How To Be Right: The Art of Being Persuasively Correct (2015)
FIND YOUR INNER DRUNK
I believe in mind reading. In fact, I know for a fact that it is 100 percent possible to think someone else’s thoughts. It happens every day; you just don’t notice it.
For example: Let’s say you’re in an elevator (“you’re in an elevator”) and an employee you do not know enters from another floor. Do you know what he’s thinking? Of course you do.
“I don’t know this guy well enough to say hi.”
(Unless he’s thinking, “This looks like the guy whose picture is hanging in the post office.” Either way, you’re reading his mind!)
My job is to think your thoughts and then express them eloquently—with force, humor, and verve. But I do not wish to express the obvious thoughts, because then that’s too easy. That’s simply delivering assumptions, which you can get from just about anyone these days. Especially if you have a TV with cable access.
I prefer to articulate the thoughts you cannot express. Those sitting somewhere in your brain, waiting to be unlocked. How do I get there? How do I access the unspeakable thoughts—so that you will feel a sense of great wonder and satisfaction when you hear them come from someone else’s mouth?
I do something that, in my opinion, never fails: I pretend I’m drunk.
I have a theory. If you act drunk, you are drunk. (I have another theory about what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, but those clowns at the Smithsonian will no longer take my calls.)
If you’re looking for a strong, straightforward opinion (that might in fact be right), you’ll find it sitting on a bar stool in front of a warm Guinness. The fact is, drunks have an opinion on everything. That’s a valuable thing to tap into, especially if you’re coming up empty on original ideas.
Just about every day, I do one or two shows. Within that workload, I cover a dozen stories. Each story requires from me an opinion, an idea, an insight. The problem is, I sometimes don’t have one. There are topics I simply don’t give a shit about (like stories about royalty; especially stories about royalty). But my job is to say something, anything. And I’ll be damned if I am going to waste your time with fake bullshit that you hear from other a-holes. I am an a-hole with real bullshit, if nothing else.
So I get drunk. Not literally, but figuratively. I sit at my computer and think, “What would drunk Greg say?” Because I know drunk Greg wouldn’t shut up about anything. (I know this because bartenders and former friends often reminded me.)
So let’s say it’s October 2014, and the midterm elections approach. I’m not an expert on this stuff. I couldn’t tell you who’s leading in North Dakota, who might take Alaska, and if there’s a dogfight in the Carolinas (I’m not even sure where these places are, or where I am now). If you asked me point-blank, “Greg, what’s your prediction on 2016?” I’d sputter that it’s likely to follow 2015.
But then I would conjure up “drunk Greg” and ask myself to answer that question, as if I were drunk. It’s pretty easy. Recall the last time you were drunk, how it felt—the looseness, the lack of restraint, the laserlike incoherence!
So if sober Greg has nothing on the midterms, drunk Greg says this: “Who the hell cares if we can’t get the White House? If we can’t find one single decent Republican president, then we deserve to lose. Now pass me those peanuts, goddammit.”
Another complicated example in need of insobriety is the Middle East, a crisis that most of us don’t think about until we have to. If I come up blank, I revert to drunk Greg, who always has an opinion. And it would be, about the Middle East: “Three groups all claiming it’s their promised land. And we’re stuck with them. Who doesn’t keep calling you the Great Satan? Hang out with that guy. Also, do you have any weed?”
Speaking of pot legalization.
This is a story that suffers from both catastrophic thinking and rose-colored-glasses-wearing goofs. Fact is, pot isn’t as harmless as people say it is, but potheads aren’t as harmful as people think they are.
How does drunk Greg respond when someone asks him if legalization is a good thing?
“When was the last time a pothead punched you in the face? In every fucking fight in my life, it’s been with drunks. Hell, I once started a fight with myself after drinking tequila for six hours. I kicked my own ass.” The case is still in litigation.
THE GAME AT THE BAR
Here is a psychological experiment.
Put yourself in a crowded bar watching the World Series, watching your favorite team.
The bar is filled equally with fans of both teams.
When the opposing team scores and takes the lead, their fans cheer.
How do you feel? Not simply about the scoring, but about the cheering.
Probably an odd mix of defeatism, anger, and, if you’re honest, envy and shame. The scientific term is “pissed off.”
Now, imagine your team scoring to retake the lead…and you cheer. Loudly. It’s as if your reaction is obliterating all those feelings you felt before—just as you sense the defeated emotions around you, as the gang expresses exhilarating, mocking delight.
The emotions in both instances match the same feeling you get in political discourse.
And this happens because such discourse has achieved a competitive intensity. Perhaps this sensation was always this intense, but it seems we’re seeing more of it—being in a contentious time where division is no longer a place where a team resides, but a condition stoked by media, academics, and activists.
So, in this bar, how do you conduct yourself, knowing that no matter what you say or do, the other team’s fans will never become fans of your team?
Do you cheer more loudly when you score, and do you feel more anger when they score one on you?
For the sake of converting new fans, it makes no difference.
But for the sake of civility and kinship on a crowded planet, it’s not such a bad thing to smile when you score, and to smile when you don’t. And every now and then, buy a round for your opponents, just so they know you’re human, much like them. Assuming you’re human, that is.
That way, even if you don’t win the arguments or convert the opposition, we’ll all have a much better shot at enjoying the game. A game that, for all of us, is far too short, and goes by far too quickly.