Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Know Your Enemy

Don Watkins over at LaissezFaire has some important advice for intellectual activists. After quoting from a Politico article titled The GOPs Media Cocoon, Watkins said:

   The first piece of advice I give to anyone asking what he can do to change today’s trend is: know the opposition. Know its core ideas and values. Know its arguments and be able to state those arguments in a more compelling form than it can. Know how it will respond to your arguments.
   If you can do that, then you have a shot at convincing people of your case. But if not, then you don’t.

I have found that responding to articles promoting ideas contrary to mine is a great form of activism. 

First, you learn what the opposition is saying. 

Second, you learn how to respond to the opposition's arguments. You learn their tactics. I don't mean just debunking their case. That's important, but it's not enough. You also have to present your own positive argument. Wrapping your own vision into your rebuttal is a great way to advance your case. Most of my blog posts encompass this form of activism. 

Third, the theoretical argument is your starting point--your frame of reference. But if you want to advance your ideas, you need to become good at applying them to concrete issues. Responding to opposition articles on concrete issues is a great way to hone your skills at that. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. When you have truth, facts, morality, and logic on your side--as Objectivists do--the task is a steady progression toward stronger and stronger activism.

As Jonathan Martin notes in the Politico piece:

Facebook and Twitter feeds along with email in-boxes have taken the place of the old newspaper front page, except that the consumer is now entirely in charge of what he or she sees each day and can largely shut out dissenting voices. It’s the great irony of the Internet era: People have more access than ever to an array of viewpoints, but also the technological ability to screen out anything that doesn't reinforce their views.

Don't fall into the trap of filtering out others' viewpoints. It's hard to read the opposition, especially when they explicitly attack your philosophical ideals. It's emotionally easier to focus on like-minded people. But knowing your enemy is crucial to winning the war of ideas.

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