In an earlier article I looked at the way that social radicals look to project “the power that the enemy thinks you have”, with a look at threats of boycott and the Twitterstorm. I came to a grim conclusion that a few activists pretending to be a mass movement will succeed again and again unless business groups like chambers of commerce can give mutual support, practical and moral, to members who are targeted.
I later came across a useful comment by Jordan Peterson in answer to an audience question on being personally targeted: if you have done nothing wrong, do not apologise – then wait two weeks and it will have gone away. That is good advice to an individual who attracts the hatred of on-line activists, but a prime target, such as an influential company or institution, may not be allowed to rest after so short a time.
The determined campaign starts with Alinsky’s rule number one (“Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have”) and then employs his remaining tricks. It is pretended power though that is frightening to the target.
In open debate, the mechanics are different from those on anonymous social media. In open debate real faces are displayed and so the same malice that is applied to the opponent can be directed at the activist. Here then some research is needed before approaching the debate.
First, is the use of statistics and statistical generalisations: if an activist asserts that 10% of the population are in the group he insists be favoured, then correct them by reference to genuine statistics (but beware of a trap; even if it is less than 2%, and dependent on changes during the respondent’s life, that does not mean they are ignorable). Break their broad category down to challenge the legitimacy of treating all people in that activist-defined group the same way, or if it is a conglomerate of classifications put together to boost the statistics, make distinctions between them. If an activist claims that the majority of the population agree with them, which is a claim of democratic authority, then show them opinion polls that demonstrate the opposite, or if they really do have a majority, ask if it is permissible to disagree and persuade people to change their minds, or point out that the majority usually support hanging, so are they in favour too?
Secondly, and crucially, outflank the accusation of “hate” coming your way by showing up their own “hate-speech”; they might not think of it as such, but spitting venom at opponents, or at men generally, or at those with certain political ideas, or at classes of society, is “hate-speech” like any other.
Thirdly, personalise it in order to challenge the authority or veracity of your opponent: what qualifications and experience do they have? (Be careful with that though: they may have more experience with self-selected people in their generalised classification system than you.) Track their writings and tweets before the encounter: should someone who has declared masculinity to be “toxic” be entrusted with the welfare and the very manhood of vulnerable boys, whom presumably they want to emasculate? If a socialist denies that the government starving Venezuela is really socialist, find their own statements praising Venezuela’s socialist experiment, and other times when commentators have changed their tune in this way as every successive socialist states falls int starvation.
Opposing some radical activists should be like shooting fish in a barrel: they have no science on their side, no genuine statistics, their literature may be full of false statements and their typical personal histories are a psychiatrist’s dream. However those activists keep winning, by insults and instilling fear. That is a lesson not to assume you can prevail just by being right.
This suggests an alternative approach: be on their side, to a certain extent because presumably both you and they assert a desire to benefit mankind or some section of it. Do not compromise even an inch, but lead them to a common ground, then launch an attack from that common ground. (Ben Shapiro does this brilliantly.) So, you say you want X, but you are causing Y, so to achieve X you would need to do Z: you mean well but you do ill. Do you believe it is acceptable for someone to disagree with you even where you have a fact wrong? Should not any ideology be based on true statements and therefore be improved by challenging questionable statements? If a speaker can only defend his or her arguments with threats or name-calling, they are not rational arguments and can be disregarded: can you now say something rational I can consider?
This is a lot of research to be done, and easier for activists without full time jobs and responsibilities, so you are at once on the back-foot.
It is hard to take control of the conversation because you may be the polite one, and even if you are not, the aim should be to appear to be. You must emerge as the calm and rational one in spite of all provocation, but nice guys finish last. If you do manage to take control somehow, do not rest there but establish your own ground. Alinsky’s first rule is still there: possess the power that the enemy thinks you have.
You must not be the isolated sandbank around which the incoming tide washes, dry for now but bypassed and to be washed away: you must be the sea.