How To Get On The Right Side Of A Political Argument


Thursday, 8.26pm

Sheffield, U.K.

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. – Plato

I bought a newspaper today for the first time in a long time. A real, physical copy. And then I read it.

Newspapers are clearly struggling in this new age but there are benefits that come from having a printed paper that are not replicable online. To start with you don’t get stories pushed to you. There is a collection of stories that have been curated and presented and you go through them in order. And that means you’re exposed to material that you might not have normally seen, stuff that the algorithms wouldn’t have served up to you.

It’s interesting contrasting what I saw in the paper with what comes through on social media. I’ve learned a lot about things that I didn’t know. A few days ago I wrote about the Deliveroo IPO and wondered if I should take a punt. Now I know more about why they’re listing, taking advantage of a bump in income from the takeaways we’ve ordered in lockdown. Will we still order the same number once things have eased up? And the big issue for the company is how they treat their riders – as self employed or as employees. These things matter.

Another interesting thing has to do with being progressive. I hadn’t really thought about it but an article by Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times argued that most societies are naturally conservative. It’s quite hard to be open – but being closed comes easily. The thing is that being conservative also makes for easier arguments, especially around things like patriotism. For example, if you think someone is not respecting your flag you can make a big deal about how they’re not being patriotic. Ditto if they’re not supporters of the monarchy. Anything that doesn’t support the emblems and brands of the regime is unpatriotic.

And this is a hard argument to counter. If you’re accused of being unpatriotic for not supporting the police or you’re unpatriotic because you want statues of slave traders removed. Many people will shy away when that argument is swung at them. What can you say back to these people? After all, by supporting the institutions they’re being patriotic, aren’t they? So, you don’t speak out against laws that curb the rights of people to protest or that take away their freedoms because they are being done for patriotic reasons.

But running away is not going to solve the problem. It’s just going to make the other side more confident and they’re going to come after you. That’s what the last US president did and it’s what wannabe dictators do all over the world. If you’re going to stand up to the attack you need a strategy and one approach is to point out the discrepancies between the patriotism that the speakers profess to have and their actions. For example, “If you’re so patriotic, how come you are willing to let children die of hunger in poor households?” Or, “If you’re so patriotic why are you profiting from their misery?” And so on. What you’ve got to do is turn their attack back on themselves – rather than trying to defend yourself or, with your silence, appearing to agree with them.

I’m no politician but what the last few years have shown us is that fiery voices with a big megaphone can make the lives of others very difficult. We need to learn how to stand up to them because they will keep coming.


Karthik Suresh

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