Reason And Passion:
Abstract: Libertarianism has developed a successful tradition of rational thinking. However, rational argumentation is not all there is to convincing people, and if libertarians want to spread their ideas more widely, if they want other people to even pay attention to their rational arguments, they must learn how to advocate their ideas taking into account the full breadth of thoughts and emotions that they must rally or overcome.
We libertarians all want to propagate to other people in the world our message of freedom, of justice, of cooperation, of brotherly love, and of abstinence from aggression. Actually, because what we share is precisely the principled rejection of coercion as a way to achieve positive goals, convincing people is the only way we can advance our cause1.
But are we up to making our ideas succeed in the public at large? Is our discourse really universal, is it understandable by everyone? A hint that it might not currently be the case is the often noticed factoid that most libertarian activists are people who think and argue in rational ways. Indeed, the written intellectual tradition of libertarianism seems to rely mostly on rational justification, and little on appeal to emotion. My own experience with libertarians tends to confirm this trend, though the sample of libertarians I personally know and socialize with might very well be biased toward this tendency.
One way to substantiate this claim would be to compare the statistic distribution of the results of such thing as the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator, that identifies people with a “rational” temperament, for random samples of libertarians and for the rest of the population.
This temperament indicator is made of four more or less independent axes, traditionally named E/I, N/S, F/T and J/P, measuring psychological tendencies of people, at least in a differential way as compared to the average among other people. This yields 16 different typical temperaments, though one doesn’t have to fit at the extreme of any axis. These temperaments can be grouped in four main characters NF (Idealists), NT (Rationals), SJ (Guardians), SP (Artisans), with an uneven distribution of temperaments and characters among the population. The indicator doesn’t pretend to cover all about someone’s psychology; it might not even be the best available tool of this kind to understand the way people think and behave, but it is nonetheless a useful tool which seems to give good results in practice, and that is taken very seriously by many psychologists, human-resources managers, educators, etc. The indicator is reliable in that a variety of tests taken by any given adult over any amount of time will yield consistent results. It is relevant in that there are distinctive statistical correlations between the preferences and behaviour of people and their indicator. In particular, the indicator allows some degree of probabilistic predictions about the way one will respond to various kinds of arguments. For those interested, there are plenty of details, explanations, tests, statistics, etc., accessible on the Internet2.
In the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator, the “Rational” temperament is the one around the NT ends of the N/S and F/T axes. N rather than S means that they tend to take decisions based on a abstract model of the world rather than on immediate practical considerations; T rather than F means that while this model of the world or theirs tends to be based on a logical structure rather than on an emotional network.
Although there has been no large-scale statistics on whole populations, and the available statistics vary noticeably with geography, with time, and with the specific questionnaire used, the estimated percentage of people in NT category is consistently low as compared to the other characters: from as low as 5% to as much as 16%, in any case, noticeably lower than the 25% to be expected if the axes were independent, and much lower than 100% of the population.
Assuming that we can confirm this tendency of currently active libertarians to be a majority of rational temperament3, this suggests that the arguments currently developed by prominent libertarians activists only target a small percentage of the population, and are of limited effectiveness with the vast majority.
It could be interesting to discuss the past causes of this tendency of libertarian ideas convincing mostly people with a rational temperament, but that would require another specific contribution altogether4. A related but nevertheless distinct question is why there are relatively so few active women among us: many political parties have a large proportion of women, if not among leaders, at least among activists.
What will interest me in this article are the consequences of this tendency, as to how we libertarians must evolve the way we present our ideas if we want our ideas to be more successful at convincing the public at large.
Notably, if we keep using only or mostly those rational arguments that appeal to ourselves, then most people will forever remain out the reach of our ideas. However adequate our ideas might be, few will ever even pay attention to our arguments, for they won’t be the kind of argument that most directly talk to them; and even those who will listen to our arguments will base their response on a lot of understood (or misunderstood) interest, prejudice and emotions biased against libertarian ideas. Worse still, because of network effects in the dissemination of opinions, if we can’t convince non-rational people, we make it even more difficult to reach even the limited remaining target of rational people.
The libertarian ideology insists on the power of ideas over society. If we are “fighting a battle” it is an abstract battle of ideas, were the only casualties are unconvincing arguments and evicted mistakes. If we want our ideas to win, we must learn to use psychology, just like our enemies do. We must seek and convince people with complementary personalities, and adapt our discourse to our audience. We must counter their black magic with white magic, but with magic nonetheless. This is not about travesting truth or using fallacies, but about learning to tell the truth in the best way and to appeal to the whole of the human brain.
In a first part, I will quickly sketch a few ideas about how reason and emotion work. Then, in a second part, I will inspect the psychological mechanisms at work within those who hate of liberty and their arguments. Finally, in a third part, I will try to give a few hints as to how we can improve the way we libertarians can better defend our ideas.
I will begin by inspecting the mechanisms that underlie Reason and Emotion, and their respective roles in the Human Mind, and the possibilities for discrepancy between what people think or feel. Why Reason and Emotion? Because although the human mind is made of much more than these two features5, they are the tools it uses to form new opinions or to modify past opinions. Hence they are the phenomena to understand when studying the mechanisms of rhetoric — the art of producing convincing arguments .
