Don’t Bother Me With Your Hypotheticals — Frank Soto

 

Ever have a conversation with a friend that just leaves you ready to scream by the end of it? I just had one of those myself and my faith in humanity is falling fast.

As the topic of Donald Sterling came up, I made an off-handed remark that it is scary that everything private can be used against you publicly these days. A friend — who we will call Bob — replied that he didn’t see anything wrong with it.

I pointed out that on our mumble server (software for communicating while playing games and the like) I have personally heard him using numerous racial slurs in a joking fashion. I asked him to imagine if one of us had recorded him doing so, and released it to his employer at a later date. The example left him unmoved. What danger was he in at his low-paying job? The idea that he might one day in the future be more successful than he is today must not have occurred to him; perhaps for good reason.

I asked him to forget the example of racism and consider the case of Brendon Eich. He was unfamiliar with what had happened, but once I explained hit he had no problem with Mozilla forcing Eich’s resignation. When I probed him about the reverse scenario…if Eich had been a supporter of gay marriage and Mozilla had forced him out for opposing Prop 8, he reluctantly stated that that would also be ok. It was a tacit admission of the kind you make when you’ve been caught with your intellectual pants down. He clearly didn’t believe it, but he knew I had exposed an inconsistency in his thinking.

Here I should have backed off, as it was clear he had dedicated no serious thought to the issues at hand. Instead I asked him if it is morally acceptable to fire an employee for being black. Outraged, he drew a distinction: race is what you are, whereas Brendan Eich example, he was fired for things he believed. He chastised me for the comparison.

With the trap laid, I asked a follow up: If he wanted to draw the line for discrimination at what people believe versus what they “are,” would it be morally acceptable for a company to drive a CEO out for being a Christian, or an Atheist? After all, these are things you believe, not who you are.

Anger followed. Some of his response was literally incoherent. I was criticized for blurring lines or some nonsense. At first he felt the need to be consistent, and stated that it would be a “dick move,” but  would be okay if a company did that. He scrambled to find a new line to draw that would allow him his preferred outcome in these scenarios (Donald Sterling and Brendon Eich drummed out), while still retaining something that resembled intellectual consistency.

While he was reeling, I pushed on another comparison. I’m a conservative. Would it be okay for my socialist boss to fire me because we have differing political views? Can we even have a civil democracy when citizen feuds about politics spill over into our jobs in the form of retribution for having opposing political beliefs?

“No” he declared. It would be wrong for your boss to do that. He now scrambled to a new distinction: There is a difference between a CEO and a regular employee. Apparently, if a boss fired you for your religious or political beliefs, that would be an example of a powerful man abusing his status, whereas a CEO is chosen to represent the company, and it’s different — for some ineffable reason. “But the CEO is an employee too. Why do they get less protection then other employees?” I probed.

By now he was yelling, and his sentences rarely contained both noun and verb. He didn’t appreciate my hypotheticals, and criticized my very use of them. I asked how one is supposed to form a comprehensive world view if you don’t consider the consequences of your beliefs in other scenarios aside from the ones directly in front of you.

The conversation had escalated in volume every time I offered a hypothetical that destroyed the positions he would try to stake out. Shouts of “That’s….that’s not the same!” were abundant. At one point, he asked what I wanted to do about this, as if I was calling for government action. I replied that I wasn’t asking him what should be done about it, I was asking him what was right.

At this point he muted me. Shut up he explained.

Early in the conversation he had casually and confidently asserted the rightness of his position. By the end, my silence was required to prevent cognitive dissonance from setting in.

At times I wonder what it would be like to not have a fundamental curiosity about the world, to just take things from the media and teachers and absorb them without thought to how they all fit together. Seeing it in a friend is a somewhat frightening spectacle to behold.

Who else has had a brutal conversation like this with a friend or family member? Do you regularly encounter people who refuse to address hypothetical challenges to their views?

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  1. user_1029039 Inactive
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    What if I could change your picture at will? Hypothetically.

    • #1
  2. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    Jason Rudert:

    What if I could change your picture at will? Hypothetically.

     That would be the action of a frail and cowardly PITster for sure.

    • #2
  3. user_1029039 Inactive
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    To your point, though:
    Yes, I’ve had these conversations. In fact this is the mode into which almost every political discussion I’ve ever had degenerates sooner or later.
    And I think you’re right about curiosity being the crucial thing. Some people like to play with ideas, let them wander where they may, see what they get into. But usually what you get is just tribalism.

