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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
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.

Disagreement Is a Bad Reason to Unfriend – Article by Sarah Skwire

Disagreement Is a Bad Reason to Unfriend – Article by Sarah Skwire

The New Renaissance HatSarah Skwire

I have an interesting meeting next week. A young woman in my community is working very hard on a set of policy suggestions for environmental measures, and she wants a libertarian perspective on the ideas she has drawn up. So we’re going to get together over coffee and talk about her plan and about what I think libertarians might think of it.

But I don’t want to write about her plan today.

I want to write about her invitation to talk about it.

I want to write about it because I think it’s an enormously important counterpoint to something that I see more of every day on my Facebook feed, in the media, and in the small daily interactions of people around me.

That’s the obstinate insistence that people who disagree cannot be friends or colleagues—that they cannot even be reasonably expected to communicate with one another.

Some disagreements, we are told, are just so profound, so deeply seated, so indicative of the other person’s moral turpitude that no reaching over the division is possible.

Shunning? Really?

That may be true, in some cases. Cultures all over the world have long had methods for shunning those whose behavior was so counter to cultural norms that they were viewed as potentially destructive threats to the culture’s continuation. I’m not saying that such threats don’t ever exist.

But in the last little while, I’ve seen claims that anyone who voted for Trump should be “cut off” from communication with “civilized society.” I’ve heard people argue that voting against the continuation of the ACA reveals people to be morally bereft and outside the bonds of normal human interaction. I’ve heard college students and faculty argue not that they should not have to attend or listen to speakers with whom they disagree, but that no one else should be allowed to do so.

That’s a lot of people to vote off the island.

Excluding Others Isn’t Brave

Worse than the sheer numbers involved, though, and even worse than the ever-expanding list of offenses that are considered dire enough to excise whole swathes of people from civil discourse, is the insistence that all of this exclusion is being done because the excluders are brave.

The rhetoric is familiar. “Stand up” against this offense. “Speak out” against that one. “Refuse to tolerate” X. “Give no quarter and make no compromises” with Y. “Shut down” the language of the other side. “Refuse to even entertain” opposing views. “Give no platform” to this person.

I think there’s bravery in resistance to wrongs. I don’t think there’s anything brave about shutting down speech and debate and refusing to interact with people with opposing views.

I think it’s much braver, and much harder, to look for ways to cross those barriers, to find the humanity in the people with whom you disagree most strongly, and to work to solve the problems that plague us rather than retreating to separate camps.

I think it is a brave thing to contact someone with whom you disagree politically and say “Let’s have coffee and talk about stuff. I want to understand how you see this problem.”

And I think we all ought to do it more often.

Sarah Skwire is the poetry editor of the Freeman and a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis. She is 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.

Bernie Sanders’ Anti-Foreign Crankery – Article by Daniel Bier

Bernie Sanders’ Anti-Foreign Crankery – Article by Daniel Bier

The New Renaissance HatDaniel Bier

A Vesuvius of Tribalism and Economic Illiteracy

At Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate, Bernie Sanders attacked American trade with Mexicans, Chinese, Vietnamese, and presumably all other foreigners who might try to steal our jobs. Sanders harangued Hillary Clinton,

NAFTA, supported by the Secretary, cost us 800,000 jobs nationwide, tens of thousands of jobs in the Midwest. Permanent normal trade relations with China cost us millions of jobs.

Look, I was on a picket line in early 1990’s against NAFTA because you didn’t need a PhD in economics to understand that American workers should not be forced to compete against people in Mexico making 25 cents an hour.

… And the reason that I was one of the first, not one of the last to be in opposition to the TPP is that American workers … should not be forced to compete against people in Vietnam today making a minimum wage of $0.65 an hour.

Look, what we have got to do is tell corporate America that they cannot continue to shut down. We’ve lost 60,000 factories since 2001. They’re going to start having to, if I’m president, invest in this country — not in China, not in Mexico.

First, let’s note his dodgy job numbers. As Dan Griswold noted in 2011, in response to a similar claim about jobs “lost” from the “trade deficit” with Mexico,

In the first five years after NAFTA’s passage, 1994-98, when we could have expected it to have the most impact, the U.S. economy ADDED a net 15 million new jobs, including 700,000 manufacturing jobs.

