On the ebbing of persuasive debate

I got a job this past May working at the LCBO — Liquor Control Board of Ontario; the only place you can (legally) get booze in the province, though you can now get wine and beer in certain grocery store chains — which is easily the most intensive public-related retail work I’ve ever done. If I’m not on cash, which has been the norm, I’m stocking shelves with products and am also intended to be approachable by (and approach) the public to help find whatever they may be looking for.

And of course, when you’re dealing with the public, you’re open to all kinds of people, from fantastic and a pleasure to work with to overly rude ass-hats who treat others like total crap even as those same people are in fact doing said ass-hats a service. I’ve seen and heard it happening to others, and I was the target of it myself recently.

In brief, a guy I’d politely and efficiently cashed out pretty much every shift for several weeks called me “retarded” for wearing a mask at work.

Quick insight: I have asthma. So does my wife. So does our daughter. So when — and I’m a rational enough person to understand it almost certainly will be a when, not an if — we get Covid, there’s an increased chance it could hit us harder than it hits some others. If (when) that happens, my wife and I agree we want the medical support we get to be as robust as possible. We may not be able to wait hours to be admitted. We may, if it gets extreme, need to put on ventilators if it gets really bad.

So we’ve been trying to do the right thing: Wear masks when and where mandated (or lately, recommended) in the hopes of encouraging local hospitalized patient counts downward in the hopes of having enough medical support in place if needed when we get infected.

This isn’t living our life in panic or fear, as the anti-mask brigade would likely claim. It’s a practical approach to getting a grip on what’s really happening around us, what may directly affect us and how, and what steps we can take now to help ourselves if and when the time comes that we need that help.

We’ve been noticing, as masking restrictions have been easing in Toronto, that more and more people are going without them. Everyone has their own reasons, good or bad or contrived or whatever. So my wife and I have been talking about the increasing impracticality of wearing masks when increasing numbers of people around us aren’t. And in fact have started going largely without of late. It’s one risk going into a grocery store during a pandemic when everyone is in a mask to protect each other. It’s a very different thing when only 25% of people still are; they’re clearly okay with potentially spreading stuff to others, and to maybe be spread to, so our being in the dwindling numbers of people still wearing them becomes increasingly less useful. KN95 level masks go some way to prevent others’ germs getting to you, but those aren’t comfortable on my fat head for hours at a stretch, and even the less useful, surgery-style masks cause a lot of sweating and discomfort when stocking shelves, and changing those multiple times a shift isn’t practical.

So the days of no more masks for us for good is on the horizon. And we get that. But until very recently — not because of this particular ass-hat (correlation doesn’t mean causation) — we’ve been wearing them almost as much out of habit as caution.

Cut to that guy who called me retarded for wearing a mask “because they don’t do anything”.

A few things here:
1) Yes, masks absolutely do things. Beneficial things, when you don’t want to spread germs to each other, say… during a pandemic of disease spread from mouths and noses. (Psst! There’s a reason masks have been used in operating rooms for over a century.) So his stating otherwise is clearly a result of his being in the wilfully ignorant anti-mask camp, probably among the groups crying out about their freedoms when the government mandated when and where masks were required. Someone who pays no attention to science but would prefer to get his “facts” from websites that tout themselves as telling readers what governments don’t want people to know. Stuff that is, to put it plainly, utter bullshit.

2) Why would he think I’d want, let alone heed, unsolicited advice from a total stranger? If I want someone’s opinion about a lifestyle choice, I’ll ask. That of course doesn’t deny his right to have his opinion, as everyone is entitled to, but to blurt it out as though I should care, let alone heed it, is pointless and more than a little narcissistic.

3) The main thrust of this post: Why is it that he thought that opening by insulting me would then get me to listen to that following advice? I’m paraphrasing, but his point was literally, “You’re retarded for doing that. Do what I’m telling you to, instead.”

Not trying to coax me, not trying to sway me or persuade me with his convincing points, but simply insulting me and then, I guess now thinking that he had somehow opened my mind to his input (when of course the opposite was true), he told me he knew better than me as if to change my mind.

I’ve seen the same approach used online (where intelligent and respectful debate too often goes to die), in situations where someone insults me, or someone else, or a group of us, and only then — our stupidity firmly declared — says that we should listen to them and believe what they’re spouting instead. This was, I think not coincidentally, someone else who was insulting strangers as being stupid for following mask mandates.

When, exactly, did insulting someone paired with informing them you know better become a desirable approach for debate?

I’m thinking Trump’s time as president (and mind-boggling ongoing popularity) may give this poor tactic a boost. He’s definitely someone not shy about insulting people who step out of line with what he claims — or, more concerningly, actually believes — are the facts. And let’s face it: That approach only helped win Trump fans and votes. So I can see how for some people that would have gelled the insult-inform method as a viable tactic to change people’s minds.

Trump is also the unethical leader of an unethical political party that was very vocal about being anti-mask early and often during the pandemic. He spearheaded making wearing masks political. Which may explain these recent weird experiences of anti-maskers using the very Trumpian tactic of insulting those not doing what they think is right (wearing masks) and then stating (non-)facts (“they don’t do anything”, “you’re all just sheep doing what you’re told”) to back up their point.

Having said that, this crappy debate tactic and Trump’s rise and popularity may, again, correlate but not be causal. That certainly happens, as I’ve said in previous posts.

Suffice to say, wherever this approach to try to change someone’s mind came from, whatever has pushed it to increased use, I say to one and all who have ever used it: This a terrible, completely useless way to try to sway anyone’s opinion. Please stop using it.

Or for those who use this approach, to put it in a way you may better appreciate: You’re an idiot for doing what you’re doing. Believe my opinion instead.