While such discussions are often seen as politically charged and teachers like to steer clear of politics, these conversations are about fundamental American values, and age-appropriate ways of discussing hatred and tolerance in a diverse and vibrant democracy are as important as anything young people can learn in school. Civics education has taken a back seat to reading and math in recent years in “the era of accountability,” but it is past time for it to take center stage again in America’s schools.
Much normative (or value-based) reasoning by liberals (and mainstream economists) is about the consequences of political actions for the welfare of individuals. Statements about the desirability of policies are based on trading off the consequences for different individuals….
…Meanwhile, much conservative normative reasoning is about procedures rather than consequences. For example, as long as property rights and free exchange are guaranteed, the outcome is deemed just by definition, regardless of the consequences. People are “deserving” of whatever the market provides them with.
Street epistemology is a method of asking people not only what their beliefs are and why they believe them, but most importantly how they determined their beliefs are true. We know that being presented with established facts only causes “the other side” of any debate to dig in deeper, so street epistemology skips specific facts altogether to focus on the bigger picture. This video is an introduction to the concept.
“As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration.
Perhaps when discussing these issues with someone on “the other side”, the most effective route might be an innocent “You know, I don’t understand this issue/policy well. How does it actually work?” I wonder if, as they work through a response and your follow-up questions, the other person might talk themselves out of their certainty.
This was floating around Facebook as a Word document; I don’t know who originally wrote it.
How To ‘Depolarize’ A Heated Conversation
To understand someone else’s point of view—and perhaps have them get a sense of your own—on topics that evoke such high levels of passion, anger, and discord at a time when the stakes have never felt higher.
A few core principles:
- Avoid labels.
- Start by really listening and understanding someone else’s perspective. This only works if you acknowledge to yourself that you have much to learn.
- Seek underlying points of common ground and concern, and acknowledge them. These are less likely to be about policy than about basic fears, dreams, and values.
- Never assume that anyone is completely against you or completely with you.
- Stand with the most vulnerable—both the most vulnerable parts of ourselves as well as the most vulnerable people.
- Listen with empathy and expect to learn.
- Act out of love, not fear or hate.
Techniques to use during a conversation:
1) Rely on phrases firmly grounded in inquiry, such as:
- Tell me more about…
- What has been your experience with…?
- How does that work in situations such as…?
- What would it look like if…?
- I hadn’t heard that, where was it posted? [For conversations focusing on information, such as when someone cites a news story or statistic]
2) Watch out for the word ‘why’. Often it can make people dig in their heels on a subject, even if the questioner is asking from a place of genuinely wanting to understand the other’s position. You can arrive at the same goal by using words such as curious, interested, and elaborate. Mix and match them with phrases from above, or use some of these examples:
- I’m curious what your background has been with…?
- I’m interested to hear more about…
- Can you elaborate on…?
3) Try to use open-ended inquiries instead of yes/no questions. Avoid phrases such as the following that often precede a yes/no question:
- Do you think that…?
- Isn’t it true that…?
- Would/Wouldn’t you agree…?
4) A close cousin of the yes/no question is the double-barreled question. Such as:
“Are you religious or do you just not care?”
Stay away from using them when discussing any sensitive topic. If you are asked a double-barreled question you can respond with neutral phrases that might open up the lines of communication, such as:
- There’s a lot more going on than those two things.
- If only it was so cut and dry an issue.
- I wish it were a simple choice.
- Somewhere on the vast spectrum between those two things is where I stand.
Remember: It may not be possible to change each other’s minds, but it is possible to have a conversation without escalating the fiery emotions and resorting to your respective corners only to wait for the next round. If both sides leave with the feeling that the other side is, at the very least, not a crazy/misinformed/ignorant fool then perhaps that is accomplishment enough.
It’s a slippery slope argument, one that evokes the most obvious parallels about the rise of fascism in the interwar period.
The thing about this kind of argument is that the critic is trying to convince the listener that the slippery slope exists. That listener, who might be sympathetic to at least part of Trump’s message, will naturally be more skeptical. Every time Trump backtracks on a minor issue, it will be easy for sympathizers to persuade themselves that his critics are hysterical and have overreacted.
Our learning objectives are straightforward. After taking the course, you should be able to:
- Remain vigilant for bullshit contaminating your information diet.
- Recognize said bullshit whenever and wherever you encounter it.
- Figure out for yourself precisely why a particular bit of bullshit is bullshit.
- Provide a statistician or fellow scientist with a technical explanation of why a claim is bullshit.
- Provide your crystals-and-homeopathy aunt or casually racist uncle with an accessible and persuasive explanation of why a claim is bullshit.
We will be astonished if these skills do not turn out to be among the most useful and most broadly applicable of those that you acquire during the course of your college education.