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Should We Try to Persuade

Tuesday, March 21, 2017
The strongest argument I've heard in favor of maintaining links with Trump voters is the possibility of persuasion. It goes something like this: since our aim to limit/rectify the damage of the Trump presidency, then the pragmatic thing to do is to preserve communications with Trump supporters so that we can slowly work to bring them around. In addition, if we break off contact, then we close off any opportunity for Trump supporters to recognize their mistake. In effect, we are doing them further harm and making it less likely that Trump will be blocked/defeated in the future. Further, by retreating into a social world in which only Trump opponents are welcome, we are creating a similar epistemic bubble to that which conservatives have created for themselves, and which has done so damage to them and to our shared social world.

So according to this argument, by ending contact with Trump supporters I hurt myself (through epistemic closure), the person I care about (by not helping them see their error), and the world (by making it less likely that Trump voters will defect). 

Let me take these out of order. With respect to hurting "the world": it makes the personal far, far too political. Close personal relationships with someone - especially a family member - should not be political, but based on mutual respect, a shared history, all those ephemeral ties that bind people together. To say that I must maintain an emotional connection to somebody for the sake of politics seems to me to corrupt the very essence of that relationship. You're saying that "be horrified by this person, but out of political calculation keep talking to them anyway."

With respect to hurting myself by creating an epistemic bubble: I can easily find out what wingnuts are thinking without having to personally associate with any of them. The internet is a thing. And there are plenty of professional and non-intimate social settings where I will be forced to interact with these people.

With respect to the person I am hurting - well, how much exactly am I supposed to bear in order for a person to have a chance to see the error of their ways? I mean, if my mother wants to send me an email or a message or a letter apologizing for her behavior, she can do that, and I'll probably read it. But the question I keep asking is - how likely is it that a person is really going to change their mind about this? And if I keep associating with them, what motivation do they have to do so? Aren't I tacitly condoning their moral horror by acting as if it never happened?

This last calculation is a difficult one, which is why I get why some people want to hang in there a bit longer, to give the other person a chance to see the light. But for me, that's minimizing the consequences of this election, and what is says about the people who voted for Trump. It's not up to me to do anything more for them. I have no interest in being yet another of their victims.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:13 PM

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