First a word of explanation.
Please note that the title of this essay does not refer to a “conservative,” but to a “far-right-winger.” As I’ve said many times (most recently with a certain virality), the two terms are in no way equivalent. Far-right-wingers are anything but conservative; they profess some of the most radical and ideologically driven agendas of any on the political landscape.
Got it? Okay. So now onto the question under review. How DO you talk to a far-right-winger?
Answer: You don’t.
I'm serious. Just stop. Don’t bother. You’re wasting your breath.
Michael Shermer, in his fantastic book The Believing Brain, reminds us that despite the scientific age in which we live, the brain is fundamentally a “belief engine.” And on top of that,
[o]nce beliefs are formed, the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which adds an emotional boost of further confidence in the beliefs and thereby accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes….
In fact, you may be doing even worse than wasting your breath. Every argument you have only makes their beliefs stronger. Don’t believe me? Take a look:
It’s true. Turns out that talking to anyone with extreme views is rather like struggling with those little finger-trapping toys that were all the rage when I was growing up.
And the likelihood of a “belief reversal” (as Shermer calls it)? Practically nil. It is “as rare as a black swan.”
So if you can’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) talk to a far-right-winger then how, pray tell, are any of us supposed to erode their ideas, positions, and power? Well, I have an answer for that, too.
Talk even more with people who agree with you. And talk even more even more with people who sort of agree with you some of the time. Why? Well, for pretty much the same reasons, which boil down to this: the more you believe something, the stronger that belief becomes.
Why is it important that beliefs become stronger amongst those of us who are rational and thoughtful (whether conservatives or not)? Simple again—the stronger the belief system, the stronger the need to do something about it—and that means that people who are more emotionally invested do more of the most important thing any of us can do, and that’s vote.
That’s right. Vote.
It makes sense, really, if you think about it. If we accept axiomatically that a far-right-winger is never going to change opinions or beliefs, then the only thing we can do is out-vote them. And we do that by encouraging more people to believe just as strongly in what the far right rails against—and getting them to vote. Concerned about the environment? Get out and vote for it. Think the minimum wage needs to go up? Get out and vote for it. Want to end corporate welfare? Get out and vote for it. Want money out of politics? Get out and vote for it.
So stop banging your metaphorical heads against the wall. Start having constructive conversations with people who think more like you do; make the change happen by getting more and more people fired up enough to vote against the far-right-wingers.
So stop it. Stop fighting with others who only want to fight. Instead start talking with others who will do something about it.
P.S. This same advice goes for just about any extremist. That would include far-left-wingers as well, particularly anyone that insists on using that V-for-Vendetta mask as their Facebook profile picture. Also just about any conspiracy theorist (birthers, 911 truthers, vapor trailers, Roswellians, Illuminati-ists) or those who swear by crystals, astrology, chakras, and oxygen bars. Double for those convinced by creationism or believing that homosexuality is a choice. I haven’t quite figured out what to do with the anti-vaccine crowd, though….