Influence and Persuasion

Bloggers are funny, optimistic people.  We write (among many other reasons) to share gems of wisdom we stumble upon, in the hope it helps somebody else.  We hope to persuade and to change minds.  The desire is for better perspectives and deeper insights to prevail.  I think I speak for many people when I say that when I discover a useful piece of information, or figure something out, I try to share it, so that everybody else can take the short route to its discovery and so that, in a way, the utility of the information is validated.  Blogging is about influencing.

My settled belief is that if you saturate the world with better ideas, then gradually that makes a difference and the world gets better.  When the ideas you have to choose from are better ideas, it follows that you can crowd out the stupid, destructive ones.  That’s the theory, at least.  The practice is not quite so straightforward.

Sadly, humanity has, for centuries, lived in a world of ubiquitous, stupid, divisive, destructive ideas.  We’ve all been immersed in them and have accepted them uncritically.  Better ideas are still a relative rarity.  People absorb these rotten ideas through their less analytical mode of thinking and they become embedded in the culture.  These terrible ideas are incredibly difficult to change, because they become articles of faith, defended as sacred beliefs, for no better reason than the individual happens to believe them.  There’s no basis to it, though.  The evidential foundation just isn’t there.

In fact, for sport, there are people that lead such people through a series of simple questions, with the aim of getting them to disagree with their own fervently held beliefs.  It’s surprisingly easy to do, if you have a mind to manipulate somebody into it.  What people tend to carry around in their heads, typically, is a set of self-contradictory ideas, or else beliefs that are diametrically at odds with their own true values.  Proving that the most radicalised, ardent capitalist is a true communist, by nature, is child’s play.  Those that hold the most authoritarian, statist views turn out to expect the world to permit them to exist peaceably, as private anarchists.  The incongruence of it all is quite astonishing, surpassed only by the sheer scale of the intellectual dishonesty required to sustain it all.

It follows, then, that there is absolutely no point in me writing blog posts that seek to persuade or change minds or, in fact, in you reading them.  We’re both wasting our time utterly.  Science finds that you (as an audience, or as readers) are highly unlikely to change your beliefs or even regard your own ideas as suspect, irrespective of the true facts or of alternative perspectives or hypotheses that may be more plausible.  You just won’t do it.  Most people live their lives with no awareness that what they think is highly suspect and won’t hold up to scrutiny.  We think we have it all figured out.  Our certainties are all built on trust and yet we dismiss the idea that our trust can be and often is deliberately abused, to take advantage of us.  We’re all so manipulable and yet think we’re impervious to it.  Ironically, we think it’s everybody else that is totally clueless and docile.

This blog, then, is for the tiny minority of people whose consciousness has evolved to the point where they are ready to at least entertain the possibilities I set forth herein.  Everybody else, if they read it at all, will simply get angry or indignant, or dismiss these writings as wholesale nonsense.  There is absolutely nothing I can say or write, no concrete proofs I can offer, that will change the minds of those people, who are the majority.  They’re stuck with their rotten, self-limiting, self-sabotaging ideas.

I’m far from the first to comment on this aspect of human nature.  http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2015/11/a-reason-persuasion-is-surprisingly-difficult.html

We understand, intuitively, that different people are swayed by different sorts of arguments that appeal to their current ways of viewing the world.  An appeal to their prejudices tends to be more effective than one which confronts them.  Yet nobody likes to make an argument which appeals to the other person’s alternative (even nonsensical) world view.  People argue from the point of view they believe.  It feels manipulative, insincere and even morally wrong to momentarily take the other person’s point of view, when trying to advance an argument we already believe in.  You could say that lacks empathy, or else demonstrates great integrity.  You choose.  Empathic story telling is probably more effective, but to change a bad idea for a good one, you momentarily have to argue from the point of view of a terrible belief.  Appealing to what the listener believes, especially when it is errant nonsense, is a cringe worthy thing to have to do.

Because people’s heads carry any number of terrible ideas already, a new really terrible idea spreads like wildfire, but genuinely good ones fall into disuse and obscurity, through sheer neglect.  Everybody claims to want peace, but when the choice comes down to whether or not to bomb the enemy, a frightening number of people default to atavism and jettison the good idea (peace), in favour of a new bad idea (more violence, waste and destruction).

Their argument is that when a good idea was raised some time ago, but was not widely adopted, then the idea must have been discredited.  The idea was not discredited.  Only the people alive at the time it was first posited and since, who failed to embrace and internalise it, are discredited.

