Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Constructive engagement

I've been thinking about something that I call "constructive engagement" for a while. The idea is simple, in order to make any sort of change you need to talk to people who don't agree with you. I don't claim that this is a revolutionary thing and I'm sure I'm no the first to think of this. But here are some of my attempts.

Cherry-picking passives
Liberal prescriptivism
Pop sociolinguistics

Sometmes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But you've got to do it.

I was happy to see that emptypockets at the Next Hurrah showedhow constructive engagement should be done.

The lessons I take from it are these:

1. Stick to the facts. Debunk the factual lie, and acknowledge room for debate about the rest. I was careful to define the lie as "PETA says the researchers are anti-gay, and that is a lie." I tried not to push my own views on animal research or larger issues, but instead just acknowledged them as debatable: "There is a real debate to be had here about when to use animals in research, and we need to have it honestly -- not based on PETA's lies." The goal needs to be to correct the facts and then let people intelligently incorporate them into their own worldview, not to change people's worldviews on your own.

2. Go to the readers. Writing about it on dailykos, TNH, or other political blogs is not enough. You can get 98% of the readers of those sites to say they agree with you and not have changed a single mind. Blogsearch and technorati are key tools for searching out where the lie is spreading, and then politely mentioning in comments that there is a problem with their facts and providing a link to a piece that debunks it. You need to google up the interested readers and bring them to the piece, rather than expecting your great audience to go out and contact them by random collision.

3. Take MySpace and LiveJournal seriously. I tend to ignore these sites, seeing them as mainly for teens. But information travels through them quickly, and they are huge. I still have resisted registering an account with either of them (and one of them doesn't seem to work right with my browser, anyway) and that is I'm sure a mistake. If you want to be able to do any kind of large-scale debunking, you absolutely need to engage these worlds.

1 comment:

Sharon Baron said...

They must not be keeping you busy enough out there in Parsipmany.

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