However, please note that I am amateur in the field, with the positive and negative connotations of the term alike. — so by all means, use your critical reasoning when reading what follows! The model that I propose to you doesn’t claim to be the ultimate theory of mechanisms behind the way people form opinion; it only claims to be a useful theory for practical purposes.
Reason is a tool for our brains to build elaborate models of the universe. Models, here and everywhere, don’t have to be “perfect”. They have to be “good enough” to be worth the trouble, that is, to lead to decisions that will overall improve your life more than it costs to build and use them.
The most well-known aspect of Reason, Deductive Logic, is a filter, that helps us reject bad models in our quests for better ones: whenever one spots a logical contradiction, one knows that something is wrong, and that one must check one’s assumptions. Sometimes, given a few basic assumptions, deductive reasoning can help narrow some conclusions that must hold, should the assumptions be true. But in no case can deductive reasoning ever establish assumptions, or determine which assumptions to weaken, modify or discard so as to solve a contradiction. It can serve but as a filter, as a tool6. And even then, logical inferences have to be attempted so that the filter may work: people can live happily believing in contradictory hypotheses, as long as they are not shown the contradiction or otherwise hit by it. Indeed, many people use the technique that Orwell dubbed “doublethink”  so as live with contradictions that would otherwise be obvious: they semi-consciously avoid to simultaneously confront beliefs from conflicting sets when using logical thinking.
The other well-known aspect of Reason is Inductive Logic. It is also a filter, that consists in preferring whichever model of the world is the simplest7, discarding superfluous explanations, unneeded or irrelevant assumptions, etc. Given a set of relevant facts to explain, and a bit of imagination, Induction can helps us find models of the world; as long as the world is not too complex, Induction can help us build models that work “good enough” to take useful decisions in the average.8 Now, Inductive Logic cannot select the facts to explain, it cannot replace the imagination that allows to build models; it is only a tool to select models. Because of different biases in the set of facts that they consider candidate to explanation, because of difference in the imagination with which they build models, because of difference in the culture based on which they feed their imagination, because “simplicity” depends on the different explanations with which they have been raised since their youth, different people can reach completely different conclusions from a same given set of facts; and then again, the way one looks for new facts to explain depends on one’s present opinions.
Rational Thinking is thus a critical tool to build and use logical structures with which one models the world. In itself, it has no sense of direction, no driving force. Its only norms are about correct ways to conduct mental processes; but it crucially depends on other brain functionality to supply it with rules to combine, facts to inspect, goals to strive for9, a notion of relevance with which to inspect facts, a notion of simplicity with which to compare models, etc. Even someone with most developed rational capabilities won’t go very far toward developing good models of the world, if one only ever considers bad hypotheses10. Still worse, Rational Thinking only works if you use it11; it won’t work without the will, confidence, time and energy to think rationally, which is a resource-consuming activity in competition with other ones, in each of our quests for whatever individual satisfactions each one of us pursues12.
Emotions can also be viewed as tool for our brains to build crude models of the universe, although a more basic tool, that, though less elaborate, is more efficient than rational models in many basic ways. They allow both for fast decision-making and long-term memory storage, which is crucial in situations of urgency as well as when dedication is needed. They are both rigid and brittle, which makes them very good to act on the world, but unfit to finely adapt to changes in the world; adaptation requires reason instead. Emotions do not require or involve any complex conscious continuous focus as rational thinking does; they are cheaper for brains to implement and provide a basic platform on top of which Reason is an add-on13. Finally, by being more primitive than reason, emotions are also more directly linked to our basic urges and goals, and provide a basis for active decision-making, whereas Reason is more of a passive or background filter, and a tool for higher-level planning14.
Emotions seem to be based on a network of emotional notions that are linked to each other in symmetric bidirectional links of either positive association or negative opposition15. Such notions often come in pairs of opposite notions, which pairs I’ll dub concepts, such as Life vs Death, Friends vs Foes, Strong vs Weak, Love vs Hate, Right vs Wrong, True vs False, White vs Black, Positive vs Negative, Rich vs Poor, Big vs Small, Long vs Short, Edible vs Poisonous, Individual vs Collectivity, Reason vs Passion. Notice how all these pairs follow a Good vs Bad pattern: for these concepts are tools of categorization, for the brain to guide its decisions, to cut through alternatives — to recognize which opportunity to seize over which other opportunities. The very purpose of these concepts is as tools that our brains use to guide their decisions — seek the Good, strive for it; avoid the Bad, shun it; in any case, choose16. As such, concepts of this kind are a direct extension to the basic drives that are built into brains: these drives give an orientation to our feelings, and those concepts that are strongly orientated are our passions, that shape the way one feels and takes decisions.
