The downside is that you could be forced to find a defence against your advocacy if your opponent did not understand the game. I have found myself convincing a friend and then going on to un-convince him before he could go away with the wrong idea. I loved my holidays in Skye which is the home of advocates. Age and experience were held to be no advantage so it was wonderful for a Lowland Scottish youth accustomed to being ignored or reviled for having an opinion to be taken seriously.
I live in England now where I am expected to say only what I mean. It takes a lot of the fun out of life. More to the point, it removes an exploration of the hidden costs of adopting a particular point of view. My ex-wife has a friend who advocates vitamin supplements because the food available in shops and supermarkets has much of the goodness processed out. She thinks that I am making a personal attack on her friend when I say that vitamin pills are manufactured and they may also lose much of their efficacy in the processing.
My dog loves to sniff the verges of a disused railway track. It is a peaceful, wooded walkway that has become overgrown. Other dog-walkers complain about the undergrowth and the ivy choking the trees so I suggested, for the sake of argument, that we get together and clean it up. You would have thought I was suggesting murder or highway robbery: it is, they all said, the job of the council. Nothing to do with them: their role is moaning from the side-lines.sidelines. One guy took me seriously enough to contact the council who warned him that we could not do anything because we would be uninsured. The council helpfully added that they could do nothing because they had run out of cash!
The modern equivalent of the argument is the petition. I should really get up a petition to have the railway walk cleaned and prettified; the result will still be that nothing iswill be done but I will be able to relax in the warm glow of knowing that I did my bit.
I tried to argue that an independent Scotland would have things tough for several years. Some companies opposed to the break-up of the Union would have moved out almost at once while the firms attracted by the new status would take five years or so to become established. I was told I had lived too long out of Scotland. I also suggested that the Faslane area would be excluded from the independence treaty – it would be like GuantanamoGuantanimo Bay, a part of geographical Cuba ruled by the United States.
Vilifying me did nothing to answer my arguments. Churchill, at the start of the Second World War, told the people of Britain that things would get very tough indeed but no one told the Scottish voters that life might get harder for some time after we left the union. Both sides in the debate concentrated on telling us that we would be better off. I was ready to return to Scotland in the event of a ‘yes’ vote believing I would be worse off but owing Scotland loyalty and service! If there had been a third option on the ballot papers – ‘Should Scotland become the fifty-second State’ – we would have dollars in our pay packets by now.
The best arguments have always been about putting the world to rights but the practice ground for developing argumentative skills has been closed and may now be a car park for all I know. When my Mum was unhappy with goods or services she could – and frequently did – go and argue face to face with the perpetrator. Grocer, butcher, plumber, bank manager – all were accessible.
Nowadays you only have telephone access to adenoidal kids in customer services who have even less control over the faulty product than you do. Arguing with them is not only a waste of time but it is also against nature, like beating your dog for barking. You can get a word with their supervisor, of course, who will assert that company rules are immutable. The inflexibility only applies to customers but, as the recent LIBOR scandal illustrated, the rules are little more than ignorable guidelines for the people who formulate them.
I was threatened with legal action by the Lincolnshire Highways Officer because of an over-exuberant cotoneaster. After seventy-five years, I had suddenly become a menace to good order and discipline in Her Majesty’s realm by reducing the width of a seldom used footpath. I wrote suggesting that he would look pretty stupid taking a pensioner to court but to go ahead with the indictment if he chose. He came to the house and explained himself to my daughter.
That was when I realised that I am too old to argue. If I disagree with something that is said, the person uses the same words to repeat the offensive statement S-L-O-W-L-Y and D-I-S-T-I-N-C-T-L-Y. If I continue to argue they throw their hands up in despair and appeal to the nearest youngster for sympathy and understanding.
It really makes me want to argue! So I am looking for an adversary to argue with me on the proposition: ‘The way to stop radical Islam is to offer youngsters a more radical alternative’. Climbing Everest or going to Sierra Leone to help people recover from the ravages of Ebola, are two ideas that spring immediately to mind. I am happy to take either side of the argument to start off with but I reserve the right to change sides when I feel like it.