Part VII of The Truth and Culture Warrior
Arguing with Totalitarians is incredibly difficult, and for the most part it is futile. You should never go into a debate with Totalitarians expecting to change their minds, or to win, or to experience any sort of gratification in the short term.
However, it is very important that as many people as possible engage in this thankless and gruelling task, because in the long term the effects of every little argument add up and eventually (over months) can create a big impact on a large number of people.
The reason why debate and discussion with totalitarians is so futile is because, as mentioned in the previous chapter, Totalitarians are driven primarily by their conditioned emotional reactions to facts and ideas, rather than by the facts and ideas themselves. They will go out of their way to avoid looking at unpleasant facts, or thinking unpleasant thoughts. They are, quite literally, scared or angry at facts and ideas, and treat the truth the way one would treat a jar full of spiders.
Because of this, you usually cannot simply present an argument to them and expect them to consider it and reply – the Totalitarian will instinctively ignore any salient point you make and reply with an insult or other emotional reaction. In order to even get a totalitarian to actually hear you you must first try to get around their emotionally conditioned avoidance mechanisms.
Step 1 – Using Evidence to Create an Opening
“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” – Epictetus
The first emotionally conditioned avoidance mechanism is the aversion to any form of evidence that diverges from the Totalitarian’s pre-established viewpoint. There are a few tricks you can use to get Totalitarians to look at the evidence though.
1 – Make it a Challenge
Here’s an example of a challenge I made which worked extremely well at waking up many of my colleagues on Facebook.
2 – Give an Incentive to Look at the Evidence
You don’t need to make money the incentive – the incentive can be looking smart, being right, or anything else.
“Being Right” is a huge incentive for totalitarians, since nothing gives them more satisfaction than confirming their ideology and validating their hate for their enemies.
Donald Trump uses this to great effect on Twitter when he posts slightly inaccurate news. Trump is famous for saying things like “Hillary Bleached her Emails” which caused the news media to run endless stories about how Trump was wrong, “She didn’t bleach them, she deleted them using a program called bleach bit”… which was a story that the media had been very reluctant to cover – until Trump made a slight misstatement about it.
3 – Frame it as something that agrees with their ideology.
Another strategy is to frame the information in a way that makes them think the article agrees with their ideology.
4 – Create a Consequence to NOT looking at the evidence.
As well as a positive incentive to look at the evidence, you should create negative consequences to NOT looking at the evidence. A bit of mockery or “what, are you afraid of the truth” is usually sufficient. Keep in mind – if they DO interact with the evidence, you should REWARD them… give them a compliment like “wow, not many people I debated even bothered to read the article”. This will encourage them to look at evidence more in the future.
Ok, so let’s say you’ve gotten your indoctrinated friend to look at some evidence and you get the feeling that they may be open to a real conversation about things.
“It is easier to fool a man than it is to convince him that he has been fooled” – Mark Twain
The best debate technique for getting around the natural avoidance mechanisms (this is very useful on normal people as well) is called the Socratic Method. This is a style of questioning where the questioner leads their partner through questions that forces them to think certain thoughts examine their own opinions.
Here are some examples of statements that could be turned into questions using the Socratic Method.
- Statement – Hillary Clinton is a criminal.
- Socratic Question – Why do you think people don’t like Hillary Clinton?
- So they think she committed a crime? What crimes do you think they think she committed? Do you know why they think that? What evidence would convince you that she actually committed a crime? Etc.
- Statement – Capitalism is the best.
- Socratic Question – Why do you think people support capitalism?
- Do you think it produces more wealth for people? What is the evidence for that? What is important for an economic system? Do you know why communism fell? Do you know why people disliked communism?
The genius of Socratic Questioning is that it bypasses many of the defence mechanisms used by the Totalitarian, and also helps you identify exactly what your target needs to learn to change their views.
For example – with the Capitalism question – it may be that your audience is unaware of the violence of communism, or that even relatively poor people in the United States were better off than your average Soviet. Each person needs a different argument or set of evidence to change their minds, and Socratic questioning helps you find out exactly where your audience needs to be convinced.