Is it even possible to have a genuinely open conversation that holds the potential to persuade someone to your point of view anymore? Or have we entered a “post-persuasion” state? And, if so, is there a way to change that?
As we’ve all navigated years of increasing conflict, deep, identity-level disagreement, maybe you’ve noticed an increasing culture of futility-driven apathy. Social, religious, political and other views are increasingly seen as unchangeable, so why even bother? Increasingly, people are just writing off anyone who doesn’t automatically see the world the way they do. It’s just not worth the effort, they believe.
Problem is, this assumption is not only wrong, but when we refuse to give others, and even ourselves, permission to ask questions, change minds – including ours – or think differently than their current label or belief leads with, who really wins in either scenario? Nobody. This apathy only deepens and reinforces divides, behaviors and, at scale, policies that may well cause large-scale harm. So, how do we break through? How to move people back into conversation, and set the table for openness and, maybe even persuasion to a different set of ideas, beliefs and actions?
Our guest today, Anand Giridharadas, has been studying this very question for years as a journalist, former New York Times columnist, and author of several books, including his latest book, The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy. This bestselling book takes a look at the seemingly lost art of social persuasion and argues the current state of conversational apathy threatens not only our personal relationships and well-being, but the very fiber of good society. In our conversation today, Anand and I dive deeper into the politics of persuasion, dissect the underlying drivers behind division, identity politics, social reinforcement, and explore a number of specific ideas and strategies designed to help us all get back to a place of more empathy and understanding.
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Jonathan Fields: So is it even possible to have genuinely open conversation that holds the potential to persuade someone to your point of view anymore or have we entered a post persuasion state? And if so, is there a way to change that for the good? As we all have navigated the last years of increasing conflict, deeper identity level, disagreement, maybe you’ve noticed an increasing culture of futility driven apathy, social, religious, political, and other views are Increasingly seen as unchangeable. So why even bother? Increasingly, people are just writing off. Anyone who doesn’t automatically see the world the way they do, it’s just not worth the effort they believe. And the problem is, this assumption is not only wrong, but when we refuse to give others and even ourselves permission to ask questions, change minds, including our mind or think differently than their current label or belief, leads with Well, who really wins in either scenario, nobody. This apathy only deepens or reinforces divides behaviors and that scale policies that may well cause large scale harm. So how do we break through? How do we move people back into conversation and set the table for openness and maybe even persuasion to a different set of ideas, beliefs, and actions. Our guest today, Anand Giridharadas, has been studying this very question for years. As a journalist, former New York Times columnist, author of several books, including his latest book, the Persuaders at the frontlines of the fight for hearts minds and democracy. This best selling book takes a look at the seeming loss art of Social persuasion and argues the current state of conversational apathy threatens not only our personal relationships and well-being but the very fiber of good Society. In our conversation today, ananda and I dive deeper into the politics of persuasion, dissect the Underlying drivers and motivations behind division, identity politics, social reinforcement, and explore a number of specific ideas and strategies designed to help us all get back to a place of more empathy and understanding so excited to share this conversation with you.
I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.
Jonathan Fields: So as we have this conversation, the world is an interesting place. It seems like there is crisis after crisis, but also underneath it. There’s certainly this emerging sense of hope that seems to be popping up in different pockets. And it’s interesting because you’re centering the topic that is fascinating to me on so many levels that I’ve studied from a perspective of marketing of Social impact of movements. And it’s interesting in that you tee up this notion that you describe a crisis of faith in persuasion, which I thought was a really interesting way to frame it. Because I’m thinking a crisis of faith in shared humanity, in kindness and belonging. I get all of those, walk me through the way that you sort of view the, the state of persuasion as a crisis.
Anand Giridharadas: Yeah. I think we probably have crises of all those things. You just, you just mentioned. You know, at the risk of sounding grandiose about it, I think if you step back and look at the history of humanity, there have been broadly two theories about how we make decisions about the future. Right? There’s no alternative to making decisions about the future, like inevitably in any Society, Hunter, gatherers, agricultural societies, modern information Society, you know, things come up and we got to decide, do we ban that fertilizer, or do we not ban that fertilizer? Do we let those people into the Village or do we not let those people into the Village? And broadly speaking, throughout human history, when societies communities confronted with those decisions? For most of history that the theory about how you resolve them is that they’re too complicated for all of us to weigh in on. So let’s just get one guy to just decide for us. And it’s hard to remember if you’re born in the modern era that that was the, the dominant theory, and that most people bought into that even the people who are not that guy. Because almost all people were not that guy bought into the idea that it’s kind of easier for that guy to just handle it for all of us. And then in the last few hundred years, this Incredibly powerful alternative idea arose. Which is that actually maybe we should all weigh in and decide this together, maybe through the Incredibly complicated act of talking things through the way. You and I are talking things through on a scale of whole nations debating, arguing newspapers, letters to the editor, you know, VFW halls, schools. We should have this permanent roiling conversation and then weigh in through voting, knock on each other’s doors. And maybe that’s actually a better way. And if you could imagine from the standpoint of like sixteen, seventeen eighteen centuries when people were starting to make these claims about this being a much better way to choose the future. You can understand how crazy they must have sounded to people like really like it seems much better. Just let the one guy do it. This is the most radical idea in the history of the world, that it is, in fact, better for five million or ten million or three hundred and fifty million people to have a loud, messy, permanently disagreeable conversation about how to make the future and that this is a better way, but it has been vindicated in the last few centuries as not only a more just and humane way to do it. But more effective Democracies make better decisions. They’re better at not going to war. They’re better at improving living standards for people, right? Democracies are based on the idea of talking of conversation and at some essential level of me trying to change your mind and you trying to change mine. And essentially if we get to a place where the dominant view and I think we’re now there, the dominant view among many, many people is it is useless to try to change Jonathan’s mind. It is useless. He is who he is. He’s a “this” identity. Therefore he thinks this he lives in that place. Therefore he thinks that he said this once, therefore he thinks that he refuses to get that. Once you say people aren’t worth it, people are never going to change. They are who they are. And by the way, I have said that myself in these last many years a lot. I think all of us have, once you get to the place where your fundamental view is, the pursuit of a change of mind in your fellow citizens is futile. Work’s a futile pursuit. I think you are essentially, in a way, you may not be realizing, asking the king, asking that one guy to come back. You are opening the door to tyranny. You’re opening the door to political violence, which is trying to get your way by hurting people instead of changing their mind. I think the road to civil war and the road to tyranny is