Now, Good and Bad are not absolutely and completely attached to any of the previous pairs of notions. Actually, if the emotional links between two concepts were absolute and complete, if they were an equation, then these two concepts notion would be undistinguishable; they would be the same concept. Rather, positive or negative links are between notions are fuzzy: they vary in strength, so that notions may be more or less strongly associated to each other, and in more or less direct ways. Emotional links also vary with context; positive and negative links may be conditionally activated or deactivated, reinforced or inhibited depending on other activated notions. This implies that while there might be a clear “default” association between one of two opposite notions and “Good”, this default can be overridden. As a case in point, Hunger and Death might be notions deeply felt as Bad, in a default context. But if applied to a mortal and irreconcilable enemy, then all the sudden, the links are reversed, and they might become something Good, according to this emotional principle: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. In less radical cases, the concept of Big vs Small may not carry any strong links to Good vs Bad by default, although one could say that Bigger is usually Better; moreover, the concept is so context-dependent that one may readily consider a cat as a small animal in a default context, but can easily consider it as big when comparing it to a mouse. Concepts are not only fuzzy and context-dependent; they vary with people. To us libertarians, the word “Competition” may sound with positive connotations, in a default context, and we may associate it possitively with “Cooperation”. To many collectivists, it may sound pretty bad actually, and they will oppose it to “Cooperation”. To yet other people, the word doesn’t resonate much with any emotion, and they don’t relate it strongly to the other word.
Let me stress that there is emphatically no equation between the abstract idea of general Good that one might develop on the one hand, the idea of what would be Good for one to happen, the emotional notion of what would be good for one to do, the synthetic feeling of Good toward which one’s mind converges as driven by one’s passions, the actual resulting things that one actually does, and the uttered explanations that one gives of why one does things. These phenomena are undoubtly related, but they nonetheless are very different, and infinitely many variants could be found17. In any case, there is a gradation of emotions from our most basic drives to our abstract ideas. Passions are these emotions nearest to our drives, those that strongly orient our behaviour.
Reason and Passion have often been opposed as two driving forces between which to choose for human conduct18. Now, based on our above examination, we can easily see this opposition is not rooted even in the most basic psychology19. Indeed, there is never a choice between Reason and Passion. For one thing, Reason is not a driving force; it is a filter of ideas, a tool to shape and explore models of the world. Passion on the other hand is a driving force, or rather a multiplicity of them; it gives us immediate urges or distant goals, and may even prioritize them, in cases when they conflict; but it doesn’t determine how to satisfy these urges or reach these goals. Emotion and Rational Thinking are different parts of our minds, they play different roles. They are not opposite, just different. There is no opposition.
To summarize the previous discussion, emotions are a great way to store the conclusions of our past reflections and experiences in ways ready to use, so as to be able to react without lengthy and costly thinking, when facing well-known situations; whereas reason is the tool used to react to novelty and adapt our emotions so as to integrate it into our behaviour. Considering this distinction, emotions are not a substitute for reason20, and reason is not a substitute for emotion either21; they are complementary, not opposite. The whole problem then is to analyze it in terms of known patterns or newly formed patterns, to decide whether a given situation is old or new, and determine which uses of emotions or reason are appropriate.
So why are people even talking about such a conflict, to begin with? Because they are not making such affirmations out of a deep rational model of the mind, but out of a shallow emotional model thereof. Firstly, when considering things emotionally, one won’t distinguish between Reason on the one side, and the Emotions that drive us to use Reason on the other side: the Passion for Reason and the Trust in Reason. Then, in many cases, one may feel conflict between these Passions and other Passions: Reason often reveals or elucidates a conflict between other Passions; it doesn’t create the conflict by itself22, and neither does it weigh by itself on any choice — other passions are what ultimately make one alternative better than others; but trust in the reasoning as well as its premises is instrumental in assessing risks and validating the considered alternative. Thus, in a choice between the satisfaction of several drives, the Passion for Reason may reveal an alternative that was previously invisible or neglected, generating a conflict, while Trust for Reason may take sides in such a conflict.
When the choice is obvious either way between some reason-revealed alternative and a former alternative, then one has discarded an obvious bad choice and could focus on the right one, thanks to reason. Whether the former or the new alternative was better, one can feel more confident about one’s choice, thanks to reason. The problem is when the choice is not obvious: then, one will feel worry or even anguish while trying to sort it out. Now, because they raise much emotion, one will easily remember the few moments of anguish, and forget all about the many obvious confident choices. And in these moments of anguish, trust in one’s own rational judgment (which, again, is an emotion), can tip the balance of emotions one way or the other, taking sides with a whole bunch of emotions against another set of emotions. Of course, it is sometimes very important to distrust one’s reason: use of reason based on incomplete or distorted hypotheses and on undisciplined or incompetent inferences will lead to absurdities. It may be very legitimate to discard weak reasonings, and base our decisions on strong emotions, on general principles, etc23.
Thus, although Reason and Passion are mainly and deeply in Harmony, there may be a conflict at the margin between Passions that rely more upon Reason, and other Passions that rely less upon Reason. Since one’s decisions and thus feelings also happen at the margin, one will easily feel a conflict here. For people who never had the opportunity to feel the rapture of successfully using Reason, such conflict will be the only notable relationship between (the passions that use) Reason and (other) Passions. but it would be a mistake to blame the tool, Reason, when the real issue is the various passions on both side of the conflict 24.
