Conceptual Trip Wires


I realized that I have some very specific tactics for arguing with, or evaluating the arguments of others, and some of them specifically evolved to deal with people  smarter than I am.

I commented that I have mental “trip wires”: when after long thought I consider something to be self-evidently true, a person who ignores that truth is automatically put into the category of people I cannot trust to represent reality clearly. THIS IS DANGEROUS, because, of course, what if I’m wrong?  But it is also powerful, allowing you to sort through a load of bullshit, even when that bullshit is offered by someone smarter and more educated than you (say, you have personal experience in something they only have theoretical knowledge of. They are convinced they are right:  “There is no mountain there!” they say to someone who lives on that mountain.  Hmmm.  This may be a “sleeper”.)

I was asked:   “What is your experience in pointing out blind spots to others, particularly if they hold it to be self-evidently true?”

Good question.

I will try to make this general, because I don’t want to trigger people, and I also know that my own biases HAVE TO enter into these observations.   That said, it is harder for them to see it if:


1) they would lose something. Say, they associate evolution with disbelief in God. If I can convince them that they are NOT necessarily linked, it is much easier to discuss Natural Selection.

  1. If they are highly politicized.  If seeing something would weaken the position of “their side” people will sometimes say or apparently believe shit that the same person wouldn’t believe if they weren’t as political.
  2. If they perceive the subject involves survival.   Note that people on either side of the gun debate believes their position enhances survival.  Unless they stop believing that softening their position decreases their chance for survival, they won’t budge.
  3. If the subject triggers a LOT of emotion.  Hard to be objective about people we love: spouses, children, etc.  Easy to distort our perceptions.
  4. If the basic components of the perception, the underlying beliefs, were implanted prior to puberty.  You have to blast that stuff out with dynamite.  Racial prejudice is like this.  It is very clear when you are dealing with someone who BASICALLY believes in equality, sorts for that, and has to very reluctantly agree that maybe a group really is problematic. And equally clear to see when someone fights against a deep belief in racial superiority or inferiority, and constantly seeks to make any counter-examples “exceptions.”
  5. Affiliated with the above is tribal affiliation.   Members of other groups are typically clustered homogeneously, while your own group is seen to have fantastic diversity.  So a bad behavior by “the other” is seen as typical of that group, while a member of your own group behaving badly is either excluded (“No true Scotsman”) or excused (“Lone crazy gunman” as opposed to “terrorist.”   “Kleptomaniac” as opposed to “thief”).
  6. To believe X would change their view of history, especially tribal history. Suddenly, their belief in the goodness of parents, friends, role models, society, country, whatever, are shaken.   If a stranger is accused of sexual abuse by three women, I’m probably going to shun them.  It took thirty women to shake my belief in Bill Cosby’s innocence.


There are others. But the underlying principle is the same: IF IT WOULD CAUSE MORE PAIN THAN PLEASURE TO ADMIT YOU ARE WRONG, it is harder than hell to get someone to shift.  So the first thing you have to do is see if there is fear freezing them in place, and if you can disarm that fear. If you cannot…you probably will have an argument rather than a discussion. And unless there is a neutral judge, all that will result is pain.


For instance, a devout Christian father with a gay son.  He believes homosexuality is a core sin, and is torn:  he loves his son, and hates his “sin.”    If  he believes  he “understands the Bible” you might run right into a real problem: to disbelieve even ONE piece of that “understanding” throws his entire cosmological archetecture out of balance. He  will doubt EVERYTHING.


It is pointless to discuss biology (“homosexuality is found in animals”), theology (“many religious faiths now accept homosexuality”), legality (“Marriage equality is the law of the land”), psychology (“homosexuality has not been categorized as a mental illness in decades”) or anything else if at a core level (probably implanted prior to puberty by home and church) they believe it a sin.


Even worse? If they struggle against urges themselves, and are afraid that if they didn’t have this absolute certainty, they might try it, thereby either sinning, violating their self-image, or opening themselves to social disapproval.   NOW you have a really frozen mental state, actual fear of death (ego death) associated with changing their feeling about something, or the beliefs that support it.