paved by this Increasingly popular view that trying to change people’s minds is futile. And so I saw, I heard it among people, I respect, I see it in the movements that I was writing about and covering. I see it in politics and it’s just more present in the culture. I think everyone will recognize this thing of like, don’t bother, don’t bother, don’t bother. And I get it. I’m here to say I get it. I have said these arguments myself and I started to check myself and realize what I am saying. What I am feeling is actually inconsistent with Democratic life. And so I decided to hedge against myself in a way in my own limitations by starting to spend time in conversation with a group of people who refuse to write people off who are organizers, activists, people in politics, others, most of them, I think in the book with a kind of organizer sensibility more than any other sensibility and people who are deeply committed to certain ideals. These are not milquetoast wishy washy people that I’m writing about, morally grounded and confident and, you know, standing for something real, not, not blowing in the wind, but unlike too many of us out there right now. People who were interested in reaching out to the other side, whatever the other side may be on a given issue. And persuading people Whose view of those on the other side of them is that they are complicated, always complicated, no matter what they are for or against. And that there’s some thing there to work with, not in everyone, but certainly in plenty of people to make a meaningful difference in the trajectory of our communities. And so I started with this kind of fear that the crisis of persuasion, the loss of faith and persuasion, was, was in a way, one of the major things leading to the breakdown of democracy. Not just coups and insurrections, but a belief in so many of us that this whole thing basically doesn’t really work. And through the reporting in the book and writing the book, I ended up getting to a place of profound optimism that it is possible still to persuade that it is possible to try to change minds. It’s possible to build a bigger we, but it’s going to require a whole New set of habits than the ones that have come to dominate the pro-democracy side. You know, in which I count myself in recent years.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And I want to dive into some of those, those ideas, those tools and some of those people too. But the question that is really lingering in my mind as you lay that out is what changed along the way, like you described this or like, you know, like this, this time spectrum of you know, like for generations and generations, there was effectively one person at the top who decided on behalf of everyone and then all of a sudden, you know, a whole bunch of people start saying, well, maybe it’ll be more equitable, more fair. Maybe things will just work better in general if we all have a voice. And that system grows roots and it gets codified and it becomes the way that we do things. It’s embedded in culture, law for generations and generations and generations. Not everywhere of course. But, you know, in Western Democracies, you know, what’s making the pendulum swing in the other direction. Now, like, because what you’re saying is that’s, that’s crumbling. And I think all of us have felt that, and all of us have felt that sense of futility that you described. I’m curious when you look at what’s happening underneath that. That’s saying, well maybe people are actually starting to back away from that foundation. What do you see as the things that are driving that reversal?
Anand Giridharadas: Would you be okay with me actually reading a paragraph? And the answer is that because I it’s, it’s such an important question. I really tried to distill it. I don’t to give you like a, you know, list that I wrote in America in recent years. This fatalism that we’re talking about has been on the rise and the hope of persuasion and free fall, the ascendant political culture. Confrontational and sensational and dismissive, has many causes the inflammatory sense heads of Social media, big one, the cynical manipulations of billionaire owned divide and conquer news outlets. The growing confidence and voice of once marginalized groups good development, the very real material crises that beg for solutions and continue to remain unsolved. The frustration with how little milder kinder, more civil and more hopeful politics has delivered the sense that absent of politics of us and them, the them will continue to pillage the US. For these and other reasons, many Americans have grown alienated from an idea at the heart of Democratic theory that you change things by changing minds by persuading. And I wanted to read that because I think if you notice in that list, there are some very bad trends and some very good trends that I think flow together into the inflammatory more dismissive political culture we have. And I want to pause on that for a second because that’s very important to understand. You know, some of the obvious things, social media. I mean I think social media is a very, very, very good thing in a whole bunch of ways. It’s easy to just dump on it. It is an incredible thing. I Mean, certainly, you know, I have way more of a voice, and I don’t need the Op Ed editor of the New York Times to think I deserve to be heard on a given Tuesday to speak to the public. Is that a huge, huge shift and advantage in the world, but these platforms owned by very rich people have been organized in a profit maximizing way that rewards the inflammatory, the dismissive the dunk instead of the generative, the questioning the open, right? It’s not inevitable that it will turn out that way, but it did clearly, you know, toxic media. But I think also I talked about the growing power and voice of once marginalized groups. And it’s important to note that a lot of what is, you know, resulted in cancel culture so-called or, or like mob pylons or people saying the wrong thing, you know, and there’s excesses in all of that. But I want to be very clear. A lot of that is very good. It’s really, really good that you can now not say certain things about black people that were a lot easier to get away with saying. Because the only people who could easily sanction you in the past before there was that kind of voice on social media was other establishment people who, you know, didn’t include a whole bunch of black people. Right? Now you have the ability of the crowd. And if people with various lived experiences to say, that’s ridiculous and so, you know, shame is an important part of healthy human societies. People with less social power. What they have is the ability to band together and you know, so some of the things that have made the political culture, inflammatory and kind of dismissive in that way, are the outgrowths of a, of a good thing. And I’m very glad to live in a, in a culture in which, for example, progressives and working class people in general have a much more open and strident way of calling out economic power than was, you know, considered appropriate in American politics. Not long ago was considered class warfare and these kinds of things, no one says that anymore, no serious person says, you know, railing at billionaires is class warfare. I mean it’s become much more legitimized. So a lot of the kind of calling out and in some ways, aggression in our politics, from my point of view you may disagree with me, is part of a good thing. My concern is where some of that generative calling out and generative and useful aggression in politics curdles into the idea that it’s not worth bothering with certain people. Right? And I want to make a distinction between I think it is totally fine to be angry in politics. This is not a book about being gentle with each other. The problem for me very specifically is when you begin to say it is futile, it is not worth it to endeavor to change minds. That is different from saying I’m mad at those people. I think those people are X, Y Z say that all you want. But when you start to believe that people are unchangeable, you’re is dooming your own movement. And I want there to be space for folks on the pro-democracy side to be able to be angry and be fierce and champion a specific and sharp view of the future. And to view every single person who is not with them there yet, as possibly someone who could come in and not actually, but a significant number, a fraction of those people as people who are actually gettable. And I think we need to find a better way to combine being strident and being clear and being demanding and being ambitious with being magnanimous and welcoming and inviting and not having movements that want all the right things. But make people feel like they can’t belong, that they’re like a club that you have to kind of know someone to get into.
