How To Be Right by James O’Brien [Book Summary – Review]

There are over a million people listening to James O’Brien’s radio call-in. For 14 years, he has pursued a career in communicating with many British citizens and listening to their troubles. He began to realize that many people accept what they read and listen online without questioning. They don’t question or dispute the truth of the views and thoughts they encounter.

Since he listened to many people calling in his radio talk show, O’Brien became an expert in making people see beyond what they have read and heard. In fact, most of his chats turned into a widespread reaction of emotionality as a result of O’Brien’s capability to break down a weak view.

There are several memorable callers in O’Brien on most of the critical issues such as immigration, Brexit, feminism, and Trump. Each of these talks beautifully illustrates the lasting problem of unquestionable thoughts. The conversations also showed how easily they can be broken down when someone opposes wrong ideas with logic, reason, and facts. This summary will cover how we can manage to find the truth behind the news by analyzing some of O’Brien’s talks.

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Chapter 1 – The way in which Islam is reflected in the press has led people to adopt threatening ideas that violate human rights.

As a teenager in England in the 1970s and 1980s, the writer was familiar with the overpressures of IRA bombings. He had the negative impact of IRA attacks in his own life. In the time of attacks, his father was a reporter at the time. Because of the apostrophe in his surname – this is a feature specific to Irish names, he received letters accusing him of helping Irish militants and “carrying the blood of the killed children in his hands.”

Unfortunately, such ways of thinking did not end over time. As every Irish people were considered a potential terrorist at the time, every Muslim is now seen as so. In fact, the readiness for generalization has certainly been increased due to online comment sections and social media platforms such as Twitter.

But the most worrying is that news and media organizations such as the Sun, The Daily Mirror, Fox News, Breitbart, and even the Daily Telegraph use fearful headlines to attract readers’ attention and increase tensions further. The Sun, the best-selling newspaper in the UK, commented under the heading” If We Want Peace… We Need Less Islam.”

As the presenter of a radio phone-in program, the author chatted with people affected by articles accusing all Muslims of being guilty of terrorist attacks.

Richard, a listener from the town of Marlowe, who believed that Muslims owe an apology for the terrorist attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, connected to the program by phone. After all, the activists being responsible for the attack announced that they were acting on the behalf of Islam. The author spoke to Richard for a while about how rational it was to expect an apology from someone unrelated to the attack, just because the terrorist who carried out the bomb attack used the word “Islam.” For a better explanation, he created a scenario that someone carried out terrorist acts everywhere on the behalf of Richards. Of course, Richard speaking on the phone wouldn’t feel the need to apologize, would he?

Sadly, in the following years, people continued to call the radio show with thoughts similar to Richard’s views. A listener named Martin said that Muslim people should be better at “cleaning their own mess.” In reality, although Islam has many dissimilar and various sections such as Sunni and Shia, many people think that all Muslims are the same.

Chapter 2 – Many Brexit fans seemed to be deceived by a misleading Leave Campaign that was considerably unquestioned and undisputed.

Today, it is a piece of cake to add an idea to the mainstream circulation without questioning it in detail. Therefore, one of the things the author tries to do with his conversations on the radio program is to resist ideas that are retweeted and shared on the social platforms without thinking and questioning the truth beyond what is said.

First, he allowed people, who call the radio show, to advocate and support their views in detail. This is a conversation with callers who confirm the basis for why Britain has to leave the European Union. One of the most well-known reasons was that Britain was forced to comply with inconsistent or unnecessary EU laws.

Andy, who called the radio from Nottingham, voted to exit from the EU, thinking that we could enjoy Britain’s freedom to control our own laws. As he does when any listener opens up the “laws” issue, O’Brien wanted Andy to say a law he was willing not to be obliged to obey.

After some back and forth, Andy confessed that he could not find a law and focused on the immigration issue, which was the last problem that many conversations about Brexit came about. Immigration has been a problem because pro-Exit groups which have the support of the right-wing journals like the Daily Mail has continuously claimed that immigration has somehow damaged the economy, lowered wages, or affected the lives of British citizens.

In fact, however, the only proof of the migration-related wage drop is the increase in the unskilled labor force in the market. This increase in the workforce wouldn’t be so bad for Andy because it was revealed that he had recently established business. During the call, Andy finally admitted that he was uncomfortable seeing “immigrant people in the city center, who were not eager to integrate with British people. The author then asked how the EU withdrawal going to solve the problem of the unwilling immigrants who were already living in Nottingham.

After a little stunned, Andy took steps backward and he said that he was not racist and was also uncomfortable seeing British gangs in the city center. At the end of the conversation, both Andy and the author were laughing that he had voted to exit from the EU just because he is uncomfortable with crowded groups of people and he has to obey laws that he knows nothing about.

However, it was not funny that Britain’s exit from the EU has already damaged small businesses like Andy’s. Even if Pro-Leave groups say that this is a surprise economic recession and will be short term but this claim needs a lot of views accepted without questioning.

