Dr. Frank Wright, President and CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters, has provided a simple and straightforward, if not simplistic speech about how truth is resisted and suppressed, or what he calls “the politics of opposition.” I’ve summarized below, his video embedded at bottom.
Here’s how to shut down opposing viewpoints. However, when your opponent takes such actions, there is a positive opportunity as well:
- Ignore them: The first and simplest response is to ignore your opposition, communicating to them and others that their claims are beneath consideration.
Positive: This keeps you “under the radar,” and gives you relative obscurity while you develop your ideas and organization.
- Marginalize them: Cast them as a fringe minority – “out of the mainstream” – “only those on the fringes” believe such things – “these people are a little extreme.”
Positive: In response to this, you may leverage this level of engagement by responding “I am glad that you have said that I am marginal, it shows that you do not understand my position nor the level of support it has.” This can be an open door to further explanation of your ideas.
- Question their facts: Rather than engage their ideas, try to undermine confidence in their facts, and their reliability.
Positive: At this point, you have begun to argue with reason and facts, and you can then begin to discuss the voracity of their facts, and discuss experimental assumptions and methods openly.
- Dismissal: This is largely done through what I have previously described as Fait Accompli. They trot out the line that the argument is over, and everyone who matters has already agreed – you are opposing settled consensus (think “global warming orthodoxy” or “evolution”)
Positive: “You can be sure that when people start arguing ‘the argument is over,’ it is just beginning in earnest.”
- Ad hominem attacks: Attack your opponent’s character rather than his ideas. Anything to divert people from listening to their ideas. One particularly common method is to associate your opponents with known extremists or crazy people, something I have called using a False Analogy – it’s a type of “guilt by association” attack, except there is no real association.
Positive: When your opponent stoops to this, you know that they are getting fearful. In public and political life, ad hominem attacks are a sign that your opponent is weak, and has weak counter arguments.
- Restrict their ability to communicate: If you limit the forums in which they can speak, like shutting them out of big media outlets, or professional societies, they basically end up talking to themselves. You can also inhibit their communications by forcing them to water down their message, or, for example, share time with opposing viewpoints (e.g. the Fairness Doctrine).
Positive: This is the onset of full combat, and your opponent is now grasping by using brute force. Wright gives the example of Heidi Cullen, a Weather Channel meteorologist who suggested that fellow meteorologists that reject global warming should have their credentials revoked. This is brute force shutting down of opposing viewpoints. But opponents of dissent can also do things like refuse tenure to accomplished professors.
- Legally prohibit them from communicating: This last, brute force step is to make the speech of your opponents illegal. Such things as “hate speech” laws are an effective example of this type of free speech and thought control (this excludes, of course, direct incitement of violence).
Positive: When it gets to this point, there is not much positive going on – you have a battle between totalitarian control and freedom.
Now, what is not considered in this article is what you do when a vocal minority is actually pushing a falsehood. However, in either case, what you should do is not stoop to any of these methods but argue reasonably and try to sway public consensus. And sometimes, it does make sense to ignore nut jobs. But if there are enough of them, you sometimes have to act.