Robert Talisse, Transcript: Rebuilding Democracy Pt. 2

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Turi: [00:00:52] welcome to part two of our interview with Bob. Talisse democracy is the thesis that a stable and decent political order is possible among equal citizens who nevertheless disagree sometimes very sharply about what kind of society needs building, but for that disagreement to work in the service of democracy. We need something called civility. In part one of this podcast, we covered the question of equal citizenship and why polarization makes that notion so difficult. In part two, we want to cover the nature of disagreement, how we disagree. And how we build towards something called civility or civil friendship. Well, thanks so much for joining us again.

Bob Talisse: [00:01:41] Well, thank you for having me again.

Turi: [00:01:43] So, in the first part of it podcast, we identified the fact that polarization isn’t so much a bug of democracy as a feature. Democracy runs on disagreement. It’s epistemically useful. It helps us to articulate and discover new ideas, but it’s also critical for us to include everybody in the process of democracy. Your fundamental thesis is that if disagreement is run badly, It’s can actually unraveled democracy, help us think that through.

Bob Talisse: [00:02:20] Well, sure. So, you know, when we’re talking about equals, equal citizens, political equals one of the instant or direct locations of our political equality is that we get to make up our own minds about things. and in fact, that’s one of the, the values we might even say of a democratic society is that individual citizens get to draw their own political conclusions, individual citizens get to think their own political thoughts. For better or worse even. they get to consult the sources that they think are reliable and, you know, render their own judges comments about the political questions that they face, as, as a citizen. Now, what that means of course, is that, individual different individuals could come to different answers, opposing judgements about. Public policy questions about who should be elected to a particular office about the structure of law and institutions and other kinds of features of the political architecture of democracy. And so when we say democracy runs on disagreement, we mean, at least this much, firstly, The kind of political equality that democracy is premised upon and secures has is one of its upshots that citizens will disagree about politics. Secondly, we mean that this kind of clash of opinions as John Stuart mill put it. Is when, when conducted within certain kinds of institutional and political constraints is politically not only healthy. But beneficial. That is it’s by means of citizens understood as political equals hashing out their differences, trading and exchanging reasons and objections and criticisms and considerations that we hope. Politics can be, not only, conducted in a way in which each person feels as if they are an equal participant, but also that democracy can achieve, on the whole. And we might even want to say something like in the long run, better political outcomes and results. so disagreement then is central to the democratic aspiration. One of the troubles, that comes with disagreement of course, is that when two people disagree, they hold incompatible sometimes even as strong as inconsistent, views about some question or matter or issue. and when we’re talking particularly about political disagreement, often those. Differences of opinion, those clashes of judgment have to do with some of the most important things that humans can care about, like justice. And so when it comes to political disagreement, it’s often very difficult to agree to disagree. Because political disagreements often invoke our deepest sense of, of what’s. Right. And so we tend to see those with whom we disagree politically as not merely mistaken or foolish or silly, we see them in those terms for sure. But we also see them as on the wrong side. Of the issue and often being on the wrong side of the issuer of the question is equivalent. So we see it to being on the side of injustice. And so political disagreement in a democracy carries this additional burden. You might say in that we’re required as democratic citizens to see one another as our equals. That is no citizen is another’s political subordinate. However, because we’re equals, we’re going to disagree about political questions of the day political disagreements invoke our conception of justice. And so part of me is going to see you as on the side of injustice. But nonetheless, I’m required to recognize you as an equal. That is, I have to recognize your entitlement to an equal say, despite the fact that in certain kinds of contexts, I will also be inclined to see you as an enemy of justice. And that’s a. That’s a tough pill to swallow. Isn’t it,

Turi: [00:07:28] it makes me, it makes me reevaluate this sort of terrible dark joke of the internet, which is that any comment section left to its own devices will devolve into people calling each other Nazis within a matter of minutes, but which, which, which happens. But, but it makes me wonder whether actually that’s not just a rhetorical move. It’s not just people flinging Nazi at each other as an insult. It’s actually because the, the values being argued over are so cool that actually somebody being on the other side kind of does make them a Nazi. Right. so, to take that as a, intro into, something that you write and talk about, which is the ways in which the media and our Tech platforms privilege a not terribly positive way of seeing the other side.

