Six Ways To Get Along With People Who Are Totally Wrong*

by RobertWiblin7 min read27th May 201543 comments


Personal Blog

This is a re-post of something I wrote for the Effective Altruism Forum. Though most of the ideas have been raised here before, perhaps many times, I thought it might still be of interest as a brief presentation of them all!


* The people you think are totally wrong may not actually be totally wrong.

Effective altruism is a ‘broad tent’

As is obvious to anyone who has looked around here, effective altruism is based more on a shared interest in the question 'how can you do the most good' than a shared view on the answer. We all have friends who support:

  • A wide range of different cause areas.
  • A wide range of different approaches to those causes.
  • Different values and moral philosophies regarding what it means to 'help others'.
  • Different political views on how best to achieve even shared goals. On economic policy for example, we have people covering the full range from far left to far right. In the CEA offices we have voters for every major political party, and some smaller ones too.

Looking beyond just stated beliefs, we also have people with a wide range of temperaments, from highly argumentative, confident and outspoken to cautious, idiosyncratic and humble.

Our wide range of views could cause problems

There is a popular saying that 'opposites attract'. But unfortunately, social scientists have found precisely the opposite to be true: birds of a feather do in fact flock together.

One of the drivers of this phenomenon is that people who are different are more likely to get into conflicts with one another. If my partner and I liked to keep the house exactly the same way, we certainly wouldn't have as many arguments about cleaning (I'll leave you to speculate about who is the untidy one!). People who are different from you may initially strike you as merely amusing, peculiar or mistaken, but when you talk to them at length and they don't see reason, you may start to see them as stupid, biased, rude, impossible to deal with, unkind, and perhaps even outright bad people.

A movement brought together by a shared interest in the question ‘what should we do?’ will inevitably have a greater diversity of priorities, and justifications for those priorities, than a movement united by a shared answer. This is in many ways our core strength. Maintaining a diversity of views means we are less likely to get permanently stuck on the wrong track, because we can learn from one another's scholarship and experiences, and correct course if necessary.

However, it also means we are necessarily committed to ideological pluralism. While it is possible to maintain ‘Big Tent’ social movements they face some challenges. The more people hold opinions that others dislike, the more possible points of friction there are that can cause us to form negative opinions of one another. There have already been strongly worded exchanges online demonstrating the risk.

When a minority holds an unpopular view they can feel set upon and bullied, while the majority feels mystified and frustrated that a small group of people can't see the obvious truth that so many accept.

My first goal with this post is to make us aware of this phenomenon, and offer my support for a culture of peaceful coexistence between people who, even after they share all their reasons and reflect, still disagree.

My second goal is to offer a few specific actions that can help us avoid interpersonal conflicts that don't contribute to making the world a better place:

1. Remember that you might be wrong

Hard as it is to keep in mind when you're talking to someone who strongly disagrees with you, it is always possible that they have good points to make that would change your mind, at least a bit. Most claims are only ‘partially true or false’, and there is almost always something valuable you can learn from someone who disagrees with you, even if it is just an understanding of how they think.

If the other person seems generally as intelligent and informed about the topic as you, it's not even clear why you should give more weight to your own opinion than theirs.

2. Be polite, doubly so if your partner is not

Being polite will make both the person you are talking to, and onlookers, more likely to come around to your view. It also means that you're less likely to get into a fight that will hurt others and absorb your precious time and emotional energy.

Politeness has many components, some notable ones being: not criticising someone personally; interpreting their behaviour and statements in a fairly charitable way; not being a show-off, or patronising and publicly embarrassing others; respecting others as your equals, even if you think they are not; conceding when they have made a good point; and finally keeping the conversation focussed on information that can be shared, confirmed, and might actually prove persuasive.

3. Don't infer bad motivations

While humans often make mistakes in their thinking, it's uncommon for them to be straight out uninterested in the welfare of others or what is right, especially so in this movement. Even if they are, they are probably not aware that that is the case. And even if they are aware, you won't come across well to onlookers by addressing them as though they have bad motivations.

