Guns, drugs and homosexuals and why I hate discussing politics

At our Christmas dinner, we ended up discussing guns, drugs and homosexuals. Plus some politics.

I hate discussing politics. And I had a hard time with the guns, drugs and homosexual conversations too. Not because I don’t hold opinions. Not because I don’t care about them. Not because I’m afraid to share my opinions. And not because I’m afraid of controversy or loud arguments.

I hate discussing these hard topics because I know I haven’t set myself up to succeed – to convince the other person my view is right. Words and facts and heated discussions rarely change anyone’s mind.

If you really want to change someone’s mind, you have to truly understand why they think they way they do. I can show people how open source software will help them because I understand why they are suspicious of free software. I understand what their concerns and hesitations are. And I don’t just understand them, I can feel their anxiety. I can imagine what they have to explain to their bosses and how they’ll feel responsible. I also know enough about free and open source software to address all their concerns and point out what’s a myth.

I truly don’t understand why people think sending millions of people through scanners at the airport will make us all safer. And I truly don’t understand many people’s positions on homosexuality, religion, guns and drugs.

If I did, perhaps I could convince them my views would lead us to a better world. But until I can truly understand why they feel the way they do, I feel very under-qualified to change anyone’s opinion.

To top it off, I think we also spend too much time avoiding the root of the problem and discussing how to fix the symptoms. For example, take abortion. Nobody wants an abortion. Nobody goes out and gets pregnant because they want to get an abortion. So why do we spend millions of dollars, lots of emotions and tons of time debating whether abortion should be legal or not? Because we’re avoiding the real problem – why people who didn’t want to get pregnant, got pregnant and how we might help people like them avoid that in the future.

I think the same problem (abortion vs getting pregnant) applies to most emotional topics. When discussing guns, drugs, homosexuality, etc, we tend to focus a lot of our energy on things that are symptoms (unwanted pregnancies) rather than on the root cause (helping people avoid getting pregnant if they don’t want to be.)

Oh, and we didn’t discuss abortions at Christmas dinner. Maybe next year.

21 Replies to “Guns, drugs and homosexuals and why I hate discussing politics”

  1. Religion, to me, most nearly means a person’s beliefs about the nature of the universe. It determines everything else.

    If you don’t share a person’s religion, you will not be in agreement about anything that matters. If you’re a hedonistic consequentialist, and your family is Muslim, debating *anything* of consequence is simply a complete waste of time.

  2. By the way, I’m a 75% Bible-literate Christian, and I believe the government should completely subsidize vasectomies. I agree that the best way to reduce the number of infant murders is to eliminate unwanted conception.

    The problem with most people is that they look to some other human to give them truth, and you just can’t do that. If you look at Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Westboro Baptists, Rabbinic Jews, that’s what you’ll see– people who don’t think for themselves. You’ve got to know why *you* believe what *you* believe because *you’re* the one that’s going to have to live with it all your life, and if eternity is real, all of that too.

  3. I also believe that the soul is simply the information that makes up the mind, and that if we can know when it exits the body, we can know when it enters the body– and if an organism does not have a mind, it does not have a soul.

    I also believe in the right to die and the decriminalization of cannabis for the sake of peace in Mexico. I get in weird debates with just about everyone.

    ….sorry for all these comments, I keep thinking of more stuff to say about all this.

    1. The point of the post isn’t what I (or you) believe in but whether we can convince others or whether we are even debating the right things.

  4. When did it become your job to convert/convince people what you think is right and what they think is wrong? That strikes me as arrogant.

    I don’t know if this is what you meant to say, it is however how I read it.

    1. Oh, it’s not my job, and I would never initiate conversations of this nature. But if someone is going to tell me all about how TSA is great and keeping us safe, then I want to be able to convince them it’s not.

      At some point, we should all stand up for what we believe in and try to push for our beliefs. If they were selling drugs to kids in your neighborhood, and you thought that was wrong, wouldn’t you feel obligated to try to convince people of that and motivate them to do something?

      If they were discriminating against homosexuals in your work place, wouldn’t you feel obligated to do something about that.

      1. The TSA issue is different than other “idea” issues, because the TSA is initiating violence against you, me, children, rape survivors, and so is of immediate importance.

        1. TSA is violating the rights of travelers in the US. Drug runners/deals are creating violence in the lives of those that live on the border, in Mexico and in big US cities. Homosexuals every where encounter discrimination.

    2. Well, my opinion is obviously what I consider right. If I was defending a position that I know is wrong, I’d be pretty stupid, no? So obviously I want to convince the other side that I am right and they are wrong.

      Note that Stormy (or me) don’t say that we might not change our opinion in the process. We might realize that the other side is actually right. And I think that is actually the best thing about Stormy’s approach of understanding the motivations of the other side: You gain a better understanding of the other view and can evaluate the whole problem a lot better than if you just looked at it from your side.

