I wrote years ago about how and why I hate California politics. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how some things have improved since then, partly because of one of the things I really supported – redistricting by an independent body. As this New York Times piece discusses, it’s been a wild success. The Democrats have gained more power (as is to be expected based on the demographics of the state). But interestingly, everyone has become more moderate – even the Democrat majority, who has been far more friendly to business interests than in the past. In general, there’s more bipartisanship and things are getting done. It seems a win-win – liberals get more seats, but conservatives have more of their concerns actually addressed. Exactly what I hoped would happen.
I despise talking about politics nowadays, especially on Facebook. Mostly because I’ve come to believe there’s no point. Everyone seems to have already made up their minds about everything and there’s something about Facebook (or maybe just the Internet in general) that facilitates people only paying attention to evidence that supports what they already believe. Newsflash to Facebook political posters: you will not convince anyone to your side on Facebook. At best, you’ll preach to the choir while pissing off everyone else. In reality, I think it’s self-indulgent, primarily about saying how right you are more than anything else. Much like these Short Thoughts.
I think a lot about whether it’s always been this way, that people have always generally been crystallized into thinking what they already think, or whether it’s just my peers are getting older and we become more hardened in our thoughts as we age, or whether there is something different about our time. A part of me does think the Internet’s changed things. There have always been conspiracy theorists out there, but in the past it required a ton of work to find evidence to support a kooky point of view. Now, it’s immediately accessible. So take any crazy thought and with a quick Google search and you’ll find reason to believe it. That makes it really easy to reinforce that you’re right, and you can always point to that evidence no matter how much contrary information you might encounter.
I posted this link about why most political arguments fail, and mentioned before how I took Ariely’s Coursera course on Irrational Behavior, and based on those I’ve come to believe there are 2 other reasons why people don’t change their minds, especially in regards to politics. First, behaviourally, people always try to maintain a positive self-image, and as the article points out, most political arguments try to attack that, and that will not work. I saw this happen on Facebook recently over an argument in regards to abortion. Someone said something, someone said something else about how it’s a nuanced and complicated issue, then the other replied with that makes sense if you’re OK with the murder of millions, and the other was offended. The whole problem with the abortion debate is that pro-choicers don’t see abortion as murder. If you insist that it is, if that’s your debate tack, all you do is say that the other side are monsters, and no one believes that about themselves – it’s not even true. Whether abortion = murder is true or not, it’s a wholly ineffective argument in terms of swaying the opposing side. So many political arguments are like that. To flip the script, Democrats say that Republicans effectively hate the poor. Again, regardless of whether Republican policies do hurt the poor, this argument just will not work, because it implies that their motivations are hateful, and I honestly don’t believe that to be true, nor do Republicans themselves, so it’s a lost argument. So because of how political arguments are framed, it’s all lost on the other side and pointless.
The other thing is that people seek (and largely succeed) to maintain consistency in their beliefs, and they see consistency as a sign of correctness. The problem is, I philosophically believe this to be untrue. Even after many years, I don’t fully understand GÃ¶del’s Incompleteness Theorems, but the gist of them is that even if you take something as basic and unambiguous as arithmetic, any system that expresses it cannot be both consistent and complete. Meaning, a system that’s purely consistent can’t fully capture arithmetic. A system that fully expresses arithmetic must contain something in the system that’s true but not provable. You can’t have both consistency and completeness. It’s a proven result.
And this is just in regards to arithmetic. I personally believe that it’s just as true when it comes to thought and language. Consistency is good, but overrated, in that you can’t have a complete philosophical system without inconsistencies, and if you have a completely consistent worldview, it doesn’t fully capture life. Philosophers back to Socrates (probably earlier) devoted their time to logical problems without presenting solutions. That makes sense to me. Just living life means living contradictions. We can’t eliminate them, we just have to live with them.
Few people believe this though, and instinctively seek to maintain consistency in thought. And that’s another reason I think political debate is useless. Much of it attacks the consistency of the other view. And since most people think consistency is necessary for truth, when challenged they’d rather reject the argument than reconsider their own consistency. When I see public figures go at it (e.g. Paul Krugman vs Niall Ferguson) that’s exactly what I see – each has a fully consistent (and fully opposed) worldview, each attacks the consistency of the other’s worldview, and each rejects the others arguments precisely because it attacks their consistency. End result: pointless.
So debating politics is pointless. The only time anything actually happens, in my opinion, is when people haven’t formed a viewpoint yet, or when they’re actively seeking pure information as opposed to opinions. The young and the curious. That’s about it.
It’s sad, but I honestly feel this cynicism has affected how I see evangelism. In my head, I feel like trying to convince others is pointless. I do think that’s partly true. We can’t convince others to faith with arguments, especially the older people get. People are changed by actions in love and the Holy Spirit. That’s it.