by Patrick Appel
A reader writes:
While I often find Conor's articles and posts interesting, this one is not the most illuminating. How surprising is it that people seem far more reasonable when isolated from whatever group they identify with and forced to confront the things which the group has instructed them to hate? Individuals, no matter in what context, want to belong, want to be accepted. We are also social animals, perceptive enough to realize the responses that will get positive feedback in whatever context we find ourselves. It is the rare sociopath -- someone like Fred Phelps, for example -- who will let fly with what others find grotesque before any individual or group, regardless of its acceptance.
What matters at the end of the day is action. While drawing someone out elicits some progress toward reasonable debate, that same individual's actions are rarely so measured. Human behavior is only occasionally rational, and, ultimately, action -- in the form of voting and other political activity -- affects us far more than any of your exercises in experimentation with talk-radio audiences. Any one can flatter reason when he is prompted to do so. But how many of us act reasonably in the face of fear, hysteria, misinformation, groupthink and hatespeech? And how many of us are drawn to such forces?