There are several things in the world I feel quite strongly about, and consequently can’t keep my mouth shut when I think someone is very wrong about them. In that regard the last few weeks have been pretty intense online. There has been a lot of talk in Finnish internet circles about gay marriages (thanks to our new minister of interior being a fundamentalist Christian), gun laws and gun control (thanks to the atrocity in Norway), gender and sexual politics (thanks to a journalist saying school shootings and the Norway incident happened because young guys can’t get enough sex) and I even got one totally random anti-vaccination nut thrown in.
Although I feel strongly about these subjects, I’m usually not on the extreme ends of the opinions. I’m not interested in being right, I strive for rational discussions aimed for a functional solution. This is often a very thankless point of view: usually you find yourself slogging through the gray area, doing dull stuff like researching the issue, and being shouted at by the pundits of both extremes who can’t be arsed to even check their sources. Usually these people operate under the mistake that their personal matters of taste, personal beliefs and philosophies, or other unexamined opinions should be on equal level with researched arguments. “I think gays are disgusting, they should stay in the closet.” “Well I certainly don’t see the appeal or sense in shooting sports, so they are of no value.” etc.
During one conversation that was going nowhere I remembered this great picture I had ran into online at one point, a kind of humorous flowchart for determining if you are having an actual conversation, or participating in useless wankery of immutable opinions:
(original source unknown, hints accepted with gratitude!)
This might look like smart ass sophistry, and while it’s certainly a good tool for bitchslapping your opponent and feeling all good about yourself, I think the real value of this flowchart is for a self diagnosis of opinions and arguments for everybody who fancies him or herself as a rational debater. Do I have any opinions which I’m not willing to give up even if faced with evidence I can’t debunk, or even listen to what the other party has to say about the issue? No? Let’s imagine this issue would be, say, legalizing child porn or sibling marriage?
Yeah, not so rational after all, are we?
Considering the viewpoint and arguments of the other person and trying to understand why he thinks like he does is not weakness, it’s a damn prerequisite of having any kind of conversation. You should always understand why the opposition thinks as they do, but that doesn’t mean you have any kind of obligation to agree with them. If nothing else, by actually studying the opposition’s opinions you’ll get good ammunition for the argument. Sometimes you learn something that makes you adjust your opinion a bit and make it even stronger – and then, sometimes you find out that you’ve been full of shit the whole time.
During all these years I’ve wasted in debating things online I’ve learned one important thing: we should stop being so afraid of being proved wrong. It’s something you can learn to bear gracefully, and I’ve found out that in the end it’s kind of addictive. I mean, how often does the world really surprise you and take a twist to a direction you couldn’t previously imagine? Who knows what’s at the end of that road?
Your opinions are not your ego. If your opinions are shown to be invalid or lacking, that doesn’t mean you are invalid or lacking – and this seems to be a leap most people can’t seem to take. Being wrong means a handful of dead wood has been scooped away, you have a little bit less dead weight to lug around with you, and you have a new direction to grown in. Sticking to your opinions and principles no matter what is not admirable or manly, it’s being a stubborn useless ass who is a part of the problem without even realizing it.
The next time you start a discussion or an argument, take a second to think: “Is it conceivable that the opposition gives me such compelling evidence that I will change my mind about this issue?” If the answer is “no”, sorry – you are being a fundamentalist and fanatic douchebag about the issue, and it might be better to keep your mouth shut and think things through a time or two. Otherwise the only thing you’ll be doing is this: