People don’t so much resist change; they resist “being changed.”
Suppose you are sitting next to someone on the plane who let it slip that he thinks blacks are mud people, or that whites are Satan’s pawns. Instead of raining down the fire and brimstone of your righteous indignation and summoning your superior world view for an assault on his obviously faulty belief system and a morality in shambles, why not just have a conversation with the person behind the beliefs? You may learn something interesting. You may enter a very different mind world for the duration of the flight. Is that such a bad thing, to learn what fellow humans really think? Do we always have to be on the lookout to stomp out wrong-headedness with the big ol’ boot?
So what if your next door neighbor believes that God created the world five thousand years ago. Will it make him more likely to pilfer your silver spoons or be rude to your elderly mother? “But wait a minute,” you say, “that same guy is trying to dilute the teaching of evolution at the school where our kids go!” When I was in school, they split us up for language class because some students wanted to learn German, and some French. Is it just too outrageous to create two types of classes, one for students who want evolution straight from the bottle, and one for those who want to learn about the controversy, discuss “intelligent design” and learn to evaluate its claims? Instead of trying to convince the neighbor – probably a futile undertaking anyway – why not set up a situation both sides can live with happily enough? It seems to me that the latter path is far, far easier than the former. And it fosters neighborly good will to boot.
That old hypothesis is on its last leg, isn’t? If only we turn everyone into rationalist skeptics, the human world will get right. If only we turn everybody into savvy doomers, or angry activists, or sophisticated progressives, or godly conservatives, all with a unified voice, everything will turn around. The religious folks from centuries past thought that if only everybody would be Catholic, the whole world could be at peace… no more wrangling, no more disharmony, no more error. It did not pan out. That hasn’t prevented scientists from trying the very same thing. They’ve had a good run of it, but when all is said and done… it just ain’t gonna happen. Humans are ornery critters, each unique as a snowflake, each wanting to think his or her own thoughts. The One-Right-View Age is over. It’s been a failure, leading neither to God’s city on a hill nor a rational utopia but to never-ending divisive strife.
For too long, I have been like a marionette, leaping into the fray, perennially arguing with people whose opinions are different (and incorrect, of course!), hoping to set them straight. Crafting exquisite arguments, and getting nowhere. For all the vehement “big” battles of words and logic I have had with people over the length of my life, how many did I convince through a clever or powerful argument? I remember one, but he was open and ready. If a person wants to change their mind, if they open their mind to evidence they have not so far considered, then change is possible. But that is up to them! Isn’t it their job to make up their own minds? And isn’t my job to be of use to them, on their own terms, if asked?
Arguments can be giant bracing fun, especially with worthy enemies. I love these jousts where memes can be fine-tuned and sometimes, the best idea steals the show. Nothing I am saying here is directed against argumentation itself. But while I have learned a great deal about crafting good and bad arguments, and how well my views hold up under scrutiny, I have missed out big time on learning about other people and their worlds. Nobody is likely to be open and forthcoming under the onslaught of ‘know-it-better-than-thou-ism.’ And now that I am thinking this through, it seems possible that the whole effort to “change other people” is part of the domination paradigm. Isn’t persuasion a form of manipulation? A power game? Trying to override their ideas with my ideas, to overcome them, to make a conquest for my memes, isn’t it domination in another guise? None of us likes it when others push us to change. When we perceive that someone is targeting us, prodding us, selling us this idea or that, trying to win us over, convert us, we balk. And rightly so. A natural resistance builds up; a push leads to a counterpush. In a world of freedom, respect, and autonomy, the only appropriate person to change me is myself.
I don’t think reasoned argument changes people’s minds, anyway. Just the other day I was trooping once again through the barren grounds of trying to convince someone that if drugs were regulated and cheap, nobody would burgle houses to feed their heroin addiction. It fell on deaf ears. The retort is always the same. Criminals will be criminals. Are people holding up 7/11s to stoke their tobacco habit? Meh… it makes no difference. Or, take my older yet otherwise sharp-witted neighbor. She got embroiled in a Jamaican con that promised huge sweepstakes winnings if only she first sent them money. And lots of it. We neighbors tried to talk sense to her, the cops came and described similar cases, her daughter flew in to yell at and plead with her. To no avail. Her estate eventually had to be placed under agency oversight…. And when I go visit her, the phones still keep ringing with golden promises. People believe what they want to believe for their own deep reasons and needs. Suddenly, I am done. My evangelizing years are over.
And so it came upon me to wonder: what would it be like to surrender the idea, the burden!, of having to persuade or convince other people to think or believe differently? There is so much moaning out there in the doomersphere regarding all the folks who cleave to mistaken beliefs, those who are asleep, ostrichlike, or zombified. Why? Apparently we think that these folks are somehow getting in the way, they are stopping us from doing what needs to be done. But are they really stopping us? Or are we projecting on them our own frustration regarding not having a viable alternative in place yet? What if they are simply doing what kids everywhere do when things get weird… they are waiting for a better game to start?