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Convincing people takes time (justonepixel.com)
53 points by neumino 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments

The OP kind of moves toward the conclusion, but doesn't really reach it. Etiquette and an open mind are necessary but not sufficient conditions to convincing someone.

Far more effective is realizing that the arguments that may convince you (in the case of the manifesto, perhaps, appeals to natural justice / rights), may not be the arguments that work for someone else.

In the equal marriage debate in Ireland for example (a pretty conservative country, most would agree), campaigners tried for years to talk about 'social justice' but there was a portion of the population (largely older people) who were just not convinced.

What that population needed to hear was a) a message from someone that was like them, and b) an argument couched in terms of the impact that the marriage vote would have on their grandchildren.

That was far more effective and the country ended up voting for equal marriage. The result of the referendum was also much more legitimate - it wasn't a case of one social class / group pushing through a desired outcome. It genuinely came from the whole country, even though different groups voted for different reasons.

Likewise, if someone believes that all affirmative action schemes are inherently wrong-headed, no amount of argument that "the outcome of affirmative action can be good in the long run" is going to sway them. Second guessing their motives and saying "you're just trying to protect your own interest" is a good way of ensuring they never listen to you again.

It takes guts to admit that not only is your argument potentially not convincing to someone, but that you also may be the wrong person to be making it. In this vein, you can, as a result, also spend a long time with someone and still end up talking past them if you're not careful.

But what if one side has decided that even talking about a certain topic is denial of their humanity and right to exist? Which arguments can one use when even intention to talk about the topic is going to make them physically attack you? Moreover such a physical attack has been socially approved. It's okay to punch a Nazi. And you're free to define Nazi whichever way you want. Quite convenient.

Operate from a position of excruciating reasonableness. Put a firewall between your beliefs and your words. Approach sensitive topics delicately and obliquely. Acknowledge both "sides" of the debate in a patient and compassionate manner, whilst also signalling that you clearly recognise the edges of the Overton window.

Never argue for any particular position; present a series of facts and ideas, then allow your audience to come to their own conclusion. Nobody likes being told what to think, but most people take great satisfaction in joining up the dots for themselves.

Some people might still call you a Nazi, but your obvious reasonableness will be a near-infallible shield; they'll look silly and you'll look dignified.

Study marketing. Major corporations have invested billions in developing powerful persuasion methods, so loot their arsenal. You can sell a political position in exactly the same way as a can of fizzy drink, with immeasurably greater success than someone using the traditional techniques of political rhetoric.

> Operate from a position of excruciating reasonableness. Put a firewall between your beliefs and your words. Approach sensitive topics delicately and obliquely. Acknowledge both "sides" of the debate in a patient and compassionate manner, whilst also signalling that you clearly recognise the edges of the Overton window.

This is probably somewhere where the left could take lessons from rationalist YouTube. Many of the arguments are presented in this way, always taking pains to express their logical credentials and remaining reasonable. Of course the evidence is heavily selected, but that is not mentioned. Then, when 'progressives' shout at them, it is progressives who seem shrill and absurd.

All five of those videos are from one person. How is that "most of rationalist youtube"?

He critiques a fair chunk of rationalist youtube.

Is Sargon of Akkad "rationalist" youtube?

""I'm for finding the truth of the matter using rational arguments backed up by evidence. I do my own research and I try to be thorough.""

He seems to be fairly big in the ""rationalist"" crowd.

"Rationalist" youtube is a term I hadn't heard before.

I'd never even heard of The Golden One or Thunderf00t but that youtuber spends a lot of time responding to them.


What's a logical credential?

You can still keep trying to convince them, gently and reasonably. There is no other option.

How can you try to convince people gently and reasonably when they won't hear you, but will only hear a distorted version of what you say, taken out of context and edited for maximum outrage?

Interpret that behavior as damage and route around it.

On this topic:

These people do not decide. They have seen the effects first-hand.

Perhaps seeing it from the other point of view, what point is there arguing with someone whose inherent philosophy is a denial of the rights of others?

An example of this is the one that you used. The "alt-right": people who follow the words of leaders who have clearly and openly called for the extermination and sterilization of PoCs (Richard Spencer, for example), people who openly use Nazi imagery, and who are backed by the American Nazi Party. [Evidence for these claims are in the bottom section].

In such a case, with the sides, quite literally, being:

I wish to live and have a productive and happy life

I wish for people like you, including you, to no longer exist

What kind of meaningful debate do you expect between such groups? The core principles are, by their very nature, severely opposed to each other.

