George Hook got outraged and blamed me and avocado toast
Disproportionate outrage was exhibited by two cantankerous malcontents
“George Hook responded in emotional tones to a column nothing at all like the one I had written.” Photograph: Eric Luke
Earlier this month, I wrote a column about buying a first home in Dublin. It stemmed from my own realisation that buying a home won’t be possible for my partner and me in the foreseeable future, and the disappointment and sense of injustice that accompanies that realisation. The headline was: “We can’t afford a house; we may as well have our avocado toast.”
Working hard and making good decisions is not enough. Something is broken when education, prudence and hard work are insufficient to secure a loan to buy a home. The column seemed to make an impact because I am just one of thousands who have realised how heavily the deck is stacked against them. A sense of despair pervades my generation as we creep into our 30s without any tangible prospect of future financial security in the form of a home.
The column stated that “disastrous government decisions have created a crippled market”, though it did not specify whether that statement referred to too much government involvement in the housing market or too little.
Most people seemed to read it as tacitly agreeing with whatever view they themselves held. Imagine my shock, then, when a friend directed me to listen back to George Hook’s Saturday morning radio show on Newstalk FM from early April for a tirade against my benign little column on the impossibility of first time home-buying.
Hook, along with Michael Graham, who appears to guest on the programme purely to rattle the left-wing sensibilities of the average Irish listener, responded in emotional tones to a column nothing at all like the one I had written, and attributed views to both the column, myself and what Hook and Graham appear to see as my piffling leftie generation that I would comfortably argue are not accurate in any of those three cases. Indeed, I was so shocked by the mischaracterisation that I dropped the small bust of Lenin I was polishing into my bowl of government-issue pottage.
I considered, as is of course the natural response of every member of my generation without exception, organising a small protest through interpretative dance outside the Newstalk building while writing a treatise on the violence of microaggressions. Or perhaps penning a poem to Hook about my feelings, before declaring freedom of expression a construct of white male patriarchy.
Later, however, while rubbing organic avocados into my feet and practising mindfulness, I recalled that I don’t identify as left wing, and the reaction of Hook and Graham to my very mild column is an ideal example of cognitive bias, which is something worth writing about.
There are manifold cognitive biases which a quick google will identify, many of which are common to everyone. Perhaps the most prevalent cognitive bias of all, and one of the most unconstructive to individual enlightenment, is confirmation bias – a tendency to seek out, ie focus on, interpret and recall information in a way that confirms our preconceptions.
We are all prone to it. It is the default human position in relation to the pursuit of knowledge, unless we take specific pains to be aware of it and make a real attempt to circumvent the habit of slipping into it naturally. Hook and Graham exemplified it well by reading entitlement to a house, laziness and left-wing politics in a column on a broken market and unspecified poor governmental decisions.
They saw what they wanted to see – another weak-willed, putty-minded drone in a sea of such drones, chewing on the cud of their leftie nonsense. If a shambolic politicised bogeyman you seek, such you shall find. Poor George Hook was so sure of his own misreading that he outraged himself quite frightfully, and sadly blamed that internal state on me, though I am thankfully quite unacquainted with it.
He was “outraged” by the column, the phrase choked out as though through a mouthful of ham sandwich chased up with a grand draft of tea straight from a scalding thermos. Disproportionate outrage is apparently the hallmark of my own generation, but was exhibited for us all on national radio quite well by two cantankerous malcontents shooting themselves in the feet. Not only were my actual views not engaged with, nor were the ones they mistakenly decided them to be.
Hook has a troublesome habit of commenting from ignorance on the intent and the minds of young women.
Confirmation bias knows no demographic.