Nobody agrees on anything! Everybody rejects the authority of reason! Contention and strife are out of control! Meanwhile, we are all cooperating to keep the electricity on, the water running, the roads passable, and the grocery stores bountifully supplied.
Our nation has the most litigation in the world! Lawsuits clog every court! The threat of a lawsuit sours each relationship! Meanwhile, we cooperate to maintain the highest standard of living in the world.
Are we talking contradictions? Or is it possible that our disagreements are less fundamental than we allege?
If any substantial number of commuters refused to obey traffic laws, the commute would come to a dead stop. All those crazed drivers shouting curses and waving fingers are, in fact, eager to cooperate so that everyone can get home. Somewhere in the back of each mind a voice whispers, "For me to get home, everybody has to get home."
Social cooperation is taken so thoroughly for granted that we look at the rough edges and think society is disintegrating. While flushing the toilet and running the water, we lament that nothing works the way it should. In reality, the complaining, the shouting, the arguments, and even the violence are part of the method we use to keep cooperation going so the electricity will stay on and the stores will not be empty.
The point of the method is to adjust minds so that they accommodate difference. If there were no differences, then the division of labor would break down, and society would collapse. Since differences are vital, they must be accommodated whatever the cost. When reason is applied, the accommodation tends to be quick and easy. When reason is not applied, the accommodation is slow and painful. Whether we notice it or not, the thing we all complain about is that reason is not used enough to keep things running smoothly.
When reason is used to adjust minds so they can work together, persuasion is taking place. In trying to get your way, you become an agent of social cooperation. If you use reason, the reason of others will be on your side. Free will is in no way an enemy of persuasion. Free will necessitates persuasion.
The reason I want to get my way is that I want to benefit as much as others from cooperation and the division of labor. I want to take advantage of the fact that everyone is different. I confront a paradox. I want to persuade in order to benefit from the differing minds around me, but I think of persuasion as eliminating this difference.
I think of persuasion as gaining influence by using my reason—as getting my way by using my wits. That makes me assume that when I persuade you, I am getting the better of you. Then I get defensive about persuasion, and set an example that makes cooperation difficult. In order to make things come out right, I would have to make the odd assumption that my influence on you comes about by means of your reason—that I get my way by using your wits.
The oddest thing about that assumption is that it is inescapably true.
When you say that to the car pool driver, you expect to have influence. The full meaning is, "Do you see the red light?" You want to influence the driver to act on the signal. You want to avoid compromising your safety. You want to remind the driver how to be safe. You don't say, "Let us negotiate on the best method of being safe." You count on the sight of the stoplight to make that unnecessary. The principle of your action is the principle of reasoned negotiation. Your influence comes from the driver's reason.
Indoors, that's an observation. Outdoors, it's said for influence. The implied question is, "Do you feel rain?" You want to influence others by means of their reason. You want feet to quicken, umbrellas to open, plans to change. You don't think of it as persuasion, because it seems too simple and obvious. That's why it is good persuasion.
You ask this in order to have influence. You want me not to do that. Your suggestion is to reconsider. You want to influence me by means of my reason. You want to get your way by using my wits.
Nothing could be more obvious. To influence a self-regulating mind, you assist its self-regulation. It is a simple restatement of the law of cause and effect. If the effect is regulation, then the cause is the regulator. If a mind handles reality by using its reason, then influence will be by means of that reason. The secret of mastering influence by means of reason is to understand whose reason provides the influence.
If you think that your reason is what influences another mind, then you believe in the brute force of logic. You think of logic not as method but as compulsion. Arguments become missiles hurled against the resistance of another mind. You are led into the claim that you can do the thinking for other minds. You imply that minds are self-regulating only when you are not around.
Once you grasp that each mind thinks for itself all the time, even when listening to you, then it becomes clear what persuasion is. You use your reason, your ingenuity, your intelligence, to assist the reason of another.
A mind thinks for itself—even when it tries not to. To utterly accept your influence, I myself must decide to utterly accept your influence. If my mind is turned off, I cannot understand orders, let alone figure out how to obey them. If reason is my method to sort things out so I can handle reality, then reality influences me through my reason. All influence is through my reason. A gun pointed at me influences me because I reason about it. A good example influences me by showing my reason a useful method. Persuasion influences me by prompting me to reason about things.
Persuasion is a concept in chaos. Dictionaries define it in contradictory ways. It is thought to include logical proof, emotional appeal, clever manipulation, evil influence, and subtle force. It has degenerated into just another word for influence and control. There is, however, a particularly effective form of influence that needs a name so that it can be analyzed and described. It is influence by means of reason, and the traditional word for it is persuasion.
Chaos in the concept comes from ignoring its roots in free will. When volition is forgotten, control creeps in. When self-regulation goes, all limits to the concept break down. Persuasion suggests everything, so it denotes nothing. To keep it straight, remind yourself that all influence on any mind proceeds through the agency of that mind's method for grasping influence—through that mind's reason. The reason you use to influence that mind is that mind's reason.
What if it doesn't have any? In that case, it cannot understand the words you use, the facts you indicate, or even the meaning of a picture you draw. A mind with no reason at all is not a mind but a brain the brain of an animal. Persuasion would not apply.
No matter how much reason you might use, a brain without reason would be unable to respond in any way to it. You would have no influence. You can have influence only by means of the reason employed by the mind you want to influence.
If you reject reason, and try to influence a mind by trickery, then also you can have influence only by means of the reason employed by the mind you want to influence. You must outthink that mind, and hope for flaws in its use of reason. Since you are setting an example of trickery, you might wonder if the other mind is influenced to use trickery. Did your manipulation really work, or just seem to work?
As soon as I grasp that influencing you by means of reason means your reason rather than mine, I start to complain. I don't like to think of persuasion as so limited.
To limit is to define, to point out the borders, to identify. If one hates to see persuasion limited, it is because one hates to see it identified and defined. If it is this, it cannot be that. If it is this one thing, it cannot be all things. Once we know what it is, then we know what it is not. We can no longer regard it as magic. We can no longer regard it as getting the better of others. We can no longer regard it as a contest of wills.
On the other hand, once we know what persuasion is, then we can figure out how to do it.
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