Nothing really to do with politics. It’s just that, the other night my hubby and I were watching The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Out of all of the lessons, concepts, or morals he could have gleaned from the thriller, the thing that struck him the most came near the end of the movie. Not to spoil any surprises, the good guy figured out who the bad guy was and was making his escape when he was intercepted by the bad guy.
Since the bad guy and the good guy were acquaintances, the bad guy invited the good guy into his lair. He didn’t threaten, he didn’t cajole, he didn’t even persuade. All he did was ask. And even though he knew that the bad guy was bad, the good guy agreed. Reluctantly, but he went into the lion’s den of his own volition. I understand that, for the sake of the thriller, of course he had to agree, but this type of behavior is not so out of line that it is beyond the realm of possibility. We agree to things that we know will get us into trouble all the time.
You don’t have to watch Cops more than a time or two to notice this phenomenon: the cops will stop somebody that they think has done something wrong. They will ask the detainee if they can search his car/self/house, and the detainee agrees! Even though the detainee knows that he’s got contraband stashed away, even though he has broken the law, he just can’t resist the cultural norm of acquiescing when someone asks him politely to do something. So he says ok, go ahead and search, all the while cringing in anticipation, hoping against hope that the cops will someone pass right over that bulge in his pocket/plastic bag in the trunk/pipe on the table. And when the cops find the stuff—as they inevitably do—what is his reaction? It is always—always:
I swear, man. That’s not my stuff. These are not my jeans/somebody borrowed my car/must of stole into my house and put that there.
Instead of simply refusing the request in the first place, now the perp has to explain why he is in possession of what he’s not supposed to be possessing. So it didn’t destroy the credibility of the movie that the good guy in the movie walked right into the trap. He could not resist the societal pleasantry norm, either. That’s what the bad guy was counting on. Whatever else we do, however badly we behave otherwise, we must not offend our friends.
In The Dragon Tattoo, the good guy knew that the bad guy was a bad guy, that he would be in danger if he put himself in the bad guy’s orbit, but his sense of social convention overrode even his survival instincts. While most of us don’t allow ourselves to be put in danger so as not to offend, we do tend to agree to things that we ought not, just so others won’t feel badly about us.
And we are far too uncynical. We walk around thinking that nothing bad is going to happen until it does. We don’t prepare ourselves to deal with those requests that work against our behalf, and we get snared all the time into agreeing to things we don’t want to agree to. While we will worry ourselves sick about plane crashes, and other unlikely scenarios, we won’t act to protect ourselves from the ripoffs and impositions that are foisted on us every day.
Maybe it’s time for a little civil incivility. Instead of agreeing to the assumptions that permeate everyday speech, we should enter conversations skeptically. We should insist that speakers prove their propositions. We should take that mental step back and wonder whether what has just been said is an axiom, or merely a theorem, and hold the proponent of propositions accountable for his underlying thinking.
Instead of smiling and mutely nodding agreement with whatever folderol is spewed our way, we should parse each statement. Check each assertion to determine whether it is fact or opinion, proven or not, and demand logical, reasoned argument to back up each claim before allowing the speaker to move on. Hmm. I guess this post ended up being about politics, after all.
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