A challenge to the conventional wisdom

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Here are the real fucking political truths these “progressives” don’t want to admit:

  1. From civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, health care reform, immigration issues… the Democratic Party has been at the forefront moving the discussion and policy forward.
  2. They’ve done this without the luxury of veto-proof majorities in Congress and without a lot of help from state legislatures.
  3. In fact, some of this progress was made IN SPITE OF Republican control and obstruction.
  4. If you fucking want FDR-like progress, you better do everything you can for FDR-like majorities in Congress.
  5. If you don’t give a Democratic president massive Democratic majorities in Congress and in the states, then you can eternally SHUT THE FUCK UP about how Democrats are “letting you down.”
  6. Democrats in 2017 are more progressive than Democrats of FDR’s time.
  7. The problem isn’t Democrats have moved to the right (they haven’t) but Republicans have moved significantly farther to the right.  This movement along with the media’s incessant “both sides are the same” gives the perception Democrats have moved to the right as well.

Lesson plans and suggestions for teachers in this era of overt bigotry and violence

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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.

pub. 08/2017

For more tips and resources, see the Resources lists, What to Do and What to Read.

Another approach to discussing issues across the divide

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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.

pub. 08/2017

Video: From the gentlest of atheist debaters, effective methods for undermining people’s non-evidence-based beliefs

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 13.10.42Huh, that headline is hard to connect with. Let’s try again:

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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.

Social success is more important to us than accuracy


“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.

pub. 02/2017

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.

How to turn down the heat when talking to people you disagree with

This was floating around Facebook as a Word document; I don’t know who originally wrote it.

How To ‘Depolarize’ A Heated Conversation

The Challenge:

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.

seen 02/2017

How do you effectively argue against demagogues?


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.

pub. 11/2016