I know a lot of liberal-leaning types think that backwards conservatives (especially Trump voters) can never change, because they've never seen such a change. They've never seen someone go from saying "ALL LIVES MATTER BETA CUCK SNOWFLAKE" to suddenly saying, "Oh no, racism is systemic." And no public, visible conversions mean it must not happen, or it must be super rare.
But wait. We all know nobody likes to admit they are wrong, but did you know nobody likes to admit they were until very recently wrong? A lot of people change quietly and play it like they were on the right side the whole time, whistling innocently. I did. I used to think poor people were poor because they were lazy. I used to think sexism and racism were over. I used to think Christianity was "under fire" in the U.S. I used to think corporations were so much more efficient than government and we needed those clever, no-nonsense businessmen in charge of our corrupt, bureaucratic government. Now I get yelled at for being a politically correct "SJW" who wants handouts for everybody.
How did this real-life conversion happen? Let's start at the beginning.
A lot of us think of social justice as reaching up toward the powerful and the dominant, and asking them to just concede a little bit to the weak and downtrodden. When the powerful respond, "No, I'M actually the underdog! Ow! Stop attacking me, you bullies!" it seems like an insanely transparent lie to fool some gullible mystery third-party audience.
I know it's hard to believe a member of the dominant race and/or religion of the country could honestly consider themselves a besieged underdog but people really believe this. It's not a pretend tactic to fool outside observers.
It's actually very easy to believe your own small town or local religious community is an isolated pocket of "sanity" in a hedonistic liberal world. Outside of your immediate surroundings, how do you know how "people do things" in other parts of the world, or country, or state? Even traveling only exposes you to brief, touristy glimpses of restaurant workers and World's Biggest quirky statues. If you haven't actually lived in those places, you're probably mostly depending on TV to tell you about their daily life.
I realize Hollywood's ham-fisted attempts to be PC and woke have always been comically backwards to actual progressive people, but to someone who's never lived outside a small conservative community, it would seem like a gritty, realistic glimpse into the liberal-ruled godless world out there.
While TV's treatment of gay people has often caricatured them and ignored any discrimination or difficulty in their lives, to someone who's never seen "a gay," it reveals that outside of their town, the gays are "everywhere" and rich and celebrated and any complaints of discrimination must be laughable lies. Hollywood has somehow found that happy medium where they can screw with both actual gay people and homophobes simultaneously.
Hollywood may also give some inaccurate ideas about sex frequency in the wider world. Every non-religious liberal person out there is not actually having sex with a different person every day, at least because of availability issues if not moral or pragmatic ones.
And finally, pretty much every overtly Christian person in TV/movies is a self-righteous moron. (This is fair as it applies to me but I have friends who deserve better.) This is pretty good at reinforcing the idea that your own local religious community is a tiny safe oasis in a dark world that hates you. It's hard to grasp there are massive community-dominating megachurches all over the country if they never appear in the worlds you immerse yourself in for hours every day (often more hours than the real one outside your door).
Even a miniscule amount of negativity goes a long way -- for all of us. I've seen people on Twitter (from all parts of the political spectrum) complain about being swarmed with angry replies, and looked to see one or two negative replies dwarfed by tons of support. I won't judge them. We all filter out the well-wishers and stress out over the one guy that hates us. We're all self-destructive idiots in that way.
I changed most of my mind before Twitter got real hot, but if I had been on Twitter, I would not have been taunting liberal celebrities or calling people cucks or changing my name to "Deplorable Wombat," not just because that is cringe worthy and sad no matter what your views, but because I am a coward and don't want any trouble.
I and probably most people you disagree with are not like the drunk wandering into a convenience store ranting about Killary and foreigners and waving his gun around, I am like the convenience store clerk ducking under the counter and telling the drunk "TAKE WHATEVER YOU WANT I DON'T WANT ANY TROUBLE!"
My liberal friends probably already assumed I was liberal because I'm a non-white woman, and I was happy to let them think so. Even though I totally had lots of opinions about how being gay was clearly a choice, I sure as hell didn't want to get into a fight about it. So I just let them assume I was totally an ally and all that.
When it finally hit me that "Oh no, I've been so dumb about gay people," I didn't tell a soul. Nobody does. Show me someone who's said, "Yesterday I thought black people genetically had lower IQs and today I found out that's wrong!" and I will eat a hat.
It's ego suicide. Nobody's going to respond, "That's great, you're making progress!" They're going to be, "YESTERDAY you thought black people were born dumber?" Which is fair, but intimidating.
What you do is you very quietly delete any public posts you've made referencing The Bell Curve and never ever make that argument again in any race discussions. You just play it real cool, like you've been enlightened all along.
The problem with this is that everybody who's an LGBT ally (for example) has this pressure to pretend they've always been an LGBT ally. It's hard to say things like, "Now I correct people on Twitter for adding an -ed to 'transgender' but just six years ago I used 'tranny' as a punchline!" That means people who are in the process of rethinking their bigotry feel like it's a huge, maybe insurmountable leap to cross to the other side, when probably tons of people right around them have slowly floated over without ever making a peep. It would probably be a more appealing journey if it was known to be a super common and chill one, and not a daredevil Evel Knievel jump across a chasm that only one man is known to have survived, and that man eats his meals through a straw now.
