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The Power of Making Friends with Ideological Enemies – Article by Sean Malone

The Power of Making Friends with Ideological Enemies – Article by Sean Malone

The New Renaissance Hat
Sean Malone
September 10, 2017
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Daryl Davis can be a model for how to change people’s minds.

“How can people hate me, when they don’t even know me?”

This is the question that drives the subject of a fantastic new documentary on Netflix called “Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, and America,” directed by Matt Ornstein.

For the past 30 years, soul musician Daryl Davis has been traveling the country in search of an answer in the most dangerous way possible for a black man in America: by directly engaging with members the Ku Klux Klan.

He’s invited KKK members into his home, he’s had countless conversations, and as unlikely as it seems, now considers a number of them to be his friends.

Daryl might say that he’s not really even doing anything special besides treating his enemies with respect and kindness in the hopes of actually dissuading them from their hateful views.

Yet, that’s something almost no one else has the courage to do, even when the risks are considerably lower.

Disagreements are stressful and difficult, and the more horrifying someone else’s viewpoint is, the easier it is to dismiss the people who hold those beliefs as inhuman garbage who simply can’t be reasoned with. Social media has also made dehumanizing people considerably easier, as we all get to interact with people from around the world without ever seeing their faces or considering their feelings.

As a result, we live in an increasingly polarized time when a lot of people are saying that the only answer to hate and awful ideas is to meet them with even more hate, more anger, outrage, and even violence.

And it’s not just a problem when dealing with the worst ideas in human history like racial supremacy and fascism. Some people now take this approach for even trivial and academic disagreements.

Don’t like a speaker coming to campus? Silence them and prevent them from getting into the auditorium.

Don’t like what a Facebook friend has to say? Block them.

And of course, if you think someone you meet is a white supremacist or a neo-Nazi, the only thing left to do is punch them in the face.

Punching Doesn’t Work

But consider that most of human history is filled with people allowing their disagreements to turn into bloody, horrific warfare; it’s only our commitment to dealing with our adversaries peacefully through speech and conversation that has allowed us to become more civilized. So escalating conflicts into violence should be seen as the worst kind of social failure.

And besides, punching people who disagree with you doesn’t actually change their minds or anyone else’s, so we’re still left with the same deceptively difficult question before and after:

When people believe in wrongheaded or terrible things, how do we actually persuade them to stop believing the bad ideas, and get them to start believing in good ones instead?

Judging by social media, most people seem to believe that it’s possible to yell at people or insult and ridicule them until they change their minds. Unfortunately, as cathartic as it feels to let out your anger against awful people, this just isn’t an effective strategy to reduce the amount of people who hold awful ideas.

In fact, if you do this, your opponents (and even more people who are somewhat sympathetic to their views, or just see themselves as part of the same social group) might actually walk away even more strongly committed to their bad ideas than they were before.

The evidence from psychology is pretty clear on this.

We know from studies conducted by neuroscientists like Joseph LeDoux that people’s amygdalas — the part of the brain that processes raw emotions — can actually bypass their rational minds and create a fight-or-flight response when they feel threatened or attacked. Psychologist Daniel Goleman called this an “Amygdala Hijack,” and it doesn’t just apply to physical threats.

People’s entire personal identity is often wrapped up in their political or philosophical beliefs, and a strong verbal attack against those beliefs actually creates a response in the brain of the target similar to a menacing lunge.

Even presenting facts or arguments that directly conflict with people’s core beliefs or identities can actually cause people to cling to those beliefs more tightly after they’ve been presented with contrary evidence. Political scientists like Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler have been studying this phenomenon for over 10 years and call it the “Backfire Effect“.

And when the people whose minds we desperately need to change are racists and fascists (or socialists and communists, for that matter), a strategy that actually backfires and pushes more people towards those beliefs is the last thing we need.

Principles of Persuasion

The good news is that in addition to knowing what doesn’t work, we also know a lot about how to talk to people in ways that are actually persuasive — and the existing research strongly supports Daryl Davis’s approach.

In the psychologist Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, he describes what he calls the “Principles of Persuasion.”

One of these principles is called “reciprocity”, and it’s based on the idea that people feel obliged to treat you the way you treat them. So, if you treat them with kindness and humility, most people will offer you the same courtesy. On the other hand, if you treat them with contempt, well…

Another principle Cialdini describes is the idea of “liking”.

