I haven’t written a post in awhile. I’ve been thinking, and most of my writing is saved to my hard drive and unpublished. Lately, I’ve been keeping to myself.
I’ve decided to publish this post as of today, perhaps because my way of thinking has evolved, or perhaps out of boredom. I do want to see where this goes:
“How do we get people to behave more ethically?” is a question that I tend to see in the background of progressive thinking. All too often in liberal politics, I hear notions that I would label “calls to virtue.” An example would be something like theoretical Person A stating to theoretical Person B: “You should do this or that because it is the right thing to do;” that is, whatever behavior that Person A is attempting to elicit from Person B produces the most ethical result for society as a whole, and therefore, Person B should or must engage in this behavior. For Person B not to do so is considered by Person A to be unethical, and Person A will often argue their points to infinitude in order to convince Person B to engage in said behavior.
Looking through the scope of history, I find that—more often than not—people don’t respond well to “calls to virtue.” You have to remember that, in our society, people are bombarded with solicitations to behave a certain way based on moral principle, and, more often than not, a person will not respond to your “calls to virtue.” They might consider it, feel guilty about not responding to it, or perhaps argue against you. None of these responses will elicit the desired, or the most ethically-valued, behavioral response. Most of the time and effort spent in these arguments seems utterly wasted.
So, how do we convince people to behave more ethically? I’ve drawn up my own conclusions from lessons I’ve taken from both sales (or, “economic theory,” if you prefer), and evolutionary psychology. In Matt Ridley’s book The Origins of Virtue, he goes into great detail theorizing how humans developed a capacity for trust and the mutual exchange of both material goods and philosophical ideas. He refers to the concept of virtue, on one page, as “exclusively pro-social behavior (pg. 6).” He also states that building trust is important: “trust is the foundation of virtue” (pg. 265).
Being able to trust another person or group is often difficult. I could go into the ins and outs of all the “prisoner’s dilemma” paradoxes, but for now, I’ll digress. I do agree with Ridley’s arguments establishing how important trust is in terms of both virtue, and in terms of cooperation between groups: if you can’t trust someone, you’re likely not going to cooperate with them.
Going back to the question of “How do we get people to behave more ethically?” I posit this: Rather than attempting to appeal to the person’s morality, we must focus on their self-interest.
I’ve been to sales seminars and have taken online courses that focus on this concept of what they call WIIFM: that is, “What’s in it for me?” While liberal-minded people tend to—at least, in my experience—view “sales” as this sort of slippery, gimmicky, “how can I trick someone into buying something?” approach, I tend to veer toward the concept that, in sales, we salespeople meet needs: that is, we discover what the person wants, understand how the person feels, and figure out if we have a product or suggestion that might help the customer solve whatever problem/s they might have. I don’t at all look at my career in sales as underhanded. Rather, I look back, and I think to myself “I feel privileged to have been in a position to give this person information that they might otherwise have not have had access to. I’m glad I was able to talk to this person, and help them solve their problem/s. It has been a great honor to help them.”
In the WIIFM approach, you have to look past what you’re trying to offer, and instead look at what the other person wants and why they want it. This is usually some base, primal need. In doing this, you have to put your ideologies on the side: you just have to listen to them. Sometimes, people get emotional. They say and do irrational things. At the end of it all, and underneath our abilities to be rational, ideological people, we’re just a bunch of apes trying to figure each other out. And, in the WIIFM approach, you don’t insert your “conjectures,” or “argue your polemics:” you simply listen, and then you restate what the person just told you in your own words.
Let me give you an example that could play out in the political landscape of things. Suppose you’re talking to someone who is adamantly convinced in securing what they would refer to as “My Second Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.” You might ask them “Why do you feel that it’s important to be allowed to own a gun?” To which they might respond “Because it’s my Second Amendment right to be able to own one.” And there would likely be an exclamation point at the end of that sentence.
This is what I would refer to in sales as a “smokescreen.” That is, this person likely doesn’t really care about the Second Amendment, the U.S. Constitution, or any other document, ideology, political stance, or what have you. Instead, the person has an emotional need: maybe they feel threatened by the government, or liberalism, or criminals, or even the potential threat of rattlesnakes nesting in their front yard. Maybe they feel the need to protect themselves from some perceived—or real—threat, and maybe they feel that some person or group of people is attempting to take the ability to do so away from them by taking away their “right” to possess a firearm.
The point that I’m trying to make here with the WIIFM approach is that it doesn’t matter what this person thinks about the Second Amendment. What matters, to both that person, and anyone who feels opposition to the way that this person thinks, is that we address how both people feel. All that stuff about “The Second Amendment this, and the Second Amendment that,” is just a bunch of iddy-biddy minutia that people get into arguments about. As a result, both people fail to solve real social problems because they’re still stuck in this ideological BULLSHIT.
My case and point in both understanding Matt Ridley’s approach to “virtue,” and the sales perspective of the WIFFM approach, is this: we can solve real world problems by putting ideologies aside for a moment, and addressing how people feel long before we engage in how people think. If trust is indeed the foundation of human virtue, we’re not going to establish any more trust by argument. Instead, we have to address how people feel, and come up with creative solutions for how to solve one another’s problems by listening to people state how they feel: whether we can justify those feelings or not. It doesn’t matter if how a person feels results in a thought pattern in that person that is illogical. What matters is that we’re able to build enough trust between ourselves and the people around us to be able to say to them: “I understand how you feel. Now, how can I help you?”