Pre-Thanksgiving PSA

I hope that your Thanksgiving isn’t entirely virtual–that you’ll be able to eat home cooked meals with the people ordinarily under your roof, spend some time outdoors, and perhaps Zoom with more distant relatives. Inevitably, your conversations will turn towards politics, and I encourage you to keep these words from John Stuart Mill in mind:

So long as an opinion is strongly rooted in the feelings, it gains rather than loses in stability by having a preponderating weight of argument against it. For if it were accepted as a result of argument, the refutation of the argument might shake the solidity of the conviction; but when it rests solely on feeling, the worse it fares in argumentative contest, the more persuaded its adherents are that their feeling must have some deeper ground, which the arguments do not reach; and while the feeling remains, it is always throwing up fresh intrenchments of argument to repair any breach made in the old. And there are so many causes tending to make the feelings connected with this subject the most intense and most deeply-rooted of all those which gather round and protect old institutions and customs, that we need not wonder to find them as yet less undermined and loosened than any of the rest by the progress of the great modern spiritual and social transition; nor suppose that the barbarisms to which men cling longest must be less barbarisms than those which they earlier shake off.

The Subjection of Women

When you wonder why you apply logic and reasoning to a situation, and you get nothing but emotional responses that become more deeply entrenched despite the addition of more logic and reason, Mill helps us see that an intellectual assault on intuited beliefs does nothing but aggravate those beliefs. If an argument can’t win both hearts and minds, any sense of victory in that moment will be pyrrhic at best.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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13 Responses to Pre-Thanksgiving PSA

  1. Luke Bowles says:

    This quote really resonated with me. Many times when I argue with people about politics, I experience the exact scenario described. Even if my argument makes sense, people will immediately reject it if it is not in tune with their emotional standpoint, and then they will be even more confident in the validity of their position. This occurrence can be very frustrating, and I have found that you must get people to value logic and reasoning first before you can convince them or a logical viewpoint or else you are simply arguing with a brick wall.

  2. Lauren says:

    This is extremely relevant for this time of year. I always get caught up in the political arguments at Thanksgiving and it is obvious that I can’t change people‚Äôs minds with facts alone. For instance, most people form opinions based on their life experiences and emotions are often entwined with these. This means that you can form unknown biases just based on your past experiences. I experience this a lot with my family. Especially when I have to deal with them basing their opinions on an issue on emotions rather than logic.

  3. Dylan Griffith says:

    The dining room table will always transform into a debate stage on Thanksgiving day in my house. Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided cannot stand.” In that case, Thanksgiving would’ve demolished my house years ago. The quote above explains why relatives are unable to see different perspectives when it comes to politics. They are rooted in tradition and have developed an emotional attachment to said tradition. When arguing at the dinner table, one must employ pathos as logos alone will only dig a deeper hole. In the end, if you cannot convince others that you are right, you might as well be wrong.

  4. Chloe Sharp says:

    Both my immediate family and close relatives absolutely love to talk about politics whenever we are together, whether it’s sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner or just catching up on zoom, the conversation almost always turns to politics. I am lucky that for the most part, my family shares my views but we definitely have our differences. In response to the quote, I disagree with the negativity associated with the fact that emotion is very prevalent in politics because I absolutely believe that emotion should play a substantial role when making political decisions. Yes, facts are equally, if not more important than how a situation makes you feel, but emotion is what drives our morality, and without that morality, the political system would crumble and a lot of people would end up getting hurt. When talking about politics, you must appeal to a person’s emotions as well as back up your argument with facts, so that people both feel more comfortable about the situation and know why they should feel more comfortable with it. People do not function solely on evidence and scientific fact, so our politics shouldn’t either.

  5. Carolena Graham says:

    Although my family isn’t big on politics, I still have such conversations with friends. I agree with the quote. I have had several political conversations turn into crying and yelling. As Luke said even if my argument makes sense, people will immediately reject it if it is not in tune with their emotional standpoint. I totally agree. On the other, there are people who can have civilized political conversations. In today’s times, we should defiantly have a balance and not completely tie emotions with politics. At the end of the day, you cant change one’s actions or reactions.

  6. Michael Lu says:

    I’m a public forum debater, and I often encounter this issue. In Speech and Debate, I explore relevant and pressing issues like Medicare for All (these last few months), and to win over a judge’s ballot, I often have to do two things.

    First, I create a strong narrative for my arguments to appeal to the emotional side of the debate. For instance, with Medicare for All, I explain to judges that soaring prices of drugs can kill as many as 100,000 lives every year. Patients for serious conditions like cancer need medication, and because those drugs getting exponentially more expensive, thousands of cancer patients lose access to their medication.

