Persuading others rather than educating the self

So I’ve been listening to the Sam Harris podcast everyday, his conversations about Islam are nuanced, insightful, respectful, historical, forward looking, hopeful, dignified and I don’t need to know any of it. It’s all completely in my wheelhouse already.

The share button in my brain goes off whenever I hear a good point about the role of religion today, I think of a conversation from months or years ago and wish they were listening to this.

My side of the imaginary debate gets stronger while the people who need information on the issue aren’t listening.

But I tell myself the point of learning – of listening deeply to anyone or anything – is not about absorbing to spit out to others. It has to be for me.

And a big part of that is because I hate when people have spat information (or pseudo information) at me.

There’s a Dave Rubin interview with Tommy Robinson where Tommy tags each of his claims by saying it’s not me saying this, it’s the police themselves, you can look it up.

Which very much reminded me of all the talks I’ve had with conspiracy theorists over the years.

They break down into two categories as I see it. The ‘well researched’ who ask bait questions then brow beat you into ‘losing’ the discussion while only convincing you that this person isn’t fun to talk to, and the poorly researched who are usually stoned and trying to repeat things that persuaded them and want you to look up under the assumption that if you saw it too you’d accept the same conclusions they did which leads to the conclusion that this person isn’t fun to talk to.

What I watch for in myself when talking about big issue is not using any tricks of persuasion. Being fairly good at spotting them, I have a repertoire that I try not to deploy because if I just convince someone of my world view I haven’t gained anything. All I’ve learned is that they can be convinced.

In our Facebook culture it’s natural to share something that supports your views without fully reading or questioning it yourself because it’s the other that needs to see it. But the only people who do are people who also agree with it on principle and share it the same way for the same reasons. Or things get shared as outrage-porn, which is absolutely more disappointing and intellectually bankrupt.

I think this is why apathy seems easier. Telling people to look at things causes them to get defensive and dismissive and telling people things directly entrenches them and makes them combative. And because polite filler conversation is also a theft of everyone’s time I wind up saying extremely little anymore to anyone besides my closest friends who are baffled that I can never turn it off.

People chose apathy over effort because the results of apathy are assured, you can’t be suddenly disappointed if your putting all your eggs in the permanently disappointed basket.

And I think the auto share of ideas-I-like-to-persuade-others-because-I-already-know-everything-I-need-to is a kind of apathy. At least it feels that way after every terrorist incident when we’ve been through so many that’s it’s instantaneously an I told you so moment for literally anything you support. Guns, anti-guns, Islamaphobia-phobia, taxation being theft, income inequality, gender. After every event we don’t even bother with the thoughts and prayers and soon we won’t even joke about thoughts and prayers because everyone just wants to know the race and motivation of the shooter to see if it’s a check in their evidence column or if they have to claim it’s not a check in anyone else’s.

We think we have issues figured out in broad strokes although we don’t know the details and then support public figures who echoe that with the tacit assumption that they do know the relevant details and are making an educated choice.

That’s why I listen to and read Sam, Ayaan, and Majid, not to reinforce what I already believe but to be sure I’m not just a part of someone else’s echo chamber.


Singer/songwriter, jerk.

Posted in Pragmatism
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