Never Talk Politics…. Balls to that!
This story appeared in the November issue of Australian Bartender.
by Philip Duff
There is an election going on right now. By the time you read this it’ll probably be decided if there’ll be a moving van parked outside the White House in a few months or in four years. Coverage of the campaigning incumbent and his challengers got me thinking. The classic old line in the bartenders’ manual: “never discuss politics or religion”. That never passed the sniff test for me. Why would I want a bartender who didn’t have an opinion?
I think the saying must have come to life because the majority of people cannot discuss something without having an opinion. This would be OK if it was an opinion informed by long study, objective information and considered thought, but very often it is an opinion confirmed only by the fact that the incumbent has a nice smile and the other guy wants to fire Big Bird. It absolutely kills us humans to admit we don’t have all the information, or to consider basic human motivations when we don’t. No sir! We form our opinions without leaning pathetically on the crutch of truth and knowledge; we can whip together an opinion in seconds based on nothing more than rhetoric, dogma and what that guy – didn’t catch his name – down the pub said yesterday. Not only that, we will defend our opinions not with reference or polite discussion, but with ridiculous extremes (and that deliciously passive-agressive phrase, “All I know is…”).
So there you are, bartendering away when an otherwise normal human who, you can’t help reminding yourself, is in all likelihood allowed to vote, proffers an opinion with a foundation more flimsy than a Kardashian’s knickers. What to do? You can’t point out the idiocy of their opinion. Buzzkill. In the back of your mind you remember something from the manual. Never discuss politics or…
But balls to that. I call bullshit. There is a mutually understoof code of behaviour in bars. It has slipped a little in our consciousness, so let’s reiterate. A bartender promises to be charming, attentive and professionally skilled. A guest – and here’s where this no-opinion thing is firmly knocked on the head – must also bring something to the table, namely: a guest must be pleasant, in search only of companionship, refreshment, diversion and relaxation, and be able to pay the bill. A guest who cannot proffer an opinion based on fact – and who will not defer graciously when he or she learns of new information that may disprove their long-held beliefs – is a miserable cur, and should not only be denied service, but hunted from a helicopter, with a rifle, and shot like a dog in the street.
I met such a chap not so long ago. I was strolling through New York when I saw a bar named The Pint Of No Return. Well, I had to, didn’t I?
My fellow guests when I came in were one early-twenties lady engrossed in her speaking tube (or “cellphone” as I believe you younglings call it). After about half an hour, a distinguished-looking middle-management type older gentleman in a shirt and tie joined us. Not a word was spoken. Until….
Young Lady (out of the blue): “So, what do you guys think about Occupy?”
A pleasant debate ensued. The gentleman was convinced the entire crowd were CIA infiltrants, and the lady seemed to feel guilty she wasn’t Occupying too, while emphasising no-one had ever given her anything for nothing and she had worked all her life. I tried to hide the fact I think all Americans are mad. (Except for my wife, who might be reading this. Hi, honey!).
Me: “Well, it’s interesting you say that. I was reading an article by Malc….”
Other Chap: [snorts like a horse having an orgasm, and puts a disdainful look on his face, the fucker] “Oh, so you’re one of them, are you?”
I racked my brain as to what he could mean. A Democrat? A Republican? They don’t have other political parties in America, do they?. I don’t look like a Muslim. Or a Jew. Or a coalminer. There are, in fact, millions of types of people I don’t look like. What could he mean?
Other Chap [look of disdain hardening into one of outright disgust]: “A reader!”
Well, he had me bang to rights. I am a reader. It started off innocently enough, a few Ian Flemings and the occasional Umberto Eco, but before I knew it, reading had me in it’s grip. Now I peruse books by sub-Saharan aid workers like they ain’t no ting. Books about economic theory, books about 18th century biotechnology, books by Lee Child and PJ O’Rourke. The reading monkey is firmly on my back.
Changing your mind in the face of new – credible – information is not only the sign of an intelligent person, it is the mark of a gentleman. The anti-reader chap would rather paint me as a member of a devious cult than accept any information from me – probably from anyone, now I think about it – which would cause him to change his mind. Hanging on to dogma, because “that’s what I was taught” or that old gem “but everyone thinks this as well!” is, well, bonkers. Imagine a conversation with someone who, when confronted with information new to them, information that should give them cause to question their own opinions, said “Wow, that’s really interesting. Maybe you’re right – when you think about it, it does seem unlikely Mitt Romney is a space alien like I said”. It’d be impossible to have an argument with that person, wouldn’t it? Pleasantness would reign. Smiles; laughs; icy-cold gin martinis and small servings of tuna tartare. Know what’s wrong with that? Nothing!