Our executive director Monica Snyder recently appeared on the Equipped for Life podcast to discuss the psychology of persuasion, and particularly, what persuades people to transition from pro-abortion beliefs to anti-abortion beliefs.
Watch the video or read the transcript below. Many thanks to our volunteer transcriber, Daniel Weinstein. Want to join him? Learn more about becoming a Secular Pro-Life volunteer.
Josh Brahm: Welcome back to the Equipped for Life podcast. I am back here with Monica Snyder from Secular Pro-Life and this is going to be an interesting one. You had an interesting idea for an episode about persuasion starting because you guys did — and I really like it when you do this — but you did another blog post where you were posting a bunch of people’s responses about why they had changed their minds.
Monica Snyder: Yes, if they used to be pro-choice and now they’re pro-life: why?
Josh: Yes, and I haven’t read them all. I didn’t know that you did them twice a year, but I’ve read a few of these before. I’ve quoted them, I’ve referenced them before to people, so I should probably go read the others. But I think it’s always interesting. And that got you thinking of us doing a persuasion episode. So tell me about why, tell me what we’re talking about.
Monica: So we’ve been collecting… we actually have over 300 examples now that we’ve collected if you go to secularprolife.org/becoming-pro-life — all these examples, we ask the question twice a year, and every time; I haven’t quantified this; but every time I notice certain recurring themes of why people used to be pro-choice and now they’re pro-life. And by far the biggest theme, by far, at least with people answering us, is direct personal experience with pregnancy or pregnancy loss or childbirth. Less so, but also not uncommon, direct personal experience with abortion. And you think, okay, well, what can I do about that? I can’t make people have these experiences. But in addition to that, there’s also people talking about taking biology, anatomy, or physiology classes. There are people talking about their interactions with either pro-choice or pro-life people and how that affected how they felt about the two sides. There are people talking about all sorts of things like that and we’re trying to see what’s moving the needle.
There is what we think are the core issues of the debate on an intellectual, philosophical, rational level, and that is important, but are those the same things as what’s actually moving the needle for people? And that’s kind of the core of this episode. What captures their imagination, what captures their attention, what makes them feel the way that we feel about this? , we have our reasoning and it causes us to feel a certain way and it inspires us to do the work that we are doing. How do we Vulcan mind-meld that into other people? And so you and I have had multiple discussions over the years.
Josh: So many.
Monica: So many! In fact, the day we met, we had this conversation.
Josh: Did we?
Monica: Do you remember this? I did a speech at the Walk for Life in 2014. And at some point in the speech, I said this is a debate about biology. This is a debate about life and death. And you heard that speech. And the next day we were at a conference together and I saw you do a speech, which was very good. (I thought): “I’ll talk to you later. Oh, great speech!”
Then we’re talking and at some point you said: “I noticed you said this is a debate about biology.” And I was like: “That is what I said, yes. I said what I said.” [chuckles] No, I didn’t say it like that.
Josh: [laughing] You weren’t that comfortable with me yet.
Monica: No, but I knew where you were probably going with it because you weren’t the very first person to point this out: Is it a debate? Because science doesn’t tell you what to think. It doesn’t give you opinions, it doesn’t give you ethics, it doesn’t give you any of that. It just gives you some facts and then you have to layer on your philosophy above that. [smiling] And I knew that even then too. I knew that when I said this debate is about biology. I knew that.
Josh: [laughing] Good to know!
Monica: So then you said, well, why do you think that? We politely disagreed about the extent of it. We both agree that biology and philosophy have places in the debate.
Josh: Tell me if you disagree. Between that point and today, and we’ve probably talked about biology versus philosophy in the abortion debate a dozen times at least probably.
Monica: Maybe, yeah, sure, why not? Once a year at least.
Josh: I think we have both come closer toward the middle. I think I have, generally speaking, undervalued the role of the biological part of the abortion debate. And you are the primary one that has convinced me of that. Emily, a bit too, finding out about the comments that we’re getting on TikTok.
Monica: She’s basically stepping into my world and being like “Oh! This is what’s happening!”
Josh: Whereas most of my experience has been on college campuses.
Josh: We’ve always known there’s that kind of selection bias, I’m going to be talking to, generally speaking, more intellectual pro-choice people than YouTube commenters.
Monica: The proportion of people you talk to who have even taken a philosophy class will be so much higher in the first place.
Josh: Yes, most of them have taken at least Philosophy 101 because they had to.
Josh: Therefore they’ve been taught the violinist argument already and it becomes a thing.
Monica: That’s a very specific selection of people.
Josh: It is, it is. I think you value philosophy more now than you did then.
Monica: [smiling] Cause I like you!
Josh: [laughing] Is that the only reason?
Monica: No, I don’t think it’s the only reason, but I was a STEM major. I majored in chemical biology. I studied forensics in my master’s program. I did not have to take Philosophy 101 in college or ever at all. And I will tell you too, for better or worse, probably for worse, in the circles I ran in in college, philosophy is not well regarded because…
Josh: That’s not surprising to me at all.
Monica: Because STEM majors are snobs, okay?
Josh: So are philosophers!
Monica: I know, it’s a bad combination. And STEM majors feel like they’re doing these really, really difficult classes where you have to either know it or not. There’s none of this assuming a frictionless surface thing, you have to actually get the answer right.
Josh: You have to explain that phrase. Even I didn’t know that phrase before you said it today.
Monica: I took a lot of physics in undergrad. In the earlier physics classes, when you’re first learning a lot of the concepts, it’s too difficult to do calculations about what’s going to happen when you drop a ball on this angled plane or whatever. It’s too difficult to do all that if you’re also trying to account for friction. So it’s very common in early physics classes to say assume a frictionless surface. And that’s shorthand for saying, this isn’t real, but we’re just going to oversimplify it so that we can talk about it.
Josh: So like the philosophers say all other things being equal…
Monica: Yes, exactly.
Josh: We’re just trying to talk about a specific thing.
Monica: Focus up! Focus up and make it reasonably plausible that you could figure this out.
Josh: I just hadn’t heard the physicist version of that. So now I’m glad to know that.
Monica: Sure, so, in undergrad, STEM majors would joke about how if you have time to go out for a drink on Thursday night, then you must not be a STEM major, because I’m studying. And that was for a lot of different majors. And maybe it’s just that we were jealous [laughing] because we were miserable and exhausted. But also prideful.
Philosophy… maybe we did not understand philosophy, we were not interested in philosophy, and we did not like philosophy majors trying to act like their classes were harder than ours. Because who had the more difficult GPAs, and then you can get into, is it because your class is harder, or you’re just dumber? All this stuff. Like, it’s a completely unhelpful, immature competition. But I’m just saying, that is my background.
Josh: It is a thing.
Monica: It is definitely a thing. I would not be surprised if there’s an equivalent on your side. I will say that it is the abortion debate that has forced me to recognize the reality that philosophy is very important, not just in the abortion debate, in general. And so I do recognize that, and I recognized even when I said it, like I told you, you can’t have the abortion debate without philosophy because scientism doesn’t work, I understand. You can’t say “We have an organism at conception, wham, bam, done. Abortion should be illegal.” I do understand that. However, I think that we both understand that you also can’t have meaningful philosophical discussions if you don’t have the correct facts at your fingertips. That includes a lot of biological misinformation that needs to be corrected. I think that the biology is upstream of the philosophy.
So yes, I do think I’ve come more around to the philosophy. I think it is, no joke, partly because of being friends with you and talking about it with someone who isn’t being extremely condescending and opaque. I’m not hanging that on all philosophers, but you and I…
Josh: [smiling] I’m willing to hang it on both philosophers.
Monica: You and I have talked plenty of times, and many of us have talked many of times about how you can be persuasive in the abortion debate. It is not persuasive for someone to be condescending and to refuse to explain their vernacular or their points or whatever. (But by) interacting with you, interacting with Emily, and there’s a couple other key people with philosophy backgrounds that I have befriended… and not even all pro-life ones. I can think of at least one or two pro-choice philosophy people I’ve become friends with where they are very matter of fact, very straightforward about their points, and it’s much easier to hear. It’d be like, oh, I see what you’re saying, I see why that is more complicated than one might think. Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha.
So, yes, I do think that philosophy is a big part of it, and I think I am begrudgingly slightly a little bit more respectful of it than I was in 2014. But not like a lot though.
Josh: Right, yeah. And okay, so now my turn to dog on philosophy types because you just, you did that about the STEM people. And I don’t, and I’ll just say this as a caveat, this might be an unnecessary caveat, but I will say it. I don’t have a philosophy degree. I’m not a STEM major like you. I don’t call myself a philosopher and I don’t know what a philosopher is, but I think most people would say you have to have at least one philosophy degree to call yourself a philosopher. So I might not be a philosopher. I think I’m good at philosophy unfairly, unnaturally. It’s kind of like music. I didn’t have to work super hard at being good at music. For whatever reason. And the only reason I believe this is because other people have told me this. If I were in my head (saying) “I’m a great philosopher,” I wouldn’t say it because I wouldn’t trust it. Only because I’ve had… I’ve never said this out loud, and I hate saying this out loud, but –
Monica: You’re allowed to say good things about yourself. Is that what’s going on here?
Josh: The only reason I think this is, and I think this is basically the only way that you can know if you’re good at anything is if other people (say so). I’ve had college professors who teach philosophy say that they feel like I think philosophically better than some of their graduate students. So for some reason, maybe just because I hang out with a lot of smart people and I like listening to smart people all the time, I’m riding some of that wave where that’s influencing the way that I think. So I’m philosophical.
Monica: Philosophically inclined.
Josh: Philosophically inclined! I would love a philosophy degree. The fact that I don’t have a philosophy degree has nothing to do with (the notion) “It would just be a piece of paper. I already know all this stuff.” I think I would learn so much with it. Every time I get to learn a bit of what philosophers learn when they do (I think): “I love this stuff!”
Monica: Gosh, we would not have been friends in college.