Jonathan Fields: I mean, it’s interesting the way you lay out there are a lot of mechanisms at work. And like you said there, some of them are things that feel very dysfunctional and some of them are things that feel hyper functional. Underlying all of that, like where my brain is going is, where does what I see as a wave of dehumanizing, the other fit into this? Because I think about, if you take social media for example. Yeah, there’s a ton of media about how it’s destructive and how it’s manipulative and how it’s all drawn around algorithms that are designed to enrich wealth. And then as you’ve just laid out, it’s also Incredibly useful because it’s an organizing and it’s a vocalizing, it’s a messaging channel for people who didn’t really have the ability to organize and rally and hit that critical mass tipping point. So it’s Incredibly powerful and yet underneath all of it, you know, when, especially when we talk about, you know, like people being beyond a point of persuasion or conversation or openness. What I see happening, which is terrifying to me. Is us looking at the other and not only saying it’s not worth worth it to try and convince them, but actually saying, and not only do they have a different point of view, not only are they like the other person, but like, literally saying like if you don’t see the world the way that I see it. I don’t see your humanity anymore. You are not worth my time to persuade, not just because I believe you’re UN persuadable, but I don’t see you as being human anymore. And that’s the reason that I don’t care about trying to actually have a legitimate conversation with you. What’s your take on that?
Anand Giridharadas: I think it’s very prevalent. I think you’re absolutely right. And I think it is incredibly self-defeating. And what I mean by that is, I may not persuade someone listening to this, that refraining from that kind of dehumanizing, is, you know, is bad because it’s, it’s dehumanizing and it’s, you know, it’s bad for a bad way of looking at your fellow citizens. I may not even persuade them that it’s a kind of bad way of looking at things because it’s factually incorrect and people are complicated, much more complicated than that kind of simple story. But let me persuade you by saying if you find yourself feeling that or thinking that, that it’s Incredibly self-defeating. Because what you are really saying is that your ideas are quite limited in their power to spread and take hold. If you really feel like the kind of political values you hold, powerful or meaningful would make the Society better, you should be profoundly optimistic about the ability of those values to conquer all kinds of communities and all kinds of moral frames. I think an idea whether it’s a policy idea like Universal Health Care, or whether it’s an idea like we should, you know, respect immigrants, regardless of where they come from or whether it’s a kind of notion of, you know, we should be open to the world and engage with the world rather than close ourselves off any of these kind of political values. I believe these ideas are all powerful enough that all kinds of people could be brought along. And what I learned in the book from all these different types of Persuaders I wrote about the book was originally called persuasion, but I changed it to the Persuaders because I realized it was a book about people doing a thing that I want more of us to learn to do and so although I was writing about very different people, I’m messaging consultant, occult, deep programmer, race educators, activists, varied politicians, very different people. I tried to think at the end of the process, what do they all have in common? What do they all believe in common? And I would say the thing, they pretty much all believe in common, that most of us, I think, do not believe is that people on the other side of the divide from you are as you would say human. But I think the way I would frame it is complicated. People are complicated, and here’s the thing. We all know we are complicated, right? As I speak to you right now, I’m stating certain opinions, right? I know internally, I have doubt about some of those opinions. I feel sort of partially the other way about some of those things. At the end of the day, you got to, you got to stand somewhere. So I’m giving you what I call in the book. Like I’m giving you my sixty forty position on certain things, not everything. I Mean, these are, I’m not saying I don’t Mean anything. I’m saying I said, I Mean all the things I’m saying. But I also Mean other things. Right? When I write a book saying, billionaires have too much power, that that’s a really deeply held view. But is that the only thought I have on that? Are there any countervailing thoughts? Sure. You know, we know that about ourselves. Right? Maybe we, even, I would say know this about the people we love, we grant them complexity too. But the dehumanization, you’re talking about the specific way it shows up in politics and, and in this conversation about persuasion. Now is that we look at people on the other side of certain divides and we just think they’re not complicated. The way we know ourselves to be, they are just monoliths of that view. They are dyed in the wool committed to whatever it is. And the problem with this view is just empirically. It’s not true. The simple evidence for this is like people swing around in politics. A lot that happens all the time in politics. People are complicated. And it’s so obvious when you think of yourself, we think of others that you are sixty forty on these things and you have a stance in the world where you are sixty. The sixty, the thing that narrowly won out is the stance. Right? But if we start to regard others, people, we are on the opposite end of as also having that complexity. It’s certainly granting them more humanity and not dehumanizing them. But it’s really also just makes you much more effective because people who don’t like immigration and think our border is a mess and that people should not be coming here illegally. They also think other things, right. They also think that like families are sacred or they also think that, that America is the most humane country in the world. Or they also think that they’re good people. They have other things in their right now in that moment. If they’re obsessed with the alien invasion on the border, that those other values are not winning the battle for their heart right now. We’re all at war with ourselves. They are at war with themselves. And if you see them as a monolith, you’ve got nothing to work with. If you see them as a site of a contest, then you say, wow, I got to arm the rebels in their heart that feel a different way. Those rebels are losing an argument about immigration