13 July 2018

Rational Argument will not Defeat Trumpism

I am gradually coming to accept that rational arguments, of the kind that underly the founding principles of the American republic, are not very effective in countering the kind of literally-reactionary politics that make up Trumpism. Robert Sapolsky, a neuroendocrinologist and author of "Behave, the Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst,"* has discussed research that shows that human beings will create rationalizations to justify what are essentially emotional responses, often triggered by things like the disgust reflex controlled by the primitive brain region known as the insula. And George Lakoff has shown that framing of issues, and use of emotional-triggers rather than rational arguments, are much more effective in the successful propaganda used primarily by the Right than the more rational issues-based approach favored by Democrats and Progressives in general. It's kind of pathetic, but the truth is we Progressives are not going to CONVINCE our way out of this mess. We just have to out organize and out-do them at their own game.

It's not that our arguments are not sound, or that we are not right. We are. It's that no amount of rational discussion will convince people whose primary impetus for the "tribal" allegiance is emotional. And to some extent, this is true of all of us; but the same studies show that people on the progressive end of the spectrum are more tolerant in general, including have a weaker "threshold of disgust" at things like spoiled food. It's amazing really. We think we are rational beings, but to a great extent we are not; we are animals whose behavior and even thought patterns are largely the result of biological triggers.

Interview on Background Briefing with Ian Masters:

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