Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Review: The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides

The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides by Arnold Kling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this short book (essay really), Kling presents a structure to help you understand the nature of political discussions. We are always talking past each other, misunderstanding and misconstruing each other. Kling shows us that this is because we are in many ways speaking different languages. Kling calls these axes: Conservatives tend to speak in a barbarian/civilization axis; Progressives in a oppressor/oppressed axis, and Libertarians in a coercion/liberty axis. These axis tend to frame the way members of these political tribes look at and describe the world.

So, for example, a libertarian tends to view political discussions and topics as existing on an axis from coercion (bad) to liberty (good). So when libertarians talk about politics, they frame it in those terms. Meanwhile, a progressive looks at thinks in terms of oppression (bad) and liberating/supporting the oppressed (good) and frame things in those terms. But since these categories are not picking out the same sets, we don't understand each other when one side says some policy is good. (e.g. "It's a good policy because it is meant to help poor workers." But "That can't be good its coercive".) And so the discussion goes nowhere; each side frustrated by the apparent obstinance or stupidity of the other side.

Kling discusses why we tend to fall into these tribes and axes as well as the pernicious affect these have on rational, truth seeking discussions. In part, due to this framing, we tend to see the other tribes as evil and irrational hellbent on destroying our deepest values. These other tribes are either stupid or conniving, manipulative conspirators. If they were smart or honest, they would, of course, recognize the truth and agree with one's own tribe. But, of course, the other tribes say the same about you and your tribe.

The ultimate take away, and Kling's hope, is that by being more aware of your own axis and language, as well as the other axes and languages, you can be less susceptible to your own biases and less likely to be dismissive of those with you disagree. You can better understand why they are wrong (and if they are wrong) when you don't just dismiss them as stupid or irrational. You will be better able and open to discover problems or weaknesses in your view as well. This might actually lead to more fruitful and reasonable political discussions.

It's a quick read, concisely and clearly written. It's nothing ground breaking, Kling is building on the work of many others (and he has a nice appendix that discusses the work he is building on.) But it is definitely worth reading for anyone frustrated by the seemingly lack of actual or reasonable discussion in politics.

View all my reviews