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A Lesson in Family Polemics

 

DENNIS DALE writes:

I happened upon your post about debating liberal family members and felt compelled to tell my own story.

Recently I drove from Seattle to Southern California with my daughter and her boyfriend — he a committed lefty, she not yet committed (she has her father’s inborn good sense). We were, like Red Riding Hood, bound for Grandma’s house. Grandma, my former mother-in-law, is an old, ill-informed, militant feminist who works as a therapist for the transgendered. She has taken up the cause of homosexuality with religious fervor.

Though she was a child of the sixties and appears to have been promiscuous throughout her sexual life, Grandma is offended when confronted with, say, sexually explicit content in film and television. I’m fairly conservative myself, but find her downright prudish. She retains a sort of sexual vanity in old age, and I think this prudery is more envy than philosophy — everyone else is still out there having fun. I’ve come to believe her hatred of all things masculine and worship of all things gay is her way of sublimating this pain.

Add to her militant feminism, which upon inspection reveals itself to be old-fashioned man-hate — part envy, part disappointment at having spent her life alone after the bacchanal of the sixties-seventies, and to her faith in homosexuality, an implicit credulity for all things New Age. When I first started dating her daughter she was playing with crystals. Now it’s this “What the Bleep do We Know” silliness. She is profoundly anti-empirical and mostly incapable of deduction — pretty rich for someone who casually refers to the whole of religious history as “nonsense.”

Needless to say, she is unaware of the irony. Hilariously, this “What the Bleep” business takes on a religious aspect, including prayer and a belief in a higher power.

I’ve already gone long. The point I want to make is that one must engage friends and family in debate, but prepare the ground first.

In a recent review of Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind, Jared Taylor brought out an important insight: you will not shake people from their faithful delusions primarily through argument and logic. People aren’t responding to ideas, but to emotion. Haidt’s compelling thesis is that we first react emotionally to something, then we fashion an argument to justify this response, whether it be revulsion, offense or affinity. The way to win others over is first to be admirable. This is how people change their minds: people they like and trust reveal their own heretical beliefs. And if it’s beliefs on something like race, I contend the average intelligent liberal is already full of half-formed misgivings. People are not stupid. They are, however, capable of massive self-delusion and hypocrisy.

So on our long trip, detouring along the way to hike around Big Sur, I came to know my daughter’s boyfriend, let’s call him Charles, a little bit. He’s deluded and strikes me as being, like many young men, a little arrogant about his own intelligence, but smart and curious enough. A perfect subject really.

It helps to have cultural points of affinity. For instance, I’ve somehow retained in middle age a taste for electronic music (it’s like hip hop, without the idiot rapper bragging about his capacity for violence). Charles is an aficionado. Demonstrating my knowledge and good taste here might have broken down the first barrier. Then came discussion. I impressed him with my knowledge, while deliberately avoiding opinion.

Impress them with your knowledge and the rigor of your thinking.

If you come tilting for their delusions at the onset they will simply lock you out. But if you’ve established yourself as someone they cannot dismiss as a fool or bigot, and then gently introduce your heresy they will at least have to confront the contradiction. They expect only an idiot or “racist” can hold such views, yet here you are. It helps to be smarter and more sophisticated in argument, and if you only assert things you can prove. Never express animosity. Force detachment upon yourself. You are an anthropologist, reporting what you’ve seen and experienced. They are like the prisoners of Plato’s cave, looking at shadows on the wall and taking them to be the world. You are slowly sawing through their chains. Ever take a hack-saw to a chain? It takes time and patience.

So Charles and I bonded and I revealed myself in stages, partly. (The boy still has no clue just how far all this goes.)

Then we got to Grandma’s. I neglected to mention G. has a lousy personality and sense of humor. (My criticism is a sort of betrayal. Despite my lack of respect for her intellect I care about this person and owe her a great deal. She helped me through a difficult but successful custody battle with her deranged daughter. So I endure her silliness and bigotry out of duty, gladly). I think G. submitted Charles to the “What the Bleep” videos on Day One. He was showing signs of wear right away. G. is hard to endure. But here they were, ideological mates. And there I was, the incorrigible conservative heretic.

