argument carefully so that my stance can be both clearly presented and defended if necessary. So when I am challenged on my opinion my responses are effectively prepared in advance and rehearsed, and for somebody who has just dipped their toe into the subject without such preparation they find themselves neck deep in an argument they stand almost no chance of winning.
Which makes me appear a bit of an asshole. I have been accused of being defensive, aggressive, unfriendly, argumentative, and a whole load of other things basically because I can defend a slightly controversial opinion with quick-fire, eloquent responses which I’ve thought through in advance. And also, probably, because I am a bit of an asshole.
For a while I thought about softening my stance, but I’ve decided against it. The reason for this is because I figured out a lot of people who ask my opinion on such matters are not asking my opinion at all, they are looking to confirm their own. As I said earlier in the post, the educated, European, middle-classes agree almost wholeheartedly on these issues: Brexit is bad and Britain’s economy will be fucked and the people who campaigned for it are stupid cowards and the people who voted for it are thick racists. If you stated that over lunch in any European white-collar office not a single peep of protest would result.
Unless I was sat there. Okay sure, I like an argument. I’d start an argument in a coffin, as somebody once said. But I get annoyed when people ask my opinion only for the purposes of confirming their own, which would allow them to say that they are informed on current affairs without making the effort to hear solid counter-arguments which challenged their own preconceptions and forced them to perhaps modify their views. I wouldn’t mind if somebody wants a proper discussion on an issue, but most of the time they want a quick agreement of their own position, not a discussion. And this is nothing more than cheap virtue signalling, and I hate that in any form.
So my advice is:
1. Don’t ask for somebody’s opinion on something if he writes about it on a blog unless you are prepared to hear something you might not like.
2. When you hear an opinion you don’t like from somebody who writes about it on a blog, be prepared for a pretty robust argument should you challenge it.
3. Pay particular attention to points 1 and 2 if the person writing the blog happens to be a bit of an asshole who likes arguing.