right now, but it’s not inevitable. And I’m not talking about, you know, winning everybody back. But in this country, three or four or five percent of people shifting their view about something fundamental is the difference between like heaven and hell. Right? So all we are talking about is refusing to get into this thing where you say, anybody who’s committed to any particular thing is just irrevocably that, or anyone of a particular race just thinks this way. It’s just self-defeating. It’s not true. And I wrote the Persuaders because there are people out there on the ground today and every day showing how you do it, showing how you walk into communities, talk to people, listen to people, elicit the formal stance. They have elicit some of the b-side stuff. That’s not so processed and maybe start building some of that stuff up so that it starts competing within them. You’re not implanting something on them imposing something on them. You’re building up a doubt, a questioning a counter story within them. And more often than not, it works and I sincerely believe we have to stop believing that we can defeat this kind of fascist threat. The country now faces by investigating our way out of it, prosecuting our way out of it, condemning our way out of it, being rageful to get out of it, shaking our fists at MSNBC as a way of getting out of it. These people on the fascist side of the equation in America have let’s be honest, built an extraordinary movement. They have, they’ve built a movement that makes people feel at home that provides a sense of exuberance and excitement that has created real feeling that has met human beings in the kind of reptile brain place where we all are, frankly. And those of us who want a future of democracy and justice and Human rights for all, we have not built as good a movement as their movement. I believe it is more righteous, but it once is good and what that fascist movement wants is bad. Let’s be very clear, but if you’re just objectively assessing the quality of these movements, the pro-democracy movement is inferior right now. It has not created that sense of Human belonging. It has no strategy for transcendence and emotion. It doesn’t really have an astute psychological understanding of what moves voters, its messaging is bonkers. It constantly hews to this old notion of, of persuading, through diluting what you stand for, leaving everybody kind of cold. And so praying for rain to save us from fascism is not going to work. We need to organize a better, more magnanimous, more fiery, more angry, more humane, more loving movement, all these things in one. If we have a chance of saving the country.
Jonathan Fields: And underneath it all, No matter where you stand, as you offered, acknowledging the fact that every human being is complicated. You know, you look at the social research that shows us that when we do something that is clearly a quote, bad act, we see ourselves as good people having made a mistake or made a bad decision or done something wrong. When somebody else, maybe somebody else who we’re looking to not want to give us some level of grace too, does the identical thing. We see them as bad people. So for us, it’s a behavior for them, it’s an identity and it’s exactly what you’re saying. Like we don’t often acknowledge the fact that we are complicated and so is everybody else in that firestorm of beliefs and actions and identity. There’s a lot going on at any given moment in time.
Anand Giridharadas: That’s exactly right. And I just want to clarify also that this could sound like excusing or absolving people. So I want to make a couple of points. One thing I learned from all of these Persuaders I have written about is that they view any kind of political movie, look at the left half of the country, right half of the country. They look at each of those halves, as in fact, containing two quite different groups. Right? And we often conflate the two. And I would say one group is people like me and you on either side, which is people who have a pretty baked worldview because they read a bunch. They think a lot on these questions. This is what they are talking to their friends about on Friday night over a glass of wine. There’s fascists who have a real committed worldview right now in this country. People, conservatives, others. There’s progressives that have a deep, committed worldview. Liberals that have a deep committed worldview and then voting right alongside them for the same candidates causes, on all sides are people who do not, in fact, spend most of their living, breathing time, thinking about these issues at all. You know, we can laugh about that. I don’t have any disdain for that at all. I think people have busy lives. You know, you see these funny interviews that they do on the late night shows where they go and they ask people like, can you name a Supreme Court justice or like, you know, like what is the Capital and like, it’s always a laugh line. But, but, you know, I Mean, there’s a lot of things I don’t know also, you know, I don’t know anything about sports. Those people may know something about sports that I don’t, a lot of people do not in fact have a fully baked moral worldview in which they have thought about why limited government is better than active government, or why government provided health Care is better or worse than market provided health Care and those people from a voting point of view, they look kind of similar. They vote for the same things. They might even vote for the same things relatively consistently. But those folks in the terms are not Shankar ossorio. I write about in the book messaging consultant, she talks about those people as the kind of good point people. While they might still be quite partisan, they are open to radically different moral frames because they’re a little bit worldview starved. And so there’s a lot of fascinating polling that I write about in the book. If you go to the good point people, which is a significant number of people and say, and this is a real example, we have to stop talking about race in this country. Because you can’t move forward if you’re just kind of consumed by the debates of the past, right? A significant majority of people will say yes, good point. If you say, we must talk more about race in this country because we can’t move forward. If we don’t face our past demons. An almost identical, vast majority will say yes. Okay. My takeaway to be very clear is not that people are stupid. I think, I Mean I have an answer on my, I have a, I have a side on that question that I just said, but, but like there is wisdom in both of those views. There is just in life the truth that you face things in order to deal with them. And there is the truth that sometimes you got to