Looming government insolvency. Ecosystem collapse. Our complete dependence on depleting fossil fuels. Overpopulation. The accelerating wealth gap between the 1% and everyone else. The folly of pursuing exponential growth on a finite planet.
Each of these topics often seem impossible to talk about. Too many people find them too triggering.
We could add many more to this list. Religion. Politics. Abortion.
But avoiding these topics doesn’t help us. It sets us up for firey conflict when opposing beliefs on these topics inevitably collide.
So, how can we successfully engage in discussion on these issues, with those we care about and with society at large?
Peter Boghossian, co-author of How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide, shares straightforward conversational ‘hacks’ for having constructive, respectful discussion on any controversial topic — including climate change, religious faith, gender identity, race, poverty, immigration, or gun control.
People do not formulate their beliefs on the basis of evidence. They think they do, but instead, they cherry pick pieces of information or pieces of data to support the beliefs they already have.
The key thing to understand is that people formulate their beliefs because of some moral impulse, derived from a community to which they belong. They have a strong moral sense of why they ought to believe something.
Arguing with evidence doesn’t work. That triggers something called the backfire effect — it’s well established in the literature — where people just hunker down or double down in their beliefs.
So instead of providing evidence, there are other ways that we have to shift those conversations.
The way to reach people about these issues is through values and not evidence. You have to figure out what somebody values and why they value it. In fancy terms, that’s called moral epistemology.
Once you figure out someone’s moral epistemology, that’s like the lock. And the templates that we use in the book are like keys to unlock that lock. Epistemology is just a two dollar word for ‘how you know what you think you know’. And morality is just a word meaning ‘what ought I to do’.
People don’t really think very much about how they come to their moral beliefs. It’s remarkably interesting how brittle those moral epistemologies are. With a few targeted questions, people can become more reflective about that.
So for example, I’m very interested in the crisis in plastic in the oceans right now and the great garbage gyres. The way to reach people on this subject is not to give them evidence for how bad it is, because that doesn’t tell them why they should care about it. Instead, see what they value in the first place, and then give them a reason for why the ocean should be cleaned up that comports with the values they already have.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Peter Boghossian (44m:26s).
Chris Martenson: Welcome, everyone, to this Featured Voices podcast brought to you by Peak Prosperity. I’m your host, Dr. Chris Martenson. Look, one of the most prevalent questions I have personally received over the years is this - how can I talk about these really tough issues with the people I care about. Things like the destruction of ecosystems or climate changes, the wealth gap, exponential growth on a finite planet, overpopulation, these are all seemingly too difficult to talk about by most people with most people.
In our website, in our community, you know we don’t allow highly emotionally charged topics to be discussed at all because those serve to fracture online communities very easily because we’re not face to face. And we have larger issues that require our common attention, our insights, our actions. So no politics, no abortion, no religion.
We keep those...there are plenty of other places to express and share those views while our conversation zone sticks to the economy, energy, the environment, exponential growth. That’s where we need to stay focused. Our advice, however, has always been if you are going to approach even these conversations, you have to do it very carefully and understand that it’s pretty rare that the data actually matters in that conversation.
Well, today’s guest is going to be just a huge relief to all of you seeking new ways to communicate your views of the world with those around you. Today’s guest is Peter Boghossian, who together with fellow author James Lindsay, wrote the book How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide. Perfect for my audience; this is going to be great. In this brand new book, Peter and James guide you through straightforward, practical conversational techniques necessary for every successful conversation, whether the issues is climate change, religious faith, gender identity, race, poverty, immigration, gun control.
Dr. Boghossian is an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University, and his area of academic focus include atheism, critical thinking, scientific skepticism, and Socratic method. Peter has a teaching pedigree spanning more than 25 years, 30,000 students. He’s been in prisons, hospitals, public/private schools, seminaries, colleges all over the place. Dr. Peter Boghossian, welcome to the program.
Peter Boghossian: Thank you for having me on. I appreciate it.
Chris Martenson: I have to say, I’m really quite excited for this interview as really the topic couldn’t be more urgent. The culture of reasonable conversation kind of seems to have taken a national turn for the worst of late. Peter, what is an impossible conversation, and why are we seemingly having fewer of them...or more of them than ever before, I should say?
Peter Boghossian: That’s a great question. An impossible conversation is a conversation across a divide or a gulf when you don’t think it’s possible. So people are entrenched. One person or both people are ideologues. Nobody’s listening. They’re delivering messages. And so we wrote this book to break through those partisan divides and teach people how to communicate with each other.
Chris Martenson: All right. Well, let’s start at the beginning with all this and let’s start with what doesn’t work. So what is it that’s not working right now to bring together the minds and hearts of all the various camps in America or the world?
Peter Boghossian: Yeah, I think here’s a hard pill to swallow, but it is the truth. People do not formulate their beliefs on the basis of evidence. They think they formulate their beliefs on the basis of evidence, but they have a belief and then they look in their belief landscape and cherry pick pieces of information or pieces of data to support the belief they already have.
One of the greatest insights in critical thinking and moral reasoning was by Michael Shermer from The Skeptics Society. And he’s argued in the believing brain and why people believe weird things that smarter people are better at rationalizing bad ideas. So if somebody has a bad idea and if they’re a smart person, they can give you good reasons to justify that idea.
The key thing to understand is that people formulate their beliefs because of some moral impulse, a community to which they belong. They have a strong moral sense of why they ought to believe or why they should believe something.
Chris Martenson: Well, this is absolutely right up the center of the plate for me and my audience because this is something I learned through the school of hard knocks. I did this very poorly, what I do in the world, for a while because I thought it was about the data. Look, I’m a scientist and I’ve got an MBA, too, so numbers. I got trained in how to take numbers and convert those into actions.
Peter Boghossian: And if I may interrupt you, the reason the mistake you make is extraordinarily prevalent among “people like you.” And what I mean by people like you is you’re somebody who values data and evidence. And the mistake that you make, if I may be blunt with you, is you say well, I value reason and evidence, and if I just...the only reason that somebody believes something is because they’re missing a data point. If they only had a single data point or a single piece of information, they’d change their mind about something. But that’s not why people formulate their beliefs. That’s not how they come to formulate those beliefs.
So the most difficult thing for me when I lecture or talk about this is, again, if I may be very blunt with you, it’s speaking to people exactly like you. And what I mean by that is when you’re in these conversations, it is very difficult to persuade people to not present evidence when they’re having conversations with other people because if they presented evidence with people, that triggers something called the backfire effect where people...it’s well established in the literature where people just hunker down or double down in their beliefs.
So instead of providing evidence, there are other ways that we have to shift those conversations to. And I know that that sounds incredibly condescending. Or when you’re having a conversation with someone, oh, why can’t I just present him with this piece of evidence? Well, because it won’t change someone’s mind. If it would’ve changed someone’s mind, they would’ve changed their minds already.
