Phone Sex (?)
I was once part of a focus group whose aim was to explore consumer attitudes towards a certain telephone service provider. This was in the early 1990's, when land lines were still the norm and the only 'mobile' phones available were bulky plastic bricks with buttons and an antenna. What the organizers specifically wanted to know, though, was not what style of phones we preferred, but rather how we would respond to being informed that the provider in question 'cared' about us as individual people. Was it important, in other words, that in their interactions with us the telephone company expressed concern with our feelings?
There were about fifteen of us, a real 'cross-section' of humanity as far as I could tell, gathered around an elliptical conference table when the organizers posed the question. Of the fifteen, I was the only one to immediately and audibly snicker at the absurdity of the suggestion. This was an instinctual response. A lifelong aversion to manipulative advertising had been awakened. The sub-text, i.e. a primary concern with corporate image and its effect on the bottom line, as always, rankled and amused me. So I snorted.
If this mildly undignified behavior met with any disapproval from the cohort, I can't recall, but I do remember listening with incredulity at the gravity with which my fellow table-sitters were treating this asinine proposal. They seemed sincerely concerned with 'helping' the 'researchers' resolve this 'important' issue. My twenty-something self was full of harsh (internal) judgment about the naivete of this group, most of whom were well into their adult years, and I couldn't wait until it was my turn in the round robin to 'speak truth to power'.
This I did, beginning with a comment on the laughable notion that my life was incomplete without the warm emotional embrace of AT&T, or any other utility for that matter -Why didn't they love me?? I moved on to a broad condemnation of the many evils of advertising, and concluded with a judgmental summary statement about the transparent desire of a corporation to increase its profits through a simulation of compassion and benevolence. Self-satisfied and high on adrenaline, I then missed entirely the comments of those who followed.
In my memory, the post-round table climate was cordial but somewhat chilly, though I'm surely self-importantly re-imagining the situation. In any case, when the proceedings finally came to a close, I grabbed my free bottled water, said goodbye to the friend who had invited me, and got the hell out of corporate Dodge. Feeling I had scored a small victory against capitalist mind control by openly refusing to 'normalize' such garbage, I triumphantly rushed home to describe to my girlfriend the details of my moral 'conquest', a giddy, petulant mist swirling round my head.
Milgram and Asch: Obedience and Conformity
While not exactly a faithful reproduction of Stanley Milgram's famous obedience experiment, a parallel between it and my focus group does exist. Though the 'researchers' in my 'experiment' were not lab-coated scientists, they were something that was then, and still is today, very similar in terms of societal esteem: business-suited, power-skirted 'professionals'.
The attire and bearing of our proctors conveyed a certain authority grounded in post-secondary education and some form of specialized licensing or certification. Worldliness was implied, and work that involved regular interstate or even international communication and travel was assumed. One also sensed that our hosts belonged to an economic strata that afforded exotic, extended vacations and late-model, high-end automobiles. These were successful, admirably ambitious people, in other words - who wouldn't want to impress them?
Where things differ, though, is in the focus and setting: Milgram's experiment only ever concentrated on two people: the 'teacher' and the 'learner', the latter of which was a confederate of the experimenters. So in reality, only the 'teacher' was actually under study, and what was of concern was his or her relationship to a single authority figure.
The focus group, on the other hand, was more similar in size to Solomon Asch's famous conformity experiment involving line judgment. In that study, all but one of the participants was a confederate, and it was the measurement of social or group influence on individual behavior and choice that was central. You might say that in Asch's experiment, the 'authority' was diffuse and generalized rather than individualized.
It turns out, though, that the pressure on Asch's 'target' to conform to that generalized authority was quite significant. Despite the fact that the claims made by the group flew in the face of observable 'reality' and likewise ran against what the non-confederate knew to be false, the 'target' frequently chose conformity to majority opinion over independent dissent.
