Monday, 8 November 2010

Olive Oil

Öl 2One of my ongoing issues with Australian society has been the lack of debate. Everyone seems just so content with the way things are they can’t be asked to think of how things can be done better. Questioning is passé.
I was thinking about our cultural issues while contemplating events taking place yesterday, as we visited a friend’s place. As it happened, that friend happened to have another guest; one thing led to another and while rubbing on some humus we got to discuss the virtues of the olive oil decorating it. The conversations went along the following lines:
Guest: “I have heard that we should buy only Australian olive oil. Imported olive oils are no good because they lose everything that’s good in the oil.”
Yours truly, retaliating very quickly: “I disagree. There isn’t much that can go wrong with olive oil.”
Host friend quickly assuming control over the conversation: “Just yesterday I was talking to a friend who makes this olive oil [pointing at the bottle of Australian olive oil on the table]. He said that extra virgin olive oil can last up to two years without losing their goodness, but in Europe they reuse olives to get more oil by reheating them and then selling that oil as extra virgin. The reheating does take away the goodness from the oil. He also said that Australian olive trees tend to be young, which gives them a taste of their own. He said that the oil in the bottle costs him $1, but due to expensive Australian labour the bottling and the graphic design cost him much more.”
First I would like to point at the differences in the way arguments were raised by me and the host friend. While I quoted a verifiable fact, the friend was quoting what they heard from a third party. That third party quote was given an aura of authority by stating the source is involved in the manufacturing of olive oils. Effectively, my friend was raising an argument from authority; even though we were both saying the same thing and even though my argument was based on reading material supplied by third parties (I haven’t had the pleasure of dealing with oil chemistry), there was significant difference in the way the arguments were raised.
I abhor arguments from authority; I much prefer sticking to observable facts, and if someone has a question about the observations then by all means let’s look them up. Do not, however, add perceived glamor to your observable fact by relating them to an authority, because that adds nothing to the fact. Taking one’s word, no matter how sophisticatedly positioned that word is, is a dangerous act of corner cutting when the objective truth is held as the ultimate goal.

Second, I would like to point at my friend’s more subtle way of contradicting the guest. I have a problem I admit to with regards to the Australian olive industry: I am of the opinion they are trying to justify their higher sale prices, when compared to cheaper imports, by playing on nationalistic notions rather than objective product comparisons. I don’t mind paying more for quality, but I do mind when an Aussie claims to be better than a European just because they’re an Aussie.
When I have a problem with something I prefer not to fool around; I state it loud and clear, the way I did in this case: I started by saying I disagree. The host, on the other hand, expressed his disagreement in a much subtler way, never explicitly stating they disagree. I hit the case with a sledge hammer; the host was a diplomat.
This brings me back to the subject of Australia’s absence of debating culture. I am fully aware I am at the minority’s side of things: most people would consider it impolite to contradict someone else. They will do so still, but they will only do so in subtler ways, ways I tend to interpret as devious. However, I would like to ask why we need to go around the bush this way? Why the spin? Why can’t we tell one another exactly what we think without fear of consequence?
Many people I know would consider it unfriendly if I was to tell them bluntly that I disagree with them. They know fully well that we do not agree on everything; that’s a statistical certainty. How, then, do they solve the problem of remaining friends while still carrying conflicting opinions? They do it by avoiding certain discussion topics that are famous for combustion. That is one of the reasons why you hardly ever get to hear friendly debates on religion, for example.
I disagree with that attitude quite vehemently. In my opinion, true friends are friends by virtue of the fact they still like one another despite their differences of opinion. I don’t want to be in the company of yes men, not at work and definitely not in my social life. Yet preferring such company is exactly why Australia has deteriorated into this state of comfortable mind numbness where debating is considered politically incorrect.

Photo by 96dpi


wile.e.coyote said...

You are totally wrong!!!

Wicked Little Critta said...

I would argue that couching statements of disagreement is beneficial for at least two reasons:
1. Lessens the probability that the person you're talking to will get defensive, which will make continuing the conversation much more likely, and
2. Presents yourself as someone who will listen to differing arguments and not be narrow-minded. When I debate with someone, if the person states something to the effect of "No, you're wrong" it appears to me that the person will refuse to change his/her mind and is therefore the type of person that is stubborn and not worth debating with. Regardless of whether or not what you say is "fact," we all have to discern for ourselves in conversation when a person is stating a fact, or just something made up that they consider to be a fact.

In short, I agree with wile.e.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Point 1:
I thought my entire point was that, at least between friends, there is no reason for anyone to get defensive. I also think this is exactly what W.E. Coyote has been aiming at.
I suspect culture has a lot of saying here. In Israeli culture everyone is fair game and people don't get offended much; if they do, they don't go defensive, they'd attack even more ferociously (as W.E. Coyote demonstrates). This wrapping up of arguments in cellophane so as not to offend anyone is a very American thing to do, it is a relatively recent phenomenon, and it is diffusing around the world because American culture has this way of imposing itself on others even if it is of no benefit.

Point 2:
If someone claimed the earth was flat, would you still avoid explicitly saying they're wrong?
I see where you're coming from, but what I'm trying to say is that when we discuss ideas we should lay our egos down and judge the ideas for what they're worth. If we were to do so, we would be able to weigh ideas up much more constructively.

Final clarification: By no means do I think you’re wrong; most of the time you’re absolutely right. I just mourn the fact you’re right.

Moshe Reuveni said...

I think it is also important to bear in mind the scenario that would have taken place under most circumstances:
Step 1: Someone utters a silly comment, like praising the false virtues of Aussie olive oil.
Step 2: A friend that has something to say but can’t be bothered hums.
Step 3: Another friend that has something to say shrugs.
Step 4: Others who don’t have an opinion on the matter interpret the silence as some sort of an agreement.
Step 5: The majority steps out of the conversation equipped with some sort of confirmation to the notion that Aussie olive oil is superior to scum European oil.
Step 6: The marketing campaign succeeded. Society lost.

I assume we're all in agreement the above is a good outcome (Wile, feel free to express your disagreement).

Wicked Little Critta said...


Moshe Reuveni said...

Thinking I'm an idiot is a perfectly legitimate feeling. Feel free to express it.
Jo did. Her reaction to this post was "you really are a Sheldon."

Wicked Little Critta said...

Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say that people should hum or shrug instead of engaging in discussion and debate. To quote you, "for the record."

You are correct that my point stems from my American culture and experience. So maybe it has no place here. (No spiders or Visigoths or Americans)

I understood your point, but chose to sidestep it. The reason for that being that you seem to always want to operate outside of norms, social rules, contexts, etc. Which is impossible. So I spoke from my approach, which is to work with what you've got. Sure you can go around and say to people "You're entirely wrong!" but run the risk of being labeled an @ss and avoided in the future. (Disclaimer: only in "America.")

Moshe Reuveni said...

Point very well made and taken. At least in this context I am definitely an ass regardless of geography, but an ass that maintain social conventions could use a change.