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Ideological Turing Test when arguing politics

In a recent podcast from the Cato Institute, Arnold Kling presented a concept useful for those arguing with those of differing political philosophies. He was responding to Jason Brennan, who in his recent book Libertarianism: What everyone needs to know, contrasted libertarianism with the police-state of conservatism and the nanny-state of progressivism. Kling observed that the problem with these characterisations is that no (or at least hardly any) conservative or progressive would describe their worldview or ideal state in this way. For this reason, those debating are not starting with common starting points and terms of debate.

Between these three viewpoints, Kling identifies an axis of concern: for conservatives, it is between civilisation and barbarism; for progressives, it is between oppressors and oppressed; for libertarians, it is between coercion and free choice. The challenge when debating someone from a differing point of view is to admit that there are times when the axis and perspective they are focusing on is appropriate, but move to show why a certain case doesn’t fit so well.

A helpful exercise is to see when describing the other person’s point of view, if you could pass as someone who genuinely holds that perspective, that is, not to reduce it to stereotypes. This is the idea of an ideological Turing test, as adapted by Bryan Caplan from Paul Krugman. We should be more charitable about other people’s point of view, especially if we want to convince others of our own, accepting certain of their premises, before developing our case. This is not selling out or being deceptive, but part of a process of rational and respectful engagement.

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