Guidelines (5)

My general recommendation is to stick to conversations that are more constructive in nature and avoid conversations that are tribal in nature, as tribal conversations are not really attempts at open communication, but rather, a form of tribal activity.  If one is talking to a member of another tribe, such a conversation can seem like tribal combat.   If one is talking to a member of the same tribe, such a conversation often ends up demonizing members of other tribes. One way to recognize tribal conversations/writing is to look for the following:

  • Does the speaker/author have a respectful view of the other side’s position? Does the person seem to have a reasonable understanding of the other side’s point of view? Do they appear open to understanding the other side’s point of view? One does not have to agree with the other point of view to have a respectful approach to others who see things in a different paradigm.  (A simple test:  Would a person from the other side generally agree with the characterization of their position?)
  • Is the speaker/author focusing on the person (ad hominem fallacy) rather than on the proposed political/economic/regulatory action that is at issue? (Examples: name calling, demonizing the other person or tribe )
  • Is the speaker/author focusing on a mis-characterization or grossly simplified characterization of the position of the other side (straw man argument)? (Again:  Would a person from the other side generally agree with the characterization of their position? )

Those familiar with critical thinking will recognize the logical fallacies in the above “tells.” It is my opinion that the more forceful and insistent the motivated reasoning appears the more distant the person is from the actual factual basis underlying the situation, and the more immersed into (and susceptible to) manipulated emotional appeals they will be. A tell for this situation would be something like this:

“This is so important because the other side is a threat to our lives/livelihood/future that there is no time for understanding them, we must stop them.”

When confronted with this kind of emotional appeal, my first recommendation is to try to rephrase their concerns into their political language to show I understand their point of view.  And then, if you have a different point of view, indicate how your favored political language would frame the issue.   If they cannot respond positively to this reframing, politely find a way out of the conversation, as it is very unlikely anything productive will ensue.  However, while admittedly closed minds are very difficult to open, you also need to check that you are approaching the conversation with an open mind as well, especially if you find yourself declaring that the other person is not reasonable.   (“Check your bias!”)   A final word from Arnold Kling:

“…when you find yourself pronouncing those with whom you disagree as unreasonable, that would be a good time to be concerned about your own reasonableness. Rather than pronounce others as unreasonable, I recommend just focusing on explaining where they are wrong. If by some chance they pronounce themselves unreasonable, then fine. But you are not qualified to do so.”

Critical reasoning is essential in any constructive conversation, otherwise, people are just wasting time on emotional name calling.  Critical reasoning generally requires that one slow the conversation down so that both parties can

  • check the sources and facts supporting the case at issue
  • establish what both parties actually want from the situation
    • This is a subtle but underappreciated point:  Often, it will be discovered that both sides want very similar things, but just disagree on the best way to achieve it.   And just as often, before that discovery was made, both sides assumed that the other party did not want what they wanted. Here are some examples
    • When one discovers similar goals with another party, but disagree on the means of achieving those goals, a constructive conversation is more likely as some level of commonality has been achieved.
  • appreciate the different ways that political tribes would frame an issue.