At the time oblivious to these social psychology experiments, I nonetheless believed that my fellow focus group participants were being doubly-duped – first, by the well-dressed professionals orchestrating the event, and second by the unspoken majority consensus that, rather than open ridicule, the question at hand actually deserved a dignified and well-considered response. On that warm summer day some twenty-odd years ago, the findings from the social influence studies of Milgram and Asch (and others) were thus faithfully, though indirectly, replicated.
I bring both this incident and the social science info up neither to denounce the intransigence of mass gullibility nor to express pride in my non-conformity. Actually, when I reflect on my attitude and behavior at the time I feel rather stupid and even ashamed at my obnoxiousness. Of course, my actual performance on that day was probably nowhere near as dramatic or powerful as I remember it, but just the thought that I might have come off as 'superior' in that setting makes my ears burn and heart race with embarrassment. This retroactive shame, I think, is the real lesson from my focus group experience, and it is on this regrettable conduct and its relevance to the 'resistance' of the contemporary left that I want to dilate.
Slowly I Turned
If you're a Three Stooges fan, then you probably remember the 'Niagara Falls' skit, known more generally as 'Slowly I Turned'. In this vaudevillian gem, the innocent stranger Curly receives repeated eye pokes, head bonks, gut punches, and stranglings from Moe (initially, though Larry joins in later) after Curly has unwittingly invoked the trigger-phrase, 'Niagara Falls'.
On hearing those words, Moe loses all self-awareness and self-control and becomes a punishment robot, maniacally beating into submission the bewildered Curly. Only after Moe comes to his senses is Curly helped back to his feet and forgiveness begged. That is, of course, until Curly slips and accidentally utters 'Niagara Falls' again, sending Moe into another blind, assaultive rage.
The idea, of course, is that the phrase 'Niagara Falls' is associated in Moe's mind with a particularly painful and upsetting experience, one so traumatic that Moe is overtaken by irrationality and is psychologically incapable of preventing a recreation of the violence of the original incident. Curly, who is in no way 'deserving' of the punishment, nonetheless gets it, and the absurdity of the situation, along with the brilliance of the physical comedy, makes for some funny shit.
But that kind of knee-jerk, zero to insane, reaction is really only funny 'in the movies'. When it happens in real life, people can get hurt and wars can get started. Of course, Moe's actions were in no way 'justified', so his mistreatment of Curly is clearly 'wrong'. Yet how often have we seen, or have we ourselves even perpetrated, events or altercations in which the intensity of the reaction is difficult to justify.
What I am suggesting is that my little one man show in the focus group years ago, though in no way 'violent', was nonetheless a kind of 'Slowly I Turned' moment. While my conviction that most advertising is inherently 'evil' remains as steadfast as ever, when I look back I am certain that my smug 'schooling' of the 'benighted' created exactly zero converts to my way of thinking. In fact, it probably only served to entrench a more general openness and acceptance of manipulative advertising as totally 'normal' and unproblematic.
Triggered by the mere mention of a marketing campaign, I reacted by attempting to 'set shit straight' (getting into 'beast mode', in modern parlance) through talking 'down to' rather than 'with' those gathered. I knew I was right, after all, and was sure that the truth (as I saw it) needed to be heard.
More than likely, though, the only thing those around me were hearing and getting straight on was that I thought pretty highly of myself, that I was rigidly overconfident, and that there was thus no need to listen to me. I was doubtless under the sway of arrogant youthfulness, and such outbursts were in no way characteristic, but these explanations in the end provide no excuse. Put simply, I was being a dick.
And according to social psychologists, 'being a dick', is a surefire way for one holding a minority opinion to meet with censure and failure. Minority influence, or the “process by which dissenters produce change within a group” (Franzoi, 328), surprise, surprise, is a tricky business. While the clarity with which the minority sees the 'truth' may be crystalline, it turns out that arrogantly and steadfastly sharing that vision publicly will short-circuit the ability to produce the desired change. Yes, conviction and confidence in one's views is necessary, but so, too, is a willingness to openly engage with members of the majority.
