I’ve been following a blog by a chap called Fandango. Every week or so, he asks a “provocative question”. As in, one in which his readers have to ponder the question before answering. I participated last week, with this response.
This chap is an American, and this has a bearing on the this week’s question. He says that Trump has fuelled a very polarised debate over there, something I can easily imagine. People either love him, or he’s an asshole. I use that word deliberately, I want it to convey that the standard of debating has dropped. So, Fandango asks whether is it possible to disagree with somebody without being disagreeable? Of course, I have to take this from a UK-perspective, because that’s the history I know.
An interesting part of Fandango’s question is that he adds a time element. He asserts that “once upon a time” it was possible, but now it is not. For my part, I’m not sure that’s true, but I’ll discuss that below.
I’m reminded straight away of a sketch by a guy I used to watch a lot, Emo Phillips.
There is a point to this. That, however closely your views coincide with someone’s, dig sufficiently deep and you’ll find something to disagree on.
I think that reasonable people will be able to disagree reasonably. There always comes a point at which you have to shrug your shoulders, and agree to differ. Nowadays we have the luxury of talking politics. How do you make a child’s education better? By doing X, or Y? And you realise that with all politics, it’s a matter of priorities. Trump, for example, wants to make America more prosperous. Just as far as that aim, I’m sure pretty much every American would agree. It’s how he goes about it which is abhorrent to some people. But that’s just politics, why one person votes for the left, the next for the right.
A moment ago, I used the word “luxury”, because we’re arguing about details. A few years ago, we argued about whether we go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. That too, contained some very unpleasant disagreements at the time, but our societies have got past them. A few years earlier, the American war in Viet Nam. Same thing.
A hundred years ago, (the Suffragettes, in the UK. I’ve no idea how suffrage got to America, I must ask. I know they didn’t have universal suffrage at the time of the revolution so there must have been transitions at some points.) people were fighting for representation itself. Unfortunately, these women were fighting for themselves, rather than for universal suffrage (they cared about women not having the same rights as men, but never uttered a peep about people in the colonies, who had no rights at all), so while we can laud them, there was a bigger picture that they missed. But quite violent disagreements, for the time.
Go back a bit further and you have the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Worker rights. For their efforts, transportation to Australia. Probably an example of the state over-reacting, given their “crime”.
Further still, the reformation. Religion – the birth of the Protestants. Wars were fought throughout Europe on this. And, of course, still on the religious theme, the crusades.
My point here is to try and show that people have been unreasonably disagreeing with people since the year dot. Trump is merely the latest cause. If we look at the subjects on which there’s been disagreement, they’ve become a lot more well-defined. Most of us would regard arguing about religion to be a waste of time these days, although some still do. We’ve mostly developed a “live and let live” tolerance of each other. There’s far less argument about something like suffrage, where the principle of “apply to one, apply to all” is more readily accepted.
But as Trump shows, it’s still possible to stoke violent disagreement, even in this age. In fact, one might argue (because most of us draw the line at killing each other) that we disagree better than ever! I think humans just have it in us, and if someone pushes the right buttons…