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William O

Persuading People of Objectivism

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The purpose of this thread is to discuss methods of presenting or arguing for Objectivism that posters have found effective.

I don't know if I've ever converted anyone to Objectivism, but one thing that I've found effective in online discussions is posting relevant Ayn Rand quotes. Rand was very good at compressing her ideas into easily digestible snippets, so quotes from her work can be a powerful way of getting people interested in her philosophy.

The only Objectivist book focusing on rhetoric that I know of is Peikoff's Objective Communication, and I think Mrs. Speicher's book spends some time discussing the "ask and listen" method where you try to find out the other person's concerns before presenting your own position. If anyone knows of other Objectivist work on rhetoric then I would be interested in hearing about it.

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The thing is, "ask and listen" doesn't work so well when a person isn't already really inclined towards Objectivism. It's passive, it won't attract new people to ideas, it isn't passionate. It's good for addressing disagreements or concerns, and your response can be passionate, but it won't convince somebody to explore it. When I first got into Objectivism, it was because the statements I heard by Rand or mentions of her clearly showed a radical view on life. Rand's books are passionate.

A problem comes in if people don't see how radical Rand is. A lot of people seem to think she holds ideas we see every day, like those of an angsty teenager, or Trump-style manipulation in some business people, or sham politicians like Cruz who speak of Atlas Shrugged but act like her ethics didn't matter. People start to think these are the people Rand would praise. Then they don't seek out more information because it sounds so typical. This is a good example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8m8cQI4DgM

Another problem comes in when I think most of Objectivism as we may see with ARI is that while some thinkers are good for curating her ideas, but they aren't good at rhetoric. Peikoff used to be good I think, but I can't name anyone else, and today I think he's pretty bad at it. Yaron Brook speaks, but I find him boring, and for better or worse, not good at speaking itself even if his ideas are fine. I appreciate ARI for at least curating Rand and Objectivism, but it probably won't help with presentation.

I'm interested in ideas about rhetoric too. It's one thing to think of good arguments, it's another to make them exciting or interesting.

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15 hours ago, Eiuol said:

The thing is, "ask and listen" doesn't work so well when a person isn't already really inclined towards Objectivism. It's passive, it won't attract new people to ideas, it isn't passionate. It's good for addressing disagreements or concerns, and your response can be passionate, but it won't convince somebody to explore it. When I first got into Objectivism, it was because the statements I heard by Rand or mentions of her clearly showed a radical view on life. Rand's books are passionate.

I think there's a difference between writing an article for a general audience and having a conversation with a specific person. If you're writing an article for a general audience, you can be passionate without turning people off, because no one will feel targeted. This is one reason why Rand's articles are so effective.

However, if you're talking to a specific person, it can be advisable to tone things down a bit so that they don't feel attacked, which will turn them off to your ideas. Another issue is that they may have some argument you haven't heard before, which can be a problem if you've made the conversation really intense and passionate. I find it's better to just calmly put my views forward for consideration.

For example, consider this conversation:

A: "I believe in God."

B: "Believing in God is a childish fantasy that no adult should take seriously."

Now, B may be right about all that, but A isn't going to be open to B's arguments from this point on, because A will feel like they are being attacked. A better approach would be to say "Why do you believe in God?" and explore their reasons calmly and civilly, which is the ask and listen method.

I'm not saying you have to coddle every ridiculous point of view, of course, but if it is a view they could have arrived at honestly then it's better to try to hear them out.

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Rhetoric is something I sometimes give thought to. It's one thing to know what to argue; it's another to know how to argue it. My primary interest is in conversation between people who are judged to be fundamentally reasonable. Appealing to unreasonable people is another category, and rhetoric plays an important role there (as does propaganda), but I'm more interested in the question of how to deal with people who are basically reasonable. I do not take it for granted that because a man is reasonable, that any true argument will necessarily sway him; I think that rhetoric is a consideration yet. Reason requires its own, particular approach.

There are a number of different "stances" a person can take in a conversation or in an argument. Often I find people attempting to take on the role of a teacher or a lecturer. "I know what's right. Your role is to listen to me and agree" is what it conveys.

But does that sort of conversation appeal to a reasonable person who has a disagreement? I don't think it does very much.

While "ask and listen" sounds good -- and I don't mean to argue against it -- I also find that sometimes people approach conversation like an interrogation or a trial. "List your reasons for X and put them in the following form..."

Again -- and maybe this is only personal preference (but I do not believe so) -- I don't think sort of approach has much appeal. I don't think it's likely to make inroads.