Chris Martenson: Exactly. So let me throw a concrete example out and get your reaction to it. One of the things that I talk about that’s got a lot of data is this concept of peak oil. And I can show you hundreds of oil basins and thousands of wells, and they’ve gone through this peaking cycle. And I get up there and I’m talking with somebody, and they’re giving me all the usual signs that they’re saying I’m not buying that story.
And I find that if I’ve shown them ten graphs and I show them an eleventh, now we’re both just getting more annoyed. And if I go to 15 graphs, now we’re just really both just vexed with each other. And in truth, what I found is that under that, though, the belief that I had to go after was they have a faith in technology. It’s a belief. Hey, we’re going to find something new. And that was the thing that was actually the rub point, not the data.
Peter Boghossian: Okay. So here’s how to immediately break through that without showing anybody any evidence whatsoever. What is your claim? Is your claim that there is peak oil or there is not peak oil? It doesn’t really matter. But what is your claim?
Chris Martenson: There is. That there is.
Peter Boghossian: Okay. And your claim is we’re at peak oil right now and then it’s all downhill from here or what is your claim?
Chris Martenson: No, that one is coming eventually and it’s not that far away. Here’s the data, right? Ten years or so.
Peter Boghossian: Okay. And your audience says no, this is not true, right?
Chris Martenson: A lot of my audience believes in it, but I do talk to large wealth conferences or very public places where it’s not my audience, it’s an audience.
Peter Boghossian: Okay. Here’s what my suggestion would be. My suggestion would be right from the front, you ask someone...it’s called a defeasibility test. And in the book, in our book, How to Have Impossible Conversations we call it disconfirmation. So here’s the question you would ask - what evidence can I provide you that would change your mind about this. So for example, what evidence could I provide you that would change your mind about peak oil.
And rather than you presenting the evidence, you listen to them for what they say the evidence should be and then see if you can provide that evidence. That is a massive shift in the way that we think about conversations.
So what happen in these things is when you say to someone what is your evidence for that belief and they list their evidence for the belief, what they’re really doing is listening to themselves and convincing themselves so they’re further entrenching themselves in a particular belief.
But if you ask them instead, what evidence...I’m not saying that evidence exists. But what evidence could you be provided that would change your belief on that. Then they generate the disconfirmation questions for their own beliefs.
Chris Martenson: Okay, and what if instead of them having evidence, they give you a logical fallacy that seems difficult, which is well, it hasn’t happened so far, ergo it won’t? People tell me I’m going to die but I haven't, ergo I won’t. It feels like a logical fallacy, correct?
Peter Boghossian: Yeah, well, you just did exactly...I think you very adroitly answered your own question. You would give an example of when that’s not true in other cases, like death, and say that hasn’t happened yet. In each case, though, you’re not providing evidence for something. And it is a very, very difficult pill to swallow for people who pride themselves on formulating their beliefs on the basis of evidence.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, now I love this, that it starts with beliefs and it’s not about the evidence because so often I feel it’s presented as if there is evidence and there’s strong evidence. But really when you scratch at it, often there really isn’t. So we’re down to beliefs. You’ve given us a start on...I love the way you took that example that I gave you of how we would begin to have these conversations.
So part one seems to be convincing somebody is not about me having a better argument or more data or anything like that. You started by having me reach over and find out where they are.
Peter Boghossian: Yeah, and there’s two steps even before that. The first thing you want...all this silliness about listen and believe, that’s nonsense. What you want to do is you want to listen, understand, and then instill doubt.
So you use the word convincing. It’s not really about convincing anybody of anything. In fact, it’s far more difficult to convince somebody of something than it is to instill micro-wedges in their cognitive architecture. In other words, to instill doubt in their belief system to help them become less confident in what they believe. And that’s another way to shift the thinking in the conversation.
So in the book, we recommend the first thing is understand the claim someone’s making. And you have to usually ask questions about that. From the hostage negotiation literature, what you want to do is you want them to get...ideally, they will say that’s right. So that phrase that’s right is important.
There’s something else from chapter five that we write about called Rapoport’s rules. So here’s the template. First, listen to what the claim is. Second, ask clarifying questions about what the belief is. Third, repeat back to them what it is that they believe, what it is that you think they believe so that you want to secure that’s right.
Now, there’s one other step in there that will raise this to a whole ‘nother level. And that step is ask them to put their belief on a scale. So say, for example, on a scale from one to ten, how confident are you and then repeat the claim back to them. So that number, the number they give you, is key, and that’s going to guide the questions that you ask.
It’s going to be like a pre and a post test. Yeah, you’re going to ask at the end of the conversation, how confident are you in that belief, and then you’re going to compare those two numbers.
So that’s one way you can use a scale, but that’s a template for everybody to use immediately. Listen, understand, repeat back, try to secure that’s right, ask them to put it on a scale, immediately begin with a defeasibility question; no evidence whatsoever.
Chris Martenson: No evidence whatsoever. So let me rewind just a bit because you said something very important right at the beginning. This idea of instilling doubts, if I have the mental image correct, it’s kind of like they’ve got a belief system. It’s a dam. And there’s some ways to put cracks in that. And this...I know that some people will automatically be thinking, oh, my gosh, this sounds like manipulation. It sounds like some of that Tony Robbins neural linguistic program. It’s something. It’s not right. And particularly people I count as progressives think that somehow being influential is the same as being manipulative.
But honestly, humans, the way we’re wired biologically, seem to be...I’ve done interviews with people like Michael Shermer and also people like Tali Sharto, who does optimism bias research at the neuro level. So you take this together, we’re wired up a certain way and we hold beliefs. And these beliefs are always subject to change.
I think that’s the part I love that you’re getting at here is that these things are malleable. They’re not completely hardened. There are ways to get through that. I remind people and audiences that we’ve all held beliefs that went away. Tooth fairy, I believed in the tooth fairy for a while. The dollar bill showed up. I had data. So things change.
Talk to us about the process of changing beliefs within ourselves or others and how those doubts come into play.
Peter Boghossian: Okay. So a few things that we have to unpack. First, as far as I know, there’s no solid peer reviewed evidence for neural linguistic programming. I don’t think it works. I do think it’s a myth. Many people have written about it and falsely ascribed some people like Derren Brown to having used it.
So that said, the second thing is there’s absolutely nothing that’s manipulative whatsoever about helping someone live a more thoughtful and reflective life, particularly as it relates to their belief life.
So there’s no evidence for neural linguistic program. There’s certainly no peer reviewed literature siting its efficacy. There’s been no double blind placebo control groups, gold standard, or even a persuasive argument with a significant sample size to my knowledge.
So the second thing is, helping somebody become more reflective and thoughtful about their belief life, there’s nothing manipulative about that. That’s Socrates’s adage - the unreflective life is not worth living. So there is something incredibly meaningful about helping somebody become more thoughtful about what they believe and more humble about what they believe, too.
