My other substack today was about how Trump fans continue to show loyalty past one red line after another: https://thomaszimmer.substack.com/p/how-republicans-give-themselves-permission

It's 3000 words, but in 30, the further in you go, the more-committed the mind tends to get; you can hardly push your beliefs until you think that half the country are non-American enemies, and then back off to "it's not that serious". A head-on approach is clearly the worst.

I've taken to expressing profound boredom; that response sucks away their energy, whereas argument revs them up.

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My mother was prone to drop idiot racist statements, but this all stopped without comment when her children and grand children started getting involved with partners of other races. This is a point that Bob Altemeyer (look up his name on Google---his work is really important to understanding this issue) makes about the difference between authoritarian and non-authoritarian personalities. The former simply don't change their minds based on theory or evidence. Instead, they do so on the basis of human-to-human bonds. The best example of this is the way homophobia was dramatically reduced in North American society once so many gays came out of the closet. This let people who 'hated gays' realize that many folks they really liked turned out to be gay after all.

My experience with the 'bug-eyed and shameless' types is that they fit into the two categories that Altemeyer identifies: the authoritarian leaders who exhibit psychopathic behaviour in order to find minions to follow them (I'm looking at you Pierre Poilievre), and, authoritarian followers who are looking for somebody to tell them what to think and do. These people have always existed as a small but significant fraction of the body politic who 'punch above their weight' because they most definitely will 'take direction' and don't act like 'a herd of cats' (like 'progressives' do).

What's new is that social media companies have learned to monetize their willingness to gobble up nonsense and then run like bison off whatever cliff their leaders tell them to. (The World Wide Web is like a giant version of Buffalo Jump cliffs.) These people are the prized livestock of the 'attention economy'.

The thing about livestock is that they are herd animals. There's no sense trying to talk them out of whatever stampede they are chasing. The point is to identify the cowboys or First Nations people (doesn't ring as well as the no longer polite term that comes to mind) chasing the stock---and then shut their operation down. That's 'deplatforming' and 'regulation of social media'. It was possible to create stupid stampedes of mass marching morons with both newspapers ("remember the Maine and invade Cuba") and radio (does anyone know about Father Coughlin and the Silver Legion of America? check out Rachel Maddow's excellent podcast on the subject: "Ultra"), but after a lot of stupid abuses, both the government and the culture created the idea of editorial responsibility and made the old media responsible for the frenzy they whipped people into.

That's why needs to happen. If a social media company promotes vile nonsense, it needs to be sued or regulated out of that behaviour---or pushed into bankruptcy. That's sorta what happened (and is still happening) with Fox News over the Dominion Voting Machines law suit. That's what needs to happen with FaceBook, Twitter, and all the other players in the WWW that have been given a 'get out of jail free' card by the neo-liberal consensus and the idiotic 'free speech absolutists'.

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Thanks so much for this, really interesting and touches on a lot of stuff that's been on my mind.

I'm intrigued by and I wish hard for the idea of the org "Braver Angels" in the U.S. But I can't help also being skeptical. I like Mónica Guzmán on this (though she doesn't completely convince me) better than other Better Angels interviews I've heard. Here's a conversation with her: https://thecurioustask.podbean.com/e/ep-182-monica-guzman-how-can-curiosity-fix-polarization/ (disclosure: I'm affiliated with the podcast, but I've also listened to a few interviews and think this one is the best of those)

I think my concern is that it just seems *so* low-hanging. She tells the story of the "Waters of the United States" affecting farmers and progressives finding out about it for the first time, and I'm like THAT'S ALL IT TOOK?! (It *isn't* all it took. Protecting vernal pools is a genuinely tough problem.) But like...maybe it is mostly low hanging? I really don't know. We should at least do the low-hanging stuff, you know?

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I tried to put Justin's advice to work today, at the Paul Wells substack. Advised the anti-vax commenter that people were just bored with that topic now, and the pro-vaxxers who replied anyway, I begged to shut up. Pointed out it would be great if Wells didn't have to shut down comments as The Line did.

Fingers crossed.

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Jun 16, 2023Liked by Justin Ling

For some real-world examples, I recommend The Persuaders by Anand Giridraradas. Thanks for the post. Cheers, AJ

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I use this technique when talking about pipelines, EV’s and the like. When the person I am talking with has some valid concerns or an opinion different than mine I typically respond with a version of “it depends what you think is the biggest issue facing us, if you think it’s climate change then.... “

These conversations deal with a known unknown and it helps frame a conversation rather than an argument. It worked moderately well discussing the government response to the pandemic, being that it was and is hard to tell where some one is going to land on that one and everyone was a bit on edge.