Josh: I know, I know. It is at this point a cost benefit ratio analysis. I cannot defend taking a break from ERI to get a philosophy degree. But I would love it and I love that stuff. I love epistemology. I love all this stuff. Also, to be fair, and this is where philosophy sometimes maybe would start getting annoyed: I also think that arguably psychology has more to do with persuasion than philosophy does. I’m increasingly interested in the psychology of persuasion.
Monica: Well, there’s probably a lot of crossover too. Okay, so correct me if I’m wrong. It seems to me that philosophy is going to be more about how to follow these lines of thoughts and where they… the tangents they go on and whether that makes sense or not logically. Psychology is going to be about how we naturally think when you’re incorporating not just our rational thoughts, but also our emotional reactions and everything.
Josh: It’s obviously simplified, but I got you. Philosophy, a lot of times it’s going to be about trying to figure out what is, what is true. Then there’s going to be different sub fields of that, of what is actually true, how can we know things. But no matter what field you get into, you can get into metaphysics or all this different stuff, you’re going to be learning about logical fallacies. You’re going to be learning about good arguments versus bad arguments, hopefully, so that you can make them. And they, for sure, and knowing this from having talked to a lot of philosophy people and philosophers and stuff; I don’t think it’s that controversial a thing. I think most philosophers are arrogant and think, as if they were so much more above the STEM people too.
Monica: So we have two groups of snobs.
Josh: I think there’s two groups of snobs here.
Monica: Match made in heaven.
Josh: Yeah, it’s perfect. For philosophers, I think a lot of times the reason that they get snobby (or part of the reason) is because there’s a Dunning-Kruger effect that happens a lot when people talk about philosophy. So if you think about people who have read one article about vaccines and think that they are just as much an expert as someone who has three degrees on it: probably not right? Probably not. There’s a philosophy thing where philosophers are around bad arguments a lot. We’re surrounded by it and we’re always thinking about it. And then also being told by people who are often making bad arguments about how philosophy is worthless.
Monica: And you’re like “Well, it makes sense that you think that!”
Josh: Right. And so if you have not only gone through and gotten a philosophy degree, which means you’re hanging out with a bunch of people who think that they’re the best thinkers around, and then you spend the next, what, 10, 20, 30 years of your life feeling like you’re surrounded by idiots all the time, or kind of feeling like that…
Monica: Yeah, at least in this regard.
Josh: Then of course, it’s going to be hard to not get arrogant, because you’re going to kind of think of yourself as being smarter than everyone else.
Monica: And you may very well be true. The problem with arrogance isn’t even being arrogant. It’s how well do you hide it when you’re talking to other people? Especially if you’re in a situation where you need to be persuasive, because arrogance is not persuasive. It’s definitely not persuasive.
Josh: I think it’s a vice. I think arrogance is objectively a bad thing. And I’m fighting it.
Monica: Well, what if you’re right?
Josh: So I think, no, so I think it’s different to…
Monica: How are you defining arrogance? If you actually have more education and experience and potentially just more genetically related intelligence or whatever, I’m not saying you do or don’t, but if you did, you’d probably notice.
Josh: You would notice, but there’s a difference, I think, between noticing that and being arrogant about it. So maybe it’d be easier for me to do a parallel with music. I am an uncommonly good musician. Okay. And most people wouldn’t know that unless they go and like look for it. But I am very, very good at certain kinds of things musically. Part of the reason why I don’t think I’m an arrogant person now is because I feel like I am in recovery from it. I was an arrogant jerk as a teenager.
Monica: Okay, well, teenager that’s part of it.
Josh: I was on the worship team at church at age 11. I was four feet and zero, playing better than all the other guys on stage.
Monica: Hard to be arrogant when you’re four feet tall.
Josh: Everyone told me that I was the best pianist around and I believed it. And I thought I was the best thing ever.
Monica: Okay, but it sounds like you’re saying that arrogance is believing you have more credentials than you actually do.
Josh: So I think that’s part of it. It can also be… I think you could have an accurate understanding of your own skills, but also just be constantly thinking about it. Sort of a self-worship thing. I think where I have landed, at least right now, is I think I accurately understand what within music I am good at. I also understand what I’m not good at. But it doesn’t make me feel like really much better about myself. It is fairly logical now.
Monica: So, taking this understanding of the concept of arrogance and moving back a second, you think that a high proportion of people who study and put forth papers and things about philosophy, they have this quality. Where it’s not just that they recognize that they are probably legitimately smarter and certainly more experienced than most other people in terms of philosophy, it’s that they think about it a lot and they’re very focused on their superiority versus other people.
Josh: Right. We’ve talked about this here before, but a lot of the revulsion that sometimes you get from at least certain philosophers is the fact that you are not revolted by me and I might be making similar arguments, might have a lot to do with the fact that I just think of it in a purely logical way. I also have imposter syndrome.
Monica: You have imposter syndrome and it actually works to your benefit in this case.
Josh: I totally have imposter syndrome in a lot of ways when it comes to philosophy, because I don’t have the degree. And I haven’t read all the books.
Monica: I’ll tell you from the outside looking in, you have been a vastly more effective philosopher in my life than anyone else I’ve talked to.
Josh: I think that speaks — so that’s super interesting because that speaks to the psychology of persuasion, because what that means probably is that my attitude or my humility has had more to do…
Monica: So theoretically, your actual philosophical arguments could be terrible. You could just be really good at being persuasive. I don’t think they are. I’m just saying we’re talking about different things.
Josh: Yes. I could just be a very nice person and easy to talk to who thinks that he’s a better philosophy than he actually is. And because it would be very easy for that to be true, I am [inaudible] to say that what other people say about me is philosophical.
Monica: Ok, so Dude A whose philosophical arguments are just mediocre, say, but he’s just really nice and easy to talk to. And then you can have Dude B, whose philosophical arguments are fantastic, very insightful and even intimidating, but he’s just awful to talk to.
Josh: That guy’s going to be less persuasive than Dude A.
Monica: Of course, but here’s my thing. It’s not just that he’s less persuasive. That’s stupid. That is stupid. What is the point of having all of this great content and ideas and then not putting any effort into figuring out how to disseminate them to anyone? I guess it depends on the topic you’re talking about. It could be about something so esoteric it doesn’t really matter, but in the world we run in, persuasion is really important. Not just for pro-lifers. If you’re pro-choice, you want to be persuasive too. Both sides see this as a human rights issue. Both sides see this, the consequences are dire. So for whoever you’re talking to on either side, I don’t see how you can deny that persuasion is important.
My point here, and I don’t think anyone is saying persuasion is irrelevant. I don’t think anyone is saying that in this context. But my point is, it is not just that you’re not persuasive, it’s that I think your intelligence is lower if you don’t recognize that you’re not convincing anybody because your personality traits are getting in the way.
Josh: And this is maybe where it’s sometimes helpful, at least at a colloquial level, I think, to kind of separate out like emotional IQ versus other kinds of IQ, because I think what you’re describing is…
Monica: What is the aggregate, okay? What you’re doing doesn’t make sense. Whether you’re on my side or not.
Josh: If you have no emotional IQ, then that would kind of drop your average IQ, right?
Monica: Okay, so maybe that should take your arrogance down a little bit, because what are you even doing?
Josh: Yes, I think everyone should take their arrogance down, because no one is as good as they think they are. All these people are not as perfect as they think they are at either philosophy or STEM.
Monica: Imposter syndrome is very common in STEM too. That’s the funny thing. We’re talking about groups of snobs.
Monica: Oh, of course. Oh my gosh!
Josh: You’ve got all the facts on your side though! We don’t have facts!
Monica: If you can remember them! I’m not talking about feeling insecure about STEM versus philosophy. I’m talking about an individual person trying to be good at STEM and wondering if they really are. Super common to have imposter syndrome there. You could have people, and I’m going back to undergrad now, but you could have people who have fantastic grades in extremely difficult classes. They’re still (asking) how did I ever get this far? I have no idea what’s going on! Especially if you study physical chemistry, which I still could not tell you a single thing about.
Josh: Here’s an interesting question. How many of these people who act super arrogant and obnoxious also have imposter syndrome at the same time?
Monica: Oh, I think a lot do.
Josh: Is it a front? Is that part of where it’s coming from?
Monica: Arrogance contrasted with confidence, okay… I think arrogance stems from some insecurity. And I think confidence is the opposite. So you could have whatever credentials in education and intelligence and if you’re acting really arrogant and lauding it over people… I almost always, and this is probably not always true, but instinctively, I almost always assume that you are a little insecure, maybe very insecure. And you’ve got something going on with you where you need to make sure people give you some kind of accolade or recognition for how, , how professional you are, how insightful you are, whatever the quality is. Whereas the people who have truly impressed me, and this is well beyond the abortion debate, just in general, are the people who have some kind of substance I don’t have, some kind of knowledge or experience or insight that I’m not good at, combined with they’re just telling you about it. Another thing too, very good clear communication is difficult, especially over technical or esoteric, difficult subjects. So the more you can take a complicated difficult subject, and especially one that I am not familiar with, and explain it to me in a way where I’m (thinking), “I get what you’re saying,” then I know that it really well. That’s the irony about different kinds of vernacular. The more you can explain something in layman’s terms, the more of an expert I assume that you are and the more that you use ridiculous opaque language, the more I assume you’re trying to make sure people know that you’re really smart and don’t question you because if they do, then it might turn out that you don’t know what you’re talking about.
By the way, and I’ll take this back again, this is not necessarily biology versus philosophy because I do have a biology background, and I’m not an expert. I don’t pretend to be. I try to own the limitations and work within them. However, because I do have a biology background, there are times repeatedly in the abortion debate when someone that I can tell because of my background has less knowledge than I do about some kind of biological topic – and sometimes the way I can tell it is because they use unnecessarily convoluted language. It’s like screaming “Please nobody ask me about this, okay?” So you’ll see people (say) “Oh, did you mean totipotent? Did you mean at a multicellular level?” Most of the people they’re talking to will (say) “I don’t know what that means” and I’m (thinking) “I know exactly what you’re doing. You haven’t said anything. Oh, a ball of cytoplasm with proteins around.” I’m like, “Yes! What, yes? What are you doing right now? What? Is there someone else you’re talking to? I don’t understand.”