If you really do become convinced the person you are talking to is speaking in bad faith, it's time to walk away. As they say: don't feed the trolls.

4. Stay cool

Even when people say things that warrant anger and outrage, expressing anger or outrage publicly will rarely make the world a better place. Anger being understandable or natural is very different from it being useful, especially if the other person is likely to retaliate with anger of their own.

Being angry does not improve the quality of your thinking, persuade others that you're right, make you happier or more productive, or make for a more harmonious community.

In its defence, anger can be highly motivating. Unfortunately it is indiscriminate about motivating you to do very valuable, ineffective and even harmful things.

Any technique that can keep you calm is therefore useful. If something is making you unavoidably angry, it's typically best to walk away and let other people deal with it.

5. Pick your battles

Not all things are equally important to reach a consensus about. For good or ill, most things we spend our days talking about just aren't that 'action relevant'. If you find yourself edging towards interpersonal conflict on a question that i) isn't going to change anyone's actions much; ii) isn't going to make the world a much better place, even if it does change their actions; or iii) is very hard to persuade others about, maybe it isn't worth the cost of interpersonal tension to explore in detail.

So if someone in the community says something unrelated or peripheral to effective altruism that you disagree with, which could develop into a conflict, you always have the option of not taking the bait. In a week, you and they may not even remember it was mentioned, let alone consider it worth damaging your relationship over.

6. Let it go

The most important advice of all.

Perhaps you are discussing something important. Perhaps you've made great arguments. Perhaps everyone you know agrees with you. You've been polite, and charitable, and kept your cool. But the person you're talking to still holds a view you strongly disagree with and believe is harmful.

If that's the case, it's probably time for you both to walk away before your opinions of one another fall too far, or the disagreement spirals into sectarianism. If someone can't be persuaded, you can at least avoid creating an ill-will between you that ensures they never come around. You've done what you can for now, and that is enough.

Hopefully time will show which of you is right, or space away from a public debate will give one of you the chance to change your mind in private without losing face. In the meantime maybe you can't work closely together, but you can at least remain friendly and respectful.

It isn't likely or even desirable for us to end up agreeing with one another on everything. The world is a horribly complex place; if the questions we are asking had easy answers the research we are doing wouldn't be necessary in the first place.

The cost of being part of a community that accepts and takes an interest in your views, even though many think you are pulling in the wrong direction, is to be tolerant of others in the same way even when you think their views are harmful.

So, sometimes, you just have to let it go.



If you agree with me about the above, you might be tempted to post or send it to people every time they aren’t playing by these rules. Unfortunately, this is likely to be counterproductive and lead to more conflict rather than less. It’s useful to share this post in general, but not trot it out as a way of policing others. The most effective way to promote this style of interaction is to exemplify it in the way you treat others, and not get into long conversations with people who have less productive ways of talking to others.

Thanks to Amanda, Will, Diana, Michelle, Catriona, Marek, Niel, Tonja, Sam and George for feedback on drafts of this post.


43 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 11:00 AM
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Here is my favorite method -

Situation: Someone says something totally cuckoo crazy but they are someone I have to cooperate with in order to complete a task or who I have to maintain a good social relationship because we share friends or because they are otherwise cool. Also, the person is not convincible (I hang with hippies, this happens a lot).

Solution: a conspiratory shrug followed by "ehh... who can say, really" or "eh... the world is a strange place" or, if the statement is totally super crazy, just "ehh..."


"I switched to a gluten free diet and I think my energy centers really cleared up!" shrug "ehh... the world is a strange place"

"Why do people say its strange that I named my baby Glutenball? They just don't understand how gluten symbolizes the glue that holds us all together!" shrug "ehh... who can say really?"

"9/11 was a conspiracy by the gluten lobby!" shrug "ehh..."

Seconded! Another phrase (whose delivery might be hard to convey in text) is "Look, I dunno, but anyways..."

Maybe the big idea is to come across as not expressing much interest in the claim, instead of opposing the claim? I think most people are happy to move on with the conversation when they get a "move on" signal, and we exchange these signals all the time.