Behold, the horror unleashed on US manufacturing jobs by trade with Mexico:nafta-manufacturing

In fact, since NAFTA went into effect in 1994, total US employment has increased by 28 million jobs. Even if we buy the dubious claim that NAFTA “cost us 800,000 jobs” over the last 22 years, this amounts just 36,000 jobs a year.

As Griswold noted, even in good times, 300,000 Americans file for unemployment each week. The US economy creates and destroys more than 15 million jobs every year. This alleged displacement amounts to less than one day’s worth of job losses.

It’s true that, in the long-run, manufacturing jobs have been in decline in the United States. But this is not because manufacturing is in decline. The myth (promoted by the other nationalist blowhard in the race) that United States “doesn’t make stuff anymore” is not just wrong — it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Real US manufacturing output is the highest it has ever been. Simply put, the US makes more stuff than ever.

manufacturing-indexHow can this be? Because manufacturing productivity — the amount of value added per hour worked — has gone up dramatically in recent decades. Manufacturing employment is declining because of automation; a US factory worker today can add a lot more value per hour than one in 1970.


It’s simply not true that trade devastated the US economy and wiped out millions of jobs. Employment has shifted within the US economy, out of industry into service jobs, and manufacturing has shifted around the globe, aligning production with the comparative advantages of each country’s labor and capital markets.

The resentment stoked by nationalists like Trump and Sanders is based on a nonsensical proposition, a mirage of high-paying blue collar jobs stolen by conniving foreigners, which we could reclaim if only we had the will to wage a trade war.

But the machines and global production chains are here to stay, and the jobs being done in Vietnam and China for fifty cents an hour are on the extreme low end of the value-added chain — which should be obvious, when you think about it, since they pay so little. (On the back of every iPhone is a short economics lesson on this point: “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.”)

Do we really want to “bring those jobs back”? Do we envision a future where the American middle class is sewing textiles in sweatshops for a dollar an hour? Of course not. Americans today likely wouldn’t do those jobs at any wage, but especially not at the wages paid to low-skilled workers in developing Asian and Latin American countries. Those jobs only exist at those wages; at higher wages, they are scarcer, higher-skilled, and more capital intensive.

True, we could make t-shirts and Happy Meal toys in the United States, but we’d be doing it with far, far fewer workers and a lot more capital. Instead of 30 workers at fifty cents an hour, it’d be one person with a machine for $20 an hour.

The real difference would be that everyone would be poorer as a result: consumers paying higher prices, foreigners working in worse conditions and for less money, and American resources being diverted away from where they are most productive.

This is where economic ignorance stops being morally neutral and becomes a real threat to the life and well-being of the poor, especially in the developing world.

Not content to merely keep Mexicans from working in the United States (where, thanks to US capital and infrastructure, they could earn three or four times more than they make in Mexico), Bernie Sanders now objects to the right of Mexicans to work in Mexico, if they dare to sell goods and services to Americans — or, God forbid, try to compete with American firms.

For a champion of the poor like Sanders, there’s a double irony here, in that poor Americans are already much wealthier than poor Mexicans, and that tariffs also make goods more expensive for native consumers, disproportionately hurting the poorest Americans. Not only are poor Mexicans made worse off, by losing access to the US market and thus losing jobs, but poor Americans are also made worse off by having less disposable income, which is thus not spent elsewhere in the economy to sustain other American jobs.

And this is just the first order effects of closing off trade with Mexico. When the Mexican government inevitably retaliates, US exports to Mexico (which totaled $236 billion in 2015) will also be devastated and more jobs will be lost. And of course, simply multiply this orders of magnitude for China, Vietnam, and every other country on the nationalistic hit list.

Who gains from this? In the long run, nobody, which is why (after decades of gradual reform) we finally got relatively free trade with our closest neighbors, signed into law by a liberal Democrat. But in the short run, a few US corporations and labor unions would benefit from trade tariffs — at the expense of both poor foreigners and poor Americans as a whole.

(For those keeping score, this makes it an ironic hat trick for Sanders, whose tirades against free trade and open borders are laced with fear-mongering about “corporations.”)

