Bad Faith & the Futility of Discourse With Someone Uninterested in Facts

Anyone who has banged their head against the wall after arguing with someone of the alt-right persuasion or raged about President Trump’s latest trolling effort should give this quote from Jean-Paul Sartre a read. I saw this pop up on Reddit and thought he summarized the concept of bad faith used by racists and fascists so well and why argument with them is pointless: their position is not because of ignorance of the facts, it’s anti-rational response to them.

From “Anti-Semite and Jew” (p. 13):

Never believe that anti‐Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti‐Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.

It’s challenging to accept this reality–especially for those of us who enjoying engaging ideas that are different from our own.  We believe that if we could only make those stuck in the mindset understand the logical flaws of their arguments or the lies they’ve built them upon, they will come into the light.  We have to accept that maybe they are committed to a cause that has moved beyond reason–like religious fundamentalists.  They want the ends so badly, they’ll say and do anything to get there.

Let’s hope exposing them for what they are contains their ability to achieve those ends.

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