TO BE CONTINUED HERE - EVERYTHING BELOW IS A DRAFT
Even if your conflict is between using a rational argument and using a fallacy, earnestness (just because YOU know the truth doesn’t mean you have to communicate it!) is even more important than reason-loving toward telling what you think is rational. And when the conflict is about making a marriage “of reason” or a marriage “of passion”, reason is only telling you about long-term social prospects and benefits, whereas “passion” tells you about immediate short-term benefits. People passionate about reason will make decisions based on elaborate plans. People who distrust reason will make bets that do not depend on as elaborate ploys. If you trust reason less than the majority of people in society, you will behave “irrationally” to them. Most of the time, automatic behaviours learnt by habit-making save going through the complex and dissent-prone process of rational calculation.
Marginal Theory only discovered in the latter half of the nineteenth century, although its basic ideas were already discovered (though not systematically generalized and used) by Bastiat , precisely during his work at debunking common fallacies by those claiming an intrinsic and radical opposition of interests between various classes of people. Parallel between the way a rational mind may analyze human minds, and the way a rational mind may analyze human societies: limited marginal conflict vs structural harmony.
Marginally, reason can very well be what influences opinion, if not most, at least most consistently.
Passion is the motor, that which makes us go forward. Reason is the higher part of the guidance system, that which allows us to read the map and understand the signs. Without reason, we will not get to our destination; even if we got there, we would not know it and we’d go further away. Without passion, we would have no destination; we wouldn’t get anywhere at all. “Why” and “How”. “To where?”, and “through what path?”
On the one hand, the very word “Complementarity” suggests an opposition. Whereas there is no opposition. Yet on the other hand, the word “Complementarity” suggests the resolution of the opposition. And resolution there is. So is it correct to use this word “Complementarity” to describe the relationship between Reason and Passion? It is a correct emotional statement. It can also be interpreted in a correct way logically.
Now that we have made a quick overview of the mental mechanisms involved in forming opinions, we can try to establish what kind of error and confusion can reign in the minds of those who reject liberty.
Many great minds each firmly defends things that we know are false, and can’t be all simultaneously true, anyway: even though there might be disagreement as to who is wrong about what, it is clear that in matters when many people take mutually exclusive stances, at most one opinion can be correct, and all the other ones are wrong, which mean most of these people are indeed wrong.
I will not try to enumerate the myths and fallacies upon which the collectivists base their discourses. For one thing, there are too many of these myths and fallacies, and I lack the space and time to do it here25, On the other hand, I will try to characterize the kind of psychological phenomena that underlie the way freedom-haters think.
False Dichotomies, False Associations.
False dichotomy between egoism and altruism, reason and passion, hierarchy and disorder, public and private ...
False identity between law and power, anomy and anarchy, government and society, law and legislation, state and justice, justice and legislation, justice and equality, voter and the elected government (democracy as a machine to generate consentment to the State), people identify with the oppressor rather than the oppressed.
Hyponymous/hypernymous: identification that do not typecheck between things of different types under the same name/concept. False generalizations. People confuse a general concept with the particular instance of this concept around them.
conflating notions. Fusion/identification.
False concepts: popular or collective will, dictatorship of the market, nation, economics as a set of phenomena (the only valid concept of economics is as a point of view), social class (as if all industrial workers had the same interest!), ... personifications.
False reasoning: conflict, them vs us, zero-sum game, hierarchies
Too many emotional links.
Lack of contextualization of concepts.
Taking it personal: seeing malignant motivations and intentions in those who strongly disagree. But the generally malignant people are few and pathological; most people like to think of what they do as good, even when it isn’t (self deception being a feature evolved to help deceive other people). the evil in the world is great, but it’s not attached to people or intent — it’s attached to ideas and actions.
Some people will grow pathologically strong such binary emotional links. The paroxysm of this tendency is Manicheism: sorting the whole universe into two all-encompassing categories, Good and Evil. Cosmic Struggle.
Leftists think in terms of “us” vs “them”. “if you’re not with me, you’re against me. All opponents to their theories are inspired by Evil, and if they persist, they are Nazis, Devil-worshippers, or both — whatever it takes to describe the worst kind of men possible.
They transform disagreement into hatred, they see refusal to commit as commitment to refuse. People asserting that the negation of their ideology is a ideology. Equivalently, the idea that the negation of their religion is a religion, Never mind that the vast body of people with differing opinions have no common ideology, no common authority, no common opinion.
In a way, Yes, there is a battle between Good and Evil. But the evil is not “them”. Both good and evil are within every one. Lib: the mostest evil is to deprive other people from their morality. Gift: you can give riches, you can’t give the morality attached to earning those riches, but by being choosy about how you give — there is morality in choosing how to give. It is the morality of the donator. And there is morality choosing what to do with the gift in a way to give back to the donator, which is the morality of the recipient. In a forced “gift”, the one who decides usurps the each party’s morality; there is morality neither in the “donator”, nor in the recipient, and there is moral corruption in the usurper.
Special Interests. By definition, can’t be the majority. We have to convince.
Rational ignorance. In itself, it’s not wrong.
It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a “dismal science”. But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance. — Murray Rothbard
Unhappily, once people fall for a problematic, which happens easily enough when they are constantly faced with it, they will be led to such irresponsible behaviour. Rationality at the meta-level is hard.
If the problematic is deftly set, you can persuade people.
Fear of catastrophe: force people to commit despite their self-admitted ignorance. Make the choice appear as very relevant to them.
