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I'm Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean it Up

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Become a more effective and powerful communicator in today's highly polarized and polluted public square

The most pressing problem we face today is not climate change. It is pollution in the public square, where a toxic smog of adversarial rhetoric, propaganda, and polarization stifles discussion and debate, creating resistance to change and thwarting our ability to solve our collective problems.

In this second edition of I'm Right and You're an Idiot , James Hoggan grapples with this critical issue, through interviews with outstanding thinkers and drawing on wisdom from highly regarded public figures. Featuring a new, radically revised prologue, afterword, and a new chapter addressing the changes in the public discourse since the 2016 United States election, his comprehensive analysis explores:


How political will is manipulated
How tribalism shuts down open-minded thinking, undermines trust, and helps misinformation thrive
Why facts alone fail and how language is manipulated and dissent silenced
The importance of dialogue, empathy, and pluralistic narrative reframing arguments to create compelling narratives and spur action.
Our species' greatest survival strategy has always been foresight and the ability to leverage intelligence to overcome adversity. For too long now this capacity has been threatened by the sorry state of public discourse. Focusing on proven techniques to foster more powerful and effective communication, I'm Right and You're an Idiot will appeal to readers looking for deep insights and practical advice in these troubling times.

272 pages, Paperback

First published May 8, 2016

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James Hoggan

5 books16 followers

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5 stars
47 (24%)
4 stars
78 (40%)
3 stars
42 (21%)
2 stars
20 (10%)
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8 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews
Profile Image for Coan.
64 reviews5 followers
April 15, 2017
When purchasing this book, I took a gamble. I didn't know much about it save the blurb and unfortunately I did not enjoy it.

I'd hoped the book would provide practical examples of how to shape and improve public discourse of a variety of contentious issues that do require debate and change (e.g. tax reform, policies aimed at housing affordability, the challenges of demographic change like an ageing population etc). I was also looking to learn about what causes resistance to debate and compromise.

The book covers most of this, but poorly. The examples of how to improve public discourse don't offer anything I hadn't already thought of by extrapolating theory. They would have been more valuable if they broke it down step by step for application to add value for the reader -whom, as mentioned, likely can leap frog the points made with some thinking. The book (as other reviews point out) is very biased towards the environmental debate. The author flags early in the text that they'd originally intended the book to be about negative campaigns against emissions reductions and environment regulation. If they had stuck with that focus, or branched the topic out to where they had later intended (which is what the blurb infers), I think the book would have read a lot better rather than what it turned out to be.

I didn't find the style of writing particularly noteworthy or engrossing. Simply put, the ideas proposed didn't offer much to stimulate my thinking.

1 out of 5 stars. If you like the topic, I'd suggest something else in the public relations and communications field.
Profile Image for John Johnson.
204 reviews1 follower
August 22, 2017
When I bought this book, I thought it would be about the current polarization in political ideologies in the United States right now and the problems that causes in communication. I was mostly wrong. This book is about why some people reject an idea even though the facts show it is correct. The primary example used throughout the book is the climate change debate, and why some people still refuse to believe it is happening, despite the scientific research, and even actual physical evidence that shows it is. Also, the author is from Canada, so most of this is from a Canadian perspective.

Part I of the book is about research done to discover why people would reject the truth even when it is very clear. Part II is about how to communicate with those people to try to help them to understand. I thought the second part of the book, and the last two chapters, in particular, were very good. The last two chapters (Speak the Truth, But Do Not Punish, and We Need Warmheartedness) gave me real ideas on how I can better communicate with people who might not understand what I'm saying. Those last chapters made this book worth reading, to me.

