57 minus 23: Persuasion

Posted: 25 July 2021 in 57 minus, covid, news, politics, world
Tags: , , , , ,

Every so often, online, someone will ask a specific question, a deceptively simple question. ‘Deceptively’ because the honest intention is that people should become comfortable with admitting having being wrong about something.

And that’s not a bad thing to do. Neither the asking of the question, nor the intended consequence.

Though I’ll admit to a prejudice against people who claim they’ve never made a mistake, never fucked up, never come to a wrong conclusion… (with their deliberate implication being ‘I’ve never made a mistake, so I’ll never make one going forward.’) I don’t like it in bosses I’ve worked for, I don’t like it with people I know, and I loathe it in politicians.

Note that when I say “wrong”, or “mistake”, I’m not talking about someone who uses the weasel words of “I reached the best conclusion I had with the information available”. No, I mean “I was wrong about something.”

The question I refer to is:

“Name one thing about which you had your mind changed by a single argument? (Whether that argument was made to you in person, online or through an article or video.)”

After all, a single argument isn’t additional information; it’s a deliberate attempt to change someone’s mind possibly via additional information but certainly by an argument… that the person hadn’t previously encountered.

I mean, I like to think of myself as a not entirely unintelligent person; I’m sure most people like to think of themselves in the same way.

OK, I’m fairly well read (on many things, but certainly not on everything) and it’s rare for me to, these days, encounter an argument, certainly online, that I haven’t come across before. It happens, sometimes, and happened a lot, earlier in life.

But yeah, it still happens occasionally.

Here’s one I’ve mentioned before: the death penalty.

While I spent much of my life… uncomfortable with the practice of the death penalty, I’d not come across ‘a single argument’ against which I had no defence. I’d seen plenty of arguments that made a moral argument against it, but they were always an argument against the death penalty in principle, and I never really had an issue with it in principle, merely in practice. But I was never quite sure why I was so uncomfortable with it in practice.

I’ll get to that argument that convinced me otherwise in a moment, but what I want to stress is that when the argument came, it wasn’t directed at me, specifically. It was made on a CompuServe politics forum a couple of decades ago and the moment, the very moment I read it, my mind was changed.

Again, it wasn’t aimed at me, but it could have been. My closest friends would immediately recognise why it worked with me; indeed, as with most friends – you’ve got friends who would do the same – they know that some arguments just won’t work with me (you) whereas others are so perfect, they’re almost calculated to work on me (again, you.)

Here’s the argument that worked on me for the death penalty. I’ll say it as it was addressed, so the ‘you’ in here is ‘me’, ok?

“If you acknowledge that no justice system is perfect, then, inevitably, there will be miscarriages of justice. Which, equally inevitably, means that someone entirely innocent of the crime will be executed.”

That’s all it took. (I’ve seen it argued that it’s similar to the ‘better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be jailed’ but I don’t think that’s true at all. The ‘better ten’ is an argument for making the system as perfect as you can but not punishing unless you’re very, very sure. The ‘there will be miscarriages’ is an argument against making The Most Serious irrevocable mistake that can be made.)

Now, it took me a bit longer (and I’m not entirely, wholly and completely, there) to acknowledge the wrongness of any state execution in theory, in principle.

But in practice? That single argument forever and irrevocably convinced me of the wrongness of ever executing someone, no matter how convinced a court might be that he or she committed the crime. Because for every time you’re convinced the court reached the right decision, there’s a chance, albeit possibly a small chance… that the court got it wrong.

And that small chance is enough, for me, to wholly invalidate that most serious of penalties.

I’m about to ostensibly change the subject, but I’ll bring it back to some relevance to the above, I promise. Just bear with me, ok?

What’s the matter? Don’t you trust me? No, don’t answer that.

A few years ago, when my marriage ended, when Laura and I split up, I moved into a two-bedroom flat in Barnet; the second room was reserved mostly for my lad Phil when he slept over, but there was a decent-sized living room area, and a similarly decent sized main bedroom.

