A Brief Discussion of Other People’s Politics
I had a post all prepared about how clean running water is clearly more important than sex, because we put up with shit from plumbers that we would never take from a potential mate – not calling when they say they will, not showing up when they say they will, etc. But then the plumber showed up in just the nick of time, hooray!
Instead, I’m going to list professions the practitioners of which seem to (or are conventionally supposed to) feel unusually free to share their political opinions:
- Taxi drivers
The last time I dealt with a plumber, he told me all about how women were too delicate to fix toilets while I flabbergasted politely; this time, the plumber and I engaged in a short ritualized dance of Liberal Scientist vs. Climatological “Skeptic”. And the thing is, after years of blogging I’m getting pretty good at figuring out the underlying assumptions in a person’s position. I can immediately leap from “What about all the other scientists who think it’s hogwash?” to Aha! We should talk about scientific consensus; I blame the cheezy point-counterpoint structure of media narratives and respond with some completely asinine mumble about how Bjorn Lomborg is really not a sufficient counterpoint to the vast majority of serious climatologists, which doesn’t help at all. In a long drawn-out argument I can usually hold my own (though I’m still much better at writing than talking) but I can’t engage in brief politlcal discussion worth even half a shit.
These conversations always leave me feeling dispirited. I hate the way they reinforce the dominant narrative of liberal vs. conservative, each too fixed in their own views to really listen or persuade. But, I don’t want to have a respectful political dialogue in which both participants truly open themselves to the possibility of understanding and change every time my faucet is clogged; true dialogue takes too damn long to just engage in willy-nilly. I want to imply the possibility of such dialogue, provide a hint of what it might look like, maybe plant the seed of one good argument, and exit gracefully with a working sink.
So, Gentle Readers, are you good at creating such conversations, and keeping them short? How do you do it?
One not-so-short approach I’ve found is to ask people about when and how they came to their current politics, and then you can circle back to persuasive rhetoric when you tell your own story. Another is to shift to a meta-discussion of how difficult it is to talk politics in a useful way – this is both common ground and evidence of your good intentions. But getting a good transition to neutral postures when someone bluntly asks what you, as an earth scientist, think about global warming… sigh.