A consistent refrain I hear among fellow conservatives and libertarians is that there’s no point to even trying to discuss politics with lefties. A case in point is Noah, commenting at Vox Populi:
Where is it that some here have these lengthy, high-minded debates with leftists? I find that, with rare exception, they resort to some form of name calling after I’ve made only a few solid points.
Yet this despite my odd blend of radical libertarianism and conservatism, it almost never happens to me. I don’t lie, I assert what I actually believe, and I live in a college town.
As usual, the key is framing.
The American left has established a brilliant societal frame through their assertion that they’re the ones that care. At the same time, they demonstrate a distinct preference for seething, vitriolic rhetoric. Democrats are never afraid to attack their opponents with the most hyperbolic insults imaginable.
The effect is twofold. Their soft lovey-dovey crap establishes a sort of comfort, a sense of safety for those who belong. They nurture (or at least pretend to) the downtrodden. They’re morally legitimate, the positive side of the beta male.
Yet they’re simultaneously Alpha badasses. Oppose Obamacare, and they’ll accuse you of hating poor and black people without a second thought. With the press backing them, they’ll throw out whatever spurious accusation they find convenient without fear. Such behavior is Alpha.
Thus, they’ve framed themselves as the agents of righteousness, morally justified and eager to destroy their enemies.
As the left frames itself as the paragon of virtue, their opponents epitomize evil. Xenophobes, racists, greedy, everything they do expressions of a deep-seated resentment of all things that don’t benefit their pocketbook or violate their antiquated moral code.
In response, we’ve castrated ourselves, petrified of being called racist or misogynist. Of course, because we oppose the left we’re still assholes. We’ll always be assholes (unless we switch sides).
Which makes us the worst kind of beta: The Wrong Kind of Asshole. We’re not the metaphoric White Knight trying desperately to rescue the poor, we’re the butthurt beta who steals the girl’s drink after she tells us to buzz off. When they’re bastards to us, it’s righteousness. When we don’t simply flop over and give them everything they want, it’s evil.
Within the wimp-asshole dichotomy, “asshole” is what we’re called, but “wimp” is what many of them think.
Threading the Needle
So what do I do about it?
First, when I suspect I might be engaging a lefty, I read my targets. I recognize that when they discover I oppose them politically, they’ll either consider me to be an asshole, a butthurt wimp, or both.
Generally (according to my classification system here), the Anointed and Entitled are used to running roughshod over their opponents, calling them some ugly name and forcing a retreat. Such folks will assume I’m a wimp.
On the other hand, the Benighted are largely afraid of us. They think we’re monsters who want nothing less than the right to eat poor children (after we’ve prohibited their mothers from aborting them, of course).
It’s important to always maintain an Alpha frame through voice tone, body language, etc., but with the self-righteous Anointed, it’s somewhat more important to emphasize that you’re a badass before any political discussion even begins. Just like the scrawny little kids is more likely to get beaten up on the playground, a man who obviously knows Himself is less likely to face insults.
Establish authority so that subconsciously they fear you, even if they’re not consciously aware of it. That doesn’t mean you have to get in their faces, just let it be know that you’re not one to mess with.
With Benighteds, you obviously shouldn’t be a wimp, but it’s important to recognize that the moment they find out your political leanings, they’re going to be afraid regardless. Therefore, the Alpha aspect of your frame is somewhat less important. If I’ve framed myself properly, when a Benighted first finds out my political opinions they’re in shock. You seem like a good guy. How can you be one of those? With these folks, it’s okay to be a little more nice, to establish that you actually care about other people in the world besides yourself.
Preparing the Field of Battle
There are more of these, but two of my favorite framing techniques for before the proverbial fecal matter hits it have Game equivalents: Agree & Amplify and Active Indifference. (the former applies in rhetoric quite differently than in Game)
Agreee & Amplify: Nobody is wrong about everything, and Truth is always your ally. Therefore, if a lefty says something you aactually agree with, be it opposition to NSA spying, crony capitalism, politicians in general, or the drug war, agree with them, only with more conviction. Take this as an opportunity to humanize yourself, to establish an emotional bond.
When we hear somebody with whom we largely disagree say something correct, our knee-jerk instinct is to immediately contrast that correct view with something else they believe that’s not so reasonable. Don’t. You’re never arguing just politics, you’re selling a self-image, a belief system, your Self. Once you’ve established a connection, then start to mold their mind to your liking. Bringing up a point of contention prematurely after a lefty actually makes sense wastes an opportunity.