I also like that this is an honest way to think about: I really am not interested in what I expect will happen with that conversation (even if I am interested in the details of countering your claim.)

[-][anonymous]7y 4

Reading comments like this make me feel far better about my relative lack of social life. The things people who have it must go through... I think would rather be confined to my family (thankfully I am married to an intelligent woman) than to have to bite my tongue and not tell idiots that they are idi... well, at least telling them that they are wrong.

Is it a useful model that the enjoyment of having larger social circles comes at the price of frequent tongue-biting and being polite when you feel like doing a dramatic facepalm?

Kind of. Its possible to cultivate a large network of high quality friends but it requires sifting through a large number of low quality non-friends, sometimes people whose low quality is not apparent until a significant investment has been made or a significant amount of friend entanglement has occurred. And you can't alienate the people you aren't sure of or already decided you don't want to promote to good friend status, because then you lose access to their networks and network affects can no longer continually refresh your friend pool and increase your friend quality. Still, I can easily think of 15 high quality friends off the top of my head because I've been continually sifting, and that number continues to grow.

I've enlarged my social circles, or the set of circles I can comfortably move in, and didn't end up on that model. I think I originally felt that way a lot, and I worked on the "feeling like doing a dramatic facepalm" by reflecting on it in light of my values. When dramatic face palms aren't going to accomplish anything good, I examine why I have that feeling and usually I find out it's because my political brain is engaged even when this isn't a situation where I'll get good outcomes from political-style conversation. You can potentially change your feelings so that other responses that you value become natural.

A warning though, it took me a long time to learn how to do this in a manner that didn't make me feel conflicted. There's always the danger of "I was nice to the person even after they said X" priming you in a bad way. You could also do even worse than before in terms of your values, simply because you're inexperienced with the non-facepalm response and do it badly. I think it was worth it for me, but depending on your situation it might be dangerous to mess with.

I agree, and I think this is probably the most effective method, and is generally what "polite" behavior is supposed to be. In etiquette it is considered poor manners to simply tell people, straight to their face, that they are mistaken unless they specifically asked for an honest opinion.

I suspect politeness is the most effective method to deal with 'people who are totally wrong' because it is very rare to actually convince someone else they are wrong. It is much easier for people to change their own minds, then have an outsider change it for them.

I'll re-post this comment as well:

"If I was going to add another I think it would be

  1. Have fun

Talking to people who really disagree with you can represent a very enjoyable intellectual exploration if you approach it the right way. Detach yourself from your own opinions, circumstances and feelings and instead view the conversation as a neutral observer who was just encountering the debate for the first time. Appreciate the time the other person is putting into expressing their points. Reflect on how wrong most people have been throughout history and how hard it is to be confident about anything. Don't focus just yet on the consequences or social desirability of the different views being expressed - just evaluate how true they seem to be on their merits. Sometimes this perspective is described as 'being philosophical'."

[-][anonymous]7y 1

I think "have fun" deserves to be in the original post!!

I look at disagreements as fun challenges. When I consider myself more rational or knowledgeable than the other people involved, I give myself a lot more responsibility for the opening/changing of their minds than I give them. If it doesn't work, I don't think "ugh, this person is an idiot"... I think "I wonder what I could have done to communicate more effectively with this person in particular." For example, I just deconverted from Christianity, and lots of people who unfortunately think I'm going to hell want to talk about it. In these conversations, I don't always say what I want to say. Instead, I say what I think will be most likely to make the person uncomfortable enough to stop and think.

For many people, especially more emotional ones, this means going on the defensive instead of the offensive. I'll tell them about how I yearned and prayed for years for a stronger faith. I'll say that if God were going to answer any prayer, that would seem like a good one to answer. I'll show them an MBTI study that shows all the "T" types are more likely to deconvert than the "F" types and say glumly that if they ended up being right after all, culture/upbringing wasn't the only way God seemed to play favorites. This turns out to be a good strategy for people who believe pure childlike faith is a virtue, since it makes them uncomfortable that I really wanted a strong faith too, but it was more of a struggle for me.

