Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Understanding Conservatives, for Liberals: Goals

Background: A lot of my liberal friends have suddenly realized over the past few days that they live in an echo chamber. Many of them want to know what typical conservative beliefs look like, beyond the small minority of fundamentalists and nationalists usually portrayed in liberal media outlets.

The first few posts in this series were mostly about current events. The remaining posts will shift focus. This post is a mid point; it's a good opportunity to lay out some objectives.

My main objectives for this series are as follows:
1. I want to provide liberals with a framework for understanding how conservatives actually think/feel. It's all too easy to imagine one's opponents as evil goblins who sit around thinking about how best to stir-fry babies. But most people, most of the time, do not see themselves as evil; almost everyone thinks they're the hero of the story. In order to engage productively in the real world, we need to understand how conservatives see the world and themselves, rather than imagine cartoon conservatives who hold meetings on how best to heat up the planet and fleece poor people.

(Side note: How best to heat up the planet and fleece poor people are actually very interesting theoretical problems. Unfortunately it's difficult to find people, either conservative or liberal, who share my interest in this sort of thing.)

2. With an understanding of how conservatives think/feel, we can talk about how conservatives' emotions and intuitions connect to conservative political positions (and liberal positions, too). The goal is to anticipate how a conservative will react *intuitively* to a new policy proposal. In practice, people make all sorts of logical arguments, but these only rarely change minds. More often, a person's stance on policy is determined by knee-jerk, intuitive reactions, and the arguments are filled in later. So if we want to engage productively, we should structure our arguments to fit the intuitions of the audience. Those intuitions will then work with us rather than against us, and the audience will argue *themselves* into agreement.

3. Address relative advantages/disadvantages of both liberal and conservative viewpoints. Arguing more effectively is one thing, and I'm sure many people reading this series are just interested in that aspect. But personally, I sometimes think about effective policy. In order to design effective policy, it's important to recognize the relative advantages on both sides of the political spectrum, and ideally integrate any relevant insights from both. Heck, it might even turn out to be useful for arguing more effectively, too.

Fortunately, (1), the framework for understanding, has already been done by a much better writer than myself: it's the zombies piece linked from the first post in this series. The series itself is mostly about applying that framework.

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