Remember: we can always find a default link between a concept and good/evil. The default link means “what if you had to bet your life on one side?” Happily, you don’t have to bet your life, so it doesn’t matter too much if the emotional link is slightly skewed. Or do you have to bet your life? That’s what catastrophic problematic setting is about! So the technique is: take a small but definite bias as a fulcrum, and use Fear as a lever to multiply it. Pascal’s Wager.
Brain: machine to give answers, even with incomplete data. It must always have an answer ready the day we have to make a fast decision. Indeed, 1) there is never complete data 2) we always do something, our muscles must always be in some state, tenser or looser. This means that when faced with a problematic, we are almost certain to make an opinion and give an answer, even though we might know we don’t know enough to answer. And when the answer is given, we have implicitly accepted the premises. Thus setting problematics that contain your premises is a good (though fallacious) way of leading people into accepting whatever you want them to believe. To encourage people in giving an answer, spread a feeling of Urgency, etc. This technique requires some kind of coordination in media attention. Argument by number. [The coordination needn’t be conscious. Self interest by the media in talking about what’s Spectacular, about what hits the mind, does most of the job, once the scoop is out.]
Speech: machine to convince, even if we’re wrong. The genetic interest of our gene is for us to be able to manipulate other people to our (or rather our gene’s) interest. It doesn’t directly care about “truth” when arguing. On the contrary, it is sometimes our genes’ interest to deceive ourselves about truth. Of course, we also have evolved some (limited) tools to seek truth, because it is often useful as information upon which to base decisions, and as a tool to be more convincing and manipulative.
Cover stories. Retrofitting beliefs back into rationality. Rationalization.
I’ve begun a collection on my page (in French).
They fight "against", we build "for".
We libertarians see the world through love and cooperation. They see the world through hate and conflict.
Egoism vs Altruism (Self-Love ≠ Other-Hate).
Materialism vs Spirituality. leftists moan against the materialism of money-seeking. Actually, they are the ones with a materialistic ideology (communists also called their ideology "dialectic materialism"). It’s not about money. It’s about freedom. Libertarian epistemology rejects dualism.
Gift and Cooperation (vs Trade and Competition): ... only someone who HAS can give. To give is a capitalist act. Money is actually a tool to promote cooperation. Cult of money: they don’t understand what money is about. It’s their God when they have it (spent as taxes), it’s their Devil when they don’t.
Irrational adherence and problematic setting: Pascal’s Wager.
Authority. Mathematical models.
Social pressure: some beliefs are promoted by peer pressure. This doesn’t explain WHICH beliefs, though.
... No individual responsibility, no individual happiness => problem with relationship to parents, to group.
irrational adherence => cosmic struggle between good and evil, “group thinking” group feeling, the group as a substitute family, pack spirit.
collective responsibility: forced to act for others. “international community”. guilt. Identification of the preachers with the parents.
Psychiatry: identification of the State with the Parents. Using the family relationship to feel the State. Obey arbitrary decisions, much like you obey the state. Lib: problem is not with obeying to someone, but with forcing other people to obey too.
We’re seen a bit of black magic already. Let’s see how magic works in general, and white magic in particular.
Most people have wrong expectations about the nature of a rational discussion. Actually, most people think they are rational, and that their discussions are rational, and are thus triply wrong about what they expect from discussions. Not only is reason not all it’s cracked up to be, but people are not as reasonable as they think they are, and neither are their discussions.
In a rational discussion, you can’t usually expect to convince the other party.
When using Reason as a tool in an argument to convince, a convincing party will try to modify part of its target party’s model.
and we suppose that both party are each able to express their respective logical ideas in a way that the other party understands correctly, which might not even be the case!
the rational protocol consists in finding and showing inconsistencies in the logical structure of the arguments used to support an opposing opinion. When faced with the inconsistency of his arguments, a rational person will have to modify one’s axioms. But mere deductive reasoning cannot tell one how to modify one’s axioms; it takes inductive reasoning to do so — and whereas a contradiction found by deductive reasoning has some universal value, the hypotheses selected by inductive reasoning depend on each person’s previous knowledge.
Indeed, a simple inductively rational way to solve a contradiction, is to add a new axiom that provides an ad-hoc escape in the special case where the contradiction appears: instead of rejecting the general rule intended by the convincing party, one might instead reject its a weaker rule, that invalidates the applicability of the general rule to the aberrant case. Now, if the contradiction is based on an easily general enough pattern, then the required ad-hoc axioms will result in a model so complex that such modified model will no longer be simple enough to be preserved by the inductive filter, when put in competition with an altogether different model, to be discovered by the party to be convinced, with suggestions by the convincing party.
Now, the model suggested by the convincing party may include differences more subtle than just a particular disputed axiom among otherwise agreed upon axioms. In many cases,
can be more subtle than just discarding a particular axiom; then, it will require more time and effort to make the other party understand those subtleties, before it can agree with them. Worse even: these differences may include opposite “facts”, opposite principles, opposite ways of thinking, so entrenched in the other party’s mind, that no amount of rational argumentation can cast a doubt about them.