In a conversation between reasonable people, I believe that it's important -- first and foremost -- to convey one's respect for both reason and the ability of one's "opponent" to think critically and intelligently and honestly. It is a conversation among equals. The proper attitude in approaching some apparent controversy is to recognize that both parties believe something, but that they both must submit themselves to the following investigation. It's an agreement that "while I currently believe X, if you can demonstrate Y, I will happily agree with you," and asking the same in return.

I think that this is a call to put down some of the emotional baggage that often attends argument (and why that term is so often considered a negative thing). It reframes such argument from a competition (or a fight) to a collaboration: two minds cooperating to uncover truth.

I think it's important to commit oneself to not hiding or dodging (as we are all capable of evasion or error; being "fundamentally reasonable" does not mean being flawlessly reasonable). Questions asked should be answered. Examples raised should be pursued. There is a necessary give/take to reasonable conversation, and a person who insists on always taking the lead or doing things his own way ("No, we're not discussing that yet. This is what we must discuss first!") is likely to exhaust his partner's patience before coming to a point.

Common ground must be sought. Even if it's basic and otherwise ridiculous, it helps to establish that the scope of the argument is not universal: that reasonable minds can agree, somewhere on something. In fact, I believe that every relevant point of agreement that can be found should be highlighted and cherished. This not only has the effect of assuaging a potentially doubtful or defensive mind, but it can help to isolate the true nature of the disagreement through relief. (It's like testing the individual components of a faulty system.)

I think that reasonable conversation is mostly earnest (while "devil's advocacy" style arguments or "reductio ad absurdum" or satire/sarcasm have their place, I find that they usually set me on edge more than they help to persuade, and especially when I am the target). It is cognizant of the fact that new ideas take time to consider/ingest/test/integrate, and does not demand immediate agreement or concession. It is generous in allowing the "benefit of the doubt," and allowing for error or reconsideration (as opposed to "gotcha").

Above all, reasonable conversation deals with ideas. The etiquette of such conversation demands that instead of discussing the supposed motivations of one's partner, or trying to assess their morality (in holding to some position judged errant), or appeals to authority, or ad hominem, or poisoning the well through such tactics as "a reasonable person could never believe X," an argument designed to appeal to another man's reason concerns itself with the ideas under discussion.

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6 hours ago, William O said:

Now, B may be right about all that, but A isn't going to be open to B's arguments from this point on, because A will feel like they are being attacked. A better approach would be to say "Why do you believe in God?" and explore their reasons calmly and civilly, which is the ask and listen method.

I think this style only works work in an academic setting to persuade people about a specific point, like demonstrating that the concept of god is arbitrary then explaining different points about epistemology, then hearing a response. Some people make this more interesting than others, but what you're describing doesn't get into how to get other type of people to care. For persuading individual people, it's probably not best to do it by a Socratic dialogue or a back and forth dialectic. It's fine for the details, but otherwise it's pedantic.

The quality and strength of an argument is of course worthwhile, but this isn't rhetoric. Rhetoric takes some actual artistic skill, it brings in emotions. Objectivism is about taking action, not just sitting in your ivory tower of academic argument. It's worth taking the time to learn rhetoric. I'd say look into Roman philosophers, especially Cicero. Rhetoric was really admired back then, speeches worth listening to. For persuading big groups, look into how fascists like Mussolini did it, while of course keeping in mind his underlying philosophy was wrong.

You don't need extreme rhetorical skill to be persuasive, you just need enough to adapt to group or single circumstances.

Besides rhetoric, I think art is the next best thing. It's infinitely easier to talk about why Anthem is a cool book to you, or a painting you think expresses a particular pro-life idea.

Edited by Eiuol

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(My advice on how to be more persuasive.) Personally, I think that Objectivists need to stop being such inveterate atheists. There are billions of people who have had experiences with gods, angels, and the spirit world. I for one take a very dim view of atheist attempts to label all of these billions of people as somehow "insane" or "hallucinating".

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I didn't know inveterate was a word. Perhaps if education were truly emancipated, such a travesty would cease to exist. Oh well. Back to trying to discern the real from the unreal.

This brings to mind a Zen saying: "Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water." What stops us from burning the wood, and extinguishing the fire from the water.

Miss Rand appears to have address this via one of Henry Dorn's completed, yet unpublished novels.

Danagger laughed. "If you've guessed that much, you should have guessed that it's a question I won't answer."

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William said:

Quote

The purpose of this thread is to discuss methods of presenting or arguing for Objectivism that posters have found effective.

