Saturday, March 16, 2013

Arguing vs. Discussing - The Challenge of Talking to True Believers

By Gary Berg-Cross

Annual CPAC meetings generate quite a bit of talk around the Beltway where politics, policy and lobbying are popular sports. You or I may even be that eager person who often slides into these easy conversations. They may start out on sound grounds say gun safety policy or the boundaries of religion and politics and slide into surprisingly murky concepts.  One often finds emotions rising and sound reasoning banned from the area.
CPAC seems to have more of this than some other meetings and it does attract media attention.
Did an audience member at the Conservative Political Action Committee panel on Republican minority outreach really defend slavery as good for African-Americans?  Something like argument arose when Frederick Douglas was noted as forgiving his slave masters. Forgive them for what?
“Shelter, clothing, and food?”
Boy, is this an ahistorical summary of slavery, but perhaps civics classes aren't what they once were.  It was reported that several people in the audience cheered and applauded the comment. Well, what does one say to such seemingly affirmatory bias thinking that tramples on reasonable understanding?

There have any number of practical guides generated by people of experience to better handle these situations where entrenched interests, affiliations, identity, ego, debating habits and ideology all play a role. 

One I saw recently was called “How to Talk to A Conservative” by Courtney Horne.  Her topic was “drug testing welfare recipients” but the points are a bit more general than the examples used. To be sure there are entrenched interests like the lobbying of drug testing groups, but they have analogs elsewhere such as the NRA for gun safety discussions.

In either case grounding a discussion in facts rather than arguing abstract points may be useful. In Courtney’s case she went to the cost of the policy, evidence that it wasn’t effective and implications for the idea of “welfare” and what we know about the working poor. I’m not sure that any of this would actually have worked with the CPAC audience member who may have opinions set in cement. Asked by a women about his claimed Republican Party’s roots and his demographic claims, he is reported to have responded:

 “I didn’t know the legacy of the Republican Party included women correcting men in public.”

Arg!   Well what does one say besides some people are ready to argue, but not to discuss? At least exposing such things to the light provides some perspective of the challenges we face.
This is free opinions without what Paul Kurtz described as the new paradigm of free inquiry here beliefs are treated as hypotheses to test.
We are increasingly in a fact-free zones where any opinion is equal to any other opinion and facts and skeptical stances are given the day off along with critical thinking & reasoned argument.
CPAC from CPAC site

1 comment:

Don Wharton said...

I find it astonishing to listen to CPAC talk. It is often that case that every single sentence is false. The most truthful presentations will have only half of the sentences be truthful. This a truly demented subculture. The fact that it has so much political power is much to the detrement of humanity.