Bob Talisse: [00:08:24] Right. So you know, this, it goes back to the polarization discussion in the first, part of our, first episode of our two-part, discussion here. Well, let me say, let me share a story. How’s that? You know, in the lead up to the last presidential election in the United States, I, back to my way, inadvertently into conducting a small scale, public opinion experiment in that, as news was coming out, As it was daily at the time with scandals and transgressions and you know, each of the two candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, , revealing things about the other side that was supposed to, demonstrate that the other side was unfit for office. and maybe because I live in Nashville where people freely just strike up conversations with strangers, which was a cultural shift from my upbringing in New Jersey. you know, at the time leading up to the election, it was not uncommon to be standing in line at the grocery store and just have a stranger turn to you and say, could you believe what Donald Trump just said? Or did you hear Hillary last night often with a kind of tone of concern? And you know, after a little while I just got sick of, engaging in this way, uh, you know, just buying groceries or filling my car with gas. Um, I started saying oh yeah. I saw that, but I’m not sure what to think about it yet. Now I naively thought that this would be a strong social cue that I just didn’t want to have the conversation. It turns out it didn’t work at all. so when I would say, well, yeah, I, I, I, I saw the access Hollywood tape, but I’m not sure what to make of it yet. . It was invariably taken as evidence that I needed more information about what had happened. Right. And interestingly, the rehashing of the episode that would then be presented almost invariably would end with a summary judgment. So she’s terrible, or, you know, he’s such a, you know, he’s a, he’s a disgusting pig so forgive one very interesting example, cab in Nashville, the cab driver on my way to the airport. and she said, Oh, did you see this tape that they have of Donald Trump? And I said, well, yeah, I’m just not sure what to make of it yet. And then she said, well, all it shows is that he’s got a potty mouth. The media,

Turi: [00:10:59] this was that this is the tape in which he said grabbing people, right?

Bob Talisse: [00:11:00] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. He just shows you as a potty now and the media is blowing it up and it’s free speech anyway. And yada, yada yada. And because I was trapped in a cab, I said, well, I don’t know that anybody who’s taking offense or making an issue of this tape is concerned about his choice of words. I said, the critics are saying it’s by means of those words that he demeaned and humiliated and bragged about assaulting women. And that’s the thing people are finding objectionable. Her response was we’ll have to agree to disagree there. And that was the end of the conversation, as far as she was concerned. Nothing, no other, you know, I had it instantly sounded like we’ll agree to disagree about what I was just reporting, what the people who find this tape to be revealing, something objectional about him are saying. And they in fact say that. But she had heard me in reporting what the critics of Trump with respect to that tape were saying she heard in my report, the endorsement of the view, and could not be moved from that as if it were from her perspective to see the episode in a way that sucks just that there was more to it than merely bad language. is already to take a partisan side on the issue. Wow. And the conversation was done at that point. There was just, there was no going back. I tried, you know, like, well, look, I’m a philosopher and you know, we have these distinctions between, you know, the words that you use and what acts you perform by means of the words, you know, a bribe is not just, I went through the whole bribe is not just a collection of words. A bribe is the thing that you do with those words, just like a prompt. You know, I went through the whole thing and there was just zero reply. It wasn’t even like, you know, let’s drop it. It’s just, she was done talking. And so I worry that one of the upshots of some of the social dynamic forces that we were talking about in the first episode are such that once they’ve taken hold of our way of thinking about politics, they lead us to understand facts as the sorts of things that both always just speak for themselves. And always tell a partisan story. And so in a lot of these episodes with, I don’t know what to think about that the response was always at least suggesting that people think, well, if you don’t know what to think about this, you must not really know it. You must not really know what happened because to know what happened is to know what to think about it. That is, let me put it in a even broader way. I worry that we’ve lost or jettisoned the idea that politics requires reflection and judgment. Right? The idea that if you just see, we just hear the expression basket of deplorables, you already know what to think. So if you’re not sure what to think about that, you must not really know what she said, and that makes disagreement Impossible

