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The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides Paperback – May 9, 2017
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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However, just talking about the third position isn't enough to make a book worth reading. The other major flaw that almost all political discourse suffers from is the flaw fo treating alternate positions as bad/evil/stupid. While the first book I read that played well along this axis was Thomas Sowell's "A Conflict of Visions", in which he presents two world views and doesn't judge either of them.
In this book here, Dr. Kling presents a three-way separation, and respects properly all three views. I haven't seen it done well by anyone else. Great short book
Arnold Kling has a hypothesis, which he calls the 'Three-axis Model'. In his model, we each have a way we tend to think and communicate about issues. These ways have polarized along three different axes (I'll get to them in a moment). Just as right handed people use their right hand without thinking, we tend to think and communicate at our comfortable point in the spectrum of each axis. This serves to quickly validate our existing views, allow us to discard discordant information and reinforces us within our tribe of similar believers. Unfortunately, just as using the wrong hand is awkward and obviously wrong, these ways are so different from how people polarized on other axes think that it marks us for dismissal by their tribes, even as it reinforces them in their own.
The challenge then is, how do we step back from these dominant ways to thinking to see the world through the eyes of others and communicate with them on terms they would understand and recognize, rather than dismiss? How do you have a discussion that informs, rather than one that simply reinforces the existing polarization? Arnold Kling here outlines the beginnings of an answer.
To get to his answer, he starts by hypothesizing three polarized axes of thought:
oppressor/oppressed [naturally preferred by progressives]
civilization/barbarism [naturally preferred by conservatives]
freedom/coercion [naturally preferred by libertarians]
Few of us are so one dimensional as to be entirely along one axis, but generally there is an axis we tend to automatically turn to without thinking. If we actually think, it can be different, but as Daniel Kahneman persuasively argues in Thinking, Fast and Slow, we do this far less often than we realize.
Even when presented with an issue about which we would all agree, the three different axes still produce discord. The holocaust, for example. Seen along the oppressor/oppressed axis it becomes a prime example of the evils of allowing anti-semitism. That is, the deliberate creation of an oppressed group. Along the civilization/barbarism axis, it is a prime example of moral values collapsing when a nation's institutions are subverted. For freedom/coercion, it becomes an example of what goes wrong with unchecked state power. Despite agreeing on the evil, each solution is at cross purposes to the other and marks you for dismissal by those operating instinctively along a different axis.
Arnold Kling does not ask anyone to change their views, but he does challenge his readers to develop the capacity to think along the other axes, not in the caricatured ways permitted of the other axes by your own, but in ways that would be recognized as valid by those operating on that axis (Bryan Caplan's 'Ideological Turing Test'). If nothing else, it will improve our ability to understand those coming from a different perspective, to communicate effectively with them and gain some skepticism for views that would otherwise reassuringly resonate with your own. Well practiced, this would momentarily trump instinctive thinking and briefly allow deliberate thought processes to be engaged.
We may not change any minds, including our own, but we will weaken the disconcerting tribal barriers emerging in the modern political debate, reduce the level of polarization across the axes of thought and more easily recognize when the opposites in our discussion are being well meaning and reasonable, albeit with a different perspective.
If, like me, you fear that our institutions will be gravely challenged in the coming years, are concerned about the erosion of our freedoms and worry about the impact this will have on the weakest among us (see how I tried to use language from all three axes!), then you owe it to yourself to practice the capacity to engage in a way that speaks to all of the participants in the debate.
All this for less than an hour of my time and cheaper than a gourmet cup of coffee.