[Citations for the equivalence of the Nazis and the Alt-right]:

Firstly, Richard Spencer, the person who started the alt-right:

""Instead of asking how we can make reparations for slavery, colonialism, and Apartheid or how we can equalize academic scores and incomes, we should instead be asking questions like, "Does human civilization actually need the Black race?" "Is Black genocide right?" and, if it is, "What would be the best and easiest way to dispose of them?" With starting points like this, wisdom is sure to flourish, enlightenment to dawn. ""




See also:





There are more, but I'm pretty sure that you can source the rest for yourself.

Your reply misses the point of the OP:

> ... physical attack has been socially approved. It's okay to punch a Nazi. And you're free to define Nazi whichever way you want. Quite convenient.

How many Americans actually self-identify with the alt-right? Less than .001%?

How many, on the other hand, are accused of being alt-right to dismiss their arguments and concerns?

If your first move in a potential discussion is to label your opponent with a philosophy you hate (and refuse to entertain,) then it's likely you're interested in things other than discussion.

I wish I could mod-down Backpropaganda.... Your blather provides the perfect example of what the author is trying to elucidate upon.

here we are in 2017, with many many crucial things to argue about. this is your priority? good luck!

Simply stating that 'its the current year' you can not have those opinions, is not addressing the issue or argument. Its an attempt to shut down debate and silence people.

The article was about techniques you can try to engage people and ideas you disagree with in a more friendly and respectful way. You might want to be more thoughtful of your own posts in that respect.

it just seems tone deaf to me. like, in the 12 hours since i wrote this, a nazi drove a car into a crowd of people at that stupid rally. i just don't think every "side" of every "argument" deserves equal consideration.

I think that's a conclusion you have in your mind only :)

The author's merely pointing out the obvious - being emotional about complex issues is a childish and counter-productive thing to do.

Well, maybe that's not so obvious, but you know.

Being polite seems like a good idea until you realize that people having arguing against gender stereotypes, politely, for several decades at the least. But even after all that, people find it far easier to believe that men are more inclined to work with things. (One has to wonder then why women don't form the majority in leadership positions, given that being a leader is all about working with people and not things).

Historically, the biggest social changes happened by force. Like the civil rights movement. The threat of civil disobedience forced the government to enact laws. Sometimes you have to drag people, kicking and screaming, into social change. Waiting until you persuade everyone is futile.

The problem with the "social change by force" approach is that it's easy to find yourself in the wrong side of history. Hitler also wanted social change, and decided to do it by force since it was such a good social change. Just because what you're doing "seems" like a good thing doesn't mean that it actually is. You might try the forced social change, and years later, get revolted against, and go down in history as the people who forced their ideas on everyone else.

People v/s things is not the only gender difference. There are others, which could explain why there aren't more women leaders. Or, it could very well be that sexism/glass ceiling is the reason women aren't at the top. That doesn't mean the people v/s things theory is wrong. It has the most amount of evidence and the largest demonstrated effect sizes (d > 1 even).

No need to invoke Godwin's law. There are different degrees of force. Even the staunchest libertarian will concede that some amount of force is warranted to protect rights. The question here is the nature and degree of the force. I'd say firing someone is warranted especially if an organization has committed to fighting gender stereotypes amongst its workforce.

People vs things is just one example. The cited science also says that men are more prone to anger and aggressiveness. So in net, leadership positions should be held by women if one were to make an 'ought to' argument based on the science.

The Google memo made a number of points on why women might be less likely to pursue leadership positions. Women prefer lower stress jobs and more social-work balance. Men are more competitive than women and may have more of a natural drive to "reach the top". But the biggest effect I think is that our culture values men based on their job a lot more than women. Men have a lot more pressure to get a high status job.

Note that all of this is purely a "interests based" argument. No one is saying women would make worse leaders than men. As you mention, there might even be some good arguments that they would be better at it. I'm just saying there are good reasons why they might be less interested in pursuing that. As opposed to it all being because of sexism.

It's certainly true that you don't have to convince everyone. However, winning court cases requires convincing judges, and winning elections requires convincing a majority.

The civil rights movement included winning court cases, getting laws passed, and convincing politicians that they should support it. It didn't happen at a barrel of a gun.

More recently, same-sex marriage happened by winning court cases and a lot of work to change public opinion.