I hear a lot of people say, "What could I say to this person that would make them change their mind?" Often, very little. Most of what changed my mind wasn't said to me at all. It was said to someone else while I quietly watched, eating popcorn.
When people argue on social media or on forums, it's so easy to think the only people involved are the people posting. In fact, there's (usually) a larger number of people just watching. And only they, and Twitter or Facebook or Google analytics' invasive tracking, know they're there.
When someone I disagree with blows apart the argument of some random stranger on my side, it's not me they're responding to, and it's not my reputation on the line. I don't have to worry about hurt feelings or embarrassment or the demolishing of an argument I worked hard on. Someone else takes that hit and I get to devote more of my brain to the actual point being made. If I'm slightly less racist or abrasive than the guy arguing my side, I can even console myself that I wouldn't have been yelled at like he was because "I'm not like him, I'm one of the reasonable ones."
The other factor I'm watching for is what I call "who is the real asshole?" If the guy on my side is being so rude even I'm put off, and the godless liberal refuting him is being super polite and patient, it makes me rethink the good and evil narrative. Sure, I may just move to, "These are very nice people, but just mistaken," but I'll be more receptive to listening to nice, mistaken people in the future, which will give them a bigger opening to further change my mind.
One of the things I believed was that everybody has the same opportunity, and poor people could get out of poverty if they just stopped pitying themselves and worked harder. This changed when I made friends with actual poor people on PWOT (now the Cracked forums). Now, they did not say, "Hey, you think poor people are lazy, look at my life as a rebuttal." They probably did not even know I thought that. They were just friends telling me (sitting among them, innocently pretending to be a good person) about shit going on in their life. Doing everything I would have told them to do, and crap goes wrong, a million little real-life snags that never occurred to me in my theoretical imaginings of "how a poor person pulls themselves up by their bootstraps."
Again, this would not work if you gave me an article or told me about a friend who experienced these things, in rebuttal to me. "You said it's easy for poor people to move -- well just look at this lady's story!" Delete. My defense would be up, because it's framed as an example to show why I'm wrong. If it had just come up as "Here's some crazy thing that happened to me today" while we are just chilling and not discussing any big issue, it would get right past my defenses. You are my friend who had a crazy misadventure, not "Welfare Queen Stereotype Shattering Story Number Five!"
I still remember the time I heard a very respected church couple say, "You can be a good Christian and vote Democrat." I think I had to sit down. My head was spinning. Up was down. Down was up.
I knew this couple was "good" on every part of the Good Christian checklist -- they would have been anti-gay-marriage at the time, among other things. And for me (remember, up was down), this meant they were cool on every point except the crazy thing they just said about DEMONcrats (or DemoRATS).
It turns out that I, and most people, are more likely to take seriously "otherwise good people" with "one crazy idea" than someone who is different from me in every way and wants me to change everything.
One thing I remember is another Christian telling me that the Bible mentions the poor 300 times and homosexuality seven times or something, which is a bit backwards from standard "religious right" priorities. It really made me rethink where I should be investing my social activism as a genuine Christian and switched my mindset away from "legislate morality" to "protect the vulnerable."
Non- or less-religious people may say, "But I use Bible quotes all the time to tell religious people they are wrong and it doesn't work." Of course it doesn't. I never listened to that kind of argument from someone who didn't actually believe in the Bible, because what is this, some kind of game to you? You think you found some loophole in my Dungeons And Dragons rule book? You don't believe the quote you are throwing at me, but you think I am dumb enough to fall for it because I am dumb enough to do whatever my magic book says. This is not a good setup for a cooperative response.
But when other Christians tell me there's something in the Bible that contradicts what I think, I'll take a look, because they really think there's something real there, not like an overlooked loophole in my spellbook that will give them power over me or whatever.
So here's a sneaky suggestion: For those who know some people who are "bad" on lots of issues but "good" on one or two, you don't have to give those people a medal or approve of them but if you don't completely burn that bridge, you can help bring THAT person into contact with a worse person ("bad" on everything) and get the worse person to evolve a step (when they wouldn't have listened to you).
Everybody wants a formula, a set of steps, to change people and fix bigotry. "Say this," and "Expect them to respond like this," and "Here's how you'll know if it's working." That's a recipe for frustration.
How it really works is probably going to look more like this. You'll make a reasonable, genuine plea on social media for tolerance and understanding on some issue. Some rando will insult you and call you a beta snowflake. Nobody else will respond. One of your followers will read it, have a misconception challenged, feel uncomfortable, forget about it, remember it a week later, hear a friend tell a personal story that dovetails with your point, and admit internally they've been wrong. They will never tell anyone, but they will stop believing and parroting one sexist argument forever. Maybe they will treat women a little better.
What does it mean for you? If you're persistent, and patient, and genuine, and reasonable, you're probably making a difference already, even if no one will ever tell you so. The yellers and trolls will never stop yelling and trolling (they might even get louder), but that doesn't mean nothing's working. They're not your targets. If you tune out the yelling, you might faintly hear the sound of popcorn crunching in the dark.
And if you've ever ninja-changed your mind because of something someone said, maybe go back and tell them. Maybe they, like you, think they're wasting their time and no one ever changes. It's okay to admit you've been a crap person. Here's a secret: We're all still crap people even now. We'll all get better faster if we don't waste energy pretending we never were.
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How did these hyper-specific tropes spread so quickly?
The Hollywood rumor mill has been playing games with celebrity deaths for at least a century.