So I’m not buying for one second that the...we have kind of an opposite of a crisis of confidence right now where people are walking around with grossly overinflated confidence in their beliefs. And helping someone to reflect on that and calibrate their confidence according to reality, there’s absolutely nothing...in fact, it’s anti-manipulative.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. Well, the older I get, the less I know for sure personally. And I find that it seems like the public debate has gotten very hardened. And much of that is shaped by the fact that in my business I read. If somebody asks me, Chris, what do you do all day? I read. Because I’m a researcher. I’m an analyst. I’m just constantly trying to figure things out and present it back to people. So I read a lot.
And unfortunately, a lot of that comes through social media. It feels to me like the social media platforms have done a fantastic job of working against the things you’re actually trying to reelevate in your book.
Peter Boghossian: I think that’s correct and that’s one of the many reasons, the many variables, for the divisiveness. And part of it...again, this is a very, very complex problem with people being entrenched in their beliefs. There’s no political capital effect. There’s anti-political capital, if you want to cross aisles or if you agree with somebody who’s not in your tribe. Even having a conversation with somebody right now is seen as oh, you’re cavorting with the enemy.
But that whole concept itself is a value that’s leading us into a sinkhole. Unless we’re able to have conversations with people about things, we’re never going to solve our shared problems. It’s just a fact. And we’ve lost something fundamental.
Chris Martenson: And it’s the art of conversation, right? It’s really a skill, isn’t it?
Peter Boghossian: It’s a skill, and people...not only do they not see that modeled for themselves, it’s certainly not being modeled in the universities. And if it is, it’s being modeled in the worst possible way. We can talk about that later. I do want to go back to something you said in the intro, if that’s okay...
Chris Martenson: Yeah, please.
Peter Boghossian: ...about global climate change or peak oil or all of these things. I want to stress again that the way to reach people about these issues is through values and not evidence. You have to figure out what somebody values and why they value it. In fancy terms, that’s called moral epistemology.
Once you figure out someone’s moral epistemology, that’s like the lock. And the templates that we use in the book are like keys to unlock that lock. Epistemology is just a two dollar word for how you know what you think you know. And morality is just a word meaning what ought I to do.
Moral epistemology, people don’t really think very much about how they come to their moral beliefs. And so, it’s remarkably easy how brittle...it’s remarkably interesting how brittle those moral epistemologies are. And with a few targeted questions, people can become more reflective about that.
So for example, when I see issues, I’m very interested in the crisis in plastic in the oceans right now and the great garbage pacts. You’re familiar with that?
Chris Martenson: Absolutely.
Peter Boghossian: So the way to reach people on that is not to give them evidence for how bad it is because that doesn’t tell them why they should care about it. The way to reach people like that is to see what they value in the first place and give them a reason for why the ocean should be cleaned up that comports with the values they already have.
So the one thing people want more than to be right or wrong is to fit in. And many people have written about this, like Johann Hari in relation to the opioid epidemic. The idea of loneliness in community features very prominently in moral psychology. And giving people a reason and a community and a reason to fit in that is moral will do more to persuade somebody to clean the oceans than any pictures ever could, than any data ever could, than any data set ever could, any suite of variables that you present them.
And the problem that we have in many of these conversations when we want to move people is the over presentation of facts and the undervaluing of understanding why they believe what they believe in a moral sense. Does that make sense?
Chris Martenson: It does. I had a chance to be acquainted with the work of George Lakoff, who wrote Don’t Think of an Elephant! And I was working with one of his people who he’d mentored and worked very closely with, and we were discussing...at the time, Obama was bringing forward the Affordable Healthcare Act. And they were just shaking their heads because they said Obama had come forward like the COO and he’d said we have to control rising healthcare costs. That sounds good, but both sides drag out their machineguns and the thing gets...turns into what it did.
And instead, they argued very strongly, and to me persuasively, that in the CEO role, he would’ve come with a moral argument and he would’ve said Americans deserve access to healthcare when they need it or something like that. And once you can bring that moral piece in, now people have a different response to it. They can’t just shoot it down and say you’ve got a bad plan because now my aspirin’s going to cost more or something. Now they have to wrestle with the idea of saying am I really against people having access to healthcare when they need it. And it makes for a different conversation. Is that what you’re referring to?
Peter Boghossian: Yeah, and Lakoff is great because he talks a lot about morality and a lot about framing and how to frame an issue. And so that is absolutely a component about that to think in terms of why does somebody believe that. And too often in these conversations, we’re focused on what someone believes and why they’re wrong or if they’re in another moral tribe as opposed to what is the moral reason that somebody holds that position.
And if you can think in those terms, it makes it much easier to understand why those beliefs are held. It also makes it easier to understand how to dislodge those beliefs. And Jonathan Haidt, the social psychologist from NYU, has written about this fairly extensively and that conservatives and liberals have fundamentally different understandings of the way they process information with liberals valuing harm and fairness and conservatives looking at the same data set and coming across with different interpretations from that data.
So for example, a liberal talking to a conservative about guns, there are ways to persuade them in terms of safety, in terms of their own personal security, oh, I’m concerned about my safety if people in a society run around having...if people in society have guns, something like that. It’s a crude example, but the basic idea is to figure out why somebody holds the belief they do morally and then address the moral concern of the belief before any evidentiary burden, before oh, you don’t have sufficient evidence for this or why do you believe this.
I’ll give you a quick example of how you can do this. There’s somebody who does...his name’s Anthony Magnabosco. He has a YouTube channel, Magnabosco...I think it’s Anthony Magnabosco or Magnabosco. He goes around and he has five minute conversations, sometimes ten minute conversations, with people. And he attempts to understand why they hold beliefs and then instill doubt in those beliefs.
So there was a really good example of a woman who believed that everybody has the seven pound soul, and when you die, the body loses seven pounds. The normal way of thinking about that would be to engage that and demand evidence and ask for the studies and et cetera. But he asked a very interesting question. He said does an eight pound baby have a seven pound soul.
So that question was a way to help somebody reflect on a belief without providing any evidence by asking them if their belief makes sense to themselves. And you will be far more successful in your conversations if you have that approach than if you would demanding data, demanding evidence, asking to see studies. We know from the literature it is abundantly clear it does not work.
And we also know that people change their views from the point of psychological safety. So if they feel safe, they’re far more likely to change their views and if reasons are generated by them, not by you telling them why their beliefs are wrong. But if you can help them come up with, as I said in the beginning, disconfirmation criteria or defeasibility criteria, if you can ask them what it would take to falsify their own beliefs, that’s a great mechanism for instilling doubt.
Chris Martenson: So let’s imagine...and I love all of that. And what I really love is that you’ve got a lot of proven, very evidence based techniques, and you’ve got all kinds of things in this book that really just lay out a roadmap. And it’s like a script that people can follow and all of that. So I love that.
