Opinions are great, except when I disagree with them

Opinions are great. I love listening to people’s opinions more so than the boring nothings of fence-sitters. Ok, so I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes people’s opinions rile me but there’s something challenging about that as it forces me to question what I think. For this reason, I like listening to RadioNZ’s The Panel segment which is on weekdays from 4-5pm.

Last Friday, when listening to The Panel, I was riled. The topic under discussion was a proposal by the NZ Greens Party to spend $200 million over four years building cycleways and walkways around schools to encourage school students to walk or cycle to school. Apparently only 30% of school children currently do so which is a disgrace. Who could possibly object to this proposal?

I’m not sure who the panelists were but it doesn’t really matter. One of them commented that this sounded like another attack on motorists. Why? What a ridiculous thing to say. Fewer cars on the road = less traffic = better motoring for motorists. Why is this so hard to understand. Car-loving folks should be encouraging everyone else to get their fat arses out of cars and onto bicycles and walkways out of self-interest alone: there will be less traffic for them to have to navigate. Unless they like traffic and I just can’t believe this.

But there are other reasons too. A recent Danish study found that children who walk or cycle to school have better concentration at school than children who don’t. There’s also all the benefits that come with an active lifestyle which include reduced risk of chronic disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Add to these cleaner air and lower fuel bills.

So why do people object? Adam Gopnik has a theory in this article he wrote in The New Yorker which I’ve quoted before, but which is so far the only reason I can find:

“…people who don’t want high-speed rail are not just indifferent to fast trains. They are offended by fast trains, as the New York Post is offended by bike lanes and open-air plazas: these things give too much pleasure to those they hate. They would rather have exhaust and noise and traffic jams, if such things sufficiently annoy liberals. Annoying liberals is a pleasure well worth paying for. As a recent study in the social sciences shows, if energy use in a household is monitored so that you can watch yourself saving money every month by using less, self-identified conservatives will actually use and spend more, apparently as a way of showing their scorn for liberal pieties.”

10 thoughts on “Opinions are great, except when I disagree with them

  1. Beautifully written New Yorker piece. I can recognize it, which is a start, but I cannot write like that.

    It beautifully fits to my last post, do climate dissenters like climate change, and thus to what I am thinking of at the moment. Maybe one should emphasise as one of the advantages of bicycle paths that those obnoxious cyclists would leave the streets and no longer hinder traffic. Annoying liberals is only a proximate explanation. Why is that an evolutionary strategy? Sounds crazy to waste your time on that.

    One problem of the former colonies is that the people that went there will be over-proportional people that did not fit in well in their societies. A few of such people may be beneficial and adaptive or at least neutral, too much can become of vice.

    1. Annoying liberals is only a proximate explanation. Why is that an evolutionary strategy? Sounds crazy to waste your time on that.

      It does seem crazy, I agree. But there is that German word, schadenfreude. What’s the evolutionary purpose of that?

      One problem of the former colonies is that the people that went there will be over-proportional people that did not fit in well in their societies.

      I disagree with this. In the case of Australia, they were convicts who were forced to go there and it was not so much that they didn’t fit well in their societies but that they were poor and destitute and saw theft as their only means to survive.

      For other people and for places like New Zealand, they felt they would have a better life there and many of them did.

  2. I believe that if you look at objectors to these things, they will mostly fit into a particular age demographic i.e. older/middle aged people. Rarely do you see or hear younger generations opposing these kinds of proposals. Again, I believe that this is because when you get older, you resist change more than when you’re younger. While I can buy that ‘conservatives’ deliberately make their lives poorer to annoy ‘liberals’, it’s not the whole story. People can object to things because they’re new or different, and so challenge them to think about their lives in a different way. Push-back is usually the outcome in such cases! IMO, etc… 😉

    1. Yep, I agree with this. People don’t like change and in the case of cycling, they can’t see the benefits because they’ve grown up in a car-centric society and/or never lived in a place like Amsterdam or Copenhagen or perhaps never ridden a bicycle at all.

  3. Some think: My opinions are my identity, your opinions are yours, I attack your identity and you attack mine.

    Some do it because in creating a fight they look forward to winning or simply stirring the pot. It seems in part due to a lack of a genuine cause for self-esteem but, in some cases, an enjoyment of malice. So, in some cases the dissents are not genuine. In some cases the agreements aren’t genuine either, but more of a ruse for inclusion which allows them to be disruptive.

    It sounds horrible and cynical but it is not. Such things have always been with us but we still advance. The thing that amazes me, is that in a world where it would be so much easier to use the same approach to life, there are so many who refuse to do so. 🙂 And, they keep on being born. 🙂

    If we keep our identity based upon good will then we enable ourselves to change opinion.
    Allowing an occasional uncertainty and review of opinion is how we evolve.

    Wye Aye Rachel 🙂

    1. Ah yes, the fun of winning a fight or simply stirring the pot. I see that often, especially in online disagreements involving climate change. And I take comfort from knowing that I often change my opinion of things. 🙂

  4. Interesting article, Rachel. The behaviour of self-identified conservatives referred to in Adam Gopnik’s article really amazes me. I’m also amazed that people would oppose a plan to give kids an opportunity to do what kids usually like to do. I remember reading a while ago that, as women get older, they tend to become less conservative whereas men go in the opposite direction. Here’s an article reporting on a study indicating that, as people grow older, they generally become less conservative than they used to be. http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/15/getting-more-liberal-with-age/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0
    I don’t know about you but I’m miles less conservative than I was in my 20s.

    1. I still haven’t read your article yet. The problem is I’ve used up my free views for the month and when I try to login (I’m not sure I’ll be able to see it anyway as I don’t subscribe to the NYTimes) it says my password is wrong. I tried resetting it but haven’t received the email and then I got distracted. I’ll try again tomorrow. It sounds interesting though and I want to read it. I didn’t know that this was the case. I’m really not sure what my political persuasions are. I am probably more left than right but there are things I like and dislike about both sides and I think it does depend a bit on the person at the helm. Political parties also change over time.

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