When was the last time you changed someone’s opinion?
Structurally and fundamentally changed another’s underlying position on an issue?
My guess is maybe never.
I’m not talking about shifting someone’s viewpoint. That’s easier. It can be done – sometimes. The introduction of new facts or an economic perspective – additive information that enables existing opinions to be reframed and enhanced – evolved. But that’s not a fundamental change of opinion. It’s simply the incorporation of new data into positions already held.
I’m talking about fundamentally reshaping a belief. A complete position reversal.
It’s a near-impossibility. Opinions don’t exist in isolation. They are nestled, predicated and constructed on other opinions. Each relies on the other. Move one, another is disturbed and forced to adjust. Ideological pick-up-sticks.
Take the argument over minimum wage:
Person: We should have a living wage.
Me: A living wage will lead to higher unemployment and lower total wages (less hours worked) for the people you’re trying to help. Employers will not pay more than the actual benefits received – certainly not in the long-run. Substitutes are an unfortunate economic fact – employers will search for a new solution. Low-wage jobs enable people to earn money while pursuing other endeavors – like education. They teach valuable job skills like personal responsibility, time management and general comportment. But, entry level jobs are not careers – and it’s harmful for society to see them as…blah, blah, blah…
There are a couple possible outcomes here.
In one scenario, the person I’m talking to listens, maybe asks a few questions and thinks further upon what I’ve said. A positive interaction. But – I have not fundamentally changed his opinion. This person is already searching for his own position. He is in the process of shaping his personal beliefs and is – at least partially – open to new information. If I’m lucky, I might provide a small measure of education – some food for thought. But I have not changed his opinion. He didn’t fundamentally have one to begin with. It simply sounded like a good idea – a positive thing for people at lower economic levels.
In the second, more likely scenario, the person I’m talking with sees me as heartless or uncaring. How could I not desire a better standard of living for others? After all, they would gladly pay a bit more for a burger if it helps someone else. Maybe, although economic data on society as a whole says otherwise. But they don’t believe the data because they feel otherwise. More importantly, they feel good in wanting to help others. It feels right. Immediate gratification.
The problem with discussing the minimum wage – or any other issue – is that it rests on other, underlying notions and beliefs. Beliefs that would be challenged if the economic precepts were allowed.
If one accepts there should be no minimum wage other notions are accepted as well. In fact, they have just confronted the great specter looming over most liberal ideas.
Helping someone in the short-run often leads to hurting them in the long-run.
Several other harsh realities have also been confronted:
The Law of Unintended Consequences is a fact of life.
People generally act in self-interest.
Time lost is time that can never be regained. Time is not on anyone’s side.
Dependency creates a certain type of slavery.
Perception shifts of this magnitude are exceedingly rare. And they almost never occur at once.
To expect such a fundamental alteration of viewpoint from a minimum wage discussion is almost Quixotic.
And yet we try.
Discussions these days strike me as more about battle. Who can win the argument. Who can sound smarter and come out on top. Twitter bragging rights. But few, if any, opinions are actually changed.
When political parties raise issues they are not trying to fundamentally change opinions. Not really. They are trying to energize and mobilize their bases while demoralizing the opposition’s. What they want is to generate voting turnout. Democrats don’t really expect that Trump supporters are suddenly going to vote for the next Democratic candidate – simply because Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer. But they do expect that Democratic voters will get emotionally involved and politically motivated – and hope that Republican voters will experience the opposite effects.
I’m as guilty as the next guy in all this. Maybe more so – because I pontificate by writing.
Sometimes I need to remind myself what this is really about.
I enjoy the ongoing education and exploration this brings. I hope some find the topics, ideas and information of interest. I especially hope those who are formulating themselves ideologically hear something of note – something that makes sense. Food for thought.
But I can’t expect to fundamentally change anyone’s opinion.
Because opinions are so rarely changed.