This is often the most difficult task for members of a minority 'movement' to execute or accept, since they have often been driven to a defensive, embittered posture by the overt and covert persecution at the hands of the majority. The fact that members of the majority are generally bent on protecting the status quo, and thus predisposed towards 'tuning out' and/or immediately rejecting perceived or actual threats to the 'way things are', makes this element of minority influence that much harder.
Though certainly justified in their rancor towards the stonewalling and mistreatment perpetrated by the majority, however, in order for the non-conformist views of the minority to stand a chance at influencing the majority, they must be presented 'properly', i.e with a great deal of 'cool':
Although this research indicates that those sharing minority opinions must appear confident in consistently stating their views, other research indicates that minorities must walk a fine line in presenting their nonconforming opinions. They cannot appear dogmatic or rigid, for that will also reduce their influence (Nemeth et al., 1974). Therefore, for majority members to consider their perspective in the first place, the minority must come across as consistent and confident, but also flexible and open-minded (Franzoi 330, bold and italics added).
Anyone paying attention to the current political climate will recognize that many activist minority groups are strong on consistency and confidence but are often weak on flexibility and open-mindedness (just as is the majority, of course). This is most obvious in the battles over free speech, where mid to far left groups have instituted a 'no-platform' policy when it comes to speech deemed to be based in, to reflect, or to justify white male supremacy.
Yet while such strength of conviction and the courage to speak out that accompanies it is admirable, I have always felt that the rigidity of the 'no-platform', 'shouting down' approach was ill-advised and doomed to fail. Of course, time will tell, but it seems that the evidence from social psychological research does not favor the long-term success of such a strategy.
This point is emphasized and complicated by the fact that conditions in which minority influence might flourish are multiple rather than single factor:
Overall, minorities are most successful in exerting influence on the majority when arguing for positions that are not too far from the prevailing majority position, and when they show a consistent behavioral style that the majority interprets as indicating certainty and confidence. On the other hand, minority influence will surely fail if the minority group argues against evolving social norms and exhibits a rigid style of negotiation with inconsistently held beliefs (Franzoi 331, bold added).
As you can see, the battle for equity is already steeply uphill, as many of the demands of the left originate relatively far from the prevailing majority position. This is because they are usually grounded in what are called 'double minorities'. A double minority is someone who “differ(s) from the majority in terms of both belief and group membership” (Franzoi 330). Examples of double minorities would include a gay person advocating gay rights or an African American woman lobbying for reparations (she might even be a 'triple minority').
What studies show is that the 'degree of separation' between the minority and the majority is inversely related to the level of openness of the majority to the minority view. That is, a double minority (a gay person advocating gay rights) is more likely to seen by the majority as acting out of self-interest than is a single minority (a straight person advocating gay rights). A single minority would thus not be so readily dismissed by the majority as suspiciously self-serving as would the double minority. In other words, someone representing a single minority often stands a greater chance of influencing majority opinion than does a member of a double minority. Among other things, this points to the importance of single minority 'allies' in the fight for broader equity.
Given this heavily obstacled, 'stacked deck' nature of sociocultural norms, it seems to me that activism on the left, if it is to stand any chance of success, needs to reconsider its approach to resistance. Perhaps it needs its own version of the serenity prayer, the standard form of which begins,
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Now anyone initiating or participating in a minority resistance movement will by definition be in possession of the courage required to catalyze change. And such courage to go against the majority, especially when consistently expressed, is generally founded upon the certainty and confidence necessary for a minority opinion to potentially reach and sway that wider audience. When it comes to courage, in other words, most 'resistors' have been 'granted' it in spades.
When it comes to serenity and wisdom, however, it seems that more heartfelt appeals to the Creator may be in order. I don't mean to mock, but I do mean to express my own frustration with the lack of self-awareness as well as the disunity between certain champions of greater equity, especially 'single minority' liberals (allies) and the academic/far left. These problems, I suggest, arise on both 'sides' out of unrecognized distortions in serenity and wisdom .
