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Playing devil's advocate. Can I discuss this here?

(60 Posts)
AskBasil Wed 02-Apr-14 17:11:12

It's not always a feminist issue but often it is. Mostly when I've seen it done by women, they say up front "just to play devil's advocate here, what about...?" and they're honest about playing DA or just playing with the idea, throwing it out there and seeing if it's got any merit. Whereas the man I want to discuss ,does it as if he believes in what he is saying when I have previously heard him strenuously argue something else, so I'm not actually sure what he believes.

This makes me very uncomfortable, because I think there's a level of dishonesty and also disrespect about it; I feel like he's wasting my time and energy by engaging me in some sort of power game where he wants to get one over on me. Whereas I'm not interested in winning an argument, I like exploring ideas and issues. He's a friend I've known for a long time, he and his wife worked in the same company as me for a while and we've been friends ever since, but I've realised I don't actually like him very much, however I'm v. good friends with his wife (and kids).

Another friend of mine who knows them both pointed out that when people play DA they always do it from a right wing stance; (she's never heard someone with right wing leanings, argue for higher taxes and better income re-distribution in order to play DA and wind someone up). She reckons it's because people who do it are actually reactionary bastards who like to think they're liberal and so dress up their actual opinions as DA because they can't bear to think they share opinions with right wing people for whom they have some distaste. Another friend of our's reckons people who do it simply don't believe anything.

Anyway, we were over there for dinner last Friday and he did it again and it really pissed me off (and elicited this bitch-fest discussion with my other friend who reckons he's a deep down closet reactionary grin). I felt the need to vent and also to find out if anyone else has a friend like this and how they engage with him - I actually try not to get into discussions with him because I realise I don't want And also to find out if there's any feminist angle to this because I have never seen him do this to men, only to women and he particularly likes to do it around feminist topics.

TerrariaMum Wed 02-Apr-14 17:38:39

I don't really have anything useful to say, but you might find this of interest.

almondcake Wed 02-Apr-14 17:56:10

I don't have anything coherent to say. Hopefully somebody else will.

You've obviously given a lot of thought to why he does what he does. It could be that you are doing this to work out a pattern of behaviour so that when you see it in the future in somebody else, you can avoid it. Or it could be that when somebody is horrible (which he is), you don't feel it is okay just to thing life is too short to deal with you, but instead feel you need to justify your dislike of him. So I just wanted to say, it is totally okay to say to yourself that life is too short, and then not engage.

You've covered a lot of the reasons people play devil's advocate, and the link covers many more. I'd suggest another reason is that some people are trying to hide their ignorance. They don't actually know enough about a topic to get into a nuanced discussion, so they just say the opposite so they can join in.

AskBasil Wed 02-Apr-14 19:12:05

Oh, how do I not engage though?

<Sigh> It is so difficult. I usually manage to not let myself be drawn into discussions with this sort of nobber. I can be really detached and simply not engage. But for some reason with this bloke I always let myself be drawn in and I think it's because of the residue of friendship we once had.

Thouneedsbedamned Wed 02-Apr-14 19:13:13

My Dad does this. He is very successful but certainty not academic or up to date with social/economic/political ideas, the nature of his work means he has to deal with all sorts of people who are usually better educated and more informed than he is and this "threatens" him. But, by playing DA when it comes to a topic of conversation he doesn't have any useful input for, it enables him to engage in the discussion by making very simple opposing arguments to the one being presented.

I think that ties in with what almond is saying re: ignorence

AskBasil Wed 02-Apr-14 19:13:44

Which we still formally, on the surface have. Often we get on really well and have a laugh together. But I just think deep down, he's a white middle class man with an enormous sense of entitlement which he doesn't recognise.

AskBasil Wed 02-Apr-14 19:14:20

Sorry, cross posted

Thouneedsbedamned Wed 02-Apr-14 19:15:55

Basil Not particularly helpful but when aforementioned father is doing his DA act I use "Ah, I see you have brought balance to the force" accompanied by hmm face.

Not the most grown up of responses but at least it is in a language he understands.

AskBasil Wed 02-Apr-14 19:16:04

Yes I think ignorance is a major driver for some DA's.

Not for this bloke though. He's fairly well read and well informed and he's the one who starts the arguments. It's not that everyone is discussing something he doesn't know much about, he's the one who starts the discussions. And I foolishly allow myself to be drawn in.

Thouneedsbedamned Wed 02-Apr-14 19:18:42

Can you become a toddler and start playing the "why" game?

I would imagine he would run out of steam eventually? Plus you may even find out if his DA act is based on factual knowledge rather than a contrary attitude.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Wed 02-Apr-14 19:22:27

Words cannot express how much I hate this shit.

