collaborative filtering & changing minds








20+ years ago, a friend of mine was doing research on “collaborative filtering”, the technology that underlies things like Netflix showing you movies you’ll probably-like. There was discussion of a project applying this technology to Usenet (a discussion medium) or internet forums or things like that, and one of the people, I think a faculty adviser, rejected it completely and said “no, this would be evil”. Because if you filter out all the posts you don’t like, you live in a bubble of people who agree with you.

Facebook proved him right.

I think this is a key thing to understand about all this “do we talk politely to people who disagree with us” discourse: 90% of the people supporting any given evil thing are not strongly committed to it. They’re just going along with what the people around them believe and say. If any people around them believe and say differently, that will have a significant impact on them.

Convincing people on things like this isn’t some kind of incredible one-in-a-million chance. If you just talk to them on a regular basis and go about your business, just existing, but occasionally mentioning conflicting views, that will convince a lot of them that the extremist things they are picking up are possibly-bullshit. Just being queer near people who are default-homophobic can, and does, get many of them to gradually change their minds.

There’s plenty of research on the polarizing impact of things like facebook’s default sorting of things so you see people who agree with you more and people who disagree with you less.

Failure to distinguish between genuine militants and people who are supporting crazy bullshit because no one they know personally is suggesting there’s a problem means further radicalizing the latter.

I know this is anecdotal, but in my 31 years of life, I have never convinced anyone to let go of some toxic or cruel attitude or practice. No amount of calling attention to it or explaining why it’s bad ever made a difference. No amount of just “being there” made any positive influence whatsoever.

People don’t change their minds, and they don’t consider anything beyond what they heard when they were five years old.

Convincing people on things is not a “one-in-a-million chance” like you say, but that’s only because you think it would actually work one time.

It doesn’t.

Even me saying this isn’t going to change anyone’s minds. No one is going to read what either of these posts say and reconsider their stance on anything.

Talking to other human beings is a pointless, frustrating waste of time and energy that could be better spent jerking off.

@despicableplankton I think this is a valuable perspective, and I have some questions, because if you’ve covered all the bases I can think of to cover in your efforts to convince people and still saw no success, it would warrant a significant update on my perspective on the matter.

As a starting point for what my perspective is, I can summarize it as follows: We don’t convince people by explaining how wrong they are. We convince people by trying to understand how right they are, and if they feel that we’re genuinely engaging with their ideas they’ll realize their errors themselves along the way as they try to explain them to you.

So what I normally do – unless I see a good reason for doing otherwise – is any time my mind raises a disagreement, I try to find some way to formulate it as a “I want to understand what I’m missing” sort of question. Incidentally, for me this aligns perfectly with me actual desire to learn anything that I might be missing.

So with that said, I’d actually like to know, if you don’t mind taking the time: have you tried the above, if so, could you go into details as to how those interactions went, and in what ways has it failed you?

TL;DR: I don’t think it matters what mental strategy you have, or how you present an argument, or even what you use to back up your beliefs. People decide ahead of time they don’t want to change, so they don’t. People have learned to throw out whatever information they don’t want to believe. Your pitch and your presentation is pointless if they’re not buying what you’re selling.



Keep reading

One thing to remember is that you won’t always know if you’ve changed someone else’s mind.

I have had vehement arguments with people where I dug in and didn’t give an inch, didn’t even show the slightest appreciation for their viewpoint – only to change my mind later, long after the conversation was over, based in part on things they told me.

I have also had times where I’ve watched two other people argue, in one of those arguments that goes absolutely nowhere, and shifted from agreeing with person A to agreeing with person B without ever actually involving myself in their conversation.

If you regularly argue about things you’re passionate about, and use good argument strategies, it’s quite likely that you have changed some minds without even knowing that you have. Especially if those conversations were in a public forum, and therefore likely to involve many silent bystanders who choose to observe without contributing.

I agree with the one above me. I’ve been in lots of arguments, and I’ve never once changed my mind during the argument. But I have charged my mind, sometimes months or years later, due to things that people argued at me.

I’ve persuaded literally dozens of people to change their minds on contentious issues, that I know of, and sometimes I find out later about people I didn’t realize I’d convinced.

If you don’t think people can be persuaded, git gud.


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