Two Suggestions for Better Political Discussions

Political discussions are often a circus of fallacies, intense emotions, and blatant bias. However, they still need to happen, so here’s a couple ideas on how to improve them.   

1. Avoid reflexively defending people. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment, and reflexively defend people when they shouldn’t be defended. 

For example, I was once involved in a conversation that went like this: 

Person A:  “[X person’s] tweets are too much.” 

Person B:  “[X person’s] tweets aren’t the issue, [Y political group] is the issue.”

If person B had stopped to reflect, he probably would have seen the flaw in what he was saying: there isn’t one issue, but many issues in the political landscape. It would have been better if person B hadn’t said anything, or had admitted the tweets were problematic. 

Reflexively defending people is misguided because everyone is wrong sometimes. When your favorite politician is wrong, just admit it. This concession will make you seem more rational and open-minded, which will make you more persuasive. 

The issue isn’t defending people per se, but doing so reflexively, i.e. letting your biases trick you into arguing points without proper reflection. 

In my experience, this phenomenon is common. We probably all know someone who jumps at any chance to defend his favorite politician, no matter what they did. I’ve been guilty of this, and it’s a serious inhibitor to clear thinking.  

2. Avoid asking: “If you like [X] so much, why don’t you move to [a country with X]?” 

Libertarians get asked this question all the time, typically in the form: “If you hate the government so much, why don’t you move to Somalia?” 

A lot could be said here, but in brief, where I choose to live is influenced by many factors, and economics is only one. Even if Somalia was a libertarian paradise (which it isn’t), the moving costs would be high, and there would be other barriers including language, employment, separation from family, etc. Similar replies could be made to any why-don’t-you-move-there question. 

Also, even if you could prove that my views require me to move to Somalia, that would only show that I don’t live consistently with my worldview. That wouldn’t show my beliefs are false.

On a personal note, I’m irked when conversations about important issues are derailed by jabs at my personal life. Perhaps this is just a subjective preference, but I’d much rather debate economics and political philosophy than personal inconsistency. Certainly, there’s a place for questioning how well people live up to their beliefs, but let’s keep the conversations separate. The more we can focus on one thing at a time, the more productive discussions will be. 

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