Persuasion Mistakes: Using Historical Examples

Years ago I worked in a call-centre. To pass the time during slow days some colleagues and I often had debates just for fun. We often focused on American politics rather than local politics, as speaking about the latter in a very mixed workplace was more likely to land us in trouble.

One colleague was a big believer that 9/11 was not caused by terrorists hijacking planes. According to him it was a controlled demolition by the US government as an excuse to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. I remember this was one of his justifications (paraphrased).

Have you heard of Operation Northwoods? It was a false flag operation proposed by the CIA in the 60s. This is 100% verifiable. The plan was to commit acts of terrorism against American civilians, blame it on the Cuban government then use the attacks to justify a war against Cuba. Don’t you see the similarities with 9/11? Case closed!

Surprisingly for Northern Ireland, another colleague was a big believer in the right to bear arms. His reasoning? (paraphrasing again…)

Obama wants to restrict people’s access to guns. You know who else did that? Hitler. He didn’t want the people to resist his takeover of the country. Especially the Jews who he gassed to death in their millions. What Obama wants is no different than Hitler. Obama is as bad as Hitler.

I have a theory about historical examples in the arena of persuasion:

Historical examples are useful for building rapport with fellow believers, but useless for persuading non-believers.

If you want to see this occurring in real time, go onto your Facebook or Twitter and look for friends who believe the recent chemical attack in Syria was a false flag operation. You’ll see commenters of a similar mindset agreeing that this is just like the false story of WMDs in Iraq, or 9/11 if they’re a little more on the fringes.

Note that I’m not saying the chemical attack was or wasn’t a false flag. I’ve no real way of knowing for certain. I’m saying that using historical examples is less useful in convincing people you are right. History is so expansive and full of characters and examples that you can pick and choose different parts to create pretty much any narrative you like. People who are already convinced will agree with you immediately. Your selections from history feed into their confirmation bias.

How then do you convince a skeptic of your viewpoint? Talk to me about booking my live speaking show because to learn the concepts.