Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Motivating Change

If you want people to change their behavior, you must show them new alternatives. Rarely can you just talk about such alternatives. If you want a good reaction, you need to show that it works in practice, give people a working prototype, a proof of concept.

It all boils down to motivation, communication, and belief. If I can make you believe anything I want, motivating you will not be that difficult (though there are a few additional things I should know about motivation). So it is important both to know how to persuade others, and how others may try to persuade us.

We can break this down further, by trying to separate those methods of persuasion that depend on truth from those that do not. If someone is "playing fair", sticking to honest methods, we should play along with enthusiasm. If they talk us out of something, then we should be happy to learn a purer truth. It is difficult for us to challenge our own ideas and we should feel gratitude when someone helps us do so. If someone plays "dirty pool", we want to detect it and call them on it, even if they are arguing in favor of something we believe. What could be more valuable for us to know, than how to check the reliability of our own beliefs, and how to detect when someone is trying to slip one past us? This should be taught starting in kindergarten and be part of every graduate program.

Haidt thinks persuasion evolved so we could maintain our status in the tribe. Truth takes a slow second to whatever helps us to fit in. We are better at adapting to what others believe than at detecting the actual truth. Am I agreeing with Haidt, or is this different? He sees rational argument as a tool used by the brain to justify selfish actions. The intuition decides about something, the conscious mind then justifies it. But where did the intuition come from?

Haidt's 6 moral foundations are motivators.

What demo project would show clear evidence of the strength of the decentralized, non aggressive approach?

If Caplan is correct, convincing people to change their minds is necessary and sufficient. Unpopular policies usually do not survive long in democracies. What makes policies popular? What makes them change?
There are some narrow margins where putting pressure on politicians and bureaucrats accomplish something, but lack of broad support would limit the accomplishments. So whatever tactic we adopt, we should make our central object the accumulation of broad public support.

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