The “Other Side” Is Not DumbThere’s a fun game I like to play…

The “Other Side” Is Not DumbThere’s a fun game I like to play…

The “Other Side” Is Not DumbThere’s a fun game I like to play…

The “Other Side” Is Not DumbThere’s a fun game I like to play in a

group of trusted friends called“Controversial Opinion.” The rules are simple: Don’t talk about what wasshared during Controversial Opinion afterward and you aren’t allowed to“argue”—only to ask questions about why that person feels that way.Opinions can range from “I think James Bond movies are overrated” to “Ithink Donald Trump would make a excellent president.”Usually, someone responds to an opinion with, “Oh my god! I had no idea youwere one of those people!” Which is really another way of saying “I thoughtyou were on my team!”In psychology, the idea that everyone is like us is called the “false-consensusbias.” This bias often manifests itself when we see TV ratings (“Who the hellare all these people that watch NCIS?”) or in politics (“Everyone I know is forstricter gun control! Who are these backwards rubes that disagree?!”) or polls(“Who are these people voting for Ben Carson?”).Online it means we can be blindsided by the opinions of our friends or, morebroadly, America. Over time, this morphs into a subconscious belief that weand our friends are the sane ones and that there’s a crazy “Other Side” thatmust be laughed at—an Other Side that just doesn’t “get it,” and is clearly notas intelligent as “us.” But this holier-than-thou social media behavior iscounterproductive, it’s self-aggrandizement at the cost of actual nuanceddiscourse and if we want to consider online discourse productive, we need tomove past this.What is emerging is the worst kind of echo chamber, one where those insideare increasingly convinced that everyone shares their world view, that theirranks are growing when they aren’t. It’s like clockwork: an event happens andthen your social media circle is shocked when a non-social media peer grouppublic reacts to news in an unexpected way. They then mock the Other Sidefor being “out of touch” or “dumb.”The Economist tracks what media is talking about vs. the habits of actual people.Fredrik deBoer, one of my favorite writers around, touched on this in his Essay“Getting Past the Coalition of the Cool.” He writes:[The Internet] encourages people to collapse any distinction between their worklife, their social life, and their political life. “Hey, that person who tweets aboutthe TV shows I like also dislikes injustice,” which over time becomes “I can identifyan ally by the TV shows they like.” The fact that you can mine a Rihanna video forpolitical content becomes, in that vague internety way, the sense that people whodon’t see political content in Rihanna’s music aren’t on your side.When someone communicates that they are not “on our side” our firstreaction is to run away or dismiss them as stupid. To be sure, there are hateful,racist, people not worthy of the small amount of electricity it takes just one ofyour synapses to fire. I’m instead referencing those who actually believe in anopposing viewpoint of a complicated issue, and do so for genuine, consideredreasons. Or at least, for reasons just as good as yours.Source: Esquire¸NBC News pollThis is not a “political correctness” issue. It’s a fundamental rejection of thepossibility to consider that the people who don’t feel the same way you domight be right. It’s a preference to see the Other Side as a cardboard cut out,and not the complicated individual human beings that they actually are.What happens instead of genuine intellectual curiosity is the sharing of Slateor Onion or Fox News or Red State links. Sites that exist almost solely toproduce content to be shared so friends can pat each other on the back andmock the Other Side. Look at the Other Side! So dumb and unable to see thisthe way I do!Sharing links that mock a caricature of the Other Side isn’t signaling thatwe’re somehow more informed. It signals that we’d rather be smug assholesthan consider alternative views. It signals that we’d much rather show ourfriends that we’re like them, than try to understand those who are not.It’s impossible to consider yourself a curious person and participate in socialmedia in this way. We cannot consider ourselves “empathetic” only to turnaround and belittle those that don’t agree with us.On Twitter and Facebook this means we prioritize by sharing stuff that willgarner approval of our peers over stuff that’s actually, you know, true. Weshare stuff that ignores wider realities, selectively shares information, or isjust an outright falsehood. The misinformation is so rampant that theWashington Post stopped publishing its internet fact-checking column becausepeople didn’t seem to care if stuff was true.Where debunking an Internet fake once involved some research, it’s now often assimple as clicking around for an “about” or “disclaimer” page. And where awillingness to believe hoaxes once seemed to come from a place of honestignorance or misunderstanding, that’s frequently no longer the case. Headlineslike “Casey Anthony found dismembered in truck” go viral via old-fashionedschadenfreude—even hate.…Institutional distrust is so high right now, and cognitive bias so strong always,that the people who fall for hoax news stories are frequently only interested inconsuming information that conforms with their views—even when it’sdemonstrably fake.The solution, as deBoer says, “You have to be willing to sacrifice your carefullycurated social performance and be willing to work with people who are notlike you.” In other words you have to recognize that the Other Side is made ofactual people.,YH OHDUQHG VR PXFK IURP IHPLQLVWV RQ KHUH :DVQW DOZDVHDV IRU PH WR VZDOORZ ZKDW WKH VDLG EXW ,P JODG WR KDYHFRPH DURXQG $0 ‘HF ǻ[ ǻS ℏ#+HFN3KLOO)ROORZBut I’d like to go a step further. We should all enter every issue with the veryreal possibility that we might be wrong this time.Isn’t it possible that you, reader of Medium and Twitter power user, like me,suffer from this from time to time? Isn’t it possible that we’re not right abouteverything? That those who live in places not where you live, watch showsthat you don’t watch, and read books that you don’t read, have opinions andbelief systems just as valid as yours? That maybe you don’t see the entirepicture?Think political correctness has gotten out of control? Follow the many greatsocial activists on Twitter. Think America’s stance on guns is puzzling? Readthe stories of the 31% of Americans that own a firearm. This is not to say theOther Side is “right” but that they likely have real reasons to feel that way.And only after understanding those reasons can a real discussion take place.As any debate club veteran knows, if you can’t make your opponent’s point forthem, you don’t truly grasp the issue. We can bemoan political gridlock and adivisive media all we want. But we won’t truly progress as individuals until wemake an honest effort to understand those that are not like us. And you won’tconvince anyone to feel the way you do if you don’t respect their position andopinions.A dare for the next time you’re in discussion with someone you disagree with:Don’t try to “win.” Don’t try to “convince” anyone of your viewpoint. Don’tscore points by mocking them to your peers. Instead try to “lose.” Hear themout. Ask them to convince you and mean it. No one is going to tell yourenvironmentalist friends that you merely asked follow up questions after yourbrother made his pro-fracking case.SourceOr, the next time you feel compelled to share a link on social media aboutcurrent events, ask yourself why you are doing it. Is it because that link bringsto light information you hadn’t considered? Or does it confirm your worldview, reminding your circle of intellectual teammates that you’re not on theOther Side?I implore you to seek out your opposite. When you hear someone cite “facts”that don’t support your viewpoint don’t think “that can’t be true!” Insteadconsider, “Hm, maybe that person is right? I should look into this.”Because refusing to truly understand those who disagree with you isintellectual laziness and worse, is usually worse than what you’re accusing theOther Side of doing.[Thanks for reading! Get a heads up every time I publish something new bysubscribing to my newsletter. Sent every other month or so.]

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-1) What is the issue being discussed (argued, presented) in this article? (summary)

-2) What is the author’s position on that issue? (claim)

3) What are the arguments the author uses to support his/her position? (reasons and supporting evidence)
4) How does this article change how you think about the issue? (conclusion)