For people who are more interested in actual facts, I'll be more likely to ask their opinion on the Census of Quirinius or share how I just learned how the least complex fossils are found in the oldest, deepest layers of rock, and ask why they think that might be. This is a better strategy for the (few) people who think that their faith is totally backed up by evidence.

I've gotten almost everyone to stop and think a LOT and have somehow managed to stay on good terms with almost everyone.

In any disagreement, you have to choose between using facts vs. emotional appeals. The fun part is tailoring to your audience and figuring out which facts/emotional appeals in particular would be most likely to get through to the other person.

[-][anonymous]7y 6

The question is what exactly you are trying to do? For example, if you want to further a cause, like, in EA, raising funds for a highly effective charity, say to the Deworm the World Initiative, you may not need to get along with people with different opinions. You can do what pretty much every succesful cause did

1) Form an institution with people who agree with you, such as form a Society For Funding DtWI, and make sure to exclude everybody who disagrees with you. Forming an institution makes it more or less automatic, people who disagree with DtWI will not join SFFDtWI and it focuses efforts.

2) Just advertise it to everybody else using convicing marketing language, emotional appeal, "cute puppies", I don't mean outright lie, I just mean pretty much be like the politician who advertises videos of him petting a dog and not his ideas about how to cut the budget.

This tends to work for the following reason. You have two groups of people, the arguers, the intellectuals, who are a kind of elite, and the followers, the masses, who just do whatever emotionally appeals to them. You DON'T have to win argument with the opposing intellectuals just to get to your goal. You can just advertise to the masses and simply ignore the intellectuals who argue with you.

If you go to look at a local church, what are they doing, arguing with Dawkins or just preaching whatever their local audience wants to hear? Would they raise more tithes if they would argue with Dawkins? Would it help them any way? By far their best strategy is to ignore what a group of intellectuals argue about them, and preach whatever their local non-intellectual audience likes to hear.

The point here is to not confuse two entirely unrelated goals 1) getting some social goals reached, like funds directed to your favorite charity 2) gaining social status points amongst intellectuals by winning arguments.

Is this ugly and borderline Machiavellian? Yes. Would I hate you if you did this? Yes. But what do you want more, me liking you, or a thousand non-intellectual sheeple contributing to your favorite charity? What gets you closer to your real goal?

Arguing is pretty much nothing more than a ritualized game amonst intellectuals. Your lose status in your peer group if you don't, if you just advertise, if you just send out cute-puppy emotional messages. But from the viewpoint of total utility, does that really matter?

But an essential step is to form your own institution. A thing is a thing only with defined barriers, although not impermeable ones. As long as you are just, for example, a loosely defined EA crowd, arguments are endless. Once you decided to form a Society For Whatever Cause I Support, and recruited members, you stop having at least the main arguments inside. And you can ignore the arguments outside and just send out marketing messages. If you don't do this step, if you don't decide to enough is enough, now everybody who agrees with me please stand up and we form our own institution, you get nowhere.

Apologies in advance for excessive positivity: It's great to see that the CEA leadership team has committed to playing a mediator role and helping everyone in the EA movement get along as the EA movement expands :)

Have you guys thought about linking to this or other sensible discussion stuff in the description for the EA facebook group or ? I think reaching newcomers to the movement is key.

Also, I've been working on a few "metapolitics" posts for the EA forum (thoughts on how to have political discussions better/depoliticize discussion, written at the meta level without taking a side, in the same vein as these previous LW posts of mine: 1, 2 and this EA forum comment). My thinking is that it's best to discuss metapolitics preemptively rather than waiting for politicization to rear its head in a big way (and have your metapolitics post be perceived as supporting one side or the other rather than talking about how best for discussions to proceed in the abstract). Do you have any thoughts on this? (I'd be interested in getting your feedback on metapolitics posts before I make them if you have time to read them. Also, any other EAs that are interested in taking an advance look are more than welcome to PM with their preferred contact method.)

6. Let it go

A perspective on relationships: selective memory helps. If you focus on disagreement, you will notice disagreements everywhere. if you focus on commonalities, it will feel harmonious. How much you agree may not be so important as how much it matters to you that you agree.

