Forum — From the February 2018 issue

The Minds of Others

The art of persuasion in the age of Trump

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“Progress is impossible without change,” George Bernard Shaw wrote in 1944, “and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” But progress through persuasion has never seemed harder to achieve. Political segregation has made many Americans inaccessible, even unimaginable, to those on the other side of the partisan divide. On the rare occasions when we do come face-to-face, it is not clear what we could say to change each other’s minds or reach a worthwhile compromise. Psychological research has shown that humans often fail to process facts that conflict with our preexisting worldviews. The stakes are simply too high: our self-worth and identity are entangled with our beliefs — and with those who share them. The weakness of logic as a tool of persuasion, combined with the urgency of the political moment, can be paralyzing.

Yet we know that people do change their minds. We are constantly molded by our environment and our culture, by the events of the world, by the gossip we hear and the books we read. In the essays that follow, seven writers explore the ways that persuasion operates in our lives, from the intimate to the far-reaching. Some consider the ethics and mechanics of persuasion itself — in religion, politics, and foreign policy — and others turn their attention to the channels through which it acts, such as music, protest, and technology. How, they ask, can we persuade others to join our cause or see things the way we do? And when it comes to our own openness to change, how do we decide when to compromise and when to resist?


Hanif Abdurraqib lives in Columbus, Ohio. His first collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, was published last year by Two Dollar Radio.

David Bromwich is the Sterling Professor of English at Yale University. His most recent essay for Harper’s Magazine, “What Went Wrong,” appeared in the June 2015 issue.

Kelly Clancy is a neuroscientist and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Basel, Switzerland.

Garth Greenwell’s debut novel, What Belongs to You, was published in 2016 by Picador. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa.

Laila Lalami is a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside. Her most recent novel is The Moor’s Account (Pantheon).

T. M. Luhrmann is the Watkins University Professor of Anthropology at Stanford. Her article “Blinded by the Right?” appeared in the April 2013 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

Mychal Denzel Smith’s memoir, Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, was published in 2016 by Nation Books.

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October 2019


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