It’s almost too obvious, but it turns out that if someone likes you personally and believes that you like them, it’s easier to convince them that your way of thinking is worth considering.  One easy step towards being liked is to listen to others and find common ground through shared interests. This can be a bridge – or a shortcut – to getting other people to see you as a friend or part of their tribe.

You might think somebody like Daryl Davis would have nothing in common with a KKK member, but according to Daryl, if you “spend 5 minutes talking to someone and you’ll find something in common,” and if you “spend 10 minutes, and you’ll find something else in common.”

In the film, he connects with several people about music, and you can see these connections paying off — breaking down barriers and providing many Klan members with a rare (and in some cases only) opportunity to interact with a black man as a human being worth respecting instead of an enemy.

Even better, over time, forming these relationships has had an interesting side-effect.

In the last couple decades alone, over 200 of America’s most ardent white supremacists have left the Ku Klux Klan and hung up their robes and hoods for good.

Many of those robes now hang in Daryl’s closet.

And in a lot of cases, these individual conversions have much bigger consequences and end multi-generational cycles of bigotry. When a mother or a father leaves the darkness of the Klan, they’re also bringing their kids into the light with them. A few of these cases are profiled in “Accidental Courtesy”, and they’re indescribably moving.

Daryl Davis can be a model for how to change people’s minds and with everything that’s going on in the world today, we need successful models now more than ever.

Making Friends From Enemies

There’s another point to all of this that I think often goes unsaid.

Unlike Daryl, most of us aren’t actually interacting with KKK members or trying to change people’s minds away from truly evil ideologies, and yet we all fall to the temptation of yelling and name-calling, and using all those techniques of influence that have the opposite of our intended or desired effect.

It’s easy to allow outrage and emotion carry us off into treating other people as inhuman enemies to be crushed rather than human beings to be persuaded.

But if Daryl’s techniques can work to convince die-hard white supremacists that a black man — and perhaps eventually all black people — are worthy of respect, imagine how effective they can be when disagreements crop up with your friends, neighbors, and co-workers who don’t actually hate you or the things you stand for.

Who knows, if you have more genuine conversations with people outside your bubble, you might even find yourself changing a little bit for the better as well.

“Accidental Courtesy” teaches us that the way to deal with wrong or evil ideas isn’t shouting them down or starting a fight; it’s having the courage to do what Daryl did and making a friend out of an enemy.

Sean Malone is the Director of Media at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). His films have been featured in the mainstream media and throughout the free-market educational community.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

The Riots in Charlottesville and the Prevention of Violence – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The Riots in Charlottesville and the Prevention of Violence – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 2, 2017
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I admire the courage of Ford Fischer, who reported the events of the Charlottesville street riots directly from the scene and obtained close-up, highly informative documentary footage regarding the tragic events that transpired. He was even a victim of collateral damage; some of the pepper spray aimed at the fascist marchers instead found its way to him.

I recommend that everyone watch his 23-minute documentary in order to have a better understanding of the facts on the ground.

My impressions, based on Mr. Fischer’s reporting, are that the entire situation was a volatile powder keg – with tempers running high and many regrettably radicalized, armed, and incensed demonstrators looking for a fight. “Who started it” was often difficult to discern in the various brawls – although clearly the murder was committed by a detestable and ruthless alt-right white supremacist. More generally, though, past a certain point, once the violence is in full swing, distinguishing between legitimate self-defense and the initiation of force becomes nearly impossible in the din and chaos (a confusion readily taken advantage of by opportunistic fanatics who relish violence).

This is why, to the extent possible, the infrastructure of society should be configured to prevent such “powder keg” situations from emerging in the first place. Once civil discourse (which could include heated but peaceful and polite debate) is replaced with the shouting of expletives and threats by lines of armed rioters, it only takes one particularly unhinged individual to commit an atrocity. Most people, I hold, are decent and inclined toward peaceful behavior; this probably included most protesters – even on the alt-right side (who probably just wanted to hear their leaders speak). However, events such as these necessarily attract the minority of persons who temperamentally crave violence – and those people, irrespective of ideology, rile up the rest until the chaos is uncontrollable. For them, ideology is epiphenomenal, and violence is an end in itself.

In the immediate moment, police should have taken a more active role in separating the demonstrators. The right of free speech, even obnoxious or heinous speech, should be protected as long as it remains speech only. However, there is no reason for “in your face” confrontations between two incensed opposing sides. Mr. Fischer noted that the police initially took a largely “hands-off” attitude with respect to brawls. This was a mistake on the police’s part; each brawl constitutes assault and battery – criminal acts. Both the protest and counter-protest might have ended peacefully had a line of police remained between the opposing sides at all times. What was interesting is that a contingent of private militiamen was also present and impartial, desiring only to keep the peace and aid those who were injured. There is a role for this kind of citizen initiative (but only to keep the peace, and only to help), and I wonder if this might be part of the solution for future events where the police fail to protect life and property.

