The too-easy art of convincing

I went to law school. They told, or threatened,, us that we would begin to think like lawyers. So we did. 

Sometimes when I get annoyed with people who think wrong (like conspiracy nuts, or people who aren’t conversing with me the way I wish they would) I just wish they would think more like lawyers, which is to say, narrow the focus down to a linear progression: issue, rule, application, conclusion. One issue at a time, if you please! Make sure you’re citing the right rule! Apply that rule to the agreed facts! Great, now here comes your conclusion, like pasta out of an extruder! Hark!

It sure makes things orderly. 

Of course, the real world doesn’t work like this, with many consequences, one of which is that it’s very hard for lawyers and non-lawyers to converse without each party becoming very frustrated with the other, and a million lawyer jokes were born. (Ever notice that there aren’t jokes by lawyers about non-lawyers? We’re a saintly bunch). 

But why does this dance of convincing more or less work in courts of law, I ask myself? Why can people with opposing interests, with vastly opposite opinions and beliefs, still discuss things in an orderly way and get a conclusion, even if it’s not the one they wanted?

It’s not because lawyers are more decent than the rest of you. It’s because law has scraped away all the hard parts. When you’re talking law, you’re hemming yourself in to the inside of a framework with clear rules. Arcane, but clear! If you deviate from the framework, meaningful punishments can be applied.

Law is the too-easy art of convincing people of something from within the helpful confines of an agreed framework. The framework does the work for you—which is why it’s frame*work*. This is why laws are good.

But how to persuade cross-framework? And how to persuade people when they reject frameworks altogether? That’s where the real work begins. 

In the chaos of the real world, people can and do throw the rules and the frameworks out when they no longer suit. We can’t force them to put the guardrails back on. We can only ask them nicely, but that does very little good when people believe the guardrails have failed them.

Or when they believe the guardrails are the doing of a satanic cabal. 

Still, I don’t see any way for a society to function without guardrails. Any version of a future in which we can disagree well will need good guardrails. But who will make them, and what will they be?

Hopefully I’ll find out by the time I write my next post.

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