People are not taught to think critically and it is a specific technique, amenable to being learnt.  Rather, they are actively dissuaded from thinking critically, by those privileged few in power, mainly to prevent you from questioning the legitimacy of their privilege and power.  Instead, we’re expected to take on ideas from authority without question.  Obedience, under threat of violence, is by far the favoured mode of taking on and accepting new ideas.  Every idea you hold probably got into your head, at a young age, accompanied by a veiled threat of some kind of sanction, if you were honest about your recollections.

Medical professionals are a case in point.  They rarely seem to pause for thought to wonder why people on the medications they prescribe don’t get any better and stay on those medications indefinitely.  It doesn’t occur to them that, somewhere in the whole stack, somebody has engineered things so that they’re not supposed to get better.  This is an unthinkable idea, because to hold it would mean expulsion from the profession.  They’d be called quacks for the expectation that the patients they treat get better and are cured, rather than are treated indefinitely (and for somebody, profitably).

A strange argument people resort to, when cornered by the cognitive dissonance of realising their own beliefs are at odds with their own personal values, is that they proclaim it’s not that simple.  This is usually when they’re run out of anything else to say, by way of rationalising their position.  They say that there are grey areas and that you shouldn’t think that your opinion is right and that everyone else is wrong (when all you did was asked them to compare their own stated beliefs against their own values).  It is, of course, just an attempt to buy time and to muddy the waters, in order to obscure the principles that they don’t have any real response to.  They’ll say things like, “You just think that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is wrong and immoral”, or, “It’s because you’re a man and I’m a woman”.  I’m sure that most twitter abuse stems from this kind of lashing out.  Why have rational arguments, in 140 character chunks, when you can simply hurl abuse?

On the issue of violence, I have to say that I do think anyone who doesn’t agree with me is wrong and immoral.  I think every human interaction should be peaceful, non-violent, consensual and voluntary.  Anyone who is not a holder of those ideas, who disagrees with me on that point, is, by definition, in favour of violence.  This is not a false dichotomy; it’s a true dichotomy.  There really aren’t any shades of grey.  Similarly, if you proclaim you are not an anarchist (meaning you do not oppose the existence of a ruling class), then you are most definitely a statist (who advocates the necessity of a ruling class).  You can’t circumscribe the boundaries.  Either you want the government to choose your toothpaste for you, or you don’t.  You can’t want violence and control for everybody else, but demand peace, freedom and self determination in your personal life.  If you don’t like that truism, that’s your problem, not mine.  Logic won’t stop existing just so that you can feel better about what you condone.  Talking about opinions having equal validity and complaining that people are judgemental, rude or extreme for not agreeing with you will not make your position more rational or moral.  This is not a way to make true dichotomies vanish.  If you are an airhead, no amount of anybody else pretending you’re not, or politely skirting around the issue, will change the facts of the matter.

When it comes down to it, there are some really damaged people, with a hateful and distorted view of reality, gathering other people who share those views.  Entire political campaigns are run along these lines.  Gangs of twitter abusers coalesce for largely the same reasons.

I can name most of the people from whom I have received new, good ideas.   I seek good ideas out like a bower bird.  My constant surprise and delight is to discover something I assumed to be true, in the past, can’t have possibly been true and to replace those notions with better ideas, that seem to ring much truer, under harsher scrutiny.   I wonder how many people are as conscious of where their ideas come from, or who examine them for validity before accepting them trustingly, wholesale.  I’m guessing this is a minority pass time.

I also learned, in my hobby of collecting ideas, that nobody has the monopoly on wisdom.  Even people that have taught me good things have been terribly wrong or misguided on other matters.  Everybody carries at least one bad idea, myself included.  Those that make no effort whatsoever to escape their indoctrination, propagandisation, education and programming, though, are in a state of much greater bamboozlement than even I am.  It disappoints me that so few even try.

Instead, we’re told we should make ourselves happy and not worry about the prevalence of terrible ideas, in the world.  We’ve only one life to live, so we should don our rose tinted glasses and be thankful for all the good things we have, while completely ignoring the many terrible things that are inflicted on the world in the name of economics or human progress.  We should just let those rotten ideas carry on, affecting all our lives negatively, unchallenged and uncorrected, like some kind of giant doomsday machine, while we turn ourselves into self-involved, happy morons.

I’d rather keep searching for better ideas.  I hope that, in sharing them, somebody, somewhere is persuaded by them and influenced.

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About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: https://michaeltopic.wordpress.com/. There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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