I think the important part is figuring out whether it was a conversation you even want to have. One of the mistakes many people make it trying to change peoples minded during a conversation, that’s an argument, rather than just having a conversation.

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Thanks for an excellent post.

In the early days of the pandemic, when Canadians were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the first vaccines, there was little noise emanating from Canadian anti-vaxers. But later health authorities and political leaders continued to defend the vaccines without adequately acknowledging that Delta and Omicron were making the vaccine dramatically less effective. This became fertile soil to nurture the fledgling doubts of the anti-vaxers.

In defense of the authorities, there wasn't any new advice they could offer other than tell us to stay the course and hope for the best. To this day, we await the arrival of a new Greek letter.

Perhaps the most under-used argument would have been to get Canadians to reflect on why the US per-capita death toll was three times ours. This cost Americans an additional 650,000 lives! They developed the vaccine, made it available everywhere, and rolled it out well before we got our first doses. They made horrible mistakes at the outset by underestimating the airborne spread of the virus but so did we. We had multiple disasters in Seniors' residences as did they.

What stands out was the early US vaccine hesitancy and their continued aversion to wearing masks. These were fueled by a historical tradition of feisty independence and by Donald Trump and his minions fanning the flames. We avoided these pitfalls and our outcome was much better. Fortunately for us, Canada's own wave of vaccine denial hit much later in the pandemic

As to the Truckers' Convoy, our federal government's response was certainly not Fabian, but rather Confrontation, Confusion, and finally, Draconian.

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That you quote NIST in this regards proves my assertion is correct. Check out Engineers and Architects for 911.

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“ faith in data, science, and evidence as the standard bases for decision making “ like all faith requires a willing suspension of disbelief in the style of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, nicknamed Cunctator, the delayer. Wait and see before you make up your mind. In the case of religion, it’s Pascal’s Wager (“what have you got to lose?”), but more often strong religious conviction is grounded in a need to stop trying to answer the great mysteries of people’s lives on a case by case basis and be able to arrive, instead, at a comprehensive internally consistent framework for all situations. (Except for the occasional “please, Lord, just this once?”)

In the case of science it is a tolerance for a provisional view of how things are. A great example is the

Kuhnian paradigmatic revolution that overturned a century of settled questions on the large scale features of the Earth. Before 1969 the profession of faith was “the Earth moves up and down, but never back and forth” was the short-short of the first edition of my undergraduate historical geology textbook. The second edition that I taught the same course with 1971 was like “yeah, some up and down but mainly back and forth.”

There was very little in the way of rearguard defiance in defense of the previous orthodoxy. Even old bulls who made their names in geosynclines as the central model mostly bit their tongues and muttered about how the new plate tectonics model failed to resolve some outstanding problems around the edges that were or were not going to be the clincher for some minor sect of the Old Creed in the former debate. Secretly, they were thinking, YOUR turn will come.

The distinction between the religious view and the scientific view is the degree of ambiguity tolerance and the ability to ignore much of the messiness that arises from the more complex environments where they have arrived. In a relatively simpler environment there is a natural tendency to reduce the anxiety arising from uncertainty to a simple story of personal agency--God approves of the and disapproves of that. In a relatively more complex environment that approach won’t stretch to fit.

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Since you asked for one. Book recommendation: How Minds Change by David McRaney.

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I think this is an excellent message and I thank you for sharing it. Daryl Davis is a wonderful and wholesome example of the "getting alongside" school of influence. He is a black man who convinced many KKK members to give up their robes.


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Great post, Justin, thank you. I'm grateful for the references to the Queensland researchers, not to speak of the classical ones! And, this is the first one I read that, apart from a wayward full-stop, had no typos -- I really appreciate that too.

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The science is not relevant to the politics, unless the scientists participate. And those folks would rather keep doing science.

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“(Nobody ever talks about Hannibal after he crosses the Alps.)”

Cannae disagree with you?

Actually I disagree with the whole argument, top to bottom. You never have to agree or bend or make nice with TERFS, fascists, and anti-vaxxers. Never. But the problem in this country is that we invite them to the table. As we see.

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Thanks for this post...I found it a little confusing at first but I’m getting there. We ave a group of Anti-Vaxxers who gather in the middle of town each weekend and I have been trying for ages to think how I can have a conversation with them without dismissing them as kooks or idiots. Today’s post has been helpful...maybe this is the weekend that I give it a try.....

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