How to Deal with the Irrational: The Wisdom of Sitcoms

November 5th, 2010

I was relaxing last night after my talk, after a dinner party at the University President’s house, and was catching 30 Rock, one of the more clever sitcoms out there in an age of the declining sitcom.

One of the characters (Liz Lemon played by Tina Fey) had a problem with her father, and her efforts to reason with him were proving fruitless.   She went to her boss (played by Alec Baldwin) who immediately told her something like, “He’s irrational.   You don’t use reason with irrational people.   You use fear.”

I had something akin to an epiphany.   I’ve been beating myself over the head for years trying to reason with people who believe in irrational things, who don’t trust science, who think that the Earth is 6000 years old or that carbon dioxide isn’t a greenhouse gas.   I’ve typed out thousands of words of carefully reasoned arguments supported by citations, and been rebuffed with nary a cogent response.   I’ve lost sleep infuriated about how some people could be so obtuse, and clueless about how to educate them.

Is it really this simple?

Is it really this hopeless for reason?

I don’t like to think so, but the last decade of elections and political commericals sure have used fear more than reason, and fear has consistently won with a few rare exceptions.

Am I selling out if I switch from reason to fear when dealing with people who don’t respond to reason?   Will I feel dirty?   Will it even work?

What do you think?


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