Most people are bad at arguing. These 2 techniques will make you better.

Anyone who has argued with an opinionated relative or friend about immigration or gun control knows it is often impossible to sway someone with strong views.

That’s in part because our brains work hard to ensure the integrity of our worldview: We seek out information to confirm what we already know, and are dismissive or avoidant of facts that are hostile to our core beliefs.

But it’s not impossible to make your argument stick. And there’s been some good scientific work on this. Here are two strategies that, based on the evidence, seem promising.

1) If the argument you find convincing doesn’t resonate with someone else, find out what does

The answer to polarization and political division is not simply exposing people to another point of view.

In 2017, researchers at Duke, NYU, and Princeton ran an experiment where they paid a large sample of Democratic and Republican Twitter users to read more opinions from the other side. “We found no evidence that inter-group contact on social media reduces political polarization,” the authors wrote. Republicans in the experiment actually grew more conservative over the course of the test. Liberals in the experiment grew very slightly more liberal.

Whenever we engage in political debates, we all tend to overrate the power of arguments we find personally convincing — and wrongly think the other side will be swayed.

On gun control, for instance, liberals are persuaded by stats like, “No other developed country in the world has nearly the same rate of gun violence as does America.” And they think other people will find this compelling, too.

Conservatives, meanwhile, often go to this formulation: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

What both sides fail to understand is that they’re arguing a point that their opponents have not only already dismissed but may be inherently deaf to.

“The messages that are intuitive to people are, for the most part, not the effective ones,” Robb Willer, a professor of sociology and psychology at Stanford University, told me in 2015.

Willer has shown it’s at least possible to nudge our political opponents to consider ideas they’d normally reject outright. In 2015, in a series of six studies, he and co-author Matthew Feinberg found that when conservative policies are framed around liberal values like equality or fairness, liberals become more accepting of them. The same was true of liberal policies recast in terms of conservative values like respect for authority.

Willer has shown it’s at least possible to nudge our political opponents to consider ideas they’d normally reject outright. In 2015, in a series of six studies, he and co-author Matthew Feinberg found that when conservative policies are framed around liberal values like equality or fairness, liberals become more accepting of them. The same was true of liberal policies recast in terms of conservative values like respect for authority.

So, his research suggests, if a conservative wanted to convince a liberal to support higher military spending, he shouldn’t appeal to patriotism. He should say something like, “Through the military, the disadvantaged can achieve equal standing and overcome the challenges of poverty and inequality.” Or at least that’s the general idea.

In a recent effort Willer and a co-author found, in a nationally representative sample, that conservatives would be more willing to support a hypothetical liberal candidate for president if that candidate used language that reflected conservative values. For instance, conservatives who read that the candidate’s “vision for America is based on respect for the values and traditions that were handed down to us…” were more likely to say they supported him than when the candidate’s message was framed with liberal buzzwords.

How to sway the other side: Use their morals against them

Willer’s work is based on moral foundations theory. It’s the idea that people have stable, gut-level morals that influence their worldview. The liberal moral foundations include equality, fairness, and protection of the vulnerable. Conservative moral foundations are more stalwart: They favor in-group loyalty, moral purity, and respect for authority.

Politicians intuitively use moral foundations to excite like-minded voters. Conservative politicians know phrases like “take our country back” get followers’ hearts beating.

What moral foundations theory tells us, however, is that these messages don’t translate from one moral tribe to the other. “You’re essentially trying to convince somebody who speaks French of some position while speaking German to them,” Willer says. “And that doesn’t resonate.”

Willer cautioned that it’s still extremely difficult to convert a political opponent completely to your side, even with these techniques. “We found statistically significant effects,” he says. “They’re reliable. But in terms of magnitude, they are not large.”

The chart below shows how well the moral reframing worked for each policy area in Willer’s study. To be clear, there’s only so much that reframing in terms of values can do: It can’t turn an anti-Obamacare conservative into a proponent, but it can soften his stance and get him to listen to counterarguments.

