Friday, 13 January 2017

No, I'm not going to respect your opinion

What does "discussion" mean?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, there are three definitions:

  • the action or process of talking about something in order to reach a decision or to exchange ideas
  • a conversation or debate about a specific topic
  • a detailed treatment of a topic in speech or writing

Well, this is a pretty wide brief, isn't it? Lots of opportunity for misunderstanding there.

I recently joined a discussion group. There are lots of these on social media, some open, some closed. Some have clearly defined topics, others are much woollier. Most do not specify what they mean by "discussion".

I expected a friendly debate in which differences of opinion are welcomed and there is no intention of reaching any conclusion. But there is no particular reason why I should expect this. Another person might expect discussion to be focused entirely on obtaining general agreement to a particular course of action. And someone else might simply be wishing to air their views on a particular topic without those views being challenged. All of these fit within the dictionary definition of "discussion".

So I asked the members of my group what they meant by "discussion". Of course, there were different views. So we are now having a discussion about the meaning of discussion. The question is, should this discussion lead to mutual agreement about what we mean by discussion, or should we "respect each other's opinions" - by which most people seem to mean "agree to differ"?

To me, the answer in this case is obvious. We cannot possibly "agree to differ". If we don't agree on what we mean by discussion, no discussion is possible. We end up talking past each other, or worse, getting angry with each other because people who want friendly debate challenge people who just want to air their views.

When there is no agreement about what "discussion" means, a "discussion group" tends to become merely an echo chamber for the majority who substantially agree with each other. Dissenters are silenced, not by moderators but by abuse from the majority. Although the group has never "agreed" what it means by "discussion", the majority view inevitably prevails.

So in order for there to be discussion, we must in the first instance agree on what we mean by "discussion". In an unmoderated group where there is no agreement about what "discussion" means, the dominance of the majority amounts to a coup. Moderation is necessary to prevent the majority becoming tyrannical.

But we don't have to agree about anything else. Indeed, discussion is more constructive if we don't. Dissent is creative. We learn from those who disagree with us. Silencing dissent is the hallmark of totalitarian regimes. Those who see "discussion" as opportunity to air their views in a supportive environment, and abuse those who provide reasoned challenge to their views, are essentially fascists.

We can, and should, disagree with each other's opinions. Discussion does not have to mean agreement. We can take the same set of facts and reach opposite conclusions, as my father and I did over the Brexit vote: I was more positive about the future for the UK in the EU than he was. We were simply attaching different weightings to the available facts and assessing the best course of action based upon our weighted view of the facts. And we will never know which of us was right. As Aslan said to Lucy, "To know what would have happened? No. No-one is ever told that. But anyone can find out what will happen." The choice was binary and irrevocable, and we now know what will happen, though we do not yet know exactly how. The path we now walk is that which leads out of the EU.

However, dissent over facts is not reasonable. If I know there is overwhelming evidence that your opinion is based upon a wrong understanding of the facts, I am not going to "agree to differ": I am going to present the evidence and expect you to change your opinion. There is not, and will never be, £350m per week to be saved by leaving the EU. There is not, and never has been, a "pension pot" containing your NI contributions. Banks do not lend out reserves, or deposits.

You may decide not to change your opinion, of course: there are plenty of people who continue to believe that the earth is flat despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. But I am not going to respect your opinion. It is not respectable.

So I will continue to correct factual errors and challenge ill-founded opinions. And if that is disrespectful, so be it. You are entitled to your opinion, but don't expect me to agree with you. If I think your opinion is fantasy, I will say so. And if you don't like me correcting your facts, get them right.

Related reading:

The snake oil sellers
Dangerous assumptions and dodgy maths
Banks don't lend out reserves - Forbes

Image is a still clip from the feature film "Prince Caspian", showing Aslan and Lucy. 


  1. A lot of so called discussion groups are just safe spaces to say the same thing over and over again excpt more of it. I've lost at least two dozen followers on twitter (that's a big deal with my small numbers) because I'm not pure enough on the EU. Brexiters cannot cope with the fact that, economically speakig, there can be no better deal than in and Remainers are utterly incapable of making a progressive case for the EU because there isn't one.

    So just for example, I know that Universal Basic Income is close to your heart as the Job Guarantee is to mine. How could either, or preferably both, those policies be offered unilaterally to the enire EU? Nothing progressive would ever get past the ortho-liberals in Germany.

    We seem intent on leaving the EU for all the wrong reasons. bill40

    1. You say, remainers are unable to make a progressive case for remaining in the EU, but in your last para' assert that, we seem to be leaving for all the wrong reasons. Aren't you contradicting yourself?

      For many people a regressive, i.e not progressive, institution is not worth having.....even if its disappearance might make us worse off financially.

      I did not vote to be ruled by an EU corporatocracy...which is what
      the EU delivered. As evidenced by the likes of Amazon, Ebay & Google being invited in with much fawning and fanfare, only for people to discover that neither were they obliged to pay their fair share of tax!

    2. Perhaps the first Anon means by "unable to make a progressive case" and "leaving for the wrong reasons" is that the left failed to persuade people to stay in allowing the right-wingers to get enough votes to leave. That may not be true; if 2% of the population like you doesn't want corporatocracy, and will vote Leave to get out of that, then Lexit people clinched Leave's victory.

      Tax "avoision" is equally possible without the EU, as the UK and its overseas territories easily proves, as does the USA. And don't forget the recent EU ruling over Ireland and Apple.

      Since the EU is less democratic than the Member States, yes, of course we might expect that its decisions will be more skewed to the rich and powerful than decisions made at a lower level. So kiss "social Europe" goodbye and hello to ordoliberal austerity. If Frances Coppola thinks the EU is providing us with important social democratic benefits (and I'll concede the Working Time Directive) that make it Thatcherite to leave the EU, I wish she would just say so. Same with Simon Wren-Lewis. But the case would not be convincing I think, as you say. Instead we get "machismo" versus "trade". I would like an explanation of why the positive 90s left's view of the EU has survived despite the policy horrors.

      As for the "might" of being worse off financially this was the problem. Ashcroft's polling shows those who voted Leave didn't believe it would make much difference to the economy, so they seemed to think they had a comfy error margin. Those who voted Remain thought it was economically important.

      I think there is a sort of Clintonian-Sandernista split here. Whether you think high immigration is good or bad for wages, those who worry about this will be people who get all their income from work. Those with wealth won't care much about that but they will worry that Brexit will hurt the value of their savings and investments and the returns they get from them. I suspect some people talking a lot about racism and xenophobia (not you, Frances) are rich liberals who are pretending.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Sure, but equally, have you never heard the expression, "if you can't change your mind...then you haven't got one?"

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Two comments have been removed because they did not comply with the comments policy on this blog. You can find the comments policy on the "About This Blog" page.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. I will continue to remove comments that do not comply with the comments policy on this blog.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Maybe the discussions result is well defined already before the discussion begins. In that case a moderator will very likely try to make the participants believe, that the outcome of the discussion and decisions are theirs and not those of the moderator (Delphi method).

  8. Interesting Frances.

    Here are some thoughts which I would be intrigued to know what you make of:

  9. A refreshing blog post. It's shocking how much vituperative language one sees in discussions of news on major news sites, for example. In responding to news, or claims, or arguments, how much better to use neutral language and address substance rather than ad hominems, or resorting to any of the other logical fallacies (appeals to authority and circular reasoning, and especially arguing from motive, etc.).