Social media affords all of us the luxury to express positions—sometimes strong positions—to a partially captive group of dozens to hundreds (or more) individuals on a whim—something only priests and presidents, if they were lucky, had the privilege of doing a century ago. And whether one considers the reactions of their interlocutors (both real and imaginary) in these exchanges to be fair or justified does not change what they, in fact, are. It is extremely, often frustratingly, maddeningly, stupefyingly difficult to get anyone to consider a dissenting point of view; to change one’s mind is nigh impossible. But to help someone reify their priors, unintentionally, is all too easy. No matter how righteous the cause or aims, blunt objects are unreliable weapons, and outcomes contradict intentions with frightening regularity.
Given that, it seems worth considering, before fighting fire with low-cost signaling, the individuals with the forbearance to defend a position peacefully and rationally—nudging it along with measured reason and well-crafted incentives, often with more tangible risk facing back at them—and how, ultimately, those signals could undermine the hard-earned incremental gains made by others. This isn’t to say that all reactions to strong signals are countervalent, nor is catalysis a total unicorn. Just where the balance lies, however, is hard to say, and the sooner we see more serious effort into quantifying the net effects, the better.
I count myself among those inclined to be swayed by the forceful, contrarian, and radical—not always for the better, mind you—but bludgeons seem only effective when the idea is novel or scarcely considered prior. More often, our views are like cooling wrought iron—hot and pliable upon initial consideration but more rigid with every further rumination until nothing short of a spiritual epiphany or life-disrupting event can make it warm again, and the more we feel we personally have at stake in a matter, the more we’re inclined to consider it through the lens of our self-interest. Subjects like nationalism, race, and gender receive great consideration early on in our lives, gaining even greater share of our consciousness as we become adults. By the time we’re rent-paying, procreating adults, the thought that we can bash someone’s gargoyle into a lovely meadowlark is a great way to break the hammer; at best you might get the wings to look okay, but security will come turn the hose on you before you can finish anyway.
All this is to say that there are ways to nudge humanity toward better behavior, though few measure up to attrition. This is why “hook ‘em young” remains the surest strategy for teachers, evangelists, environmentalists, and advertisers alike. However, browbeating recalcitrant adults with jarring positions is, more often than not, a super-ratchet up the crazy pole.