Advice To A Conspiracy Theorist Libertarian

I have a cousin who comments on my Facebook, any time I say anything even vaguely political. You all have the same cousin, I suspect. The one who turns any political discussion round to the subjects of Ron Paul, fiat money, taxation being theft, and how the government are trying to provoke race riots to take guns away.

Despite his political opinions, he’s a decent person in most ways, and an intelligent one. And after another frustrating conversation in Facebook comments he said to me “..I wish I could communicate like you Andrew . I frustrate myself most of the time.”

I gave him some advice, and it turned out rather more long-winded than I intended, so I thought I’d post it here, for the benefit of anyone else who shares his particular communication problems (and yes, I’m aware of the irony of anyone asking *me* for communications advice):

The main thing to remember to communicate better is to fight one battle at a time and stay on a single topic. I know that most of the injustices in the world — economic, social, political and so on — are interlinked, though I disagree with you about (some of) the causes and (many of) the solutions, as well as the relative importance of some of the injustices.

But if you talk about every problem at once, firstly it’s too much information for people to absorb in one go, and secondly it gives people more reasons to disagree with you. Talk about the problems with banks, and people who dislike the banks will agree. Talk about the injustice of the Iraq War, and people who were against the war will agree. Once they’re agreeing with you, it’s much easier to persuade them, one issue at a time, that you’re right about other things. If you talk about the war *and* the banks, then the people who are OK with the banks but not the war will be annoyed, and so will the people who were OK with the war but not the banks.

Remember that just as you see Alex Jones and David Icke as poisoning the well, there will be (are) people who agree with 90% of what you say but will see the other 10% as dangerous or evil nonsense. You have to get those people on side if you want to change things.

Not only that, but *at least half the time those people will be right* — and if you can discuss one aspect of your beliefs with them, you may find that they will persuade you that they’re right about something else.

You have a political philosophy that’s very much a minority view, as do I, though our philosophies are different (though both, I think, based fundamentally on a love of liberty and a hatred of oppression). Getting people to agree with your entire philosophy in one go is going to be impossible. But you could, for example, persuade people to support sanctions against Israel (I don’t know, myself, if those would be a good or bad thing, as Middle Eastern foreign policy isn’t my strong point, but I’m pretty sure you’re for them), or a transaction tax on banking.

By concentrating on small, winnable, campaigns, and making one argument at a time, as well as working within large organisations that share some — but not all — of my goals, I’ve helped to get rid of ID cards, to stop the communications data bill, and to bring in same sex marriage (and I failed to get AV brought in, but made a HUGE personal difference in the Manchester vote, which was far higher than the national average). I’ve only been a small part of achieving those things, but I *have* been a part of them, and helped make the world slightly more like the one I want to live in as a result.

Paradoxically, if you pick just one aspect of the problems you see, and go on about it to the exclusion of all else, you’ll seem *less* of a monomaniac than if you try to talk about *all* the things you think. The one time I listened to Alex Jones’ show, for example, he was interviewing Noam Chomsky. The whole introduction, and the first half of the conversation, was just Jones praising Chomsky to the skies and saying how wonderful his book Manufacturing Consent was (it is). Then Jones said something about gun control, Chomsky disagreed, politely, and Jones went into a screaming rage, calling him a traitor and a Communist and in the employ of the government trying to trick people into giving up their rights, because he isn’t capable of coping with someone who agrees with him about some things and not others.

The less you can be like that, and the more you can work with people with whom you agree on some matters but disagree on others, the better chance you have of persuading people to your viewpoints.

(Not, I hasten to add, that I’m deliberately thinking all the time “How can I manipulate people into doing what I want?” — I’m an Aspie who does what comes naturally and then looks at what worked afterwards, not a psychopath who manipulates people…)

(When commenting here, BTW, I would ask my Facebook friends to remember that the person in question *is* a relative of mine, and moderate any comments about him accordingly…)

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7 Responses to Advice To A Conspiracy Theorist Libertarian

  1. TAD says:

    I saw that on your Facebook……you made some good points. You’re right in that your cousin will make about 4 or 5 big generalizations and one right after another, and it’s hard to respond to something like that because you don’t know where to begin. It’s just too much information.

    • andrewducker says:

      Agreed – particularly on FB, where dialogue is incredibly hard.

      That cousin of yours has dramatically put me off of commenting on Andrew’s FB, because there’s this big mass of epic Wrong that takes up pages of it whenever I click on the comments, and I do not want to engage with it.

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        I don’t blame you. This is one reason why there’s a certain amount of segregation of my online lives, and the only one of them any of my family are connected to is Facebook (and that’s also why I don’t link my Tumblr, Twitter or Facebook from here, and I link here from Tumblr and Twitter but not from Facebook). I think my uncle has seen this blog, but I’m pretty sure he’s the only one from my family who has. I moderate the comments here a *lot* more heavily than I do there..

  2. As I almost never go on Facebook, and I’m not even sure I knew before that you had a profile there, I can only comment generally.

    But one thing I’d say is that many people’s arguments seem to be based around a feedback loop of logic, where every supposition just clicks in with the supposition they made before and after it, rather than connects with anything in the material world. In which case they’re pretty much forced to argue in a circular manner, it’s their only means to stop the chain crashing. This is particularly noticeable in the case of conspiracy theorists, who often want to believe they’re drinking from a private watering hole the rest of us are kept from. Alex Jones’ resorting to shouting is probably his best tactic when you consider what he’s actually saying.

    But it’s more generally true as well, I think.

  3. S. Barrios says:

    this post resonates quite a bit, sure! we, each-of-us, have an “issue” or two about which we are Most Passionate. mine is – for the most part – “the War” (meaning ALL of them). sometimes people from x or y on the famous “political spectrum” will ask, “how can you *possibly* communicate with someone who believes [fill in the blank]?” well, in my view, there are enough PRO-war forces operating that i can’t turn down a potential ally. i’m not going to change my mind about *other* issues to please them, certainly (and if they asked me to, i would walk away). ..with that said, if i ever met someone who agreed with me on *every* point, i would probably be horrified or, at least, very suspicious !

    [ could not find you on the insidious device known as F_cebook. if you are so inclined, i am *here* :

    thanks !]

  4. lizw says:

    I am in awe at the tactfulness and constructiveness of this response. Those are great points to remember, and also remind me that I still need to do some thinking about what cause I want to focus on and what I can best do to promote it.

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