A long time ago, humans invented language. This may or may not have been a good idea, but it is here now, the damage is done, there is no going back. So what do we do with it? Talk nonsense and get very worked up about it. This is sometimes called a debate, other times a shouting match. Whenever a debate is on, let’s say for the sake of this article about politics, there can be more than one purpose in theory, but that is rarely the case in practice.
In theory most people debate to win, to either change the mind of the opponent or persuade the audience of something. In practice, many people debate because it is in their nature to do so, with little expectation of achieving anything.
If applied properly, a debate can be useful beyond changing other people’s opinions. It can help one with their own doubts or uncertainties, be a good way to go through some issues, clarify some things and even reach a conclusion. When I am unsure of something, a conversation in which people take multiple sides can help. This only works when people debate in good faith, and this can occasionally happen for example on glibertarians, where people are generally overall agreeable to each other, even though they may differ on some issues.
Across the aisle, it is different. Most conversations between side A and side B are rarely in good faith. Both sides convince themselves the other side are stupid and evil, and are quite satisfied with this results, because that was what they wanted to get out of the debate anyway. Scream a little and go away thinking the other is an idiot. Can this be changed though? Honestly, I doubt it. One of the main issues is that people differ in fundamental values, and this is unlikely to change. Most of these values, usually of the moral kind, are not based on reason or argument, and as such will not be changed by those means. Furthermore, people get very angry when their base values are questioned.
People seem set in their ways, and opinions are not different. In controversial conversations, I rarely see people listen carefully to the entire argument made by the opposite side and then try to give a appropriate answer. It is not that they are not convinced, they don’t really try to listen and process it. You can see their eyes glaze over and then they give a standard counter response, as if reciting from rote learning. Why this is the case, I do not know.
This got me thinking, after a few debates with friends on the left and right. Is it possible to change my mind at this point, and if so how much? Can I have minor changes on my views on one issue or other or can I even fully reconsider libertarianism in favor of social democracy? For good or bad, I think the answer is yes to the former and a clear no to the latter. Some say: well you must be open to change your mind… well I am open, I just do not see that happening. I am, after all, people.
For one thing, among my fundamental values you will find individualism and individual liberty. You cannot have an argument to make me turn collectivist – especially since I find it quite objectively true that humans are unique individuals not an eusocial group. For another, I did not reach my opinions lightly, I have spent a long time reading, writing and thinking about it, and if that process led me here, I cannot see what could lead me in another direction. I have not heard, for what must be years now, a new and different argument, from either left or right. So if old arguments did not convince me, and no new arguments appear, can there be a way to change minds?
Of course others may say those exact same things, but with the vast majority of people I met I easily come ahead on knowledge of the issues, of history, economics, political philosophy and the like. Most people I ask know very little which they did not learn on the big TV network programs. Most people cannot tell me of a topic they spent multiple hours thinking about. Most have not tried to write 10 coherent pages on why they believe what they believe to see if it makes sense. Most say things that can be proven wrong by a 30 second google search. For whatever all this is worth, I feel I can be more assured of my views.
Changing is even harder for a proponent of deontology. Consequentialists may sometimes be swayed by proving that their desired outcome can be better achieved in another way. A deontological socialist or an-cap will not be swayed in any such argument. Fiat iustitia pereat mundus, if you will. I am not quite like that – I have made the case for a certain small dose of pragmatism and I think this goes for most people, which have a preferred outcome. So there will maybe be some wiggle room in a debate, but overall not that much. In the end, most are not 100% utilitarian or 100% deontological, but each has core values – which I cannot see as being anything other than deontological – which are hard if not impossible to change.
I, off course, believe that my fundamental values come from a place of reason. Do others believe the same? I would say most – with the exception of people who get everything from religion – strongly claim they do, although in the end many seem to me to appeal to emotion a little too often. I believe my conclusions, beyond fundamental values, also have reality and logic behind them. So do many others.
There are plenty of people on the internet who write about “how to win debates”, but I saw little evidence this actually works. Yes, some politicians convince people to vote for them, but I am not sure that it is more than being disliked less than the other side and little to do with changing fundamental opinions of people. Opinions do change, off course, but it is usually due to multiple years of personal experiences eroding one belief and replacing it with another, not after a two hour talk. In the end, in many a democracy, you have a majority of people voting sort of the same and a small central group which swings both ways. So the debate issue boils down to: how to get the undecided to vote for you this one time.
If you are not running for office or making a living as a pundit, I really am trying to see the point of it all. In my experience, people cannot even start from a basic foundation of fact, as people do not agree to the facts. If we have a pencil on the table, A sees a cup and B sees a glass, what can be debated?
This is another one of my thought pieces which, in the end, has not much of a conclusion. It is one of the things that I classify in the category: if it were possible, the world would be different right now. But I still find the question interesting: to what point, fellow glibs, do you think a series of arguments would change your mind? Can you learn to stop worrying and embrace Ocasio-Cortez? Discuss.