Boy, have I gone on long. Sorry! To continue, when we all sat down after a night out, drinking and smoking and making like intellectuals, I forgot myself and went into a philosophical rant. (I think at one point I nearly shouted, “‘Know thyself’ is the most subversive advice ever given!”) I wasn’t pursuing the strategy laid out above, just being myself. But something struck me. G. sought to stop me every time I got warmed up to a subject. I was tossing off heresies (without approaching the Holy Trinity of Race, Women and Homosexuality) with reckless abandon and she was terrified, especially of the effect I was having on my daughter and her friend. I had an epiphany. What G. has been really about all this time is control. And we are out of control. The left, as the ascendant faith, demands control. Subvert it, with the same disingenuousness they use against traditional religion.

I realized that G. is unreachable, by disposition and age. There is no need or possibility of her conversion. But the young retain an innocent belief in those things G. and the other dinosaurs think they’ve destroyed: empiricism and deduction. You just have to win over their hearts before you approach their minds. And you’re not going to gather converts like an evangelist. No, you will part in disagreement. You may even spend some of that personal capital you’ve built up. But you will have planted the seeds of doubt.

Another curious thing. I’ve noticed in these encounters that you will find your lefty counterparts will agree with you on several points but retain their faith in their theology as a whole.  Someday perhaps they will have that epiphany. Or not. The important thing is, you have done your part. You told the truth. This is what progress looks like.

—- Comments —–

James P. writes:

Dennis Dale wrote,

“In a recent review of Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind, Jared Taylor brought out an important insight: you will not shake people from their faithful delusions primarily through argument and logic. People aren’t responding to ideas, but to emotion. Haidt’s compelling thesis is that we first react emotionally to something, then we fashion an argument to justify this response, whether it be revulsion, offense or affinity. The way to win others over is first to be admirable. “

Aristotle said all this in his Rhetoric in the 4th century BC. I hope that Haidt and Taylor aren’t representing their insights as startlingly original. But bravo to Dennis for putting Aristotle into action with those who can be reached.

“Another curious thing. I’ve noticed in these encounters that you will find your lefty counterparts will agree with you on several points but retain their faith in their theology as a whole.”

Leftism is an all-encompassing belief system. Thus, to reject it, Leftists eventually have to disbelieve everything they believe. It is hard to get people to do this in one stroke, and thus one is usually limited to attacking certain parts of the belief system. If the target rejects some of their beliefs, then either the rest of the dominos fall in due course, or the pressure of the unfallen dominos causes the fallen ones to right themselves. The latter is what usually happens, of course.

Laura writes:

Not only is it in an all-encompassing belief system, it’s a way of life.

Carolyn writes:

What a great story! I enjoyed the humor mixed with down-to-earth wisdom. Great points to remember when trying to “change minds and influence people.”

Carolyn II (not the same Carolyn) writes:

Reminds me of St. Paul: “Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well pleased to share with you, not only the Gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2.8) The objective component, sublime as it is, is incomplete without the subjective, relational component.

Laura writes:

What a beautiful statement.

Not just St. Paul, but this: The objective component, sublime as it is, is incomplete without the subjective, relational component. 

Perfesser Plum writes:

The pathology of liberalism seems to work like this:

Narcissism (inflated self-importance perhaps from a developmental history of unconditional praise and easy “success”) plus egoism (“there are no truths beyond my beliefs and moral principles”) plus arrogance (imposition of personal or group values, beliefs, and agendas on everyone else, including intrusions on liberty and confiscation of property) results in aggression when challenged. When not challenged, the whole sequence is reinforced and becomes more durable.

I look forward to a time in the near future when Chronic Liberal Psychopathy is recognized as a disorder, and will be treated to render these unfortunates incapable of causing any more trouble.

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