Occasionally I wonder at how insulated and feeling-safe has the West become.

Your advice is excellent advice for the situation where the disagreement doesn't matter. An amicable disagreement between gentlemen about which wine goes best with roast partridge. At worst everyone will just order his own bottle.

That is not always the case. Sometimes when you lose a dispute -- especially a political dispute -- consequences can be very dire. People with guns might come to kill you and your family.

You are confusing a dispute with an argument. By this, let's suppose I'm hanging out in Russia in 1917/18. I'm a little unhappy with all these communists who are getting into power and would like them to maybe have less political power. If I lose this dispute me and my family may well be killed as traitors!

That still doesn't mean my best method of argument is to start disagreeing with every communist I bump into! Even if my arguments are sound and I'm very persuasive, I'm probably going to only sway a few, and have made a name for myself as trouble. In addition, even if I think this is the best path, I'll need to pick my battles. I and a communist probably disagree on quite a lot, but if I want them to stop that Lenin fellow I'd be better off on focusing on our common ground and bringing them into my circle.

The common mistake I think a lot of people make is that you can change people's minds by arguing with them about that very thing in a clear, logical, and rational manner. But this probably isn't true. This can sometimes work, if the other person is sympathetic to your views to begin with, which is key! So the best way to get someone to change their minds is to try and make them like you, feel like you are part of their community. Then, when they think about capitalism, which is an evil vice, they'll think "but Bob says he's a capitalist, and he always buys me a round of drinks!" and then maybe you'll have a boozy chat one evening and find common ground, and maybe even tease out some contradictions in their world view, until one day Jerry the communist is Jerry the moderate and Lenin wants to point a gun at Bob but Jerry knows Bob is his friend and gives him warning.

but Jerry knows Bob is his friend and gives him warning.

The actual empirical experience of Russia is that Jerry writes a denunciation letter accusing Bob of being an imperialist lapdog, after which Bob with his family leave for a Siberian labour camp and Jerry moves into Bob's old flat.

Um. I'm not sure you and I use empirical the same way.

More importantly, what on earth is your point here? My point was that a non confrontational argumentative style might have benefits outside of simply getting along with fellow human beings, but it might even save your skin in a totalitarian regime. Is your point of view that the way to save your skin in a totalitarian regime to be aggressively argumentative? I suspect if Jerry is going to denounce good ol' Bob then he'll definitely denounce firebrand Bob. The answer might be for Bob to leave the country, but we are literally talking about how to talk to other human beings here.

I'm not sure you and I use empirical the same way.

"Empirical" = "Actually observed in reality"

what on earth is your point here?

That a non-confrontational style is appropriate when nothing serious is at stake.

Could... could you evidence the claim that the non confrontational arguers in Russia all died while the confrontational arguers didn't?

[ I appreciate that I haven't presented evidence that my narrative of what might occur is more likely than yours, but I'm not the one using the phrase "empirical".]

Could... could you evidence the claim that the non confrontational arguers in Russia all died while the confrontational arguers didn't?

Could you please quote me where I said anything remotely like that? I'm particularly curious about "all" and about "the confrontational arguers didn't".

OK. So what point are you making? That when stakes matter, no argumentative style is effective? Yes, "all" was hyperbolic, but I'm actually trying to get at what exactly you are trying to see. You seem to have a strong disagreement with this article, and I'd love to get to the heart of it.

OK. So what point are you making?

The answer only what, three comments up? To quote myself, "a non-confrontational style is appropriate when nothing serious is at stake".

Right, so to try to get to the end of this exhausting thread, your contention is that the confrontational arguers would do better in revolutionary Russia (say) than non confrontational arguers? So, if so, where is your evidence that this is the case? To be clear, I do not have evidence to the contrary, and would be happy to know where your confident claims are originating from.

when nothing serious is at stake

For the average LW reader, I would imagine that this is in general true, which would put your original comment under the category of "nitpicking".

For the average LW reader, I would imagine that this is in general true

If that is true, there are implications. Why would people engage in arguments where nothing serious is at stake (other than posturing and social grooming) and wouldn't it be better for them do something useful instead?

