What I’ve Learned In Politics: Don’t Administer Medicine To The Dead When You Can Give It To The Living

In politics, you will be disappointed if you expect people to argue rationally.

The mind of a bigot to the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour on it, the more it contracts.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

I’ve learned a hard lesson over the last two days. Peoples’ perspectives can be absolutely impenetrable to arguments that fall outside their learned logic. It’s not something I haven’t experienced before, but this most recent experience has solidified the notion in my mind.

I have a theory, and it goes like this: When we are young, we develop a sense of logic. This sense is learned in some way, either instilled in us by our parents, or developed in some other manner. But it is learned. It then coalesces in our minds, becoming hardened. This internal logic maintains its structural integrity even when faced with the practical, reason-based logic which we encounter later in life.

Some of us have the ability to permute our understanding when confronted with reason–as has been demonstrated multiple times. Some of us do not. Those who do not, those whose learned logic exists outside the context of reason, are sometimes unreachable. It is dependent perhaps on how ossified someone’s internal logic has become.

As I debated the Indiana religious freedom law yesterday with a friend, and a stranger, I became incredibly frustrated—not with their arguments, but with their inability to cogently answer mine. Seeing someone unwilling and unable to argue reasonably is comparable to watching an Olympic swimmer drown. When trapped inside the learned logic of their past, even great minds can suffer the death of reason.

As Thomas Paine wrote in The American Crisis: “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason…is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.”

There are some in this world who, by their very nature, are inaccessible. An event may someday shake their worldview, but for those whose internal logical structure has fully solidified, I fear hope and possibility are lost; striving to reach them is akin to trying to revive the dead, or trying to touch the stars from the earth. It’s just not possible.

But there is promise in those whose minds and internal logical structures have not yet severed themselves from the living world. Those are the people to whom we must aim our arguments; those are the people who will listen, and consider, and through this thoughtful process, perhaps even allow permutations to their perspective. They are not rare, but they have been drowned out by the rest—the loudest voices in the crowd are the ones we assume are the majority. This is not the case.

As we approach 2016 and beyond, it is not the unmalleable minds we need to seek, but the ones whose perspectives can still be changed. If we are to win this nation, we must aim our sights on these individuals. We can win, and we will win if we follow this strategy.

I will leave you with what I learned these last two days:

Never allow frustration with an illogical mind, or an impenetrable perspective stop you from pursuing what you know is right. It is not they, those of stark, hardened minds who dictate the terms of the future, but you.