Ask him if he also still pulls pigtails in the playground because it's funny to wind someone up?

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Wed 02-Apr-14 19:26:34

Or ask him if he's been to the doctor's of late, as just last week he was saying the exact opposite. Pull a concerned face about his memory loss.

AskBasil Wed 02-Apr-14 20:37:55

I know, it's basically horrible behaviour isn't it?

It doesn't really matter what the argument is, what is being discussed, whether you have sympathy for his/ her views, it's just really unpleasant behaviour and I'm slightly baffled as to why so many men do it. Like I say, I don't have experience of women behaving like this so consistently and reliably.

KaseyM Wed 02-Apr-14 21:31:51

Oh I absolutely hate it when people play "devil's advocate". I usually say something like "Why don't you have the guts to say what you really think, instead of hiding behind an opinion you don't actually believe in?" Because that's basically what they're trying to do: spout an offensive opinion without taking responsibility for that opinion by hiding behind a cool veneer of detached objectivity.

FloraFox Wed 02-Apr-14 21:52:02

I also hate this. For some reason I don't encounter it as much as I used to. Maybe I have cut out the people I know who tend to do this? When I realise someone has form for this, I try not to get into a discussion with them unless I say "Are you playing DA?" right at the beginning.

My annoyance comes from the wasted energy getting involved in a discussion which turns out to be pointless. I agree that there's a dishonesty about it. Do men do this with other men? I'll need to ask DH what he thinks.

RiaOverTheRainbow Wed 02-Apr-14 22:04:49

My dad does this too. In his case it's because thought experiments are interesting, and he can't comprehend why someone else might have an emotional response to a subject that is purely academic to him hmm

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Wed 02-Apr-14 22:10:20

"Why don't you have the guts to say what you really think, instead of hiding behind an opinion you don't actually believe in?"

Kasey, you are my new goddess.

AskBasil Wed 02-Apr-14 22:10:37

That's one of the things I want to know FF - do men do this in RL with other men? I've seen them do it on the internet, but that's slightly different. This bloke I'm on about has only ever done it to women, in my company. I've never once seen him behave this way with other men.

almondcake Wed 02-Apr-14 22:54:54

When he starts on about something, could you not ask him what the issues that are important to him are, so that he actually has to state some kind of consistent belief every time?

Not engaging depends on how rude you are prepared to be. You can either change topic by saying, "an issue that a really important to me is X and this is my involvement in it." Or, when he is discussing issue Y, say that you do not wish to discuss issue Y, because it is so important to your own experience that you don't want to debate it. Or, when is discussing issue Z, say I have already discussed this with Mrs Intellectual giant and Ms activist, and I feel well informed on it already and don't think this debate will add to my understanding.

I think I am prepared to be rude to men like that through being honest. If someone kept changing opinions, I'd probably say that I see no point discussing things with them when I doubt the depth of their understanding of it because their perspective is radically different in every conversation, and they don't seem to have a set of cohesive values, which makes finding common ground for a nuanced and constructive debate impossible, and that I am interested in the finer points of disagreement, not in endless polemics like I'm Richard Dawkins vs. a creationist. And I'd say all that very fast so as not to be interrupted, then I'd make a surreal joke and completely change the topic to basket making or something, making it clear I was not seeking a response to my statement.

I think that perhaps isn't not engaging. It is getting them to stop talking.

AskBasil Wed 02-Apr-14 22:57:34


Getting him to stop talking.



almondcake Wed 02-Apr-14 22:59:43

sometimes men do this to men in real life, but generally if you know one man who is like that, you have to keep him separate from other men like that, because if you put two in the same room all hell breaks loose. Men like that essentially get treated like children. Other men and women are just humouring them. Everyone knows they are being ridiculous, hence your conversation with your friend.

AskBasil Wed 02-Apr-14 23:07:52

Men like that deserve to be in the same room as each other....

almondcake Wed 02-Apr-14 23:11:23

My brother also thinks they should be put together. But I don't think I should have to witness it. Particularly as this usually comes up in the context of who is going on a camping holiday. I can only deal with one at a time.

AskBasil Wed 02-Apr-14 23:12:58


Oh yes I don't think other people should have to be present.

I have a vision of that Jean Paul Sartre play Huis Clos. Hell is other people.

almondcake Wed 02-Apr-14 23:28:47

My mother's usual responses to such men, before changing the subject or talking to someone else instead, therefore making it clear that the conversation is over are:

1. You are being ridiculous,
2. What you are saying is of use to neither man nor beast.
3. I have a somewhat different perspective because I was actually there/ actually have done that/actually live that life.

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