Infiltration Is the Answer

I read another column by Cass Sunstein this week on how you can’t convince anyone of anything, and I woke up yesterday morning wondering how I can get around it. The basic (proven) theory is that if you present someone with strong opinions with a balanced representation of the facts, a.) they will only hear the facts that support their own position, and b.) being confronted with the facts on the other side of the matter will only cement them more firmly on their own side of it.

Sum total: once people believe something, it’s unbelievably hard to convince them of something else and using empirical evidence to do so is more than pointless, it’s counter-productive.

Since I think I’m super right about a lot of things – like that Dunkin Donuts is the best coffee and that tearing down the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas is a goddam travesty – this is obviously distressing. How am I supposed to get people behind me when I start my army to settle this, “It’s fuck all hot around here so can we all just admit there’s global warming?”

Sunstein says there’s one exception to the depressing rule: if someone like you, who believes things you believe and who you view as essentially an ally, purports to believe something you don’t, that dissonance may cause you to re-think your position. So, if you’re in the Fox News camp, and Karl Rove came out in favor of puppies after years of lying, cheating and puppy-kicking, you might consider getting a dog. (I mean really: who doesn’t think Karl Rove kicks puppies? Back me up on this.) Or if I started saying that I thought, yeah, San Francisco might be a real city after all even though everyone has a #$?! garage and what kind of self-respecting urban density is that?, you might reconsider too. That kind of thing. (Not that anyone agrees with me on that San Francisco thing, which I don’t understand at all, but there it is: life is full of mysteries.)

So the upshot of all of this is that if you plan to take on Uncle Al at Thanksgiving dinner about whether Obama is actually an American citizen, you better get Donald Trump on your side and bring him along, ’cause that’s your best bet. See also: “How to Have a Memorable Thanksgiving.”

I don’t fully understand how you get the turncoat over to your side in the first place, but maybe Sunstein covers that in his next book. My completely-not-a-conspiracy-theory is “long-term infiltration.” E.g., Trump spends a lifetime building a tacky real estate empire, a silly television show, and a ridiculous haircut as prelude to the moment when he goes, “OK, yeah, I saw the birth certificate and it looks real. My bad,” over lemon Jell-O mold and stuffing in your Nana’s dining room. That is totally going to happen. I can feel it. This is your year.

In the meantime, I guess we should all just try to be a little more suspicious of our own personal echo chambers and give our moderate friends a hug.

For the record, though, I still think that you should invite Trump to Thanksgiving. And me. I’m totally coming too.

Categories: Learn


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One Comment on “Infiltration Is the Answer”

  1. Em
    September 22, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    “I don’t fully understand how you get the turncoat over to your side in the first place…”

    I do! I do! Pick me! After years of dealing with my “devil’s advocate” sister-in-law, who no matter the subject and her true personal views, will always disagree with me, I one day decided it was going to be “Agree with Judy Day.” It so utterly and completely worked, I have shared this strategy with my sis who has her own challenging family member to deal with. Simply wait until the turncoat has expressed an opinion and agree with it. The about face is immediate. Pro-life? Not anymore. Romney 2012? Hell no! Sky blue? You get the picture.

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