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Is it Possible to Reach the Right?

I had a conversation with a man at work today and mentioned, in passing, Occupy Wall Street. Despite many areas of agreement between the two of us, he launched into a tirade about ACORN and SEIU paying homeless people to protest. This man is a born again Christian and a devotee of right wing hate radio, but sometimes, he makes sense and since he is looking at hard times economically (he is a contractor for the company I work for, not an employee), I thought he might respond favorably to mention of Occupy Wall Street. Nope. Does anyone have any ideas of how to reach someone like this? Is there any somewhat-right website that has moments of sanity? I wanted to send him this article from Alternet, but decided that it would damage our relationship irreparably.

Any ideas? We are speaking to the choir, here - any ideas on how to heal the insane?

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goldberry's picture
Submitted by goldberry on

... You're not going to like it.
Let me backup a minute and say my mother, brother and sister are just like your friend. For hardcore fundagelicals, they *want* life in the US to become unbearable. That's a sign that the rapture is right around the corner. So, they have no interest in voting for the better candidate or going to an occupation. If you try to persuade them, you will just generate confusion in their minds. The confusion is caused by reality hitting the indoctrination of their leaders. When the confusion gets to be overwhelming, it will trigger an automatic response, "I don't put my faith in man. I only put my faith in God's government". Give up at that point. You will never accomplish anything.
Here's how you break through to them. It's going to be unpleasant. You have to stop treating them with respect. They count on you to be nice and respectful because they are higher, more spiritual beings than you. And most of us have been stopped by that respect from shaming their attitudes and bigotry.
But I think you need to point it out all the time. They don't like gay people? Tell them that their attitude reminds you of the ugly white segregationists. Tell them you are shocked by how bigoted they sound. They don't believe in evolution? Tell them you are surprised. You thought they were smarter than that. Do not engage them in a discussion of creationism. Tell them you're not interested in hearing about that ignorant bullshit. Use the word bullshit. They don't like ACORN? Tell them they remind you of those backwards segregationists who would have killed those 4 civil rights activists in Mississippi. They don't like poor people? Tell them their Jesus would hate them for that. Use the word hate.
In short, you have to be rude. It will temporarily disarm them because it's the last thing they expect. They have to know what you really think of them and that their power to lord it over you is over. If they persist, walk away from them. Tell them you'll talk to them when they've grown a brain.
Do not back down. They have to be humiliated and shamed.
They probably won't talk to you. But if they get this response from several people, they'll be more reluctant to open their mouths. Eventually, they'll realize just how unpopular they are and that will hurt. Because they last thing these conformists want is to feel they aren't part of the "in" group anymore.
It will take time. You will feel bad about it. That's ok.

Submitted by Lex on

I've had some success, though i don't know if it's real or if people are just humoring me.

I find that the salt of the earth (for lack of a better term) tend to be turned off by liberalism for a variety of reasons...some justified and some because of effective propaganda, and to some degree the propaganda plays off the justified reasons.

Look at how liberalism is portrayed in mass media: it's Ivy League educations and grand plans to make the world a better place if everyone would just listen to their betters. Would it make the world a better place? Doesn't matter. Liberalism is people like Obama (whether we like it or not) and/or dirty hippies. And that isn't helped by the fact that a lot of liberals in the middle keep their head down because conservatives are so vocal. So the salt of the earth doesn't have a whole lot to relate to; consequently, whatever good policy there is doesn't make it to the heart.

Maybe it helps that i have a deep disrespect and hatred for both political parties. When there's an accusation of being a Democrat (and all those negative connotations), i'm quick to dispel them...and not with any vision of what i think the Democratic Party should be. Fuck the Democratic Party.

That might help too. I liberally pepper my speech with foul language and coarse metaphor; it's natural to me. So it's not hard for me to talk to millwrights or ironworkers in their own language. I'm also happy to talk about trucks, guns and football.

Mostly i'm just honest. It pisses me off that regular people work themselves into the ground and get shit on by everyone uphill. Fuck the jackass in the $3000 suit skimming off the top, and that includes every damned politician on both sides of the fucking aisle.

Perhaps i do less converting and more seducing people to the dark side of anger and abject cynicism.

I have no idea how one might go about this in an office type setting. I only recently got into that crowd and i hate it, so i find every way possible to stay at my assignment among the union laborers.

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

I always point out that Obama and Friends are not liberals or the people I vote for. I vote for the people who support The Occupy Movement...(not a lot right now!) and try and point out that what is good for Occupy is good for Repubs and all Americans, too.

