I see these all the time, and they usually travel together in packs, like wild dogs.
One: Assumed Consensus.
How many times have you been trapped in a conversation with some loathsome redneck while he points a stubby finger at your chest and says stuff like “So this nigger starts mouthing off at me, as if he could do my job, or sumpthin, and I’m telling ya, I’ve had with these people, ya know what I mean? Fuck them. Man, these minorities! That’ the term now, right? Minorities? They’re fucking takin’ over, man. So this guy’s shuffling around and grabbin some thunderbird out of a paper bag, and mouthin off in some jig ghetto slang and he’s got this fuckin rap blastin outta his boom box and I’m like, what’s next fried chicken and watermelon for lunch? And goddamn if that aint exactly what he’s got in his goddamn lunch bag! I’m like– don’t live up to every fuckin stereotype, asshole.”
The worst part of this harangue is the assumption behind it: that you agree with him. He assumes everyone agrees with him. But they don’t. This why annoying people get into “unexplained” fistfights with normally calm co-workers. Why does this happen? I guess people just create the world in their own image. Liars think everyone is lying; thieves think everyone is trying to rip them off. Bigots assume a happy utopia of bigotry. I remember sitting in The Summer House, a luxurious restaurant in ‘Sconset, on the East end of Nantucket, with a woman I had just started dating. We were dining with her two daughters, and their Ivy League boyfriends. It was all very old money and Nordic. One of the daughters remarked casually “It’s so nice being in ‘Sconset. There are no Jews out here.” My name is Axelrod. What was she thinking? I said “I’m Jewish. But I’m leaving,” and I did. It wasn’t strictly true, though my great-great grandfather was a Hasidic rabbi in Northern Germany. “You’re Jewish enough for Hitler,” my step mother used to remind me. And that made me Jewish enough for these girls, too.
I think this particular habit is a function of stunted intelligence, lack of education, vestigial imagination and empathy. These people can’t imagine someone disagreeing with their beliefs, however grotesque and hateful. Often I say nothing, I admit it. You can only pick so many pointless fights in a given week.
Two: Objective Opinions
We all fall into this trap. We’re hardwired that way: our opinions feel objective. People who disagree with us just feel wrong. That’s why liberals don’t watch FOX news and conservatives rarely tuned in Air America. It’s unsettling to hear people saying stuff you know is wrong as if it was some kind of fundamental truth. And it’s not just politics. I’ve seen normally rational people get into heated arguments (and occasional friendship ending feuds) over movies like The English Patient and Titanic. People who hated Titanic couldn’t imagine anyone liking it; the same with The English Patient(I know, I was one of them).It’s one of those counter-intuitive facts of life we have to deal with – like the fact that our voices sound so odd on tape. That’s how we actually sound, when the words aren’t filtered through the echo-box of out own heads.
Or this: people actually like the vegetables that give you a gag response (Beets? Acorn squash? Brussells Sprouts?). My mother forbade certain phrases in my house growing up. One of them was “:How can you eat that?” The objective opinion syndrome is something we all have to deal with, every day. No one wants to be disagreed with.
Three: The Self-Exemption
This one may be the toughest to avoid. Most of us do it, most of the time. A friend of mine railed against marital infidelity for years, vilifying the adulterers. But now she’s having an affair with a married man. Is she a villain now? Not to herself. He’s about to break up with his wife, it’s a loveless marriage, he’s been miserable for years, they’re living separately (except for that trip they’re taking together) … and anyway these feelings are so deep and so true, etc, etc. You want to say, “Hello, all adulterers say that stuff. That’s the standard script, and you’ve been reviling it for thirty years.”
But it was never happening to her before., and that makes all the difference.
My girlfriend sneers at every face-lift (“She looks like a cat in a wind tunnel!”) and yet feels a serene conviction that a nip here and a tuck there will make her gorgeous. Protesting that she’s already gorgeous has little effect; but that’s her primary self-exemption: a perverse illogical modesty that she would pity in anyone else.
As for me, I sneered at fat people all my life (“Skip a few meals, chubby!”) while remaining blithely certain that I could eat whatever I wanted and still remain pencil slim. I had the magic metabolism. Well, I may have had something like a ‘magic metabolism’ when I was twenty, but it’s thirty-seven years down the line and that superbly efficient calorie-burning machine is ready for the junk yard now, kind of like the Honda Civic I was driving in those days.
Everyone does the self-exemption. We all know the blabbermouth who complains constantly about how everyone else talks too much; we’ve all seen the Senators and congressmen making bombastic pro-family statements before taking their families and their careers down into a sink hole of scandal. My friend was berating people using their cell-phones while driving … but he was talking into his cellphone, doing 80 on the Mass Pike, at the time.
It should be simple to avoid these traps. All we have to do is remember other people disagree with us, our opinions are personal and we don’t a special free pass from the universe just be being ourselves. If we could just figure this stuff out, really internalize it, there would be many fewer arguments, wars and divorces. But the fact is, that’s never going to happen.
At least, not in my opinion.