The flat was exactly the right size for me. (The kitchen was entirely too big for my needs, as any kitchen bigger than a rabbit hutch would be, but other than that, I mean.) Big enough to feel comfortable in, small enough for me to look after, without much effort. But for whatever reason, the light sometimes bugged me. Not the size of the bulbs themselves, but the quality of the light in the place.

I tried brighter bulbs and they helped but not enough. Then I picked up some ‘daylight’ bulbs.


Sidebar: I have to digress slightly here and say that when I asked my usual ‘photo reference library’ – Unsplash – for ‘daylight bulb’, they offered me lots of photos… of plant bulbs in daylight. Lots of daffodils and vegetables and the like. I found, and find, that more amusing than I probably should.


Anyway, as I say, I picked up some ‘daylight’ bulbs. They happened to be the most ‘energy efficient’ available but that wasn’t why I bought them; they just were the best I could find for what I wanted.

And, not quite instantly but pretty soon, I enjoyed the light in the flat. I don’t think I’ve ever suffered from SAD (Seasonally Affected Disorder) but I definitely enjoyed living at the flat more with the white light bulbs than I’d ever done so previously.

Thing was I happened to mention to a friend of mine who is heavily into environmental campaigns what I’d done. He and his partner, who was similarly hugely into the environment, were delighted. They good-naturedly teased me a bit about ‘going green’, and when I protested, he got very serious for a moment: I don’t care why you’re doing it, beyond me liking my friends to be happy, but whatever the reason, I’m happy you’re being energy efficient.

And then he said something that resonated, that brings me back to the above death penalty thing: if I’d have known that daylight bulbs would make you more energy efficient, I’d have suggested it ages ago.

It’s always stuck with me, that additional observation:

If I’d have known that daylight bulbs would make you more energy efficient, I’d have suggested it ages ago.

Is that the answer? Is that the answer to persuading people to campaigns, important or not, global or not, urgent or not, less to do with the ostensible subject of the campaign, and more about targeting your message. And not to a group — political campaigns have known it for ages, targeting everyone of a specific demography – but finding a way of tailoring your argument to an individual.

(And yes, I’m very aware that Cambridge Analytica targeted political ads to individuals, and very small groups, but given they did it via – together with Facebook – effectively conning millions of people, I’m not entirely convinced they’re the pattern anyone should follow.)

Because, I tell ytou something without fear of contradiction, we’re going to need to find a way of convincing people, one-by-one, of something. We need to find that way now.

Because of the covid vaccine. (Yes, I know there’s more than one vaccine, but I’m sticking to the singular for this, ok?)

Almost (I nearly typed everyone without the qualifier, but of course it’s not everyone) everyone who wants the vaccine, or has been persuaded by a) the government, b) the health department, or c) the scientific community campaigns has either i) already received their first vaccination, or ii) already had an appointment for their first shot.

(Not for nothing, but I’m truly interested in the number of people who received their first shot and chose not to get their second…)

But the vaccination numbers (not the vaccinated numbers) are dropping, and we’re getting to the areas of population, both here and across the Atlantic, where people don’t want the vaccine. (Again, I’m of course excluding those who have been advised by reputable and competent medical professionals not to have it; those people are why it’s so bloody important that everyone else gets it.)

And we know that those people won’t respond favourably (as in ‘yes, now I’ll have the vaccine’) as a group to campaigns and arguments and debates and threats and pleas. Because if they would… they already would have.

So, the governments are forced to either mandate them with the thread of going to jail or losing their jobs, or find some other way of persuading them.

I don’t know the answer. I suspect some computer modelling might be required, and a lot of analysis, in order to find an argument that persuades a very small number, who go on to persuade more.

But we need an answer. Before we go through the alphabet and end up withan Omega Variant that, though the chosen-to-remain-unvaccinated’s selfishness and antipathy, starts killing millions more.

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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