“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”
Margaret Thatcher

You could almost touch the wisdom as the Iron Lady delivered these words right after the General Election of 1979 with a bubbly British accent.

The heart of this excerpt is in amending division — the appropriate tone after you’re chosen to be the leader a lot of people who didn’t vote for you. And a tone which seems to have become way too infrequent these days.

It’s obnoxious how childish people become when it comes to even remotely political issues, to the point where they become incapable of admitting the other side has any valid proposition at all. It’s also sad that this comes as stating the obvious.

There is hardly anything worse than getting caught in an endless loop of ideological gibberish and personal attacks, but the avoidance of all controversial discussion— as preached by many who are fed up of arguments— is no solution.

Feels silly to write these words — as if I’m lecturing children in kindergarten — but what needs to happen is to improve the quality of argumentation, instead of avoiding it.

Argument ought to be productive. The point of a discussion is to get both parties closer to the truth.

If, in the process of doing so, your point of view is rendered questionable, you should thank the other person for lifting you from the fog of your own ignorance.

This is basic ancient Greece stuff, dialectics, of which the principles seem to have been forgotten in the West.

As general rules of thumb:

  1. Be emphatic.
    Most of the time, people’s opinions are a function of their interests, backgrounds and social positions (even though they shouldn’t be). Making an effort to understand where the other person is coming from is often a fruitful exercise.
  2. Know thyself.
    Rule #1 applies to you, too. How much of your positions are mere predictable consequences of the circumstances of your life, instead of solid conclusions of genuine investigations into the nature of the world?
  3. Keep an eye out for biases.
    As Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it: “Human perception systems are rife with all ways of getting it wrong.”
    For quite some time, academics have realized that human reasoning is quite flawed in some specific and predictable ways. There are numerous courses and books available on the known failures of intuition and reasoning.
    Educating yourself in this way will not only open your eyes to other’s sloppy conclusions, but also vaccinate you from many of the careless beliefs and arguments you spread around.
  4. Science and statistics are your dearest friends.
    Sadly, numerous fields aren’t properly trained in statistics and the scientific method.
    As such, most people go through life like wanderers in a dark room, unbeknownst to the flashlights available to guide them.
    Proper statistical inferences are like sharp machetes plowing through the jungle of complexity and contradicting stimulus of the modern world.
    Be as wise as the queen of England was when assessing her own limitations. Learning about yours is just as important as noticing the other person’s.
  5. Express yourself faithfully and clearly.
    Putting thoughts into words isn’t easy. We often do not convey meaning in just the way we intended.
    Being very careful with your words and tone is of utmost importance. Some persuasiveness and form to your utterances will avoid you from stepping in others’ toes and harming the bigger goal of seeking truth.
  6. Focus.
    What was it that we were talking about again? What is the point of this conversation?
    Always be mindful of your overall thesis, ask for theirs and be wary of long digressions.
  7. Lastly, be polite.
    Don’t ever forget: Personal attacks are always pointless (and distasteful) in any argument. They’ve been recognized as fallacies for a long time, and will do nothing but signal your own ignorance to other mature people.
    Be mindful of others’ emotions, while preventing yours from clouding your judgement. It’s never too late to be humbled by your own ignorance.

With these tips, I hope we can begin to navigate these jungles together, instead of against each other.