Chris Behan

How Not To Change Someone's Mind

Your neighbour Walter is a fool. He supports that evil political party and follows that backwards religion. It's shocking to you how someone who lives right next door, who sends their kids to the same school as yours, and who also enjoys smoking brisket on their porch, could hold such unacceptable views. Here's how not to change Walter's mind, how to make him double down on his beliefs, and how to make him resent your own.

1. Tell, don't ask

Instead of asking Walter why he believes what he does, tell him that he's wrong and that your beliefs are obviously right. By not listening to the experiences that led to Walter's beliefs, you eliminate the possibility of understanding why he thinks the way he does. And by not understanding the 'why' behind Walter's perspective, you remove the risk of agreeing with his thought process and possibly changing your own. Additionally, Walter will interpret your unwillingness to listen as arrogance. He'll associate your obviously right beliefs and values with those of closed-minded assholes. From his experience, people who hold these beliefs and values (you), are unwilling to listen, and disregard alternative viewpoints as foolish. When criticizing Walter's beliefs, be sure to raise your voice and use the word "You" as much as possible. By blurring the line between Walter and his beliefs, he'll interpret your attack on his ideology as an attack on him. And our natural reaction when we're attacked is to defend. Walter will reflexively defend himself and his beliefs, which you treat as one and the same, while simultaneously developing resentment towards your beliefs (the beliefs of his attacker). Once someone's entered a defensive mindset, they're no longer receptive to new ideas. Their sole focus is on winning the encounter, which in the context of intellectual debate means being "right", as opposed to finding the truth.

2. Combine the Minority with the Majority

Find cases of exceptionally stupid people who share Walter's beliefs, then falsely infer that everyone who shares his beliefs is stupid. Every ideological group has radicals. Seek out the most sensational examples from this minority of radicals and apply their negative attributes to the majority. For example, if belief A has a small group of violent followers, condemn belief A in its entirety by claiming all its followers are violent. This strategy works for any and all beliefs, from religion to technology. Your dishonest argument which was made solely to discredit Walter's beliefs will signal to him that you have no true intention of understanding. And having just compared Walter to stupid radicals, he'll never share his true thoughts with you again, for fear of being compared to stupid radicals.

3. Use Labels

To avoid productive discourse, slap negative labels on the most prominent members of Walter's ideology so that you can discredit their perspective without having to contend with their arguments. This will save you immense time and energy while ensuring your own perspective remains static.

Example:

Walter: "<Prominent member of ideology> talks about how <rationale for belief>, which really resonates with me."
You: "<Prominent member of ideology> is a <negative label>!".

9/10 times the conversation ends once the label has been applied. If Walter tries to continue the conversation after the application of the label, ask him if he supports <negative label>, and subtly infer that by continuing the conversation he himself is a <negative label>. The use of labels allows you to sneakily throw out the intellectual baby with Walter's ideological bathwater.

4. Use Strawman Arguments

A "Strawman" argument is when you take someone's argument, distort it into a weaker argument, then attack that weaker argument. By distorting their argument into one that is obviously wrong, you stand up the metaphorical "Strawman", allowing you to easily assault the defenseless Scarecrow. Common distortions include removing context, oversimplifying, exaggerating, or misrepresenting the argument entirely.

Example:

Walter: "Intermittent fasting is good for you"
You: "But if you starve yourself you'll have no energy".

You've distorted Walter's argument by replacing "Intermittent fasting" with "Starvation" which is obviously harmful and easy to attack. If Walter doesn't notice your manipulation of words, he'll hopelessly try and defend the argument "Starvation is good for you".


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