As an English teacher, I had the pleasure of reading many persuasive essays and listening to many oral presentations. Kids would present their point of view on a topic.
Now, I do understand that we live in a democracy and that everybody is allowed to have an opinion and all that, but somehow this has become terribly blurred in people’s minds. Just having the right to an opinion, doesn’t automatically mean that nobody has the right to argue with you.
I remember a dialogue that went something like this:
Me – You need to look at the other side of the argument.
Boris – Why? I already know my opinion.
Me – Well, there’s two reasons: First, so you can argue against it, and secondly, you might change your mind when you’ve examined all the facts.
Boris – No I won’t. I know what I think.
Me – Yes, but just because you think it, it doesn’t mean it’s right.
Boris – Well, it’s my opinion, and therefore it’s right, and you can’t tell me it’s wrong.
Me – I can, but I’m not saying that your opinion is wrong, I’m saying that just as you have the right to express your opinion, others have the right to say that your opinion is wrong.
Boris – How can they? It’s my opinion and nobody’s got any right to disagree, because it’s my opinion.
Me – Just because it’s an opinion, doesn’t make it right. Imagine if you went to one doctor and he told you that you needed to have your leg amputated, but then you went to another doctor and he said that you could treat it with antibiotics. They’ve both got an opinion, but both opinons can’t be right.
Boris – Well, I think that the one who wants to treat it with antibiotics is right.
Me – That may be, but the other doctor still has the right to an opinion.
Boris – No he doesn’t. It’s my f*ckin’ leg.
Me – There’s no need to swear.
Boris – That’s your opinion.
Needless to say, Boris complained that i had marked his essay poorly just because I didn’t agree with him, completely ignoring the facts that it was about two hundred words short of the recommended length, completely lacking in evidence of any kind and a series of generalisations and assertions. The fact that it was a racist diatribe had nothing to do with the final mark. I would have also marked down someone who had a completely opposite view if they wrote that we shouldn’t be racist because they liked other races, then found a new way of making the same point in each sentence.
I’ve found myself thinking of Boris – and students like him – a lot over the past few years. Abbott seems to adopt a similar strategy when arguing. This is what we think, and we’re right, because those who think differenlty are wrong. If you think differently then either you’re evil or stupid for being brainwashed by those who think differently.
Of course, some on the left are not immune from this type of thinking, but, in Abbott, it seems more pronounced. And, of course, he’s had his behaviour backed by the Murdoch Press.
If you look through Abbott’s statements and Liberal policy, it’s difficult to find much in the way of evidence or consideration of the other side of the argument. They read a bit like Boris’s essay.
Take Direct Action for example:
“We will take direct action to reduce carbon emissions in a practical, affordable way inside Australia, not overseas. We remain committed to a five per cent reduction in emissions by 2020.”
There don’t seem to be any arguments about why it’s better to pay people to stop polluting, instead of fining them for polluting. Or to put it another way, instead of taking money from the polluters, which – even if you accept that, unlike the levy for the PPL, it gets passed on to the consumer – goes back to the Government and increases taxation revenue, they want a policy which takes money from the taxpayer to give it to the people who are the biggest polluters to persuade them to stop. (Perhaps, instead of a fine for speeding, the police could pay the ones with the most demerit points if they just stop speeding.) It’s enough to state the policy (opinion), and, because it’s our policy (opinion) it must be right and you can’t tell us it’s wrong.
Of course, the whole climate change “debate” is strange in itself. When it comes to something like say the treatment for ulcers, we tend to leave it the medical fraternity and accept that they’re the ones doing the research. Of course, this will change as more is discovered, but we don’t immediately say, “Well, it’s clear that doctors know nothing because the treatment for ulcers has changed! So from here on, I’ll get my medical information from Andrew Bolt and the chemists who work for the breweries making beer.” We accept that all scientific knowledge is subject to review and revision.
But with climate change, any variation in a model, is evidence of a “conspiracy”. Ian Pilmer, the geologist who wrote “How To Get Expelled From School” uses the fact that he couldn’t get his book published as evidence that the sceptics were being excluded from the debate, completely ignoring the fact that not all people who submit an idea or a manuscript are immediately rushed with a contract and a movie deal. (No really!) I wonder if I submit a proposal for a book on the problems of education will Pilmer accept my non-publication as evidence that all publishers are supporting the status quo.
I realise that not everyone will agree with me. That’s their right. But I can’t help wondering why people think that merely asserting their opinion – “Your (sic) all a pack of morons” or “I really like sticking it up you lefties now that we’ve got an adolt (sic) back in charge” – will change views.
Of course, this works both ways. Like many people, I genuinely believe that Abbott has plans for Australia which don’t benefit the vast majority of Australians. The question is how do we convince those who are disadvantaged by the Coalitions actions. I guess that I need to listen to the advice I gave Boris. I need to try and persuade and not simply assert my beliefs.