Josh: There might be. So I think you’re right that that’s at least some of the time going on. I’m wondering if this also sometimes is going on. Maybe it’s a small minority of the time. But when I think about when I’ve used big words and I sometimes use big words, typically I am doing it for one of two reasons. One –
Monica: To lord your credentials over other people.
Josh: Well, I don’t have credentials is the thing!
Monica: Your assumed credentials over other people. If you could say ontological, everyone thinks you have a philosophy degree.
Josh: That’s probably true. And to be fair, I think most people think I have a philosophy degree.
Monica: I think you have a philosophy degree. And you’ve told me multiple times that you don’t and I continue to think that you do.
Josh: I think there are, I think there are times, so that’s the biggest minority of times. Is so like, I always kind of go back to our experience at UC Davis in 2015, I think. It was the most hostile outreach we’ve had, maybe at least pre-Dobbs. And there was a period of time for maybe half of one of the days, or maybe a whole day, where I was intentionally using a lot of big words because the pro-choice people who would actually talk to us were so hostile and obnoxious and acting like we’re total idiots that I thought that maybe by using big words, I could –
Monica: You get a more of a rapport you get them to back off enough to consider what you’re saying.
Josh: I might be wrong, but I’m not the idiot that you’re treating me like, (so) stop it. It didn’t work by the way, but it was a very intentional test that Tim and I were both doing that day and it messed up our conversations so I don’t I don’t do that anymore. No, the main time is if I do get to talk like philosophy professor who does come to the outreach or someone who’s into philosophy. The vernacular is just so fast.
Monica: The nature of all vernacular – there’s a reason it exists.
Josh: So any other time I’m using it, probably there is some kind of a – I want people, even if they don’t know all the things that I’m saying – I might use a big word and then define it. Part of it is maybe I do want them to have some level of intellectual respect for me because then I think they might take the ideas more seriously.
Monica: Well, if you say a phrase and immediately define it, it’s clear that you’re not trying to confuse them on purpose as a tactic.
Josh: True, but there are people who are so sensitive about big words that the fact that they even used it at all, they’re instantly a little bit turned off.
Monica: It can also backfire because if you’re talking to someone who already knew that phrase really well, that’s annoying if you immediately define it. So I’ve had a situation —
Josh: I’m talking about like in a speech.
Monica: Okay, in a speech? Okay, fine. I’m just saying, it’s really tricky. You kind of have to have an idea of who you’re talking to and what they know. Because if you really do have more information than them, then it’s a kindness and a courtesy to be explaining as you go and not just talking over their heads. But if you don’t –
Josh: If I’m talking to a professor, I am not defining ontological after I say it. I know they know what I mean. I know they know what I mean.
Monica: I actually had something that happened recently. I was on a podcast and I was trying not to come off as “This article and that article and blah, blah, blah.” I was trying to be approachable. I think I did that where it backfired because I said something about “The article is third trimester abortion exception by Katrina Kimport. Maybe you’ve already read it.” I didn’t want to (come off as) “I read this and it says that,” but I could tell by her response, she (thought) “I haven’t read anything you’re talking about. You’re going to have to go ahead and explain it.” And I wasn’t trying to be rude, but it felt like I gave her a vibe of “Oh, did you read this? No, you didn’t.” That’s the opposite of what I was trying to do.
Josh: Because she was assuming that’s what you were going to do. It’s not what you were doing.
Monica: Maybe I was just reading too much into it.
Josh: If she was turned off by that, then I don’t feel like she should have been. I think what you did was totally reasonable.
Monica: It didn’t go sideways. It’s just that her response seemed more irritated than what I was going for.
Josh: My experience is that most philosophers have at least some level of arrogance, if not a ton of arrogance and that they have far more cognitive biases than they understand, which is truly ironic because we should be learning about cognitive biases.
Monica: Well, that’s psychology, isn’t it?
Josh: Yeah, I guess so. But it just seems like if you’re all about what’s true, then if our brains have all these different ways of screwing things up automatically, unless you’re intentionally trying not to do all these different things, then you should be on the lookout for those things and trying to avoid them.
Monica: Well, and so then another problem I have here, I already had a small bias about this. I didn’t care that much in undergrad. I’m being tongue in cheek. We didn’t spend much time talking about philosophy majors at all, ever, , but tongue in cheek like that. But then I entered the abortion debate and I’m usually arguing with pro-choice people. I’m not often arguing with pro-life people and I recognize that selection bias. I know there are annoying pro-life people, but I don’t have to talk to them that much. I’m just not talking to pro-life people that much compared to pro-choice people, right? So then we’re in the abortion debate and I have had many experiences, over basically the whole time I’ve been doing this. I can remember even very early on where we’ll get into a more philosophical thing and the pro-choice person I’m talking to will very much do the thing that you and I are talking about. Well, they’ll throw out all kinds of vernacular and it’s clear that it’s not just that they don’t realize they don’t have that background, they’re counting on it. Because what they want me to say is “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” That’s what they want.
Josh: We love when people (say) “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Monica: Yes, but see, there’s a difference in tone here because there’s also people that (say) “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know what you’re talking about. [whispers] Also, I don’t care.” I don’t care. And I don’t care because you’re not trying to explain anything to me. You’re not trying to have an interesting philosophical discussion. You’re trying to win a political debate by being obnoxious. how much you persuaded me? None. You persuaded me none. Okay? And the thing is, you can… There’s a parallel here between science and philosophy again. You said earlier, “Am I a philosopher? I don’t think I am.” I think you are and the same thing can be said for scientists. I once read this beautiful quote, and I’m going to get it wrong, when I was doing my master’s in forensics and it was talking about the scientific method. Here’s the thing. You could have a dude in a lab coat in the lab with a whole bunch of Erlenmeyer flasks and centrifuges and all these crazy things going on and it doesn’t mean he’s doing science. And in contrast, you could have a mechanic who has no college degree at all, who sees that there is a problem with this car and he sees if I twist this and then test it, is it working? And he is doing the scientific method because it is not about pedigree, it’s about approach.
I think philosophy has a parallel there and I think that means – first of all, you are good at philosophy and you’re good at explaining it to other people – but also not specific to you and to people who don’t even think about whether they’re doing philosophy or not, you could have people who have no formal background, who just are thoughtful and interested in it, and they could be thinking, well, does that make sense? They could engage with Thompson’s violinist. They could engage with thought experiments and give you alternative thought experiments, especially if it’s in a friendly way. And you don’t need expertise. You don’t need to know what dualism means to be talking about dualism, right? So you could have and the reason I bring that up is because I can do that. Yes. I am intelligent, okay? And it’s not because I have two degrees, it’s because… Speaking of arrogance, I am intelligent, right? And if you want me to understand…
Josh: But see, that’s not necessarily arrogant. I’m going to jump in.
Monica: Either way. Either way…
Josh: You might just have knowledge of your… an accurate knowledge of your intelligence.
Monica: That’s fine. I don’t want to really belabor the point. I’m saying that I don’t have a philosophy background, I don’t know a lot of the vernacular, but well before I met you and well before I started learning the vernacular, I recognized scientism without knowing what the word scientism was. I recognized where philosophy comes in and recognized the need to discuss it. So do tons of other people. It’s not like this shocking revelation, honestly. The same thing can be said for the scientific method, that was my point earlier. So who can do philosophy or do science? It’s much broader than the people who have the backgrounds in it, and I do have a background in it, like to suggest. I think some of that is just trying to have more “cred” when you’re having these conversations. Then when you bring in a political topic, a controversial political topic where you’re disagreeing, the incentive to lord it over people – and I’m not saying this is specific to pro-choice people, and I’m not saying it’s specific to philosophers; I think people with STEM backgrounds do it a lot and I think both sides like to do it – but you just come in there and just throw around the vernacular just to show your credentials. I get it.
Josh: It’s like everyone has this weird fantasy of, I’m going to come in and say these magic words and the other person is either going to change their mind right away or at least fall to their knees metaphorically and be “Change me, guru!”
Monica: No! Maybe that’s not it. Maybe they don’t really care how the other person responds, they just like it when their side (says) “we love so much when you do this!” I get that. When I did the “No, a Fetus is Not a Parasite” video we got tons of responses: “Oh, we’re so glad to have you!” It’s very nice. It’s very complimentary. And I’ve seen the other side have that too. We just had recently someone on TikTok, one of our “hate followers,” (who) did a piece where, and I get the “MO” – you screen cap a bunch of official looking articles and things, have some highlights. Do it kind of quickly. Use slightly more advanced vernacular, but not so much that no one gets what you’re saying, just enough to be a little bit more advanced. I don’t know how much of this is conscious, but it is a thing you do. You go through it all very quickly, and you have a certain demeanor to your confidence in what you’re saying. So he did this, and sure enough, the comments say “So glad to have you, love it when you do these videos, this is A-plus content.” , chef’s kiss, clap, clap, clap. What he actually said when he got down to it: he said personhood emerges at 29 weeks. That’s what he said, based on cortical functioning. So then I said, and I ignored the rest of his video, and I just said, “so if we went into a NICU and killed a bunch of premature infants, 22 to 27 weeks, is that murder?” That’s me doing philosophy, Josh, okay?
Josh: I mean, it’s not a bad question.
Monica: No, I’m not saying it is. I’m saying all of that overtone…
Josh: You were able to ask him a really good question in spite of not having a philosophy degree.
