I Agree* (*Except When I Don’t)

The Most Interesting Man In The World - I Don't always agree with greenfield But when I do, I must include this caveat 

The other day, I was struck by a twit when following an editorial in a South African paper that borrowed liberally from my writing.

If Joseph George was to twit that he agreed with Dion Chang about this one thing, is any purpose served by emphasizing, as a predicate to agreement, that does not agree otherwise? 

This has become an increasingly common phenomenon, the need to prefare agreement with disagreement, and I’ve wondered for a while why this is.  Is it fear that by agreeing to one thing, George will be assumptively tarred with everything Chang has ever said?  I guess it’s possible, but if so, it would be idiotic.  Why would his words mean anything other than what they purport to mean?

It seems to me that the purpose is more nefarious, more narcissistic.  It’s the overarching compulsion to both equate the commenter with the writer with whom he agrees, to make them “equals” lest anyone see one as being the creater of great ideas and the other as some hanger-on, sycophant, follower, moron. 

Even though the sole facial purpose is to assert agreement with the author, to do so without similarly asserting independence and equivalency, because the rest of the world needs to know not only how you feel about this specific article, but how you feel about the author generally, because everyon is as fascinated about what you think as you are.

I haven’t got the slightest idea who Joseph George is. I didn’t have the slightest idea who Dion Chang was either, until I read his op-ed.  Now. I know a tiny bit about Chang, and a tiny bit about George.  I know that Chang’s ideas reflect some of my own, as applied to South Africa.  I know that George is self-absorbed.

As this usage, the “I don’t always agree but,” prefacing an expression of agreement has become more common, perhaps with meme potential given the way things go viral among narcissists with low self-esteem, it seems appropriate to call it what it is: A cry for help.

No one on the planet agrees with another person in every instance. No spouse, child, friend, lover, follower.  We may agree in large part, even most of the time, but never all the time.  To feel compelled to express this truism isn’t a reflection of precision, since that’s a given, but an attempt to let the world know that you are special. 

You know that no one else agrees all the time, and you know that others feel no need to say so.  Yet you must. You are special. You are different. You must be distinguished from the others, the groundlings, whose opinion is insignificant. Your opinion requires heightened specificity, so that the obvious, the given, still demands saying.  It’s like screaming, my opinion is critically important when considering what others say.

There are instances where such a caveat might make sense.  When John Boehner agrees with Nancy Pelosi, for example. Or Bill Buckley and John Kenneth Gailbraith.  Or Paul Campos and Brian Leiter (only kidding). But few of us hold opinions that either screw up national policies or reflect brilliance.  We don’t reflect the important voices at opposite ends of the spectrum, and nobody really cares that much about whether there’s agreement or not.

And by alerting others to the fact that you do not always agree with another person, as a preface to agreeing this one and only time, you tell one thing of paramount importance. You desperately need validation, as if your agreement in a particular instance elevates your ideas otherwise to the level of the person with whom you are agreeing. 

Certainly the person with whom you agree didn’t seek your approval.  That person just states his thoughts, and neither your agreement nor disagreement has any relevance whatsoever.  You are the one stepping into the mix, uninvited and immaterial.  You are the one who feels it necessary to justify your position relative to the person who doesn’t care whether you agree or not.  That’s pretty sad and pathetic.

You agree with someone?  Great.  You disagree?  That’s fine too.  But when you feel compelled to preface agreement with the caveat, you inform the rest of us of one important thing: Your thoughts are unimportant.  Is that what you’re trying to accomplish?

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