01 September 2009

Digging in

I pointed out earlier that in any debate, it is best to target your arguments not primarily at those who strongly oppose your point of view, but rather at those who are undecided or at least are not strongly in one camp or the other. They're persuadable; people whose minds are already made up usually aren't.

There is, however, another reason to avoid head-on arguments with people who are firmly in the opposing camp.

When you attempt to argue someone out of a strongly-held belief, very often you not only will fail to do so, but will actually end up intensifying his commitment to that belief. First, because in argu-ing with you he will be forced to revisit and re-affirm whatever arguments support his position, and to seek out or think up new ones. Second, because conflict is unpleasant, and the argument will form an association in his mind between the opposing view (yours) and a nasty, hostile experience, thus causing him to viscerally recoil from such opposing viewpoints in the future.

Even people with strongly-held beliefs sometimes change them. I have. At various times in my life I've been a libertarian, a racist (by some definitions), an anti-Zionist, and even an apologist for Islam, though I'm proud to say I have never been religious. I did not abandon those viewpoints because someone subjected me to a concerted attack on them. Rather, over time my growing factual knowledge made me aware that they were contrary to evidence, hypocritical, or based on falsehoods or delusional thinking. It was a gradual process. Access to new information helped; books which made their case in a calm, thoughtful, evidence-based way helped. Confrontational arguments would not have helped; they would have been counterproductive.

Of course, some people genuinely can't change. They refuse to explore any evidence that contradicts what they already believe, or their commitment is such that it simply can't be shaken by anything. But if that's the way someone is, arguing with him isn't going to help either. All you can accomplish is to turn a vociferous opponent of your ideas into an even more vociferous one, via the "digging in the heels" effect I described.

3 Comments:

Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Some damn good point's of thought here Sir ....

Thanx

01 September, 2009 18:05  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I agree with RC, Infidel -- and with your reasoning here.

But what do you do with these folks?

Sigh.

02 September, 2009 14:28  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I haven't been able to watch the videos (I'm at work), but I can guess. Most likely they're in the "hopeless no matter what approach you take" category -- not among the people who are worth trying to persuade. At best, they might have their eyes opened by some personal experience at some time in the future.

02 September, 2009 14:31  

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