And let’s imagine it’s Thanksgiving and people go...so I’ve been this nut for a while in my family, of course, because I hold these views. And I’m looking out very far, and I’m thinking multi-decades out. And at heart, my value is I’m a conservationist, meaning I would rather have my children or grandchildren, as yet unborn, come into a world of opportunity and abundance, not a place that’s been heavily degraded and despoiled. And they should be able to catch frogs in a pond just like I did. So that’s my guiding...that’s my value system.
And I might be sitting around the Thanksgiving table and they go so, hey, you still believe in that peak oil nonsense? Where’s the starting point for this conversation? Are there truly impossible conversations to have?
Peter Boghossian: Yeah, so that’s a good one. If you’re at...what’d you say Thanksgiving dinner?
Chris Martenson: Yeah.
Peter Boghossian: Okay. So the first thing you need to do...and those relationships are not relationships of choice. So we advocate in chapter one, the first thing you need to do is you need to figure out what is your goal of the conversation. Is it just to get through dinner? Is it to enrage someone, because that’s pretty easy to do? Is it to make people like you? Is it to get along? I mean, once you figure out what your goal is...I can’t tell you what your goal is for Thanksgiving. So you tell me what it is and then I’ll tell you how to proceed or how I think you should proceed.
Chris Martenson: My goal is to not violate my inner integrity, which is founded on this idea that I might be wrong but I’m not confused. I have a whole lot of context for any position I hold. And it’s a matter of integrity to me to remain true to that position.
Peter Boghossian: And are you willing to revise your beliefs?
Chris Martenson: Oh, I do it all the time. Data works for me. Or yes, I’ve found so many times I’ve been wrong about things, and in my business, you have to constantly revise your position, sort of that Keynesian moment in the senate when he’s asked what will you do if the data changes, and he said well, I’ll change my opinions.
Peter Boghossian: Right. And just as a parenthetical, that’s one of the reasons I love Andrew Yang. And I see that it is not a virtue. In fact, we have the word flip-flopping meaning if you changed your mind, which is a pejorative and horrible term because we should reward people who say either I don't know or I’ve changed my mind. I have new data. Here’s more data about warming or what have you, and I’ve changed my mind as a consequence of that data. And that is the sort of thing that should be a virtue but it’s not.
So back to your Thanksgiving dinner. Once you figure out what you want to do...one of the things that I’ve learned over the years...I’ve taught in prisons. I’ve talked to just truly countless numbers of people about faith, a wide range of issues. I’ve taught moral reasoning for decades. One of the things that I’ve learned is when you truly listen to somebody and figure out why they believe what it is they believe, almost nobody in normal conversation really has any idea why they believe what they believe.
They have a sentiment or a belief they should hold. The American philosopher from Tufts, Dan Dennett, calls that belief in belief. They have a belief that they think that they should hold, and then their universe kind of revolves around these particular belief clusters.
So one thing you could do at your Thanksgiving dinner is really just ask somebody...you don’t say hey, give me a less what you believe, but just ask them why they believe what they believe and probe it. And almost nobody will become upset with you if you ask them why they believe what they believe.
Now, here’s the trick. The key is don’t prove their conclusions. Probe their epistemology. In other words, don’t probe the belief that they have, probe the reasons for their beliefs. And one of the reasons for that is if you probe their conclusions, that will invoke a defensive posture. They’ll become very defensive. The other thing is, if you probe their conclusions, almost everybody has well-rehearsed reasons for why they believe what they believe. But very, very, very few people have really thought about their moral epistemology; in other words, the reasons that they derive those moral beliefs.
And so asking targeted questions about those things, if nothing else, can give you a lesson in why people believe things. And you don’t have to worry about people becoming upset with you. In my experience, nobody becomes upset with you when you ask them about their beliefs. Everybody loves to talk about themselves and their beliefs. So that’s not an issue.
And more often than not, those conversations, as long as you’re not delivering any messages, will both be instructive for you because then you can use that in subsequent conversations with people who hold those beliefs. And if you do that enough, you get extremely good at, in a very short period of time, figuring out exactly why people believe what they believe and then finding Achilles heels, points of weakness, that you can hone in on, instill doubt with.
Chris Martenson: I love all of this because this is like...to me, it’s really fascinating. Listen, I had all this data, and the scientist in me went out and tried to share that with the world. Trust me, I talk to all these scientists who have all this really depressing climate data, and they’re like nobody’s listening. And I learned, of course they’re not because it didn’t matter.
So I had to go down this whole tour of behavioral economics and learning about how people are actually constructed and personality types and a little bit of neurobiology and all that stuff to come to the conclusion that it’s immensely powerful to have some insights into how people are constructed and how they operate. So that’s body one.
And then body two would be I love this idea you say that if you enter into a conversation, you go in with this open mind of saying I’m here to learn something. Even if this person has a point of view that you’re going to learn nothing from, which is the importance of racism, that’s not import to you. You don’t share that value or system. The learning is you get to go in and discover what they believe.
Peter Boghossian: Right. That’s even more important in that sense, if someone’s advocating the importance of racism, figuring out why it is that somebody believes that is absolutely indispensable for when you have future conversations that aren’t at the Thanksgiving table because then you would have practiced and rehearsed. You would have heard it already.
And one of the problems that we have now is people, particularly in college campuses, don’t hear the other side of the argument. They’re literally never presented to it because it’s a micro-aggression or they’re triggered or they’ll got to the office of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And so the consequence of that is we’re training a whole generation of people to just fall apart and to have no idea why they believe what they believe.
So if somebody is sitting across from you and has an odious belief, I would argue that’s even more reason to engage them and figure out why they believe it. And if you’re one of those people who say oh, I can’t talk to a racist. This is too terrible. Well, think about Daryl Davis. Daryl Davis is a black guy and a musician who goes around and he speaks to people in the Ku Klux Klan, and he gets them to quit the Klan. If Daryl Davis, a black guy, can go speak to Ku Klux Klan members about racism, and he has a whole closet full of abdicated hoods to prove his methods are effective, then you can sit over a Thanksgiving table and have a conversation with somebody about guns or factory farms or what we should do with people who have IQ’s under 25, no problem.
Chris Martenson: Fantastic. And at the beginning of the book, there’s the seven fundamentals of good conversation. You shared with us the importance of goals. Just even knowing what my own goals are for a conversation is really important and maybe trying to suss out other people, what are their goals, see if you can get those out on the table, so to speak.
But I love this number six where you talked about people have better intentions than you think. Talk about that with us for a minute, would you?
Peter Boghossian: People don’t do things to be bad people. That doesn’t mean there aren’t psychopaths or trolls, what have you. But most people do things because they think that they’re good people. In fact, in Plato’s Theaetetus, Socrates says that people don’t knowingly do bad things. So if you had all the data and all the information, I’m not saying you have to agree with this but this is just what Socrates says, you would act or think differently.