John Rawls’ Theory of Justice

Jonathan Wolff gives a very brief introductory overview of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, one of the most influential works in political philosophy of the 20th century. Rawls’ argument takes the form of a thought experiment involving a hypothetical contract in which people are made ignorant about certain facts about themselves which could bias them in their own favor (e.g. their race, gender, class, age, talents, etc.). In this way, ignorance is used as a way to guarantee impartiality in deciding how societies should be set up. After all, one cannot rig things up to benefit oneself if one doesn’t know what one’s interests are and what one’s position in society will be. Rawls argued that people behind this so-called “veil of ignorance” would agree to two principles of justice: the liberty principle and the difference principle. Jonathan Wolf explains these principles and the main arguments for and against them. (My Summary)

Israel, This Is Not Who We Are

Orthodoxy should be respected, but we cannot allow the politics of a radical minority to alienate millions of Jews worldwide.

.. Last month, a Conservative rabbi was detained for the alleged crime of performing a non-Orthodox wedding ceremony in Israel. In several municipalities, attempts were made to disrupt secular life by closing convenience stores on the Sabbath.

These events are creating the impression that the democratic and egalitarian dimensions of the Jewish democratic state are being tested.

.. For 4,000 years, the Jewish people were seen as the world’s moral compass.

.. The Zionist movement has been unwaveringly democratic from its very start. Writ large upon its flag were liberty, equality and human rights for all. It was also one of the very first national movements to guarantee full equality and voting rights for women.

.. Its Declaration of Independence guarantees “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” as well as a guarantee of freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.

..now, when Israel’s government appears to be tarnishing the sacred value of equality, many supporters feel it is turning its back on Jewish heritage, the Zionist ethos and the Israeli spirit

.. In Israel, it will

  • heighten the sense of polarization and discord. Abroad,
  • Israel may find itself associated with a broken values system and questionable friends.

As a result, future leaders of the West may become hostile or indifferent to the Jewish state.

.. For over 200 years, modern Judaism has aligned itself with enlightenment. The Jews of the new era have fused our national pride and religious affiliation with a dedication to human progress, worldly culture and morality.

.. when members of Israel’s current government unintentionally undermine the covenant between Judaism and enlightenment, they crush the core of contemporary Jewish existence.

.. Already today, the main challenge facing the Jewish diaspora is a deep — and deepening — generational divide. All over the world, and especially in North America, Jewish millennials are raising doubts that their parents and grandparents never raised. The commitment to Israel and Jewish institutions is not unconditional.

.. If present trends persist, young Jews might not acquiesce to an affiliation with a nation that discriminates against

  • non-Orthodox Jews,
  • non-Jewish minorities and the
  • L.G.B.T. community.

They may not

  • fight the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, they may not
  • support Israel in Washington and they may not
  • provide it with the strategic rear guard that Israel so needs.

.. Let us not forget: A vast majority of the world’s Jews do not identify as Orthodox. They are traditional, secular, Conservative, Reform or completely unaffiliated. Orthodoxy should be respected, but we cannot allow the politics of a radical minority to alienate millions of Jews worldwide.

.. This is not who we are, and this is not who we wish to be. This is not the face we want to show our children, grandchildren and the family of nations.

Why Do Conservatives Hate Identity Politics So Much?

Conservatives have always viewed the quest for equality as a zero-sum game.

While John Adams was away at the Second Continental Congress, his wife Abigail was concerned he would forget about her. Not literally, of course, but in the nation’s new code of laws. So she wrote him a letter and advised him to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” She warned, “Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of the husbands.”

For conservatives like Brooks and Sullivan, the quest for equality is a zero-sum game. Incorporating “those who previously had no standing” into the “parameters of public speech” necessitates a removal of freedom from those who were already being heard. A more inclusive society will inevitably water down the influence of their white, male worldview. I understand their unease with this development—up to a point. It’s hard to hear honest critiques of a world that has disproportionately benefitted people like you. It calls into question the legitimacy of your success. This is what Brooks is trying to articulate when he writes:

Identity politics takes individual merit out of the moral center of our system and asserts that group is, Goldberg says, “an immutable category, a permanent tribe.”

Defenders of an unjust status quo know they can’t just say, “Hey, look, society currently suits me super-well, so let’s not change it.” So they portray the enfranchisement of subordinated groups as attacks on individual relationships, too.

Brooks and Sullivan are merely carrying on this conservative conviction, which made an otherwise brilliant founding father fear the “despotism” of free women more than a political system which excluded the majority of its citizens.