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Mockery and shame

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Mockery and Shame: Inflammatory and Counterproductive? Or one of society's most-effective tools for influencing people?

Most people argue that issues should be settled with respectful, rational, logical discourse.

But what do you do when the other person's point of view is not based on any rational, logical, evidential position?


In many cases, when trying to discuss issues with people who hold irrational points of view, it seems appealing to try and reach them with logic and evidence, but in most cases, these people have already been exposed to the logical, evidential arguments and have dismissed them summarily.

Why even try to "change peoples' minds?" Why not just leave them alone?

As part of a larger community, we are all subject to the influence of our peers and what they believe. At one point in time, it was socially-acceptable to own other humans as property, separate races should not mingle, and women couldn't vote. Lots of people believed those were an acceptable points of view. But others argued against it. At first they met with strong resistance for expressing an unpopular viewpoint, but the process of challenging other people with beliefs they felt were destructive, caused minute-yet-significant incremental changes in peoples' perspectives. Changes relating to human rights almost never happen quickly or in large monumental movements. They're mostly the slow evolution of popular consensus, and that all starts with one person, arguing with another person over why their point of view is harmful to others.

It's very unlikely you can change someone's mind if they believe something irrational in the first place.

One of the first illusions people have about debate and discourse is that "changing someone's mind" is a binary, immediate operation. It rarely is. People that hold complicated, dogmatic ideals, that they've been indoctrinated into over a period of years or decades are unlikely to dismiss their beliefs upon reception of "the perfect counter-argument." This simply isn't the way things work. Most people change their minds in small increments over time, and they rarely give others credit for playing a role in the process.

Nor is it appropriate for someone wanting to debate another person, to expect to change their mind. At best, we simply "plant seeds" of insight and doubt that we hope the other person will consider more carefully at a later date, and more likely over a long period of time.

Why bother? Because ideas and information are like viruses in our culture. Bad ones can cause sickness, intolerance, oppression and unnecessary suffering. As decent, moral humans, we owe it to ourselves and those around us to do what we can to avoid unnecessary suffering.

Some argue that mocking and shaming people will never change their mind and all it does is inflame tensions. It's a counter-productive way of trying to influence people

In a perfect world, we could all reason with each other rationally and logically. You could hold a position. I can hold a position. We can lay out all the claims and the evidence in front of each other and count and see which position makes the most sense and has the most substantive evidence.

Unfortunately, we don't live in that world. People routinely accept precepts that are patently false, and they're adamant about their beliefs even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. What do you do in a situation like that? Those people are emotionally-attached to belief. Therefore, the most effective way to address the attachment is via emotion.

What is the benefit of appealing to someone emotionally?

It's a time-tested, time-honored way of influencing people.

In fact, one of the most successful perpetrators of emotional manipulation is religion. Think about it.

Most religious adherents are taught that they are cursed through no direct fault of their own, and must redeem themselves before some sort of all-powerful creator in order to be "saved." What is logical and rational about that? Why should any person inherit the sins of someone else? And since when do we in any normal context believe that we must unconditionally-worship someone just because they have tremendous power over us? If we weren't talking in the context of religion, god would be little more than a petty dictator that uses threats of both pleasure and punishment to appeal to his minions emotionally... all as a means to control their daily actions.

Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.

Enter: shame - one of society's most powerful forces

In ancient Greek culture there was a concept called "Ostracism." Every year, the populace had an option to hold a democratic vote to consider exiling a member of their community. If enough votes were made for a person, they would be banned from the city for 10 years. Acts such as this served as powerful messages against those would would be tyrannical or otherwise disruptive to the harmony of the community.

In other communities there were various ways people could be shamed and embarrassed. There were ceremonies such as tarring and feathering, marking people who have done wrong-doing, etc. In modern times, groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses have a similar practice they call "dis-association" or "shunning." Another way of shaming people and letting them know their behavior is unacceptable.

The point is, your average person avoids those kinds of unpleasant experiences. People generally desire to "fit in" and avoid conflict. When someone expresses an opinion and other people do not like or agree with it, and they make their feelings boldly known, it's a form of embarrassment and shame.

Why would shame cause someone to change their beliefs?

First let's reaffirm the notion that we're not really expecting anyone to change their beliefs. But we can get them to temper their feelings or the way they express them.

Usually people that hold irrational beliefs do so for reasons of personal comfort and social acceptance within a certain peer group. If the advertising of such a belief causes them discomfort, they are much less likely to express those beliefs. If every time someone announced they believed the earth was 6000 years old, and they were laughed at by others, it's very likely they would start to keep that information to themselves.

to do: add smoking, racist analogy stories

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