One of the axioms one tries to refute with logical arguments may be a “fact” so well entrenched in one’s mind that no amount of arguing may cast a doubt about it. It will be simpler to explain things by the other being mistaken (or maliciously mistaking) about this simple fact. Now, as arguments stray away from pure mathematical logic, they will also depend on more disputable and disputed “facts” that may serve as opposite (rather than just different) axioms to each of the parties.
Given a basic agreement on facts, convincing a rational party through a rational argument depends on both finding enough contradictions in opposite arguments and dispelling enough contradictions in the party’s view of one’s model, so that when in the end, with all special cases added, one’s model may seems “simpler”, more compelling. But since “enough” depends on the other party’s background, the rational content of the discussion itself is only in the logical exploration of the models, the contradictions in some models and the modifications of the models needed to resolve them. The verdict of “simplicity” and rational compellingness is never an absolute property of a rational argument. It varies with the rational person reading the argument.
Of course, the size of the set of rational people who can be convinced by the argument can somehow measure the “compellingness” of an argument. But the more the argument depends on known and agreed upon “facts” rather than on pure logic,
this set will always depend on cultural premises
and proposing a model that doesn’t without as However, how much contradiction will be enough to change a person’s mind in ways
But ultimately, Reason, being a negative filter, can never convey any strong positive conclusion by itself. Even when an particular overall model is shown inconsistent, by a contradiction involving a finite number of axioms within this model, Reason cannot tell us which axioms to keep and which axioms to
As a filter, deduction can establish the inconsistency of some models, and thus the truth of the its negation — but such negation doesn’t make for a consistent theory in itself; it cannot pin-point which
However, something very important about Reason is that since it has some universal value and communicability, it will consistently influence all people toward common truths, for a large enough population over a large enough period of time. It is the one consistent source of long-term progress.
Often in a discussion, I will ask the other person to define some term. It is not that I believe that terms are absolute, and want to test whether the person knows its One True Meaning. On the contrary, words are conventions, and it is necessary to negociate a common meaning so a sane discussion be possible. For a constructive discussion is a negociation. — Faré
A fruitful discussion is a negociation, out of which emerges meaning. Classic works are standards, and politeness is a protocol, to ease such negociation. With a reasonably expressive language, neither is strictly needed, but both sure do help, and they are where the general progress happens. — Faré
In a reasonable discussion, you can’t communicate opinions, and you don’t try to, for each person’s opinions depend on a body of unshared assumptions rooted beyond reason. What you communicate is arguments, whose value is independent from the assumptions. When the arguments are exchanged, the parties can better understand each other’s and their own assumptions, take the former into account, and evolve the latter for the better. — Faré
A long term endeavour. Do not be impatient. You probably won’t convince someone after a unique, short, exposure. And in some sense, that’s good: someone who changes one’s mind easily might not be the right person to try to convince, anyway. Keep doors open. Do not engage unless you’re ready to spend the necessary time. Your time is precious, use it wisely.
Think of the person you’re trying to convince as a conversational partner, not as a foe. That’s most important. If it’s difficult for you to enter this mindset, then try harder; this mindset may have to be acquired, and the only way will be to try again and again, talking with many persons. If you really can’t enter such a cooperative relationship with a particular person, then don’t waste your time trying to convert said person.
We cannot directly attenuate excessively strong links. But we can refine them, split notions, redirect the strength of links into new connections, divert their energy into new structures, refocus emotion where it really is relevant.
Appear GOOD, RELEVANT, RATIONAL. As the good guy, seeking truth, sharing interests, not as the bad guy, pathological liar, enemy.
To begin with, learn to use the words of your partner. Side with words that have positive connotations to him. He may be wrong to cling to words that have been hijacked by evil people; you would be wrong to cling to your own words, that have been hijacked just the same by the very same evil people. What is important is concepts, not words; don’t feel an irrational attachment to words; they may be the anchors to your concepts when you’re in the safe harbour of friendly rational discussion, but you should learn to sail in deep seas of rhetoric and eloquence, keeping your concepts together despite the changes in the weather of words.
Take advantage of crucial points. Insist on where it shows that you’re good and they’re wrong. Use paradoxes.
Lib: Individual freedom. To feel free.
Competition: not as a conflict between producers, but as liberty for the consumers. Always insist on cooperation, Harmony, compassion, etc.
Exchange as cooperation between people with diverging interests. Money as a universal intermediate for exchange that allows cooperation between people not only having different interests (pluralism), but not even knowing each other or each other’s interests! Riches ≠ Money.
Fight negative emotions (fear) with positive emotions (hope), not just with rational debunking. ¬ ¬ fear < hope.
Sometimes, showing the example will get you much farther than talking. (S people vs N).
You may seek to discredit someone else, but your target party may take it personally if too attached to that someone.
Trying to start with fresh concepts unadultered by emotional bias: unless your party is already hooked into what you’re saying, it won’t work, for such concepts are irrelevant as long as they are unattached, and hence a bore.
Contextualize ⇒ split
Too many emotional links. We cannot remove the links, but maybe we can split the notions, and create new links.
Learning not to feel too much: classical epicurianism or cynicism, classical taoism, buddhism.
Because emotional links tend to be undirected, they lead to mistakes in causality. We must restore causality in links. Make them rational, deductive links, instead of emotional, correlative links.
