How to make a bigot feel really bad
Forget about being cool, reasonable, logical, evidence-based, empathetic and tolerant. Those don't work. I have a better idea.
It's not often in a writer's life that something they wrote goes viral. There is no definition of viral for when it is not being used in an epidemiological sense but I assume that it means lots and lots and lots of people have seen it. More people than you could fit into a legislative assembly or convocation hall. More people than a rock concert.
It turns out that my column last week, Where women lead, the virus loses, was widely shared and elicited what is known in French as a kickass response. It is unusual to get notifications on Facebook about any post even 48 hours after it has been posted but I have been receiving share notifications of this story till today, a full six days later.
According to SharedCount.com, the story was seen a total of 33,800 times. About 3,400 people shared it and about 3,000 people posted comments about it. That's about as viral as a small journalist like me could hope to get.
Today's column, however, is not about how splendid a writer I am but about a couple of comments that caught my eye. While the majority of readers sounded chuffed that women were wiping the floor with men as far as the coronavirus went, some were terribly upset. A few were bothered that I was applauding women; others were fuming that I had praised other countries when I should have been singing elegies to my motherland, India.
One reader called Sumit (his real name) bludgeoned me with an email asking if I was a beta male hoping to get brownie points from women by bashing men.
Another fellow, called Harsh, also his real name, sounded pretty worked up that I was bad-mouthing his favourite country, India. "Just compare the population of these countries compared to India or rest of the world. In spite of such big population the percentage of patients [in India] is much less, deaths are much less and recovery is about 50%."
There was a sting in the tail: "Only positive people can appreciate India's efforts." I was not positive people.
I responded on Facebook to Mr Harsh, explaining that India, despite its massive 1.3 billion population, had only 4,186 tests per million persons, and so the numbers were bound to look rosy with fewer infections and fewer deaths. In fact, stopping counting the damage is a world-famous way of proving that a situation is improving.
You'd have thought that Mr Harsh would have been humbled, or perhaps illuminated, by this. But I had only aggravated him further. He doubled down on my treasonous behaviour.
"Some people are never proud of India and always feel proud of fair skin only," he retorted. "If US and other countries you are praising are so efficient then why so many deaths occurred? At least I'm proud that our deaths are much lower and recovery rate is about 50 percent. Still you don't feel proud, who cares?"
I'm sure you're familiar with this kind of conversation. Someone makes a sweeping false assertion (example: "India has managed coronavirus wonderfully"). Or perhaps he makes an openly bigoted statement (example: "Muslims will over-run this country if we don't take steps to control them"). Being reasonable, you wait till he finishes ranting and then present him with facts and figures that show why he is terribly, terribly wrong. To your horror, he seems now to be even more convinced that he was right and that you are slime.
Alas, such arguments are commoner than ever these days, where Google cheerfully points you to websites that can prove anything you already believe, such as the earth is flat, vaccines are part of a global plot to kill babies and 5G phones are an underlying condition for infection by coronavirus.
If you search for ways to deal with an unreasonable or misguided person, enough websites will advise you to be calm, react to the argument rather than the person, present evidence, be logical, try to understand the other person's point of view and so on. I've come to realise that none of these techniques works in today's bizarro world.
These days, therefore, I recommend dealing with it somewhat differently. Since logic is useless against opinionated minds, the better way to handle a bigot, racist, nationalist or bhakt is to mercilessly bait them. Here are some questions guaranteed to get under their skin —
Beaten up any Dalits recently?
What's the fifth line of the Gayatri Mantra?
I heard you steal mutton from Muslims. Really?
Is your wife still beating you?
For the coup de grâce —
I am so proud that India will soon be the world's number one again — in coronavirus infections. We're #4 now, but no one can stop us.
Mr Harsh ought to be happy with that.
Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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