      1. “If I was defending a position that I know is wrong, I’d be pretty stupid, no?”

        …or you’re a lawyer. 🙂 Some issues I could imagine arguing either side, to some extent. Others, I marvel at the mental gymnastics it would seem to me must be performed to do so.

  5. Why should you convince somebody else in a discussion? Why can not a discussion be just an interchange of opinions?

    Sometimes I need to discuss in order to get a better understanding of my own beliefs, and sometimes I see myself defending a position that is not mine only to know other’s arguments (or because I think my counterpart shares my position but with a bogus argument).

    Nevertheless, there are some topics that only can be discussed with a reduced set of people and not at any time.

    1. I agree discussions are often interchanges of ideas.

      However, some topics are so important that I think most discussions are about how to fix them or if they are problems.

      For example, do you think there is a drug/violence problem on the US/Mexico border? Do we/should we do anything about it? It’s not just an interesting debate. It’s something people think needs to be fixed. The how is very hard.

      1. Even if you discuss on how to fix problems or determining if they are problems, it does not mean that only one side is right and the counterpart is wrong. It is possible there are valid points on both sides. It is also possible there are several ways to address the problems.

        OTOH, I think the drug/violence issue is a symptom of a bigger problem: why US is the world’s largest consumer of drugs?

  6. german has a good point – often people discuss just to convince someone else. I’d rather have a discussion with the purpose of sharing information. Usually, once I figure out the other person simply knows more than I do, I listen and ask questions.

    Surely, sometimes the other person doesn’t listen in case he/she does NOT know more than you do. Or keeps pushing an obviously broken argument. That leads to a lot of frustration. Then again, realize how hard it is to move from “let me tell you how it works” to realizing the other makes much more sense than you do. It’s surely not any easier for others 😉

    Meanwhile, while we discussed a lot of things at our christmas dinner, there was no politics or other things we (might) heavily disagree on – mostly an exchange of jokes, life stories etc.

    Too bad your dinner left a bad after-taste…

      1. I agree too. Sometimes I think it would help the discussion if everyone agreed they didn’t know enough and first we’d collect all the information we did know!

        Here in the US, people tend to fall to their party side if that happens.

  7. Stormy, I think you might like the book “Healing Our World” by Mary Ruwart.

    It attempts to identify the common root of many of the problems of today.

  8. Stormy,

    First, I think the best objective is to convince the listening crowd not your debater which is often really hard to do. However, if you would like to convince the debater then ask a lot of questions and have her try to justify her position and be sincere as if you “want to be convinced.” That last part I find helps with them being more open minded to your position when you discuss why you believe what you believe next.
    Secondly, make sure you make the point of differentiating between theory and practice as well as fact and opinion. Those two alone can debunk an argument.
    Lastly, do you research and get some good studies. You don’t have to do much work, but basing your argument with science behind it is hard to debunk without science and the point above. A statement like, “According to the study in 2010 by ACME University…” Often it takes a 10 minute google search, but the research should really be done for yourself to reinforce your beliefs. This can sometimes be surprising as you may change your opinion of something after seeing the facts.

    And for those of you who say it’s not someone’s place to try to convince someone else (I’m paraphrasing), wake up! This is not only done everyday with commercial interests, but this is done everyday by american citizens and is what makes this country so invigorating. These are the same type of people I find that are so found of individual rights at the expense of the greater common good in which debate and argument is essential.

  9. A lot of the issues you mention come down to scape-goating. The world is complicated and hard to understand, and scape-goating simplifies our categorizations and relieves the anxiety that we don’t really understand the world. Homosexuals are deviants who want to destroy our sacred institutions; drug users are deviants who want to destroy law and order in order to have a good time; Muslims are deviants who hate Western civilization; independent women are deviants who want to do all of the above.

    I think that, in order to combat scape-goating, you will need to be familiar with the experiences of the person you are debating (which means, you probably won’t be able to convince strangers). You will need to point out how that person’s personal experience conflicts with the world view implied by the scape-goating. It may also help if you can show how institutions maintain their power by scape-goating, rather than by meeting peoples’ needs. People usually have a good reason for feeling anxious; the trick is to educate them to the misdirection that scape-goating entails, so that their anxiety is not used to manipulate them against their own interests.

  10. I find it useful to ask people lots of questions about positions I don’t understand – either you make them analyse their own beliefs and realise that they’re baseless, or you get to the nub of the issue, and at least you can understand where they’re coming from. The problem is that many people I know don’t like having to think about things that they feel are obvious, even though they’re not obvious to me, like a parent who gets tired of having to answer the 30th “why?” question of a four year old. So you have to figure out when you get as near to first principles as the person is prepared to go, and argue with that position to get anywhere (and of course, usually you don’t).


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