Chapter 3 – People’s opposing views on homosexuality for moral and religious reasons are far from the careful examination.

Contrary to many of the questions discussed by the public, nobody claims that homosexuality causes unemployment or getting along with the people’s taxes. In fact, the view against homosexuality is usually based on a moral perspective, but the source of morality is often questionable when this morality is examined.

For example, as noted in the author’s show, there is a constant belief that homosexuality, which has been voiced only by male callers so far, it bears pointing out, is a personal lifestyle preference. Whenever this matter of preference arises, the author has a typical question: When did you prefer to be straight? This often ends the nonsense of the discussion because the reply implies that everyone is equally interested in all genders and makes choices. The caller may be embarrassed but then reveals the narratives of religion.

Speaking on the radio, David claimed that the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments clearly tells us that homosexuality is a sin. When the New Testament is mentioned, the author underlines the difference between the Gospels and emphasizes the difference between what is quoted from what Jesus said and what Saint Paul, who has never met Jesus, said. It is safe to say that Jesus never recited anything about homosexuality. This is no more than a letter Paul wrote about his personal thoughts, which have been subjected to many different interpretations over the years.

In the Old Testament, there is one of the Bible’s most often quoted passages about homosexuality: Leviticus chapter 18, verse 22, which cites, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; It is an abomination.” If someone refers to this passage, you can remind them of chapter 11, verses 10 to 12, saying that it is also disgusting to eat something from the sea that doesn’t have “fins and scales”.

If you want to persuade someone that some parts of the Bible are not suitable for today, you can say that Leviticus chapter 19, verse 19 thinks that wearing clothes made of two kinds of yarn is also an abomination. Are you heading on Sabbat? That’s bad enough to be killed.

Chapter 4 – The expression “political correctness” was politicized and used to arouse hatred against minor issues.

George Orwell’s book, 1984, foresees a future dystopia that continues to influence contemporary society with its understandings. There is a small detail in the book that people daily perform an anger ritual about abstract and uncertain issues and the author calls it “Two Minutes Hate”. It is more important to make people feel angry rather than how important the issue is. It is a matter of fact that people’s anger and hatred are easily directed anywhere.

This anger is now the responsibility of tabloid journals in the UK. They write unclear and often absurd reasons to make people angry every day. The excuses, which is made up to make people enraged, is usually given as “bias-free political viewers” had gone crazy.

As a classic example of this, Winterval’s legacy can be cited. Winterval is gentle news that has survived for years, thanks to the right-wingers who are trying to convince everyone that the British traditions have been disturbed by cultural intruders. A common misunderstanding is that the word Winterval was created to replace Christmas. Andrew calling from Erith said “if it bothers other people, you can’t celebrate (Christmas)… Now you should call Winterval.”

But if Andrew had thoroughly reviewed this idea instead of accepting it immediately, he would have learned that Winterval was actually an idea created by Mike Chubb, a city planner in Birmingham. Chubb only wanted to find a solution to make the year-end festivals in the city more permanent. Chubb thought that he found a solution to the celebration for three months in the city by designating Winterval which is short for the winter festival. The purpose of this long festival was to reduce costs by taking just one set of ornaments for multiple holidays. Christmas was of course included in these celebrations.

 In fact, no one was trying to change the name of Christmas, not thought that celebrating Christmas in England would hurt someone’s feelings. It was only a problem of one single person trying to save some money by organizing only one festival for all the celebrations taking place between October and December.

Still, newspapers like the Daily Mail did not miss this opportunity by writing this case as another example of political correctness had gone crazy and they didn’t do it just once. Another example of similar misinterpretations is the claim that the Union Jack flag was removed from public buildings to satisfy Muslims. If someone questions this claim in detail, they would realize that it is not true, as in the case of Winterval.

Chapter 5 – In talks about feminism, it turned out that people tend to revert to old disturbing traditions.

The reason why people whine about immigration and political correctness is their concern about the corruption of traditional values. However, it is not valuable to keep many traditions alive.

For example, in 1984, British courts decided not to consider it a rape when a married man forced his wife to have sex. And according to the Sex Discrimination Act, which was approved in 1975, husbands and fathers could no longer be guarantors when women were to take out loans. Obviously, there is no need to look at the distant history of Britain to find traditions that are considered better to remain on the dusty pages of history. Still, whenever the issue of feminism brings up in the radio program, it is surprising how people easily attribute gender equality as an attack on “men’s right”. When this view is defended, it can only be seen as a desire to return a time when women have less say in their decisions regarding gender, security, and objectification.

One of the more troubling cases of this type of thinking happened in Toronto in 2018. Alek Minassian who are 25 years old, declared that he killed ten people because of the temper tantrum caused by “involuntarily celibate”, he used his special status as an excuse for the murder. Following this tragedy, the views of Canadian psychology professor and online influencer Jordan Peterson came to mind. Peterson supported the “enforced monogamy” situation. According to him, there should be “sexual distribution” because if women are able to choose their partners freely, they will always prefer strong men instead of others. That’s why men like Minassian are angry with God and resort to violence.