So most people have good intentions, but the problem is that those intentions have been warped and corrupted and distorted by value sets, by pernicious ideas, by ideology. And it’s not that people believe things or do things because they’re bad in general or almost overall. It’s because their thinking has been damaged and they’re not thinking about something in a way that’s clear and demonstrative.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. I really love this whole part. Part two, really it’s just the fundamentals of good conversation. It’s really the fundamentals of connection. And this seems really critical. Honestly, this feels like one of these things I should know, and so I’m almost a little bit embarrassed to say I don't know all of these things. It’s one of those things you don’t talk about because you’re just supposed to know how to negotiate for a mortgage. Nobody taught me.
But it’s to really develop that rapport with somebody is an actual skillset that we can all refine potentially to the rest of our lives, right?
Peter Boghossian: Right. It should never be an embarrassment to claim you don’t know something. It should always be a virtue. And we need to start creating societies and cultures which are truly the opposite of the one that we have now. When someone says I don't know that, they should be praised, particularly in a college classroom with a Ph.D. If someone says I really don’t know, that’s exactly the sort of modeling behavior that we should encourage.
So we’re running around in this culture with a kind of hyperinflated confidence that’s truly not rooted in anything. And people think that they are better people as a result of being so confident in their belief system. So I laud you for saying that. And not only do I not think it’s a shame, I think it’s a really good thing that you’ve modeled that for your audience.
Chris Martenson: Well, thanks. I’ve been humbled just so profoundly. My PhD’s in a biological science so I learned things like molecular biology in the ‘90s. And all through the ‘90s, early 2000s, I would have told you declaratively how DNA worked, what a stop codon was, how base pairs got read, all of that stuff. And then oops, lately, we’ve had all of this epigenetic stuff come out, which totally upends everything I learned about how DNA is functioning and all that stuff.
And so the older I get, the less I actually know for sure because we’re learning all the time. So yeah, not only do I model it but I live it. It’s very humbling to be alive these days.
Peter Boghossian: So that is a great example of another technique we talk about in the book. When you ask somebody what...if they have a belief and then you ask them to put it on a scale, and then remember, at the end of the conversation, ask them again. We started this conversation about whatever it is, plastic in the oceans, guns, abortion, drugs, marijuana legalization. You said you were nine confident that marijuana should be illegal, or legal, what have you. I’m just curious now we’ve had a conversation, where would you place your belief on the scale. And you can judge...if your goal is to help people be more thoughtful about their beliefs, you can judge the effectiveness by what they say on the scale.
So the other thing...before I go on. Was that clear?
Chris Martenson: Yes, very. Thank you.
Peter Boghossian: Okay. I just want to say a few more things. If you say to someone...if they say well, I’m ten. I can’t be wrong about this. You know how you said that you were wrong about epigenetics or you hadn’t considered that, you can just ask somebody, think back...it depends how old they are. If they’re younger, you have to change the number of years. If they’re like 18, you can say five, but if they’re 40 or 50, you say ten. Think back ten years ago.
Assume you’re talking to someone who’s 40. Think back ten years ago when you were 30. What percentage of your beliefs, or have you changed any of your beliefs since then? The overwhelming majority of people will say yes. If they say no, then you just go back ten more years. If they still say no, maybe they’re lying or maybe they have some kind of cognitive impairment. I don’t know. But the overwhelming majority of people will say yes.
So then you just say let’s project out ten years from now, do you think any of the beliefs you hold will change in that period? The overwhelming majority of people will say yes. What the implication is is that that is a reason to take the beliefs that you have now and be less certain about them. Is that clear so far?
Chris Martenson: Absolutely.
Peter Boghossian: Yeah, so you’re giving them a pathway...without telling them anything, you’re giving them a pathway that relates to their own belief life so that they can reflect on those beliefs to become less confident about the belief that they hold...whatever belief that they hold tenaciously.
Chris Martenson: Right. And so once we’ve got somebody in this conversational set, part three of the book goes into nine ways to start changing minds...minds and bodies, I guess, because some belief systems seem to be held in the gut, as it were.
So let’s talk about...you seem confident that it’s possible to intervene in someone’s cognitions, is the subtitle of this chapter. How do we go about doing that and what evidence do we have that it works?
Peter Boghossian: Well, I can’t remember how many, there are pages and pages and pages of data. I can’t remember how many pages our bibliography is in the reference section. But it’s all in the notes and the end notes. All of the stuff is thoroughly researched in the literature.
I also started this in my dissertation where in prisons, I tried to help the men, and I say men because they’re all men at the local prison, Columbia River Correctional Institution, develop their critical thinking and moral reasoning skills. We know this works because there’s an abundance of literature on it, and hopefully I’ve tried to make a substantive contribution to that literature.
You can tell that it works without reading anything by following the techniques and asking someone to put their belief on a scale before you begin or right as you begin the conversation and right at the end of the conversation. I will say that the most effective interventions or ways to help people become more humble about what they believe errs the question that I ask you, if you are really somebody who is genuinely willing to reconsider what they believe, all of these conversations will be more smooth. You will be far more effective at conversation than not.
Chris Martenson: Fantastic. I really do love that this goes into A, the data, the background, it’s all there; but really, it provides that step by step...you’ve got templates in there really to follow through to say here’s how you would go about this, and here’s an order to do these things. So it provides a structure and a place to start and some good framing, I think, for people to begin this. And it’s so important because these are really, really impossible conversations to have right now.
And my model for a long time has been that I’m not in the business of sharing data. I’m in the business of shaking people’s belief systems to the core because when I say something like hey, our economy and our approach to the ecological world are on unsustainable trajectories, now that shakes everything up from who knows what my faith in authority, how I’ve been dreaming about my retirement, these very deeply held but maybe not deeply examined belief systems about how the future’s going to unfold, what kind of a world I’m leaving behind, very big stuff.
So I know that I have to tread on that delicately. And one of my techniques for that has been to never bring my emotions in. Just using Kübler-Ross’s framework, if we said people will basically come out of a place of lack of awareness or denial about something and they’re getting exposed, they might go through an emotional trajectory more than an intellectual one; ergo, if I approach that conversation with any detectable emotion like I’m angry or I’m depressed or I’m bargaining or whatever it is, that people will be very resistant to engaging with that at all.
So part of this process is to make sure I’ve got my ducks in a row and I process through this stuff. And I’m having this conversation with a place where I’m able to be out of my own emotional territory and figuring out where the other person is has been a valuable skill for me.
Peter Boghossian: Yeah, and I will add to that. Let’s say you’ve started with those. You followed the basic...there are so many templates in the book, as you said. But let’s say that you started with that basic template and that you listened, and that you understood, and that you repeated back, and then you immediately went to a disconfirmation question. And if they say to you, well, there is no evidence that would make me change their mind. Or again, it depends on the topic and the conversation, but if you want to ask for evidence for something and you want to take a stance of you being willing to revise their belief, here’s what it means to formulate a belief on the basis of evidence.
If you formulate a belief on the basis of evidence, then by definition, there must be a piece of evidence that could come in that would change your mind. If there is no evidence that would come in to change your mind about your belief, that belief is not formed on the basis of evidence. Yes?