In the long-term, though, what is required is a revival of cultural standards of decency and tolerance in discourse – the prizing of civility and the search for constructive common ground, rather than the complete denunciation and demonization of those who disagree with one’s point of view. Because of deteriorating norms of conduct and a toxic media culture that has fomented political insults as entertainment, we have reached a crisis point where too many people have become radicalized beyond the condition where they even recognize that common ground might exist. So they try to beat one another with sticks instead of beating one another in debate. But words can still work. Words can change the culture – not right away, but with enough perseverance. This will be the work of decent persons who abhor violence and desire for precious lives and infrastructure to be preserved.

Gennady Stolyarov II is Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator and Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party.

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

When Academia Turns into Fight Club – Article by Steven Horwitz

When Academia Turns into Fight Club – Article by Steven Horwitz

The New Renaissance Hat
Steven Horwitz
July 14, 2017
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What do academics do for excitement over the summer, you ask? This summer many of us have been engaged in a furious debate over the new book Democracy in Chains by Duke historian Nancy MacLean.

Libertarian and conservative scholars from a variety of disciplines have raised a number of criticisms about MacLean’s sources and her accuracy about historical facts that call into question the “evidence” she has to show that economist James Buchanan and public choice theory, if not libertarianism more generally, are all tools of racist oligarchs like the Koch Brothers.

Rather than rehash all of the particular criticisms, I want to focus on the controversy that has developed over the criticisms themselves. It’s important to understand that the libertarian critics of MacLean have carefully compared passages in her book with her cited sources and showed how she has misread and quoted selectively from them, often leading her to attribute to people the exact opposite of the argument they actually held. These criticisms have been posted publicly on blogs and websites. These are not just vague accusations. They are detailed examples of poor scholarship.

But the fascinating part has been her response. And her lack thereof.

Everyone Is under Attack

MacLean has offered no substantive response to the detailed criticisms. She had one exchange with Russ Roberts over her treatment of Tyler Cowen, but even there she did not respond to the substance of Russ’s concerns. Other than that, nothing.

What she did do, however, was put up a long Facebook post that reads like a combination conspiracy theory tract and call to action for progressive activists. The short version is that she claimed she was under “attack” from a conspiracy of “Koch operatives” who were paid hacks out to destroy her book and her reputation and silence her. She claimed, then retracted when she found out it couldn’t be done, that the Kochs had bought Google results to put the critics at the top of searches. She encouraged her supporters to game the Amazon reviews by posting positive reviews and down-voting the “fake” Koch reviews.

She has continued this narrative of being “under attack” in various interviews, and most recently in a story in Inside Higher Ed, where fellow progressives echo this language.

This notion of being “attacked” is particularly fascinating to me. Let’s be clear what she means: people who know a lot about Buchanan, public choice theory, and libertarianism have taken issue with her scholarship and have patiently and carefully documented the places where she has made errors of fact or interpretation, or mangled and misused source materials and quotes. That is all that they have done.

None of this was coordinated nor was it part of a conspiracy from the Koch brothers. It was scholars doing what scholars do when they are confronted with bad scholarly work, especially when it touches on issues we know well.

None of these critics, and I am among them, have called for physical violence against her. None have contacted her employer. None have called her publisher or Amazon to have the book taken down. Contrary to her claim, the only silence in this whole episode is her own refusal to respond to legitimate scholarly criticism. We don’t want to silence her – we eagerly await her response.

So where is this language of “attack” coming from? Here is where I think the political right bears some responsibility for the current situation. And to the degree libertarians have cast their lot with “the right,” we are seen as guilty by association. Call it blowback if you will.

In the last year or two, progressive intellectuals and academics have been threatened with violence and had their employers contacted, not to mention threats made from politicians, on the basis of public statements they’ve made. Yes, some of those statements were deplorable, but that is no excuse for threatening people’s physical safety or their jobs. These are real attacks, not intellectual criticisms.

We should also not forget the anti-intellectual “Professor Watch List” put up by TurningPoint USA, which gave left-leaning faculty more reason to imagine coordinated and conspiratorial attacks.

And yes, all of this was not done by conservative or libertarian intellectuals, but they were done by activists associated with “the right,” and that is all that progressives need to find the intellectuals guilty by association.

