Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Talking to These People (Part One)

Life is hard.
In this hyper-partisan age (I'd say it was new, but it seems like it's been this way as long as I can remember; the only thing that's changed about it is my awareness of it), if you're like me and like talking politics and religion you're inevitably going to be confronted with somebody who really doesn't like what you have to say.  You know the type: they can barely speak without shouting, hysteria is the norm; these people can make hay out of anything.  I've known quite a few in my time.  Life is just terrible.  Whoever's in power is a fascist.  We're only weeks away from his or her kind being put into concentration camps.  Oh, and you'd better believe the leader behind it all is Hitler.  In a new series here on Digital Rain, I'm going to teach you how to talk to these people and maybe even get through to them.

Arguing with brick walls is an exercise in extreme patience and confidence, and I stress to you should not be attempted lightly.  It is frustrating, it is stressful, and it absolutely must be done if civility and tolerance are going to prevail in our political discourse.  So here now let this be the first lesson, for I have met the enemy, and there is nothing to be afraid of.  Let's talk about justification.

Whenever I hear someone criticizing President Obama and I called it out for being either untrue, unfair, or just downright wrong, I usually got the following response pretty quickly: "The Left did it when President Bush was in office . . . so therefore it's okay for me to do it now."  This may seem like a justification, but it's really not.  Let's see if we can break it down.  If you're like me, I know what you're about to say: "But Matt, President Bush really did do a whole lot of awful things.  What did Obama ever do?"  For the sake of argument, let's put that aside.  Regardless of what you may think, this is what these people are perceiving.  However misinformed they are, more often than not they are rationally perceiving a threat based upon the information they have been given.  Herein lies the main trap I've seen liberals fall into when they try to argue with conservatives: the facts are irrelevant.  You're not going to change peoples' minds on the facts.  At least not right away.  For whatever the reason, the belief is providing certainty to them, and to let go of it would be to face whatever brutal truth there is to their lives alone.  Anger at people unlike themselves is, in its own odd way, a means of making life bearable, however dysfunctional it may be.  Asking them to get rid of it is too much.  It'll never happen.  They'd rather die.  So what do we do?  Well, our only two options are to redirect it and co-opt it, or else confuse it to the point where it's essentially null anyway.  I like the former option a lot better, as it seems less hurtful to me.

So let's take a look at my example.  What do we say when someone says "it's okay for me to do x because somebody else did it too"?  Well when we put it like that, the answer seems kind of obvious, doesn't it?  How many times did you try that on your parents growing up?  The truth of the matter is, it doesn't really matter if something is popular or someone you don't like did something.  By purely the logic of the argument, if something is unfair and wrong, it's unfair and wrong no matter who does it.  And yes, I understand that it's a double standard.  That part we can deal with later.  Step one to talking to these people is understanding and accepting the logic.  Time and time again, the argument of denialists has always been "it's popular, therefore it's right."  It's a kind of populist argument, like it was decided democratically.  And when you're surrounded by people who think and feel exactly like you, how wouldn't it seem like fact?  Or if you feel isolated, what better way to feel connected and empowered?  Again, the facts are irrelevant to these cases.  That will come later, if it comes at all.  However misdirected and misinformed, this is in fact a rational form of thinking to someone who doesn't know any better.

If you ever hear an argument from popularity, that should send a little red flag up to you.  The truth of the matter is, being popular does not make something right.  Sometimes popular concepts are right, and sometimes they are wrong.  Being popular has nothing to do with it.  Ideas, particularly scientific ones, but political ones too, are not democratic.  They are meritocratic.  The idea with the best support and the best evidence to back it up is the best idea, not the most popular idea.  So let's get this out of our heads and know to spot it when we see it.  It really is the first step to talking to these people.

No comments:

Post a Comment