    • #3
  4. Boomerang Inactive
    Boomerang
    @Boomerang

    I am pretty sure you were talking to my brother.  Illogical thinking, followed by yelling, some swearing sprinkled in, and then it becomes important for me to shut up. Yep. I have been there.

    • #4
  5. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    My mother in law, all the time.  From ramblings about contrails, to ramblings about Jews, to incoherent defenses of forced unionization, to outright denials of union violence, to pointing out how her never-ending obsession with the salaries of others really only reflects on her own jealousy resulting from marrying down several economic rungs.

    “I read things!  I read more than you” she loudly proclaims.  “Yes” I reply, “but do you ever read anything which challenges your positions, or do you only read that which reinforces them?”

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Frank Soto: At times I wonder what it would be like to not have a fundamental curiosity about the world. To just take things from the media and teachers and absorb them without thought to how they all fit together.

    I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy…and I don’t drink.

    People don’t want to talk about politics or religion, so why do they keep bringing it up?

    • #6
  7. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Arahant:

    Frank Soto: At times I wonder what it would be like to not have a fundamental curiosity about the world. To just take things from the media and teachers and absorb them without thought to how they all fit together.

    I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy…and I don’t drink.

    People don’t want to talk about politics or religion, so why do they keep bringing it up?

     Yes, exactly.  I will argue anything, and it cheeses me off when someone throws down what they think is some pithy “argument ending” one liner then storm off.  If you don’t want to argue, and moreover don’t like being challenged, then keep yer trap shut.

    • #7
  8. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Part of it is I think most aren’t smart enough or thoughtful enough to realize that some subject they bring up is loaded.  They don’t even realize the question is one of ethics, politics, religion, or some other sticky brand.

    • #8
  9. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Been there, done that. I have one dear, dear friend who is a serious lefty. We got into it bad before Obama was elected the first time, which resulted in me physically removing her from my house. COC prevents me from repeating her – for that matter, my demand that she leave my home was made forceful with a few choice words. 

    She apologized sincerely. And we remain friends. But she and her husband (ex-employee of the LAT) rarely bring up anything even remotely related to politics with me. And frankly, it’s because they can’t lie. they can’t complain about Ryan wanting to cut their social security because I know better and they know I will call them out. 

    My mother (when she had all her marbles) and brother are a different story. They will regularly bring something up because they think they have a “gotcha”, then get all offended when anyone challenges them. We are always at fault and the reason why politics can’t be discussed. 

    Which is is ridiculous because my entire life was spent arguing politics at the dinner table. 

    It’s exhausting.  And depressing.

    • #9
  10. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    If possible I use humor to get people laughing at themselves. I want to undermine their foundations and blow gently and watch their walls come tumbling down. Of course all with a smile and humility. Well, okay. I am working on the humility. You think no one would have an easier time at that than me but it is not so.

    • #10
  11. A Beleaguered Conservative Member
    A Beleaguered Conservative
    @

    Not to compare you to Socrates, but your conversation is a great example, if in a less fundamental way, of why Socrates got into trouble.   Few people seem to have a fundamental curiosity about the world, a curiosity which opens them up to new and wondrous things.   Nevertheless, you have to admit that it is interesting to watch the human soul in action, even in those who have little desire for truth.  The human soul, and only the human soul, is largely defined by moral indignation.

    • #11
  12. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    I sometimes actually envy people who just live and don’t think too much. Life would be so much easier.  And to be fair, we have many people like that on the right.  But if you are a thinker you are a thinker.  There isn’t much you can do about that because your brain will think.  

    Frank, impressive hypotheticals.  Your poor friend never knew what hit him…  Let us know if your discussion had the salutary effect of making him think about some of his positions.  

    I teach a teenage Sunday School class.  I always ask them questions to get them thinking about the Bible.  I want them to really understand and internalize what the Bible has to teach. They just want to tease each other and flirt with the opposite sex.  Last week after yet another question one boy asked me what I do for a living.  
    “I’m an historian.  I write about history.”
    “What does your husband do?”
    “He’s a law professor.”
    He just nodded, and from the look on his face I could tell he was thinking, “That explains it!”

