Thursday, October 15, 2020


It is an odd thing, that people frequently mention something I have said forty days or forty years ago that has stuck with them and shaped their thinking on the subject.  This is gratifying, certainly.  However, it is unusual for me to persuade anyone of anything, to change their mind.  I attribute the former to some strength of reasoning, observation, or phrasing, and the latter to some deficit of personality.  

I do know that it is unusual for anyone to change their minds on anything, and that this likely influences my perception.  Still, there it is.

Sumus quod sumus.


james said...

When my father met my mother, he was a coffee drinker and she a tea drinker.
They converted each other.

RichardJohnson said...

It is an odd thing, that people frequently mention something I have said forty days or forty years ago that has stuck with them and shaped their thinking on the subject. This is gratifying, certainly.

On a number of occasions you have made the point that bigotry/racism/my-group-versus-your-group is not something that is imposed or taught, but is inherent to our species. Instead of our being educated to be racist/bigoted, as that song from the musical South Pacific claims, we need to be educated to be tolerant. You didn't change my views, but rather echoed them.

I suspect that this POV is one that distinguishes "liberals" versus "conservatives." "Liberals" believe that bigotry/racism/my-group-versus-your-group can be eliminated, whereas "conservatives" believe while bigotry/racism/my-group-versus-your-group can be reduced or managed, it will always be with us AND within us. "Liberals" believe that they are free from bigotry/racism/our-group-versus-your-group, whereas their political opponents exhibit gross amounts of bigotry/racism/our-group-versus-your-group. "Conservatives" believe that all of us, to varying degrees, exhibit bigotry/racism/our-group-versus-your-group.

I was born and raised in New England during the Civil Rights era. New Englanders, for the most part, believed that racism was confined to the South, and not to be found in New England. While the New Englanders I knew overall exhibited less racism than my Southern grandmother, I also observed that some expressed racial attitudes that my Southern grandmother would approve of. As one of my classmates was black, I wasn't dealing in hypotheticals. From an early age I knew that the South had no monopoly on racism.

At the same time, the bigotry/racism situation was mixed. My black classmates still lives in town, so whatever racial discomfort there was in elementary school, overall the situation has been comfortable. My grandmother had good relations with her mixed race daughters-in-law, both 1/8 Indian/Native American. One described my grandmother as the most tolerant person she knew- because my grandmother maintained a good relationship with her after she divorced my uncle. Note my aunt didn't even bring up, in describing my grandmother as the most tolerant person she knew, how my grandmother responded to a mixed-race daughter-in-law. It was never an issue.

I also observed that a classmate who had lived in a city with a lot of blacks - parents left the city in fear that he would turn into a gangbanger- used terms to describe blacks that today would get him thrown out of polite society. In addition to showing the South had no monopoly on racism, that made me wonder how I might respond in also living in an area with a lot of blacks.

From observations of social conflict in elementary school and from my regional high school, I came to the conclusion that racism is but a subset of my-group-versus-your-group, or in-group versus out-group. Our species will always make some sort of in-group versus out-group distinction. Only the amount and severity will differ.

From my time in Latin America, I came to the conclusion that the USA had no monopoly on racism/bigotry.

As far as I can tell, my changes in political views didn't come about from someone persuading me.

David Foster said...

RichardJohnson..."Our species will always make some sort of in-group versus out-group distinction. Only the amount and severity will differ."

Some kinds of in-group / out-group distinctions are more harmful than others. In a business, for example, if the people in sales view the marketing & product planning people as idiots and the marketing & product planning people view the engineers as rigid and uncreative nerds...with reciprocal attitudes running in the opposite direction...then it is going to be hard to get any profitable new products developed and sold. But if the organization is such that the people working on the Gerbilator product line have a strong group identify...whatever their individual functions may be...but regard the people working on the Turbo Encabulator product as useless time-servers...then the in-group / out-group attitudes will be much less harmful and may actually be beneficial.

There are probably societal analogs of this.

Anonymous said...

Your groups are too small. ;)

james wilson said...

These three observations cover the bases for me.

"That we can convince our opponents with printed reasons, I have not believed since the year 1764. I take up my pen to encourage my friends, and annoy my enemies."

"Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."

"A good question is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted."

In retrospect the last is how I changed the most. Something is said in contradiction to my beliefs, so I do not agree with it. Yet what has been seen cannot be unseen and my perception has been opened to seeing what I otherwise would not see. Weeks, months, or years, but if it is true I will see it.

Yes, the earth appears flat for our purposes, Frodo, but in fact all objects in our universe, like the moon, are spheres. That is why the shadow of the half moon is straight and the crescent moon is an arc, and you do not see rocks falling off the bottom of the moon.

Donna B. said...

I don't know that you've persuaded me about any one thing, but you have made me think about and question many ideas in the 15 years I've been reading here.

Sam L. said...

I spent 20 years in the AF and never before, during, or after have I drunk coffee. I remain a tea-totaler.

james said...

I wonder how this works. If I'm invested in a position, it'll be hard to move me. But if I'm not deeply invested, why would it be hard to convince me of something new?

If I've thought about some situation, I've probably collected some information about it from directions that correspond to aspects I find more important or more valuable than others.
If you present other aspects there's a fairly good chance those are things that I didn't worry about because I didn't consider them as important.
The key to persuasion would involve adding to the list of things I find valuable.

Toy model: someone who favors rent control doesn't consider the POV of a landlord or real estate developer as important. He knows and empathizes with the story of the renter. If he could be introduced to the story of a landlord he could empathize with--e.g. a widow renting a room to be able to pay the taxes--maybe this could be the beginnings of a more nuanced view (aka changing his mind).

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, stories is probably it. I give examples, but I don't tend to tell stories.

David Foster said...

James's point about landlord POV reminded me of an interesting example of a persuasion strategy:

'The Farm by Lough Gur' is the story of a rural Irish family in the mid-1800s. One young daughter, Bessie, was strongly drawn to the Irish revolutionary cause, and the parents became concerned that her hatred for the English was becoming extreme...whether their concern was motivated by practical fears that she would get herself in trouble, or more because they feared the toxic effect on her soul, is not clear. Their persuasion strategy had two parts:

--Her mother read her a story about an impoverished city child, a chimney sweep IIRC, which brought Bessie to tears...after which, the mother gently pointed out that the child was *English*.

--Uncle Richard, who was a priest, took a more left-brain, practical approach. He asked Bessie to describe the independent Ireland of her dreams...which was as utopian as you might imagine...and then asked her how she proposed to pay for all this, pointing out that the English would 'probably deny themselves that pleasure.'

It's not a bad model: a two-part strategy, with one part focused to creating empathy toward a new target and one part analytical.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ David Foster - it's the camp meeting strategy in reverse order. The early days of the crusade have evangelists who explain, compare, analyze the human spiritual situation (though they will often do a fair bit of emotional storytelling as well), then the lead evangelist will give the final night's Call to Jesus in much more emotional terms. Though again, evangelists like Billy Graham would refer liberally to the earlier analyses even while delivering that last speech.