    The narrative sets the stage for the second thing that I explain to judges: the logical progression that leads to the “impact” of my narrative. Medicare for All would create price negotiations for rising drug prices. The government would step in and force drug prices down. This practice is shown to decrease drug prices by as much as 8x in other countries. The logical explanation wraps together the emotional impact of the narrative.

    The use of both emotional and logical argumentation is key to winning a debate.

  7. Zaria Cooper says:

    Mill’s words certainly speak a great amount. I strongly agree if someone is passionate about how they feel, regardless of the argument, they will not move easily. In regards to politics, my family definitely talks a lot about what is going on in America frequently, and even though I am not as passionate as them. I believe everyone should allow these arguments to happen with an open mind. Emotions can fuel your side, yes, but allowing them to blow the conversation out of proportion doesn’t help find a solution.

  8. Vineeth Vanga says:

    These words are very personal to me. I’m a speech and debate competitor, so learning how to use my voice has always been something that I stand by. My family and I often don’t see eye to eye on certain political statements, and whenever I bring something up that’s worth noting it’s immediately shut down just because of the fact that it’s either too democratic. I myself am also to blame for doing this. Time and time again I will also shut down the opinions of others who are more republican because I simply see through a party line lens just like everyone. I believe we need to take more from this quote to truly seek the heart of argumentation and not base it around who people are both rather the arguments themselves.

  9. Vineel Vanga says:

    Politics, I would say, are heavily ingrained with emotions. Democrats/Republicans in the Senate could say some amazing policies that would be beneficial overall to the country or help elect certain people who would have done a very good job for society, yet there is this party line voting that is not based off of logic and reasoning but rather your own personal bias. I don’t having a conversation with someone about politics that much because I fear it could get to the point where we both disagree strongly about a certain issue yet no matter how much we try to persuade the other side, we have this little voice in the back of our minds that is just trying to downplay what they are trying to tell us and just boosting our own ego about why we are right instead. Logic can only get you so far, as it is human nature to be less receptive to things that you initially had a negative perception of and that is a form of arrogance- an emotion.
    Speakers who present speeches have sound arguments that boost the credibility of their speech, but it is the deliver is what sells the speech. I could have a speech that is very technical, but if it lacks emotion or if its one note then it would not appeal to us. On the other hand, if a speech is filled with emotion then they have the power to allow people to listen to them and actually feel moved by them, hence change. This is another reason as to why emotions play an important role in our decision- making and overall acceptance of things.

  10. Balee Wilson says:

    Thanksgiving at my house is filled with only two things, which happen to be amazing food and political debates, which sometimes turn into a small scale version of the 2020 presidential debate if you know what I mean. Emotions have become a large part of politics because people tend to rely more on their feelings than on mere logic and reasoning. I believe that many political beliefs are based on religion, or lack of religion, and prior personal experiences, which is a big part of the reason that people will shut down contrasting opinions very quickly. This plays a large part of the political beliefs that tend to tower over my rural Mississippi town. Most people are opposed to many “left” ideals because they do not align with Christianity. Even though there are some views on both sides of the political spectrum that definitely ride the line, I have to disagree with the ignorant statement that people who agree with these ideas are not Christian, or religious. Yet, you see people in small towns such as these quickly shut down the possibility that you are wrong because you have differing ideas, and I think this is a prime example of emotions overriding logic and reasoning.

  11. Kate McElhinney says:

    As late as I am to commenting on this post, I would say it is very true. Most people refuse to accept anyone’s opinions that differ from their own. In my personal Thanksgiving experience, politics are always a common topic of conversation, though this year my mom tried as hard as possible to avoid it. However, me being my wonderful opinionated self, I felt the need to mention that, as lovely as Thanksgiving is, the holiday itself was rooted in massacre and racism toward the indigenous people that lived here before we did, so we should keep that in mind as we go about celebrating it. Obviously, my parents didn’t take it well, as one would expect. Apparently, mentioning such a dark topic right after we prayed was poor timing, and “such leftist ideals are not welcome at Thanksgiving dinner,” so take that with a grain of salt I guess. I think this is a really great example of people not wanting to see past their own bias and learn from other people’s opinions.

  12. Keyan Rahimi says:

    This quote is beautiful. Mill hits it right on the spot. Not only, however, is this good for explaining why people just won’t listen to facts at times, it also explains why things like cults exist. As Mill states, when a person has an innate and deeper feeling in their beliefs, arguing with them only entrenches them deeper. This deeper feeling can be cultivated from birth. For instance, if someone was born in a Flat Earth cult, and they have been told that the Earth is flat their whole life, they develop this feeling. When finally someone tells them that it isn’t, it does nothing but aggravates them, and this aggravation blinds them from the truth.

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