let things go. That’s not where I land on this particular debate. I’m a face are on the question of race in our history, but like if you just step back, it’s not completely nonsensical that you can rally sixty seventy eighty percent of people on both those propositions because they both appeal to some kind of deep, intuitive place. Right? If you say we should raise the minimum wage, because anybody who works for a living ought to make a good living. Huge agreement. If you say we should not raise the minimum wage, because it will crush small businesses and destroy the opportunity. Again, Huge majority. And so if you have that view, what are not talks about in my book is that then the job of politics is not to treat kind of demand as fixed and say like I’ve got to find my minimum wage supporters. It’s to say, I have to conquer the ether and make people feel like the moral view that no one who works for a living should earn a living is just everywhere in the air. And that the other view is just rarer and weirder and more marginal. Your job becomes to saturate the conversation so that people who do not have a worldview so coherently baked, who are not reading eight books about this to form their opinion. Just start to feel like that’s literally in the original sense. The word, the common sense, the sense that is common to people. And I learned a lot from the folks in the book about how you play in common sense, as kind of the canvas for the political artist, the place you play, you’re not just trying to eke out a piece of legislation. Your ability to affect what is considered common sense is hugely important. And here I would say as in many areas, the political right gets this. They understand that who wins, common sense, wins the future. And the left, in part because it’s more of a kind of brainiac Party, it’s less interested in emotion and psychology. It kind of often looks down on those kinds of appeals. The left has just offered generally, like policies and facts. And in this hope that they’re kind of self-evident, and it’s been more absent from one of the core concepts at the heart of the book, which is meaning making, which is really helping that latter group in each camp. That has a stance, but is a little bit short of a worldview helping them realize what is the normal thing to think. And generally, the left has been absent in so many ways from media to political speeches, etc. to that process of meaning making. And one of the big, I think, calls of the book is for the pro-democracy side, the political left certainly the Democratic Party to invest in the project of meaning making above and separate and apart from simple electoral appeals.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah, I Mean there’s so much in what you just shared. The idea of, as you describe Shanker Ossorio you know, like saying and no actually it’s not just about finding the people who just immediately say yes to exactly what you believe, but it’s about understanding that a lot of people are kind of in the middle somewhere. And there’s an opportunity to have a conversation and that walks them through this, this feeling that AHA, like maybe I need to question this.
Anand Giridharadas: Can I just say one quick thing about that? Because you just said in the middle, and I totally get what you’re saying, but I want to correct. Like, I think part of the misperception is that sometimes being between two poles makes you in the middle, Right?
Jonathan Fields: That wasn’t my intention,
Anand Giridharadas: Right. I know, I get you but, but like it is a very common thing in politics to like we talk about moderates or like centrists or like middle of the road voters. Right. And I think what part of what I learned from my characters and I hadn’t understood before is that if you are torn between two things, it doesn’t mean you want the mean between them. Right. And my simple analogy for this is like the pizza burger analogy. If you, if you Jonathan and I are not sure whether you want pizza or a burger for dinner tonight, you are a conflicted voter, undecided voter or a swing voter. It doesn’t follow that you want a pizza burger. You may want a pizza, or a burger, least of all, that may be your third ranking choice, right? All it means is you do not right now know whether you want a pizza or a burger. You don’t have an easy way to make that decision. And I think what I learned from my characters is we need to make that guy think that a pizza is what everybody’s having. Or we need to make that guy think that a burger is everybody’s having, as opposed to trying to average out the things that are pulling you in different directions. If that makes sense.
Jonathan Fields: No totally makes sense. I’m just thinking about whether I’ve actually had a pizza burger. Definitely not. And I have no interest in having one even though I love both. There’s a leap in there that I’m curious about, which is if you’ve got a substantial percentage of folks who are certainly that persuadable group, you know, like they don’t actually want them at all. Like they’re going to go one way or the other. And the job is to have the conversation, is it that they, we want to move them to a place where they feel like, well, this is what everybody’s doing. For me, the curiosity is always about what’s underneath that, you know, and what bubbles up for me is our physiological and psychological need to belong. And I wonder if part of what’s happening now is that there has been, you know, you describe a crisis of persuasion. I also happen to believe that there’s a profound crisis of belonging. So many of the things that provided a sense of belonging, whether it was your, your workforce, you know, whether it was religion, whether it was the local leagues. You know, Robert Putnam wrote this about, you know, Bowling Alone. They just don’t provide that anymore, but that the Human need for that remains stronger than ever. So as we, we have this lack of places where we find belonging and increasing isolation, especially over the last few years. And then we have, we’re making decisions like my sense is that a lot of the reason that we make decisions, especially for folks who are, you know, in that persuadable realm is because we make decisions because it will allow us to be accepted to have a sense of belonging with a particular community of people and that may be your neighbors. That may be your family and that you know, it’s less about rational basis, less about deep analysis. It’s more about what will let me feel less alone. What will let me feel like I can walk out my door and get along with the people around me. Rational or irrational? And I feel like the underlying, like the subtext of a lot of this is connected to our just deep yearning to belong.