The problem I had with the book was in Part I, when I realized the title was very accurate. The author does believe he is right about climate change and anyone who disagrees with him is an idiot. I think this idea comes through much too clearly, which is arrogant and self-centered and I believe that really hurts the book. I believe that would cause some readers to stop reading within the first 50 or 60 pages, and that's a shame, because it does get better.
Profile Image for Magdelanye.
1,607 reviews192 followers
January 1, 2018
Despite the rather sassy title, this book is a serious well-researched examination of perhaps the most endemic and puzzling problem underlying all our efforts, which is the inability or unwillingness of people to communicate honestly their feelings and intentions. The title merely refers to the little secret that most people carry.

JH has contacted a raft of experts and devoted a chapter for each to focus on a different aspect of urgency from gaslighting to corporate agendas. I especially appreciate his approach to climate change , not through alarmist statistics or alarming examples but by focusing on practical tactics. There are plenty of suggestions for feasible action, and, even better, suggestions for the kind of questions we need to be asking and to whom we need to be addressing our concerns,

What kind of world do we want to build, and how can we organize a discussion of that without a political institution or forum that has been designed for that purpose? p 60

Do we respond with fear , isolation and self-doubt or find the wherewithal to respond with hope, empathy and self=worth that enables a mindful, intentional and strategic response....p178


What if we presume that people do care, very deeply, and about the same things we care about? p188

This book does not contain an ultimate answer but it does provide an impetus to change our idiotic ways and begin to address the options that remain to us as everything we thought we knew comes into question,
780 reviews18 followers
July 29, 2016
I gave up after reading for the millionth time about "climate change". I thought this book was about public discourse. And some of the facts and figures he quotes have been disproven, repeatedly. I gave it a try but it just wasn't worth it. The author was too focused on "climate change" to make this book of any use to its alleged premise.
Profile Image for Fraser.
177 reviews3 followers
December 12, 2019
The name of the book is more than a bit of a misnomer. I was hoping for an examination of the toxic state of public discourse and how to fix things. What I got was an explanation of why so many factions of the general public have turned their backs on the science of climate change. A worthy subject, to be sure; just not what I was expecting.

I especially liked the chapter with George Lakeoff, but that’s probably because I especially like George Lakeoff.
Profile Image for Ben.
51 reviews6 followers
July 31, 2021
An earnest attempt that I thought yielded little useful fruit. But here are a few choice excerpts I definitely appreciated:

Everyone has a story, and you have a responsibility to offer a public account of who you are, why you do what you do, and where you hope to lead. A Yiddish riddle asks, Who discovered water? The answer is, I don't know, but it wasn't a fish.

[To] be effective you must ask yourself, are your actions about your ego and punishing your opponent or are they about real change?

"Speak the truth but not to punish." - Thich Nhat Hanh

When an arrow strikes you there is pain, but if a second arrow drives into the same spot, the pain is excruciating, much worse. The Buddha advised when you have pain in your body or your mind, breathe in and out and recognize the significance of the pain but don't exaggerate its importance. If you are full of anger, worry and fear over the pain you magnify the suffering. This is the second arrow -- and it is directed from within.

Use non-accusatory language so it is easier for others to hear our message. Effective listening does not involve hearing something and comparing that information with our own views. We learn nothing from such an exchange.

