Is it possible I had a civil, indeed, delightful conversation with a Progressive about guns because I gave him a vision of himself as an open-minded person?
I had a very nice New Year’s Eve attending a couple of parties. At both parties, of course, I was the only conservative there. I know this because, in my world, people freely trumpet their liberal bona fides, confident that no one present could disagree with them.
One woman I’ve known for almost twenty years — and like a great deal — said that 2018 was one of the worst years of her life because Trump was in the White House. I gently counseled her not to take politics so personally. I didn’t mention that I eschewed public whining during Obama’s eight years, despite thinking them terribly damaging to the country and to my children’s future. I prefer to use my whining and persuasive skills where they might make a difference. Which brings me to the point of this memo, which sees me wondering whether I did make a difference.
To set the scene, I need to explain that, while I’m excellent at solitude, I’m also a very social person. When I go to parties, I don’t just talk to people I know, where conversations revolve heavily around children, work, and vacation. Instead, I also meet new people.
Anyway, one of those new people I met, a man raised in both Europe and America, apropos I can’t remember what, stated that ideally he would like to seize all privately held guns. Rather than bristling and accusing him of being a fascist tyrant, I mildly pointed out that he’d have a hard time doing that with the Second Amendment in place. He responded with the usual: “Well, the Second Amendment applies only to militias.”
This was my opening to tell him — politely — two facts most Progressives don’t know. The first is that all American men are automatically militia members. A man’s automatic membership in the militia was understood as a matter of common law in the colonies before the Revolution and was instantly instituted into American statutes after the revolution. After all, the whole point of the revolution was to get rid of powerful government armies operating on domestic soil and, instead, to make every man the defender of his own liberties.
In addition, I made two other points about the Second Amendment. First, I pointed out that it is the only Amendment in the Bill of Rights dedicated entirely to a single proposition. The other Amendments cover a multitude of issues. Take for example, the First Amendment, which addresses speech, assembly, the press, and religion. Others address broad topics such as criminal justice, police powers, and more. Only the Second Amendment focuses like a laser on a single proposition: A free people’s right to be armed.
Second, I explained that the Second Amendment, having been composed in the 18th century, had a Germanic habit of writing sentences backwards. This means that the first clause in the Second Amendment expresses a wish, but the meat is in the second clause, which articulates the inviolable right that would help bring that wish to fruition:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Put another way, the first clause isn’t a precondition of the second; in the backwards way of 18th century writing, it’s merely one of the benefits that flows from the inviolable right in the second clause.
I wasn’t surprised when the man then went full Elizabeth Warren, saying “But people will die!” I countered by pointing out that, while roughly 30,000 people do die annually in America every year from guns, with each death being a tragedy, a CDC study showed that guns were used defensively an average of a million times, which means a lot more lives saved than lost.
Because I had a fact-based answer for everything and didn’t seem moved by the plight of people dying, preferring to focus on larger societal benefits, the man then did to me what all Progressives do when cornered — he tried to attack. “You work for the NRA or some gun manufacturer, right?”
I had a choice at this point. I could have gotten nasty and counterattacked. Sadly, I can get mean easily. I was a guest at a party, however, and certainly didn’t want to cause a scene. Moreover, I wanted to continue the conversation because I enjoyed introducing the man to hitherto completely unknown data. Also, while he stated the usual Progressive talking points, he was acting as an aggressive Progressive.
So, here’s what I said: “No, no. I’m just a private citizen who finds the right to have guns interesting and important.”
Then I went in for the kill. “You know, I have to say that it’s wonderful talking to you. It’s so rare for me to meet someone as open-minded and intelligent as you are about these issues.”
I thought I could see the thought bubble forming above his head. “Wait? What? Did she just compliment me? Now what do I do?”
Whatever his actual thoughts were, what he said was, “Yeah, I guess it’s hard to have different opinions here. Everyone thinks the same. I try to be open-minded.”
The conversation proceeded to cover a ride-ranging discussion about taxes, war, guns, welfare, and much more. (I even got in my take on the Passover story.) And all along the way, I consistently congratulated him for being a real delight to talk with, in large part because he stood out from the crowd by being unusually thoughtful and open-minded. I was grateful to him.
And here’s the funny thing: It was indeed a delightful conversation because it was a real conversation. I don’t know if he started out open-minded and I was just lucky to stumble across him, or if I successfully convinced him that he was open-minded. No matter the reason, I was able to introduce him to facts he didn’t know and ideas he’d never considered.
Do I think the man left the party a committed conservative? No way! I’m certain he left as strong a Progressive as he started.
What I like to think, though, was that I might gently have created the first crack in the dam allowing him to do what I did in the late 1990s and early 2000s: Back then, when I got new facts or saw my old facts crumble before reality, I re-thought most of my political and social issue assumptions, conducted research for information about these new thoughts, and then . . . changed my mind.
Maybe this man will change his mind too. Maybe one day he’ll be speaking with a friend and tell the friend, “This crazy woman said….” And then he and his friend will look up what I said to prove me wrong and have a good laugh, only to find I was right. And maybe then both will start thinking new thoughts.
Sometimes being mugged by reality effects change. Sometimes, though, it’s just the slow drip, drip, drip of new ideas. The problem is that Progressives live in a bubble, one that the media and Leftist politicians carefully ensure is a Teflon repellent against exposure to additional facts and/or new ideas. I’d like to think that, by catching a very nice man being good, by praising him for his receptivity to new ideas, I may have laid the groundwork for a breach in that Teflon-coated bubble.
Incidentally, two thinkers of old would have agreed with my approach. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People has never been out of print since it was published in 1936 and that’s not surprising. Carnegie beautifully articulates a simple principle: People want others to think well of them. If you frame a conversation to show that you do think well of the other person, it changes the dynamic and shifts that person in your direction. Manipulative? Of course, but only evil if you use that manipulation for evil purposes (as Charles Manson did). After all, any conversation in which people want something from the other party is a form of manipulation.
The other classic thinker is Trump’s childhood minister, Norman Vincent Peale, who believed in the “power of positive thinking.” In his book Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter, Scott Adams writes at length about how this works in Trump’s world, a world in which he praises people in advance for actions he wants them to take. On this New Year’s Eve, my positive thinking, articulated out loud, was that my conversational partner was intelligent, informed, and open-minded.
As I mentioned before, I may just have been fortunate enough to meet and talk with a man who was, in fact, intelligent, informed, and open-minded. Alternatively, I might have given him an attractive vision of himself that he then worked to uphold.
I really have no idea. I just know that, in a blue, blue community, I had a civil, interesting, and enjoyable discussion with a man from the other side of the political spectrum who was willing to listening to facts and analyses that were entirely new to him.
You all know how strongly I believe in the principle “catch them being good.” I did that the other night and felt rewarded for the effort.
Photo credit: Conversation, by Search Engine People Blog. Creative Commons; some rights reserved.