Anand Giridharadas: I think that’s so profoundly true, I think in many ways this is a core theme of the book. People have that need for belonging as you’re talking about. And one of the things that is most disturbing to me looking at the current American political scene, is that the extremist right, whose ideas and program is fully anti belong, anti inclusion. However, in their political tactics, it is a movement centered on providing the experience of belonging and a movement, National Party, then dropping down into Federalist Society, campus organizations, evangelical church networks, hunting and fishing clubs, homeschooling networks for parents where there’s a lot of belonging going on, on the right, that feeds up into the National Political Program. And a lot of ways in which the National Political Program trickles down, the only real trickle down, into belonging and association. And like seeing those people on Sunday at church and getting help on the math curriculum with the homeschooling network. And then if you shift to the political left, I think there is a complete absence of a plan for belonging of any interest in belonging. And again, I think this comes from a wonky technocratic pointy headed brainiac bias in the Democratic Party on the left, particularly as it’s gotten uncoupled from Labor unions. This used to be a Labor Party, as left parties where around the World, it is no longer virtually anywhere in the modern West. A real Labor Party and Labor unions are about belonging and had, you know, kind of fractal, you know, units of belonging, where people actually met IRL and the, you know, the Democratic Party. But the left generally has become a very, extremely online movement. It does not have the same networks of evangelical church networks and the hunting and fishing clubs and so on and so forth. And you really look at the left to say, look, who’s doing that for good? Who is doing extraordinary rallies? I Mean, I’m sure you get these fundraising emails that you didn’t sign up for the way I do, right. How many Times you ring and ask for five bucks all the time, right? When’s the last time any of those email lists Invited you to something? Have you ever been Invited to like the park where you live to celebrate a value that is under threat by the other side. Have you ever been Invited to like a drum circle or a sing along or a, or, you know, any kind of communal activity or you just asked for five bucks, you know, there is no strategy for belonging. Why is it not obvious for the Joe Biden White House to be doing fireside chats in the way that FDR did TikTok, Instagram, YouTube multi-format Friday, five PM. Whatever. Right. Talk us through the era. Talk us through the make us feel put, make us drop it. So that we’re all listening to it at the same time. So you have the most inclusionary movements on paper, basically uninterested in belonging as a political practice. And the most exclusionary movements on paper. Incredibly deft at belonging as a strategy. And this to me, if I had to kind of sum up what I am trying to correct with this book, what I’m trying to make on ignorable, it is this paradox, this problem. And I think we need those who actually want there to be democracy and justice and dignity for all in this country to step the hell up when it comes to belonging.
Jonathan Fields: A lot of this conversation has been in the larger context of politics, but I like I often bring this down to like like me and my my neighborhood me and my family, me and the person. Yeah, like who is in my life on a regular basis. Me and the few people that I work with any time you’re asking somebody to change a point of view. And that point of view is a fundamental tenet of the community to which they belong. I can’t imagine a scenario where even if you can have a successful conversation in the moment where that becomes sustainable change in belief and behavior. If you’re not also creating a community for somebody to step into at the same time, because fundamentally you’re not just asking people to change their minds, you’re asking them to actively say I am willing to ostracize myself from the community which may have provided so much. And maybe for generations, and maybe that’s even my family. And we met as a Huge, Huge. So I think part of what, what you know, we need to understand when we’re asking somebody to change a belief is if that belief is baked into it as if it’s a core tenet of a community to which that person holds dear and to which there is their primary source of belonging, unless we provide a community that invites them in there just Nothing’s ever going. But it gets really complicated and you talk about this in your book, right? Because what if that person also is in reality or in perception, has done or is perceived as currently doing harm, to what that New community would be? Right? So maybe you have a conversation where somebody can actually, and these are some of the people you describe in your book, say, I’m going to actually step into this conversation even though I don’t like this person, I don’t believe in them. And they see them as doing harm, they’re part of the problem. But I’m going to have the conversation. And it leads to some astonishing outcome with a profound shift in beliefs, right? And then maybe there’s a community for them to step into but, but how does that community even view that person after having potentially caused so much harm for so long? It’s not just about creating an experience that shifts somebody’s beliefs, but also creating an alternate or a new community to step into. And yet at the same time, if there’s a dynamic where that community perceives this individual as having been part of the problem, are they even welcomed into that community? Is that even a realistic possibility?
