The Pattern Behind Right-Wing Thought and Debate
If you haven’t heard of Steven Crowder and his “Change My Mind” series, you are missing out on a wonderful opportunity to examine typical right-wing thought.
Steven Crowder is a Canadian immigrant who is now a proud American citizen. He touts the usual pro-life, pro-gun, small government, socialism is evil mantra that defines the platform on the right. He is rather well-known on youtube, regularly posting video content from his show and his notorious Change My Mind segments.
Like Ben Shapiro, he is incredibly well-spoken. He speaks without stuttering, rarely hesitates to respond, and often verbally annihilates his opponents in a political debate. It is this pure confidence of morality and intimidating eloquence that gives him superiority in any kind of discussion.
Being an individual who is naturally juxtaposed to a majority of Steven Crowder's views, I find his Change My Mind segments incredibly fascinating.
In these segments, he sits down on college campuses — or on sidewalks in public areas — and posts a sign that may read similar to this: “I’m Pro-Life. Change My Mind.” or “Socialism is Evil. Change My Mind.” Unprepared, curious bystanders will then sit down in an attempt to change his mind, only to find themselves in a one-way discussion with a stubborn man who will clearly never change his mind.
While I enjoy these segments for the fact that it shows an attempt at dialogue between two different schools of thought, it is easy to see right through Steven’s methods of delegitimization.
First, he never changes his mind. He dives into each discussion with the facade that he can be convinced to think differently, but never actually budges on his viewpoint. As the peaceful discussion of two different ideas slowly turns into a heated debate, Steven flips the blame onto the person who sat down, often accusing them of interrupting him, not allowing him to voice his opinion, or of becoming irrational and ‘heated’.
It makes sense that those who sit down become irritable, because they sit down under the assumption that this gentleman might actually change his mind. Instead, he takes notable pleasure in refuting every point the volunteers make. There is no concession, no acknowledgement, and no validation.
In any productive dialogue, two sides must truly hear and understand one another. One party can not irrefutably believe that the idea they are upholding is right no matter what evidence is provided to the contrary. The discussion then is nothing more than a ‘try to prove me wrong’ segment, which accomplishes nothing but inflating egos.
Take this segment, for instance. He sits down in a public space and speaks with a transgender woman about gender fluidity. Steven firmly believes that there are only two genders, while this woman has lived a very different experience and sees gender as a varying spectrum. The two worlds couldn’t be any more different, and while the transgender woman flexibly approached the conversation, listened and acknowledged his various points, and built off of them to produce productive conversation, he did very little of that.
He listens, sure, but quickly jumps to another point in order to avoid elaborating on an idea that challenges his own. There is no conceding on his side, no acknowledgement of the ‘other side’ being right during any of these conversations.
This absolute stubbornness is clear during the following conversation on the morality of Socialism. Steven sits down on a crowded college campus at night and meets his first formidable, equally prepared opponent ( go to 7:10 minute mark). As his opponent calmly sits back and refutes every one of Steven’s points, Steven grows noticeably uncomfortable. He attempts to delegitimize the young man’s arguments by accusing him of speaking in paragraphs and using big words, something Steven does himself in every one of the“Change My Mind” segments. As Steven slowly loses ground and sees no way he can influence this volunteer, he soon dismisses the young man in the middle of the conversation, instead of seeking to find common ground.
In truth, there is no changing this one’s mind. Steven is sure of his world, and while I applaud him for encouraging meaningful conversation, it is ultimately frustrating that he enters these conversations under the illusion of flexibility.
Second, he has spent hours sifting through literature and data, gathering a powerful arsenal of biased statistics and thought to validate his world view. Nearly everyone who sits down is an amateur. They do not structure their life around debating these topics, and therefore serve as poor opponents.
Compare this to the famous Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. McGregor fight in 2017. Mayweather spent his life mastering the sport of boxing. He devoted countless hours practicing and focusing on this one sport, while McGregor spent his entire career mastering something holistically different: Mixed Martial Arts. While both amazingly talented, McGregor’s downfall was the fact that he was going up against an expert in his own sport. Mayweather dominated the match, and despite McGregor’s own professional prowess, he stood no chance against someone who spent his entire life mastering the art of boxing… in a boxing match.
This causal unprepared nature is what Steven Crowder relies on. He acknowledges every possible talking point on the left and has constructed a counter with corresponding literature to refute that point. This is his life, this is his art. He then uses the lack of professionalism from his volunteers as proof that his ideology is right, and that the left is fundamentally flawed. He always wins, so he must be right.
Third, he loves his numbers. Statistics are his best friend, and his strongest ally in nearly all of these conversations. Who can argue with numbers? Percentages and ratios suggest a certain level of knowledge on the topic at hand, a level that often intimidates the volunteer.
While statistics may derail his volunteer’s arguments, they never tell the entire story. When it comes to complicated social constructs, statistics are incapable of telling the entire story. There are so many hidden variables that affect each and every statistical measurement that if you are going to ignore these hidden variables, you are actively opting to ignore a crucial part of the truth.
When statistics tell the story of a trend that is juxtaposed to reality, this is called a Simpson’s Paradox. As an example, a statistic may show that surgeon A has a higher patient survival rate (95%) than surgeon B (90%). According to this statistic, surgeon A is the safest option. What this statistic ignores, however, is the fact that surgeon B works primarily on high-risk, emergency procedures, while surgeon A only does low-risk, routine surgeries. Taking this into consideration drastically impacts surgeon B’s survival rate, completely altering the story the statistics originally told.
