If you care about making people care about what you care about, read on.
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing us today.
- I don't mind a little bit of global warming. It's pretty chilly here.
But don't you care about all the animal species that will become extinct?
What about our future generations then? Don't we owe it to them?
- I won't be there, so... don't care.
We've all had these excruciating conversations. You simply do not understand why people do not see the problem the way you do, why they just don't care about an issue that is so close to your heart. Isn't it obvious that climate change is a bad thing? Isn't it pretty f*cking clear that women's rights should be defended? Don't you think we should all take racism seriously? And if you don't see this: WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?!*
For a while now I've been wondering: How can you get people to care? (Disclaimer: I don't know. Probably not by saying something is wrong with them). Of course, you can try to convince someone with solid arguments, or even attempt emotional manipulation (although this is probably not a very ethical option). But often, when your starting point is just radically different, arguments don't reallly help - because most arguments are only valid if the premise is valid. Sometimes you are just forced to agree to disagree. For example:
P1: Flora and fauna are precious and valuable
P2: Climate change threatens the existence of flora and fauna
C: Climate change threatens something precious and valuable
P1: Things that threaten something precious and valuable are bad and should be combatted
P2: Climate change threatens something precious and valuable
C: Climate change is bad and should be combatted
Someone might just not agree with you that flora and fauna are precious and valuable; or that if something threatens something precious it should be combatted. There goes your argument. Some people don't even care about their own survival. But I still want people to care about <insert noble goal here>. How can you make someone agree with your premises (e.g. flora and fauna are precious and valuable/animal suffering is bad)? And if they don't care about it, does that mean it's just a lost cause?
One way is to 'pull a Socrates' and find out what your interlocutor does care about, find a contradiction, point it out and hope to convince them with their own irrationality. For example, say someone just doesn't care about polar bears. But he loves his dog. You could casually ask, "If driving your car to work everyday would kill your dog, would you take the bike every now and then?" He might say Sure, I'd do anything to save Sparky! You could construct an argument about how Sparky is also an animal, and if you're willing to change your habits to save an animal, why would you not for a different animal?**
But this, I think, is where psychology buts in. People don't like to be shown they are irrational or wrong even on their own terms, according to their own logic. But we are irrational and we are full of contradictions - are we not?! So how can I make you, you fellow irrational, contradicting human, care? I know that it's not going to happen from the self-righteous pedestal of Rationality - so how then? Tell me. I don't need you to share my favourite icecream flavour, or care about my choice of clothing - but I do care about some fundamental things, and I want you to do so too. Maybe you'll convince me to care about something I don't care about right now, or to help me see the problem in a different light.
I'd like to advise a couple of bottles to go with this. Any kind. (Cheap red is always better than cheap white). Thinking about this topic can be pretty frustrating, so it's always good to have a couple extra lying around.
*Don't be offended if your answers to these questions were all "no". This blog is not about hating on you. You little shit. (Ps. I'm not a vegetarian and I have probably been on too many flights this year so I'm a little shit too.)
**I realise this argument is a bit flawed, and would probably have a follow-up along the lines of: 'well but Sparky is a dog, man's best friend, so yes I would do it to save any dog - but polar bears eat baby seals and a polar bear would probably kill me and not cuddle me, so I don't care about them'. But then I could say, 'So you think it is okay to only care about things that are 'good' to you? Anything that wouldn't be your friend whose life would be threatened you would just let die, even if something as petty as biking to work instead of taking a car could save them?' etc, etc. But you get what I meant (I hope).