Monica: But also the reason people do this might not be because I’m going to fall to my knees begging for your wisdom. It might be because their side really loves it. It makes them feel empowered. It makes them feel encouraged. And on our side too, I’m not saying specific to their side. In fact, right after Dobbs we had, as best I can tell, this sophomore in college who is beginning to study biology, do a viral TikTok. It got at least 200,000 views about how the embryo is a parasite scientifically. And this is why scientists are pro-choice. It was all total BS, complete BS, but she had the formula. She shows screen caps of scientific tests. She talks about “totipotency”. I mean, she just said totapotency. You get my point. That kind of vocabulary. She points out a couple true biological facts that go with this thesis of the embryo as a parasite, although the definition she used in the background said of a different species, and she just like didn’t mention that part, (sarcastically) but it’s fine. Whatever. That’s okay. It’s not important. But we had a ton of people send us that TikTok. We had a ton of people who’ve been (said) “I feel like this isn’t true, but I don’t know how to respond to it. What do I do? I have a lot of friends who are pro-life who are doctors and biologists and STEM people. Often they’re private about it, but I know them. I said, “Guys, I’m going to do a response to this. This is what I think I’m going to say, but gut check me here, is there anything you would say differently?” Here’s the great irony, and this is Dunning-Kruger, I guess, in the reverse. I’m talking to OBGYNs, and they’re (saying) “Well, I’m not specifically an embryologist.” (I respond) “This is a sophomore in college! (They) just took the biology textbook that she had, read some of it on TikTok, and you’re an OBGYN with 20 years experience, but because of your experience, you know your limitations, and now you’re not going to give me feedback to this sophomore in college. This is bathroom stall graffiti biology, and you’re being shy. That’s okay, I get it, but the irony, right? So one of them (asked) “How do we respond to this?” They were being very, very nuanced and specific, but I said “That’s not the formula, here’s what you do. You pick like three facts and you use a slightly advanced vocabulary, and then you just say it with confidence, and that’s it, that is it.” So in 2014, I said in a speech that this is a debate about biology, which you did not agree with. I suppose what I was trying to say, truncated at the time, is that a lot of times when people find out the biological facts correctly, it influences their view. And that is true.
Monica: But it cannot be just a debate about biology because they have to take those facts and then decide what they think of them philosophically, even if they don’t realize consciously that’s what they’re doing. So then the question is, in this made up hypothetical, suppose that this is a persuasion triage and you can either tell people the biological facts about fetal development, or you can talk to them about the philosophical ideas of what makes humans valuable: which one moves the needle more for people? Or maybe it’s a silly question.
Josh: What actually moves the needle or what should move the needle more?
Monica: Which one actually moves the needle more?
Josh: I don’t know.
Monica: Fair. It’s a very philosophical answer.
Josh: I think based on what I’ve heard from you, I am surprised by how many people, for example, would answer a secular pro-life poll and say that the primary thing that converted them to pro-life was –
Monica: The heartbeat.
Josh: The heartbeat thing or something like that.
Monica: But it wasn’t just me telling them in an embryology textbook, there’s a heartbeat. (For) a lot of them it was that they saw or heard their child’s heartbeat.
Josh: Yes, but that feels different to me. I feel like I can understand why that would be very moving to someone. I think people are complicated creatures. I think your guys’ polls are proof of that. There are so many different categories of people and what moves them, which is why… even though we don’t put graphic abortion images on signs…
Monica: There are people who say that was what changed their mind.
Josh: All of us have experiences with people who have changed their mind because of that, right? Anything can change someone’s mind in theory. So if the question is what is actually moving the needle the most, it might be the biology thing because I don’t know how many people are talking to someone they disagree with on the topic in the philosophy realm long enough for the philosophical arguments to be making a difference to them.
Monica: Well, also, and in fairness, it’s kind of a bogus question because I think when biological facts move people, it’s because they have a certain philosophical outlook and the facts inform the outlook that already existed. I said biology is upstream of philosophy. Let’s say, and I’m completely making this up -Let’s say that you have your philosophical reasons for believing that personhood is centered on heartbeats, but you think the heartbeat doesn’t start until 20 weeks. That is a philosophical thing, and I’m just adjusting your knowledge of biology. So when I say someone took a biology class and became pro-life, you can’t just ascertain from that, that biology is more persuasive than philosophy. They have their philosophical outlooks. So it’s a trick question.
Josh: That’s a good point.
Monica: You cannot separate the philosophy from it ever. But in terms of when you’re sitting across from someone at a coffee shop or it’s your buddy, your pro-choice buddy for years and you’re talking about different things, the biology… when I said it’s a debate about biology, it was shorthand for me saying that’s what people don’t know about and do care about. Whereas a lot of people already have philosophical outlooks, and don’t get me wrong, we both know you can change philosophical outlooks, you can change the thinking on it. But none of this is happening in the vacuum of what people think makes someone valuable. None of it is happening in a vacuum from that. And so, I think it’s a debate about biology, broadly, reductively speaking, because I believe strongly that the biological facts tend to push people more towards seeing the philosophical value of the embryo and the fetus. And that is why the other side lies about the biology, and I’m using lie very intentionally. I am not saying misunderstands or misinterprets, lies about the biology, because whether it’s conscious or not, they recognize just like we do, that when people understand fetal development better, it doesn’t make everybody automatically pro-life, but it definitely works more for us than it does for them.
In fact, and this is ridiculous, Josh: I just read an abstract, I didn’t even bother to read this study, but I just read an abstract of a study very recently, in the last month, where they basically said… “Do fetal development markers affect people’s views of abortion?” I could have (said) “Yes!” You needed to do a study on this? Why didn’t you just ask me? But I went ahead and read the abstract. It was written by people who support abortion. Oh my gosh, I wish I had it for you, it was ridiculous. But at one point they said that it turns out that it could be the case that if you use development markers and humanizing language of the fetus that it might make people more hesitant in their support of abortion. And I was like, wow, amazing. Who could have seen that coming? We all know that. Not just pro-life people. Pro-choice people know it too. There’s a reason the clump of cells rhetoric is ubiquitous. There’s a reason that they don’t want to talk about embryonic hearts at all. And there’s a reason that they hand-wave away the possibility of fetal pain. And it’s not because the science is on their side. It’s because all of these conversations… even having the conversation, even having the debate at all is focusing on the entity they want to pretend doesn’t exist. And that affects people’s philosophical outlooks. If the only thing you’re measuring is one side of the equation, it’s not hard to decide where you’re going to end up.
Josh: So this is tricky because it feels like… I think some of the people you’re describing are backwards of that. They’re starting from a philosophical worldview that they’re close-minded about. So they’re sure, they’re right. Then the cognitive bias thing comes in and they are defensively using language like product of conception or whatever because they don’t want to think more seriously about whether their worldview might be right. Their brain is actively trying to defend themselves from changing their mind. So then they start using this language.
Monica: Yeah, so say you have someone whose philosophical worldview entails believing that once an embryo looks very humanoid, then they are a valuable person. That’s just their gut instinct reaction, which would be not an unusual reaction to have.
Josh: There are people that are there.
Monica: So the philosophy is already there. You don’t need to convince them of what entails personhood, but in order for them to justify their defense and support of abortion, they need to believe that that thing isn’t happening. And that’s where the debate about biology comes in.
Josh: I must be misunderstanding what you’re just saying. My reaction, but I think you already know this. So help me understand what I’m missing because I’m (inaudible)
Monica: Maybe you’re not, maybe you’re not. I’m kind of thinking this out on this episode with you.
Josh: I feel that person has a really bad philosophical worldview and I need to help them with that because…
Monica: Yeah, fair enough, because it’s not a good reason to grant humanity.
Josh: It’s a horrible reason!
Monica: But I’m saying, let’s say that we said “Fine, good reason, fine, whatever.”
Monica: But they have an incentive to ignore how early the embryo looks human because then they would have to struggle with their philosophy in support of abortion versus their philosophy in what they’re addressing. So it’s a long way of saying that there’s no way to talk about the biology without philosophy being involved even if you don’t specifically address philosophy. It’s impossible.
Josh: Everyone’s doing philosophy all the time, whether they know it or not.
Monica: Hence the irritation of philosophers where they’re (saying) “If you’re going to do it, can you at least do it correctly?”
Josh: Can you at least appreciate the thing that you’re doing all the time that you don’t realize you’re doing
Monica: I get it to some extent because, and you can correct me if I’m going too far afield here, but we’re an atheist-led group and a lot of times pro-choice people will try to explain why they’re sure that we’re secretly Christian or at least we’re unconsciously Christian.
Josh: It’s so amazing to me. It’s very common, especially on Twitter, to be fair, but not just on Twitter. It’s kind of the most obnoxious, frustrating thing for you.
Monica: Sometimes it’s annoying and sometimes it’s just amusing because it shows how heavily they rely on such weak arguments. If your arguments all fall apart if I genuinely don’t believe in God, what is that!? What does that even have to do with anything?
Josh: What does that say?
Monica: Sometimes if I get someone who’s good faith enough and who will stick with me on it, I will try to explore what they mean. Most of them won’t do it, but some people will. What is it specifically about my position that you find to be inherently religious? What do you mean? Some of them will say “Well, it’s what the Christians say.” That’s a terrible argument, obviously. They say “Christians say a lot of things I agree with, a whole bunch of things. Like I also like pepperoni pizza.”
Josh: All kinds of things I agree with.
Monica: Exactly.. So that doesn’t help me. Maybe that’s it, maybe it’s just a knee-jerk association thing, and for some people, that’s what it is. Some people have tried harder to elaborate, and they’ll say “It’s the idea that life begins at conception.” Okay, pause. Biologically, life begins at conception. Do you… I struggle not to (say) “Do you mean this, this, this, and this?” They (reply) “What do you mean? Why would anyone value life that much at that early of a stage?” So now we’re getting to a kernel here. Now we’re getting to something interesting. Why would anyone who doesn’t believe in a soul value life at conception? I think that’s a sincere question from people. They only hear that from religious people. How could you possibly care that much? Then we can talk about personhood debates and the inconsistencies I see and the concerns I have with them and all that stuff and they agree with me. At this point, I’m not even trying to get them to agree with me. I’m just trying to get them to see it doesn’t require God for me to care about this stuff.