Chris Martenson: Okay. Yep, all true.
Peter Boghossian: Okay. So if someone says well, there is no evidence that would change my mind, the retort to that is, the response is, well, then that belief isn’t formulated on the basis of evidence, right, because to formulate a belief on the basis of evidence means there has to be some evidence that would come in that would help you change your mind. And then, that’s another segue to the conversation because it could be that people think they’re formulating the belief on the basis of evidence but they’re actually not. So you need to try to suss that out right at the beginning of the conversation.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, I think when somebody gives me that conclusion that there’s nothing that can change their mind, my next statement is well, how do you think the Red Sox are going to do this year.
Peter Boghossian: Right. Right. And you’ll find more often than not that it is with moral claims that people are unwilling to change their mind. Usually, if it’s a claim about...an empirical claim like should we do geoengineering and place large panels between the sun and the earth to try to stave off global warming. That might have a strong moral valance to some people, but most people will think about that and consider it and look at the evidence.
But if you start talking about other things that clearly extend into the moral realm like what we should do...what policies should govern people who have IQ’s under 25 - which is Peter Singer’s question, which you will never hear discussed in university - people are less likely to admit that those beliefs can be swayed because they like to think about themselves as good people. And good people hold, insert the blank.
Good people hold these beliefs about people who have IQ’s under 25. Those sorts of beliefs are much more difficult to have a...those really are impossible conversations, particularly when people say they’re nine or ten on the belief scale in how confident they are in those beliefs.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. I’d love to circle back now around to the university situation. You’re in Portland. I got my Bachelor of Science from Lewis & Clark College, and I was kind of on a nine year four school program. I dallied a little before the rubber hit the road for me. So I was a little bit older. I actually had a daughter, and I was in this class all the way back...this is mid-‘90s now. And I had a little bit of experience.
And there was this class and it was a business class. And it was on organizational development, and they were really pushing this idea that men and women deserved equal opportunities and they’re exactly the same and all this stuff. And I dared to put my hand up and say hold on. I have a daughter. She’s three and I watch her playing with boys. I’m here to tell you there are differences. Just, there are differences between men and women. And that was the first time in my life I’d been booed and hissed. And that was back then.
I’ve only heard from my faculty friends that things have gotten maybe even more rigid since then. And to me, a university was supposed to be a place where you would challenge your ideas and open your mind, and it felt so opposite to me then. The band I was in, I wrote a thing called PC Sheep. I was very anti-PC for a while, and maybe not in a clever way like you would’ve outlined in this book.
So that was my experience then. What is your experience with university now and the climate there?
Peter Boghossian: Well, to talk about gender would be akin to throwing a live hand grenade in the room and expecting everybody to remain calm. It’s just not going to happen. There are moral orthodoxes that dominate the university. You cannot contradict those moral orthodoxes.
Many of those, or most of those, relate to things dealing with protected classes. They violate...you can’t say certain things that violate egalitarian norms like all cultures are equal, all peoples are equal. There are orthodoxes that more or less have to be subscribed to and party lines that have to be adhered, or it just becomes a theft of your time and not worth talking about those things at all. So I have been told that I can’t render my opinion about protected classes and can’t teach in a way that renders my opinion about protected classes, et cetera.
And the consequence of that is that we will not develop a moral architecture in which people can...or a moral infrastructure in which people can understand those beliefs, test them, and become resilient human beings. Instead, they’ll fall apart at the mere mention. I just read something recently that Greg Lukianoff from FIRE tweeted about that psychological health services and demand for services at the university has skyrocketed.
And in The Coddling of the American Mind, Lukainoff and Haidt suggest that that is precisely because of the culture we’ve created in universities around trigger warnings, safe spaces, and micro-aggressions, et cetera.
You can challenge or question those, but in doing so, you challenge or question the reigning orthodoxy, and you are considered as the new religion is, a sin. You’re a sinner. You’re a blasphemer. You’ve gone against political correctness, et cetera. And so it just becomes at some point, many faculty, especially who teach ethics, just don’t talk about these things anymore.
Chris Martenson: Oh, that must be not just frustrating but sort of soul destroying.
Peter Boghossian: Oh, it is. It’s a compromise of my integrity every time I walk in. Yeah, for sure.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. I wouldn't do well because my integrity is the most important thing I’ve got right now for me, and I’m a little rigid around that.
Peter Boghossian: Well, the way that you get around that is that you’re just honest with people. So when somebody asks you a question and they say well, what about this, what about this on trans bathrooms, what about this, you just tell them the truth. You say I’m not allowed to talk about that. And that way you don't have to truly compromise your integrity, but you also don’t give them the experience they need.
So the case of Lindsey Shepard was very instrumental in this in which she presented and specifically said she didn’t agree with Jordan Peterson’s argument about the trans issues. And even presenting that issue got her in a tremendous amount of trouble.
But I think that the most insidious part of this whole thing is the way that the folks in the office of diversity, equity, and inclusion - or diversity inclusion equity, the DIE Office, depending on how you want to frame it - I think the most disturbing thing about this is that not only have they institutionalized mechanisms to prevent people from engaging certain subject areas. But I’m deeply concerned that people get out of the one time, the one opportunity they have to have a conversation, an honest conversation, and look at the other side of the issue and they don’t take it.
But the insidious thing is that it masquerades under the moniker of diversity. I don’t know if you want to talk about that. It may be worth talking about. It deviates from the book but we can talk about that if you want.
Chris Martenson: Well, I think it’s really important because it’s setting why we’re in a climate now. It’s setting the stage for why we have this climate of an inability for people to actually converse on things without becoming very emotionally triggered, for lack of a better word. And it’s all over the place. So that ability...knowing how we got here is really important so that we can figure out where we go next.
And I truly believe it’s absolutely vital that we have that ability to reach out and connect across because you brought up the person who talks about the addiction work. And they had a line in that TED talk that absolutely caught me, and I’ve wrestled with it and believed in it ever since, which is the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety; it’s connection. And to have that connection, that means coming outside of yourself to another, but it also means being able to connect deeply in yourself.
Well, if you get short-circuited so you can’t even find out why you hold beliefs or where they came from, you just have them, you’re fundamentally, I think, disconnected from self. And it prevents connection from others except for people who resonate in perfect symphony with you, but that’s not diversity, if that’s where you’re going.
Peter Boghossian: No. So I’ll throw two things out to you. Aristotle says that the highest form of friendship is between two virtuous people. But you can’t be virtuous by accident. You can only be virtuous because you’ve really led a self-examined life, looked at counter-examples and counter-arguments to the things you believe, are willing to revise your belief. There’s a whole suite of virtues, epistemic virtues, moral virtues, that goes into living a good life and becoming a good person. And we’re robbing people. We are systematically robbing people of that opportunity.
