Rebirth of Reason

Find the Common Ground
by Joseph Rowlands

Most bad ideas have some element of truth to them that makes them appealing. Altruism, for instance, holds other people as a source of value. There's no denying that other people can be of value, and an enormous one at that. They provide friendships, kindness, visibility, emotional support, love, humor, and companionship, to name just a few benefits. The problem with altruism is that it ignores these benefits and demands that you value people regardless of whether they benefit your or not.

There aren't many people who will defend a belief if they have no reason to accept it. So when you encounter someone who you think is wrong, or is accepting a false idea, the first question you should ask yourself is why they would accept that idea. What is the element of truth they are actually supporting. In this way, you can see where they're coming from, and maybe why they are mistaken. In the case of altruism, you can point out that yes, people are of value. You can confirm that they like people for specific reasons. Then you just need to point out that they're valuable only when these reasons hold.

So before ripping into someone for saying something that is false, try to figure out what you have in common first. If you can grasp the nature of their mistake, you'll have a chance to show them that it is a mistake. If you ignore why they accept it, you'll never address the real issue. You might be able to show that altruism leads to a terrible life, but that's not the basis of their acceptance of it. And unless you confront the underlying issue, they'll never be able to accept what you have to say.

This is especially true among Objectivists. If you find someone you disagree with, try to understand why they are taking their position. Often it's just a matter of context. You may be discussing two entirely different contexts, and just talking past one another. By understanding why they've accepted their position, you can determine the bounds of their argument.

This also has the added advantage that both sides can come to an understanding without a winner and a loser. By accepting and acknowledging that they are right in some context, you create a win/win situation. There is no requirement for one side to back down and acknowledge defeat, so both can end the conversation on a positive note. And if your goal is to convince, that's an important first step.