Art Pact 110

Let me tell you about Doug. If there were no Doug, it would be necessary to invent him, if only for the sake of argument - by which I mean that unlike other people, who are blessed in their life with awkward discussions in which they are neither totally right nor totally wrong, I had been given a living straw man - as if the heavens had opened up and dropped upon me the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, except less jolly and considerably more opinionated. Doug needed both a heart and a brain, although he did not lack in courage (if by courage you mean the strength of will to hold unpopular opinions when everyone around you thought otherwise).

First in his long list of qualifications for straw-man-ery: he was unattractive. Not necessarily ugly (although I had heard that word bandied around, and it made me feel a brief sympathy for him that lasted just as long as it took for me to meet him again and hear words come out of his mouth), but repulsive in an all-inclusive manner. He refused to take any care of his appearance, often turning up to the office in the same rumpled clothes he had worn the night before (and no, we were sure it was laziness and not a "walk of shame", for reasons that will become apparent), his hair was aggressively tangled, he had a body odour that in closer quarters was literally eye-watering, and he would adopt a lurching, leaning posture whenever talking to you that made you feel as though you were being leaned over by a warthog. As a man I escaped the worst consequence of this leaning, but I had watched him arguing at enough women to know that the lean also meant a lack of eye contact. I'll let you guess in which direction the eyes were pointed. Kathleen, the receptionist, told me once that it had been an entire year between her joining the firm and getting to see what colour Doug's eyes were, so thoroughly had he stared into her cleavage during their every conversation. He had a sort of field around him that projected a sort of oily lust, so that even if you were not the object of his interest at the time you felt compelled to move away (and ideally, shower).

Secondly, he was a hypocrite (as all good straw men are). Despite his own complete unconcern with grooming or with the comfort of others, he had - if I might be allowed a brief moment of understatement - /high/ standards for women. Exacting standards, to be more exact. Or, if you prefer absolute truth, impossible standards. He was heavily overweight himself, yet frequently lamented how particular women might be attractive if they weren't "such a lard-arse". He was willing to belittle (behind their backs, of course), any woman wearing clothes that were even slightly comfortable, and his views on girls who wore glasses would have made Dorothy Parker spin in her grave.

Thirdly, the courage. Belittling a woman behind her back was - if horribly unpleasant - at least a clue that he had some idea of the existence of tact. I have had people ask me whether Doug has ever been tested to see if he is somewhere on the Asperger's-Autism spectrum. He has not, but there is no doubt that he suffered from neither of those complaints in any way. He was acutely aware of the distress that his opinions might cause, but under most circumstances he simply didn't care - or worse, was actively trolling for dismay. Even the sotto voce insulting seemed to be designed to cause offence, since he often insulted people behind their backs but not behind the backs of their friends or colleagues, which meant that Doug's opinion would be transmitted back to its target through the unwitting medium of well-meaning outrage. It took me a little while to figure out that if I tattled on Doug to the target of one of his rants it would be equally hurtful to them to learn that they had been described that way to me - someone they liked (I am not too modest to say that I pride myself on being well-loved amongst my peers, although there is an uneasy feeling that I might not be so popular were it not for the incredibly low bar set by Doug. After all, I'm only human. Perhaps compared against an average person I might turn out to be the flawed idiot I see in my bathroom mirror). Occasional underhanded tact aside, Doug was not afraid to speak his mind - and by not afraid, I mean he was willing to go out of his way to turn otherwise innocuous conversations into excuses to rant about his current obsession - whether it be the work shy poor ruining the country with their million children, the inherent intellectual superiority of white people, the idea that women were only good for cooking and baby-manufacturing. He treated all these opinions as if they were god-given truths, yet at the same time would feign not to understand why they might be insulting to other people. To Doug, arguing that people with below-average IQs should be sterilised for the good of the country was comparable to arguing that toilet-paper should be put on the roll so that the loose end hung down nearest to the wall, and he would react in mock horror and amazement that anyone might have strong feelings on the matter.

Ultimately, though, what made him the perfect straw man was not his "outspokenness", nor the fact that his personal habits made him such a tempting target for ad hominem attacks, nor even that his hypocrisy seemed to almost instantly undermine a good fifty percent of his arguments. It was his tortuous logic, and his inability to grasp even the simplest of rhetorical techniques. Arguing with Doug about something was like correcting a calculus exam filled in by a four-year old - there were so many mistakes in his reasoning that when you heard him say something that made vague sense it was like seeing a single sunbeam shining through a thick layer of illogical cloud.

It was with great alarm, then, that one day in early March I found myself agreeing with him about something.


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