    • #12
  13. The Mugwump Inactive
    The Mugwump
    @TheMugwump

    I’ve noticed a tendency in our society of late to answer complex questions with “because Bush” or “because fossil fuels.”  It’s a type of shorthand that implies the issue is settled and beyond question.  In fact, it’s the truncated thought process of someone who has been completely indoctrinated.  Ideas are impossible to discuss when your opponent starts from an immovable position.  All you can do is provoke an emotional outburst which is what Frank has so ably demonstrated.

    • #13
  14. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    I remember a few years ago having a discussion about fetal tissue research with my late-twenty-something nephew, which devolved into a discussion of abortion generally.  It became apparent very early in the conversation that he had never even considered the fact that there might be a moral dimension to either issue.  Not that he had considered the morality and decided that other factors out-weighed it, but literally never even thought of it.
    I didn’t get very far with him after that.

    • #14
  15. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Miffed White Male: Not that he had considered the morality and decided that other factors out-weighed it, but literally never even thought of it.

    Thinking is so inconvenient.

    • #15
  16. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    I have had this type of conversation numerous times.  Mostly with a few co-workers, but also with a sister-in-law.  Each time it goes pretty much as you have described.  Don’t bring facts into the discussion either.  Their heads start exploding like the fembots in Austin Powers. That usually leads to the “I don’t want to talk about this anymore” statement.  Except in the case of the sister-in-law. She wanted to continue the “discussion” even though I and several others had given her ample evidence against her position.  She’s a school administrator you see and we are not so she knows what she is talking about.  To keep the peace I finally said on this we will have to agree to disagree. This was met with storming out of the house and little conversation since. 
    The thing that bothers me about the ones who just live and don’t think too deeply about things is they vote.  They consider it their right. I tell them it is also their right to be informed before voting. They don’t have time for that.  Sigh.

    • #16
  17. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    What I find is that people seek to engage me and then don’t like the outcome. I get asked a question, I give an answer, and the person does not like it. So, I get challenged. Game on. My turrets swing tot he side and I blast away happily, in much the way y’all talk about above. I am debating, the other person is having an existential crisis.

    So they get angry, because they are increasingly uncomfortable. I get angry because they sound increasingly stupid, and ignore perfectly good points.

    Mostly now, I try to just not answer their question in the first place, or divert them. I don’t engage.

    • #17
  18. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    When most people are in social situations, they don’t come prepared for ideological battle. They’re just passing the time. Of course, most of us agree that if you’re in public and not prepared to explain yourself, don’t toss off your opinions publicly. But hey, it happens. Their irritation comes from being confronted to explain themselves when they aren’t prepared to do it, and they feel trapped. (I speak from experience here – I do it too; we all do.)

    No one ever admits to being slapped down and proven wrong – at that moment. If you’re lucky (and you happen to be correct), your opponent’s recognition comes later. It usually comes slowly, and usually subconsciously. Even if you’ve “scored points” and “won the battle,” you’re probably never going to see the reward. 

    So, that’s why conversations require a certain kind of humility. I have to accept that “Truth will out,” even if I don’t.  That serves the truth, not oneself.

    Besides … sometimes I’m the one who gets persuaded. It all balances out in the end.

    • #18
  19. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    I feel let down.  I was expecting 10 Cents to say something like “Give it up, Frank.  We all know you have no friends.”  I think I’ve grown addicted to the Frank Soto/10 Cents insult exchange.

    • #19
  20. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Years ago I created a conservative Website in reaction to the news story of the moment, which happened to be the re-escalation of the Gulf War.  Of course, I had all sorts of liberal attacks against me.  I always took it calmly.  I had a whole section of the Website where I cited facts and articles about the situation, including articles from the New York Times about the convoys of trucks with WMDs that were crossing the border into Syria, weapons that since were found in Libya and have been used in Syria.  The facts didn’t matter, just because…because liberals are always right and because it is all emotional, not logical.

    • #20
  21. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Well, KC has a point. I remember “conversing” with a conservative co-worker (Limbaugh Dittohead) when I was a brain-dead lefty. It was a lot like Frank describes above, except I was on the other side. I didn’t use profanities or yell, but I was completely befuddled and defensive, having never really thought through my positions before. As a reminder to us all, my co-worker’s calm comportment throughout led me to respect him and probably to go away and think more on the topic. Delivery matters.

