To Be Ideologically Persuasive, Don't Be a Jerk
October 14, 2016
I recently attended an event with a politically-oriented speech. Following the main speech, which was excellent, everyone partook in some lively post-debate discussion over beer and whiskey. Typically, whenever I attend these types of functions, I end up not only having some of the best discussions imaginable, but I enjoy them so much that I’m usually the last person to leave.
Many people are not good at persuasion.Throughout this evening bar conversation, I realized something: many people are not good at persuasion. It’s something that I see all too often when hearing other libertarians talk, but it is hardly limited to them. It’s a universal problem.
I rarely see constructive criticism being offered to people about the way they present themselves. The more fringing the philosophy, the more we should focus on effective communication and building relationships. Calling someone an immoral statist who doesn’t understand economics (even when true) usually isn’t the most effective strategy to achieve this.
So I thought I’d share some tips on how to better spread a message. These tips can also be applied to any conversational topic.
Stop Debating and Give Discussion a Try
Everyone loves a good debate. The passionate argumentation of ideas with reason, facts, logic, and civility in a public forum. It’s fun to watch, if it’s executed properly. The problem is that it is almost never executed properly.
Many people interested in politics have a grand vision of themselves. They want to be a smart and impassioned voice that wrecks opponents with enough facts, reason, and principle to feed the socialist country of Venezuela. But unfortunately, very few people come across like that.
Rather than constantly challenging people to debates, which implies a victor and a loser, people should invite others to a real discussion. This is a much more productive medium for exchanging ideas. It allows for calm, fun, and open conversation. It’s about listening to the other party, not just throwing counter arguments at them until one of you storms out of the bar in frustration.
Debunk vs Inform
Libertarians are often met in political discussion with misinformation. Between public school, mainstream media, and emotional reasoning, many people are just plain wrong about a lot of subjects. The biggest area where people are wrong is economics.
When someone simply proposes their ideas, I'm much more likely to reasonably consider them without getting defensive. The method that’s commonly used to combat this misinformation is debunking. Debunking means to expose the falseness or hollowness of a myth, idea, or belief. In other words, it means to point out how wrong and stupid something is. Being a YouTuber, I often do a lot of debunking in my videos. Outside of YouTube, not so much.
Debunking is generally more annoying than beneficial. This is especially true when discussing very contentious subjects like politics. Think about how you feel when someone approaches you trying to debunk Individualism. When it happens to me, I immediately become defensive, and I’m defending my ideas more than having any type of introspection. The opposite is true when someone tries to inform me, rather than debunk me.
When someone simply proposes their ideas and knowledge, I’m much more likely to reasonably consider their arguments without feeling the need to cling to mine like a woman holding her purse in a dark parking lot.
When you inform, you’re not diluting your argument or making it any less persuasive than if you were debunking. What you do achieve is a more relaxed environment for the challenging of ideas. This leads your opponent to have a more relaxed reaction to that challenge, and lowers their defensive walls to allow for a greater probability of ideological adaptation.
Being Right vs Being Liked
This is probably the most important advice I can give: work on your personality before you work on your arguments. A lot of people assume that just because they’re right, their ideas will be perceived as such. Not the case, at all!
In fact, being right is not all it takes to convince someone of your ideas. The first step is to not be a jerk. I see many people lacking in this skill. Maybe it’s due to anti socialization, where we spend so much time on forums and echo chambers that we forget how to interact with people. Or maybe poor people skills is just a natural consequence of deep thinking about issues that don’t occupy most people’s minds. Whatever the case, you can’t argue your view if no one likes you. Having a sense of humor is key.
If we want people to value our ideas, we have to get them to value us as individuals first.These are all skills: being able to laugh off disagreements, prioritizing areas of common interest more than differences, and learning how to resolve conflicts instead of igniting them. If people like you, they’ll be much more open to your ideas. If they don’t like you, then that feeling will be indirectly associated with your philosophical agenda.
This can be seen with radical feminism. Who cares about their ideas when they’re shouting down men, accusing them of being misogynists, or shaming people for being white and privileged? Libertarians shouldn’t follow that trend.
If we want people to value our ideas, we have to get them to value us as individuals first. Now, I’m not saying you have to abandon principle and pander to everyone. Just remember that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Being the most likeable guy in the room will yield much more success than being the most factual or philosophical guy in the room. And if libertarians can learn to pull off both, then we’re one step closer to achieving a free society.