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The Principle of Non-Persuasive Argument

 Have you noticed what I've noticed?

It's not really something new.  I started to notice way back in 2015-ish that protests seemed to be deliberately non-persuasive.  Note that this is well before Trump, possibly all the way back to the beginning of Obama's terms or farther.  And I'll admit that I've only noticed this as a left-wing phenomenon, possibly because I don't need to be persuaded of what my opinions already are.  (And right-wing arguments that I find stupid mostly elicit a rolling of my eyes.)

I had a long conversation once with someone about the very poorly conceived practice of blocking freeways.  My argument was that anyone stuck on the freeway would be motivated negatively toward whatever the blockage was supposed to be about, and that furthermore, nothing about a freeway even began to indicate what cause the blockers were intending to highlight.  In fact, if I don't say here what the cause was, in future years no one will be able to figure it out.  There is NO connection between the freeway and the cause.  Meanwhile privileged (usually) college students of color (usually)  blocked blue collar shift workers on freeways around the nation, making them late for work or to pick up kids from daycare, or heaven help drivers if they'd stopped at daycare first and now had a newly potty trained toddler in the car!

Were they protesting freeways?

The person I was talking to agreed, or said they did, with every one of my objections and yet was unwilling to even suggest that anyone change their methods or find a way to focus their protests.

And then we have, of course, all the "I hate America" athlete protests.  That's not what it was about you say?  Well, what was it about?  If I describe in detail what people did but don't explain (for them) what they were hoping to accomplish, no one reading this blog in 10 years, or 20 or more, will have any notion at all.  Further, the protests against the anthem and flag, against the United States, just made people mad.  Mad that someone was protesting and hating the United States. Don't tell me that wasn't it, because the protest was against the anthem, flag, and nation, so what are people supposed to think?

Now, people did say what those protests were about, and the sports media repeated it all the time, but the visuals were too strong.  Even people who agreed with the cause were angry.  And what happened then?  Did someone step forward and say, you know, this protest isn't focused the way it should be, this protest is making people mad rather than inspiring them by my dedication and concern, maybe we should figure out how to focus this better on the message we want to send?


Is anyone persuaded to reconsider their vote for Trump after being attacked personally or driven from their employment because suddenly every Republican was Hitler?


Is anyone persuaded to reconsider getting the jab when someone attacks them online (or in person!) and tells them how awful they are?


Is anyone going to respond to an emotionally manipulative, deceptive, meme I just saw that graphically displayed medical intubation and promised that it was and either/or choice between that and the inconvenience or discomfort of wearing a mask?


Because it's not about persuading anyone.  It's not even a bad job at persuading anyone.  The goal isn't persuasion, it can't be.  No one could look at the mask/intubation meme and think to themselves that it would be persuasive to someone who opposes masks.  

So what's going on?

Suppose the world was going to end and everything depended on persuading pretty much everyone to reduce the amount of carbon that is put into the air.  Suppose you have a choice between finding a common value, such as reducing pollution, combined with the carrot of a system capable of creating enormous volumes of reliable CO2 free power, which people might be persuaded (particularly if they're greedy) of supporting because lots and lots of relatively inexpensive power is exceptionally good for business and building things and supporting technological progress even without believing the world is going to end and... You had a choice between that and calling people names.

What would you do?

I'm not going to argue that some people don't believe in their causes, that they don't believe that our justice system needs some oversight or that climate change is real.  What I'm saying is that overwhelmingly the choice, even by sincere people, is to choose non-persuasive actions.  And when this is pointed out, the non-persuasive tactic is preferred.  Explicitly.

So I can think of a few reasons why non-persuasion would be preferred over persuasion.  Maybe other people can think of more.

First, a significant number of people actually don't believe in the cause.
Second, a significant number of people don't believe that people not already convinced are human, so why try to convince them.
Third, the message is about the messenger gaining something personally.  Maybe money or notoriety, maybe social capital among their friends.
Fourth, in a sneaky part of the human psyche, it feels good to identify people it's acceptable to hate, and persuading people would take that away.

Why do you think that non-persuasion is more important than persuasion?  Because it clearly is.

2016 example of non-persuasion.


Jim in St Louis said…
Yes, very accurate.

Maybe it is helpful to think of protests that have been effective. Protests that have "worked". Like lunch counter sit ins in the South during the 50's and 60's.

Seeing respectable and dignified negroes calmly sitting at a counter requesting service, and then being sometimes brutally attacked and arrested shocked the nation and changed the perspective. People who may not have thought that lunch counters were really that important were forced to admit the injustice of refusing service based on skin color was wrong.
Synova said…
And importantly, the protests were about the lunch counters.

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