My Hope for Political Discussion

Posted on October 15, 2016 by Richard Goulter

The other day something wonderful happened in a chat group I’m in.
Upon reading David Wong’s excellent discussion of rural voter mindset, a friend made the remark like “we need more ‘empathic explainers’, rather than ‘explainer’ articles”.

I agree with the sentiment.. but my mind thinks in ways like “what are the obstacles”.
So I can agree that the stated “people aren’t sharing articles which empathetically discuss the other”, and prob’ly “it’s difficult to find resources to help emphathise with the other”.. essentially I’d say the people apparently don’t want to sympathise with the other; and maybe the infrastructure in place is such that they’re unlikely to.

Taking an example. My understanding is Fox News was made as a ‘safe space’ for right-wing ideology. But it’s not hard to believe the right has “constructed an intellectual ghetto that no one else wants to visit”.

The title of the previous link refers to an echo chamber; I’d say the problem of echo chambers isn’t unique to one side. On the other hand, though, while it’s convenient to discuss the problems as symmetric at the meta-level, I don’t believe the climate is symmetric (unless maybe considered on a long-enough timeline).

But, y’see… who exactly has a neutral view of things? Something it seems my news feed doesn’t seem to understand is,
if you ask a non-fanatic Clinton supporter “who’s going to win 2016 election?”, they’re likely to say “oh, probably Trump” prob’ly followed by “so many voters are idiots”;
and similarly a non-fanatic Trump supporter, “oh, probably Clinton” prob’ly followed by “the elites & MSM have pretty much rigged the system”.
– Or, rather, “who’s going to win? probably not my candidate”.
And the next iteration of thought then ought to be .. “gee, people seem to always think their side is losing; but, really, those people are the ones with power”.
– I don’t mean “people are biased”. My lament is that people are unaware that their opponents often think in the same form as they do.

And if people don’t recognise forms of thought like this.. how can we expect people to themselves become more empathetic to opinions they don’t know about?

I like Miller’s Law. I think Wikipedia’s phrasing is like “Suspend judgement until you’ve listened to find out what statement you’re hearing is true about”.
My understanding is more like this. No one genuinely says something while thinking “hey this is dumb of me to say”; but many genuinely expressed opinions are gross or otherwise dumb.
Like “how could this guy be so stupid” dumb. (ProTip, “because he’s racist/sexist/gross” isn’t sufficient effort to count as “listening”).
– Ergo, if a statement sounds really awfully dumb in such a way you couldn’t pass Intellectual-Turing-Test for it, you’ve not understood the truth the statement brings.

Sturgeon’s Law is probably another nice law here: “90 percent of everything is crap”.

– With the above two in mind, what fucking point is there in the common anger in how politics usually gets discussed: “look, someone from the other tribe said something dumb!”. (Watch any John Oliver or Daily Show video to see this form of statement). – It’s so satisfying to see how stupid those from the other tribe are. (Well, beneath the anger, anyway).

The other tribe is disgusting by definition.
The other tribe isn’t bad at the things you think the other tribe is bad at; the other tribe is bad at things your tribe is good at.

And your tribe is bad at things the other tribe is good at.
– In reaction to “people are biased; I’m a person and so I don’t know what things I’m wrong about”, I suppose a rational response would be to have people who can disagree with you on-hand so you can find out what you’re wrong about. Who does that? I mean, I think it’s fine that people aren’t truth-seekers like this. But still.

Short of that, for myself, I’d say it’s possible to reason about the things you’re wrong about by their form.
Tools and rules ought to work impartially.
If someone from the other tribe would be a complete-fucking-idiot for saying the same kindof thing, then prob’ly you should hold off.

(Other heuristics are like, e.g. “the world is a complicated place; unqualified or unnuanced statements are probably wrong overall, though may contain some truths”, or forms like “if the other side were consistent about X, then they would say/do Y”, etc.).

“The purpose of the internet is to say all sorts of random shit, and then defend what you say as if it were God’s own truth” is something like a tweet I saw once. I quite liked it.

I’d love to see an adaptation of a particular xkcd comic.
Not the “someone on the internet was wrong” one. (The artist is still a smug piece of shit there; holding that the artist’s opinion is probably the right one).
The one which goes “there are too many competing standards, we need a new standard to bring them together” and suddenly there are N+1 competing standards.
– There are too many dumb opinions on the internet. Someone ought to give a right opinion with nuance showing people the errors in their thinking. And suddenly there are N+1 dumb opinions on the internet.

I vaguely recall an old Bertrand Russell quote(?) … this one. “The fundamental cause of the trouble in the modern world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt”.
(Russell apparently had some good quotes; e.g. “Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling?, “Nine-tenths of the activities of a modern Government are harmful; therefore the worse they are performed, the better.”).
– I’d adapt this idea a bit: those sensible enough to know that expressing political opinions is fucking annoying know to not share their opinion.

If you had a dumb opinion, how would you know?
Surely you’d still feel your opinion superior, that “the people need to know!”?

The way Facebook and Twitter structure their interaction also shapes how people think.

Tumblr is prob’ly the worst, wherein you don’t get to see responses to posts; so propaganda can proliferate uninterrupted.

Facebook is ‘notorious’ in this respect for its filter-bubble, wherein its newsfeed only shows you parts of things.. – But on the whole, filtered-information-shapes-thought has been around for ages; it’s why English translations of the Bible were so controversial at first. (It’d bypass the in-place power structure, right).
– But, really, wouldn’t it be great if your tribe could have such influence over mainstream media and education, etc. such that the views of the other tribe were pretty much unheard of?

I’d say the limitation with Facebook is it’s “among friends”. And if your friends aren’t INTJs, arguing doesn’t seem to be so welcomed.

I don’t think Twitter is necessarily limited by its 140-character posts. People seem to chain them well enough, mostly. – I even prefer it for that; the cost of a tweet is much lower, so it’s easier to share interesting tweets.
But the inevitable problem is, you’re defining your own stream of information.

“fish don’t know that they’re in water”. (The quote continues “We’re so surrounded by people who think like us, that it’s impossible to see that what we think are universal truths are just our local culture. / We can’t see it until we get outside of it.”).
– The quote is well enough in theme with the above; the article is a nice discussion of the culture-wars, going all the way back to English Civil War.

Alice Maz’s utterly fantastic post here discusses, ostensibly, how different people view interactions on Twitter differently; and goes on to discuss ‘status-games and signalling’; how the social games people play forms culture. (And how the same actions get seen as normal or as rude depending on which cultural group you’re from).

Similarly good is anything from Jonathan Haidt discussing morality.
His book “The Righteous Mind” discusses humanity’s righteousness as “a feature, not a bug”.
The most fascinating model from the book is the Moral Foundation Theory. (The link includes a paragraph discussing MFT for modelling the culture wars of recent decades in the US).

I use the terms “tribal” and “the other” a lot in the above; for a good overview of tribalism, I’d recommend “I can tolerate anything except the outgroup” (although it is rather long, yes).

While of course all models are wrong, some models are useful; and I’d think tribalism well-covers the culture wars, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a different model you can substitute in its place.

If there’s any sense to the above, it’s a “takes one to know one” kinda thing.
In that respect, I don’t suppose I’d hope for “people to get along better”, or “people to be all super-rational”, etc. – But surely at some point after enough anger and outrage, people have to be aware of the rules of the game?

Newer post Older post