The other thing I’ve noticed, and this is where I sympathize with philosophers, is they will come to me, a pro-life atheist, and demand that I explain how I ground morality at all. We’ve talked about the Christian pro-lifers who do this, but that’s not my point here. My point here is the secular pro-choice people who claim that I am pushing my religion and that there’s no way to have a pro-life position without being religious because it requires religious belief to care this much about this. Then my response is “Well, how do you ground yours?” They’re (saying) “What do you mean?” Because they act as if their position is some sort of neutral starting point and any deviation from it must be explained. But the reality is that you are prioritizing bodily rights and freedom and equality as you interpret them as the most important moral precepts we’re dealing with. That’s fine, but how are you grounding that? If what you’re saying – and it sounds like what you’re saying is that there is no way to have moral foundational truths that you want society to recognize unless you’re religious, then are you religious?
Josh: If it comes from an atheist, commit suicide as soon as it comes out or not.
Monica: No, they don’t even have to be an atheist. Most of the time they’re not an atheist. Most of the time they’re just some vague person who isn’t religious in the sense of – they don’t go to church, they don’t believe- whatever, they’re not sure.
Josh: They’re a non-theist.
Monica: They’re some kind of non-theist.
Josh: Who’s accusing you of being a theist because…
Monica: That’s why I sympathize with the philosophers, because (I say) “What do you think you’re doing right now?” If your definition of religion is so broad that it just means anyone who has a strong moral opinion and you are also a pro-choice activist or an activist of any kind – any kind of activist – then you are also pushing your religion. I lose them almost every time, almost every single time. Or they’ll say, “Well, explain why you think there’s a valuable person from the beginning of conception.” And I’ll say, “Well, what do you think makes people valuable?” They’ll (respond) “I asked you first.” Okay, well, I asked you second. Because what we do is we just ask you what your definition is and try to explain how consistency would require you to apply it before birth or require you to apply it way too far after birth and then we ask you if you’re okay with that. That’s all we’re doing. I don’t even feel like I need anything beyond that because my position is largely one of negation. So far everything else I’ve heard has sounded like it has side effects I am not willing to tolerate, so I just want you to explain… if you could give me a personhood argument that does not entail infanticide, maybe you could change my mind. Maybe you could. I don’t think I’m completely unpersuadable, believe it or not, but I have never heard that and most people don’t even try. They just basically say, and people do this ironically all the time… Again, sympathizing with the philosophers… They’ll say things like “Nobody has the right to use your body against your will, but also I think abortion should be illegal after viability.”
Josh: You can’t have it both ways, pick a lane.
Monica: Or (they’ll say) “You cannot force your religion on other people, but also I think abortion should be illegal after viability. Or after the first trimester. I definitely think infanticide should be illegal, but that’s not me forcing my religion. That’s just ethics.” What?!
Josh: I’m forcing my other worldview.
Monica: And that’s an ethical position, not a religious one. What distinction do you think that you’re drawing? If we’re talking about people who don’t believe in God and the supernatural, then now you’re just kind of hand-waving away.
Josh: So do you think what’s happening for them is, they’re coming from a place where just instantly… arguments that are inherently based on theism are inherently anti-intellectual, are just based on blind leaps of faith, should have nothing to do with legislative policy. And so, and they think of themselves as being above all of that.
Monica: I don’t know what they think. I think they think…
Josh: And the pro-choice role view is the default if you’re not a theist.
They think pro-choice is neutral. They think pro-choice is “I don’t love abortion, I don’t hate abortion, and therefore I’m just not taking a position,” which is absurd because you have to take a position on the legality of it. You can’t not. Secondly, I think that they haven’t consciously thought about this a whole lot until I’m arguing with them, and I’m not even fully faulting them for this. If they’ve only ever heard hardcore Christians saying, life begins at conception, and then I say life begins at conception, and I don’t specifically say the first stage of the human organism’s life cycle is the zygote, then I get it, I get it. But they also haven’t got a clear idea at all about what distinctions they’re drawing between religion and morality and different secular philosophies, none of that. They can’t usually even explain to me why they think that I’m making a religious claim, except for that [pointing at Josh] you do it, and they were told on good authority that pro-life people are pushing their religion and pro-choice people are just trying to stay out of everyone’s business. And that’s as far as it goes. My point again being, I sympathize with the philosophers and I’ve told you my hesitation about philosophy, but when you watch that happening, you (think) “It would be so helpful if we just started with a shared basis of understanding here, but if we’re not going to, could you at least not arrogantly make a terrible argument?” Either make a terrible argument modestly or arrogantly make a good one. But for you to come in here and snidely tell me to stop pushing my religion and then be completely unable to articulate what you even mean by that, like pick a lane, you know what I’m saying?
Josh: So you pose a very interesting question in your outline. Should we prioritize our arguments more based on whether they are influential, emotionally compelling, logically sound, or other factors?
Monica: Right. What do you think?
Josh: So I will freely admit that people change their mind based on emotional factors more than they ought to.
Monica: And far more than on logically sound ones. Although people do change their mind on logically sound ones.
Josh: So this is where the pathos, logos, and ethos thing comes in. I think it is true that a good argument is going to have some of all three of those things.
Monica: Yes, it depends on what you mean by good. By good, you mean you get them to think what you want them to think, or by good, you mean it’s logically sound and it follows.
Josh: In this case, I meant persuasive, and that’s a fair question. A persuasive, rhetorician or something like that. Should have some of all three, but I am also biased against both rhetoric and stories or any other kind of like emotionally compelling thing because…
Monica: It’s easy to undo.
Josh: No, it is so easy to defend a bad worldview with emotionally compelling stories and good sounding rhetoric.
Monica: But also — and ERI has talked about this before — if you let them do what sounds compelling but isn’t logically sound, you still leave them vulnerable to when somebody else comes along and (says) “That is not even logically sound.” So there’s an equivalent for that with, for example, Christian parents raising Christian children — or it doesn’t have to be Christianity, it could be whatever you want — they try to keep them away from challenging arguments and just let them be emotionally compelled. That is a terrible strategy. The arguments are coming. You’re either prepared for them or you’re not. So that’s kind of a different question. What is most persuasive in the moment? Probably an emotionally compelling story. What’s going to keep them? What’s going to keep them with you if you’re right? It’s going to be whatever’s most logically sound. So it kind of depends on what you’re doing.
Josh: At least hopefully. So this is where of “poo poo” on the philosophy thing for you. I think Jonathan Haidt has a really good point when he talks about the idea of like all of us being on this elephant. We think that we are so logical and we’re purely logical beings and we’re not being affected by emotions. (But actually) no, you’re the driver on the elephant (and) you have a little bit of control but you have no idea how much more control the elephant has which is like your emotional center and stuff.
Monica: Right, I think about that a lot.
Josh: That drives me crazy.
Monica: Well, then if he’s right and your goal is to get more people to be pro-life, then the reality is that the emotionally compelling arguments are the more effective ones. I don’t know what that means for the morality of making them versus a logically sound argument. Well, ideally you do both.
Josh: It means that we need both and because so many of the other pro-life speakers and groups are spreading emotional arguments for being pro-life, and I think very few are doing good philosophy; even I think a lot of the apologists are sometimes doing bad philosophy. ERI was started based on what is missing from the movement combined with what are we good at and what could we actually feel? We can’t fill all the holes in the movement. We wanted to fill at least one. And one of those was (we) didn’t feel like there was a lot of great philosophy happening and we wanted to try to like get everyone in the pro-life movement, no matter how philosophical they are or not, up at least one rung on the intellectual ladder. Using fewer bad arguments, more good arguments, and more persuasive arguments, but only true and persuasive arguments.
Monica: Of course, of course, yes. That makes sense to me.
Josh: So I’m not doing a lot of emotional story stuff when I’m talking to a pro-choice person or training pro-lifers in arguments. Maybe there’s an imbalance there. Just because if they’re going to end up overvaluing one of them, they’re probably going to overvalue the story thing because it’s sort of the way that we all operate, whether we like it or not.
Monica: Well, we can just conceptualize an individual story. We can wrap our head around it better.
Monica: You might’ve been the one who told me this. I actually can’t remember, but there was basically a campaign where they’re trying to… they’re trying to raise money because of world hunger. They have three sets of stories.
Josh: I did tell you about this.
Monica: Yeah, so you go ahead, you tell it.
Josh: Yeah, so they were testing the effects of visual ads on trying to get people to donate to feeding needy kids and they and they had it was like one version focus on one kid. I might be getting the details a little bit wrong, but functionally speaking… No, it was it was deforestation. You’re right. I’m sorry. There’s deforestation. And there was a positive ad versus a negative ad. The positive ad was all about the beauty of forests that have not been deforested or whatever. Then there was a negative ad that was (showing) “Look at all these barren trees, it’s super ugly, look at this thing!” The negative ad was more compelling.
Monica: I did not know that and that’s not what I was thinking.
Josh: Oh, okay, what were you thinking about?
Monica: The one I heard was about world hunger and they had a story of a specific child that, if you give this much money, she gets this food for this many days. Then they had statistics about how many children are going hungry in Africa.
Josh: I told you this one.
Monica: Yes, and what they found was the single story got more money.
Josh: By far.
Monica: And the statistics got less. And if you combine them, you sell the story and back it up with the statistics, still got less than the single story, because people hear the statistics and first of all, it’s impersonal, they don’t connect. Also, it feels overwhelming. If you’re (thinking) “Why am I going to give you five bucks if it’s not going to make any difference at all?” So the people trying to raise money for world hunger, they’re not sitting there thinking “okay, but statistics…” Realistically and logically, they’re just going to tell you the single story. Are they wrong? It’s a true story.