Anand Giridharadas: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. It’s a perfect way to put it. What we are asking when we ask someone to change their mind or come along with a particular idea. I think we sometimes don’t understand the nature of what we’re asking. We are asking you to kind of leave a family for another family or leave a leave, a certainty for another certainty, you know, and you think about, for example, right now, we are attempting to get millions of men. I Mean, all men, tens of millions of men to change. There’s an old model of being a man, masculinity. The vast majority of men participated in that we saw in our fathers or grandfathers. That doesn’t work anymore. I Mean, it wasn’t great then either, but it’s now understood to have not been a workable model based on misogyny. Taking women for granted all kinds of forms of behavior as being normal and Okay, I’m not talking about the most extreme forms of baby. I’m talking about things that ninety five percent of good men would have thought are fine fifty years ago that are now widely understood not in fact to be fine. Right. And we’re trying to get tens of millions of men from one side of the kind of this line to the other. And by the way, we’ve succeeded, we never tell the stories of how we succeeded with these things. We have already successfully migrated, I would say, and large number of men to a better, more enlightened the way of relating to the world to women, to their own masculinity, to all kinds of things, to violence. And with a whole bunch of men who we’ve not yet so successfully migrated. Now when we are inviting those men to make that leap, I sometimes think we don’t understand what we are asking in the terms that you were talking about. We don’t understand that we’re not just saying that was wrong and this is right and be better. Which is kind of how we approach these things. We’re asking them to leave a community, a network of being a way they know how to be. That even if they at some level agree is flawed, is real to them. It’s vivid to them. It’s obvious what the codes are. And the thing we’re asking them to join is a little ethereal to them. It’s a little ethereal to all of us not entirely fully settled in yet. We’re asking them to be part of a New kind of compact masculinity. That is maybe not as convincing to them, maybe not as vivid to them. Maybe they’ve never seen it. Maybe they don’t know a lot of people who they feel are on the other side of that line. And when we think it’s just like a question of, kind of get right. Like, get your heart right. Like get on the right side of things. We’re missing the communal nature of the loss that they’re experiencing and we’re failing to offer them a kind of communal bounty of getting to that other side. That would perhaps be the biggest loser. And this is where I think you could have the same conversation about kind of shifting on race and growing awareness of whiteness and accountability for whiteness. On any number of these things, we are oftentimes asking people to leave a world of certainties, good or bad. And often these migrations are very good and what they’re leaving behind is very bad, but it’s known to them. People understand how it works and what we are offering is kind of vague and unclear, and not vivid and not very particularly well portrayed. And so the fact that people experience the loss, the fear of the loss, much more acutely than they experience any excitement around the New thing they might be gaining, is kind of obvious. And it’s not entirely on those people. It’s also on us for making the pitch right. If we want, as I do there to be a lot more of the New kind of man. In addition to making a justice pitch and a human rights pitch, I need to make the New kind of masculinity more appealing. Which I think it is. By the way. I think it’s a lot more fun to play the role with my kids that, than you know, what most dads were allowed to do throughout history. Are you got to sell it? If it only feels like a loss, if it only feels like something is being taken away from, you can’t say that you can’t say that. I Mean, we’re not selling it properly. And so I pin a lot of blame and accountability on, on folks who are dragging their heels and wanting the country to go back or cling to the past. But I also put a lot of blame on those of us who are failing to convincingly summon people into the next world. We want to see, we need to make the world we want the movements. We have seem more fun because they are more exuberant, more joyful, more life giving. You know, I think about this with Climate change. Climate change is important. It’s maybe the only truly important issue because there will be no other issues if there’s no habitable planet. But there is a general aspect to the Climate change conversation, and I’ve spoken to many leaders in this movement about this, that feels dower. It feels like homework broccoli, you know, there’s no reason that it has to have that aspect. The battle for the planet could be one of the great life giving undertakings of our time. It doesn’t have to be subjectively experiences, like things being taken away from you. I Mean, I’ve talked to very serious people who think about this Climate change may be the biggest opportunity we’ve had to rectify racial injustice in the past. Historical legacy is because the sheer amount of money and social engineering power you’ll have with it, you’ll be able to solve other problems like racial injustice, legacies. You’ll be able to address things like gender. You’ll be able to improve education just through such a massive project of Public commitment. And so why wasn’t the Climate change movement framed as one of opportunity and can do and like, Holy shit, this is going to be so fun to live in this New way is that the vibe anyone gets from any Climate change conversation? I think it should be, I think this could be the most exuberant life giving purpose giving thing of our time. So it’s not always to blame the people who are dragging their heels or don’t want to do these things. I think it’s also to be a little hard on ourselves. Why is it that our causes are not appealing to people and is some of the blame on us for not empathetically strategically, shrewdly approaching people with the kind of pitch that would, that would hook them based on who they are, what their actual experience is, what their actual concerns are and summon them into the belief that the world we’re offering them is far superior to anything that they might be clinging to.
Jonthan Fields: Yeah, I Mean I completely agree with that and also understanding like in a bigger context, what are we really asking of these people because it goes beyond making a different decision. It goes beyond shifting a belief, it goes into something bigger. Like what are, what are we asking them to leave behind? And again, I want to circle back to this notion of, that’s not necessarily saying we’re letting anyone off the hook our forgiving behavior or forgiving something. But it basically saying if we want a net positive outcome, how do we step into this really taking a metal lens and getting super honest about what is at stake on both sides here. Let’s acknowledge that. Let’s step into the conversation from that point. So we can have the conversation on a deep stakes level, rather than on sort of like a, a superficial level.
