I’m a big fan of political philosophy, and also a big fan of discussing politics (in addition to sex and religion). These are some of the most interesting topics that humanity has to deal with, but many people deliberately avoid them. As a result, they stay mired in a base level of unpracticed knowledge and rhetoric, and when they do venture forth to opine on political events (usually around presidential elections in the US), it’s a shitstorm—that’s the technical term.
I think that many people then generalize the high tempers and short fuses of politics at its most partisan to all of politics and political philosophy. Their usual experiences are ugly and potent, and so they retreat from sustained, meaningful political contact. The small amount of work (reading, discussion, thinking) that should be happening all the time never gets done, and so political discussions are chained to the floor of their potential. If you don’t practice something, you won’t improve. Political discussion is no different.
But this kind of description and meta-analysis of political discussion in modern America can only go so far. Therefore, I have written a dialogue to take me the rest of the way.
Alistair has decided to purchase a new car, so he heads to the local Lamborghini dealership, where he meets Clementine the salesperson.
Alistair: You have so many fine automobiles here. I’m almost tempted to buy two instead of just the one I came here for.
Clementine: Well don’t let me stop you from buying two if you really want! Which model do you want to see specifically?
Alistair: The Huracán, my good woman.
Clementine: As you can see, this year’s model—
Alistair: I’ll take it!
Clementine: Oh, wonderful, let me just—
Alistair: Whatever it is, no need! I can pay in cash right here.
Clementine (looking Alistair up and down): You mean a check? Surely you aren’t carrying $200,000 in cash on you?
Alistair: No check. I’ve got the cash.
Alistair pulls out a $100 bill and slides it into Clementine’s hand. Clementine wonders if she should call the police now, or wait until this plays out a little bit more.
Clementine: I’m sorry, what am I supposed to do with this?
Alistair: It’s for the Lamborghini Huracán right in front of us.
Clementine, sarcastically: This whole $100 bill?
Alistair, unfazed: You can keep the change.
Clementine: Sir, if this is a joke, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.
Alistair, offended: What do you mean? I came here with my money, now give me the car!
Clementine: You either need $200,000 to hand me right now, or you need to be able to handle an amortized payment schedule for a higher amount. If you can’t do either of those things, you need to leave.
Alistair: Do you know how long I’d have to work to be able to just drop $200,000 in one go?
Clementine: Probably a lot.
Alistair: And as far as a payment plan goes, I’d be on the hook for years. Do you really expect me to continually pay for this thing, even as interest increases the loan’s principal and the car depreciates?
Clementine: I clearly do not expect you to pay anything.
Alistair: I can’t believe this! This is outright thievery! I’m calling the police!
Clementine: Oh my god.
Before I say anything else, I’ll say this: money is political persuasion and knowledge, and the Lamborghini is you changing someone else’s mind about a political issue.
Clearly Alistair doesn’t understand how purchasing expensive sports cars works. You can’t just walk in there with whatever money you happen to have on you and expect them to give you a car. It is near-universal knowledge that Lamborghinis cost a hefty six-figure sum, and also that the Lamborghini people don’t let you drive off the lot with one unless you’ve paid for it somehow.
My question then: why do people think they can persuade others of their political views if they haven’t put in the time to develop their knowledge and their powers of persuasion? Like buying a Lamborghini, changing someone’s mind about politics is not an easy thing to do. If you don’t put in the work by yourself, whether to earn money or to learn and refine your political rhetoric, you don’t get the Lamborghini/politically persuaded person.
Keeping the Lamborghini in mind has mitigated a lot of frustration that I’ve had in the past when discussing politics. Honestly, most of my frustration was the result of incorrectly rating the difficulty of getting someone to change their mind about a political issue. In order to do that very hard task, I have to: (1) spend a lot of time by myself, reading and thinking and maybe writing. (2) talk with people a lot. Both of these things build up my stores of political knowledge, my understanding of political philosophy, and my ability to persuade others with my rhetoric.
It would be dumb of me to not do any of that work, and then walk up to someone and expect to change their mind pretty much then and there. About as dumb as expecting to be able to purchase a Lamborghini Huracán for $100.
I also like the Lamborghini metaphor because it places much of the responsibility on the individual who wants to do the political persuading/get the car. Many times, individuals blame the person they’re speaking with for being too dumb or too stubborn to submit to clearly superior political reasoning. I’ve seen many of these conversations, and have unfortunately also been a participant in some.
If you want to persuade someone in politics, you have to do a lot of work—like, however much you’re imagining, that’s not enough. Not nearly. Keep going—nope, still not enough. In many cases, it’s probably not the other person who’s being dumb. You probably just aren’t approaching the conversation correctly for lack of introspection and preparation. I know this was the case for me, and, based on my conversations with others, it is for them as well.
A good starting point for improving political rhetoric is this book.
Do the work. Earn the knowledge and rhetorical power. Then you get your Lamborghini.
 There are exceptions to this, but those would require an extended metaphor—I’m pretty sure what I’m getting at is clear with the base-level metaphor.
 For a variety of reasons, it’s definitely possible for you to not be able to convince someone, despite being fully prepared. But I think people overestimate how often that is the case, simply because they fail so often at persuasion for lack of preparation and mistakenly believe that they failed because the other person was dumb/stubborn.
This post is part of my project to write one essay every day of February 2018. The essay topics will vary, but they’ll all be something I’m interested in. All essays can be found here.