Peterson owns a profitable YouTube channel that earns him reported $80,000 in a day. His books are on the bestseller list. So it seems difficult to take his view of “sexual redistribution” seriously, but other people who listen to him agree with the idea. In fact, Peterson is a kind of hero for those who are among the base-right movement and concerned about men’s rights. But even intelligent people can concern that men cannot say anything at work without being called a pig, even if they have an interest in feminism. But once again, this an impractical and overstated concern. Speaking with the historical facts, you should tell these people the main concern is that excessive sexism is always concluded in growing fascism in society.

Chapter 6 – Thoughts about a “nanny state” are usually an envelope for feelings of egotism and dominance.

Aside from the threat of Islam, immigration, political correctness, and feminism, you possibly know that libertarians are whining about “nanny states”. This is a term often introduced when a nation’s taxes are used to protect us from ourselves.

Discussions on this issue are on the agenda because some proponents or politicians have implemented some strategies to protect us from widespread capitalism, where there is no limit to what companies can risk for profit.

For example, Henry, who called in the radio show, complained about recommended sugar tax, which requires people to pay a little more for sugary soda and fruit-flavored drinks that cause obesity and diabetes. Henry believed that it was unreasonable and unfair to pay money for this kind of beverage because he occasionally likes drinking soda and he did not understand why he has to pay more just because of stupid people who did not understand that too much sugar is harmful.

When it comes to the issue of a nanny state, some sort of elitism is common. There will always be people who have more money or have easier access to education have liked to think that they are superior and better than other people who do not have such advantages. And it should be noted that expressions like “nanny state” are actually a way to hide the spirit of selfishness. These people do not want the taxes they pay to be given to disadvantageous people.

But at the center of this problem is a misunderstanding that we are somehow not driven by companies with millions of pounds. Companies like fast food franchises with impressive ads that shamelessly affect children. Or gambling machines are cleverly created to make people addicted and cause them to spend too much money.

When caller Gary complained about famous chef Jamie Oliver’s attempts to develop school lunches, the author voiced this situation. As far as Gary was concerned, Oliver should focus on her own business and not tell him what his children should eat. The author had to emphasize that both schools and fast food companies care more money than his children’s health. It is not that bad that a chef in a TV cooking program offers better meals for children.

Chapter 7 – Trump shows just how impressive it can be to find scapegoats for people and ensure that they don’t use their brains.

There is a lesson that Donald Trump’s empowerment in the political arena taught us: politicians can rise by telling people what they want to hear. In this case, it is always tempting to make people feel that they have the authority and find a scapegoat to make them reflect their anger. Trump was an appealing candidate for white people who have the idea that they are always superior to other people in their minds. And he managed to impress people with these attitudes. He destroyed people’s ability to question and think about serious issues of society by using aggressive and very simple slogans and quotations such as “Lock Her Up” and “Fake News”.

From the beginning, Trump has been successful in blurring the line between lies, honesty and alternative facts. Trump describes the facts, especially using the term “fake news”. Also, he has exaggerated expressions beside lies. For example, he used the terms ” the greatest participation that people have ever witnessed in an opening” to describe the high number of participants in his oath ceremony.

Thanks to people speaking on the radio program, the author was able to follow how easily Trump’s views and opinions spread in Britain and found support among the British public very quickly. It didn’t take long for callers to use the term fake news to take the lead in discussions.

For example, Trump’s visit to London was planned in July 2018. Many callers said that they were very angry that protesters were allowed to fly balloons, which made Trump look like a big orange baby wearing a diaper on his arrival day.

Caller Jack said that he didn’t approve of this protest and suggested that Trump’s representation as president of the United States should be respected. Jack used an analogy, saying assume that Trump is your step-father so you wouldn’t be disrespectful your step-father if he were coming over for a visit, right? Against this analogy, the author asked whether this stepfather publicly ridiculed a disabled journalist and family of a veteran US soldier. Jack said in a high tone that these are “Fake news”.

However, anyone can rapidly access official records showing that Trump has really made fun of these people because they disagree with his thoughts. Trump’s negative behaviors and insulting statements to women can be clearly followed by people. Because he once boasted of catching women ” by the pussy”. So, the author said that if he had such a step-father, he wouldn’t take him inside the house, and even unlikely to invite him in the first place.

How To Be Right… in a World Gone Wrong by James O’Brien Book Review

Nowadays, because of plentiful social media platforms and comment boards that are used anonymously, many people are getting away with giving unquestioned opinions. It includes politicians and even people who support the election of Brexit and Donald Trump. Many right-wing political debate issues such as anti-Islamic attitudes, concerns about immigration and political correctness are not thoroughly questioned. In his radio program, James O’Brien spoke to many people who focused on the right views. Firstly, he allows them to defend their fallacious views and thought in order to see how they bold enough. He found then that their ideas can be broken down soon after he disputes them with reasonable facts.

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Savaş Ateş

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