 I'd say it depends on who your talking to. I have had quite a bit of success in person surprising people who think they are against everything Rand said by finding ways to point out how the virtues a given person actually has (implicit or explicit) and showing them how and why Oism considers those traits as virtues. This has largely been with conservative types. I find leftist have far fewer virtues to work with. (though, not non existent) I especially find that if you can identify an unearned sense of guilt or shame and show how that character trait they are wrongly evaluating is a virtue it makes people hungry for this source of self affirmation. Likewise for unidentified indignation over unjust peer evaluations. Productive achievers are terribly mistreated in the work place quite often.  

Edit: I guess I'm saying that inspiration is the most potent catalyst for change.

Above all I'd say its essential to never misrepresent another's philosophy because it is an almost sure slammed door. Know what you know and what you need to justify before speaking. Be a responsible thinker and hold others to that standard. What should they know given their commitments in a given area?

William said:

Quote

one thing that I've found effective in online discussions is posting relevant Ayn Rand quotes.

Even here it depends on who your responding to. Many folks misinterpret this as a type of passive mindedness. I find it is most effective to quote in order to establish what Rand, in fact, actually said herself. Also it is the best way to give credit where its due.

Depending on the person and the context, I can be extremely patient and benevolent, or publicly judgmental.  Both are necessary traits.

One mans passionate assertiveness is another's fundamentalist "zealot". I think you have to focus your efforts on what audience you value the most. For example, I don't really have any interest in talking to people at a 4th grade level. I prefer to use whatever terminology I see essential and explain if asked clarifying questions. That sort of intellectual responsibility is an indication of virtue anyway. I'd rather find the diamonds that need polishing in that regard.  

Edited by Plasmatic

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Louie said:

Quote

The quality and strength of an argument is of course worthwhile, but this isn't rhetoric. Rhetoric takes some actual artistic skill, it brings in emotions.

I'd say rhetoric doesn't separate process from content like this. A rhetorical method that is emotional, used on an audience that doesn't value passionate communication will be ineffective.

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6 minutes ago, Plasmatic said:

Louie said:

I'd say rhetoric doesn't separate process from content like this. A rhetorical method that is emotional, used on an audience that doesn't value passionate communication will be ineffective.

I would have used a comma after communication, personally.

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7 minutes ago, Plasmatic said:

I'd say rhetoric doesn't separate process from content like this. A rhetorical method that is emotional, used on an audience that doesn't value passionate communication will be ineffective.

I'll be a little clearer. I think good rhetoric requires accurate/valid content, but it's a further skill to engage people psychologically and emotionally. If there are people who don't value a degree of passion, I think that's a minority of people.  

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4 hours ago, Dustin86 said:

(My advice on how to be more persuasive.) Personally, I think that Objectivists need to stop being such inveterate atheists. There are billions of people who have had experiences with gods, angels, and the spirit world. I for one take a very dim view of atheist attempts to label all of these billions of people as somehow "insane" or "hallucinating".

The term, "mystic" , is the label I've come to apply to all of these billions of people. When I encounter a mystic, I find it is not worth the effort to persuade them to learn more about Ayn Rand. The terms, such as insane and hallucinating, may be up for consideration in a non-persuasive conversation.

As it relates to the opening post, I rarely converse with anyone I deem irrational, especially on matters of philosophy. When I have been effective in persuading individuals, (and so far that has not been very many), it has been after we have established relations open enough to both acknowledge objective reality as our common metaphysical belief, or at least to a point where I can conditionally support the agnostic views of my associate in conversation. At the point where I find that person is not offended by atheism, or comments that may be in contempt of religion, we can exchange views on what it means to be truly selfish. Or we may discuss the folly of people who follow an irrational set of beliefs, and the effect their beliefs have had on our present state of national and international affairs. If we find ourselves laughing about it, I don't care if I've made a new friend or not. I just enjoyed a wonder time.

Many years ago, when I was in technical college, I had to write and deliver an inspirational speech. I had never heard of Ayn Rand in those days. My central theme was selfishness. It received very little rebuttal, and a high grade from the instructor. It was the least contentious speech out of the four. (My speech on promoting the nuclear arms race was received quite differently.) For now, my days of giving speeches are over.

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The time during which I most surely influenced some others to embrace a good deal of Rand's philosophy was when I was in college and had recently discovered her writings. I had been led to her novels, then her other writings, by recommendation from a trusted, somewhat older cousin. I did the same, through our discussions of ideas, with some of my classmates and family. That was all about ten years after AS appeared, and frankly, not all that many people had ever heard of Rand or her ideas, notwithstanding the attention it had received in some magazines in those years after AS.

