Thursday, June 14, 2012

Let's NOT Agree To Disagree

If I were to list phrases that I think should really be wiped out of our collective vocabulary, “Let’s agree to disagree,” would probably be at the top of that list. It’s an awful and useless phrase. It doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s just a “time out” or “truce!” for grownups.  It’s a way of showing that you value keeping peace and being polite over being right.

To my knowledge, this phrase was developed to handle situations like this:

Me: “Taco Bell is disgusting”
Friend: “No, Taco Bell is amazing”
Me: “Seriously? Like how can you like Taco Bell? It’s not even food.”
Friend: “Taco Bell is cheap and delicious and they make their beans fresh every day! “
Me: “Hey, let’s just agree to disagree.”

See what I did there? I didn’t want to talk about Taco Bell anymore because it was obviously getting heated, so I ended the conversation with “let’s agree to disagree” because I didn’t want to say, “I’m tired of your voice” or “ok then” or – nothing. I probably could have just said nothing and that would have been cool too.

Anyway. The above use, while annoying, is generally harmless. But that’s not how it’s often used. People seem to think this phrase is some sort of safe word for all debate when things start to get uncomfortable for them. People pull out the old, “let’s agree to disagree” in some pretty serious discussions and it’s like boom – argument is over.

But I call bullshit. There are times – a lot of times – where it is more important to be right than to be polite. There are times where I say “No, I will not agree to disagree.”  There are times where you don’t get to call a “time out”. We will not shake hands and walk away while chuckling to ourselves about what a spirited debate that was. Because that thing that we disagree on – it’s really fucking important. And you are wrong.

So here’s a brief list of things that I will NOT agree to disagree on.

1. Civil Rights


Whether it’s equal marriage, immigration policy, women’s rights or other human rights issues – we don’t get to agree to disagree on these things. You are allowed to have your own opinion. You can sit in your house and talk wistfully about the old days when only white, male, landowners had a say and I won’t give a shit. You can refuse to let your kids come play with my kids – sucks for your kids that you are such a crappy parent - but none of my business. I will think you are an asshole, but I am not likely going to waste my time trying to win you over.

But the moment you start signing petitions, calling your congressman, or voting to take away my rights or the rights of others – there’s no way we are parting amicably. I will demand that you be held accountable. I will challenge you tooth and nail. I will get fired up. I will take it personally.  I will call you a bigot and I will mean it.

You get no sympathy for intent here. You get no points for your associations. So your daughter married a Hispanic dude and you “love him like a son”; if you support a law that leads to the profiling, discrimination, harassment and disenfranchisement of an entire segment of the population because you think that immigration law needs to be “better enforced” then you are willfully participating in state-sponsored racism. And I don’t care how many gay “friends” you have – when you vote against gay marriage, you are no friend to gays. You think Equal Pay legislation is too costly for businesses? You have chosen immediate profits over the welfare and equality of women across the country. I will fight you.

2. That Super-Controversial/Offensive/Fucking Ridiculously Awful Thing You Said On The Internet

Ever have something like this happen on the book of face or some chat room (is that still a thing? Do chat rooms still exist for non-creepy people?):

John Bobert: So, you all might think I’m an asshole or whatever, but all poor people need to be rounded up and shot.
Sally: OMG LOL, you are so hilarious!
Me: Are you fucking kidding me?
John Bobert: No, they are all useless and deserve to die.
Me: Are you seriously going to just spew out this awful shit? You are a horrible person.
John Bobert: No I’m not, it’s just my opinion.
Me: Well, your opinion makes you an asshole.
John Bobert: Hey – we’re all entitled to our opinion. First Amendment! Let’s just agree to disagree.

Now John Smith isn’t completely wrong – everyone is entitled to their opinion. But John doesn’t get to pull out the old “agree to disagree” to end this conversation: he gave up any say over how this conversation ended the moment he hit “post”. He took his personal desire for the death of poor people out of the safe-harbor of his fucked-up mind and placed it in the most public of public places. It now has a life of its own. It’s free to be interpreted and judged and responded to with as much fervor as his audience deems necessary. He let his crazy hate-genie out of the bottle, good luck getting it back in.

I don’t care if you wrote it for your 5 friends who totally agree with your awesome genocide idea, you don’t get to pick your audience in the internet. Your words are floating around, threatening to bump into any of the billions of people out there. Anybody who comes across your fucked-up cry for attention has the right to be offended and respond appropriately. You have to take responsibility for the monster you’ve created.

Aside from the fact that you shouldn’t get to call quitsies because you’re an asshole, there is also the fact that words are powerful. Your words of hate, bigotry, ignorance, intolerance (even if you are just slinging general awfulness and not calling for genocide) – they ACTIVELY contribute to the persecution, discrimination and abuse of innocent human beings by spreading hate and helping to foster an environment in which people who would act upon your sentiments feel justified.

3. Global Warming

Do you laugh about the “global warming myth” while you fill up your HUMMER? Do you think that the EPA is just “Big Government’s” way of slowing down business because they hate rich people? Do you make fun of the chick in the office who is always trying to get people to recycle more? Do you think it’s totally cool to sludge up a little water and smog up a little air if it means a company can make a little higher profit? Because really, what’s the big deal right? Science is just a theory anyways and there are plenty of other scientists who say that everything is cool and that all these people whining about the environment are just big whiny baby liberal treehuggers who hate progress.

To you I say this; “You are poisoning my children’s future you asshole.”

 I know, that’s not a very polite response, so you say, “Ijeoma, I’m entitled to my opinion. The debate is still out on global warming and I choose not to believe it, so I’m not going to go out of my way for something I don’t even believe in. Let’s agree to disagree.”

But here’s the thing: let’s say there’s only a 50/50 chance that this whole “global warming” thing is real. You still need to act like it’s a sure thing if you care at all about the future of this planet. If you’re right and it’s all a hoax, then shucks -  you were a little inconvenienced;  but if you are wrong and you didn’t act – too fucking late. You’ve destroyed the world. You’ve contributed to famine, disease and war.  Are you really willing to gamble the future of the entire planet on those odds?

Recycle your shit. Don’t buy an SUV unless you actually need to haul around 6 passengers or a ton of crap on a regular basis. Try your best to not support businesses that pollute or degrade our natural resources.  Support government initiatives to protect the environment. Act like you care about the earth even if you don’t. Because I take my children’s future pretty damn seriously and I will do my best to make sure that you don’t fuck it up for them.

4. Radiohead. Re: Its Amazingness

I’m pretty sure I don’t need to elaborate on this one.

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