Hmmm…how about this, as a principle: if admitting something is true leads to ego death, the person will simply delete information that is counter to the beliefs they need to remain “alive.”  Only a massive amount of information from multiple sources over time will create that shift, and then they will go through Kubler-Ross’s stages of Grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.


By the way, this is one of the reasons that dealing with people with love is so powerful: if they lose themselves, or their tribe, what they want to know is: what will become of me?  I die!


If they can believe they will be loved, and protected, not shamed for their past errors, not have their noses rubbed in their shit, won’t be punched once they drop their guard…that they might “die” but will be reborn as something even better…it is far easier.


What I see is people who are angry (afraid) wanting to make a change but beating people over the head rather than loving them. It is as if they would rather just have a fight, and beat the hell out of someone, than actually gain their goal (joy). They associate “winning” with “the other guy has to lose.”


I see this on both sides. Right now, frankly, I see a lot of it on my “side” of the equation, perhaps because I believe in a number of their positions, and therefore see a lot of folks on “the other side” as clinging to articles of faith, rather than logic. Note that I’m not saying I’m right, just that this is what I see.


So when folks on “my side” beat them up, insult, threaten, and so forth, WITHOUT ALSO OFFERING LOVE AND THE HAND OF FRIENDSHIP, my reaction is: “wow. That’s human and understandable…and not the way to win. ” They don’t understand Sun Tzu, that you must offer your enemy a line of honorable retreat. That it is better to make alliances than destroy cities.


They don’t understand that their anger is their own fear.  Because if they understand that…then they have to see it in others. Harder to label them and then kill the labels.


That’s what I see.  The answer is to

  1. Love yourself.  Necessary to forgive yourself, and look deeply enough to see your own flaws, unafraid that you will find something ugly at the core.  I ALWAYS assume this is the basic issue with anyone who comes from anger, despises humanity, and so forth.
  2. Love one other person. At least. The door to expanding your ego shell to include others.  “Num”: seeing that there is one soul looking out through many eyes.
  3. Understand history without guilt, blame or shame. It is absurd for people to look at the heated arguments on Facebook and then blame “politicians” for gridlock. Are they kidding?   I can only figure that they are dishonest about their own culpability.
  4. Support your “Tribe” rather than wasting your time arguing with people who see the world a different way.  “Awake” people can ALWAYS find points of commonality. In reality, I can find points of commonality with anyone, even if in many ways I consider the other person asleep, a snake, or even a “monster.”  Yes, I can.   It may not be worth my time and effort, however. This is why a more efficient and effective tactic is simply care for those who speak your language, while offering love to those outside that circle. But it is critical to be aware that snakes may bite. And that monsterswill eat your children if you make the mistake of thinking they are only “asleep.”
  5. Win with integrity and compassion.   Remember that you might be wrong. An analogy is that I see my house burning, with my children trapped in the upper floor.  This is my attitude about BLM (the movement, not the organization).    The sleeping, snakes and monsters will ALL deny that there is a fire, but from different motivations: sleepers simply can’t believe America is like that. Snakes enjoy the privilege and want to keep it. Monsters enjoy the domination for its own sake.   So I must ignore all three as I seek to put the fire out. I no longer engage in debate about WHETHER history and current events test my view of reality: done that for almost forty years, and I’m done.  But…I have to remember that I MIGHT be wrong, and therefore must be careful to avoid water damage to the houses on either side. Make sense?


Fear freezes us in place. Love liberates. But it MUST be accompanied by the strength to protect your tribe, and the principles you hold dear.   And anyone willing to die for what they believe has about 80% of what there is to learn in the martial arts. The rest is fitness, techniques, and strategies.  But if you ONLY fight for things you deeply love, NEVER offer violence without offering the chance for peace, you are coming from the strongest place a human being can come from, and can only be defeated by a massively overwhelming opposition…or someone else as committed.


And frankly, when two such people meet, the tendency is for them to say: “we know we can kill each other.  How about we get a beer instead?”


That is so freaking cool it is hard to explain.  Even if, like me, you don’t drink beer.







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