Second thing - if you listen to "progressive" radio - Stephanie Miller and Ed Whatever-His-Name-Is - you will be horrified at what they say about us (anti-Obama liberals) and their 'fellow Americans". I am embarrassed. They hang up. They tell people who don't follow the company line that they are ignorant. And Stephanie Miller take a bow for telling fart jokes and selling her "Sexy Liberal" comedy (?) show.

And Ed "Whatever-His-Name-Is" just got moved to an 8 PM MSNBC (prime Time!!) time slot. Go figure.

Submitted by lambert on

As usual, these clowns are more dangerous than the Rs....

zizi's picture
Submitted by zizi on

I came from a right-wing, racist, fundamentalist Christian family and it took me a long time to extract myself from that bullshit. I have no tolerance for it at all. I often do just what Lex stated above but it's not because I think they'll change their minds. It's because I really can't help myself. First I look shocked (because I often am shocked at some of the drivel that falls out of their mouths) and then I call bullshit on them and point out their hypocrisy.

I think change comes slowly and is made on an individual basis. You have to say SOMETHING to these people.

Submitted by Lex on

that unlike many others, i don't come from an environment with even a hint of religion or conservatism. So there's a good chance that i don't truly understand the depth of the fight; i get only inklings of people's weird religious beliefs and/or what the Right says behind closed doors. (Hence why i wonder if i'm just being humored.)

My grandfather is a WWII vet and a freakin socialist. I have one Republican uncle out of six and he's generally shunned and made fun of for his politics. Even my grandmother gave up her native Catholicism before i was born, and i was kept as far away from churches as was possible by my mother...never even baptized.

I would certainly defer to those who come from right wing environments and the their knowledge of the difficulties associated with talking sense to the nonsensical. My conservative friends/coworkers/associates know better than to send me any of their bullshit, forwarded emails. I always reply, and it's always the most complete, foul-mouthed, and derogatory evisceration i can manage.

That, by the way, is my natural talent. Mom always said do something you love and that you're good at. I chose being an asshole. (Thankfully my super power is apathy, so i'm not an asshole all the time.)

ygdrasl's picture
Submitted by ygdrasl on

In trying to figure out right-wing America (family included), I resort to Stirling Newberry's great Three-polar Politics in Post-petroleum America from two years ago. The thing's amazing- he covers a lot of ground.

He breaks American politics into 3 groups- Confederates (tea party views), Moderates (Obama), and Progressives (that would be us).

Extracting a few key sentences on social issues, his breakdown goes like this:

"The Confederates and Moderates agree in their guts: they have a gut level fear of a post-petroleum, post-financial, world. A gut level dislike of homosexuals, a gut level distrust of Progressive movement.

The Moderates and the Progressives agree on how to do things. They both understand the size of government, the need for an ultimate provider of stability, and the importance of discipline, science, and accepting what the numbers say.

The Confederates and the Progressives agree in their guts: both have a suspicion of large concentrations of power, though they disagree on which ones are most dangerous, and both have an inherent belief in the individual against the organization man. The Moderate pole is the corporatist pole. However, the Confederates and Progressives hate each others’ gut sympathies. Equal marriage is perhaps the paradigmatic example, but government is another. War a third. Confederates believe in war, and in defense spending as an entitlement."

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

First, a plug for one of my favorite books, Altemeyer's The Authoritarians, free, on-line. Informative, insightful, and fun to read. Explains what one refers to for lack of a better phrase the thought processes of right wingers.

For the most part, you can't reach right wingers. We just want different things. I want an egalitarian society. They want a hierarchical one, and are uncomfortable without fairly clear lines of power. I can't talk them into wanting what I want any more than I can talk them into liking my favorite food. A lot of the time we accuse each other of stupidity and hypocrisy because we're mistaking values for attempts at logic. Example: they see me as hypocritical because I reject the war on drugs and the American incarceration mania but think Rush Limbaugh's ass ought to be in prison. They'll never understand my primary belief in equality under the law, and I'll never understand their rejection of "moral equivalency" between bad people and good people who just happen to make a mistake. This is just to say that an empathetic understanding may be necessary to keep from indulging in charges that are incomprehensible to your listener.

There are some things that seem to work. They're uncomfortable as individuals or in the minority. The more you can say/defend that "most people" think what you think, the more you get through to them. That's one reason the "99%" rhetoric is making inroads, and why the response was 53%. They rush towards the safety of big numbers. That's probably why goldberry has had success. Treating the idea as something no one in their right mind would think is isolating and scary to them.

