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March 20, 2015

Facebook has its uses for those who want to be sure of what they believe

Many people decry the prevalence of political/ideological arguments on Facebook, but I've come to appreciate this phenomenon to a certain extent.  In the past, ideologues tended to keep to their own online neighborhoods, and as a result most people spent their days in the company of folks who agreed with them on the Issues That Matter.

Suddenly, Facebook.  Just about everybody has relatives or friends who hail from some faraway part of the ideological spectrum, and many of those folks are pumped up enough about their worldview to post articles and memes about whatever motivates them.  Facebook is facilitating what seems to be an unprecedented mixing of ideological tribes.  As most with FB accounts know well, that mixing is often not a beautiful sight to behold.

For the most part, I've made my peace regarding this phenomenon in my own newsfeed.  Those articles used to annoy me, and I would often launch into heated debates that never ended up moving the ball in either direction.

Gazing across the divide
Now, though, I see a personal growth opportunity in things that used to make my blood boil.  I have a goal of truly understanding the progressive worldview -- not just its most common positions on current issues (those are usually easy to guess), but understanding the foundational assumptions about reality that set the progressive tribe apart from other worldview tribes.

So, I continue to poke and prod my interlocutors, but not necessarily for the purpose of winning the argument.  How can one have a constructive argument when the two parties don't even agree on the definitions of terms that are important to the argument?  No, my poking and prodding is intended to help me understand what makes them tick.  And I truly do want to understand.  Apparently, this is not normal or common, because progressives, even ones I'm related to, tend to react with suspicion when I tell them this.

To me, it's worth the effort.  Not only am I better able to understand why someone believes something so outrageous (to me), I am also given many opportunities to test what I believe on the topic of the moment, and to decide which hills are worth fighting for.

Once I decide I need to jump into a debate, I'm better able to caution myself about my chances for success, given my understanding that my opponent's opinions usually flow rationally from a sea of assumptions that will never never come up in the current debate.

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