This is a topic with which I have become increasingly familiar in the last few years. Arguments; I seem to have more and more of them. I argue over more, and more diverse, topics with a larger number of people from a wider range of walks of life. Why has this happened ?
I don’t fit the stereotype that people seem keen to apply to me. As I am affluent, middle-class and well educated to post-doctorate level I am presumed to be a “EU remainer“. With a hostiry of more than 30 years working as a doctor in the NHS it is presumed that I will idolise the “NHS as the best in the world“. Since people know I am concerned about the threat of global warming I am presumed to be “anti-nuclear power and fracking.” Being strongly opposed to racism and bigotry I’m presumed to agree with other peoples’ plans to “no platform” people who preach hate and division. As a celt, a Scot living in Wales, it’s anticipated that I will hold anti-imperialist “anti-English” feelings. As a smallholder, keen on animal welfare and food quality people will start discussions with the presumption that I will be “opposed to GM crops” and keen on “organic farming“.
As I no longer hold with these positions there are often grounds for discussion. For example, friends know I used to hold that the NHS was the best way possible to deliver healthcare and are surprised, and disappointed, that I no longer do. Arguments arise as they try to return me to the fold. In many of these topics I used to hold the clichéd position but with age and wisdom I have changed. When I was younger there was a great efficiency, and security, in toeing the party line.
As a boy and a young man I needed a substitute for maturity and experience and I borrowed the wisdom of others. If Marx, Trotsky or their subsequent disciples had said something, that was good enough for me. There were papers each week to ensure I knew what ‘the position‘ was on all areas. Socialist Worker made sure I knew what to think on matters domestic and foreign. Life was easy, I knew what was right and what was wrong. I needed to do little thinking as other had done all the hard work for me. It was largely the case that all I needed to do was to check what the ‘line’ was on the issue and off I went.
I had very few arguments and most of these were unimportant. If people held a contrary opinion to ours then they were wrong. They had not developed the appropriate consciousness to realise the correct position thus they failed to see the truth of our statements. It meant it mattered little if I lost an argument as the other position had obviously been held by a class enemy or someone duped by one. It also meant I never learnt from arguments as I didn’t try to understand the other position I simply tried to counter it, to prove it wrong and to reassure myself that my beliefs were correct and intact.
As we are the sum of our thoughts, ideas, passions and feelings, as an adolescent there is an allure of an off the shelf identity. Not only did this substitute for a lack of knowledge and experience it also gave a sense of belonging. In early adulthood, having left one family and not yet started another, political groups can be an important source of society and support. The political tribes probably perform the same function to many as the music tribes (are you a goth, a punk, emo, or indie ?) or gangs (which team do you support ?) at that time. Unfortunately though, it is worse than that. With musical tribes, for example, one only has to wear foolish clothes and profess a liking for the occasional mediocre track by your hero. In political tribes your entire world view is bend into shape.
Just like off the shelf clothing, after a while I realized my off the shelf character didn’t fit.As I amassed knowledge I started to realise that certain belief that I thought were based on fact were, in fact, based on error (or occasionally worse – falsehood).As I became more experienced I became aware that my personal experience did not accord with what I had professed to believe; life was much more complex than the black and white pictures I had been shown. As a doctor working in the NHS it was hard to square the idea of mediocre service I saw with the “envy of the world” I professed it to be.
As I grew older I became more confident and able to trust my own feelings and opinions and able to question my own beliefs. This led me to having more arguments not only with others but with myself also. What happened in these debates also mattered now, as it they werea way to become clear on what my true beliefs and opinions actually are. Arguments became a source of learning not simply an opportunity to proselytise. They became a way to examine my life and live it rather then borrowing the character of others and acting out their lives.
Many of the ideas I had as a young man stay with me. I still hold basic principles such as freedom of speech and association. I still passionately reject unfair discrimination, such as racism or bigotry. I still oppose war and fear for our planet’s future. But these ideas and all others are up for argument. Hopefully as I continue to grow I’ll continue to change and I anticipate arguments will be the best tool to ensure this. I wish I’d started earlier but better late than never.