Why would people engage in arguments where nothing serious is at stake (other than posturing and social grooming) and wouldn't it be better for them do something useful instead?

Why would people watch movies and wouldn't it be better for them do something useful instead?

Why would people read novels and wouldn't it be better for them do something useful instead?

The answer to both questions is "pleasure".

Do want to say that people argue for the pleasure of arguing?

Yes, they often do.

"5. Pick your battles" seems to be especially important advice in political disputes where consequences can be dire.

In political disputes picking your battles is a luxury which is not always available. Especially in situations which involve men with guns.

In a state like North Korea, you don't argue that the dear leader is wrong or that other people who say the dear leader is right are wrong.

You rather stay silent. You don't fight most conflicts that you could fight.

I think your critique of this being only for disagreements that don't matter is too strong, and your examples miss the context of the article.

This is not a suggested resolution procedure for all humans in all states of disagreement; this is a set of techniques for when you already have and want to maintain some level of cooperative relationship with a person, but find yourself in a disagreement over something. Suggestion 5 above is specifically about disengaging from disagreements that "don't matter", and the rest are potentially useful even if it's a disagreement over something important.

So it's just unrolling the basic "don't be an asshole, be polite instead" advice?

I don't know what you mean, but I think I see a lot of people "being polite" but failing at one of these when it would be really useful for them.

For example, you can be polite while internally becoming more suspicious and angry at the other person (#3 and #4) which starts coming out in body language and the direction of conversation. Eventually you politely end the conversation in a bad mood and thinking the other person is a jerk, when you could've accomplished a lot more with a different internal response.

Maybe the other person is a jerk and is on an obnoxious power trip at your expense. If you don't get suspicious and (internally) angry you're just setting yourself up as a victim.

Generic advice doesn't apply everywhere. A default "nod and slowly back away" response isn't bad but is not always useful.

Agreed on the 2nd paragraph.

Optimally, you'd be have an understanding of the options available, how you work internally, and how other people respond so you could choose the appropriate level of anger, etc. Thus it's better to explore suggestions and see how they work than to naively apply them in all situations.

[-][anonymous]7y 1

I think it may come from the opposite of feeling safe. Losing a political dispute doesn't matter because the people actually in power don't give half a shit about what that (at best) 5% of the population who can understand a reasoned argument thinks. Arguing esp. online gives intellectuals an illusion of voice/power. Someone asks "Should we legalize drugs?" on Reddit and ten thousand people jump in the debate. But "we" have almost no say in whether drugs will ever get legalized or not. It is an illusion, it is a pretend-play at being democratic, a Toy Parliament. It is the people in power who decide and "we" have far less power to influence the public opinion than they do. Even if the public opinion is against it, that does not matter too much. In most countries we have either two large parties or two large coalition of smaller parties. Maybe three or four coalitions at best. What the public can do is to choose one over the other. They game is rigged so that newcomer parties have not much chance, it is established elites. So if they all agree they will legalize or not legalize drugs, they will not lose votes relative to each other. And even if they don't all agree e.g. in the UK Greens would legalize and others not, voting is a package deal anyway, every voter must decide to buy the whole package of Greens, economic policy, immigration policy, everything, so one or two issue does not matter so much.

So the main reason it does not matter is that we are more or less powerless. It is playing at a Toy Parliament, pretending to be a force to be reckoned with in a Toy Democracy.

Nota bene, I am not even that much bitter about it, even though it may sound like so. I am probably fucked in the mind enough to not find monarchy or aristocracy automatically bad systems, and this kind of "democracy" is more or less a somewhat competitive aristocracy. The same kind of people are always in power, but the people get to choose if a given group of elites are in power say 30% of the time or 70% of the time. This is not necessarily a horrible system, arguably Rome worked on a worse ones for long.

But "we" have almost no say in whether drugs will ever get legalized or not.

