Friday, April 13, 2012

How a "Self-Evidently" Wrong Enemy can Still Win

One of the greatest things that annoys me about our culture in general in when someone recognizes that someone maintains a different belief set than they are and are acting on it, but will not go any further in thinking why they have alternative beliefs, how it's affecting their actions, and why the other person's beliefs are any more or less valid. Let's take an example from television, *South Park*.

An ongoing theme in the show is that Eric Cartman often maintains alternative beliefs than his other friends do and acts upon them, which drives him to do such things as commit racist acts or try to gain dictatorial power in the name of the "good." The interesting aspect is that he isn't adopting these ideas to justify acting on his emotions, such as adopting a racist belief that "justifies" a racist action he wants to take, but rather that he SINCERELY believes in these other ideas, which is why he's motivated to act upon them.

When other characters like Kyle or Stan confront him about his beliefs Eric is genuinely confused as to why they're opposed to them. In the episodes I've seen, neither Stan nor Kyle try to persuade him intellectually of alternative ideas, but rather try to somehow point out that it's "self-evident" that Cartman's ideas are bad and wrong. For instance, in an episode involving a water park Cartman was frequently expressing his fear of the country becoming dominated by "minorities," indicating his racism, xenophobia, and a misunderstanding of the term. (If a minority becomes a majority, they're no longer a minority.) The other children sloppily tried pointing his error out to him, but wouldn't actually delve into the meaning of the terms, leading to confused conversation which resulted in Cartman retaining his racist beliefs regardless. The other boys were pretty much saying, "What do we mean? Well, look!"

With hardly any intellectual opposition, Cartman in the end always retains his terrible beliefs, which is pretty clearly a result of no one bothering to actually persuade his mind.

This bothers me because it happens all over the place outside of the media. People in many cases will recognize that another person has different beliefs and is acting on them accordingly. They disagree, and sometimes try to "move" a person to adopt their alternative beliefs, but the reason I say "move" is because no intellectual persuasion is involved. This is what contributes a hefty amount of problems to the world, in the most dangerous of cases of impending dictatorship or a foreign country threatening annihilation.

For example, in my own case -- just to demonstrate the logic -- when I first adopted the Paleo diet people either thought I was preposterous or gave lip-service approval. However, when I put those ideas into practice people were actually surprised, as if my actions were an unpredictable bolt from the blue, and tried pointing out how absurd my diet was by telling me "That's not what other people say," "that's not what my doctor tells me," or "that's not what I've been told all my life." They would adamantly refuse to look at my resources, such as my reading, and pretty much use scoffing as their sole style of argument. My diet was "self-evidently" wrong, and all others could do were roll their eyes at me. Such behavior did not motivate me in the slightest to cease my new eating habits given I was intellectually dedicated, except to make me get away from those people.

In cultural terms, people are too often avoiding intellectual engaging beliefs contrary to theirs that WILL have an impact on their life. Recognizing there are intellectual differences, this behavior is like finding a book in a library that has the answer to a question you have, only you don't open it. The answer the book happens to contain is why the world is going destroyed. A man on another continent says Americans should be murdered. What's your intellectual opposition? Without saying anything, his viewpoint gains more power since fewer oppose it. Without opposition no one will do anything about it. Consequently, that man may very well get his way.

When people express ideas that are contrary to yours -- though I know this is context-sensitive, as you don't need this rigor 24-7 -- you should take care to flesh out your own beliefs and justify why you hold *those* and not *theirs*, and try to persuade the other person or audience when appropriate. Bad mannerisms such as eye-rolling and pointing that it's "self-evident" that the other person is wrong will do next to nothing to legitimately persuade others, except to garner the most easily intimidated (i.e. weakest) or passive people on your side.

When all you can say is that it's "obvious" how your enemy is wrong and do nothing to persuade him or others as to why, it's ultimately the enemy that wins.

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