Change Their Minds Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-02-18 13:00:00 No comments

Washington Monthly | How the Opposition Can Wound Trump

... most people don’t know much about politics, don’t know much about policy, don’t care to understand the details that make up the foundation any position, and don’t think they need to care about understanding those details, because knowledge is not what they trust most in the world. What they trust is character.

I think what's being outlined here is a vitally important understanding to how politics can be made a more practical affair.

Once you know in your bones that politics has to be conducted in a fundamentally different way with the vast majority of people than it is conducted with wonks and the self-described enlightened few, you spend more of your effort constructing a winning appeal — an emotional appeal — and waste a lot less time trying to argue people out of something they were never argued into to begin with.

Most people do not hold what someone on the outside would recognize as a political view because they are political thinkers. They hold such views because it makes them comfortable, because it's a reinforcement of things they already know in some form. A rational argument might sway them, but it's not something you can depend on to bring most people to your side. If most people think with their gut (inasmuch as such a thing can be called "thought"), use jiu-jitsu to work with that. The reactionary wing has become superbly adept at weaponizing such interactions to its benefit, and at this point I don't see what good will come of pretending we're above all that.

If there is a way to be "above all that", it's not in what we do, but how we look at it. We need to accommodate such things without also assuming they are the desired state of affairs. Let's acknowledge that we might need to make a better world by appealing to emotion first and reason later, but let's also plan however we can to make the next generation of people a little less emotionally manipulable.

Some of us, when confronted with facts like these about human nature, understand that they must be admitted and worked with. Some choose to pretend they don't exist at all, and instead fall back on strategies that only isolate them further (the far left, for instance). Others, though, revel in this state of affairs, because it means they are being supplied with a ready-to-manipulate pool of followers from which they can draw power. The former know necessary evils have to be resisted institutionally; the latter see those evils as conveniences.

A part of Buddhist philosophy I come back to a lot in discussions like these is the notion of expedient means, of doing whatever you can in the moment to make a difference. Fewer concepts in Buddhism have been as broadly abused; see Chögyam Trungpa's "crazy wisdom". But at its best, it manifests in the form of things like civil disobedience, where you break the law knowing full well you'll be punished, but show no resistance to the punishment as a way to further spread your message. Appeals to emotion and enlightened self-interest can also be appeals to conscience and moral revivification, if only we know how to position them. If to many people the positioning matters at least as much, maybe more, than the position itself, the blame does not lie with the people, but with our inability to meet them on their terms.

Tags: Buddhism politics psychology society sociology