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Socrates was a master manipulator.

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you mean Plato? :)

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Oct 2, 2023Liked by Branko Milanovic

As Thomas C Schelling stated (in The strategy of conflict, 1968): You can never convince an opponent you are right, but you can convince him that you never will give up.

That's what political discussion is about.

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As humbly as possible I’d like to toss in the idea that you may not have been engaging in dialogue in the first place and it’s at this point that the fault is found... I’ve been revisiting and being humbled by Paulo Freire and his notion of dialogue as being essential to revolutionary thought and impossible to realize without a profound love and trust in place with the interlocutor... as someone living in the American south I have found it overwhelmingly tempting to simply approach people with superior information of how the world works (it’s a very low bar here) but if I want to get anywhere ideologically with them (and it is possibly) dialogue can get me there if I can avoid attempting to “deposit” my view... I only share my thoughts because I appreciate yours...

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Nice post! I must admit I rarely change my own views because of a single discussion. But my views have certainly changed over the years. But it’s because of reading (including reading history), so I do think many or even most of us change our minds as we mature.

These days, if I do engage in discussions with someone about a view that I think is mistaken, I tend to present a way of thinking about the issues rather than directly take a position on the issue. For example, a lot of people can’t accept that China’s political system is a democracy. So I talk about what Athenian democracy was like, and the idea that Athenians wouldn’t regard Western style representative democracy as a democracy since it involves delegating decision making to elected representatives rather than direct participation in decision-making. And I point out the difference between democratic institutions vs democratic outcomes. And how we care about both outcomes and institutions, not just institutions.

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It is important to distinguish real political opinions from sports team membership.

I suspect that a key distinction here is the ability to consider that something might not be a good idea even if it is good for the person. For example, an American doctor may or may not be able to decide that socialized medicine would be better for all, even if he made less money.

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Yes this is so important, and so often forgotten. If you look at the Twitter feeds of vocal supporters of a particular football team, and follow their exchanges with supporters of their rivals, you will find a very similar level of discourse to that between two rival nationalists, or card carrying Democrats and Republicans, or Stalinists and Trotskyists. It would be a category error to refer to any of these conversations as "debates." It's no accident then that during major international football tournaments, the claims of the rival nationalists are formally indistinguishable whether they're shouting about sports or politics.

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I have seen it claimed that one can lead someone away from their cherished opinion if one presents a situation that is metaphorically the same, allowing your target (victim) to consider something separately from their cherished opinion.

But I'm not an arguer, so I have never attempted this.

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Mr. Milanovic, were you ever persuaded in a face-to-face discussion to change your views? :-)

This is of course a tricky question to answer, as various pieces of our mental models are dear to us to varying degrees, and we might be willing to yield in some areas, but not in most of the others. What I would be interested to know is, whether you can recall having changed your views _substantially_ (whatever that means to you) in a discussion.

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author

It is a fair Q and I thought of that as I wrote my post. I really cannot remember that I changed my opinion during or after a conversation. However, I have indeed changed my opinions. I think that the facts or the PoV learned from conversations might have had a delayed effect; but directly, to be honest, no.

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Each of us is universe and objective reality and a concrete individual person. There is no universe outside me except that I do see feel hear ...

Long years of schooling try to teach us that outside objective really exists, and that someone, many people actually, teachers, Nobel winners, philosophers know better than me the laws this objective reality is governed by.

But experience is that all those people’s ideas exist only if permitted into my head by me.

In short the problem is not only at the level of individual intellectual honesty, but more structural, deeper, at the point where undeniable individual consciousness as experience meets theretical superstructure explaining objective world - world that does not really exist except by some form of acceptance like custom or treaty.

And it is this openess, willing acceptance, by custom or treaty of superstructure that is denied to political opponent in ideological discussion.

I do not share the same explanation of the world at the deepest level.

In the end it is like football. The collapse of communism like Germany beating Brazil 7:1 in Brazil.

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Sometimes discussions plant seeds. It is actually good form to be stubborn during an argument. It pushes your opponent to work harder at convincing you. And you should have faith in your beliefs and not give them up easily! But the next day you might think “hmm, he had a point”.