Josh: No, but to be fair, no one thinks that there’s… there’s not a moral debate there either. Everyone knows it’s wrong for kids to be starving in a village in Africa.
Monica: Sure, of course.
Josh: It’s all a question of how much money are you going to give or whatever.
Monica: I don’t see how that negates what we’re talking about though, because my analog would be… It would be like telling the story of a mother — and these are true stories, this happens a lot — of a woman who was pro-choice, and then she had an (un)wanted pregnancy, and she went in for the ultrasound, and she saw the heartbeat, and it changed her life, and now she can’t bring herself to support abortion because she cares about her child, and so on and so forth. That’s the story, okay? Then you could have like statistics about… statistics is not the right word, but facts about when the heartbeat begins and all this stuff, and maybe that’s not as persuasive. And then you can have both. So (I can have) fetal development information that I give you that’s all true, or I can have this one story of this one woman who felt this one way, right? If that story is more compelling and inspirational to people than the fetal development info, and they’re both true in the sense that I’m not lying, but logically, that one story… so she felt that way. Okay, not everybody does.
Josh: Right. My suspicion, and I think we got to be careful about what we are taking from the hunger story, is that the hunger story I can’t imagine would be very compelling to very many pro-choice people who disagree. Because they have a bunch of their own stories of women saying abortion was the best thing that ever happened. Right, and that’s the difference with the hunger thing (there are) no stories about how great it is to starve.
Monica: Right, no one’s doing that.
Josh: So there’s this war of anecdotes thing that is happening a lot of times.
Monica: War of anecdotes, yes.
Josh: None of them prove much of anything, and so the question for me is… what is actually persuading pro-choice people to be pro-life I think is different than what is persuading people to give to world hunger.
Monica: Yeah, you’re right. I see what you’re saying.
Josh: Something like that. But I do think it is true that some people are more moved by certain kinds of stories. I don’t think that story, but more compelling versions of stories; stories of abortion survivors, stories of women talking about how wrecked they were after their abortion. There are these things I know that are for some people compelling, which means I don’t want it to be removed from the pro-life movement. I think that stuff needs to happen too. I do think that generally speaking, we, and so this might be my own bias, I feel like we overvalue that stuff. The fact that most pro-life speakers are there to tell a personal story.
Monica: Do you mean overvalue it in the sense that it doesn’t work as well as we think or in the sense that everyone’s kind of already heard it? What do you mean?
Josh: Probably at least the first thing. I think there are too many people who are not going to change their mind just because they heard a pro-life person tell a story. There are pro-choice people that are waiting to hear a good response to the violinist and feel like they haven’t yet, or they feel like the ones that they’ve heard are inherently religious, because some of the pro-life responses are kind of inherently religious, or at least inherently teleological. Intelligent design based or whatever.
Monica: For the violinist? Okay, we could talk about that later.
Josh: Yeah, we could talk about that. When I do [inaudible], we talk to them (saying) “Here are some not very effective responses”, and some of them are inherently religious that are going on. And so, they might have only heard that, and so then I want to come and I want to try to provide the thing that they haven’t heard before, that for some segment of the population, and probably too small of a segment – I want it to be everyone…
Monica: Well, it’s also a cumulative effect. This is what we’re saying. It could be a cumulative effect. You could have people that are, again, making this up, pro-choice and they see a specific story about a woman who really suffered after her abortion. It doesn’t convince them that abortion should be illegal, it just makes them feel less gung-ho about it, and that’s one effect. Then you give them the actual arguments about why it should be illegal in general, but maybe they were emotionally primed for you.
Josh: Yes. I think that totally happens. I think almost anyone who changes their mind about anything is because of a whole bunch of factors; a long sequence of events. That’s been true of the things that I’ve changed my mind on. I don’t change my mind typically in one day. It’s going to happen over a period of time.
Monica: Sometimes you don’t even notice it has happened. No joke. Sometimes you suddenly realize a couple of years later: “You know what? I don’t think I do feel that way anymore.”
Josh: “I actually don’t fit in that label anymore that I used to put myself in, now I’m actually this other thing that you kind of moved.” My friend Jonalyn Fincher said that people change their minds slowly, the way water slowly changes the contours of a rock. I love like that. That, I think, is typically true. So a lot of people are more persuaded by the fact that it’s their best friend that they respect the most making whichever side’s arguments.
Monica: Yes, that is true.
Josh: Yes, which is problematic.
Monica: Sometimes it’s not even making an argument. Sometimes it’s just saying, “I don’t agree.”
Josh: Sometimes, and this is crazy, every time I quote this… but I know that there was a study that came out not that long ago that said that a lot of people base their positions on a lot of the political issues based on what political party they joined first.
Monica: I’m not surprised at all. So that’s the elephant!
Josh: That’s crazy!
Monica: That’s not crazy at all! It’s totally understandable. And by the way, anyone who has lived in a geography and social situation where they are the only person who holds their political view on a given topic or on a whole bunch of topics, you recognize how much tension it takes to continue holding those views in light of everyone you’re around, even though all the logic of it, all of the arguments have not changed. But it’s exhausting, and that takes a toll on you.
Josh: But if they’re basing it even before they’re hearing from their other, let’s say, Democratic friends.
Monica: That also doesn’t surprise me though, because let’s say for example, you have three topics you’ve studied a lot in politics and you’ve come down on, in this case, the Democratic side. Whatever, it doesn’t matter what they are. You’ve studied them a lot, you’ve looked at what the different politicians have said and what your friends who you trust have said, and you have found yourself to genuinely be in agreement on these three topics, and you don’t have time to study this fourth topic. What’s your shortcut going to be? If you have to vote, you don’t have to vote, but you don’t have to be voting. If you have to start feeling a certain way vaguely in your social circles about the topic fourth, and you don’t have time to research it, you’re going to trust the people you’ve already checked in with on the other things. Or you may have never researched any political topic, but you know that your dad is a really smart guy who you generally respect and got along with, and he’s researched it a lot and you don’t really even know people who disagree with you except for how you see them on the news. You don’t have time to research it or you don’t have the interest. Of course you’re going to generally think that you’re a Democrat and I don’t think it’s surprising at all. People don’t have infinite time and they don’t have infinite mental energy. It is not at all surprising to me that they will change.
What’s more interesting to me is that I have seen over the years, specific to pro-life atheists: pro-life atheists have to hold a lot of tension in their life. because if they’re activists, if they care enough about the pro-life issue to be active at all, there’s a lot of tension there, because atheists are overwhelmingly pro-choice, often not even in a nominal way, often in a very hardcore way. The pro-life movement is very, very Christian, and I don’t mean in a nominal way there either. So you have to put yourself in the position in one circle or the other of pushing against the tide the whole time. I have definitely seen, at least a couple of times, people I’m friends with who are pro-life atheists and over time they decide they’re not pro-life anymore. I might be misrepresenting them, but in the conversations I’ve had, it doesn’t sound like they had any new factual information about abortion. They didn’t want to deal with the pressure anymore. They’re just sick of it. They’re exhausted and maybe they even… and I think people really do convince themselves: “I was wrong before and this is correct.” I think that it’s amateur hour for people to (say) “well, if they really believed it, they wouldn’t change their mind.” Please. How many things in your life have you been pushing against your entire social circle the whole time? Some people do it, but there’s a reason it’s unusual. By the way, atheists should especially understand this, because atheists love to make the point of how many people happen to be the religion of the predominant religion of the country they grew up in, right? How many people do that? Oh, it just happens to be that that’s the right one, right? It’s the same thing with this. It’s the same thing.
So that’s why when sometimes people tell me I’m a pro-life woman because I just want the approval of other people and I (say) “I’m a pro-life atheist woman. I swear if I wanted approval, these things would not be in combination at all.”
Josh: So, tell me if you disagree with this. I think generally when I think about like how I would like society to be different…
Monica: Besides abortion being gone?
Josh: Right, just in general, when we think about like the way that we think and persuasion and all that. I basically think that most people have based their opinions on not very logical things. Sometimes it’s what their parents taught them.
Monica: Sometimes there’s no thought at all.
Josh: Or what their church thinks or whatever. There’s not a lot of thought that’s gone into it. I for sure believe that there are people who have changed their mind primarily because of a story probably of someone that they know, not being told by someone else. There’s a story of someone that they know. So that’s true. But I would like that to be less true. I would like people to be less directed by the elephant and for the elephant driver to gain more control and for them to be more thoughtful. When they hear a story that makes them think, maybe I should think that (they should consider) “OK, That is a compelling story and there might be things we can learn from this story.”
Monica: When you do what your organization is doing, and what we’re doing, where it’s “when they say this claim, here’s our response, you can consider it or not.” But there is there is something to be said in response besides just feeling convicted. I don’t know what else you could do. Can you really get rid of the elephant? Isn’t the whole point? Isn’t that human nature?
Josh: I don’t think we can get rid of the elephant. I would like people.
Monica: Jonathan Haidt is laughing at you right now.
Josh: He might be. But I think… this is my experience. My experience is that I am spending a lot of time now more than I did 10 years ago fighting against my elephant and trying to train my driver to have more control over my elephant. So I’m paying a lot of attention to cognitive biases, my own cognitive biases, and I’m intentionally spending part of my life – I can’t do it all the time because that’s too hard – but I spend some of my time listening to people like Sam Harris. So I’m trying to get outside of confirmation bias mode. I’m reading Reddit all the time. I’m reading pro-choice people and thinkers and things like that. Other topics too. I’ve changed my mind a lot of topics. I’m not saying I don’t have an elephant. I probably still have more elephant than even I think I do right now. But I feel like my driver is in more control than the average driver. So there is some…
Monica: Wiggle room.
Josh: There’s some room here where people, I think, can gain more control if they understand more about cognitive biases, if they figure out that they ought to be genuinely open-minded about almost everything that they think and there are things that people can do, and I think that people don’t usually do them, and I want them to all do them.
Monica: I think you’re pretty much doing everything you can on that front, at this point.
