the best of qualities is dispassion

Noam Chomsky Surprises Me Concerning Persuasion

I recently ran across the following quote from Noam Chomsky and I must admit that it surprised me. I always took it for granted that a thinker and activist like Chomsky was always out to persuade others. This short passage really made me stop and reassess my behavior, as well as the behavior and teaching techniques of many educators I have encountered.

“I don’t try to persuade people, at least not consciously. Maybe I do. If so, its a mistake. The right way to do things is not to try to persuade people you’re right but to challenge them to think it through for themselves. There’s nothing in human affairs of which we can speak with very great confidence, even in the hard natural sciences that’s largely true. In complicated areas, like human affairs, we don’t have an extremely high level of confidence, and often a very low level. In the case of human affairs, international affairs, family relations, whatever it may be, you can compile evidence and you can put things together and look at them from a certain way. The right approach, putting aside what one or another person does, is simply to encourage people to do that. The way you do it is by trying to do it yourself, and in particular trying to show, although its not all that difficult, the chasm that separates standard versions of what goes on in the world from what the evidence of the senses and peoples inquiries will show them as soon as they start to look at it. A common response that I get, even on things like chat networks, is, I can’t believe anything you’re saying. It’s totally in conflict with what I’ve learned and always believed, and I don’t have time to look up all those footnotes. How do I know what you’re saying is true? That’s a plausible reaction. I tell people it’s the right reaction. You shouldn’t believe what I say is true.”

-Noam Chomsky

Wow, now there is some healthy food for thought!


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