On top of this fundamental flaw, you also have to consider an individual’s inherent bias and its effect on interpretation. This is especially true when you use numbers to substantiate a political agenda. You approach a set of analytical numbers with impassioned bias and the story they tell evolves to fit your world view. This is natural in all of us.
So while his rampant use of statistics certainly affords him an air of professionalism, it does very little to remove his inherent bias from the conversation, which in turn ignores the truth of these layered social conversations.
Let’s take a look at a statistic Steven uses in the “There are Only 2 Genders.” video. He claims that suicide rates amongst transgender individuals is higher than Jews living in concentration camps during the holocaust. He then uses this statistic to imply that there is something ‘unhealthy’ with transgender individuals and that we shouldn’t validate this condition with the notion that gender is a spectrum, but instead, treat it. This is a talking point used by Ben Shapiro as well.
This is a perfect example of both bias affecting interpretation and a Simpson’s Paradox. First, the data examining suicide rates amongst concentration camp populations records all actual, successful suicide attempts. This means that the only data included in this study is of the suicides that were carried out. Second, the data analyzing transgender individuals not only includes successful attempts, but also incorporates suicidal ideations, which comprises thoughts, notions, and desires. Third, the data collected on suicidal ideations amongst the transgender population is an average, which decreases substantially when you take away the impact of homelessness, sexual assault and the violence of discrimination of society. Last but not least, getting accurate information on the actual suicide rates amongst holocaust victims in concentration camps is nearly impossible, and the conductors of the study that Steven cites make a point to say that getting “ precise data may be impossible.”
For a more precise breakdown of this widely misused statistic, take a look at this fellow writer’s work on Medium.
The statistical fallacy represented here is dangerous, as it creates a reality that simply isn’t true, further demonizing and ostracizing a vulnerable community. Since statistics are such an important part of understanding trends in our community, misusing them to serve a political agenda is simply dishonest, and ultimately, immoral.
This is not to dismiss every statistic he uses in these discussions as invalid, however. There are some debates in which he has some very valid points. For instance, the left is widely uneducated on gun ownership, and this is primarily due to the fact that individuals who generally fall under that political identity don’t own guns. This is a downfall of the left, resulting in the repetition of false talking points in an attempt to validate gun control. In that he is wildly more educated and often dominates any volunteer.
So while Steven Crowder and Ben Shapiro might seem like unconquered heroes of the right, it is important to realize that a majority of their views on society are backed by misinterpreted, heavily biased statistical analysis, which leads me to my final point.
They live and convince using fear.
They are afraid of the government stealing their money, they are afraid of societal norms being restructured, they are afraid of strangers stealing their property, and they are afraid of change.
A reflection of these typical right wing talking points reveal that there is an inherent fear and distrust on the right, which gives birth to the idea that we should build a wall to protect us from the encroachment of outsiders. We need to have access to guns in order to protect ourselves against the danger of our fellow man. There is little trust in the potential of humanity, which, though understandable, is sad.
Steven Crowder and Ben Shapiro further flame this inherent fear of mankind’s capacity for evil by manipulating statistical fallacies. It is easy to fall prey to this right-wing mantra, as it feeds off of the powerful feeling of instinctual fear, while masquerading as cold logic.
It is interesting that these white men are so afraid of change. The more we realize that the United States is indeed a beautiful melting pot, the more traditional white culture is changing. Minorities have more of a voice than they have ever had in the history of this country, and this is giving way to some momentous cultural changes. We have had more open, honest, and challenging discourse on the impact of racism, sexism, and classism than we have ever had as a culture, and that naturally challenges white supremacy.
Does this mean the left is right in all of its ideology? No. No one party, group or individual is entirely right on how the world should work. What we must realize though is that the only constants in this world are change and death, and how we handle and embrace these constants, in particular change, is crucial.
The world is heading towards blurred borders and melded identities, and the desire for our brain to cleanly compartmentalize these messy transitions results in a stubborn denial of reality. Hard statistics and numbers than become our friends in this state of denial, and we forget that they are just as easily manipulated by bias as opinion.
How to find progress in this emotional state of opposing ideologies is compromise. You don’t evolve as a society if you don’t recognize the other side, don’t validate their opinions as you validate your own.
We are going to be eternally stuck in this quagmire of conflict unless we take a step away from our egos and acknowledge that there are other ways of looking at the world. Although it gives our logic-prone brains a sense of security, there is no black or white, but instead a messy merging of ideas and philosophies that must peacefully come together to serve as a functioning compromise.
That is what Steven Crowder and Ben Shapiro are ultimately missing. Compromise is messy, and you don’t always get everything you want out of compromise, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are sacrificing your power and identity. Their fear of this loss drives a great deal of their mantra, and it is time humanity realize that we are capable of evolving past this fear.
Ideas, humanity, and morality are constantly evolving. There is no one answer to the complex emotions that manifest in society, so the idea that one person has all of the answers, or the notion that we can operate as simply rational, logically driven machines in a world of varying identities, is ultimately foolhardy.
So, take a moment to value your philosophy, see where fear motivates you, and take a moment to expand your echo chamber. In the end, dividing ourselves further into two ideological camps will do nothing but cripple our society.