Tie your arguments to things they like. Social Security is a government program. Medicare is a government program. I usually refer to them as liberal programs, and raise them as often as I can -- "Well, it's like Social Security -- same kind of liberal program, which I really like." Some will explain to you how different Social Security is, or how much more retirement money they could have made for themselves, but then you've already moved the conversation to a program that most people like (see safety of numbers above), and I've found that simply saying something along the lines of "I don't want to spend my evenings working on my retirement fund. I find insurance and tax forms rather burdensome, and I haven't updated my will in years." Make them picture themselves doing what they claim is a good idea.

Similarly, address things they want. Four years ago when I told some hard rightwingers about HR 676, which would extend Medicare to all and included nursing home care, they were ready to race out and vote Democratic because they were overwhelmed with the need to care for her mother, who could no longer care for herself. They're anti-government only when the benefits go to other people. They love socialism for themselves as much as Lloyd Blankfein does.

In short (yeah, I know, too late) remember that they're looking for comfort in a scary world

Submitted by Alcuin on

I appreciate the time that all of you took to offer up suggestions. Goldberry, I just have a real hard time treating people with disrespect and rudeness. While I agree, in principle, that we must call these people out, I find it very hard to do so and always worry about the backlash. Lex, I think you make a good point about not mentioning the word "liberalism" - tie the arguments to concrete, real-world examples. The problem arises when my friend responds with all of the tired old right-wing tropes about socialists, communists and liberals. It's really hard to break through that wall! Zizi, I do agree that you have to say something to these people, but I think we have to be careful of what (and how) we say it. Maybe it is best to just say, "I don't agree with you" and leave it at that. Ygdrasl, I hadn't heard of Stirling Newberrry's book - it looks like it has some intriguing ideas. I'll put it on my already long list of books to read! Nihil obstet, I have a copy of Altemeyer's book - it is quite interesting. I think the most important phrase in your comment is this "...looking for comfort in a scary world." That, I think, pretty much sums up the whole "conservative" mindset. That is the theme of Timothy Melley's book, Empire of Conspiracy - he calls it "agency panic". Have you ever noticed how often "conservatives" engage in conspiracy thinking? Not that progressives are immune to that kind of thinking, though. Chip Berlet has a very interesting series of articles about conspiracism that I found useful.

When my friend launched into his tirade about ACORN and the SEIU, I should have connected it to conspiracy thinking, because that is what it is: an attempt to understand an organic movement like Occupy Wall Street as being caused by sinister forces acting behind the scenes.

I guess there really are no answers other than to just keep plugging along, supporting progressive causes and not falling into the trap of conspiracy thinking. Sigh ....

goldberry's picture
Submitted by goldberry on

That's why right winger religious people are so resistant. They weaponize religion and count on you to not challenge them.
It's up to you. You can try to reason with them but I can tell you right now that you will fail. Or you could tell them you think they're acting like ignorant bigots.
There is a third option. You could politely tell them you don't think you can associate with them because you don't share their worldview. Then polite tell them you don't want to discuss it. Then only interact with them on a purely professional level. Do not accept any invitations to interact with them socially. If they ask you why, tell them once again that you don't share the same worldview. Tell them you don't want to discuss it. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Those are your choices. In the absence of any rational technique, you will either be forced to participate in their mass delusions or cut yourself off from them. If enough people refuse to cooperate, they lose their power. If you indulge them because you don't want to offend, you might as well join them.
I don't think you realize yet how much these people are a threat to you. They will never stop trying to drag you into their world unless you let them know that you refuse to cooperate. The thing they hate the most is the idea that they can't have power over you because more and more of us refuse to play their game.

Submitted by Alcuin on

Oh, I know very well that it is impossible to reason with these people. I've tried and failed quite a few times. I do think that one angle of attack (which, unfortunately, I'm not qualified to try) is to hit them with a Sermon on the Mount perspective of Christianity. That, sometimes, gives them pause.

As far as professional interaction: once I know that a professional is a right-wing Christian, I cease doing business with them. I refuse to support ignorance and bigotry. I indulge this particular person because we have a good working relationship and I'm not the one who is paying his invoices.

Incidentally, I did send an e-mail to this man, saying that I was disappointed that he thought that ACORN and the SEIU were behind the protests and sending him a link to that NYT article about the sick Halloween party. Response? Nada. Zip. Zero.

As for them trying to drag me into their world - that hasn't been my experience. But if they did try, I would let them know, in no uncertain terms, that homey don't play that game.