Anand Giridharadas: One of the people I write about in the book is, is this guy named Kurt Harvey, who was associated with this racial education camp for families where there’s a kind of White parents adopting children of color. He’s an adoptive transracial adoptive parent himself and helps run this, this camp in Ohio. And he was thinking a lot about, he was very kind of reticent and uncomfortable with some of this kind of racial education at first talking about White Privilege this and that. And then he got to a place over many years where he became the biggest evangelist. For this kind of thing. We know what is now called CRT and all these big fights over it. But he was like, he went through that whole arc as a White man of like, why are you saying this stuff to me all the way to like, we got to get these messages to everybody. Right? So he was reflecting on, having known both sides of that thing, how can we get more White people, White men to have this conversation about race in a way that’s not losing them? And one of the epiphanies he had, he actually looked at his day job, his day job is that he basically goes and is a salesman who goes to dentists independent dentists who are very often a small business, single proprietor. And he convinces them to basically sell their practice to a larger company, which will then handle back office and kind of shared services. And they get to stop on their own practice. But you know, their practice will be owned by someone else. They don’t to worry about some of the business stuff and when he was young and starting out in that work, he would call it make a pitch and he’d say, you know, you’ll save this much, you’ll make this much more money and you know, people would kind of trust him, the trust spreadsheets often wouldn’t get called back or people would take months to call back and they’d have a whole conversation where it’s like, yeah, we’d love to do it. Great. Just give me a couple, you know, and then he’d call and it would always die. And his kurt’s epiphany in selling these like dental back office services, these kind of acquisitions. His epiphany was that he had as a young salesman, he had misunderstood the nature of the transaction. He thought he was selling the idea of practices being acquired and these back office services being pulled. What he was really selling was a kind of death and New birth to these dentists. They were going to die as independent businesspeople, which they’d been for a very long time as business owners, as people on their own. Right, that’s an identity. That’s a community that’s a self-belief, it’s a way of conceiving of yourself in a world. He was asking them to die in that role in that incarnation of themselves. And he was asking them, he realized over time to be reborn as another kind of person in this world. Someone who works for others, someone who has a boss, potentially someone who is not necessarily the captain of their own fate. Someone who could be maybe laid off No matter how prosperous they are. And it took him so long to understand that what he was actually asking was for these dentists to die in one incarnation of themselves and be born in another. Once he got that right, then he could have, then he started pushing them totally differently. He realized that he needed to walk with them through that death and allow them to really choose that. And to make it clear for them why the New life he was offering them was better. But until he could see it that way, he couldn’t sell effectively to them. And I think about that so much with the racial conversation that he’s now involved in, in this kind of side, work for the adoption camp and racial education. Where we are asking a large number of White people, a large number of men to essentially give up, relinquish a whole way of life. That is the only way, but I think we’re not honest about this, but equality in America real equality in America, in a multiracial democracy will require pretty profound shifts in how people live. Think talk. And we’re not recognizing, I think we fail to recognize the real sense in which this is a kind of Social death, a kind of real letting go for people. It is by the way, a totally righteous one. It is what needs to happen. But I think we sometimes don’t understand what we’re asking. We’re asking a lot and we are not offering in what is to come on the other side of change, any vivid inviting picture, clarifying picture, illuminating picture of what your life will be like, who you’ll be? What worked for Kurt, what works for some of those dentists. He was selling to us when they can start to see that they’re going to be okay on the far side of change. And that is actually partly their job as citizens. But it’s kind of our job also, those of us who want those changes to happen. And I think we have kind of been abjectly bad at this abjectly bad at this, failed to convince a large number of people that they will be happier, more whole, more joyful when they are men who get to participate in the full range of ways in which you can be a man, not just toxic masculinity that convince White people that it’s actually more fun to live in a Society in which everybody has a voice and a say in the culture and the food are certainly better, you know. And if it all feels like being hit on the head or shamed, browbeaten, or homework and broccoli, we’re not going to get there. We’re not going to get there. We’re going to get there. If we can invite people into a future that just frankly feels more fun, more true, more exuberant, more life giving. And I think that has to become the goal of the kind of pro-democracy pro-human rights pro justice side of the country.
Jonathan Fields: Definitely powerful. You know, what this also brings up, I think is which is an important question you know, use and use the phrase like Whose job is it. And when people think about the larger context of persuasion, I think oftentimes in a commercial and a day to day sense, it’s like, well, it’s the Persuaders job to persuade. If you’re trying to sell somebody an idea, a product, a service and offering, like you are, it’s your job. To make the case. When we zoom the lens out to larger social issues, to larger justice issues, you know, the conversation around like the burden of persuasion changes. And that’s what you were starting to speak to here. But there’s a distinction between what is right and what is effective because they’re not always the same thing.
Anand Giridharadas: That’s exactly right and it’s, you know, it’s worth remembering that, you know, persuasion is a tool, and it can be used for good ends and bad ends. And I think part of my frustration that motivated writing the Persuaders is that this is a tool that right now is being better deployed by people who wish our Society ill than people who wish it Well. And I want the people who wish it, Well, the people who want all of us to have a voice, all of us to have a vote, all of us to be included, all of us to be loved and have the right to love whoever we want those of us who want everyone’s kids to have a shot, not just the kids of people who are lucky if we continue to treat winning other people over as something that is either futile or just kind of happens on its own. If we, if we pursue the right policies and our heart is in the right place, that fantasy is going to be our undoing. And we have to have on the political left a revolution of persuasion. We need to become Persuaders in a way that can actually beat back the authoritarian menace, this kind of fascist uprising. It is the job of every single person who does not want that to be our future a common future. So I think become a persuader and insist on leaders becoming Persuaders. I have hope that a better path is possible. I think this is a neck and neck fight right now. A kind of dead heat between the forces of darkness and the forces of light in part because the forces of light are kind of half asleep. And my hope is that if they wake up a little bit and get their act together, they can kind of Bury this awful politics of hatred and dehumanization of the last many years. Bury it in the garbage dump of history where it belongs,
Jonathan Fields: This feels like a good place for us to come full circle as well. So in this container of Good Life Project, if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?
Anand Giridharadas: I think on the intimate scale, I think it means to me too, to be a good parent, a good partner and to have friends real friends, even through adulthood when it becomes harder because of the aforementioned partners and, and, and kids and to really be surrounded by by love in a way that, you know, sometimes hard when life gets busy and fragmented and you know, to have space in your life for love and connection and at the more societal level, I think, to live a good life is to engage yourself in the affairs of your community, in whatever way is appropriate for you in whatever way you’re called to do, and not just tend to family life and tend to your personal garden. But to make sure that you are engaged in a struggle for a better world. That you are saying the things that need to be said or organizing what needs to be organized, you know, participating in projects of, of merit. So that you hold yourself responsible for the quality of the Commons that you leave behind. And I certainly, when I think of that phrase, I think about it both very much in a kind of intimate, in the intimate realm. Because if you don’t have that, the other thing can be quite hollow. But I think if you only have the personal you could end up, you know, with a happy family in a burning world. And that doesn’t really work either.
Jonathan Fields: Hmm, thank you.