Turi: [00:14:21] . This is absolutely fascinating, Bob. It reminds me of two stories, one, humorous. My French grandfather used to use to say align with translators begin. If you starting to ask questions is beginning to disagree. Right. is beginning to disobey, sorry, starting to ask why is beginning to disobey, which is, which is just true, but it’s clearly understood by your interlocutor in the cab. The other thing, the other story that reminds me of is that having spent a lot of time in the middle East, And speaking Arabic people would ask me, well, have you read the Koran? And then my answer would always be, yes, I have. And in fact, I’ve read large punks parts of the Koran in Arabic, And they would immediately look at me or some of them would look at me and say, and so are you, are you a Muslim? Now? not terribly dissimilarly. If you’ve read it right. You must’ve seen the truth, but there’s, there’s something very specific. In your description of your cabbie, around the polarization of facts, which I think is something that you see, upscale, but also constantly reinforced by the Fox newses and the MSNBC, right?

Bob Talisse: [00:15:28] That’s right. Because you know, we are our informational environments now. Including just, television, you know, not just social media with, you know, interactive elements, including television, the informational environment seems directed at, desolving the distinction between knowing what happened and having a judgment about what happened. Such that no, the facts is to know what to think about them. you know, the religious context is, is, yeah. Once you’ve heard the good news, you should, you know, you, you understand it or, you know, something changes about you. and, and you’re converted. I think that a lot of our informational, environment is set up for that kind of, rewarding. Of instantaneous judgment. And in fact, the instantaneous expressions of judgment, if you look on Twitter and Facebook and the social media platforms, there’s the thumbs up and the stars and the, you know, retweets and, the re postings. These are all forms of positive feedback and the quicker you respond, the better. To know the facts is to have the judgment and is to express publicly the judgment that makes disagreement impossible. Not only because it primes us to see those with whom we disagree has inherently uninformed misinformed, disengaged, or uninterested or confused, but also because it. Primes us to, short circuit reflection. There’s no time to think about things. Yeah. Right.

Turi: [00:17:16] I want to go back to. The idea that you’ve voiced at the beginning of this interview, which is that, politics, political discussion gets as fractious as it does precisely because the values at stake are so deeply held by us. You describe, a type. Of disagreement.I sort of a typology of disagreement that is different from others. You call it in your book, deep disagreement, something which is, it’s not a question of which restaurant you’re going to go to it. Whether you value Liberty over justice, say help us understand what this deep disagree, what these deep disagreements are.

Bob Talisse: [00:17:54] Well, good. So, you know, in the philosophical, study in the professional literature about the epistemology of disagreement, there is a debate about whether disagreements are deep or can ever be deep, but let’s hold that off to the side. What we mean by a w what one means by just deep disagreement is roughly, as you just characterized it. There could be non deep disagreements where we understand, we share a common understanding of say the, the policy of capital punishment. And then we disagree about. Certain features of that policy that drive us, each to hold different assessments of it’s consistency with justice. So, you know, we might share a common conception of what capital punishment is. We might even share a common conception of what the data. With respect to deterrence, are about, capital punishment. And then we just disagree about whether deterrence is, whether those data are as reliable or what the data mean. And we can proceed with our disagreement about capital punishment by sort of helping to sort through or working, to sort through, disagreements about the particular details that go into. Each of our opposing judgments, deep disagreements or disagreements where, the disputants don’t share a common conception even of what’s at issue. So there’s something already paradoxical about, in what sense is it a disagreement right. Ships in the night? Yeah, that’s right. Where we’re not even agreed on what the disagreement is about and therefore we’re not agreed on, or we don’t share a common conception of what would count. Has a consideration that favors side over the other.

