I’m in the midst of reading a new book by the science reporter and podcaster David McRaney called How Minds Change. Given its subject I couldn’t be reading it at a more interesting time.
Notice that the title is not How To Change Minds. What it’s about is how peoples’ opinions and beliefs change and that’s actually more important than knowing how to change peoples’ minds, in fact it can be a blueprint for getting people to change their minds. Especially if you are hoping to have people (voters) come over to your way of thinking.
Are you listening Democrats?
What the book IS about is how minds change, over time or even in an instant, and why we change our minds about certain subjects. Bottom line (spoiler alert) we change our mind about something after repeated and persuasive exposure to a particular point of view. We change because our concerns change (ie we grow older). We change because that other side, the one we thought we were against, made a more compelling argument.
That can be a good thing. In 1966 the vast majority of Americans supported the Vietnam War. By 1968 a majority no longer were in favor of it. What happened? Ah those pesky images of the war every night on the magical television box. I’d add in that between 1966 and 1968 the Boomer generation went from too young for the draft to draft eligible and their parents began to feel that this war was not like their “good” war, WWII. A combination of personal situation and compelling argument.
Want an example a little closer in? How about gay marriage. In 2010 the majority of Americans were opposed to it. By 2012 the majority was in favor. Why? Thank all those gay men and women who came out of the closet, in particular the ones living in some of the more conservative areas of the country. Tough to say homosexuals are deviants with an agenda to warp the minds of the young when they are your next door neighbors and little Tommy is still resolutely heterosexual. “Gays wanna marry? Fine let ’em, I don’t care.” Call it persuasive exposure.
Which brings us to Alex Jones and his Perry Mason moment on the stand earlier this week.
I was surprised how long it took the book to get to Alex Jones. It was all of four pages. And he is brought up not as an example of someone who changed his mind, but rather as an example of what can happen to someone who does change his mind. Jones posted a video after a prominent 9/11 Truther (remember them, how quaint they seem now) named Charlie Veitch, who had been the subject of a BBC program about Truthers, came out and said “I was wrong”. Jones railed against him, telling his followers not to listen to Veitch, that “the man” had gotten to Veitch and to stay the course of the lunacy that 9/11 was an inside job.
This video produced the same reaction from Jones’ followers as the Sandy Hook parents have suffered. Death threats, threats against his family, all the now usual responses from those who would follow a man like Jones. Perhaps Mr. Veitch will take the opportunity now to also sue Jones, but then again Jones might not have any money left to sue for.
The point is that what happened in that BBC documentary is that Veitch was confronted by something called facts. He was shown how the Towers could not have been preset for a controlled implosion. He was told, by the architects of the Towers themselves, that while the buildings were safe against a 1965 airplane crashing into them, they weren’t against a 2001 airplane. He was put in a flight simulator and shown how easy it is to pilot a plane once in the air. And most importantly, he met spouses and parents of those who died in the attack. When the fellow Truthers he was with called the loved ones mere actors that was the final straw for him. While they continued to believe, he had had enough.
All of that occurred in the span of one week. That is what can happen when theories are replaced with facts. That is what can happen when you finally really hear the vileness that spews forth from your own mouth and how it affects others.
Like the vileness of a certain orange skinned resident of the state of Florida and his refusal to accept his well earned defeat in the 2020 election.
Those who believe The Big Lie, who refuse to watch or read about the January 6th committee, they are the ones we have to get to. It will be hard, there is no doubt about that. We’d be up against the power of a cable news network that has millions of viewers every day and who has pundits dissing each witness much in the same way Alex Jones went after Charlie Veitch.
We have to confront those Big Lie believers, either en masse or one by one. Don’t debate them, listen to them, then calmly and methodically point out the inconsistencies and outright falsehoods of their suppositions. Don’t make it a matter of one side wins and the other loses, make it a discussion. The January 6th committee has done, and will continue to do, a great job of laying out the facts. Use those facts when you meet someone spouting The Big Lie.
Will that change every Big Lie believer’s mind? No, that’s not realistic. But if enough of them change their mind then we might just save democracy. I’ll take that as a good start.
We’ll go out with a conspiracy theory in song form from yesteryear. When The Knickerbockers released their song “Lies” it was thought to actually be the Beatles using a phony name. John egged it on by saying “I don’t remember recording that one”.