Prying A Closed Mind Open
First, take an ax… Okay, maybe not, but it’s certainly true that it’s very difficult to convince some folks that they might, just maybe, be a little bit less than correct. It is not, however, impossible.
This may be the appeal of fiction to the SocJus set: characters can be faced with situations that force them to re-evaluate their lives and yes, change their minds. The problem here being that life tends not to give a damn about social justice, and furthermore, is – by SocJus standards, anyway – horribly racist, sexist, and everything else-ist.
Life, after all, obeys the laws of physics, biology, chemistry, and so forth, all of which lead to such terrible facts as women generally having different physiology than men, and this being the actual basis of societal sexual differentiation. You know, if it can grow babies it needs to be protected and so do the babies. And the physical adaptations that make it possible to grow a healthy baby and give birth to it also cause women to be shorter, weaker, slower, and to have different thought patterns. This is called sexual differentiation, and occurs throughout biology. We humans may be able to override our biology, but we are still very much creatures of it – and if you disagree, try not eating for a few days. Or even better, not using the bathroom for a few days.
Biology and other things aside, it actually isn’t true that after a certain age it’s impossible to change someone’s world view. The clue here is that precisely what the certain age is varies depending on who you ask. Now sure, it’s harder, but it’s possible. And makes for a lot of the fun in fiction, throwing characters into a situation where they have to adjust their world view if they are to survive.
Like, for instance, a thirteenth-century knight, well educated for his time and station – he can read and write Latin and Germanic, and speaks a couple of other languages well enough to get by – faced with a collection of misplaced, formerly enslaved aliens and pagan humans he inadvertently freed from slavery (Yes, the setup is kind of complex. He thought he was killing demons, and figured people, even pagans, were redeemable. Demons, not so much. So he killed the demons – who are actually a different alien race. One that regards anything not of their race as talking animals at best. And food if they’re no use as slaves).
The poor man spent most of the story lurching from one crisis of conscience to another, trying to wrap what he’d always known was right and good and proper (namely, medieval Christian doctrine) around a reality that includes non-humans as well as humans from cultures that have never heard of Christianity and aren’t even as advanced (by his lights) as the pagans he’d been fighting before being abducted. He also wound up having to beat sense into some of his fellow knights – because he also understood a little of that tool of the patriarchy known as math and science, particularly the part that says if you have too small a population you die out, and there are only just enough people to make it possible to survive, so yes, we are going to have to make a few compromises and convince them to accept us.
This is, more or less, how minds get opened to new ideas. Not necessarily quite so dramatically, but the process is the same. First is being confronted with evidence that the current world view is not adequate for the reality (it might not actually be wrong, per se. Just not sufficiently right to work in whatever mess your character is in. Or you are in). This generates cognitive dissonance, which is a very uncomfortable sensation. Most people go to a lot of effort to avoid it, and when they can’t they react with anger.
Gosh. Explains a lot about modern headlines, doesn’t it?
Anyway, moving on. There’s two things you or your character needs for the world view to change: the cognitive dissonance is one of them. The other is to need something that you can’t get without accepting the thing the cognitive dissonance is about. In my character’s case, he had to accept that the aliens were also people and that he’d need treat the pagans and aliens as equals if he was going to survive. A rather more simple case is having to learn this shit to pass the exam.
Then you get an integration phase where the old and new play tag with each other and you’re never sure which one is going to be on top (at least, if you’re sufficiently self-aware and didn’t run screaming from the cognitive dissonance). Reality being what it is, people who make it this far generally wind up reaching the end of the process, where the integration has finished, and the new stuff is part of their world view.
Characters usually get that far because the technical term for a character who doesn’t learn from cognitive dissonance is “corpse”. Or in some cases “red shirt”.
Okay, it’s not as much fun as taking an ax and prying someone’s skull open to open their mind. But it’s not as messy, either, and if you want them to survive the experience you definitely don’t want to use the ax method.
And now I must go see what kind of disaster the berserker kitten is creating.