Finally, let us ponder Sanders’ Alice-in-Wonderland solution to the imagined ills of free trade:

Look, what we have got to do is tell corporate America that they cannot continue to shut down. We’ve lost 60,000 factories since 2001. They’re going to start having to, if I’m president, invest in this country — not in China, not in Mexico.

Did I say Alice in Wonderland? I meant Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand was justly accused of having unbelievable, one-dimensional stereotypes, but sadly, American politics seems to have the same problem.

It’s anyone’s guess how Sanders imagines he could force factories not to close and order companies to stay in the United States, but the “you can’t shut down” solution is almost directly lifted from “Directive 10-289,” the order that Rand’s antagonists use to try to “stabilize” the economy:

All workers, wage earners and employees of any kind whatsoever shall henceforth be attached to their jobs and shall not leave nor be dismissed nor change employment… All industrial, commercial, manufacturing and business establishments of any nature whatsoever shall henceforth remain in operation…

Faced with economic decline, the government believed that the only option was to stop the decline, rather allowing people to go where they choose, buy what they choose, and make what they choose. “What it comes down to is that we can manage to exist as and where we are, but we can’t afford to move!” archvillain Wesley Mouch exclaims. “So we’ve got to stand still… We’ve got to make those bastards stand still!”

When Rand first published this in 1957, this was hyperbole about the fear of change, the reductio ad absurdum of the argument for keeping things as they are. Now, it’s an applause line for mainstream presidential candidates.

Daniel Bier is the site editor of He writes on issues relating to science, civil liberties, and economic freedom.

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.

Collectivism is Ancient; Freedom, Reason, and Progress Are New (2010) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Collectivism is Ancient; Freedom, Reason, and Progress Are New (2010) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published April 23, 2010
as Part of Issue CCXLV of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 18, 2014
Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CCXLIV of The Rational Argumentator on April 23, 2010, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator. The arguments in it continue to be relevant to discussions regarding reason, individualism, and liberty, and therefore it is fitting for this publication to provide these arguments a fresh presence.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 18, 2014

Irrational, illiberal collectivism had its beginnings along with the beginnings of the human species. How else could it be the case that the overwhelming majority of the history of our species took place with virtually no progress whatsoever? Indeed, even the advent of basic agriculture and the written word occurred quite late in our history, considering that humans virtually identical in body and mind to our contemporaries appeared circa 50000 B.C.E., whereas the beginnings of agriculture occurred circa 10000 B.C.E., and writing emerged even later. How could this have been the case? Surely, with the proper freedom-respecting, individualistic mindsets and institutions, our remote ancestors could have accomplished noticeable progress every generation. Instead, about 80% of human history passed without any progress whatsoever, and another 19% passed with minimal progress and centuries where previous progress had been reversed and nearly eliminated (e.g., the Dark Ages and the 14th Century in Europe, and the era of Mongol conquests in Russia, the Middle East, and the Far East). And yet superbly intelligent, capable people existed in every generation, and would, if placed in our time or the recent past, have become great innovators.

The sensible explanation of these otherwise perplexing facts is that absolutely stifling mindsets afflicted the majority of human societies during the majority of history. Although they left no written records, most Paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies can be safely assumed to have held ultra-tribalist, collectivist views of the world – in addition to a persistently animistic, superstitious view of the inanimate world and a violently intense xenophobia. Moreover, in a small nomadic tribe, an “us versus them” attitude would have been quite easy and tempting to adopt; one relied on one’s fellow tribesmen to protect one against aggression by other humans, wild animals, and myriad miscellaneous perils. Departure from the norms and societal structures of the tribe, through either material or intellectual innovation, would likely have resulted in ostracism from the tribe or worse.

What is relatively new in human history – dating back to ancient Greece – is early true liberal, pro-freedom thinking; I still believe that we are in the early stages of the development of liberal thought, considering how illiberal the majority of human societies today are and how the majority of human progress (and, indeed, of human sanity altogether) can be attributed to only a handful of forward-thinking individuals. Free the human mind just a little, give even a few reasonably intelligent people just a small amount of material and intellectual space to decide how to live and to think – and you get all that human civilization has accomplished thus far. Free humans completely, and astonishing accomplishments would be possible, even from the “average” person.

Of course, the reverse is possible, too: such a severe degeneration of human thinking and institutions as to produce a relapse into barbarism. This would be the worst, most tragic outcome to befall mankind.