At the conclusion of a long and very interesting two-part comment Austin Haigler asks: “does anyone try to think about how best to communicate and engage the people that they least agree with and MORE SO don't even share the same conceptualization of objects and their meanings with? I know we all can have a tendency to write off conservatives, evangelicals, Trump supporters as uncanny, stupid, backwards, immoral, regressive, etc, but being from the southern rural areas I am from, I see and know the good mixed up with all the bad in these peoples' lives and ideologies. There has to be a way to reach them and it be effective in SOME way.”
This question cries out for an answer, and I am going to make an effort to begin thinking one through in this post. I invite my readers, especially those who do not usually comment, to chime in. Although Haigler poses the question in a very simple, direct way, we must not make the mistake of imagining that there is a simple answer, a turn of phrase that will do the trick. Of one thig I am certain: a jargon-laden response full of “interpellation” and “dialectical” and “ideological” and “(re)volution” is worse than useless.
Let me begin with an observation. Most people have a pretty good grasp of the world they encounter in their daily lives. They know how to get to the grocery store, who the good guys and the bad guys are at work, who in the neighborhood is living high on the hog and who is just scraping by. They are not stupid and they are not ignorant. They may have quite bizarre beliefs about things they do not see or hear or smell or touch. They may think that the universe was created by a sentient, caring God. They may think human beings once walked with dinosaurs. They may believe they live in a land of the free and home of the brave. They may even imagine that they are paid a wage equal to the marginal product of their labor, a belief far more fanciful than any of the others I have just mentioned. But be that as it may, they are nevertheless able to go to the grocery store without getting lost.
If you try to argue with someone who believes that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and spirited into America as a Manchurian Candidate, you will probably have very little success and will certainly find the experience intensely frustrating. But if you disagree with him or her about how to get to the grocery store – you saying you turn left off Main onto Elm and she saying you turn right off Main onto Broad – the two of you will probably figure out quite quickly a way to settle the dispute, and once settled, my guess is that the loser in that dispute will not persist in maintaining the truth of his or her directions.
Some disputes are disagreements about the way the world is, and some are conflicts between people with opposed interests. To take an old example that lies at the heart of The Wizard of Oz, if a nineteenth century mid-western farmer and an eastern banker are arguing over the desirability of the Gold Standard, the farmer, who carries a big mortgage on his farm, will argue for going off the Gold Standard, which will increase the rate of inflation and progressively lighten the burden of his monthly payments in real dollars, while the banker will argue for remaining on the Gold Standard, which will keep inflation down and maintain the value, in real dollars, of the mortgage payments he, as the lender, receives. This is a genuine conflict of interest, not a confusion on someone’s part over the nature of social reality.
What conclusion do I draw from this archaic example? Well, perhaps it is best to begin a discussion with a Trump supporter by doing two things: First, find out what she cares about in her immediate daily life, and tell her what you care about in your daily immediate life; Second, ask her whether she believes that Trump will make it easier for her to get what she wants, and if she says yes, find out why she thinks that. Then tell her what you care about in your immediate life, and explain why you think Trump will make it harder for you to get what you want.
Now, it may well be that at that point, you will both see that what you have is not a disagreement about the way the world is but a conflict of interests. But it is at least possible that you will be able to show her ways in which Trump is going to make it harder for her to get what she wants. [I hesitate to suggest that she might be able to show you that Trump is going to make it easier to get what you want. I mean, let’s be serious.]
This will clearly be the beginning of a very long discussion. But it is probably going to be more successful than simply pointing out to her that she is a despicable racist fascist.