In particular, 'single minority' liberals often are not wise to the intricacies of the intersectional web upon which the 'spider' of equity traverses. Too often, they are blind to their own complicity in perpetuating white male supremacy, either through exhibiting a too comfortable relationship with the capitalist 'latticework' on that web, or in having too great a faith in the tensile strength of the threads of 'truth and goodness' in that web's 'marketplace of ideas'. Some would say that liberal serenity on these matters is often so deep as to constitute a form of somnabulism.
An overly serene attitude, however, is usually no problem for the academic/far left. Indeed, it is just the opposite orientation that often stands in the way of their well-founded insights and ideas finding broader acceptance. Rarely in the dark about the systematic complexity and deep history of things like fascism and white supremacy, these 'freedom fighters' are not easily fooled by the tactics of the entrenched majority. They are likewise utterly convinced of the necessity of responding with matching firmness and a revolutionary fervor.
Their handicap, though, lies in a deficiency of both the wisdom and serenity to recognize and accept the dynamics of minority influence as discussed above. Where the liberals are often too open and flexible to be hardened into a 'by any means necessary' posture, the academic/far left are often too thickly rigid and dogmatic to penetrate the intellectual and emotional pores of the majority.
Either they are so attached to the superiority and infallibility of their well-supported intellectual positions that they simply 'shut down' anyone who would challenge them, or they physicalize their dogmatism by 'punching Nazis'. In either case, 'Slowly I Turned' reactions from this radical 'faction' inevitably stunt or even prevent progress on the positions they ultimately hope to universalize.
Social Impact: The Importance of Proximity
Having made these criticisms, I nonetheless don't mean to imply that the 'resistance' movement is a total failure. The old adage that there is 'strength in numbers' holds true, and in that sense the fact that so many on the liberal/left are moved to speak out is a good sign. However, just as the barriers to minority influence are high and demanding, so too are the obstacles that stand in the way of the success of any social movement.
Turning once again to social psychology, social impact theory argues that the “amount of influence others have in a given situation (their social impact) is a function of three factors: their number, strength, and immediacy” (Franzoi 346). Here we see that just as it is with minority influence, 'success' in influencing others depends on more than just one's conviction and courage, or a commitment to 'standing firm'.
To begin, social impact theory finds that the power to change or influence the attitudes or behavior of others is increased when more people express their support and allegiance with that desired change. As I said above, there is indeed strength in numbers.
But sheer size is not enough; for a movement to really have an impact it also needs a fair share of 'heavy hitters' on its side. This means that movement membership should include a good deal individuals holding some form or mixture of “status, expertise, and power” (Franzoi 347) if it is to achieve its aims.
Of course, these two components are commonsensical. Everybody knows this. But what many in the resistance movement either do not know or do not accept is that physical proximity and direct interaction with those one wishes to influence is just as important as having the 'numbers' and the 'strength'.
Indeed, studies have shown that “people who are physically closer and/or in regular direct contact with one another become more similar in their attitudes and beliefs than those separated by greater distances and infrequent contact” (Franoi 348). What this suggests is that regular, direct contact with 'the enemy' increases rather than decreases the likelihood of bringing about change. And from what we learned about minority influence above, successful change is further supported if that regular, direct contact is done with an attitude of openness and flexibility rather than rigid dogmatism. Of course, this easier said than done.
But doing it is not impossible. A shining example of this immediacy approach can be found in the 2016 movie Accidental Courtesy, which focuses on the musician Daryl Davis. Davis is a black man whose 'hobby' is to befriend members of the KKK and other white supremacy groups in a sincere attempt to influence and change their bigoted attitudes. And Davis has been somewhat successful in doing so: in the movie he tells us that he has persuaded 25 Klansmen to 'disrobe', a few of them being very high ranking members of the KKK.
