Socialism Is Scary. What to Do?

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Yesterday, I listened to the first lecture of "Persuasion Mastery," a course by Don Watkins, formerly of the Ayn Rand Institute. Watkins stresses that persuasion is possible, but difficult, with both the possibility and the difficulty being due to free will: One can't make someone else change his mind, but one can help that person see the need to begin the process of examining facts and checking premises that is necessary to do so.

The best way to persuade others, he holds -- citing The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand as examples -- is to make one's conclusions overwhelmingly obvious. Ideally, the reader should end up saying something like, "Oh, my God!" as a result of your writing.

By coincidence, I woke late enough today to miss most of my writing time this morning, and so looked at a list of ideas for possible posts. Among them was the following note about Socialism Sucks!: "I like the clear way of putting the idea of spending our way to prosperity." This I wrote about the following passage, which elaborated on the demonization of "the rich" that is so common today:

Not a word about investment in capital goods, which make the economy more physically productive and increase real incomes. Nothing about capital maintenance, which keeps the structure of production up and running. Nothing about saving at all, since most popular critics of capitalism appear to think consumption is what really contributes to economic health -- as if simply using things up could make us rich. [bold added] (loc. 55)
Yes. That sucks. But then, I found something that caused me to think, That's scary!

This occurred shortly after I thought, Hmm. Didn't Ayn Rand talk about savings a lot? I wonder what she had to say. Here's a small sample:
Image by Micheile Henderson, via Unsplash, license.
Agriculture is the first step toward civilization, because it requires a significant advance in men's conceptual development: it requires that they grasp two cardinal concepts which the perceptual, concrete-bound mentality of the hunters could not grasp fully: time and savings. Once you grasp these, you have grasped the three essentials of human survival: time-savings-production. You have grasped the fact that production is not a matter confined to the immediate moment, but a continuous process, and that production is fueled by previous production. The concept of "stock seed" unites the three essentials and applies not merely to agriculture, but much, much more widely: to all forms of productive work. Anything above the level of a savage's precarious, hand-to-mouth existence requires savings. Savings buy time. [bold added]
I don't want to knock the first quote: It is not obvious to most people what currently fashionable economic theories actually mean, so putting them into plain English is valuable. (And the rest of the book more than supports the premise of its title.)

But still, reading Rand's discussion of savings after that had me thinking, Holy crap!

Rand's positive case for savings helps us see just how dangerous anti-capitalists are: They don't merely want us to forget the first and most important realization that got us civilization and keeps the vast majority of us alive today. That would be bad enough. They want us to do exactly the opposite of what that knowledge indicates we must do -- if we want to remain alive, let alone prosperous.

Clearly, advocates of liberty have lots of work to do, and I can't think of a better way to do it than to find a way to help people realize where we are going before it's too late. Making our case (and our opponents' folly) too clear to ignore strikes me as a very good first step.

I am looking forward to the rest of Persuasion Mastery, and hope it succeeds in helping more advocates of liberty become much more effective.

-- CAV


Dinwar said...

The biggest issue I've seen in recent years when it comes to convincing someone of something is what I call the Foundational Assumption of Debate: each side gets to make its own arguments.

Take Covid-19. One side is arguing for indefinite universal house arrest. The other side is arguing that slamming the breaks on the economy is going to have wide-ranging consequences. When the first side argues with the second, the first tries to flood the argument with scientific studies about the virus--ignoring the economics arguments completely. They will never convince the advocates of re-opening the economy to support prolonged shutdowns, because those advocating the shutdowns never address the issues raised by those advocating re-opening. To put this in combat terms, the opposition to re-opening is acting like Iraq in the first Gulf War, firing wildly into the air against invisible targets and hoping to get a lucky hit (only it's worse because they've CHOSEN to refuse to see the targets).

Yes, in this case the Left is ignoring what the Right says; I could easily find examples of the Right doing the same thing (bailouts, trade sanctions [ie, self-imposed blockades], and a few others). It's the nature of the arguments that's important.

In order to convince someone to change their minds, the first thing you need to know is what they currently believe. That allows you to tailor your message so that it's heard and so that it's effective. Far, far too many people--including ostensible intellectuals, people who are trained to know better--simply refuse to do this. Then they wonder why they fail to convince anyone, and why politics is so tribal these days....

The really scary thing is that this is another example of pre-Medieval mindset of our culture. Abelard and Aquinas both made this exact same point, in a time when even reading opposition to dogma was punishable by death (see Abelard's fate). Our current intellectual environment is worse than that of the Dark Ages.

Gus Van Horn said...


Something Watkins -- like his mentor Alex Epstein -- brings up is a technique called context bridging. Everyone has things they know that are correct, which you can build on; things they believe that are incorrect, which you can work to correct; and things they are partly right about, that you can help them repair.

It's easy to lose sight of this in our tribalistic culture, but persuasion is an effort to win the mind(s) of individual(s). Not everyone is as bad as their tribal leaders make them look.

That's good to keep in mind as "the world" loses its mind.

There is no "world" in that sense.