A Short Piece Featured in The Map Is Indestructible by O.G. Rose

Persuasion Keeps Correctness From Feeling Totalitarian, but What if Persuasion Is Impossible?

What is best will feel like oppression if we don’t believe it is best when it is forced on us, but what other option is there if we lose the ability to tell what is best?

Photo by Derek Owens

Let us assume “x is what’s best” but that we are not persuaded x is best. How will we experience x? Well, “not as best,” assumingly, which then begs the question: How will we experience x if x is forced on us? In this thought experiment, I really want to stress that x is indeed “best” — I am not making a point on the dangers of “good intention.” Here, I want to stress the utter necessity of the art of persuasion.

Often, when I know I’m right, it can feel like a waste of time to learn how to persuade others that I’m right. Why can’t they just get it? They’re responsible for thinking too, after all. Well, that’s hard to say, but if I’m right about something, it is not always self-evident that I am indeed right. I might need to persuade others I’m correct, but the very knowledge that I’m correct will make me feel like I shouldn’t need to also learn how to be persuasive. I mean, I did the hard work of figuring out the truth: why can’t my audience do some work for once versus me have to spoon-feed them everything? Furthermore, I’ve already tried to make sense: they’re just not doing their part!

Now, now — all understandable feelings, but we can’t ignore the point that where persuasion is lacking, oppression will feel present. The work of persuasion must be done, or people will feel oppressed and respond accordingly. This will not bode well for the social order, and even if there is something that feels unfair about it, the only alternative is “deep manipulation” (as will be explored).

Problematically, it is very difficult to tell when I’m not being persuasion, for I experience what I think as “being persuasive” (after all, it’s how I think), and so it will be easy to think that the case I’m making is indeed persuasive. This is “the curse of knowledge” Steven Pinker discusses, which certainly hinders our ability to be persuasive. How can we learn to tell when we’re being persuasive versus only think that we’re being persuasive? That’s a great question: personally, I would suggest taking up a routine of regularly writing and speaking, to start, as well as learning the art of empathy. Classes on oration and speaking might help, classes which we could all use.

It’s often said that “there are no new ideas,” and perhaps that’s true. Perhaps thinkers today mostly generate ideas that someone in the past already thought up, but if modern thinkers are making more persuasive cases for old ideas, then thinkers today are still contributing to “The Great Conversation” by reducing the feeling of oppression in the world. Where persuasive abilities increase, so too does a sense of freedom (and who cares so much for freedom if we don’t feel free?). This isn’t to say that everything people are persuaded into is good (the opposite can be the case), but it is to say that “valuing persuasion” is important. The only alternatives seem to be force, manipulation, and/or radical isolationism.

Where persuasion is lacking, there will likely be a feeling of oppression, even if that feeling isn’t warranted. It is not enough to be correct and not be oppression: we also have to feel to others like we aren’t oppressive, and that requires the art of persuasion. But what if persuasion is ultimately impossible (or at least impossible when it really counts) because of “the problem of internally systems?” In other words, what if ideas, ideologies, worldviews, and the like are so structured that nothing can necessarily disprove them? Does that mean we need “data manipulators” on social media or something to trick us into being “persuaded?” Isn’t “persuasion” then a force of oppression? An extremely good question, and this might suggest that “the good of persuasion” is lost now (assuming it was ever “really” around in the first place), which would mean either “feelings of oppression” or “being manipulated” are inevitable. If this is the case, we should expect the world to continually feel like a lit fuse or frog in gradually boiling water. Unless that is data is manipulated in such a way that we have no idea what is going on: is that best? Is that possible? Is that the strategy of the CCP in China? I don’t know.

What if ultimately “the map is indestructible” and people can’t always be persuaded even when it is necessary to save the world? Well, that would mean force and “feelings of oppression” are likely, as will be the reactions against them. That, or a world where everyone is manipulated by data without realizing it will arise, a state of “false persuasion,” which might prove easy to achieve once Deep Fake technology spreads widely (horrifyingly?). We’re already struggling to know what to think anymore (evident by “the crisis of Pandora’s Rationality”), but I fear that if we “don’t know what to think anymore” and we know we don’t, that will not be a victory of “false persuasion,” for we will lack the existential stability of “fixed belief” (as Pierce calls it), and that is likely to motivate us into rebellion or totalitarianism. If it’s going to happen, we must be manipulated and not know we are manipulated, but is that a world where we want to live? Well, maybe if we don’t know we’re living in it…

Considering all this, it might be likely that history repeats, unless perhaps we use force, but haven’t many people caused history to repeat by using force in hopes of changing the course of history for the better? Isn’t the use of force generally what makes us sigh, “And so history repeats?” Well, only if we know force is being used…If we claim it is but the force is too concealed to prove, then where rests the source of the problem?

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