It's all complicated and certainly not "the voice of the people says let this be so!", but public pressure is an element in political change. The marijuana legalization in the US is a good example. Even the commentariat can occasionally impact things -- I'm thinking of the successful Google-bombing of Santorum :-)

But that's a long and complicated discussion with little payment of rent involved...

[-][anonymous]7y 1

But that's a long and complicated discussion with little payment of rent involved...

To the contrary, it can save a lot of people from wasting a lot of their time.

Empirical observations show that no, it can not X-D

Maybe three or four coalitions at best. What the public can do is to choose one over the other.

That suggest that democracy is just about voting at election day. That's just not true. Public debate matters for policy changes.

Granted what the New York Times writes is more important than what happens at Reddit, but we don't live in a world where the parliaments are separated from the rest.

ACTA didn't go through because we live in a democracy where the internet allows people to politically organize in a way we couldn't 15 years ago.

[-][anonymous]7y 3

Look at things like the proposed EU Constitution and later the replacement, the Treaty of Lisbon. Pretty much about elites deciding what they want and pushing it on the people until they give in and ratify it. First they push the EU Constitution, the people of UK, France, Netherlands reject it via referendum. Fine, they rewrite it is as a Treaty of Lisbon, now the UK government is smarter and doesn't even hold a referendum, just ratifies in the Parliament. Ireland holds a referendum as it constitutionally must, and the people say no. No problem however, the elites launch a massive advertising campaign and hold another referendum. They'll just keep asking the question until they get a yes. No other country outside Ireland holds a referendum about it, which suggests a lot about whether the people would have accepted it or not. The message is very clear, the elites want it, and basically push it until they can make it happen.

Pretty much about elites deciding what they want and pushing it on the people until they give in and ratify it. First they push the EU Constitution, the people of UK, France, Netherlands reject it via referendum.

And now the pressure in the UK is strong enough that they get a referendum about leaving the EU. But more importantly democracy is not only about voting but about public debate. The European idea has a deep intellectual foundation. A lot of those people of the 5% that can understand a reasoned argument are pro-European.

It's interesting how you use the term "elites" as if it would mean something very different than "intellectuals". In practice journalists are intellectuals who do form part of the societal elite that influences public policy. Think Tanks have influence because they can afford to pay intellectuals to do nothing but think about a specific issue.

EU is a bit different, it's widely accepted that it's not democratic.

As to "can make it happen", so, how is Greece doing?

So - I'm not sure I want to get along with those who are totally wrong (or who I think are). More power to altruism, you rock, but I wonder sometimes if we do not bring some of this stupidity on ourselves by tolerating and giving voice to idiocy.

I look, for example, at the vaccination situation; I live in Southern California, a hotbed of clueless celebrity bozos who think for some reason they know more about disease and epidemiology than freaking doctors, and who cause real harm - actual loss of human life - to their community, of which my kids are a part.

Ok - maybe they're not totally wrong, I am willing to accept that some small percentage are actually opting out of vaccinations for good medical reasons, at the advice of their physicians - a buddy of mine has a daughter who fought leukemia, and the vaccinations deep in the middle of her treatments would have been very bad - but that doesn't mean I can, or should, give pass to the idiots who do it because they "don't want to put poisons in their children's bodies".

Point being - I cannot help but think that we might have been better off, as a society, if we took the first few who did that, put em in stocks in the middle of town, and threw rotten fruit at them. It should be socially unacceptable to be that wrong, not be something that gets them interviewed on tv.

I know - this is aimed more at philosophical differences, or matters of opinion, trying to prevent online debate from spiraling down into a flamewar. I just can't help but feel we are developing a society where people have the expectation that their wrong beliefs are somehow to be protected from criticism. Believe whatever crazy thing you want - but do not expect to be unmocked for it. Maybe - just maybe - getting roasted pretty good online is a useful educational experience. Maybe if people got flamed good and hard on usenet back in the late 80's, they wouldn't do the stupid public shaming (and evoking the mob response) they do today. Sometimes, the burned hand teaches best.

Or maybe I'm just an asshole. Who knows. It is certainly within the realms of possibility. Even so - being an asshole does not automatically mean you're wrong.

Just food for thought.