The answer is to defeat liberals, not compromise with them. Politics is a Game of Thrones.
If you don’t win, your ideas will be ignored.
Politics is won and loss in the arena of ideas. Liberals are good about lying about their ideas and making them seem better than what they are.
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Our tendency toward partisanship is likely the result of evolution—forming groups is how prehistoric humans survived. That’s helpful when trying to master an unforgiving environment with Stone Age technology. It’s less so when trying to foster a functional democracy.
Understanding the other side’s point of view, even if one disagrees with it, is central to compromise, policymaking, and any hope for civility in civic life. So if our brains are blinding us to information that challenges our partisan predisposition, how can we hope ever to find common ground? It’s a challenge that is stumping both the electorate and the elected officials who represent them. Congressional hearings are hearings in name only—opportunities for politicians to grandstand rather than talk with each other. And the political discussion, even among those well versed in the issues, largely exists in parallel red and blue universes, mental spheres with few or no common facts to serve as starting points.
But rather than despair, many political-psychology researchers see their results as reason for hope, and they raise a tantalizing prospect: With enough understanding of what exactly makes us so vulnerable to partisanship, can we reshape our political environment to access the better angels of our neurological nature?
So how might we persuade people to set aside their blind partisanship in other contexts? Let’s start with a forum in which the stakes are infinitely lower than at the Middle East peace talks but where the partisan vitriol runs every bit as high: Internet comment sections.
Comment sections bring out the worst in partisan thinking: ad hominem attacks, people who clearly will not be convinced of the other side, and stubborn arguments where users talk past one another, not with each other. But maybe the structure of comment sections, rather than the people doing the commenting, has turned them into such intellectual sewers—and maybe a tweak or two at the margins could clean them up.
“You can think of comment sections as mini-institutions,” Nyhan says. “It’s a context in which debate is happening, and if we can help people be more civil toward each other, that might be a positive step.”
Talia Stroud is trying to take that step. As the director of the Engaging News project at the University of Texas (Austin), she leads a research group with the goal of making the Internet more civil for politics. “It’s unbelievably difficult,” she says.
One way to start, her research suggests, is to reevaluate the “like” button, a common feature on comment threads. In the context of a political-news article, “liking” a comment or a post could activate us-versus-them thinking. “Liking” something means you associate with it. It reminds people of their partisanship. “So we did a study where we manipulated whether it was a ‘like’ button or a ‘respect’ button,” Stroud says. She found that people were more willing to express “respect” for arguments that ran counter to their own.
It’s “not ‘I like what you’re saying’ but ‘I respect it’ even though I might not agree with you,” she says. “That showed some of the power of really small things and changes that could be easily implemented.”