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Posts Tagged: Frustration

Having an Argument

Sunday 20th June 2010

This is something which really annoys me, which I’ve noticed relatively frequently recently, and I’m wondering whether it’s just me who feels like this.

Right. So I generally enjoy arguing about things. I like having an opinion on something – be it politics, religion, motorsport, whatever – and listening to the opinions of others and generally discussing them, whether we hold the same viewpoint or not. It’s a satisfying experience, because it makes me look at my own thoughts more closely, and it obviously opens my eyes to other perspectives. This sort of analysis either leads to me reinforcing my initial opinion, or changing my mind partially or even completely. Either way I enjoy this because it broadens the way I view that subject.

I like to think that I am fairly logical in forming opinions. Whether or not that is fair to say is for other people to judge, but I like to think that it is. I find that I don’t come to a conclusion about something until I really feel as if I know a decent amount about it. I’m probably extremely pedantic about finding facts or evidence to form (or indeed judge) an opinion.

When that comes to forming opinions about things like politics, then yes I suppose to an extent that there is a certain amount of philosophy which enters into the equation. Questions about what we want to do – how we want society to be – are fundamentally philosophical. There’s not really any evidence to support the idea of freedom being good, for instance, it’s simply a philosophy which we generally find pleasing. I reckon that if you look across the political spectrum there is probably a great deal of commonality about this underlying philosophy; the real differences come from the development of political theories for building a society which delivers this, and this arena of thought is much more open to evidence. These theories are inherently testable – we can implement them and see which best deliver what we want. And in the course of human history (and especially in the last 100 years), many of these different theories have been tested to destruction and studied. So we can probably state with some confidence at this point, which political theories are most effective for delivering certain types of society.

The world is a complex place. It seems a bit simple to point that out, but I think people gloss over it sometimes. There is very rarely an unambiguous completely correct solution to something. Maybe this is something that’s been drilled into me through my engineering education; any scheme or solution has pros and cons, and the role of the engineer is to study the specific needs and to work out the solution which best balances the pros and cons to meet those needs in the most successful way. Which in most cases is really the “least worst” solution, in that almost every solution to every engineering problem is a compromise and will have downsides. It’s raw problem-solving (which is why I enjoy it) and its a way of thinking which I think is applicable to more than just purely technical problems.

So to come back to politics, I obviously have a certain opinion about which political theory is best. And by best I obviously mean that by the standards of what I think society should be like – someone who has a fundamentally different idea of this is likely to form a different opinion to me. In Britain though, I think there is probably general agreement that we want a fundamentally free and fair society. I don’t think many people have massively differing ideas of what this means, even if they disagree about what the solution should be to deliver it.

By way of example, a significant part of what I would consider to be a good solution is the idea of economic liberalism. That is, free trade in free markets. Or for want of a better word: capitalism. Now is not the time to explain the reasoning behind this, but I would say that it’s better for society if things are done in this way; if goods and services are generally provided through the market (I’m very much an Orange Book-er). And of course, the reason why I have come to this conclusion is because the evidence seems to support this (and also because I think it’s a wonderfully elegant concept). But, note the use of the word “generally”. I recognise that there are certain things that the market cannot deliver, or at least cannot (on its own) deliver fairly. And for these things, yes, we need a state.

(I intend to go into the thinking behind this in another post, so for now please don’t comment just to argue about the last paragraph!)

This is an example of what I mean about things requiring relatively complex solutions. I don’t think that my opinions tend to be straightforward “this is best”; generally I think that I recognise that many solutions are imperfect. But I find that when I try to explain what I think, occasionally people just ignore much of this and instead take what I say to an over-simplistic extreme. For some people, if I try to explain the belief in free markets, they seem to automatically assume that I’m some anarcho-capitalist nutjob who thinks that the state should be dismantled. They don’t seem to understand the nuance of the argument. Indeed in some cases, people don’t even seem willing to understand it…

The question is: has anyone else had this experience? I’m wondering whether it’s my fault for not communicating clearly enough; but then I’ve expressed the same opinion to different people, and some seem to understand what I’m saying (even if they disagree), whereas others seem to almost caricature what I say and leap to a simplistic conclusion about what I mean without really understanding my argument. And actually, from looking at comments on the various politics-y blogs that I follow, it does seem to be a fairly common occurrence on some of them. But I just don’t get it.

Whatever, it frustrates me massively when people choose to disagree with something before they’ve bothered to properly understand the argument they’re disagreeing with. It’s supremely arrogant.

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