Despite this 'success', though, Davis has been strongly criticized by more radical members of the resistance movement for his willingness to 'sleep with the enemy'. In the film, a particularly heated moment occurs when Davis meets with two members of the Baltimore #BlackLivesMatter movement. These young men clearly have an issue with Davis and the fact that he has spent the last thirty years of his life hanging out with the KKK rather than, as they argue, trying to directly alleviate the problems in the black community.
At a certain point in the tense conversation, one of the BLM activists, Kwame Rose, directly raises this objection, asking Davis what his relationship with Klan members has actually done for black people. Rose then angrily adds that “Infiltrating the Klan ain’t freeing your people,” and suggests that “Befriending a white person who doesn’t have to go through the struggles of you, me… that’s not an accomplishment. That’s a new friend. That’s somebody you can call.” This puts Davis on the defensive, and he lashes out at Rose for being 'a dropout' and not knowing what he's talking about.
Things escalate from there, to the point where Rose and his friend, BLM activist Tariq Toure, eventually storm out. Their departure is followed by BLM organizer JC Faulk angrily confronting Davis, calling him 'reprehensible' and then in no uncertain terms telling him, “I don’t give a shit about you, or your KKK hoods! Don’t come to Baltimore doing this shit again. Don’t come back here.” While it is not shown in the film, Davis says that the BLM activists actually wanted to kick his ass but were discouraged from doing so by the film's producer, who stepped between them before any punches were thrown.
When I review this part of the film, aside from finding it upsetting and unfortunate, I find myself unable to side with either Davis or the BLM activists. In my opinion, both parties sadly let their anger get the best of them, and allowed rigidness and fight or flight responses to substitute for productive dialogue. Direct and indirect insults are traded throughout the whole exchange, each side feeling attacked by the other and then seeking to save face and/or to 'win' in response.
That said, many have accused Davis of being more open and accepting of the 'outgroup' KKK members he deals with than he is of the 'ingroup' African American activists he ends up battling. And I have to say that those accusations have some teeth. Davis clearly does not like being criticized by 'his own people', who in the end 'disown' Davis and ostracize him as 'part of the problem'.
Rather than acknowledging the valid points the activists make, as well as owning up to his own role in contributing to the devolution of the conversation, Davis instead regrettably doubles down on his 'innocence' and superior moral position. He repeatedly calls Rose and Toure 'ignorant' and 'uneducated', further alienating them with every other word out of his mouth and more deeply retreating into an “I'm right, you're wrong” posture.
Conversely, others have faulted the BLM activists for being too confrontational and rigid in their attitude towards Davis. And this charge, too, has some merit. Obviously well-versed in critical race theory and the like, Rose and Toure purportedly wish to understand how Davis's 'work' has any impact whatsoever on the 'real' problem, which is institutional and systemic racism. But their openness to his explanation is surface-level only. This is gradually revealed through both body language and speech as Davis attempts to satisfy their request for an explanation.
Davis opens his response by explaining to Rose and Toure that his 'end goal' is to “bring people together.” Rose responds to this utterance by rolling his eyes and shaking his head in disapproval and disagreement.
Davis then goes on to say that he wants to put white supremacists and their African American 'nemeses' together so they can learn how to get along with one another. At this point, Rose has had enough, and what his body language had implied now becomes verbalized. Irritated, Rose asks Davis, “Why I gotta get along with them?”
Still calm, Davis answers, “Because they are our fellow Americans. We all have to live in this country together.”
Rose interjects a dismissive, “Shiiit.”
Davis then completes his comment with a warning that if we don't all learn to get along, we will self-destruct, but at this point it is clear that both Rose and Toure are not having, and will never have, any of this kumbaya 'bullshit'.
But the most interesting exchange, at least as far as this essay goes, comes after Toure has stormed away and Rose and Davis are left discussing the possibility of changing people's minds regarding racism. In particular, Rose asserts that Davis is wasting his time because white supremacists can't change. He goes on to say, however, that “I (Rose) can change your mind because you look like me,” which leaves Davis looking confused. Rose then 'polishes off' Davis by calling him “nothing but a pimp in a pulpit,” to which Davis invokes his favorite rejoinder, “And you're nothing but ignorant.”
