Several times in my Christian life, I noticed that certain members of the church were very adept at changing the opinion/view of a member of the congregation. In my working career I've occasionally notice people with such an ability. It always amazes me to see someone who believed 'A' change their belief to 'Not A' after a single conversation with such a person.
I've read about this effect a few times, involving Lyndon Johnson. Wikipedia even has an entry about it:
"The Treatment could last ten minutes or four hours. It came, enveloping its target, at the Johnson Ranch swimming pool, in one of Johnson's offices, in the Senate cloakroom, on the floor of the Senate itself — wherever Johnson might find a fellow Senator within his reach.Its tone could be supplication, accusation, cajolery, exuberance, scorn, tears, complaint and the hint of threat. It was all of these together. It ran the gamut of human emotions. Its velocity was breathtaking, and it was all in one direction. Interjections from the target were rare. Johnson anticipated them before they could be spoken. He moved in close, his face a scant millimeter from his target, his eyes widening and narrowing, his eyebrows rising and falling. From his pockets poured clippings, memos, statistics. Mimicry, humor, and the genius of analogy made The Treatment an almost hypnotic experience and rendered the target stunned and helpless."
Has anyone else ever witnessed this? Does anyone have any theories about this sort of 'power'?
Many people hold views on specific topics that are not clearly thought out in their minds. They consider having an opinion gives them a certain authority on the topic in question. Yes, they are just as entitled to hold an opinion as anyone else is, but it does not mean that their opinion is as informed as someone else’s on the same topic. When they encounter a person who is very well informed on the same subject and who can articulate clearly WHY they hold that opinion and not just what their opinion is, the less informed person is unlikely to forcibly argue their own corner. When the individual meets a person who is also charismatic they are even more likely to be swayed. Charisma is the most important trait for successful leadership.
So if your knowledge of a subject is built on a weak foundation and you encounter a charismatic alpha type who is very knowledgeable it is difficult to disagree, especially as this person is also likely to be very popular amongst the peer group. Again I think charisma is the key ingredient. They also may be psychopathic to some degree as many successful people are. Smile, hit them with cold hard facts and smile again.
I think there must be something to charisma that I don't really get. I tend to end up in leadership roles in many groups - but don't enjoy that role. It always seems that I need to continually struggle to keep everyone on task. Maybe part of 'charisma' is an acceptance of continual struggle.
Even so, when I see people do a complete about-face on some idea they seem to hold dear, I can't help but wonder if there is something more to the coercion., When Pelosi walked out of the Oval Office agreeing to continue funding to Bush's wars, I just couldn't understand how that happened.
I've turned fellow employees or even a boss around on a decision to fire someone - but I've never managed to turn someone around on a young-earth viewpoint. I would like to develop the ability to do that.
I have managed to de-convert a few YEC’s all the way to Atheism. Their greatest fear is not accepting that the Earth is more than 6k years old but knowing that if they concede one point then the possibility that everything else they believe may also be wrong. If they admit that one part of the Bible is not true, then where does it stop? Therefore you will find that YEC’s tend to be much more aggressive when confronted with anyone or anything that suggests that they are wrong.
While I am very militant towards religion and theocracy in particular, I have plenty of time to engage with any theist on a one to one basis. It is the only way to make progress. That is why door to door callers always call in pairs. When it is face to face (in private) and a level of trust is built up, it is then possible to get to the crux of many beliefs. Rather than me telling them that they are wrong about (say) the Flood, I will ask them if they really believe it happened. Then I will ask them to explain it to me. I will offer a counter explanation and ask what they think of it. Then I will deconstruct their argument. Once I get a concession that they may be wrong or that I may be right, then I know I have done enough.
That last sentence may seem a little too simplistic but it is how the de-conversion process starts. A little doubt will get them thinking more when they are on their own. A little doubt is closer to a reversal of opinion than it is to the original position held. Once doubt is allowed and is given consideration it will spread quickly, rather like a crack in a dam. The important thing then is to keep them away from those that say doubt comes from Satan long enough for the cracks to start.
I have spoken about this before. My attitude is never confrontational as it is when dealing with the political side of religion. I am “on their side”. It is never a case of “the Atheist versus the Theist”. I am not interested in a battle of wills. It is two people having a respectful discussion in an open manner. What I want is for them to set themselves free from their own delusion. If they do become freethinkers I am very happy for them. I am not looking for any reward other than knowing that this person is now free from the shackles of religious thinking. I know if that happens that they will soon live a much richer and fulfilling life. Never once has that not been the result.
I don’t think this would be possible in a classroom environment. The “herd mentality” kicks in too quickly and once it becomes confrontational it never gets back to where you might want it to be. I try to get people to challenge themselves. If they can put their beliefs on hold long enough to check out the alternatives then they might win the prize of Atheism. It will only ever work when they can also put their fear of not believing on hold too.
Here is a post from yesterday on YEC's
I get your technique of having them start to doubt themselves. I have sewn plenty of such seeds and seen small change.
What I'm so curious about here, are the people who seem to be able to just push themselves into the head of another in a single confrontation. I often see salesmen doing it to a very tired chef - something I've had to guard against at times. I guess I understand how a very persistent, sharp witted/talking person can break down the will of a rather weak, tired person - but I've seen it work when the playing field seemed almost level going in.
I think there must be something to charisma that I don't really get.
I think it's more a question of application than of comprehension. That is, charisma and persuasion are in politics, but they are not of it.
In fiction, think the Godfather. In non-fiction, think Joseph Kennedy. You offer support-- a million union votes, a newspaper campaign endorsement, money for FDR’s 1932 presidential election, mortician skills, or whatever you've got-- to people with extraordinary power, with the unspoken understanding that you've got their ear, or they've got your back. Typically, the capital is invested up front. (Whatever Pelosi's reasons-- ass-covering, self-preservation or capital preservation-- she was no Bush-hawk. I'm glad she lived to fight another day.)
I think that's a key difference. Politics is the brokering of favors between people with power. There are wholly different motivations involved. What do we call presenting reason and evidence to people who believe in young-earth religion? I don't know, but I wouldn't call it politics. If this had been the goal of the Johnson Treatment, I doubt he would have enjoyed much more success than you.
I guess I've never seen it used to change someone's opinion on abortion - but I have seen it used to turn a gay tolerant person into a seething gay-hater, and only in a matter of minutes.
I think that follows with what I said earlier, "I tend to end up in leadership roles in many groups - but don't enjoy that role. It always seems that I need to continually struggle to keep everyone on task. Maybe part of 'charisma' is an acceptance of continual struggle."
You pointed out that because the psychopath is not actually emotionally evolved, that struggle costs them less energy. Maybe the people that I've recognized with this 'power' are psychos, then. I'm not sure I'm quite ready to accept that yet though.
Yes, well I would like to better understand that art, I guess.
Yeah, in the case of LBJ, there had to be some effect of having the President of the United States only inches from your face, talking to you, and just you.
In person, I often use what I call the Colombo effect. I like to fain being quite off balance, reaching for information I can't quite remember, to build the person's confidence before I start twisting their own words back on them, seemingly accidentally. Maybe I just enjoy the shock of that more than I do coming at them head-on.
I think that I rarely consider environment and timing enough. Catching someone who is ready to change their mind would sure help, but knowing when that time is, well, that would be hard.