One way that we’re doing that is my inclusion. The word inclusion and inclusive spaces. Inclusion doesn’t mean what you think it means. Inclusion means making a space or an area free so that people can feel safe or they can not be offended. But the problem is that it’s not like someone says the N word to somebody and in those cases, of course, when you target someone on the basis of an immutable characteristic.
But that umbrella has expanded, and now what we’re talking about is people need to feel safe from ideas. And the moment you do that, you rob people of any possibility of being virtuous because you rob them of an inner dialectic and you rob them of any opportunity to have an honest and sincere conversation.
Not only will you not know what somebody really thinks and believes, you won’t even know what you think and really believe. And the reason for that is John Stuart Mill’s dictum, if you only know your side of the argument, you don't even know that. So to know something, again, from Plato’s Theaetetus, is justified true belief.
You have to have a reason, a good justification, for believing it. And part of that justification comes through dialogue. It comes through discourse. It comes through hearing opposite opinions, so opinions that run counter to your own.
But we have created spaces in institutionalized spaces where that is not possible, where that opportunity is simply taken away from students. And then on top of it all, we’re credentialing them with a degree.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, and to the detriment of a life well lived, which is a life well examined...as I get older, I’m 56, my territory to conquer now is my inner space. I realize how little of that is actually modeled effectively, I think, in our culture. You can find subcultures that do that, but broadly speaking, it’s not there. And that, to me, has been the richest territory for me to explore is to figure out why I tick, what I actually believe, what I hold, what’s true, what’s not. And it’s hard work. It’s not easy all the time.
But to me, it’s the most valuable work I can possibly engage in right now, and it leads me to a place where of all the forms of capital that we promote in my business, emotional capital, I think, is wildly important, probably the most important.
Peter Boghossian: Absolutely. And I think that’s why people are flocking to podcasts like Joe Rogan’s because it does have an authenticity about it and because they can have difficult conversations and because they can be challenged. It depends what you want out of a university life.
If you want to go to a place that values what you already believe and that you never really challenge anything, well, then the universities are great places to go. But if you want to go to have a difficult conversation, to be challenged - I don’t mean like challenged in terms of math. I teach ethics, moral reasoning, and I teach philosophy. If you want to truly, truly be challenged, I honestly and sincerely don’t see that happen in most universities in most spaces with most professors.
I see that happening outside the university, and eventually that’s going to create a legitimation crisis with the universities. It already has in terms of people who self-identify as conservatives because they feel that their ideas aren’t allowed into the conversation. And I’m not a conservative, but I actually have to agree with them.
Chris Martenson: Well, it’s been fascinating to me to watch this idea, my own from the outside in, judgment around this idea of diversity inclusion actually looks like the opposite of what it claims to be. It’s saying you can be as diverse as you want to be as long as you hold these positions and that’s it. I don’t care what color somebody’s skin is or how tall or short they are or their gender. I don’t care about any of that. I actually care about what they’re holding between their ears and what their thoughts are because that’s what makes us different.
Peter Boghossian: Right. So when you heard the word diversity, as I’ve repeatedly stated, diversity doesn’t mean what you think it means. It means ideological homogeneity. It means diversity in the most superficial of ways, ways that the vast majority of Americans, in particular, couldn’t possibly care less about. Diversity of skin color, diversity of sexual orientation, diversity of ability, status, et cetera. It means ideological homogeneity.
And if someone who’s, for example, happens to have black skin runs against that narrative, they’re call pejorative terms like a coconut, which my friend Faisal Al Mutar is called and other people in this space as well, brown on the outside, white on the inside. So you have to have a very specific narrative that you put forward or you’re an Uncle Tom or you’re a race traitor, et cetera.
So diversity doesn’t mean what people think it means.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. Yeah, and again, from my perspective, looking at what’s happening with the ecological destruction, the loss of species, seeing where we are with aquafers running out, we’re taking the last topsoil and flushing it into the ocean, there’s a lot of things where we can say wow, there’s big things we really need to be looking at. But the dominant narrative right now is business as usual holds the sway. Well, it’s a bad time to talk about that, Chris. We need more GDP this quarter. So that’s that.
Peter Boghossian: Okay. So I would love to linger on this with you for a moment, if you don't mind.
Chris Martenson: Please.
Peter Boghossian: So the fourth largest city in India has now run out of water.
Chris Martenson: Chennai, yeah.
Peter Boghossian: We’re having water crises in cities around the world. This is a plague. The Israel Palestinian talks for a while...so we have a failure to morally triage issues. We have a failure to hierarchically prioritize.
Here’s a litmus test for this whole thing, and we wrote about this in the book. Let’s say I give you a wand and you can wave this wand and solve any one problem in perpetuity. However, you can only solve one of these problems. You can make racism go away or you can make all of our environmental problems and thermogenic global climate change, for example. Which do you solve?
Chris Martenson: Ding. The environmental issues.
Peter Boghossian: Right. It’s an absolute no-brainer. But the fact that I have now asked that question to hundreds and hundreds of people and many people say racism or they ponder. They don’t know. It’s too difficult of a question. There’s a failure to morally triage. We are obsessed with race. We’re obsessed with gender. We’re obsessed with the things we shouldn’t be obsessed with. Meanwhile, we have water crises. We have plastic...we have a...almost anything else we should be prioritizing, particularly as it deals with environmental issues.
And the question is, getting back to what we spoke about earlier, this is not simply a matter of presenting people with facts. Oh, this city is running out of water. This is exacerbating or making the peace negotiations difficult. No, people don’t possibly care about that. It’s that they have morally prioritized the wrong things, and the consequence of that, it is literally killing us. It is killing us.
And where we should be talking about this, what we should value, is in the universities. And we’re not. What are we told? We’re given superficial platitudes. Can I swear on your show?
Chris Martenson: Absolutely.
Peter Boghossian: We’ve given superficial platitudes. Oh, recycle this. Well, fuck recycling. Recycling is not going to get us out of this mess, and anybody who tells us that because they want to spare our sensitivities is doing a grotesque injustice to future generations. We have to have honest, sincere conversations with people about cutting their consumption, about reproductive rights and family planning issues. We have to have honest conversations about cutting back and sacrifice and what this entails.
And many people think it’s too late for...it used to be adaptation versus mitigation. It’s too late to mitigate these things. We’re past crucial milestones now. And we need to talk about adaptation. Do we hear about this in the university? No. What do we hear about? Recycling.
Okay. So there is a failure to be honest about our problems. And if you are not honest about your problem, it will not solve itself. And I can tell you in no uncertain terms, if we continue to be obsessed with race and gender, and not even to speak honestly about those things, these problems are not going to solve themselves. They will literally kill us.
Chris Martenson: Absolutely. Super, very well said. And I completely agree. And it’s a complete failure of simple math on one level because some of these things are very easy to add up. And the other is that moral prioritization you talked about. We can clearly point to things where gun control seems important. Here's how many people die from it. It’s a big number. But nobody ever talks about how many people die in the medical system due to lack of access or improper treatment, different subject.