“Slowly I turned ...”...
Systems vs Individuals
Now as I've already stated, I think both parties in the Accidental Courtesy confrontation are equally responsible for things getting out of hand the way they did. But what I firmly do not believe is that both sides are equally right about the proper way to go about putting an end to white supremacy. Let me explain why.
Earlier in the film, Daryl meets with a representative of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) who tells him that one of the goals of their organization is either to 'destroy' groups like the KKK or to marginalize them politically, but never to 'have coffee with' them. This reflects the 'no platform', 'shouting down' position of Kwame Rose and many others, as we've seen.
Instead, the gentlemen from the SPLC suggests that members of white supremacist groups only leave (if ever), “when they're ready to.” But what he does not say, or even seem interested in exploring, is just what it is that might make one of these members 'ready' to leave.
And this, I argue, is a blind spot for such thinkers, who tend to focus all their energy on 'systems' rather than on individuals. Like the 'naive' participants in Asch's experiment, such people often align themselves with the consensual authority of one intellectual theory or another and simply ignore or downplay other evidence that is right in front of them which disproves or challenges the theory.
In this case, many on the left are focused on systemic racism to the exclusion of all other forms of racism, especially the racist attitudes of individual people. They do so, I think, because the theories to which they subscribe are very powerful in explaining so many of the large-scale problems they are concerned to address. They thus favor a 'top-down' or 'big-to-small' method of problem solving.
On top of this, many of those who are compelled by such theories tend as people to be much more 'intellectual' than 'emotional' in their predispositions. They are thus more attracted to the power of information and knowledge as tools for social influence than they are to the force of 'feeling-based', interpersonal solutions. Many even see feeling-based solutions as weak and ineffectual (a conceit that speaks to an often unrecognized machismo in intellectuals) and therefore as something to be ignored or dismissed. The underlying assumption is that all the 'action' takes place at the level of systems.
But as we have learned from the previous discussion on social impact theory, that assumption is just flat-out false: efforts like Davis's address the immediacy element that is integral to the success of any attempt to change the attitudes and behaviors of others. He has proven that individual level 'resistance', through direct contact with white supremacists, can, and if sincerely and openly performed, does change both minds and behaviors.
So while Davis is in no way a perfect man, he is absolutely right to claim that his efforts are making a difference. His 'feeling-based', interpersonal, 'bottom-up', 'small-to-big' MO is just as necessary and powerful as that of the systemic model.
Indeed, social psychology tells us that social power, or the force a person or group has available to create social influence, “can originate from having access to certain resources (for example, rewards, punishments, information) due to one's social position in society, or from being liked and admired by others” (Franzoi 313 bold added). And anyone who has seen Accidental Courtesy will immediately recognize that Davis's social power (and thus his social influence) comes largely from his being both likable and admirable.
Given this, those radicals and intellectuals who frown on efforts such as those of Davis would do well to reconsider their myopia on this matter. Clearly, they believe that social power of the other kind - that which draws on the tools of rewards, punishment, and especially information – is the only 'true' power. But as we see, they are wrong about this and need to accept this fact, especially if they want to increase the chances that their noble goals will be realized.
They should, in other words, take a cue from Davis, who seems to recognize the importance of both a systematic and an individual approach to dismantling white supremacy. On this matter, social psychology has his back.
Compliance and the Importance of Not Being a Dick
Yet while Davis is correct that his form of social power is fully legit, in his case that power obviously wasn't forceful enough to prevent him from 'being a dick' in his interaction with Rose and Toure. And here we return again to the problem faced by dissenters of any kind, namely that rigidity, close-mindedness, and dogmatism reduce rather than increase his or her influence. Such a presentation style only serves to alienate those that one is hoping to persuade, and sometimes it can even damage any progress towards change that may have already been made.
