People aren’t as stupid as they pretend to be. They know a lot more than you think they know, but there’s just only so much they’ll admit within the context of a heated debate or polemic conversation.
What you have to understand about people’s philosophies is that their beliefs aren’t just based on arguments alone.
For most people, their beliefs are where they get their sense of sanity, security, and self-esteem from. So if you could just walk up to a person and take their precious beliefs away, you would have the power to cause an immediate psychological breakdown. You would have the power to make people lose their minds.
When you threaten to take people’s beliefs away, you threaten to take away their ability to make sense of their lives. Do you think people are just going to give you that kind of power merely because you’re impressed with your ability to make sophisticated arguments?
Just like all the other rationalists out there, I also wish I lived in a world where everyone was objective and based their beliefs on an impartial examination of the evidence. But we do not live in such a world. We live in a world where evidence is only one of many factors that go into the process of belief formation.
So if you want to influence people, if you want to get inside their heads, if you want to motivate them to start doing different things, you’re going to need a multi-faceted strategy that involves a whole lot more than your ability to “win” a debate. That doesn’t mean you should cater to people’s every whim, but it does mean you should strive to understand how those whims might prevent you from having the impact you want.
If you want to teach peple, you have to be a student of people.
If you truly believe that you’re one of the few people who are smart enough and self-honest enough to have the “right” agenda that everyone else should follow, then don’t be naive enough to fall for the age old fallacy of thinking you’ll change the world merely by arguing everyone into agreeing with you about how idiotic you think they are.