Monday’s Mtg: How Should We Talk To the “Other Side” About Politics?

We all know a bit about why it’s gotten so hard to talk to the other side politically, having discussed polarization and its causes a number of times. I’ll list a few of the main culprits to open the meeting. We’ve also discussed how people are naturally resistant to being persuaded about politics. We’re all predisposed to “bias reinforcement;” i.e., to seek out opinions and facts we already agree with and to avoid or rationalize away any that cause us the trouble and psychic pain of self-examination. Hell, studies show that, among political partisans and those with well-formed ideologies, being exposed to contrary facts actually reinforces their opinions. How screwed does that make our politics?

Still, talking politics with someone from “The Other Side” politically can’t be totally, always futile, can it? I mean, an entire industry exists devoted to finding which rhetoric works best to persuade people in political advertising and in politicians’ speeches. Could we learn from their work and apply their techniques in our personal lives, when we’re in the situation and the mood to do so? Or, does talking politics with the other side just require using basic social skills and common courtesy that our political betters have forgotten in their rush to polarize us?

I’ve had to think about this topic a lot in recent years, from running Civilized Conversation and appearing in the San Diego Debate Club and (as Aaron does) on this ultra-conservative political TV show. So, indulge me for a few minutes on Monday and I’ll start us off with a few insights I think I’ve gathered. Then, I’d love to hear your thoughts, even if you’re one of those dim-witted, evil, ridiculous idiots on the other side.


  1. WHY talk to someone on the other side; i.e., for what purpose? What should one’s goals be when engaging such a person? Like:  Persuasion, Defend your values, Find common ground, Censure or use them as a foil to persuade others within earshot?  How about to learn something about why they think what they think?
  2. What kind of arguments/appeals work in such settings? Like: Facts or logic, Personal stories, Appeals to authority, Appeals to community or patriotism, Citing your/their moral values, Citing public support , Cursing and screaming?
  3. How do the pros do it? Any lessons from politicians or political campaigners (Reagan/FDR, Atwater/Carville) or social scientists (Lakoff, Haight)
  4. Specific issues: Any ideas for talking with an opponent on, say, climate change, Obamacare, taxes, abortion, etc.?
  5. Specific settings: Dealing with family members, colleagues, strangers, very well-informed opponents, etc.


Next Week:  How did the West “beat the rest?”  Was it culturally superior?


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