It's way too soon to give up on persuasion. Don't support thuggery.

Well, MLK did say that a riot is the language of the unheard. And he deemed the white moderate is the greatest obstacle to freedom. How does that square with your understanding of the civil rights movement? We'd like to wishfully think that social change can be achieved without any fuss. It can't. Firing someone isn't thuggery. Or the barrel end of a gun. It is just an organization walking the talk.

Maybe this is a matter of semantics? Firing someone (ending a voluntary relationship) is legal and nonviolent, so I wouldn't call that "by force" either. You probably shouldn't use "by force" unless you mean it.

> Historically, the biggest social changes happened by force. Like the civil rights movement. The threat of civil disobedience forced the government to enact laws.

That's one point of view. Another might argue that MLK sent a letter from a certain jail in Birmingham rather than oppose the arrest, say. Yet another might invoke Gandhi or Mandela.

Is civil disobedience a form of force? Yes, I suppose it is one of the possible meanings of 'force'.

However, if that is what you mean, then how is this opposed to being polite and understanding?

Compare your statement of "dragging people kicking and screaming" to MLK's attitude[1]:

> The decision prompted King to write, in a statement, that though he believed the Supreme Court decision set a dangerous precedent, he would accept the consequences willingly. "Our purpose when practicing civil disobedience is to call attention to the injustice or to an unjust law which we seek to change," he wrote—and going to jail, and eloquently explaining why, would do just that.

Or even to Lincoln's[2] (who wrote this at a time when victory in the war was pretty certain):

> With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Your error is in assuming that being polite and understanding means you are to apply exactly no pressure of any kind in furthering your goals. It is not so. Non-violent protest and even self-defense can be done either politely just as well as adversarially. If you ask me, Lincoln waged war yet was more understanding of his enemies than many civil protesters are today.

[1] http://time.com/3773914/mlk-birmingham-jail/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln%27s_second_ina...

One way to counter gender stereotypes is to show that they aren't welcome in an organization. I hope you would agree that this is a non-violent act. And yet, we see Google being equated with the Gulag. My use of the word 'force' is in that context.

Preventing something from being done or said does not counter a claim.

Passing a law against ICE cars does not prove electric cars superior, the same way passing a law against EVs does not prove ICEs superior.

However, if I am guessing correctly, your point of view is that gender stereotypes have no factual basis and exist only due to a cultural pressure. If that assumption is true, then there is a sense in which what you said is true: by disallowing the cultural pressure, the stereotypes and therefore their evidential basis would disappear.

Whether the assumption is true or not, I agree that an "anti-speech" organizational rule is not physical violence, which is the conventional definition I would use. I hesitate to say it is not 'violence', because people like the WHO define the word much more expansively[1].

From that, 2 things: first, I think the experimental evidence is hard to explain under the assumption above, like the fact that more progressive countries like my own Canada or Sweden have high gender occupational differences, but countries doing very poorly on equality metrics quite lower differences there[2]:

> The least sexist countries I can think of – Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, etc – all have somewhere around the same number (30%, 20%, and 24%, respectively). The most sexist countries do extremely well on this metric! The highest numbers on the chart are all from non-Western, non-First-World countries that do middling-to-poor on the Gender Development Index: Thailand with 55%, Guyana with 54%, Malaysia with 51%, Iran with 41%, Zimbabwe with 41%, and Mexico with 39%.

Second, while I have no doubt you're right that Google is being equated with the gulag quite literally by some, I think there is a sense in which one can talk about a weak commonality between both. In this case, the link being a form of 'violence' (WHO definition) against saying certain things. I can understand why this is a quite upsetting similarity if one were on the other side of it, particularly when people abuse it. I wish there was a way to sort of get reasonable to call out people "on their side" when they do that.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violence

[2] http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/07/contra-grant-on-exagger...

  MLK sent a letter from a certain jail in Birmingham rather than oppose the arrest
How, specifically, do you propose that a black minister demonstrating for civil rights safely oppose an arrest in 1963 Birmingham?

Thanks for this excellent comment.

@yedava - The only issue I see with your comment (at least the first paragraph) is that the "men are more inclined to work with things and woman are more inclined to work with people" commentary that has everyone whinging this week is actually backed up by various scientific studies. Here is the abstract for one.


I'll leave it up to you to read the full report and research the topic on your own before dismissing this notion as ignorant, when it clearly isn't.

