Friday, February 6, 2015

Journalism: Observation Versus Persuasion

Too much information, so little time, plus minds already made up. I'm screwed.

A couple of close friends of mine believe I'm ineffective in my ability to persuade, that if I were less strident, less shrill, if you will, perhaps less angry, I'd be more persuasive. Instead, I suppose, I'm annoying.

I don't doubt that, though I know from some who read my blog that they feel I'm rigorous in my exposition and demonstrate that I've really looked into the subject I'm writing about and have a right to make the cases I put forth. My problem is that I feel, and articulate, an unmistakeable contempt for people with opposing views.

It's true. It's not so much that I think they're fucking idiots, it's that I don't believe they believe what they're saying is true. I take this view, not instinctively, but because I can't find any valid arguments that underpin their views.

So I end up, when evaluating politicians' positions on the stupid-or-evil scale, deciding that they're evil. Not EVIL, just disinclined to take into account the well-being of others. I find it preposterous, for example, that anyone with half a mind thinks that Republicans in power these days in Washington are the least bit interested in doing good. Rather, they're dedicated to stopping Obama from getting any credit for doing good. The outcome, then, is fuck the nation.

Where am I wrong? Sure, I've just insulted many if not all of the supporters of the GOP/conservative political philosophy, but there you are. I'm not here to persuade, it's that simple. I'm here to make observations and support those observations with information.

It's really hard to be persuasive in the world of politics. I've had quite a bit of success in non-political decision-making, in teacher staff meetings when I was a teacher, in representing bands I've played in (persuading people that I/we deserve to be heard and paid for it), and on several boards on which I've served. And, yes, I've observed that I'm nicer, smoother, more thoughtful when I'm making my case in these venues.

But then my head explodes when a op-ed columnist like David Brooks writes pieces that are nice, smooth, and thoughtful, even though the slightest parsing exposes that his premises are full of shit, straw men, or sophist to the max. But he's nice!

As an aside, I might mention that in my liberal circle many of my friends think of David Brooks as the "good" conservative, the one they read to get a sense of conservatism's take on issues. All I can say is good grief! You swallowed the wrong pill or something.

So they're annoyed with my opinion of David Brooks, which is based on the notion that Mitch McConnell is an obvious prick, and though a dangerous politician, nobody mistakes him for a nice guy with nice ideas. David Brooks is much more dangerous. Just think of his soapbox on the PBS News Hour. Viewers watch him and think, "He's nice." Okay, he's nice. But his position on issues is remarkably flimsy at best. Is he, uh, persuasive? Maybe. I hope not.

So there it is: I've made my case, ironically, against trying to be persuasive. I'd have to be nice, and I don't for a minute think that's a valuable trait in the gang warfare that is politics and political thought.

What's worse -- considering the wealth of information at our fingertips in the Information Age -- is that facts aren't as persuasive as they once were, or at least as persuasive as I'd hoped they'd be. I was once in a discussion on Google+ with a pro-gun man and was making the case that guns don't make you safe. He didn't say, "Where are your facts? Prove it!" He said, "Give me the links to your facts so I can refute them." I ended the discussion on the spot.

Recently I got into a discussion with a good friend -- by all accounts a liberal, counter-cultural citizen -- about the dangers of guns. I made the case why guns made America less safe and that we paid a very high price for our gun culture in blood and treasure. He replied that he had no fear of guns being dangerous to him.

It didn't matter the statistics I offered showing the harm guns did across the land. He simply repeated over and over again that guns had no importance to his life, that they were no threat to him personally at all.

Of course, we were both right. Guns make America a more dangerous place than they do, say, in Japan, Australia, and the UK, where they have strict gun laws. And I'm persuaded my friend believes that guns aren't a threat to him in particular. Both of us are likely right. I only wish we hadn't been talking past each other.

I do worry, though, that I might be annoying. I hate annoying people.

Chris Christie was elected governor twice while yelling "What are
you, stupid!?" to as many people as possible. Why can't I do that?

A final thought: A friend of mine wrote me in an email that he was oddly moved by the death of Mario Cuomo, most especially because of the power of his keynote speech at the 1984 Democratic Convention. I do wish I could deliver such a speech. Now that was persuasive. Still, Reagan was reelected in 1984 and his vice-president was elected in 1988, when Cuomo could not persuade himself to run. Oh well.

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