Grassroots success is effective and possible only if activists and leaders first deal with their own anger and fear.
834 reviews6 followers
November 8, 2016
Although this book was written earlier in 2016, it sounds like the author has been watching the US presidential debates. He explains how inflammatory and argumentative and negative public discussion about issues such as the environment are and what can be done to make this dialog more constructive for decision making.
Profile Image for Liz Davidson.
11 reviews
January 3, 2017
An excellent discussion about the current state of discourse in the public field. Through the viewpoints of many people gives the reasons why there is so much acrimony about various subjects from vaccinations to the environment and beyond. The contributors also suggest ways of breaking the gridlock. Worthwhile read for leaders, teachers, as well as members of the public.
Profile Image for Alex.
14 reviews
May 23, 2020
Full confession, I did not finish this book. Perhaps my opinion would have been different if I had, but it seemed John Haidt's book (the righteous mind - why good people are divided by politics and religion) served as the backbone to his argument and having read that book first, I didn't find much of value in the fist half of this book.
Profile Image for David.
44 reviews
December 19, 2019
I want to read this book again. It’s full of research-based communication strategies and models for understanding how people think about climate change and why not enough has been done about it.
September 5, 2020
James hogan does a fine job of bringing the reader along the journey that he sets out for himself, trying to navigate an answer to David Suzuki’s question, “Why aren’t people paying more attention? There is enough evidence we are destroying the planet. Why aren’t people out in the streets? How do we motivate the public to demand action?” It is an answer of communication, and yet it goes much deeper than that. James introduces a wide variety of authors with a vast array of perspectives to answer this question. Just as the environment is becoming polluted, public discourse is also becoming polluted. It is driven by ego-centric speakers of untruth. There is a manipulation of facts. Tribalism and polarization become central and the issue becomes bypassed. Corporations are required to be socially responsible but this is like self regulating a psychopath. It is an oxymoron. There is a ‘full-service propaganda machine’ functioning just fine to sway people. Facts don’t persuade. Values, logic and emotion do. We need to better understand this propaganda machine and become better aware of manipulation. Be a critical thinker. More importantly, become more self aware of one’s own peace in order to contribute to any peace. ‘The success of any interaction depends upon the interior condition of the intervener.’ Empathy and compassion are a strong force. Become a better listener of yourself, the environment and others. Become aware of judgmental listening, factual listening, empathetic listening and generative listening.the journey lasts beyond the reading of the book.
Profile Image for Rhys.
685 reviews90 followers
June 13, 2022
With an emphasis on environmental & climate heating issues, Hoggan weaves as series of conversations with people from a variety of disciplines into a pretty coherent garment. One that I would try to wear.

Hoggan's quest: "I was pointed in the direction of one of the most urgent and unexamined human relations problems of our time: pollution in the public square, that literal and figurative place where we assemble to talk freely and debate honestly, where we seek truth without recrimination, whether on a street corner, in a blog, campus hall, political meeting, bulletin board or actual community square. How can we make space for real public conversations? How have we come to a time when facts don’t matter, and how can we begin the journey back to where they do? I was also keen to discover what kinds of conversations can actually change people’s minds about what’s possible, about what’s desirable and about where their personal responsibility lies."
Profile Image for Madison.
Author 1 book5 followers
September 28, 2017
Hoggan makes some interesting analysis (or at least, his interview subjects do), particularly with regard to cognitive dissonance as it applies to communication theory and the concept of the advocacy trap. However, his suggestions for how to fix the problem seem a little unrealistic, and he relies too much on his sources in each chapter - I get that he's focusing on his interview subjects' opinions, but there are so many long quotes that some of the chapters read almost like straight interview transcripts, and Hoggan doesn't seem to present that many original ideas. I hate to say it, but this also could have done with a serious copy edit, since Hoggan apparently doesn't know how to write a sentence that contains a list. It was repetitive and at times redundant, since he often explained the quotes as soon as he summarized them, and I wanted it to be less about climate change and more about the problem with communication that he pitches with the title.
Profile Image for Paul Rubio.
107 reviews25 followers
August 25, 2017
The title was a little misleading, with the only hint that this book would be focused heavily on the discussion of climate change in the words in red, "Toxic" and "how to clean it up". I wish I had known going into it that it would focus on climate change, rather than using as just one case study with other case studies on controversial issues that address how to clean up public discourse as a whole. The author offers some great insights and delves into what's really going on through interviews with experts.
Profile Image for Rob Black.
29 reviews5 followers
May 4, 2017
This book relies on examples surrounding climate change and Canadian politics, but the lessons are true for any issue facing our society. I'd put this in the top 5 most important reads for me right now mostly because it draws together so many important view points and perspectives to really get at the root of what I've been doing wrong in trying to talk about climate change. Incredible read. Quick, fun, on point.
13 reviews
August 22, 2017
Based on the title, you think you will get a helpful discussion of effective public discourse, and that is included. By midpoint, however, it evolves into a discussion of how to convince doubters of the dangers of global warming and other environmental issues. I suggest you read the first half thoroughly and skim the last for the occasional nugget. I won't be buying the hard copy for my library.
Profile Image for Erik.
Author 4 books7 followers
July 16, 2019
Written by an accomplished PR man from Vancouver with experience helping both corporations and NGOs, this book features interviews with two dozen experts on political communication. And if there's one topic that connects them all, it's how to talk about climate change. Overall, Hoggan advises activists to approach communication with compassion, but to demand truth. Only by balancing love with power, as MLK advised, can a political movement succeed.
301 reviews
January 13, 2020
"Speak the truth but not to punish" (Tich Nat Hanh). Jim Hoggan has taken a unique approach to solving one of the most difficult questions that face us today......how can we motivate people to take action on climate change? And how could this apply to so many other issues that polarize us? Instead of regurgitating much of what we have heard before, he goes to a diverse and wise group of experts, from social scientists to the Dalai Lama, and digs much deeper, into what really motivates people. What scares them, moves them, inspires them, and most importantly, what will break down barriers to what we ultimately need to save the day - heartfelt collaboration with those who we neither like nor understand. Hard truths, real solutions, and true compassion.
59 reviews1 follower
March 1, 2017
I really enjoyed this book. The author has taken the time to address the issue of public discourse from as many angles as possible within a volume. He works from the foundation of environmental protection issues but it's easy to extrapolate the salient points to other problems the world is facing. It's very well done.
September 29, 2017
The first sentence in the prologue reads "the environment is not the main subject of this book". While it stands to reason that the author would use what he knows best to illustrate the subject matter of the book, the environment does feature rather heavily. It is an insightful book and I appreciate that he addresses the topic from a number of different directions.
Profile Image for Sharon Coyle.
129 reviews
November 6, 2017
An important discussion of how we can keep a dialogue going in the face of radically differing perspectives. We need to ask questions and really listen to the other side, not to tear them down, but to understand where they are coming from. Also underscores the importance of stories and our hearts in our attempts to communicate.
15 reviews
October 31, 2022
Multiple chapters with different experts