It probably also matters, though less so, that many conservative and libertarian students have referred to themselves as “under attack” in college classrooms. In my 30 years of teaching experience, what they call “under attack” is far more often than not simply having their views strongly challenged and being expected to defend them. In other words, exactly what MacLean is experiencing.

This is not being “attacked.” It is what college classrooms and scholarly conversation are all about.

Unfortunately, the real attacks on left-wing faculty (and yes, there have been ones on right-wing ones too) have provided MacLean’s defenders with a convenient word to use to blur the difference between legitimate, but forceful, scholarly criticism, and threats of violence or silencing.

Always Take the High Road

Conservative critics of higher education should take this to heart. When you whip people into a frenzy over the crazy things that a small number of faculty say on Twitter, or because of legitimate concerns about the treatment of a small number of conservative speakers, the whipped up folks are going to do things you wish they wouldn’t. And that’s going to lead to blowback.

As a libertarian academic who frequently speaks at public events on other campuses, I do have low-level concerns about my safety. And if I were a progressive academic, I’d have similar fears given the way some of them have been treated, especially by politicians. Calling the intellectual criticisms of her book a coordinated conspiracy heads MacLean into Alex Jones territory, but given the current climate, it shouldn’t surprise us that she and her supporters feel “under attack.”

But notice the result: a book that smears libertarian and conservative ideas on the basis of shoddy scholarship gets attention because the author claims she’s under attack when she is called out in careful detail by other scholars. The real attacks on left-leaning faculty enable her to claim victimhood by association while using guilt by association to blame the conservative and libertarian intellectuals who are criticizing her work.

Once we head down the road, whether caused by the left, right, or libertarians, of turning intellectual disagreements into threats of violence, or threats to employment, or anything of that sort, the social losses are huge. Indeed, once both threats to people’s safety and employment and sharp intellectual disagreement become “attacks,” we will lose our ability to recognize the moral and intellectual difference between the two, and our disgust at the threats will weaken. And to the degree that the left largely dominates the intellectual world, conservatives and libertarians will be the biggest losers when academia turns into Fight Club.

So what to do? First, call off the dogs. Conservatives and libertarians need to consistently take the high road, as many of the intellectuals have tried to do in response to MacLean’s book. The hard part is getting right-wing media, both traditional and social media, to do the same. Those of us who care about intellectual standards have to publicly call out our own when they whip up anti-intellectual and anti-higher education frenzies.

Second, implore our left-wing friends of integrity to do the same. The most important thing that can happen to end this arms race is for scholars of integrity on the left to call out people like MacLean, both for their shoddy scholarship and their hyperbolic use of the language of conspiracy and attack. A strongly critical review of her book by a historian or economist of the center or left would go a long way to addressing the specific concerns it raises and could set a necessary example for others.

In the meantime, those of us critical of MacLean will continue to document her errors and press publicly for a response. And we’ll do so with the most proper of scholarly etiquette. I implore those sympathetic to our cause to be on their best behavior on social media as well. She and her supporters need no more ammunition.

Steven Horwitz is the Schnatter Distinguished Professor of Free Enterprise in the Department of Economics at Ball State University, where he also is a Fellow at the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise. He is the author of Hayek’s Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions and is a Distinguished Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

The U.S. Transhumanist Party – Pursuing a Future of Extreme Progress – Presentation by G. Stolyarov II

The U.S. Transhumanist Party – Pursuing a Future of Extreme Progress – Presentation by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II
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Listen to and download the audio recording of this presentation at http://rationalargumentator.com/USTP_Future_of_Extreme_Progress.mp3 (right-click to download).

Download Mr. Stolyarov’s presentation slides at http://rationalargumentator.com/USTP_Future_of_Extreme_Progress.pdf (right-click to download).


Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, delivered this presentation virtually at the Extreme Futures Technology and Forecasting (EFTF) Work Group on March 11, 2017.

Mr. Stolyarov outlines the background and history of the Transhumanist Party, its Core Ideals, its unique approach to politics and member involvement, and the hopes for transforming politics into a constructive focus on solutions to the prevailing problems of our time.

At the conclusion of the presentation Mr. Stolyarov answered a series of questions from futurists Mark Waser and Stuart Mason Dambrot.

Visit the website of the U.S. Transhumanist Party here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free here.

Watch the U.S. Transhumanist Party Discussion Panel on Artificial Intelligence here.

Watch the U.S. Transhumanist Party Discussion Panel on Life Extension here.