I was over at the Daily Kos this afternoon. Among those railing against war and corporations was someone who had put in a lot of work on a presentation about why she opposes the death penalty. It referenced cases. It had tables. It was a lot of work. Eventually I got past that observation to get to another one - this is preaching to the choir! No one supporting the death penalty is reading this.
In fact opinions about the death penalty are well researched. There are studies going back to at least 1990 (Justice Quarterly 7:175, 1990) saying that if you sit down a proponent of the death penalty and hit him or her with all the data saying their reasons are no good, such as data saying there is no deterrence from the death penalty, it doesn't change anyone's mind. They just shift to some other reason. People speak of their support for the death penalty in terms of reasons, just as with almost any other opinion, but underneath their reasons is whatever sense of justice or vengeance or conformity or whatever else that is the real basis for their opinion. So is the real basis for many opinions hidden.
Now I thought about saying some of this in response to this piece this afternoon, but then I couldn't see any good it would do. I've been seeing this throughout the 8 years I've been online, and it never has helped to point this out. Lots of people preach to the choir. All sorts of religious arguments are preached that way, conservative, liberal, atheist, with all sorts of subdivisions within those that argue in a way that only those who already agree with that person will agree this time. All sorts of political sites fulfill the same purpose. Like the Daily Kos they are easily ruffled by people who see an issue differently, even by seeing different means to the same ends.
Somehow it didn't used to dawn on me the way it does now. People want to preach to the choir. They want to make their case with no understanding why other people don't see it that way. They want to just pile up words and sometimes numbers and graphs, as if those who believe otherwise will just capitulate to that. Sometimes two people with opposite views will both be preaching to the choir, in the process talking past each other, swapping argument for argument, but with no understanding and no synthesis. I used to just see this as combativeness, but maybe this is how much people want to preach to the choir. They'll even preach to the choir when some other person is not part of their choir.
This is nothing new. Christians have been evangelizing this way for a long time. Some taylor a message to their listeners, but some don't.
I have to think that someday those who are big on arguments will figure out the pointlessness of them. Creationists will understand eventually they'll never dent evolution, won't they? Political extremists from both sides will notice the country isn't flocking to them, won't they? Maybe the only way a lifetime of opinions stops is when someone dies. I'm familiar with that phenomenon already.
I'm sure there's a lot to say about that. For me it suffices to know that people want to preach to the choir, people throughout the political or religious spectrum, even any other sort of people I suppose. I've seen it again and again, and no one thanks me if I point that out to them. I don't point it out to them just to be smart. Preaching to the choir isn't the best preaching, unless someone joins the choir. Even then, it's wasting a lot of time. It's not that I want to keep anyone from wasting time. I want people who agree with me to be effective. There's nothing I can do about that. For anyone who reads this, there are millions who are too busy preaching to the choir.
It's what people want to do. Who am I to stand in their way?
I've already been drifting toward the idea that cultural evolution has a mind of its own, that people don't know what they're doing enough to change society. This is another point about that. All these websites that fight with trolls and think the answer is to get rid of conflicts so everyone can write and read in peace become temples to conformity, like churches and other institutions have been. It's not just conservatives. It's not just the religious. Conformity is everywhere, unless you choose to walk away from it.