I have one suggestion in direct personal communication with people in our present culture. Just talk about whatever issue has come up in your conversation. Give your view in dialogue and give it, as is natural with you, I bet, in its widening scope to more and more fundamental issues. Don't you reference Ayn Rand or Objectivism to start. Let them notice and mention the connection if they have some acquaintance already with Rand and her philosophy. Keep the main focus on the issue(s) in the dialogue. If they never mention Rand or her philosophy, then you mention its connection pretty late in the conversation. Give your own view, simply your own view of how things work. Say what you think and what you aren't decided on. When you bring up Rand for related thought and their possible reading of Rand, you can mention your overlap and your differences with her on the issues you've been discussing. Don't present your own views as some sort of second fiddle to hers or as if they are talking to her through you, rather than talking to you about the issues and your views on them. I've had a couple of extended conversations with evangelists along this suggested pattern. In the first conversation, I never got to a Rand coda, though the idea of her theory of moral value in the world, in my own expression, was clearly a new vista to the pair who had approached us (my other half Walter and me sitting on the stoop with the infant grandson sleeping in the stroller---so must be about 15 years ago). With a bit more time (and perhaps a less complicated, fewer-talkers exchange), the lead to Rand would have been easy. But of course my focus was on the ideas and communicating about them with these evangelists. In the second conversation, the evangelist was a ministerial student from Liberty University here in Lynchburg. It was at the coin-op laundry. That was very interesting, and at the end, it turned out he had never heard of Rand or her philosophy. I'd say that was about six years ago.

That reminds me, related to a tangent in this thread, that the ministerial student I talked with was Southern Baptist. Most at his school are in that tradition. Ted Cruz is of that faith. I've had a consistently good impression of them concerning bottom-line respect for individual autonomy concerning faith (or not-faith), even if their pushiness sometimes is weak in respect for the judgments of other minds. Sen. Cruz was asked by an atheist at a town-hall meeting a couple of months ago why an atheist, such as the questioner himself, should vote for him. Cruz answered that the man should not vote for him, that he hoped the man would be dissuaded from atheism, and that he Cruz takes the atheist man's right to be atheist and say so to be protected by the US Constitution, which he would surely uphold.

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My strategy is to convey Rand's ideas piece by piece, slowly. This assumes that I'm engaging with a person I know who I'll talk to again later. Even with a stranger though, you will have more success giving them a new idea like a seed than trying to give them 40 meals to digest. The most honest person isn't going to be persuaded of a radical philosophy in one day.

A couple years ago I made a friend who I spoke to frequently, and on occasion I would say something she didn't agree with. One time I said that actually I think that what's moral is acting in your own rational self-interest. She didn't believe me at first, and then I explained the nuances of my position. You know, the typical stuff: people should act on whims, stealing and killing isn't self-interested, benevolence can be very selfish and that's fine, etc. She found it interested, wasn't fully convinced, and we moved on.

Some time later I bought her a copy of Atlas Shrugged and she read it. Not sure if she would call herself an Objectivist, but she was convinced selfishness was the right way to live.

Just be patient, and explain individual positions as they arise in context. If you explain yourself calmly and reasonably, you'll persuade honest people over time. Just don't try to win a person over in one sitting. 

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As for rhetoric, it's very important. The ideological movements that succeed throughout history and move cultures forward used effective rhetoric. In the information age where there is too much information for anybody to learn all of it, and most of it is incorrect, you need small, condensed pieces of information. This is where rhetoric comes in. Condense your view on a certain issue in 2 or 3 sentences, maybe 4 if necessary, and it can become a meme, it can be shared around online, it can go viral. Essays and articles rarely ever go viral. It's like the crow analogy. You need an idea small enough to be remembered and understood. That's what will be communicated effectively.

 Repeat it in public discourse, and don't expect it to be an essay or speech. Its purpose is to grab people's attention, make them think, and give them something to remember you for.

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On 4/10/2016 at 8:00 PM, Dustin86 said:

I for one take a very dim view of atheist attempts to label all of these billions of people as somehow "insane" or "hallucinating".

Yeah, those accusations are often undeserved. What's most often the case is people experience totally normal emotions and experiences, and then make errors in reasoning and thought to attribute that experience to something supernatural. People very rarely ever "hear voices". What happens is they have a really nice day after making a financial decision, and think that God is speaking to them.

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