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I've found one-on-one debate to be a waste of time because the topic changes around a lot and people talk past each other attacking straw men. I've adjusted myself to use a more dialectical approach. However, I've discovered that when I do this, the other party often get angry after dozens of questions and walk away.

What's even more interesting is that they don't do this when I get them to actually contradict themselves but several steps prior to that point. It's like as if they can smell it coming.

Have you tried using this method before and what were your success rate? What do you keep in mind as a tactic to keep them from getting angry at you and walking away?

asked Nov 13 '12 at 17:37

Humbug's gravatar image


Give them a stiff drink so they cannot smell reality coming. :-)

(Nov 14 '12 at 00:56) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

The reason people start getting angry is that if you follow logic carefully, inevitably you start to imply that a premise of theirs is false.

Since they have accepted this premise, they believe they have good reasons to have accepted the premise.

But the more you pick at their acceptance of said premise, looking for their reasons, the more it becomes clear that they don't have a good reason to believe what they do. Still, they believe that they must believe the premise, even in the absence of good reasons.

That is, their metaphysical premises tell them that they can and should accept some premises without reason.

Why does anyone accept a premise without reason? There are lots of possibilities, but the most charitable one is that they were forced to stop asking "why?" about it -- that applying reason in the past got them into trouble with someone in power. As a child, they concluded "I have to believe this, even if it doesn't make sense. For me, the alternative is to think and to suffer, or to blindly agree and be accepted and loved."

As an adult, they defend such a choice with the reason doesn't work premise: "We live in a world where we can't be rational about everything."

Implicitly, subconsciously, they believe: "Reasoning everything out would alienate me from everyone who loves me and who taught me the views I have today. If I question their ideas, I could end up learning that they were mistaken, and that would be too painful. I'd have to abandon all my current friends and convictions. My entire world would be thrown into tumult and uncertainty. I might even have to get a divorce! So stop asking me all these questions and let me live my life. I've already decided that you are mistaken, and for me to consider otherwise is for me to entertain throwing my life away for something that I do not yet know is any better. If being 'right' would be so destructive to me, I don't want it."

For a person to change his views, he must first see, for himself, that there's something wrong with them. He needs to see that his life is not as it should be, and that it might be better. If a person has no motivation to think about a particular issue, he never will.

For you to be successful in changing a mind, the target in question must strongly believe that you actually have the best of intentions -- that you don't want to wreck his life. Generally, that means being a good friend of his, and living your life your way, setting an example that causes others to wonder how you are so happy when you don't accept the premises they do.

In other words, live well and share your philosophy with anyone who gets curious. One changes minds by being an example of success.

Those who despise success are beyond your help. For them to change, they must somehow remember that there was a time in their life when they wanted to succeed -- a time when they didn't feel they needed to apologize for living -- a time when they thought they could live and be happy, rather than to spend their waking hours fighting a grim battle against the successful in defense of all who fail.

answered Nov 14 '12 at 09:04

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

edited Nov 14 '12 at 09:24


What an amazingly good answer!

(Nov 14 '12 at 09:59) John Hoffman ♦ John%20Hoffman's gravatar image

Thank you!

(Nov 14 '12 at 14:00) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

This is actually the kind of answer I needed to hear, too, because I'm always thinking of changing the minds of the people I meet. I like your answer.

(Nov 14 '12 at 16:03) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

Me too. And even though I wrote that answer, I still occasionally find myself wishing I could find some shortcut to change people's minds. But if you are the kind of person who badgers someone about his ideas, you won't get anywhere. You end up looking like someone who is insecure and who wants another person's approval.

To change a worthy mind, you must first earn its respect and curiosity.

(Nov 14 '12 at 16:08) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Your answer still seems overly critical of people who despise success. I guess I'm just too optimistic about everything, hoping for the best, but I don't want to believe that it's "too late" for anybody to truly turn themselves around, no matter how wrong they are. It's not likely, but if you put me in a room with-let's say-James Cameron or George Clooney, men who I believe have the potential for real greatness, I would love to sit down with them, talk to them, listen to what they have to say, get them to like me, and then try to sway them back into reality.

(Nov 14 '12 at 17:52) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

It's not very Objective to say this, but I'm going to be honest. It pains me to see people living under false premises. Whether they're aware of it or not, I feel a sense of obligation to try to put their minds on the right track, and I hide how upset I get when I fail. I feel obligated because I say to myself, "How can I walk around knowing there are people who are thinking the wrong way? Their actions, like it or not, affect others in society, large scale or small. I have to do something." It's not good to think that way; it's dangerous, even, but it's what I want to do.

(Nov 14 '12 at 18:02) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

While it's nice to help other people free their mind so that they can achieve greatness, I just want to change their mind enough so that they will stop taking my wealth away. Anything beyond that is not my frakking problem.

As for your pain, your pain is caused by your sense of obligation. Your sense of obligation is misplaced. You have no obligation to help others. Help them if you want more trading partners, but don't do it out of obligation. Obligation is nothing more than another word for duty and you know how we feel about that. :)

(Nov 14 '12 at 21:18) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

In general, I find it much easier and better use of my time to find new trading partners than to change someone into a good trading partner.

(Nov 14 '12 at 21:22) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

I didn't say "too late". I said "beyond your help". My main point is that you must appeal to people, and, as a happy, successful person, you are not going to appeal to people who despise such.

Therefore, such people are beyond your help. It's your choice whether you wish to help them, but I'd probably suggest leaving them alone, rather than helping them to believe that they deserve your attention. They could even be dangerous to you.

Just as it's smarter to find a good romantic partner than to try to change a bad one, it's smarter to find a good mind than to try to save a lost one.

(Nov 14 '12 at 22:55) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

To be perfectly blunt: evil people will take advantage of your good intentions, and waste your time. And they'll love doing it.

Remember Ayn Rand's principle of the sanction of the victim. Don't be charitable towards your own destroyers. You generally cannot melt an evil heart with kindness. You'll just embolden evil.

Judge people well. Appeal only to their love of life. If you cannot find that in them, then leave them alone.

(Nov 14 '12 at 22:57) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image
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Asked: Nov 13 '12 at 17:37

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Last updated: Nov 14 '12 at 23:00