Sunday Advice Column #42

spaceballs

It’s my favorite kind of weather in West Oakland right now. Cold, but not too cold, with the sun shining. This is the weather that always felt like Christmas when I lived in Louisiana. We never got snow, but it could get surprisingly cold down there.

Christmas is my favorite holiday by far. Halloween has a lot going for it, sexy costumes, pagan rituals, but it can’t compete with the holly jolly spirit of December 25th. Christmas has all the best movies, too: Die Hard, Gremlins, Lethal Weapon, Bad Santa, and of course, A Christmas Story.

I’m surprised the war on Christmas hasn’t claimed A Christmas Story as a casualty. It’s a pro-patriarchy, pro-gun, pro-violence film. You know, all the stuff that makes a movie from the 80s solid.

Disney is smart for timing their Star Wars film releases around the holidays. What better time to sell plastic shaped into heroic images? For people who had childhoods filled with the original trilogy, seeing X-Wings and such with Christmas trees and holiday lights everywhere is fun. I had a pretty isolated childhood with no real friends, but I did get an AT-AT for Christmas the year they came out. It was the best.

On to your questions.

How do you convince someone you’re right in an argument (i.e. Like getting a republican to believe in climate change)? 

The first step is actually knowing whether or not you’re right. You have to do the work and you have to be able to articulate both sides of an argument, otherwise you won’t be able to fully anticipate counter arguments. Climate change is a really weird one because the science is really difficult to understand.

I went pretty deep on the GMO debate and found those studies easy to understand and evaluate because I have a decent working knowledge of biology and agriculture. This allows me to actually read scientific papers on those subjects and come to a reasonable conclusion based on facts. I feel pretty confident in the safety of GMOs. There are still valid arguments to be made about why they should or shouldn’t be labelled, but safety does not seem to be an issue. In fact, every bit of deceptive, unscientific writing I’ve seen on GMOs comes from the anti-GMO crowd.

If you believe in science, you basically have to go with what the scientists who conduct peer reviewed research find. If not, you have to find an unbelievably solid smoking gun. If anyone did find actual proof that GMOs caused harm, they’d probably win a Pulitzer Prize.

There seems to be a growing amount of writing attacking the validity of the “hockey stick graph” that Al Gore made famous in his film, An Inconvenient Truth. I wanted to look at the primary research, and I have, but looking at it cold has gotten me nowhere, so I have to take scientists at their word.

This is a long way of saying you should really only invest time in arguing about things you really know about. Personally, I don’t ever really discuss climate change because I don’t understand the science enough to argue about it from authority. If you want to argue about climate change effectively, you need to go beyond CNN talking points.

The second step to arguing about this sort of thing is understanding what you have to gain. Why are you even arguing with this person? Is it really important that they believe in the scientific consensus on this subject? Do you want them to drive less? Or eat less meat? What are you trying to get them to do and what do you gain? More importantly, what do they have to gain?

For example, say you wanted them to eat less meat because of the horrible carbon footprint associated with animal agriculture. They might never care about climate change. Denying it might be tied too closely to their world view. They might believe it’s real, but not care at all. You can’t do anything with that.

But maybe they’re overweight or pre-diabetic or have dangerously high cholesterol. You might be able to get them eating less meat by appealing to their vanity or their health concerns. If you win on this, you win your other argument without ever even having it.

The TL;DR version of this is:

  1. Know both sides of the argument inside and out.
  2. Understand exactly what change you want to achieve by winning.
  3. Format your argument for the specific person or group you’re engaging with and tie the thing you want them to do to their benefit.

Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography is full of all kinds of wisdom. In it he talks about how the best way to get someone to do something is convince them it was their idea. The super Jedi way of arguing is to make it seem like you aren’t even arguing at all. It is better to get what you want than to appear to have won.

If you have time, there’s a great book that Stanley Fish just put out called Winning Arguments. It’s a short recap of the basic principles of rhetoric and persuasion. If you read that one with the Dale Carnegie classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, you’ll have a good idea of how to get people to accept your ideas, which is a little different than actually stomping someone in a debate.

