Torture, free speech, and how the questions we ask might be making us dumber.

Recently I heard a clip from an interview where someone was arguing that hate speech shouldn’t be protected. It was an interesting argument and an opportunity to think about something that I had never really questioned. Then an odd thing happened. The argument reminded me of the justification of torture.

The thrust of the argument is that free speech, as it applies to hate speech, was a primary force behind the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany. In essence the question is, ‘If we can protect ourselves from the rise of fascism, isn’t it worth the cost?’ That’s a tough question to answer, however, in my opinion it’s also a question that makes us dumber.

Before explaining how a question can make us dumber, or at least make debate dumb, let’s cover the similarity to torture. Often, the question is posed, and accepted as perfectly reasonable, “If you could torture one person, in order to save thousands of lives, wouldn’t that be the right thing to do?

In essence these questions support the concept of the ends justifying the means. That concept has a major flaw. We can’t accurately predict the ends, not all of them.

In each of these cases, the question contains a hidden assumption. The assumption is that we can accurately predict the outcome. With small things we are pretty good at this, however, with the big, complicated, moral decisions, it’s almost impossible.

Let’s take an absurd question that people like to ask sometimes, “If you could go back in time and kill baby Hitler, would you do it?” Of course, you could probably just go back and stop his parents from getting together, or maybe give him an A on an art project, however, I digress.

We can be reasonably (though not 100%) certain that if Hitler never existed the specific atrocities he was responsible for wouldn’t of happened. What would be impossible to predict, is the entirety of the change that would have made to the world. There are possible scenarios with worse dictators, maybe nuclear war. Of course it’s just as likely that we have a more peaceful war. The point is, it’s the pinnacle of hubris to think we have more than a darts throw chance of predicting the ‘ends,’ when it comes to things that involve millions of people.

With torture, setting aside all of the perfectly good reasoning for avoiding torture based on it not working, we can not predict, nor will ever really know, all of the potential damage done.

With regards to free speech protection of hate speech, it’s quite possible that we are better off allowing these people to show themselves, instead of forcing them underground where we might not know they exist.

If we can’t predict the ends, how do we decide on the means. It’s important to understand that almost anytime someone is making an ‘ends justify the means’ type of argument, they’re proposing means that they themselves are accepting are immoral.

A (maybe the) core moral belief, that I believe almost everyone shares, is the golden rule (i.e. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you). This may be a biological result of survival as ‘pack animals’ or it maybe a gift from god, or maybe both. In any case, most people feel a deep core connection to the belief that you should treat others as you’d like to be treated.

Where this breaks down is when we can’t empathize with another person’s situation. If you can’t put yourself in the shoes of a person negatively impacted by a decision, it makes it much easier to ignore a lapse in morality.

Listen for this statement, “I don’t understand how [people/persons] can [take action/make decision/etc].” In politics, this sentence is uttered often by both parties, and most often by the people who are most extremely to one side or the other. Of course, the person you’ll probably hear say it first, is yourself. There’s a pride behind it, that’s truly odd. Click here for the post I just wrote about this.


I don’t understand why people…

Have you ever heard yourself and/or someone else complaining about someone (or a group of people), saying, “I don’t understand how [people/persons] can [take action/make decision/etc].” There are two interesting things about this statement. First, it is saying you don’t/can’t empathize with this person in this situation. Second, there’s often a feeling of pride that goes along with it.

I make the argument that, if you can’t understand how someone made a decision, took an action, etc, this is a failure to empathize. To the extent that you want to understand the situation, this is a failure on your part. It’s not someone else’s responsibility to help you understand how they feel, and why they took a specific action. If you are someone who places value on understanding a situation fully, you can only do that through empathy. Empathy requires no sympathy and absolutely no agreement, it only requires that you can understand and feelings of another person in a meaningful way.

The more odd aspect of this statement is the sense of pride that is present. The subtext is, “I could never…, so I don’t understand…” This exposes a condescending attitude that others can perceive. You might keep in mind that while you are judging someone for doing something you’d never do, they could be doing the same to you. This hypocrisy is part of what keeps people divided into groups based on the rules of behavior they find acceptable.

In the end, people just don’t like to be judged. This is the single most significant reason why Donald Trump got elected.

The one thing that got Trump elected… and nobody is talking about it.

Yes, there are a lot of different things that may have lead to Trump’s victory, however, I’m about to share the single problem that made the difference. If this was properly accounted for, he probably would have lost by double digits.

The reason can be summed up in one sentence, “People don’t like to be judged.”