Monica: So back to the original question, I don’t think there’s a true answer to whether biology or philosophy is more persuasive. We agreed they’re both necessary, but I also think…
Josh: They’re both necessary.
Monica: You couldn’t separate them if you wanted to because I think that the biology, and not just biology, but other facts in general… like as a different example, I think that there are some subset of the population who are basing their stance on abortion, on tribalism and so the more that you break down the stereotypes about either side, the less likely they are to do that. It could be religious stereotypes. A big one that I like to point out is the gender stereotypes. Religion stereotypes are forgivable because there’s a strong correlation. Gender stereotypes, not so much. So when they try to report this narrative of men oppressing women, to the extent that people care about men oppressing women and believe that it’s true, it could affect which side they’re on. And that’s why the facts matter anyway. It’s not just philosophically, this shouldn’t be about… Philosophically, the answer would be, arguments don’t have gender, but I think on a factual level, or maybe you could say on an emotional level, it’s also, this isn’t even real. That’s not even a real thing.
Josh: Yeah, so there’s like, there are certain pro-life arguments that relate to that, that I think used to be more persuasive than they are now. We say a lot of times that I truth doesn’t change, but culture does. The way that Gen Z psychologically reacts to data is pretty different than Gen X and so part of what we’re trying to do here is track with what is working now. What is working with pro-choice college students right now and not what worked 10 years ago. One of the areas where I think that a major shift has happened is there are certain kinds of – I’m going to use the term more like cold philosophical arguments – that maybe should work in a vacuum, but don’t work as much anymore. So for example, when someone does the “Well, how many kids have you adopted? How many of these different things do you really care about children, that whole thing?” So there’s a cold philosophical response to some people’s teach; there’ll be something along the lines of “It doesn’t matter.” There’s a bunch of different version of how to say it, but in the end, that’s an ad hominem fallacy. It doesn’t matter.
Monica: I love it when you say a specific fallacy!
Josh: And I’m trying to teach people don’t do that.
Monica: We got people on Twitter just making up fallacies. Did I tell you that? Someone accused me of the appeal to health fallacy. I (responded) “Well, you’re appealing to the main of fallacies fallacy. What are we doing here?”
Josh: So I’m quoting other people who would use this phrase all day. I really try to not say name fallacies that loud. It doesn’t matter. I could be the most inconsistent pro-lifer in the world and hate all kids. I could be a an abortionist, (but) would it make my view of a fetal person wrong.
Monica: Super persuasive.
Josh: It is technically, philosophically true, but for Gen Z, I think in general, when they hear someone say that, they roll their eyes and they walk away.
Monica: So what’s the warm philosophical argument?
Josh: There has to be a combination of that as well as… I think you do a lot of times, sadly, need to give them some evidence that you actually care about more than fetuses.
Monica: What if instead of saying, it doesn’t matter, that’s an ad hominem fallacy, you (just said) “I haven’t adopted any,” and then let them finish their thought.
Josh: You can do that, but I think they will probably say, so if you haven’t adopted any, then that’s evidence that you don’t actually care about children, and what you’re actually trying to do is punish women for sex or something like that
Monica: But then you say “how many have you adopted?” And they’ll say “none,” (you then respond) “so you don’t care about children?” Just follow the line of thought. What do you mean? How many of you adopted? Worst case you could have is a person who has adopted. and they’ll (say) “Oh, I’ve adopted three.” That is so admirable. So is the idea that if I don’t care about children, then abortion is okay? What do you mean?
Josh: Yes, I think asking questions like that is fine. I think some people won’t listen long enough for you have gotten to that point.
Monica: See this is where I’m only doing it online. So if they don’t answer me it just hangs there.
Josh: As soon as you start asking questions back, this is either really effective or really not. It depends on the person
Monica: What’s funny is we got on TikTok this year. It’s been very good for us. I really enjoy it. Easily the most popular format is when I do what I call conversation style, where I am a pro choice person and then myself having a discussion.
Josh: Like Emily’s doing too right? Is this the same thing?
Monica: It’s similar. Mine is a lot more back and forth. Hers is a prompt and then she… and then also she has for the pro-life audience “one, say this, two, do that.” And mine’s (saying) “what do you mean?” Mine’s lower effort. I do sincerely try. In fact, there have been some that I’ve started writing scripts for and had to pause because I realized I did not know with great confidence what a pro-choice person might say. And obviously, pro-choice is not a monolith, but I’m just saying, when I write them, I try to write them sincerely putting what I think, or what pro-choice people have literally said to me, or what I really think they probably would.
Josh: You’re not trying to write a super dumb pro-choice person that’s easy to… [makes a sweeping hand motion]
Monica: Well, some of the arguments are super dumb, but they really are saying them, and some of them aren’t. I do try to put what people are actually saying or what I reasonably think they would. There was at least one where I was writing it and then I realized I was stuck because I really genuinely was not sure what the pro-choice person would say in response. So what did I do then? Then I go to Twitter. That’s my R&D. I just go on Twitter (and ask) “Why do you guys blah, blah, blah, blah?” Then 90 people tell me to shut up and 10 people (say) “It’s because of this.” Then I write the thing. No matter what you do, people will say “nobody says that,” but they do. I think I’m trying to write in a way that when pro-choice people watch my stuff, they do see themselves in it. Not just some offensive stereotype, but (a recognition) “that is what I’d say.” Then it gives me an opportunity to respond without having to wait for them to genuinely let me get that far, right? The point is, in those conversation style TikToks, very frequently, what I will write out is the pro-choice person will say something and I’ll be (say) “what do you mean?” Then they’ll clarify and elaborate. I hope in in-person conversations, that’s very useful. I’m trying to also teach the pro-lifers watching it. If you’re having these in-person conversations, before you’d just be reactive, asking “what do you mean? elaborate on that, what do you mean?” But the thing is, to your point, online, it works sometimes, but I had one where someone (said) “the fetus isn’t a human,” and I (responded) “what do you mean?” They responded “You know perfectly well what I mean, it’s clear as day, stop with the bad faith question.” I (thought) “I’m not going to make that one into a TikTok, it’s not that helpful.
Josh: Right, and because what you want to say is “Okay, I wish that were that simple, but unfortunately, sometimes when people say human, they mean this.”
Monica: See, this is where we’re different, because what I say is “Is that your way of saying you don’t know what you mean?” And then it doesn’t get better.
Josh: Yeah, I wouldn’t do that. I feel like that level of snark is not going to be that persuasive, but it might be super persuasive to everyone else watching.
Monica: Oh, it’s not persuasive to the person I’m talking to, but they’ve already lost me. They’ve lost me. You came to my channel, okay? I didn’t ask you to come here.
Josh: You came to my house!
Monica: This is… Get off my lawn, alright? You come over here, I say, “what do you mean,” and you yell at me, and now you’re not going to be persuaded by me? I’m not persuaded by you, okay? I’m the one that’s going to be fighting against abortion for the rest of my life. If you want me to stop, you’re going to have to be more persuasive than “don’t ask me questions!” I’ll just keep going then. Shall I just keep going? That’s actually a huge difference between us, because a lot of times I’m not even thinking… This is not recommending me, okay? I understand that. But a lot of times I’m not thinking “how can I persuade them?” I’m thinking “they have not persuaded me. I’m not persuaded.”
Josh: That never runs through my mind.
Monica: They want us to stop. We are working very, very hard to change people’s minds, to oppose abortion and they want us to stop doing that. So they want us to stop doing that. They have to be persuasive and to be fair, I could think of at least one pro-choice person on Facebook and at least one on Twitter who I have found… They haven’t changed their mind on abortion, but I respect them, and when they talk, I’m (thinking) “oh, what did they say?” I’m interested.
Josh: They’ve got this credibility with you.
Monica: It’s unusual, but they’re very chill. They cite a lot of sources.
Josh: I’m sure you as a pro-lifer have that with a bunch of pro-choice people who (think) “I will listen to Monica or Secular Pro-Life, but not very many other pro-lifers.”
Monica: That’s a nice thought. I don’t know who they might be. I’ve even told them, one of them on Twitter: “Listen, if I don’t respond to you, it’s not because I’m not interested, I’m super interested. Sometimes I don’t see everything, I just want you to know, you are super interesting, and I appreciate that you cite your sources, and it makes me much more likely to read what you have to say.” I don’t agree with a lot of what she says, but at least she’s making a case. I think it’s she. I don’t actually know if it’s she. I just assume it’s she. But anyway, I’ll have to say, we do want to be persuasive. Of course we do. I want to be persuasive too. But also, this is a two-way street, because as far as I can tell – I can’t predict the future – I’m never going to stop.
I’ve had people, especially because we’re atheist – stick with us a long time and try to argue with us. We had one guy on Facebook for a while who actually…at first I thought he was a troll, and then I came around him a little bit more because sometimes he made some interesting points and sometimes he would engage me in good faith. After a while, he kept talking about how the pro-life movement is going to dissipate, and in a couple generations it won’t exist anymore for all these different demographic reasons. I kept (arguing) “I don’t really think so for these reasons,” and he didn’t agree. It’s fine. After a while I (told him) this is a serious question, I’m not trying to be sarcastic. “If you really think that we’re all going to just evaporate, why are you here? You spend a lot of time on my page, trying to argue with us. For real, if I believe that the pro-choice movement was, if it’s on a chord, just going to go away, I wouldn’t feel the need to do this. , why are you here if you really believe that? It doesn’t make any sense.” He said that he believes he can persuade me, because we’re both atheists, and he thinks that he can reason with me, unlike the Christians, and he wants me to… and he was totally sincere. He was not… I am not making fun of him. He (said) “I want you to see the harm of what you’re doing. I want you to see the better way. I want you to come to my side.” It was actually quite flattering, I thought. But I told him “listen, I actually do appreciate your motivation here, but unless you can convince me that the fetus is not a valuable human being – and you have not convinced me of that – everything else you’re talking about is not going to matter to me, just to be clear.” Unfortunately he has seemed to have stopped commenting even though he was useful. I’m saying it’s a two way street. They care about persuading us -I mean a lot of people on the internet really, really don’t – but some of them do. Somebody asked us “I understand that you personally, as a woman, would not get an abortion, but what I don’t understand is why you don’t even want to have the legal option in case you need it, why not?” They’re sincere. They’re just not realizing the unsaid.