Not being a dick can be hard, of course, especially when the justification for such an attitude is solid. However, we all know that nobody likes to be treated poorly (masochists aside). And there is even evidence that expressing malice towards another is not only harmful for the 'punishee' but also for the 'punisher'.
Take a common form of social punishment – ostracism. It has been discovered that “although ostracism is an effective way to 'straighten out' non-conformers, those who use it are also likely to suffer from the strains of silence” (Franzoi 323). This is because the psychic energy put into the shunning strains the cognitive/emotional system, and thus leaves one vulnerable to stress related issues, both physical and psychological. When it comes to social punishment, the old saying, “This is going to hurt me more than it is you,” may be truer than we realize.
While this is an important caveat against leaning on punishment as a way to bring about a desired change in behavior, it operates under the assumption, which I've held all along, that those seeking to put an end to white supremacy and to increase social justice are actually interested in a specific form of social influence, namely compliance.
Compliance occurs when a person or group of people publicly acts in accord with a direct request. In this case, that request would be something like, “Please recognize the existence and pervasiveness of white supremacy and other forms of social injustice in America and help us put an end to the evils associated with them in order that we might create a more just, equitable, and flourishing society.”
Why is compliance the preferred (by me, at least) form of social influence? Well, because to change the behavior of people, the other two options, conformity and obedience (recall the experiments of Asch and Milgram) both depend upon the use of pressure and coercion, which are necessarily backed by the threat of punishment (be it physical or social).
Why is that a problem? Well, for starters, as we just learned, social punishment has a net negative effect on both those doing the punishing and those who are punished.
Beyond that, anyone who changes his behavior based solely on the threat of punishment is much more likely to 'rebel' once the threat is removed. He or she may also seek retribution against the 'oppressors', and thereby perpetuate a never ending cycle of threat, conformity or obedience, and punishment. I may be alone here, but I can't imagine that anyone would find such a society to be ideal. In fact, it is in many ways the type of society that those hoping to dismantle white supremacy and the many forms of social injustice are trying to escape.
A society grounded in compliance, on the other hand, puts the choice to change one's behavior much more solidly in the hands of the individual. He or she is directly addressed and is requested, which means politely asked, that they do (or refrain from doing) something. In this approach, direct, person-to-person contact is necessary (but, of course, not sufficient). And if one really wants to maximize compliance, social psychology shows us that three important factors or 'strategies' contribute to that end. One must make an attempt “to make people feel good, to do something for them, and to give them reasons for compliance” (Franzoi 332).
Underneath or behind the compliance 'method', then, is an acceptance, I suggest, of the basic 'humanity' of the other person or persons. It recognizes a sort of 'golden rule' that, “all things being equal, most people prefer being 'asked' to do something (compliance) rather than being 'ordered' (obedience) (Franzoi 312). And to my mind, this is the only method that stands a chance at creating the kind of change and society that I, and I'm guessing (hoping?) many others, hope for.
Of course, a compliance approach places the fulfillment of the requester's goals at the mercy of another, which for many can be an uncomfortable or even utterly insulting and undignified position in which to be. Many on the more radical end of the left, I think, see such an approach in exactly these unhappy terms, and this is why they tend to favor, though they may not see it this way, a more obedience-based form of social influence.
Perhaps this is because such a method may seem more reliable in producing rapid, measurable results in a problem whose solution has been too long coming. I don't know. But what I do know is that something like an allegiance to obedience-style influence is behind their inability to see that a 'no-platform', 'shouting down' approach to bringing about change (which is decidedly in the Milgram/Asch camp of social influence) is inherently counterproductive.
I could go on and on about this, but maybe I can just capture what I'm getting at, as well as what I think the social psychology studies support, in this way: It's okay, even good, to have a 'hard-on' for social justice. But if you really want to make that world a reality, then don't be like I was in that focus group so long ago. Put simply, don't be a dick about it.
Franzoi, Stephen L. Social Psychology, Fourth Edition, McGraw Hill, 2005.