For instance, many leftists are against children working: killing the doctor, not the illness. Poverty is the illness, work is the painful treatment. It would be better if the treatment were not needed, or if it were more efficient. But forbidding the treatment only makes the illness worse. Why not be against working in general? Work as a means to satisfaction. Certainly, for equal satisfactions, the less we work, the better. For equal marginal productivity, the more we work, the better. If children could be as well off without working, by all means, they shouldn’t work.
Paradox: when a model of the world is not good enough. An odd number of “opposite” emotional links. (although reason may have participated in establishing a link, the link itself is emotional).
Anger, Beliefs, Fear, Guilt, Idealism, Joy, Recognition
White magic against black magic. See my article at next conference.
Moderation is a good law of Emotion, because focusing too much on one’s dominant emotions prevents to consider all alternatives and to take account of other people’s expectations and behaviour. Moderation is not a law of Reason, for half-truths are errors, and any admission of the slightest mistake in a logical theory corrupts it all irremediably — it is better to not have an opinion, or if forced to decide, to make a guess and take a bet, than to hold simultaneously contradictory opinions.
Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice. — Thomas Paine
It is good to compromise on facts, on emotions, on alliances. It is bad to compromise on principles.
Rhetoric techniques, sale techniques, seduction techniques. Listen to the other party. Find her needs, what matters to them. Sell your idea/product/person to her. All the while, appear as someone positive to which she can relate.
The order we defend is an abstract order where rules are respected rather than an objective equality reached; our battle is an abstract battle, where opinions are the only casualties; the costs we denounce are abstract costs, that are not seen; How can we fight that which is seen, with that which is not seen?
No-dqmagic thinking. We cannot fight against it. We must fight with it. But not in ways that weaken rationality, which is our only advantage - in ways that reinforce it.
to cmichel: problem with taboos is when 1) they are externally imposed by an authority 2) they are considered as entitling the accepter with positive support from others toward respecting the taboo. Otherwise, of course rites and taboos are useful. The human mind lives with rules, and discipline gives rules their force and their value.
Think positive: life without monopoly: justice, creation, riches for all, but above all, dignity. Love not Hate. hope. Raise expectations. Ask for reciprocation: I accept to empathize with you — try to empathize with me.
competition. Equation price = cost, supply = demand, marginal information = 0, responsible individuals: they are post-conditions of the market, not preconditions, whereas they are preconditions of collectivist theories and not post-conditions.
Not ONE hierarchy, but many of them. As many as there are people to judge you, if not more.
Confrontation may have a role: confronting a third party that is felt by your target as negative (or at least isn’t felt positively) is a good opportunity to expose your arguments, and let your target understand how they indeed can bring coherent explanations consistent with at least part of their feelings. But confronting your target themselves will not generally work, unless your target is already willing to be convinced and is particularly sensitive to rational arguments; even then, it is by constantly linking your arguments to those emotions of your target with which they are compatible that you will make progress toward convincing them.
Frontal Assault is a sure way to set your party’s face against your cause. — to make them respond by thickening their defences and closing their minds and hearts, rather than by opening them.
Instead, start with subjects where there will be agreement and common emotions. Even when you’ll argue for an opinion opposite to that of your target, try to find whichever positive value your target sees as ultimate justification for this opinion, state your own attachment to this very same value before you argue your case. This is the principle behind the Ransberger Pivot , which consists in following these three steps when answering to an objection: (1) Stay calm and listen to what the questioner is asking; (2) Ask yourself what the person is really concerned about. What does he really want? Make an intelligent guess as to the answer to this question; (3) If you want the same thing (and 99% of the time you will), express your concern for the same issue and values as your questioner.
Rationally inclined people might see it as the utmost mark of respect to expect rational argumentation from other people, and to be very critical and dismissive of whatever logical fallacy or irrational belief in another person. I myself have had this attitude for a long time. But this attitude is not felt as respect, but as harsh treatment, by other people when they are not themselves rationally inclined. Thus, once we “rationals” realize that most people are not rationally inclined, we should learn to dismiss this very expectation as irrational, when applied to other people at large, as opposed to people whom we know volontarily accept rational criticism as the ultimate sanction for their opinions.
Liberty vs Security.
Status hierarchies: fight, zero-sum game. Reciprocal altruism: positive-sum game. Wargames: negative-sum game.
What a strange game. The only winning move is not to play. — WOP, "War Games"
Identify which games are positive sum, which are zero-sum, which are negative sum.
For Status hierarchies, as other things, of course, Politics is not part of the solution, it is part of the problem: since there is only status differenciation at the margin, you can introduce lots of violence in society, there will still be status (even with Louis Blanc and shame driving people to work!). Politics can only exchange relative places of people, creating new injustice, but never solving anything about the problem. Economics does not participate per se in status hierarchy; it’s win-win, not win-lose. Only “solution” would be lottery. Only system with equal chances. (cite Borgés — lottery of Babylone) — but it destroy anything like liberty, responsibility, accountability, dignity, choice, self-respect. Status hierarchies are a natural phenomenon. They can be useful. Moreover, with liberty, there are many hierarchies — you get to pick the ones you want to be compared with, the one on which you will compete, the ones that will matter to you. So you will always find a way to lead a dign life. Authority will impose its One hierarchy, and thus make you less, because you can’t get to compete on what you do best.