Turi: [00:19:51] give me an example. Can you give me an example of, of a disagreement of that kind?

Bob Talisse: [00:19:56] so fake news might be a good example or, some of the conspiracy theory, engagements with conspiracy theories might be another good example. Let’s start with the ladder. you know, there are all kinds of different, conspiracy theories. They’re not all the same kind of animal, but, one thing that goes on, with conspiracy theories is that the person who accepts the theory, is committed to a conception of. What counts as a fact, what counts as a confirming consideration, what counts as a disconfirming consideration that runs contrary to the person who rejects the theory. What actually happened on nine 11 is something that nine 11 conspirators conspiracy theory, adopters, and their opponents don’t share. And so without a common, sort of groundwork of, a shared conception of what the event was. What counts as evidence, what counts as generally reliable, by way of sources of information. There’s no disagreement possible. There’s just the clash of opinions or the clash of differing, accounts, where as you say, two ships that just sort of pass in the night. and no, The fact that they’re two ships passing in the night in these cases in no way prevents the disputants from escalating their animosity towards the other side. That is because there are two ships passing in the night. The more they, the more their engagement fails to, to hook up in the right way. The more inclined the disputants are to see the other side as cognitively and morally beyond the pale or off the charts or incompetent or depraved.

Turi: [00:22:01] So that’s bring that back from the, the realms of the Slightly unhinged to, to the realms of everyday politics. So conservatives and liberals, what are the deep disagreements that you see between them? Those, the ships that pass each other in the night.

Bob Talisse: [00:22:18] Good. So, you know, any of the, the differences of view, about what is currently happening in Portland

Turi: [00:22:28] . Can you open that up for us? We have an international audience.

Bob Talisse: [00:22:30] Oh yeah, yeah, sure, sure, sure. So, there have been for, for weeks and weeks now, black lives matter protests, in Portland and, the right leaning, information sources that news sources. Present Portland as if the city is on fire and under the control of anarchists sometimes described as radical Democrat, right? Radical Democrat. And our guests are Antifa and anarchism. but if you go to the left wing side, what’s going on in Portland is portrayed in a way that’s much different. in that there are protests. When they turn violent, it’s often the case that the violence is the result of undue, escalation from the police and other forces, and that, Portland is generally, under control and peaceful, and the protests are at a particular part of the city. And the rest of the city is, is, is going on as normal. If you go to the right wing sources though, it’s denied that that’s the case. And when you point to pieces of evidence that say, well, wait a minute, these are not violent protests. These are not people out of control. The city’s not burning to the ground. The claim is then made what your sources of information are partisan. You’re not able to see, right. What’s really happening in Portland because. The information that you’re getting has been doctored.

Turi: [00:24:03] So what you’re seeing here is two different value schemes interpreting an event differently, and then searching out new sources, data facts that will support that argument. So you have the two ships refusing to cross in the night, which are liberal versus conservative values. And then finding, a series of narratives to support those use. So you end up with a situation in which it’s not just the values, which miss each other. It’s also the facts

Bob Talisse: [00:24:34] and note in these particular kinds of cases, that distinction, that, that you just, drew Turi between sort of values and facts is itself, complicated. Even in the language that we use to describe certain kinds of events, Embeds, certain kinds of value judgments. So if we call what’s happening important protests, we’ve already described what’s happening there with a value Laden term. If we describe what’s going on in PR in Portland as rebellion. We’ve described it in a different way that carries with it a different kind of valuation. you know, we never talk about bad guys being liberated. Say that they were released. So, you know, are even the language that we use. And this is itself, not a partisan thing. This is just a fact about how language works, but it’s used to partisan ends. Increasingly, at least it seems to me in a democracy in the United States, Some terms are, freighted they’re, they’re thick in that very have a descriptive and a evaluational component. and, protest is one of these terms. So you call them protesters. You’ve already, described what’s happening in a way that elicits a certain kind of positive, A moral judgment. You describe things in a slightly different way. Rioting for example, right now, not protesters they’re rioters. You’ve described the same scene in a way that primes and promotes, the opposite normative evaluation.

