We have all become approval-junkies, always on the lookout for our next fix of external validation: for the next little rush of dopamine we get whenever we are patted on the head by others for being a “good boy” or a “good girl,” for exhibiting the right behavior, for giving the right answer, for expressing the right opinion.
This article from the Foundation for Economic Education discusses the idea that much of the political statements made online are not an attempt to actually persuade anyone, but are merely announcements to the world that you hold the proper positions on the issues of the day. More importantly, the article also talks about how to go about arguing for liberty in the midst of all of this signaling. It says that the best way to approach the argument is to talk about how Liberty can benefit each person individually, not by making statements that attack a general worldview.
Look at persuasion as a battle. Attacking the worldview is doomed to failure, because the other side is dug in, and has all of its defenses in place. When you appeal to the individual, you avoid a costly frontal assault that is doomed to failure, and instead try to infiltrate with just one selfish point. That one point then moves through the ranks and destroys the statist worldview from inside the enemy camp.
The article uses a parenting example that may appeal to some, but I think a taxation example is better. Take the popular libertarian statement “Taxation is theft”. This phrase clearly indicates exactly where we stand on the idea that the government has a right to take the money that you have earned, and makes sense to every libertarian that hears it, but it is ineffective with almost everyone else. The average person responds to this statement poorly, because it conflicts with their worldview, and does not directly appeal to a selfish need. They immediately counter with the idea that we taxes to build roads, and schools, and keep us safe. They value these things, and are unaware that it is possible to run a society in another way.
Now, you could try to counter their objections with a lecture on private roads, or the problems with public schooling, but you will likely get nowhere, because each argument conflicts with the person’s entire worldview. These arguments only make sense to us because we have already adjusted our own worldview. A better strategy would be to identify a need of the individual, and then use that need to illustrate that the individual is being stolen from in this one instance. If you can prove that point, the individual will slowly move themselves to the overall position that taxation is theft.
For example, let’s say your sister would like to give her children piano lessons but can’t afford a piano or the instructor. She understands that piano lessons will have a long-term positive effect on her children, and dreams of the family singing around the piano at Christmas time while the daughter plays. Let’s also say that your sister disagrees with the growing surveillance state. This is your opening.
You: “Wouldn’t it be great if you got to take home more money in your paycheck each week for your daughter? You wouldn’t need much, just another $50 would give you enough to rent a piano and pay for the weekly lessons. I don’t know why we let the government take so much of our money each week. They don’t even send us a bill, or ask us. They just take it! Isn’t that stealing? And what are they spending it on? Spies to look at our Facebook pages and emails? You don’t want that. You want a piano.”
If you can drive home this one point, you have set in motion a chain of thinking that may lead her to conclude for herself that taxation is theft.