You know that irritating feeling you get when the brilliant, witty you kicks in – just a few moments too late.
You’ve just left the party, or the meeting, or the pub when you suddenly think of the thing you should have said. The snappy one-liner, the perfect put-down, the elegant solution to the problem no one could solve.
For some reason, rather like déjà vu, that feeling has a name in French – esprit de l’escalier – but not in English. “Spirit of the staircase” doesn’t quite work, though you can probably see where that’s coming from.
As a journalist, you might be driving away after the interview when you think of the one key question you didn’t ask. Or you think of the perfect headline just after the press has started rolling.
The feeling is especially common – and especially frustrating – after arguments. But the Australian comedian Tim Minchin has a theory about that. He thinks it’s a good thing.
“A lot of the time your instinct is right,” he says. By which he means the “instinct” not to blurt out what’s really on your mind.
He explains: “It’s usually better not to confront because most people are unable to change their minds. And if there’s any possibility of anyone changing their mind about anything, direct aggressive confrontation is not going to change it.”
Sadly, I think he’s right. And it’s not only aggressive confrontation that misses the mark, either. Few minds are really open to reasoned argument.
People who read this column probably like it if they generally agree with the way I see things, and don’t like it if they don’t. And either way they probably get to the end still believing what they believed before they started.
Which is rather depressing for someone like me – or Tim Minchin – who has a clear world view that they strongly believe in.
I think Minchin’s brilliant. But that’s partly because I tend to agree with him on things like rational thinking, science, tolerance (he’s in favour), religion, quackery and racism (he isn’).
I wonder whether people who don’t share his targets – or who are his targets – find him as clever, or as funny, as I do. Probably not.
Which leads me to the problem with the Green Party, whose outlook Minchin and I broadly share.
The party’s leader, Natalie Bennett, says she is happy to be seen as “a watermelon” – green on the outside, red in the middle. I’m probably the other way round, red on the surface but green all the way through (I’m not sure what fruit that could be).
The trouble is – and it’s a huge trouble, not just in Britain but almost worldwide – that the green movement has tended to become associated with leftist politics.
Which enables those on the right to pretend it’s a political issue, a matter of attitude or opinion.
To pretend that climate change is just a point of view, not what it really is, a scientifically tested and proven fact.
Of course, scientists change their minds. What is condemned in politicians – stupidly – is essential to science. If it wasn’t, we’d all still believe the sun was a god that went round the world making rivers flow and crops grow and occasionally coming down to get people pregnant or turn them into salt.
Science is about investigating things, sharing ideas, testing hypotheses, and by these means gradually getting closer to the truth.
And the more scientists put each others’ ideas about climate change to the test, the more scary – not the less – it all becomes.
A new book, Don’t Even Think About It, by George Marshall, makes this alarmingly plain.
Marshall writes: “Scientists, who are extremely wary of exaggerating, keep using the same word: catastrophe.”
He predicts a rise of four degrees in global temperature, possibly within the next 60 years. Which might not sound much, but it’s double the estimate of a few years ago.
And, as climate scientist John Schellnhuber puts it: “The difference between two and four degrees is human civilisation.”
As Marshall’s title suggests, the details are too scary to think about. Which, as he also argues, is precisely why people choose not to believe it.
In an ideal world, preserving life on the planet (including, but not exclusively, human life) would be everyone’s priority. Not just the priority of those who also believe in social justice.
But this is not an ideal world.
If it was, the rich wouldn’t go on getting richer while persuading nearly everyone else that this is inevitable and right.
And big corporations (rich people) wouldn’t go on raping the planet while persuading themselves that the catastrophe they are causing won’t come down on their heads and their children’s heads as well as everyone else’s.
A poll last week from Ipsos MORI made very interesting reading. It seems 56 per cent of us support Britain staying in the European Union, against 39pc who want out.
This is the highest level of support for EU membership for 23 years.
And, with a narrow majority even of Conservative supporters in favour of remaining in Europe, it sends a clear message to David Cameron.