Josh: They really don’t understand why you’re against [inaudible]
Monica: No, it’s so common, I don’t even notice anymore. I put this on Twitter recently, I think yesterday, where I said that question, I said, “pro-choice person says this.” Then I say “Okay, imagine just for a second that we are talking about born children and tell me how that sounds” Then on Twitter – the beginning of every bad story – there were all of these responses that were (saying) “but they’re not born, but they’re not… See, the keywords are imagined and born because all your arguments are imaginary.” I (respond) “Do you guys know what an analogy is?” So that was the main response. The main response was “they’re not born, and you can’t tell the difference, obviously, and also I hate you or whatever.” But the other response, and this I feel like is more, more what I’m trying to get at, is they’ll say “but I don’t consider them the same.” (I say) “I know, you asked me what I thought. You asked me why I think what I think, and then you were shocked that I don’t think what you think? You get that we are not on the same side of this issue. You came to me and you said, why do you think this? And I said, for these reasons. You were like, I don’t think those reasons. Okay, then leave.”
Remember that time, like a decade ago, I did a podcast on the friendly atheist podcast. He was friendly. He was really nice. And he had a co-host. Not as nice. She was all right. But at one point they asked me “why doesn’t the pro-life movement just focus on education and support? Why does it have to be about the law? Why can’t you just help people who don’t want to do this and educate them?” I (said) “okay, imagine in some dystopian other world, we’re talking about two-year-olds and not infants. Would you really be okay if there’s like a million two-year-olds being brutally killed every year and people are like, “can’t you just educate people on why that’s like a bad thing? Why do you have to make it illegal?” What would you say?” The co-host (said) “I don’t give a s***, okay? That’s not what’s happening.” I just laughed. I said “Okay, well, I’m not telling you what you think. You asked me what they think. Why are you mad?”
Josh: That’s so weird.
Monica: “Do you get that they don’t think what you think? Should… Do you guys know that is happening?” They have drunk their own Kool-Aid. They genuinely believe that most people against abortion are not in this because it’s a human rights issue. It’s because of some frankly grossly implausible theory about how we hate women or sex or we’re trying to let Christo-fascists take over the nation. If you thought about it for two seconds, there is no way people would do this very unpopular stance. And not just that it’s socially unpopular, because you could live in a suburb of Missouri where a lot of people pro-life and it’s fine. But our stance entails impacts on your sexual decisions and on your social life that are unfun. Yeah. Okay?
Josh: Yeah. Very unfun.
Monica: Very unfun! There is no reason that any warm-blooded mammal person would take this philosophy that has so many negative impacts, culturally and socially and sexually, just because we really don’t want you to have sex.
Josh: There are no atheist pro-lifers for fun.
Monica: Not just atheists, in general! The fact that you so want to believe that it’s not about valuable human life. You so want to believe that you’re instead believing what our are highly improbable theories.
Josh: Going back to the elephant driver thing, I think that’s an example of where echo chambers untrain your driver to be effective. It’s making… it’s not the same thing as the elephant, but it’s making your driver incompetent.
Monica: Because you don’t have to think critically.
Josh: Right. You’re not thinking critically.
Monica: You don’t have to even. You don’t have to notice that the stereotypes you believe are stereotypes because who’s going to tell you otherwise?
Josh: So here’s the final lesson that I would want to… if I were to wrap up and summarize like one final thing to say, here’s what it would be. Mainly pro-life people are listening to this podcast.
Monica: Although to those of you who are pro-choice, kudos for making it this far. Appreciate you.
Josh: Absolutely. I love having you here, you are so welcome. A lot of times pro-lifers listen to conversation like this. At either a subconscious or a conscious level, they think “yeah, all those pro-choice people with their cognitive biases, man, too bad for them. This is immoral stuff”
Monica: If that’s what you’re getting, guys, you’re not listening.
Josh: “They’re being so much dumber than me.”
Monica: No, we are not saying pro-choice people have them and pro-life people don’t. We’re saying I don’t have them. No, I’m just kidding. Right, yeah, exactly.
Josh: You’re the one! I already knew you were the only one without cognitive biases.
Monica: Not what we’re saying Everybody knows that. Everybody knows that, right?
Josh: So I just, please, I’m begging you, pro-lifers, understand that if I am saying I have a ton of cognitive biases and more than I am aware of right now, even though I am actively trying not to, every day, then you probably do too.
Monica: But what are they supposed to do with that information, Josh?
Josh: They are supposed to go learn about cognitive biases. Try to learn how to be more open-minded. Get outside of your echo chamber. Don’t only listen to Ben Shapiro and Candice Owens. Don’t only listen to MSNBC. Don’t only listen to one side. Try to listen to smart people on both sides of an issue before you decide. Don’t pick the topic based on what political party you’re in. Like, I might be wrong about a bunch of the political or moral issue beliefs that I have right now. But I will tell you, the fact that they are spread out across a lot of political party lines, at least as a point in favor of maybe I am… trying.
Monica: Yeah, every now and then I’ll have a status that gets liked by people on different ends of the political spectrum, and I’ll be like “oh, that must have been either a really good one or a really bad one, I don’t know…”
Josh: The irony… people would be shocked to find out that I have a lot of views that are way more liberal than you do.
Monica: Than me? You probably do.
Josh: That is not the way that people would think. I don’t want to just help pro-choice people to think better. I don’t want to only help pro-life people think better. I want everyone to be thinking better and I know that there are limitations. I know that there are more limitations than we will be able to totally control. But I think that we have some level of control that I think few people are fully exercising. Imagine a world where we all had more control over this elephant. I think things would be better.
Monica: We don’t have time for my next thought. That’s unfortunate, because I do think that, and I haven’t fully thought this out yet, that if you could just be purely rational with basically no emotional biases, I don’t think the world would be better. I don’t. That’s where you get people that are basically saying “yeah, I guess infanticide is okay. I don’t know, I can’t think of a logical reason why I wouldn’t be.” Then they just leave it at that.
Josh: So I would like to think that… if people were truly way more logical than emotional, I don’t think very many people would be defending infanticide.
Monica: You think that’s actually an emotional reaction?
Monica: I can see that. Or you just don’t want to be wrong? Okay, but for Peter Singer?
Josh: No, for people like Peter Singer, who I have a lot of respect for, he is being intellectually honest and consistent.
Monica: That’s what I’m saying.
Josh: But I don’t think there are very many Peter Singers.
Monica: Okay, but I think people like Peter Singer… there are like constant proportions of your rational approach and your emotional intuition, for lack of a better word. I do think if you do too high a rational and too low of emotional, you get Peter Singer’s philosophy.
Josh: So I think that’s true. I think there are people who, if they go too logical, if their logic is based on a faulty worldview and they don’t have an emotional component to them – more like conscious driving them -then you can end up with Nazis. You can end up with really, really, really bad things. What I’m saying is that if people were more logical than they generally are and decided things less based on emotions and more based on logic, yet still were able to tap into the emotion so they can have a ton of empathy for people who are in worse positions than they are, and they were able to logically think about that and then (consider) “well, that means that I probably have more obligation to help people like that,” then they end up helping each other and you end up with a better person who is doing better things. I agree that you can be too much of one thing or the other thing. But on the logic thing, I think sometimes it’s going to be based on… I don’t want a strict utilitarian to be only logical because some really bad things can happen. Soemone who’s really into virtue ethics – like more coming from more of like an Aristotelian place – I’m not as worried about them being super illogical.
Monica: To be fair, on aggregate, people are way more likely to be too emotional than too logical anyway. All of us. All of us. So it’s not a huge risk at this stage.
Josh: So I’m just trying to shove people a little bit more into philosophy land because I’m not expecting there to be that many people who listen to ERI and then end up becoming, like, emotionless robots.
Monica: No. But I will say too, beyond just the advice to be aware of cognitive biases, for the abortion debate I think it’s really important to seek out strong pro-choice arguments and if you’re not sure how to respond to them, ask us.
Josh: That’s right. We have answers.
Monica: I don’t have answers to literally every single one, but I’d be happy to workshop it if I didn’t. The point is, don’t avoid them. Figure out what they are, figure out if they challenge you and the better you understand, the better you can answer them anyway.
Josh: We shouldn’t be afraid of the truth. There should be no fear about thinking about what other smart people on the other side think, because if in the end they’re wrong, then they’re not going to convince you.
Monica: And if they’re right, then they’re right.
Josh: Right, and you should be right then too, and be willing to change your view.
Monica: Yeah, that’s tough because…
Josh: It is very, very tough. I agree, I am fighting, swimming way against stream here. I understand that, and I know it’s a pipe dream, and I know that we’re never going to get all of society to be like this, but we could get some more.
Monica: Or really, on a practical level, here’s what you do if you’re listening, okay? Find strong pro-choice arguments, learn how to argue against them, and then come volunteer for me, because I need help putting my content out. Okay? That’s really what we’re talking about.
Josh: Come help Secular Pro-Life. Secular Pro-Life is amazing and needs more help.
Monica: We got plenty of opportunities for volunteers, ERI maybe also so if you really want to dig into it…
Josh: Let us know. Alright, so this has been a fun kind of conversation about the way that people tick.
Monica: A fun long conversation.
Josh: And us trying to figure out how to reconcile our sometimes different intuitions about how to do that.
Monica: Who is the rightful snob?
Josh: I don’t think there are rightful snobs. I don’t think people should be snobbish, but I am fine with people being able to have sort of an emotionless logical understanding of what they are good about.
Monica: Yes, fair. Very nuanced of you.