This was a tough read. Each chapter covered a different person's thoughts on the problems stifling cooperation in government today. Although the lean was decidedly progressive, it did highlight some of the challenges of the winner take all politics of today.
Profile Image for Anna.
48 reviews30 followers
March 14, 2018
interesting and quick to read. loved some of the interviews, but didn't like how upper class or intellectual most of the concepts felt - absolutely worthy of a read, especially for people who talk to other people
Profile Image for Neil.
277 reviews3 followers
June 1, 2018
A thoughtful book arguing for the return of meaningful public discourse. The ideas in the book can be applied to so many issues beyond climate change. It does lose some focus about two thirds of the way through but redeems itself with the last couple of chapters.
Profile Image for Dustless Walnut.
116 reviews
October 7, 2022
I don't know if it was a book about discourse or a book about climate change, and I don't think the author did either. I agree more or less with everything he said but it contained nothing actionable or insightful and was ultimately a waste of time to read.
26 reviews6 followers
January 16, 2018
This was good. It leans farther to the left than I assumed when I was reading the description, but that was ok with me. Gets a little repetitive at times.
Profile Image for Lili Trenkova.
24 reviews
April 1, 2018
I'd give 5 stars, but...ableist title.
Really useful book for activists in learning about the importance of *how* we frame (or not frame) the issues we speak about.
Profile Image for Jacqueline Worboys.
257 reviews1 follower
June 7, 2018
A thoughtfully written book, promoting empathy and honest engagement in meaningful discourse, the authors provide techniques to help people break impasses in discussion.
Profile Image for Don Bennie.
120 reviews
July 17, 2019
Fantastic and very practical. A little too left leaning in places. Climate change gives focus but forces the reader to figure out how to apply the ideas to arras such as social issues.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews

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