So if you can prioritize the risks that exist out there, you can see what we’re facing, and this is a very simple grid to me. If we do nothing and we do business as usual and the world ends in a burning catastrophe, from an insurance standpoint, that’s a catastrophic loss. It’s a very, very big unsurvivable outcome. So maybe we ought to weight at least something towards talking about that and at least have the conversation to go we’ve analyzed it. It’s not a big deal. But we’re not even having the conversation.
Peter Boghossian: Right. And part of the reason we’re not having the conversation is because people don’t know how. So I did an event with Christina Hoff Sommers, who wrote The War Against Boys, New York Times bestselling author, and my friends Brett and Heather from the Evergreen debacle. And I had a tenured associate professor stand up or start screaming from her seat all this crazy stuff in the middle of the event.
So not only is this not being modeled for us and for our students, the exact opposite is being modeled for us. So now, students see this zealot, as my professor stands up against fascists. I’m called the fascist all the time. We don’t know how to communicate. That was one of the impetus for writing How to Have Impossible Conversations. We’re not having those conversations.
And even what’s more, in some circles coming out of the academy, speech is seen as a form of violence. And having a conversation with someone with whom you disagree is seen as platforming now. Okay. If we keep this up...and I am telling you in no uncertain terms, these problems are not going to solve themselves. If we keep this up and continue to not be honest with people about the severity of our ecological problems, we will die.
Chris Martenson: I completely agree and I had this...I get into this argument particularly with people who are in the greenspace. They want to promote alternative energy. They care a lot about climate change, and they soft-pedal it. And they don't tell the truth. And they say we need to cut carbon by 50% by 2030. I said do you have any idea what that means? Which 50% of the people are going to die? Because you have to understand the relationship to energy and the food system. I mean, it’s like a big complex thing, but they pedal it as if it’s just an all we need to do is decide to do that, and they undersell the other part.
But I think people know the bullshit. They can smell there’s a big gap in your thought process there. So when I teach this at universities, there’s a sustainability course at Berkley. I don't varnish anything. And I have kids come up afterwards, and they go thank you for finally telling me the actual truth because I can handle it. I feel like they feel like they’ve been protected, and the adults just don’t want to be honest with them. They smell the bullshit in it and they don’t like it.
Peter Boghossian: Yeah, some people that’s true. But the problem is that if you’ve indoctrinated people from the earliest ages to say when they’re offended, to be offended by something, to not engage ideas, to not reflect on things, to not be honest about the nature of problems, and I’ve looked at my kids’ textbooks and I’m not a scientist. I work in an adjacent or cousin realm to that philosophy of science, but I’m not a scientist. And it’s all whitewashed to me.
And so if you get kids young enough, they will simply not understand the reality of the situation and the gravity of it. So you can hold...and that could be a function of university architecture and diversity boards and...I’ve passed the point of concern long ago, and I’m now into the point or worrying.
And that’s one of the other reasons that we wrote this book is because...part of the reason to not have it hardcover is to just make it more affordable to get these tools in as many hands as possible. We have to start talking to each other again. We have to. We have to have the tools to effectively communicate with each other because if we don’t, these problems are simply not going to go away. They’re going to get worse.
Chris Martenson: And there comes a time when a problem transforms into a predicament, meaning there’s no solution, just outcomes and none of them good.
Peter Boghossian: Well, yeah, and at this point, it’s adaptation as opposed to mitigation. All this stuff about mitigating, I think it’s bullshit. And I think we need to have an honest conversation about what adaptation would look like, how much it would cost, where we move people from coastal areas or what areas we move them to, who’s going to pay for it. I think we need to start having honest conversation.
I personally think we should have honest conversations about everything, but again, we are not valuing the right things. We have...what are those mirrors in the funhouse where you look at yourself and you’re like...that’s the kind of...I don’t know what the name of that mirror is, but that’s the kind of funhouse mirror effect that we’re seeing. We have mis-prioritized our problems at this point. And he way to get back that, the corrective mechanism to keep that in check, is the one we’ve eliminated, which caused the distortion to become even bigger in the first place.
It’s a dialectic. It’s reason. It’s evidence. It’s science. That’s how we get back to these things. When you take that mechanism away from somebody, that’s the other reason why facts don’t matter. We have to help people to trust and value what the scientific evidence is and then create conditions outside themselves to enable them to live better lives.
But the only reason they can do that is if they’re taught that from the earliest ages. Okay. That’s Jefferson’s dictum. Never let a disagreement come between friends. When you’re dying on your deathbed, what difference does it make who someone voted for? We need to regain or reclaim some of our fundamental humanity.
And what’s happening is the elements of our humanity and we have academic departments pumping out nonsense like intersectionality that’s making us more divisive and more divided as a society and again, pulling the rug under the idea that we should speak honestly about our problem because some people are going to be offended by them.
Chris Martenson:Oh, absolutely.
Peter Boghossian: That’s Stephen Fry’s idea; you’re offended, well, so fucking what. You think you’re offended now. You wait until the ice caps melt. You think you’re offended now. You just wait to see what’s going to happen. So you’re either going to deal with this problem now and you’re going to deal with it honestly or you’re going to ignore it and hope it goes away and good luck with that.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, absolutely. If I was going to create a safe space for anything, it would be critical thinking, and critical thinking can’t really be taught, per say, I don’t think because it’s a skill. So it requires...it’s like I could show you how to suture something up, but you’re going to practice that as a doctor and get better at it until you can do a grape from 20 paces or something. And so critical thinking is a really important skill to have, but it’s impossible to develop it if it gets emotionally bludgeoned every time it pokes its head up. So nobody learns to do that suture.
And that critical thinking is absolutely what we need so that you can at least come up with that prioritized list, and oh, by the way, when the shit hits the fan, you’d better know how to work down a priority list. And if we don’t have that skillset anymore because it’s atrophied, that’s the reason that I care so passionately about what’s going on in the university space is because it looks like it’s going in the wrong intellectual direction for the kinds of skillsets that we need most. And I can make that argument fairly convincingly using a lot of data if need be.
So we have been talking with Peter Boghossian. Peter, thank you so much for your time. I could give a thousand accolades for this book, but what I want to do is I want to close with a blurb from Richard Dawkins, who I admire a lot. For people who know, he wrote The Selfish Gene. I love that book. The God Delusion. Richard said of this book, he said, “This is a self-health book on how to argue effectively, conciliate, and gently persuade. The authors admit to getting it wrong in their own past conversations. One by one, I recognize the same mistakes in me. The world would be a better place if everyone read this book.”
Peter, thank you so much for your time today. And thank you for writing this book.
Peter Boghossian: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. How to Have Impossible Conversations is available on Amazon, and you can find me on Twitter @PeterBoghossian, B-O-G-H-O-S-S-I-A-N.
Chris Martenson: And we’ll have a direct link to that book right below this podcast. Thank you, everyone, for listening.