They lack a theory of how things would be/should be/cannot be. What prevents them from doing their utopia right now? We’re not against their utopia, and their acting for it. We’re against the use of force as a means to their (or anyone’s) ends. Force won’t help them and their ideals. Sacrifices? Surely, making your dreams come true is worth suffering for a few years, isn’t it?
What of people who materially benefit from plunder? They would benefit morally from their recovered responsibility and dignity. They will be happier, more dign, will spend in ways that make them feel better. They become better people — and if they are after material benefits, this will make them able to have them (see modularization). Balance - yes. But of what?
Interest. conforming to the group. Social status => paradoxically, it is the worst status-seeking people who defend an apparently (but actually not) altruistic cause. Trying to start with fresh concepts unadulterated by emotional bias: but unless a student otherwise having and incitative to study (or someone passionate about treason) the irrelevance of such
Rule-Utilitarianism: what if everyone did the same? depends on emotional identification with the other one. Super-rationality.
Reclaim, take back the "monopoly on sentiments". Use metaphors that appeal to them. We are the "party of the workers". We bring concrete prosperity. We have the monopoly of sentiments.
Ideas cannot be communicated without going through these hooks that words are. Now, words are attached more directly to emotions than to logical structures. Thus, whenever a word vibrates with positive connotations for a sufficiently large public, there will be free-riders who will use it as a lever to crook people, and detractors who will spread falsities about it, thereby diluting the meaning of the word until the word loses any distinguishing meaning that was worth positive emotional connotations. Thus, there is a natural semantic drift for any word attached to emotions, and this drift goes faster as these emotions are stronger.
Consequently, those who try to promote ideas with a clear rational meaning have to constantly fight for recognition. This is all the more difficult for us freedom-fighters, for we deny anyone the authority to define what libertarianism is and what isn’t. Other ideologies can very well institute some global authority, like the Roman Catholic Church or the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, that will, for its whole duration, determine what is “true” catholicism or what is “true” communism. But we cannot have such an institutional authority, for we reject authority. And for this reason, among others, we’ve lost our name many times over, every time our ideas had any success: “Taoist”, “Leveller, “Whig”, “Ideologist”, “Economist”, “Liberal”, are labels that have all, at one time, been clearly associated with our libertarian ideas, but are no more, having been either commingled with superstition, lost, neutered, or stolen by our enemies.
The opposite trend in the use of words also happens, although once again in a way that increases entropy and makes things less clear cut. For instance, the word “capitalist” started as a neutral statement of fact, has been used as an insult by the enemies of liberty, and has finally been proudly worn by some of its defenders, notably Ayn Rand. Along the way, the word has gathered so many meanings as to be useless unless qualified, but to convey emotions, these usually being negative emotions.
My point is that we should be careful about how we use words, and how other people use the words we use. In this battle of ideas, words are strategic spots. We must defend our trademark “Libertarian”, or conquer it in countries where we don’t have it26, and use it as a stronghold, while we strive to reconquer such strategic words as “Liberty” or “public”.
We might take advantage of our ideas not being popular yet to fortify a few strongholds, but the battles will be won only by being disputed. This is not contradictory with the fact that the issue of who will ultimately win might be decided and settled before the battle is fought; indeed, it is self-confidence, based on thorough preparation, that will, with perseverance, make us overcome the difficulties.
My conclusion is that so as to convince other people, we libertarians must unchain the love within us. Let it flow. Unleash our emotions. We must be sensitive to other people’s emotions, to their practical concerns, to their undertakings. We are rightly disgusted by the way the enemies of liberty use emotions in fallacious ways, and we don’t want to be like them. Some of us are driven to reject emotional arguments altogether. This is wrong. Emotion can be used for other things than fallacies. We must reconquer emotions. Reclaim lofty sentiments. We are the hope of the world — let us make everyone know about this hope. Evangelize the world with the faith in Liberty.
Seek debate: our problem is getting our ideas heard of at all. They already control information — they can’t add anything. We have everything to gain in debate, nothing to lose. Appeal to their declared allegiance to debate, plurality, rationality, etc.
The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is, not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended. — Frédéric Bastiat
Paradoxically, this article is written by a rationally inclined individual for rationally inclined individuals; and moreover, I don’t pretend to be outstandingly convincing, either, though I am striving and am hopefully making progress. But, as Ayn Rand would say, there is no contradiction: if anything, we rationals are in no a worse position than anyone else to fulfill the double challenge of both having the correct ideas and being good at convincing other people. Indeed, being rationals, we can rationally act upon ourselves to acquire and develop new skills — even if we are not “natural” with these skills and have less potential at mastering them than other people. Thus, in this quest of ours, we must now learn how to master the use of rhetoric, which ultimately involves appealing to emotions, so as to gather people of all temperaments around our cause: the cause of Justice, the cause of Liberty.
Extra credits: I want to thank Charlie Nestel, Tregg Loyden, Christian Michel and Marjorie Luzet for the decisive interactions that helped make this article what it is. Also thanks to Bertrand Lemennicier for imposing such a challenging title to my speech, which forced me to make it much better than I originally intended.