Turi: [00:26:18] Gotcha. So just to interrupt as I’m. Were therefore always hamstrung or politicized by the language that we use. But I, I want to push you one step further and ask you to talk through, something you describe as the performance of argumentation that we see across media. There’s a lovely section in, in, in your book, as you describe the fact that we have endless talk shows, endless debates. Presidential debates. talk, talk, talk shows in the format of debates, and that sort of points to the fact that all of us know we need to be arguing in a democracy, but I think one of the points that you make is that, that the argumentation that we see across all our platforms, media, social media, et cetera, isn’t really arguing. It’s a performance of arguing.

Bob Talisse: [00:27:10] That’s right. and a mimic of it. Right. so. The first thing to say is the good news, right? which you just mentioned, we democratic citizens may be, humans in some broader sense outside of our political, roles. We are inveterate. We are natural arguers, right? We, we seek to believe on the basis of reasons we seek to evaluate our beliefs as well founded. when somebody, even with respect to mundane, nonpolitical matters, breast is a judgment that runs contrary. The third one that we have and take seriously. We often see that there’s an issue between us that should be hammered out, or that could be hammered out. So. Arguing is, a, a sort of natural state for cognitive creatures of the kind that we are. We’re the kind of cognitive creatures that needs to assess our own beliefs as warranted, as, as sufficiently supported by the evidence. That’s the good news. The bad news, of course, in familiar ways that, will lead us into the discussion, about, mimicking argument. The bad news of course, is that that need to be able to assess our own beliefs as proper. As well, well, grounded renders less vulnerable in particular ways, in ways that were obvious, going at least as far back as you know, Plato and Aristotle who saw rhetoric. As, something yeah. To be both philosophically attended to, and also as a standing vulnerability, of human beings that because we feel the need to see our own beliefs is grounded, adequately by reasons and evidence that creates opportunities for people who can peddle. Counterfeits of reasons and evidence to manipulate us in various ways. Now, when we’re talking about democratic politics where remember we’re, we’re, we’re talking about a system of politics in which public perceptions, public opinion matters a great deal. And it’s almost like, you know, what, advertisers and marketers do in the marketplace in democratic politics, campaigns and campaign managers and parties have to manage the public perception of their brand often. Meaning there. Platforms, their signature policies and their people, the faces that people attach to the parties. Now. So two things we were naturally interested in arguing and reasoning. Second thing in a democracy politics, at least to some measure, perhaps even a large measure is a matter of public perceptions of things. Managing public perceptions. So what we’re seeing then in news media, almost across the board, certainly popular news outlets, you know, the 24 seven networks and a lot of the online sites is the presenting of political information by means of argumentative encounter. By means of dialectical exchange. So if you were to go turn on, Fox, MSNBC, whatever 24, seven news channel, you, you want, if you go turn it on almost any point of the day, what you will see is an anchor delivering some piece of information, and then typically some guests. To come and give some interpretation or to say something about what that piece of information means. And more often it’s not always the political affiliation of the commentator is made is made salient to the viewer. Yeah. Now we’re going to turn to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, right? And then Lindsey Graham says the, you know, says the thing that is the Republican right. Spin on this. No, no, none of, although this is often presented as dialectical or argumentative exchange. It’s not aimed at changing anybody’s mind. It’s not aimed at winning or losing or scoring a good rational point. Or correcting an error or achieving better understanding among people who take themselves to disagree? No, these are performances that in fact have very little to do with the people talking on the screen. These are argumentative exchanges that are performed for the sake of the onlooking audience, so that the onlooking audience either learns where they should be, where they should stand, because they hear the party affiliate that they ally with. Tell them. Where they should stand on the issue being discussed or in some of the, you know, more sort of personality driven, programs, on talk radio and on the more overtly partisan networks in the United States, watch the ad, the kit for your political view, put the opponent in his or her place. Shut down the opponent. When bill O’Reilly was, had his own show on Fox, this was a nightly, hourly ritual to watch not to see bill O’Reilly say something new or deliver new information or give some, some good analysis of any. Current issue. The bill O’Reilly’s show was overtly one hour of watching bill O’Reilly shut the other side down.

