An open discussion practically doesn’t exist. Our opinions are rooted in our emotions. People aren’t Republicans or Democrats. Or whatever. They love their father who was a Republican therefore they HAVE TO be a Republican. Or they hate their father who was a Democrat, so now they have to be a vocal Republican. So no matter what kind of logical argument they offer they will always disagree, because they would be betraying their father if they admitted you were right about something.

People aren’t for or against gun control, they have emotional associations and they translate those emotional loyalties into a seemingly rational argument pro or against, but in the end we all just cherry-pick our ‘evidence’. So whenever you defend a certain viewpoint you are really defending your identity and people you love, not the viewpoint itself. This makes it almost impossible to change anyone’s opinion in a discussion. Loyalty to self will trump any logical or factual argument.

A couple weeks ago I had a discussion with a sweet, intelligent, deeply Russophobic Slovak man. To defend his anti-Russian emotions he wents so far as to say that the German nazis were actually ‘gentlemen’. In a different context he might very well never have called the nazis gentlemen, but to make the Russians he fears so much -for emotional reasons- look bad he went so far as to paint the nazis as good guys who only targeted the jews (a people he looks up to by the way, the man I spoke to is definitely not anti-jewish, quite the contrary). But to explain to this person WHY he is so anti-Russian and why he will look for ANY argument to paint the Russians as dangerous and evil would take perhaps as much as 20 hours of thoroughly discussing how his identity was formed and what ‘triggers’ emotional reactions from him. He has a long list of association with Russia. In his case it also ensures that the US can do no wrong in his eyes. Crimes he would normally never approve of, being a very sweet and intelligent man, are not crimes in a discussion where he want to proof how evil Russia is. I suspect his viewpoint has something to do with loyalty to his mother. Really! So try and convince him that the US is more evil than Russia, or at least just as evil, if admitting this would be betraying his mum, and I suspect, also the Catholic church, which he is deeply loyal to.

Go and try to explain to a huge Trump or Fico or Kotleba or Theresa May fan that the only reason he’s defending that person is because he grew up believing he should act tough to matter as a person, that he thinks acting tough is the condition he needs to fulfill to get love and recognition. Trump can do the worst things, but if supporting Trump makes him feel tough, he will always be pro-Trump.

But try and explain to someone that they support Trump because… they want to be loved… Good Luck.

I believe a great dicussion is only possible when it’s clear from the start which values and emotional associations and which pieces of their identity both parties are trying to defend.

To give a personal example: as a child I was pro-Confederate when it came to the American Civil War. This was confusing, because at the same time I could not defend slavery. I found all kinds of arguments to combine these stances, pro-Confederate and anti-slavery, until I figured out that I have to root for the underdog in any struggle, because I grew up feeling my entire family was an underdog. Not backing an underdog was equal to not backing my family.

Although thinking about how the Confederacy could have won the war still keeps me up at night, because I love it when an underdog wins, I’m now anti-Confederate and anti-Slavery. Which doesn’t mean I see the north as holy anti-slavery crusaders, just to be clear.