If you feel I'm wrong, please provide your own scientific/scholarly citations and we can discuss the matter intellectually.

"Dragging people, kicking and screaming," sounds like the antithesis of democracy. Not sure if that's what you meant...

At least in the US, the civil rights movement was characterized (primarily) by peaceful, non-violent protests, demonstrations, and speeches. A social movement characterized by force and violence cannot effect positive social change, as far as I know.

The movement wasn't especially violent.

The Civil Rights Act and enforcement of said act tended to be backed up with guns and such. You know, state police escorting little kids to their schools.

As information, I had given up on your comment persuading me of anything before the first comma. It's really that easy.

Then, with all due respect (and perhaps I misunderstood), perhaps you should consider a greater degree of open mindedness?

If the fact that you disagrees with the first clause in an argument is enough for you to conclude the rest of the discussion is unable to make you change your opinion, I'd argue that is a much more significant barrier to open dialogue.

"With all due respect" so often precedes a mark of disrespect that it's already a small example of the kind of rhetoric that gets people's backs up before you even get to your point. I don't think it's generally deliberate, but it's a pretty good sign of talking at someone instead of genuinely trying to get closer to a common understanding. If I notice those words about to come out, I try to step back and remind myself we're both human -- prone to being wrong about practically everything. My career is all about being wrong dozens of times a day sometimes, about really obvious stuff once it's pointed out by the helpful little computer. Do I really know the bigger picture so well I can just lay down the law to this disagreeable fellow human?

I don't even expect either of our beliefs to change much here, but conversations do add up to something over the decades. And some people are much better at this than others. I know, your side of the culture war compared to them, oh Lord. I don't know if Dunning-Kruger applies to open-mindedness -- are there studies?

Ha! - point extremely well taken, in much the same vein as "I'm not racist, BUT...".

I did feel awkward writing it - in this case it was actually meant sincerely. I really wasn't sure if I'd misunderstood. It seemed too ironic in a discussion on open minded-ness to basically say "I immediately stopped listening after I heard something I didn't like" (although maybe this is a reasonable approach? I'd strongly argue it's not, but that's certainly a discussion we can have). I'll do my best to catch myself in the future. I should say that I did read your comment as a touch condescending, just FYI.

WRT to Dunning-Kruger for open-mindedness (which is a very interesting idea) some quick searches didn't reveal anything obvious, but I may be using the wrong keywords - social psychology isn't exactly my strong suit! Sort of intuitively you'd think a similar kind of relationship might exist ("Of course I'm open minded, but I _know_ that X is X and Y is Y, but those are truths not debatable ideas!") - although maybe now I'm conflating open mindedness with the ability to think critically...

> I did read your comment as a touch condescending, just FYI.

Sigh, yeah, I need to watch that. Good of you to let me know.

My take on the not-listening thing -- of course I'm not Aron -- is that if you've heard a faction hector you a lot, and you don't think they're listening to you except maybe to match some of your words into their standard bingo cards, then it's natural to tune someone out the moment they say one of that faction's shibboleths. From this POV, telling the speaker how their rhetoric failed is actually reaching out to them a little. That's not the POV I aspire to: I try to consider more words that piss me off than I really feel like, because I meta-want to be less biased. Sometimes I do, and sometimes they even get through.

Re: social psychology, I'm just starting on Haidt's The Righteous Mind in hopes of learning some basics.

(Since many more people might read this, I guess I want to make it completely clear that I didn't say what brand of words piss me off.)

>My take on the not-listening thing -- of course I'm not Aron -- is that if you've heard a faction hector you a lot, and you don't think they're listening to you except maybe to match some of your words into their standard bingo cards, then it's natural to tune someone out the moment they say one of that faction's shibboleths.

Ah - this is very good point, thanks for following up on this!

You're welcome -- glad we could talk!

You can be fined for not calling people ‘ze’ or ‘hir,’ if that’s the pronoun they demand that you use


You can be fined for being an asshole by ignoring a revealed preference? SHAME AND SCANDAL!

What I've learned after a lot of pain is that you can't convince anyone of anything. I've poured years of my life into shitty organizations to try to "fix" them and gotten nowhere.

The people that disagree with you will find ways to slowly peel back all your achievements. In a badly run organization the problem isn't the outdated machines and processes or the shitty products. Those are symptoms of shitty people and management.

If you want to fix an organization the surest way is to fire everyone in management. If you can't do that the best thing you can do for yourself is leave immediately.

