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I see a lot of people in political arguments, especially people supportive of gay rights, making fun of people on the other side by stereotyping them on the basis of a presumed lack of education, economic status, and/or social grace. “Stupid, ignorant rednecks,” that kind of thing. “What do they know? Bottom-feeders. Trailer Trash.” I’ve done it myself from time to time.

These kinds of statements feel good. They validate us and our opinions. They are sometimes even true. But they don’t help.

My goal in any debate about gay rights should be, always, to find people who disagree with me, and change their minds. Period. Even those guys up there (though I have a feeling they may be as gay as I am — dunno what gives me that sense, and I could be wrong). I need a significant number of minds changed in order to live a quality life. Winning this debate on a national level is not a luxury. It’s not a fun thing to do online. It’s simply got to happen.

If I can’t change the mind of the person with whom I’m actually arguing (and let’s face it, that’s a rare event), maybe I can change the mind of somebody who is watching the debate unfold online, or in person, or wherever. It’s the onlookers, real or virtual, who are almost always the best targets for conversion.

Making fun of my opponents and dismissing their positions as being nothing more than manifestations of their stupidity or ignorance is counter-productive in the following ways:

  • it puts people on the defensive, making them more difficult to talk to, and making a pro-gay rights message impossible to hear
  • it sets up the implication that it is only because of my education that I think the things I think, when that is not the case at all
  • it also implies that I believe that my good fortune in having an opportunity to get an education in the first place makes me better as a person, with more valid opinions, than people who didn’t have that kind of luck,
  • it makes any onlookers who are already sympathetic to your opponent immediately have more sympathy for your opponent, because you look like a sanctimonious dickbag when you pull out your education to beat somebody over the head with it, and, finally,
  • it’s not as true as most of us liberals think it is. There actually are educated social conservatives aplenty. If you base any significant portion of your pro-gay-rights argument on the ignorance and lack of intelligence of the opposition, and a clearly educated and articulate opponent shows up (let’s say Mike Huckabee), then you’ve just lost a lot more ground than you had to, before the debate even starts.

In short: we never change people’s minds by patronizing them.

Now, okay, I know. Just last week I was calling them all assholes. I get caught up in the moment just like anybody else. But what I didn’t do is make fun of their spelling skills or their lack of reading comprehension. I went after their moral standing. See the difference?

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