Jordan's Blog - What it means to disagree

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What it means to disagree

Jordan 2017-08-04

Scott Adams (not to be confused with the other Scott I often link to, Scott Alexander) writes:

I have often said Trump supporters and anti-Trumpers are in the same movie theater but watching different movies on the same screen. You’ve seen lots of evidence of that, but I’m going to give you an experiment you can try at home. It might blow your mind.

1. Identify your most lefty, Trump-hating friend or family member.

2. Share this link of President Trump’s accomplishments while you are in the same room so you can watch them read it.

3. Watch as your lefty friend turns “cognitively blind” to the list of accomplishments as if it is not really there. Your subject will KNOW President has accomplished nothing, and all of his or her friends know it, and the television channels they watch know it. So how-the-hell could there be in existence an extensive list of legitimate accomplishments that make perfect sense and can easily be verified?

The only way that list of accomplishments can exist in your anti-Trumper’s world is if the anti-Trumper has been in a hallucination for months, duped by the media and everyone they love. The existence of the list of accomplishments will form a crack in their reality. It simply can’t exist. That’s the trigger for cognitive blindness. The list will simply be “invisible,” but not in the literal sense, only the mental sense. If you check back in two days, your anti-Trumper will claim once again no such list exists. Watch their eyes when they say it. It will be freaky.

Adams is, and I mean this is the least patronizing way you can possibly mean it, a smart and insightful writer who I often find very convincing. He correctly predicted that Trump would win the election, and sees him as a super-persuader. He also gets a lot of flak for being a climate change denier even though he explicitly says in many posts that he defaults to scientists viewpoints because they know more than him, a position which reflects a level of self-awareness that I don’t think most people have, and the fact that he would be bullied for it by people with less self-awareness makes him instantly sympathetic to me. And he does a lot of thinking about how to talk to people you disagree with, particularly with reference to the left and the right in US politics (e.g. put solar panels on the border wall).

Which is why I’m so bothered by the post above.

To me, it’s about being charitable; that it’s wrong to assume the worst about people you disagree with. That it’s not fair, but more importantly, it’s mean and will often drive well-intentioned people to behave horribly towards others.

I will admit, my liberal friends forget to do this way more than my conservative friends. I think this has to do with growing up in mostly liberal circles so that anyone who ended up with more conservative values usually ended up there because they put a lot of thought into their positions. So I end up defending conservatives a lot of the time, and asking liberal friends to be more charitable. But I have noticed that I don’t often see this reflected on the other side. If I find myself saying things like “there’s actually a lot of conservatives who have well thought out and not-at-all cruel opinions on healthcare, immigration, and LGBTQ+ issues,” why do I so rarely come across conservatives saying to each other “there’s actually a lot of liberals who are smart and hard-working free thinkers, with well thought out and not-at-all herd-mentality opinions on healthcare, immigration, and government regulation?” Why is it that there are thousands of apologetic liberals writing articles with titles like “what Democrats got wrong,” and “here’s where Trump’s blue collar supporters are coming from and its quite reasonable,” aimed at convincing liberals that they might not be perfect, but none targeting conservatives with headlines like “liberals are actually maybe sort of right about this?” It’s not that I haven’t looked, because I have, and there actually seems to be a drastically lower supply of these articles.

The best I can do is to say that maybe you don’t have to be a conservative to ask other conservatives to be charitable. Although if you’re Scott Adams and you’re smart and self-aware enough to know what it means to talk down to the other side, maybe you also have an obligation to be charitable whenever you can.

That is, if you want to prove a point about people who don’t like Trump, step 1 of your experiment probably shouldn’t be “identify your most lefty, Trump-hating friend or family member” for the same reason you won’t make a very strong point about religious people if your first step is “identify your most homophobic, abstinence-only, bible-thumping, anti-abortion friend.” When you write like that, you paint a picture of a certain archetypical person and imply to your audience that that’s the average liberal or religious person, and you imply it wordlessly so that nobody notices that you’re actually making an assertion.

Conservatives probably don’t have a shortage of smart people, but maybe they do have a shortage of charitableness.