This is the core—though unstated—pain point, motivating and activating, throngs low information, poorly educated voters. For years, they’ve felt that the ‘liberal elites’ are out there judging them as worthless, stupid hicks. Fox news and the republican party has done a great job of playing to those  fears—like by coining the term ‘liberal elite.’

Donald Trump came along and gave them an opportunity to be part of a movement. To show everyone that someone who is just like them, can be president, ‘He’ll show all you snooty politicians and mainstream media hacks how America should work.’

It’s important to take a second here and recognize that many, maybe even most, of us on the left have been judging them. We say things like, “I don’t understand how anyone can be dumb enough to vote for Trump.” By the way, I wrote a whole post on this kind of statement because it’s very problematic. We also make redneck jokes and make fun of Trump. To be fair, he makes it a little too easy.

Look, I’m not saying we shouldn’t call people out on their BS. Additionally, some of Trump supporters are actual racist scum. The issue comes about when we let the ‘easy joke’ get in the way of good persuasive communication.

If people don’t feel you respect and understand them, they will not be open to your ideas. People say the dems did a poor job communicating a positive message. I would argue we did a poor job of showing people that we understood and respected them.

Getting Bernt

It’s not just the Trump voters who felt they were being judged and/or disrespected. The Bernie supporters also got this. Again the messaging was clear, “I don’t understand how someone who supported Bernie could act in a way that might get Trump elected.” It was just assumed that eventually most Bernie supporters would ‘suck it up’ and vote for Hillary. In the end, Bernie supporters were painted into a corner. They had spent weeks explaining why they were never going to vote for Hillary, and if they caved, they’d be conceding that their rational was flawed.

With the right messaging and engagement, the Bernie supporters could have not only been convinced to vote for Hillary, they could have been advocates drumming up additional support.

Personally, in the end, I was excited to vote for Hillary. I agree she was a flawed candidate, however, she may have been an amazing president, but I digress.

Part of the reason for this issue is because sometimes you understand someone’s problem, you know you have the right solution, you want to help, however, you fail on one crucial step. You don’t show that you are clear about their problems and care about helping. That is the foundation you must build before proposing a solution. In cases where the strategies are complicated and hard to comprehend—as they often are within the federal government—they may never ‘get’ your vision for how to solve a problem, however, they may still trust you to do it, if you’ve first shown that you understand them.

People feeling judged isn’t just a problem with the 2016 election. It’s not even just a political problem. This is one of the core problems that plague all sorts of seemingly intractable situations.

We must start by understanding and respecting each other. More significantly, we need to make sure the people we are trying to influence, know that they are respected and understood.

I Don’t Trust Hillary

Most Americans—even some of her supporters—will recognize Hillary as a career politician with “unbridled ambition.”  There seems little debate over how much she wants to be president. It seems like a goal she’s been working towards for her whole political career, maybe longer. She is a true Washington insider, in an election year where that feels like the last thing we need.

As a Sanders supporter, I have serious trust issues when it comes to Hillary. While her level of dishonesty is inline with 95-99% of politicians, it seems extreme when compared to the pure authenticity that Bernie brought to the race. 

Something occurred to me the other day, though. Hillary can be trusted to do what’s right for Hillary. This is hardly uncommon among politicians and part of the reason why American’s are so fed up, but it is an important distinction because it makes clear a few critical areas where, I believe, Hillary can be trusted.

(Note: If you are about to stop reading, be sure to read #3 first, as that’s where the most important distinction lies.)

Supreme Court

It’s likely that the next president will appoint four Justices. A partial list of the issues that could be decided on include:

  • A woman’s right to choose
  • Voter ID laws developed to disenfranchise voters
  • ‘Religious Freedom’ laws that impact the LGBT community
  • Immigration

Supreme court justices serve a lifetime appointment. Imagine all of the matters that will either be decided by a Clinton or Trump appointees. This matter alone will have a huge impact on our country for decades to come.  I trust that Hillary will appoint Justices who are fair and ethical, and who will help us move forward, and not backwards.

Economic Policy

Much of her economic policy has been, arguably,  ‘stolen’ from Sanders, and—now that she’s the nominee—that’s a good thing.  The specifics that are especially important include:

  • Raise minimum wage
  • Progressive tax – (i.e. rich people pay their fair share)
  • Student loan debt

This is an area where some of my fellow Sanders supporters may be worried about her flip-flopping. The question is, what’s best for Hillary? The answer is pretty simple. She does not just want to be in office for one term. In order to win the 2020 primary, she will need to prove herself on these very issues. 