You sound disillusioned, and I can empathize. Based on similar experiences, I've come to the understand that we're not trying to change individuals, we're trying to change culture. And cultures have inertia. All we can do to change a culture is to simply exist within it. It's not reasonable to have any expectations because we're just single points of influence among hundreds -- too many factors beyond our control. But by lowering expectations perhaps we can find satisfaction in making a small impact on one or two individuals around us. Celebrate the small wins.

Definitely jaded. I have been in charge of a couple smaller organizations and worked with some smart people for years to turn them around. In the most memorable case there were simply too many of the "old guard" left when I departed victorious and within a year they had it running just as badly as before. My biggest mistake was not getting rid of all the people that made it bad in the first place. I promoted and shifted them into places where they couldn't screw anything up but they stepped out of the caves the day I left town.

Even years of increasing membership, better benefits, virtually every metric increasing steadily was not enough to convince these people that the changes happening were positive. They wanted to do things "their way".

When I came back a year later I saw our shiny new equipment collecting dust in the corner. A few of the old guard were in the middle of a demonstration on how to pretend that it's still the 17th century. The smart new managers I brought in were gone.

Watching that place boomerang so fast struck a chord in me. The only time I'll agree to run anything now is when I have total control of what happens beneath me. Build little slices of heaven surrounded by towers of corporate bullshit. My long term goal is to build my own company but meager attempts so far haven't worked out.

I couldn't change people's opinions even with years of bulletproof evidence that they were wrong. Maybe a few of them individually, but a very small percentage of the group. They simply went along with things until they had an opportunity to change then back to how they liked them. I now 100% understand why management is gutted when a company changes hands.

I wonder if we can sort of trick ourselves into more reasoned discussions. For example: before a debate have the participants (maybe the audience too) say something to the effect of "I am willing to change my position on this topic."

I really found your comment interesting, but I'm not sure enough people go into debates in good faith, willing to change their position.

I've messed with people a few times when I thought it was really important for them to agree with me. You can trick people into considering a different opinion by planting evidence that supports your point of view.

A very effective way I found was to identify their role models and find one that shares my opinion. For example, I have a friend who salivates to Elon Musk and I've had great success getting him to consider alternate viewpoints by casually mentioning that my opinion aligns with his.

Another more subtle way is to read a bunch of stuff that supports your point of view using their phone or PC. Most big sites these days will show you what they think aligns with your beliefs. You can use the creepy targeting they're already doing to skew the point of view your friend sees.

There's a reddit for that:


Unfortunately, that doesn't make for good television. People tune in to have their opinions validated, to root for their guy.

I'd be content for people to say, "I will not resort to logical fallacies and ad hominem attacks."

The bigger problem now is that some of the platforms themselves have chosen to take sides on contentious debates and engage in unfair treatment of the other side. This has the effect of emboldening the most radical players on both sides and drowning out moderate voices and any chance of dialog.

On the side they choose to support the radical voices adopt a zero tolerance policy for the other side and seek to eliminate any decent. The opposing side has proof that the platforms has a bias against them and will try to subvert the debate so thoughtful opinions do not bother under those circumstances.

You can not change anyone's opinion by refusing them a platform to express themselves. Or allowing engagement but employing a double standard where one side gets to be abusive but the other gets punished for the same behaviour.

If we look at the recent case of James Damore he was fired for his views. How many people at Google who support him are going to change there minds on the issue just because The management decided to take a side and silence any opposing views?

The issue is scalability though. That's why it's preferable to consolidate your base of people who understand the issues, push for logical policy changes that protect people's rights, and hope that over a generation or two, people realize that those rights are important and valid.

That's how the US Civil Rights Movement and most anti-colonial movements worked. Things aren't perfect now, but imagine how long it would have taken to go door to door and convince every person that poll taxes were racist. Given the state of voter id laws, I don't think we'd have gotten to equitable voting by today if we tried courteously convincing people.

Convincing people takes time -- and actions speak louder than words. If you think being "polite" is not working, it is probably because people are merely talking and not doing. If you are doing and polite, it seems to actually make inroads.


Most people don't change their minds about more than just a few things after some early age - barring some life-changing even. I think it's rare that any number of [books, movies, conversations], or amount of time exposed to same, causes change.

It would be healthy for HN moderators to ingest this article. Even well mannered and well intended messages that do not necessarily agree with progressive dogma, are consistently down-modded. That's a shame.

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