Guest post by Null Pointer
I’m especially grateful for re-postable comment right now, as I still am in searing pain from an oral surgery procedure too disgusting to describe, and drugged to the gills. But ethics moves on, mindful of no man. This one is nicely appropriate, since I am still losing respect for Facebook friends at a breakneck pace, as they have attacked me for suggesting that reasonable doubt existed in the Chauvin trial and that the trial was unfair by any rational standard. It’s like a clinical example of how mobs make themselves stupid and crazy. For example, a lawyer—a lawyer!—wrote this: “Doesn’t “fair” mean fair to both parties?” No! Nothing in the Constitution requires a “fair trial” for the State. Incredible. A progressive lawyer actually thinks it does..or what is ore likely the case, was grasping at straws and got a really stupid one.
I will dedicate this Guest Post (since it arrived in an open forum) by Null Pointer to the sadly MIA (since January) commenter Extradimensional Cephalopod. This is one of his favorite subjects.
It is difficult to engage with someone who is making emotional arguments, but not impossible. You first have to understand person you are engaging with, how they think and why they think the way they do. Throwing facts at brainwashed people isn’t going to do anything, because most people have been taught to ignore facts that don’t align with their viewpoints. Younger people have been increasingly taught in school that feelings out weigh facts. Often the way to reach them is to start with feelings, and move slowly outward from the feelings to the facts. Acknowledge the correctness of their feelings, then explore the way they feel about all the feeder issues around whatever issue you are discussing. Usually you will find that even though they are very dogmatic about some major political issue, they have doubts about some of the related issues. It’s a process, and it takes time. Trying to simply change someone’s mind to your position isn’t going to work, but getting them to think more deeply about their own position will.
There is a lot of discussion about polarization in the United States, but very little of that discussion centers on how people feel. The discussion tends to focus on what the media and politicians are doing to cause the polarization, but not much time is spent on the effect of the polarization on regular people.
People on the right have been bullied, threatened and abused. You are not going to get anywhere with them unless you are willing to admit that they have been demonized, pushed around, bullied and treated horribly for the last decade or so. If you cannot even acknowledge those basic facts, the right isn’t going to listen to you because they are angry and hurt, they feel unheard, and they are tired of being pushed around.
People on the left are scared, and many of them feel hurt and angry as well, because they have been led to believe a lot of very untrue things, and listened to propaganda for years. They think people on the right are evil, and are both afraid of them and hate them. It is actually much easier to change their minds, though, because most of them do not realize how much they have been lied to. Many people on the left become extremely disillusioned, disgusted and horrified if you can show them how badly they have been lied to on any issue. Sometimes simply showing them that people on the right are not evil and have good reasons for disagreeing with left is enough to completely change the outlook of people on the left. I’ve watched the blinkers fall off of some of my friends eyes before, and it is astonishing to watch. It takes time and effort, patience, understanding and willingness to listen. You also have to tailor your approach to the person you are talking to, and it helps to know them fairly well.
I have one friend who could not understand my consternation over global warming (or climate change, climate emergency, whatever) and he used to argue with me over it constantly. He was a very smart, very analytical person, and I had trouble talking to him about it because he was just spouting propaganda every time we discussed it, which was unlike him. After several months of arguments over whether most climate change propaganda was in fact propaganda, I told him I would change my position on the subject if he could find me two peer reviewed journal articles covering scientific studies on climate change that did not have major methodological flaws in them. We were in college at the time, and had free access to the entirety of Lexus Nexus and other databases of science journals. He was very eager to prove me wrong, and dove into the search. First he brought me webpages of propaganda that said climate change was a settled science, and all the scientists agreed. I gently pointed out that those pages had no scientific studies on them, and reiterated my criteria. So he dove back in, this time into Lexus Nexus to find journal articles. Hours later he was sputtering like drowning horse over the methodological flaws in the studies he found. “How can they just change the data?!” Arguing with him did no good. Letting him try to “educate” me on the subject changed his own mind.
To be fair, I have never taken the position that climate change doesn’t exist, I simply deny it’s been proven. I was willing to have my mind changed. I think that is what makes a difference.
In another case, I was talking to a coworker who is from Cuba about socialism. We were discussing the end results of socialism on people’s behavior and the psychology behind it, mostly operant conditioning. One of our other coworkers was listening to us, a devout progressive, and she started asking questions. She asked my Cuban coworker about something she had read in some lefty paper about the people in Cuba making money selling sandwiches to tourists and seemed to be operating under the mistaken impression that Cubans were getting rich this way. He told her that that was capitalism, it was illegal in Cuba, people would get arrested for doing things like that, and that it wouldn’t actually be profitable because the ingredients in sandwiches were controlled by the government. After a lengthy discussion during which he explained that the only way to make a living in Cuba was to do things that made you a criminal, and all of those things were capitalism, she suddenly exclaimed “how do you guys know all this stuff?!”. She wanted to know what media outlets we were reading and how we came to understand the things we did. Her mind had been opened to the possibility she was wrong about capitalism. She previously had no idea how things actually worked in a communist country, or what capitalism actually was. It was the emotional arguments about the horrors of actually living in a communist country that drew her in.
People are willing to listen, but you have to be very careful about how you approach things. Acknowledge their feelings, understand why they feel the way they do, be willing to make concessions, and be willing to make emotional arguments about why people should engage with you on a subject. Be willing to change your mind if the other person can make a valid, convincing argument on their points.