Why do you think lawyers are required to do pro bono work but not doctors?

I wasn’t aware of any requirement for lawyers to work for free.I just looked up something about it and it seems that The American Bar Association (ABA), in Model Rule 6.1, states, “A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono public legal services per year.”

This undoubtedly has something to do with some lawyer or politician’s moralizing. I can’t think of any profession where more than a week’s worth of labor is compelled to be given away for free. I’m not sure if it’s legally binding or a suggestion. I know of quite a few doctors that donate their time, especially with things like disaster relief and homeless outreach, but it seems voluntary.

Personally, I hate the idea that anyone might compel anyone else to labor for free without their consent. I think it undercuts the act of charity to require it. For example, I don’t have a lot of cash to spare right now, but I do like to help other people. So I do quite a bit of pro bono copywriting and marketing consulting. The truth of this kind of act is that as much help it can give to someone, it’s really about how I feel doing it. I believe it is right and good to hep other people, but I don’t think it is right and good to compel anyone to act in this way.

I’d really have to speak to lawyers about this to know more about how they feel. However, from a few quick Google searches, this seems to be a bit of a tradition and some law firms organize this kind of work as a charitable “give back” program like over companies might do social welfare initiatives.

What is Kanye West’s probable IQ? How about Amorosa?

I don’t know a thing about Amorosa, but I feel confident that Kanye is very intelligent, possibly a genius. He seems crazy the way Howard Hughes was crazy, not the way some dude living under a bridge is crazy.

I liked a few of Kanye’s early songs, but never really considered myself a fan until I heard his interview on Bret Easton Ellis’ podcast. This interview is the most articulate I’ve heard from him and the way he explained what he was trying to do with his creativity across various product channels struck me as well thought out.

I think what you might be trying to get at with this question is “how smart can these people be if they support or interact with Trump?” It would be a very big mistake to believe his supporters are unilaterally unintelligent. He has attracted some very heavy hitters who believe his presidency will be good for them.

Definitely question their motivations, but don’t question their intelligence to make yourself feel superior. That’s a dumb move.

What is your best example of how dumb humans are?

The size of the flat Earth movement makes me question humanity.

What is your favorite movie scene that is extremely moving in a subtle and understated way?

I don’t know that it’s subtle, but I love the scene in Forest Gump where Gump is visiting Jenny and her lame Berkeley activist boyfriend at a Black Panther Party meeting. The boyfriend calls him a baby killer and abuses Jenny. Gump beats his ass right in front of everyone.

What this scene is about is staying true to your moral compass no matter where you are, while being polite in mixed company. Gump listens to the Black Panthers as they explain what their mission is and what their opinion of Vietnam is.

Gump’s best friend, an African-American, died in his arms. It’s doubtful that anyone else in the room had that experience. Yet he isn’t there to argue or defend himself. He is there to protect the woman he loves, which he does.

After he lays some righteous ground and pounding on that Leftist scum, he says, “he should not be hitting you Jenny” and then he apologizes for having a fight in the middle of the Black Panther’s party.

This scene is just about perfect. It doesn’t treat the Black Panthers trivially and it doesn’t make any sort of judgment about them. The morality displayed is personal and backed by action. The protection of Jenny is Forest’s “why” and he doesn’t compromise. He is also not affected by other people’s opinions of what his uniform might represent.

Forest Gump remains true to himself, raises his hands when needed, and remains polite as a guest. This is what being a man is all about. He’s not trying to force is world view on others He’s just trying to be good.

A very close second for me is the final scene in Schindler’s List where Oscar Schindler is leaving Germany as a war criminal. He is surrounded by the people he has saved and immediately is crushed by the shame that he could have done more. If he had taken just a little less for himself, more Jews would have lived.

This is a powerful moment. I think about it whenever I’m being lazy. To come to the end and know you could’ve done more is a curse I hope to avoid.

Why do you think killing in video games is seen as acceptable but sex in video games is not?

This is holdover Puritan and Victorian nonsense. However, with VR getting better and better, expect to see the free market shoe horning sex into more video games than ever before.

 

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