James O’Brien’s How To Be Right

Not all is lost for a world gone wrong…

The world is a weird and troubling place right now. (To be fair, its always been pretty weird, but right now feels especially boggling.) The current state of global affairs feels like satire adopted as policy. With fake news, alternative truths, and brazen offence in the face of accountability, parody & reality have been forcibly conjoined, stitched at the hip.

Swapping learning, understanding and experience for ill-thought views and the echoes of whispered bias can produce a very closed, one-sided view on a variety of subjects. Opinion threatens to replace evidence. And as always, the most vocal are of the opinion that their opinion is evident.

So how do you reason with those so intent on being heard?

How To Be Right by James O'Brien

Whilst I’m not an LBC regular listener, I’d heard several excerpts from James O’Brien’s radio show and appreciated his calm, rational approach to challenging & questioning motives of the most forthright of callers. (The famous “shape of your bananas” Brexit exchange will stick with me for a long time.) However, any account of what’s right or wrong from an individual perspective has the risk of appearing self-righteous if not well executed, and could simply come off as preaching. So even with my positive expectations I went into “How to be right in a world gone wrong” with mild apprehension.

Thankfully, any apprehension proved unwarranted. “How to Be Right..” is a excellently considered, level-headed and often amusing piece of social commentary on O’Brien’s exchanges with some of his more outspoken listeners. From politics and religion to LGBT and ageism, he isn’t afraid to ask people to explain themselves as to why their usually faltered statements should hold weight, and how they reached such polarising determinations. He’s also more than happy to call out falsehoods and misconceptions, and it usually doesn’t take long for people to unravel and backpedal, the boiling reduced to a tepid simmer.

From “Andy’s” distress at the UK’s “British Values being eroded”, to “Andrew” spitting feathers at supposedly “not being able to celebrate Christmas”, the book is filled with (often funny, sometimes scary) examples of James’ trying conversations, as he attempts to break down where these notions came from and provide a measured rebuttal. He is also eager to point out that he himself continues to learn from these exchanges, and in the case of topics such as feminism admits “its a work in progress”.

..I think a bloke who realised quite late in life he spent years on these slopes, whilst simultaneously patting himself on the back for being a right-on feminist, provides a useful case study. Obviously that bloke is me and what follows are the lessons I’ve learnt.”

James O’Brien – How To Be Right

This admission that no-one is free from scrutiny and self improvement, is a reassuring message that O’Brien isn’t looking to preach, isn’t holier-than-thou, but is offering the verbal tools to dissect and reveal the fallacies of the arguments from those who tend to hold themselves higher.

But this isn’t merely a collection of point-and-laughs, moreso a sobering reminder that anyone can be convinced by a misleading headline or sold a negative way of thinking, whether it be handed down prejudice or being fooled to follow a cause with a catchy slogan and a damaging agenda.


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