Turi: [00:33:31] Adrian Bardon. Who’s who’s appeared on one of our podcasts describes this as ideation pornography.

Bob Talisse: [00:33:38] No, that’s a good description of it. That’s because remember again, just how the polarization dynamic works. That feels really good, right? It was good. It makes us feel good about, we feel verified right? When our side shuts the other side up, shut some down, puts them in their place. That feels real good. Now the marketing or PR aspect of this is an interesting component because. There are all kinds of reasons now to think that at least in the United States, but in other democracies as well, winning big time, that nationwide elections has very little to do with changing minds and winning hearts over national elections are won or lost by mobilization. The name of the game is don’t. You don’t make new supporters. You get more of your supporters out to the polls and the next guy. So it’s about motivating or extracting exciting political behavior from people who are already on your side. So these, mimicked or, or, these, pantomimes of political argumentation. Fail is argumentation. Cause they’re not really about winning and losing and making points and trying to achieve greater understanding between you and your interlocutor

Turi: [00:35:07] of this is the, the parallels between the, the demands of politics across the democratic spaces and the demands of media. very, very similar here. we, we all know that you get more traffic. By inciting to outrage or to love. And then the case of politics, what you’re saying here is that nobody’s in the business of convincing with ideas you’re in the business of motivating. So we’re back to your very, very first strong, strong point, which is that, polarization is embedded into the fabric of democracy.Can I ask you in the face of some, unpleasant truths, How we get out of this, you have a beautiful description of the partner versus patient model. Help us understand that.

Bob Talisse: [00:35:53] Yeah. So, you know, there’s no easy way out because remember the feature bugs sort of a point we’ve been coming back to, again and again. One can read a lot of professional and popular thinking about democracy and come away with the idea that if only we would just do it a little bit better, all of democracy’s problems would wither away because. Democracy’s problems are always the result of us not doing it quite right or doing it enough. no, that’s, that’s the wrong way to think about democracy. Democracy has built within it, certain kinds of vulnerabilities that even if we’re doing everything that we should. We still have to confront, some, potentials for dysfunction. So disagreement sets us up for is both needed. It’s what democracy runs on, but it sets us up for polarization and the way we demonize others and all the rest. and there’s no way to have democracy without. Exposing without those sites of exposure to these cognitive forces. what we need to figure out how to do, just to understand even political arguing about very, very serious policy issues as. a matter of partnership, that is argument is ill. Is improperly deployed when it’s used as a weapon. To shut the other side down to demean them, to put them in their place, to, silence or marginalized them, which is often how, argument is wielded. And in fact, it’s often how argument is understood. you know, there’s a, a cottage industry, at least in the United States of popular books about how to win arguments in politics. and those books are always about, defeating, overcoming the enemy. now there are certain argumentative context in which, that is part of what’s going on is you’re, you know, you’re debating, you’re trying to win, but arguments are the intellectual tools that we have. For coming to better understand not only our critics and what they have to say and why they say the things that they do. . But argument is a way of better understanding our own. Side in the debate. In fact, John Stuart mill, the, the British philosopher, Have a wonderful way of encapsulating this. And it’s one sentence in a book that’s often discussed and cited and, and very enthusiastically, talked about it’s called on Liberty. but mill has this one line, one liner in there that I think, unduly gets overlooked. It says, he, who knows only his own side in the debate knows little of that. And that strikes me as a deep and important philosophical truth. That

Turi: [00:38:55] we quote it. We quoted on poly as website.