Making Change

I was caught off guard by a realization. You know that kind of surprise; when you notice something that instantly seems obvious. My ‘light-bulb moment’ was this… Hillary has worked for decades—maybe her whole life—to be president. Do you think winning the presidency is her final goal? Of course not. She wants to be an amazing president who—by the time she leaves office—is considered one of our best presidents. I told you it was obvious, but wait, here’s the thing…

Why does this matter? She can not reach that goal by keeping things the same or by just doing a little better. Her detractors often insinuate—or tell us outright—that she will do anything to become president. While that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, imagine the level of drive and focus she will bring to goal of being an amazing president. She has laid out her platform for accomplishing this, and it’s been heavily influenced by the Sanders movement.

Suddenly—with this single realization—my decision switched from voting against Trump to voting FOR Hillary and excited to see what she’ll do.

Better than Trump

Obviously, when compared to Trump, Hillary is more trustworthy  in every respect of the job. You can’t even trust Trump to do what’s best for Trump. With zero self-control, he can’t even seem to cover his own butt.  Can you imagine doing anything that might lead to Donald Trump with the nuclear launch codes?

Why we don’t trust Hillary

There’s an old selling axiom that goes, “People buy on emotion and rationalize with logic.” This tendency—that we all share—is an important starting point. Often—when pressed—people will give specific ‘logic-based’ reasons why they distrust Hillary. God knows there are plenty. However, in order to base your decision on logic, you’d have to come up with some logical reason why potentially electing Trump makes more sense.

So why do so many of us have a gut-level, emotional, distrust for her?
Here’s what I think…

She doesn’t communicate in an authentic fashion. It’s almost impossible to come across as genuine when you constantly filter yourself to avoid making a mistake that might cost you your life’s work.  Authentic communication is derived from a single internal driver.  

It’s the confidence expressed in authentic communication that creates our visceral attraction to it. At the same time, we need to understand it’s often not confidence in the message. What we are picking up on, is the confidence the communicator has about how safe it is for him/her to express an idea. This is why listening to someone be vulnerable will often feel authentic. Opening yourself up like that requires you to have faith that what you are saying won’t hurt you.

Good actors can communicate in a way that feels heartfelt, even when it isn’t because they know that they aren’t speaking their own truth, but acting. For example; An actor might play a Neo-Nazi and say things that are personally abhorrent to him/her. Those lines can be delivered in a way that feels 100% authentic to the listener because both the actor and audience understand it’s not real.

Good liars often communicate in a way that feels authentic, as well. Sometimes they are just using basically acting skills, though with different motives. Often this is derived from their ability to convince themselves that what they’re saying is true, if only for a short period of time.

Why is this a problem for Hillary? Because she’s a planner. Taking the risk of opening up without the filters is too much. It doesn’t mean she isn’t committed to many of the same causes we are. It just means that she’s very careful about how she communicates. This attention to detail, and planning, are all further indications about how committed she is to being president, and to helping the country move forward.

And, why does it matter how we judge if people are authentic or not? It’s important for two reasons. First, it’s good to understand how people ‘fake it,’ and not be naive enough to think everyone who we perceive as authentic, is. Second, you can make a decision if it’s OK to trust someone who isn’t coming across as authentic when there are extenuating circumstances.

Another thing we should probably acknowledge that nobody is 100% truthful and authentic 100% of the time. Polite society, our personal privacy, as well as several other factors, make it so we don’t always present our true self. In fact—most of the time, most of us, are not presenting a totally authentic form of ourselves—but does that mean people can’t trust us?

As a last note on trust in general, it’s perfectly reasonable to trust someone in one area and not another. You probably have a friend who is always late, might forget you at the airport, but on the other hand, would give you a kidney if you needed it. We make these kinds compartmentalized trust judgments, all the time.

Bonus trust point… I trust Hillary not to start a nuclear war.

Sure, that’s the kind of thing that goes without saying, but can you really say, with 100% confidence, that you trust Trump not to.

I’m not trying to stop you from voting for Trump

Don’t get me wrong, if I could I would, but let’s be honest. If you’ve read this far, you are unlikely to be a Trump supporter.

If you are a Sanders supporter considering a protest vote, you might consider what you really want to protest. Odds are Hillary will win, and your vote won’t matter, but a landslide victory will send a message to the Trump supporters that they are in the minority. We won’t elect a candidate like Donald Trump. EVER! That’s a protest vote worth casting.

As the sole copyright holder of this piece, I give you permission to use this content in part or in whole. It’s my honest hope that professional writers, actors, media people, etc., pick this up and share these important ideas.