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Why Do People Choose Their Political Beliefs?
Commentary on the strange story behind a debate video.
My favorite political youtube video is a debate between a socialist and InfoWars reporter defending “free markets” — but not for the reason you think. I don’t care about any of the politics in the video. I don’t even think I’ve ever seen the video all the way through. What I love about this video is not the video itself, but the story around it. You see, the socialist in that video is now a right-wing traditionalist Catholic influencer and the InfoWars reporter is now a liberal bisexual Onlyfans creator who makes Harry Potter fan content. Both women in the original video have completely flipped their political tribes.
On the surface, this doesn’t make sense. This video was shared across social media in 2018 and used by various political commentators to dunk on one another. How could those involved in such a viral debate change their previous beliefs? Viewed through the lens of ideology, it doesn’t make sense. However, most don’t make choices based on ideology alone. They make choices based on their needs, including what ideology they adopt.
Every acting or dramatic writing class I’ve taken suggests that characters pursue a need. Drama occurs when there is an obstacle to a character’s need. When people adopt strong political beliefs, they are still pursuing a need. In an interview, Better Call Saul creator Vince Gilligan suggests that the central question of his TV show about a man becoming a criminal lawyer was what problem becoming that character solves. He understood that most wouldn’t choose to become a sleazy attorney who works with meth dealers, so in order for a person to become that there must be some dramatic circumstances that push the character to make that choice.
Likewise, most don’t want to become political ideologues. People adopt ideologies because they believe those ideologies will solve their problems. Both people in that viral debate video were pursuing a need by arguing their beliefs. Yet if their ideology doesn’t fulfill their needs or they find a better way to meet their needs, any interesting character will change. If someone wants to be a good person, Catholicism offers more opportunities to be moral than socialism. If someone wants freedom or money, being an Onlyfans creator offers more freedom and money than defending “free markets” for InfoWars.
Both women in the original viral debate video are still pursuing their needs. They’ve just found a better way to do it. That’s good. It makes for a better story when characters grow and change. The initial video presented them as one-dimensional political stereotypes. Character emerges through the choices they make. As their story has progressed, both women have shown themselves to be more multi-dimensional. Even though they’re still on opposite sides of the political divide, I’m happy for them and wish them the best.
These kinds of changes happen all the time. As much as political commentators like to speak about beliefs as a form of identity through “I am” statements (“I am a conservative/liberal”), beliefs are closer to tools that people pick up to meet a particular need. When the need is met or the tool is discovered insufficient, they might put it down and pick up another one. If someone is looking for the right tool to meet their needs, they might move through many ideologies. It’s okay to change. The protagonist of a story is the one who grows and changes. How much are you willing to grow and change to meet your needs?
P.S. If you’d like to understand the reason for one of my changes, listen to this podcast here.