An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. – Eric Hoffer
I often get questions from readers asking if I’d like to school some ignoramus who has written a prohibitionist screed packed with disinformation, either in the news media or on a blog. When I first started activism four years ago, I nearly always said “yes”; it was a chance to be heard by people who didn’t yet know me, and to draw more attention to this blog. But as I explained in “Something Has To Give”, I just don’t have time for that kind of unpaid work any longer; from my point of view I can spend my afternoon writing a blog post that will be read by many thousands, or a commissioned article that may be read by tens of thousands, or a futile attempt to convert a true believer that will be read by dozens (hundreds at best) of other true believers. And I’m much too pragmatic a woman to choose the latter when the first two options are so much more sensible. Lest you think this is a recent decision on my part, allow me to quote a two-year-old column:
For any given issue there are three positions: Those who are strongly for it, those who are strongly against it, and those who don’t have a strong opinion either way. And no matter what fanatics and demagogues may tell you, the third is nearly always the largest group on any issue. When trying to sway public opinion, therefore, the wise writer or speaker targets that middle group, the “silent majority”. It’s silly to waste energy in trying to convince those who are already convinced (“preaching to the choir”), and pointless to argue with those who are dogmatically committed to the opposite view (one can’t reason a person out of a position he didn’t reason himself into). But the members of that third group, if they can be won, will decide the way the wheel turns. They are the ones who took it for granted that black and white people couldn’t live together peacefully, but now abhor racism; they’re the ones who accepted the claim that homosexuals were perverts, yet now agree with equal conviction that they shouldn’t be mistreated. And they’re the ones that in the United States believe that whores are pathetic losers, degraded victims or depraved criminals, but in most other Western nations disagree with that notion. They’re the ones the “trafficking” fetishists have drawn into their moral panic, and the ones who will drop that panic like yesterday’s fad once the majority recognize it as a lie.
The problem with debating true believers is succinctly explained in today’s epigram; Jefferson covered the same ground with, “Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.” Consider creationists, for example; they live in a society where the soundness of the scientific method is evident every single waking moment of the day, and where there is a mass of biological and geological information at their fingertips. Debunkings of every single creationist talking point are a mouse-click away, and creationists are exposed in passing to evidence supporting the great age of the Earth at least a couple of times per week. But does any of it have any effect? Not on your life, because it’s impossible to force something into a space that’s already occupied by something else. The mind of a true believer is not empty; it is so stuffed with the reality-denying rubbish of his belief system that there is no room for facts, at least in those areas occupied by his beliefs.
Anti-sex beliefs are not mere ignorance; they are religious beliefs like any other, accepted on faith and requiring the denial of all information to the contrary. There is never any profit in attempting to engage such a person on her own ground; it’s merely a waste of time and energy that could be better employed elsewhere, such as in speaking to people whose minds are not already closed. That’s what I do in my writing, both on-blog and off; it’s also what I did a few weeks ago in guest-teaching two sections of a human sexuality class at Oklahoma State University. It’s possible that some people who come to my blog, many who encounter my articles on mainstream sites and a few of the students I spoke to in person remain unconvinced or even shut their minds to my information, but the majority don’t. Even debating a prohibitionist in a public venue can be productive, as long as one is reasonably certain that a sizeable fraction of the audience are receptive to fact and reason. But when one argues with a “true believer”, either alone or surrounded by other “true believers”, one might as well be arguing with a dumpster.