Bob Talisse: [00:38:58] Beautiful. I, it’s, it’s the kind of thing that, you should have to memorize in order to get a college degree, which seems to me to be just a little nugget of philosophical wisdom that. seems to me just to be unimpeachable, it just seems like that’s gotta be right. It’s gotta be right. Yeah. So, so

Turi: [00:39:18] how did, so how do we, so how do we do this? Because there’s two things at play here. One is making sure that, as you phrase it elsewhere, the rhetorical is not parasitic on the epistemic, which is, uh, which is a very shorthand way of saying that we’re not trying to win arguments. We’re actually trying to figure out the truth. That’s one, but the second key piece, and this is, this is at the heart of everything is, given that there are deep disagreements by which I mean agreements over, which we will never be able to find common ground. And given that we are polarized and exist inside in groups that possibly increase their polarization. How do we get to a point where we can, we can understand the other side as a partner, rather than a patient. How do we. Does, how do we build this? What you call it sort of civic friendship.

Bob Talisse: [00:40:06] So there are a couple of, there are a couple of different things that I think need to happen. and one is, we, we need to better understand what argument even in political contexts is about. And we need to see argument as, governed by certain kinds of intellectual virtues rather than a bare knuckle street fight, where the we’re winning is the, is the important thing. one of the ways I think in which we can rehabilitate our conception of what political argument is, is by coming to better appreciate. Some of the ways in which we as individual, political thinkers are vulnerable, even if we are in the right about the payment, even if we see, our political allegiances and affiliations and ideas as, in the right. That doesn’t mean that we as individual political reasons as political thinkers are there for, in vulnerable to irrational cognitive forces of, of, of irrationality that affect us cognitively the belief polarization phenomenon is among them where let me put it this way. I think that in order to rehabilitate our conception of political disagreements so that we can now see the dispute, our, our, our, our political opponents as not merely things to be fixed or, or dismantled and overcome, but as partners in a common endeavor to think through some very complicated issues, we need to recognize that we ourselves are subject to. Certain kinds of social cognitive forces that, that impact our rational faculties that make us less rational than we may think that we are. No, no. I give talks about the polarization stuff and, to lots of different kinds of audiences, but, between academic and nonacademic or more popular audiences alike, The belief, polarization phenomenon is almost instantly visible to people when they first hear about it. When they’re thinking about their political opponents, they almost already say, Oh yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I see that all the time among the Republicans, right. Or the liberals are Barb. Yeah, constantly being driven to these more extreme versions of themselves. I see that all the time. So I ended up,

Turi: [00:42:55] I’m hearing, I’m hearing a couple of things. Sorry to interrupt. Yeah. One is that, praising taking the time to privilege the actual act of argument itself is a pretty good thing. And making sure one’s doing it for epistemic. For knowledge for accuracy, for truth, those kinds of reasons, rather than winning - 1. 2. Realizing that actually all our own positions are as irrational when Ruth from the other side as our opponents. So embedding our understanding of the world into the mind. As a bodily function into, into our values, into who we are into, into our psychology. So understanding that we are not, we don’t own reason. we are performances of reason ourselves.

Bob Talisse: [00:43:43] And let me add one additional, recommendation in that. And it’s a more philosophical, the diagnosis of a kind of philosophical error we’re the kinds of creatures that are especially prone to the following. Kind of, I just think logical error, the following kind of fallacy, we might even call it. We tend to think that those who espouse views, policy opinions, political ideals, That we take ourselves to have good reason to reject. We infer from that, that those people are incapable of launching a formidable criticism of our views. We think that because you’re wrong, you can’t be a good critic of me. That’s just a fallacy. Right. Right. So no, no people who believe all kinds of people who believe false things can nonetheless be good critics of your view. Even if you’ve got the truth, they can still raise a good objection and important counter consideration. They could raise a problem. They can make things more complicated than you thought they can raise an example that you have a hard time dealing with. That is engaging with. The people on the other side is worthwhile. Even if, if we think the people on the other side have demonstrably false, positive commitments. Why? Because having the truth does not, is not necessary in order to be a good critic. And we need critics. We need, we need, we need people to criticize us.