Active Indifference: I love talking politics with allies, adversaries, ignoramuses–it makes no difference. However, if somebody senses that you’re too eager to talk politics with them, you surrender frame control. Trying to convert somebody to your way of thinking works about as well as trying to pick up a pretty girl in a bar.
Instead, if I know somebody’s a lefty, I’ll throw out some random political comment and immediately back away. Start a story with “I was at a rally a couple of weeks back and…” without saying what kind of rally it was. If they go on some political diatribe, listen intently, ask a question or make a statement that demonstrates that you’re knowledgeable about whatever they’re talking about, and then completely lose interest and change the subject (only to drop another hint that you’re politically aware just a bit later). Once I mentioned that I was giving seminars on political persuasion. When he asked what my views were, I answered “common sense”. If they ask direct questions, either evade or answer and quickly change the subject. Repeat such hints until you can tell they really want to find out what you think.
Now, they’re chasing you, and you get to start the conversation on your terms.
Doing the stuff above diminished the chances you’ll get screamed at, but it doesn’t quite eliminate the possibility. You may find yourself being called a racist anyway. Yes, it’s even happened to me.
The steps below are a framework and not an absolute. Not every step is advisable under every circumstance. Whether you’ll want to be ruthlessly vicious, amused, or sympathetic will depend on the personalities of those involved, the overall tone of the conversation, who’s observing that you might want to bring on your side, how much you’ve already either established your Alphaness or propensity to “care”, etc.
However, make sure that your accuser is certain that they didn’t get to you. Instead of howling in anger, use a merely condescending or dismissive tone. If you want to further humanize yourself, act as though you’re maintaining your dignity, not that you’ve got hurt feelings. Biting words work better when delivered as coldly as possible; tender words work best when delivered in strength. Do NOT, under any circumstances, let them get under your skin.
(Like I said on Vox’s blog, one-liners aren’t my strong suit. What’s more important than the specific lines I use is the pattern of 1. show that they did wrong, 2. make them pay, 3. offer resolution. Undoubtedly, some of you will have better lines.)
After they insult you:
Step 1: Ensure that they, and everybody listening, knows that they crossed a line. You’re a human being who has just been insulted, and you have every right to retaliate. It helps immeasurably when people know why they’re being punished before you deliver the blow. Some of them expect you to be an asshole, so if you’re going to actually be one, make sure everybody listening knows you have every right to be one. Remember, you’re selling your Self.
Wait a minute. I’m trying to have a reasonable discussion here, and you’ve just called me one of the nastiest words in the English language.
(laugh) I thought you guys favored “dialogue” all the damn time. Does that sound like it fosters communication?
Oh, really, Madame Cleo? You say I hate single moms. I was raised by one, jackass.
I’d be pissed you just said that if I had any suspicion you could actually back it up.
2. Make it hurt. Incentives matter. Unfortunately, nonsense rhetoric like name-calling works. We’ve therefore got to ensure that those who use it have a negative emotional imprint of some sort to discourage them from doing it again. The more obnoxious your opponents, the more I suggest you inspire either fear or embarrassment. If they actually seem somewhat human, guilt might work instead (although it’s harder to pull off).
Repeating that nonsense just proves you’ve got a feeble mind that’s incapable of even hearing anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Do you have anything even resembling an actual argument? You realize that you argue just like my four year-old niece, right?
You just proved you’re a moron. That’s the best you got?
(laugh out loud) You’ve just shown me that you’re not even in the same league as me intellectually.
You disgust me. You think I’m a racist because I don’t want to run the entire country like Detroit? I’ve seen how those kids live, and that’s what I want to end.
3. Offer penance. Sometimes this won’t be possible if you’ve gone the harsh route above, but if you see either fear or regret in your opponent’s eyes after Step 2, allow them the opportunity to re-engage on more favorable terms.
I want to discuss this with you, seriously, but I don’t deserve to hear that crap. I’m not some monster. I see a lot of the same problems you do, I’ve just got different solutions. Really, you make a lot of sense when it comes to…(even if they don’t). So answer me this…
This is harder to explain than it sounds in that this is the type of thing I just naturally do when talking to them. I didn’t plan this stuff out, I’ve just had lots of conversations about politics and gotten accustomed to being the lone conservative/libertarian against four or five lefties.
Yes, I’m advocating technique. However, one of the Truths I’ve “stumbled on” is that leftism is a form of blindness. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re all blind in one way or another. Some of us are more blind than others, but I try to keep in mind the wisdom of Matthew 7:3-5:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
I therefore frame these discussions as person-to-person, not ideologue-to-ideologue. I insist that I be regarded as a fellow human being, but I offer the same to them. Yes, I’ll insult them if necessary, but my genuine desire is to share Truth as I understand it.
And it works.