I’ve long been a Janine Turner fan because I’ve long been a big, big “Northern Exposure” fan. And I’ve been aware that lately she’s became a conservative political commentator, because I’ve seen her now and then on TV in that capacity. Now I’m happy to report that she’s joined the PJ network as a writer, so I guess I could say that in a very general sense we’re colleagues.
You may notice that her very first PJ article is on a topic very much after my own heart: “Girlfriends: let’s talk about how to convert a Democrat.” Aha! I’ve written on that idea before, in particular here, as well as here and here.
Turner is a fan of reason and rationality. She lists a bunch of points Republicans can make when talking to Democrats, and ends with this statement:
We can convert Democrats to Reason — the Republican Party. But we have to enter the fray to do it.
We are smarter than the propaganda we are being sold. Times are serious. To win in 2012, we must be vocal.
I admire Turner’s courage and feistiness. I’m in agreement with her on so many things, including the fact that women in particular can be very reticent about speaking up and yet need to (a topic I’ve written about in some of my linked posts above). But I’m afraid I’m far less optimistic about the chances of results, especially when approached in this “giving them the facts” manner.
Politics is a hugely emotional issue, as I’ve written many times before. People are born into it for the most part, and become members of a group with which they tend to hugely identify. This can include demonizing the Other, so that even merely revealing oneself to be a member of the opposition party can be an occasion for ostracism rather than openness and curiosity.
I don’t want to reiterate the content of about 100 posts and thousands of comments here, so I’ll just quote myself on the topic of political conversion and say:
The first rule [from this Owen Harries article] is one with which I’m personally quite familiar, but it bears repeating:
Forget about trying to convert your adversary. In any serious ideological confrontation the chances of success on this score are so remote as to exclude it as a rational objective.
In my observation, this is true not only of the committed ideologue but even of the less politically invested and less well-informed person. That’s why my series is called “A mind is a difficult thing to change.” Politics has some things in common with religion, in that it is partly an article of faith. In addition, it is also an edifice constructed of many building blocks of information— some of them dependent on one another but some independent—plus years of habit and/or commitment and/or investment and/or social networks. It is often a profound component of one’s identity.
Putting even a small dent in this structure can take some doing. Harries goes on to write:
On the very rare occasions when [political conversion] does happen, it will be because the person converted has already and independently come to harbour serious doubts and is teetering on the edge of ideological defection. This is due, more often than not, to some outrageous action by his own side or some shocking revelation…
True; it most definitely can happen in just that way. Harries cites the example of those pro-Communists who were disillusioned by Khrushchev’s revelations of Stalin’s crimes.
It strikes me, however, that it’s possible to nudge that process along a bit by providing information about the existence of such events that might constitute the grounds for disillusionment. Many people are quite simply unaware of the facts that could spark a change of mind and heart. After all, those “outrageous actions” or “shocking revelations” on their side have no possibility of being seen for what they are unless they are brought to awareness. That can be part of the function of the blogosphere.
The MSM is rather good at informing us of those revelations that would challenge our view of the actions of the Right. They are generally less likely to broadcast revelations that would discredit liberals or the Left, although it does happen.
Which brings us to Harries’s rule number nine:
When bolstering the authority of what you are saying by the use of quotation, give preference wherever possible to sources which are not identified with your case. If you can, quote someone who is considered unimpeachable, if not omniscient, by your opponents. This will not convince them, but it will embarrass them and impress the uncommitted.
In talking to receptive friends or occasionally sending them emails with links, I’ve always tried to follow rule nine even before I knew it existed. I had noticed that it was very easy for people to discount as unreliable any information that came from a source perceived as being on the “other” side, even a reputable publication. Although it takes a lot more work to find something from the often-liberal MSM that bolsters an argument on the Right, it can be found and is well worth the effort because of the extra clout such an article has.
You’ll note that in the above quote, Harries differentiates between the reactions of opponents vs. the uncommitted. It’s a useful distinction. The former are ideologues who are very deeply committed to their point of view and are loaded with facts and authorities. Sometimes the facts are true and the authorities have some validity, but sometimes they are spurious and dubious. In the first case, a productive and mutually respectful argument can often be had, although it’s mostly an exercise in debating technique because minds are still resistant to change. In the second case, however, it will probably devolve into a shouting match and be of no usefulness whatsoever, unless the goal is to exercise the lungs.
The people Harries calls the “uncommitted” bring us to rule four:
Never forget the uncommitted: almost invariably, they constitute the vast majority. This may seem obvious, but intense polemical activity is often a coterie activity, and in the excitement of combat and lust for the polemical kill the uncommitted are often overlooked. The encounter becomes an end in itself rather than a means of influencing wider opinion. Yet what works best in throwing the enemy off balance—cleverness, originality, pugnacity—is often counterproductive with those who are neutral or undecided, who are more likely to be impressed and convinced by good sense, decency, and fairness.
The blogosphere tends to be populated by bloggers who are fond of the sort of coterie activity Harries describes so well. That’s not really my style, however, either in this blog or in person.
Although most of my friends have a political affiliation, some hold it far more tightly than others. Those others would fall into the general ranks of Harries’s uncommitted: they hold viewpoints, but they are flexible and open to new information. It is among these people that fact-based, logical political argument has the most chance of finding a receptive ear. That’s what I try my best to offer.
[NOTE: If you've looked at the photo of Turner at PJ, or seen her on TV lately, you may be surprised---as I was---to see she's left the brunette fold and become a blond. Now, there's another change for you!]