Links and Comments: Changing Minds; GOP Economics; Liars; Taxonomy of Trump Supporters

Items from NYT (Adam Grant); NYT (David Leonhardt); Slate (William Saletan); The Week, NYT, and Salon about Trump and the GOP; and NYT (Michelle Goldberg).

NYT: The Science of Reasoning With Unreasonable People, subtitled “Don’t try to change someone else’s mind. Instead, help them find their own motivation to change.”

By Adam Grant, author of just-published-yesterday book Think Again (which I bought and is sitting in my TBR stack).

One of the things I’ve changed my mind about, over the past decade, is on this very point. I thought you could patiently explain facts and reasoning to someone (what’s called *education*) and expect them to believe and accept the rational conclusion — even if it meant their changing their minds away from some belief they had acquired by intuition, or through traditional belief of their church or tribe. The revelation of reality. And yet, all the evidence is against this. If anything, people double-down on their irrational beliefs. So I no longer think this.

At the same time, I wonder if the idea that you can’t change people’s minds with evidence and reason deeply patronizing? As if to say, Don’t worry your pretty little head about it?

This aligns with the thoughts of some atheists that people should not be disabused of their faith, because of the social bonding effect, the psychological comforting, and so on. That they can’t handle the truth; let them have their fantasies. And other atheists think exposing the truth is worth the effort. (My own take has wavered; my current stance is that understanding of reality, of the cultural contingency of religious faith, is a private project, not a social one. Which is reflected in my comments about Arthur C. Clarke’s visions, in his 1950s novels, of a secular future.)


When we try to change a person’s mind, our first impulse is to preach about why we’re right and prosecute them for being wrong. Yet experiments show that preaching and prosecuting typically backfire — and what doesn’t sway people may strengthen their beliefs. Much as a vaccine inoculates the physical immune system against a virus, the act of resistance fortifies the psychological immune system. Refuting a point of view produces antibodies against future attempts at influence, making people more certain of their own opinions and more ready to rebut alternatives.

As with most things, subtler and more complex methods can achieve some progress.

Psychologists find that when we listen carefully and call attention to the nuances in people’s own thinking, they become less extreme and more open in their views. I wondered how my friend’s ambivalence applied to Covid, and I knew that the kinds of questions I asked would matter. Social scientists have found that asking people how their preferred political policies might work in practice, rather than asking why they favor those approaches, was more effective in opening their minds. As people struggled to explain their ideal tax legislation or health care plan, they grasped the complexity of the problem and recognized gaps in their knowledge.


Again, looking at the evidence. NYT: Why Are Republican Presidents So Bad for the Economy?, subtitled “G.D.P., jobs and other indicators have all risen faster under Democrats for nearly the past century.”

My take: because conservatives/Republicans are vested by the wealthy, who promulgate the ‘trickle-down’ economic myth, that folks like Paul Krugman tirelessly point out isn’t true, doesn’t work.

With graphs. Data. What are the theories about why this is true? It’s not about congressional control; it’s not about deficit spending (Republicans have been running up larger deficits than Democrats, for four decades).

That leaves one broad possibility with a good amount of supporting evidence: Democrats have been more willing to heed economic and historical lessons about what policies actually strengthen the economy, while Republicans have often clung to theories that they want to believe — like the supposedly magical power of tax cuts and deregulation. Democrats, in short, have been more pragmatic.

Which was already my understanding.


It’s tiresome seeming to continually harp on conservatives and Republicans. OK then:

Slate, William Saletan: The Enemy Isn’t Republicans. It’s Liars., subtitled “The case for a broad, fact-based alliance against fabrications.”

Over the years, I’ve bounced around the political spectrum. I was liberal in Texas, more conservative in college, and now I’m somewhere in the middle. Through it all, I saw politics as a fight between left and right. I don’t see it that way anymore. Donald Trump’s presidency has exposed a bigger threat: an all-out attack on the principle that facts must be respected. We used to take that principle for granted; now we must defend it. Politics has become a fight between those who are willing to respect evidence and those who aren’t.

Passing over condemnation of Trump.

Progressives and conservatives have always quarreled about what’s true. But to make those debates productive, and to correct our country’s mistakes—failed projects, naïve policies, bad wars—we need a common standard for judging truth. That standard can’t be the Bible or identity politics. It has to be the standard we apply in daily life: evidence. If you say the election was stolen, you have to prove it in court. If you accuse a police officer of murder, your story has to withstand investigation.

That’s how science works. While politicians stage stupid, interminable fights over wearing masks, scientists have quickly devised vaccines from genomes posted on the internet. Science has cured diseases, rolled back infant mortality, extended healthy lifespans, broadened access to information, and developed new energy technologies.

Why is science so effective? Because it constantly tests its theories against reality. It seeks out, accepts, and learns from falsification. That’s what Vice President Kamala Harris, in remarks last week, said she had learned from her mother, an endocrinologist: “She instilled in me a fundamental belief in the importance of collecting and analyzing data, facts, of forming a hypothesis, and recognizing that it’s not a failure to reevaluate that hypothesis when the facts don’t add up.” In science, discovering you were wrong isn’t failure. It’s progress.

It’s about science, the scientific attitude toward assessing reality.


And yet, the GOP embraces those who tell fantastic, implausible lies.

The Week: The GOP’s dismaying embrace of fringe politicians.

NYT: The QAnon Delusion Has Not Loosened Its Grip, subtitled “Millions of Americans continue to actively participate in multiple conspiracy theories. Why?”

Salon: Why do 70 million Americans — and many members of Congress — still follow Trump?, subtitled “Trump’s mass of followers is a huge problem for America — but they’re not all the same. This taxonomy should help”

Six groups, about which I will quote one. The six:

  1. “All-in” isolationists, ultra-nationalists, white supremacists, racists and insurrectionists
  2. Opportunists and political chameleons
  3. Narrow-minded, limited information input and vulnerable to cultism
  4. Voting with their pocketbook
  5. Hold your nose and vote Republican
  6. But he and I are Christians!

About the third:

This group of followers is either actively or passively limited in the information that they receive through on-air and online media outlets. As a result of their “soda straw” approach to Republicanism, conservatism or Trumpism, they are simply not exposed to the damning evidence that exists to show Trump and the GOP’s unethical, immoral and likely criminal behavior. This is the consumer of a steady diet of right-wing sources such as Fox News, OANN and Newsmax. One cannot discuss this group without referring to the concept of shared omnipotence, a cult leader tactic by which followers are repeatedly told that the leader will take them to a “promised land” (e.g., a place of increased wealth, no immigrants or people of color, world superiority or dominance, protection from death) and if they don’t follow, the result is certain doom.

It’s useful to keep the second one in mind, which also applies to conspiracy theorists. In the sense that, they don’t really *believe* what they’re promoting; they promote wacky theories to make money, or just for fun. (There was an article I didn’t capture about some guy being sued whose defense was “I have a first amendment right to spread lies on the internet.” Yes he said it that way. I suppose he probably does. Some of these promulgaters of conspiracy theories are just *playing you*.


And the problem is, Republicans have jumped the shark.

NYT: It’s Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Party Now, subtitled “She embarrasses some Republicans, but she’s no outlier.”

This passage caught my attention.

If you’re steeped in creationism and believe that elites are lying to you about the origins of life on earth, it’s not a stretch to believe they’re lying to you about a life-threatening virus. If what you know of history is the revisionist version of the Christian right, in which God deeded America to the faithful, then pluralism will feel like the theft of your birthright. If you believe that the last Democratic president was illegitimate, as Trump and other birthers claimed, then it’s not hard to believe that dark forces would foist another unconstitutional leader on the country.

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