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Maybe you can’t convince people who disagree with you because you’re wrong

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“Sonja Trauss Livejournal: Radical Incrementalism”

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If only people would adopt Keynes' attitude who, when once accused of changing his opinion, responded: "When facts change, I change my opinion. And what do you do sir"?

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I find such discussions much less frustrating when I think about what I can learn from them, rather than whether I can change someone else’s mind.

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Speaking from the experience of university teaching, I found a combination of oral communication and reading assignments, with occasional exercises, to be effective persuasive mechanisms with people entering the "conversation" with divergent opinions. Granted, the asymmetry in "position" might be at work as well, but I found Dr. Milanovic's experience different from my own . . . and frankly rather depressing.

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I don’t believe it’s that simple. What matters is how conversations are structured and how much passion or belief you bring. Put simply, passion and belief is usually a barrier to changing people’s minds although it can help reinforce existing views. To change minds I think you need to present information and ideas that would resemble an educational style and that doesn’t work in general conversation. It’s why politics and basic economics should be essential subjects at school.

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If everyone had the same basic foundation one could lead discussion like mathematical proof to the inescapable conclusion?

But the problem is there are at least several different basic foundations Branko mentioned; Stalinist, nationalist liberal he had discussed with, and some more he hadn‘t.

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I think framing questions in terms of political foundations is a poor way to start. For example, a few years ago I saw the results of a survey of asking people what they felt the division of wealth should be in society. The results showed overwhelming agreement. I forget the précis data but salaries should be between one million max and £30k minimum. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with the figures but it enables more serious consideration of the next question which is, How do we achieve this? This separating of what we want to achieve and how do we get there is sadly lacking in public discussion.

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I just wrote something very similar yesterday and decided not to post it. Being surrounded by liberals, my point was entirely concerned with them and the exact strategies you mentioned, though I didn't think of it as concerning a particular ideological group. My partial answer is like yours, that writing and putting coherent arguments together is worthwhile as those who are seeking understanding will be able to read it. I also think that what you really need to convince people and to be convinced is a good prior relationship where you can both be certain of the good intentions of the other. I also think you need to go into conversations with clearly stated intentions as that's the easiest way to stop the whataboutism or other cheap rhetorical strategies. I also don't think we can expect other people to change their minds if we aren't willing to change our own.

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Basically, a discussion can have two positive outcomes, if and when they do:

- "Agree to disagree"; i.e. we still are at odds but the exact points of dissidence have become more clear to both;

- "Need to think about it"; i.e. one or both the participants make some apparently good points, the other side have to anknowledge this, and so they need to re-shift their view integrating such new knowledge. It's a fundamentally human need, and more reasonable to expect than wanting the other side to agree with you right on the spot.

When discussing politics, though, both these outcome become extreeeeemely unlikely. Better to give up.

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I’m guilty as an intransigent discussion partner. My pride usually prevents me from admitting the merit of the other side’s arguments then and there. However, after a discussion, when I review what’s been said, I often realize that the other side’s arguments were better and change my views. Of course, that still leaves the other side frustrated and I feel sorry for that but discussions do change my mind.

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I find that conversations in which one tries to convince someone of something harden their views.

If one goes into a conversation believing the other party to be wrong and trying to convince them that one is right, one starts with a closed mind, and all the other minds close as well.

The only way to get a possible transformation in views is to open yourself to having your own views be transformed. Then there is a general sense of safety in the space, and no one is being forced to defend a position.

I recommend Peter Hovmand's work on community based system dynamics for more on this.

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Out of curiosity, where do you find Stalinists nowadays? I thought the last one was Enver Hoxha.

If I may, I would like to indulge in an act of self-promotion and link to a recent article about J. Posadas, an Argentinian Trotskyist (so anti-Stalinist by definition) who believed that UFOs, if existed, would be evidence that communism had triumphed in other planets. Bizarre, but fascinating.

https://lucabaptista.substack.com/p/trotsky-aliens-dolphins-nukes

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