    But, back in the day, I was lacking a couple tactics I see a lot of now. There’s the “I really don’t want to talk religion or politics” defense — almost always after they’ve brought up the subject and don’t like the way the conversation is trending. This has two effects: it makes you a boor or a bully for continuing; and it feeds their overweening moral superiority. They’re above all that dirty talk.

    • #21
  22. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    On this very subject, Frank, I’ve seen the exact same progression. It started with “Well, it’s okay to punish Sterling, because he’s a rich, white racist.” When bringing up the fact that this only happened because of a private conversation that was recorded, my interlocutors insisted that “If you don’t want to be punished, then keep your mouth shut.” (And of course, he was a rich, white racist, so it was okay.) 

    The more I tried to explain how he was being punished for his thinking, the more they insisted that it was fine because he was thinking wrong.

    Bringing in L’affair d’Mozilla did not dissuade them. That was the “free market” doing what the free market does, and how could I, who supports the free market, argue against it.

    (Cont.)

    • #22
  23. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    (Cont. from above)

    The government did not go after either Eich or Sterling, they say, so it’s not a free speech issue.

    I have been trying to explain that it’s not about the first amendment or the free market, but the duty we have as a free people to create and sustain a society where free speech is allowed. And freedom of speech isn’t about protecting speech you approve of; it’s about protecting speech you don’t approve of. Creating a space where even if you don’t like what is being said, it’s safe to say those things.

    The opposite is happening, and we have a generation that seems to think that’s just fine. After all, if you’re not thinking properly, believing the right things, supporting the right things, then of course society will punish you. Or more properly, you deserve to be punished. Right?

    That is the alarming view I seem to be encountering.

    Future historians will ask “How did totalitarianism come to America?”

    “Gradually, then suddenly.”

    • #23
  24. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    It’s when they go on offense, though, that things get interesting. This is the “you’ve offended me” (aka, “Shut up!”) maneuver. I was caught off-guard when one of my nephews pulled this one on me (he’d used the defensive maneuver up to this point) and banished me from Facebook contact. I had written something I thought obviously true (destruction of the family is evil), but I made the mistake of putting it in a list of other evils I see coming from the Left and of using the word “evil.” Well. I had attacked his tribe.

    Now, if he had been up to a conversation, he might have asked me to define “family.” He might have argued what constituted “destruction.” And he might have asked what the Left had to do with any of it. But, “the destruction of the family is evil” is practically a tautology without further exploration. So, no, don’t bother him with a discussion.

    It’s always the smartest, most highly educated people who deploy these tactics. Leg-lifting politeness and perpetual indignation are their tools of choice.

    • #24
  25. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    • #25
  26. user_1029039 Inactive
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    A Beleaguered Conservative:

    Not to compare you to Socrates, but your conversation is a great example, if in a less fundamental way, of why Socrates got into trouble. Few people seem to have a fundamental curiosity about the world, a curiosity which opens them up to new and wondrous things. Nevertheless, you have to admit that it is interesting to watch the human soul in action, even in those who have little desire for truth. The human soul, and only the human soul, is largely defined by moral indignation.

     I was all thinking of Socrates, too. Because Frank has that same sort of paint in the neck temperament  that made his contemporaries get out the hemlock.

    • #26
  27. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    A Beleaguered Conservative: Not to compare you to Socrates…

     There’s no shame in being compared to Socrates.

    • #27
  28. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Frank Soto: “But the CEO is an employee too. Why do they get less protection then other employees?” I probed.

    For the same reason that managers don’t get to join the union.

    • #28
  29. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    Arahant: Part of it is I think most aren’t smart enough or thoughtful enough to realize that some subject they bring up is loaded. They don’t even realize the question is one of ethics, politics, religion, or some other sticky brand.

     I see that a lot on sites I visit which are non-political but whose user base is overwhelmingly left/libertine. One of them will say something he thinks is common sense and then will be legitimately surprised when someone (usually me) pushes back.

    • #29
  30. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    The basic trouble is that these people have arrived at their views because it’s a belief system and a system of “cool, good and smart” identity they have crafed for themselves . Any upsetting of those beliefs is an attack on their identity. Who he or she IS is being called into question. This is why the react so emotionally. 

    • #30
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