Turi: [00:45:30] So, so, I want to wrap this fascinating discussion, with a question to you, which is how again do we Bring people who are profoundly polarized, who, who, who reason, for emotional, for emotional satisfaction, as much as knowledge, who. Describe their political opponents to brave morally corrupt, not just wrong, but wrong in a capital ‘W’ kind of sense. how, how do we, how do we build a conception of a shared project in your book over doing democracy? You talk about, doing small things together, going fishing with people on the other side of the political fence, you’ve talked about your father who staunch Republican, that he was, had a great friend in the neighborhood who was a union man. It’s particularly hard to do little things together. When Republicans live in X part of town and Democrats live in Y part of town. I wonder in the teeth of COVID where they’re actually, it’s not the little things which will bring us together so much as the really big things. Do you have any sense that the pandemic has reminded us all of our shared Destiny. And in the States that we exist of our shared humanity of a, of a shared experience of life, has it brought us together or actually has covered provided one more instance, one more event to politicize.

Bob Talisse: [00:47:00] Well, the situation, at least in the States with respect to COVID is, is shifting in some ways, in positive directions, more towards the first option that you mentioned, where, as the. the virus has been spreading, across the country and affecting, parts of the country that, are not major metropolises that are in the sort of the middle of the country. I think that attitudes about the pandemic. Have been shifting in ways that suggest citizens are able to see a shared problem, and are able to see, the virus as a shared vulnerability. I just note that, this was a far more dicey political situation in the States, Even, as, as recently, as a month ago, where, because the epicenters of the outbreaks were in or were risk mainly largely restricted to. big cities, New York and the metropolitan area in New York Tristate area in New York, Chicago, Detroit, LA, there was a lot of, a lot of respects in which the response. To the outbreak was, sharply divided along partisan lines where, Republicans were significantly far less likely to wear masks, even when, in close proximity, to significant numbers of others. so it started off as a heavily partisan, fair. And it seems as if that’s. uh, that’s weakening now and that, masks, there’s still a partisan difference between mass squaring, but it has, it’s not as extreme as, as it was and out now COVID denial. In the United States is on the whole, down,

Turi: [00:48:59] okay. So that’s, it, it seems like that was an, an initial nonpartisan response. That was a political politicization of that response. And that seems to be dwindling now. So that’s right. Are you optimistic that in fact, this has done something to bring. The country back together again,

Bob Talisse: [00:49:17] you know, I, I, I don’t do optimist. Yeah. So, I don’t know. I wouldn’t say optimistic. I would say that the trends are encouraging simply in virtue of the fact that, if they continue in the direction that they continue, my country will, start doing a little bit better. I don’t think that the trends and show, or are likely to, to results in any longterm weakening of partisanship in the approach to. Public health. And I think that, this is, this is a, a kind of encouraging blip that will have good effects. If it continues on the country’s ability to confront and manage the virus. I don’t think that they improvements to the political situation will endure. I think that, and in fact, what we’re already starting to see in the U S is, partisan divides over, , who is to be credited. With, some of the more encouraging news about the trends in the country

Turi: [00:50:33] Bob, this is very disappointing and I realized I must pick my podcasting guests so that I can, and, uh, sessions on the, on an up rather than a down. but, this has been. Fascinating discussion. I’ve loved talking to you. Thank you so much for taking the time to walk us through all these issues of polarization. The idea of equal citizenship, how we disagree and what civility means in the political context. Bob, thanks so much for your time.

Bob Talisse: [00:51:01] It’s been a real pleasure, Turi. Thank you for having me on your program.

This page was last edited on Friday, 30 Oct 2020 at 10:55 UTC