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Maybe a Diplomat Mindset?
Beyond the scout and soldier.
If you haven’t seen Leveller’s video essay exploring Julia Galef’s book: The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't (I will overlink in my posts, including linking where you can buy books that are referenced), you should go watch it right now.
In her book, Galef describes 2 archetypes we assume when engaging in contentious discussions. Soldiers, who act as tribalist defenders and critics; and scouts, who are more interested in truth seeking and good faith exploration.
Galef calls us to adopt a more scout like mindset. But what happens when a scout is confronted by a soldier? Historically, they’d either be captured or killed. Fortunately that isn’t the case online.
Online discussions are difficult to approach, especially when a lot of discussions feature commentary dressed up with moral outrage, self righteousness, and uncharitable interpretations of competing worldviews. A scout mindset may encourage an intellectually curious interaction, but it takes an incredible amount of mindfulness to remain open after being called evil*. As it stands, there are strong incentives for the abuse of moral talk in online conversations
Moral Grandstanding and Social Signaling
In their 2017 book, The Elephant in the Brain**, Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson argue that we hide our true motives for our behaviors from ourselves and convince ourselves of a narrative that makes us sound more socially appealing. They argue that we don’t do this intentionally and there exists a social benefit for being ignorant of these motives.
One of the tenets of Simler and Hanson’s book is about how communication is less about what is communicated and more about how we come across to the people we’re communicating to. Results from studies conducted by researchers and published in 2019 find this to be the case with regards to the moral grandstanding seen on social media.
What if that uncharitable interpretation of your worldview reducing it down to evil was less about you and your worldview and more about the person saying it? Even if they might think they mean it, is it plausible that they’re telling themselves that to hide an underlying motive of achieving social status?
A Diplomat Mindset
The biggest issue I see with the framing of a scout or a soldier is that these are military units. While a scout might not be as ideologically rigid as a soldier, at the end of the day they still represent a military unit for a specific side in a conflict.
Contemporary discussions on contentious topics like politics can feel like a battlefield, but I’m convinced that most people involved in this “battle” are doing so mostly to signal to their group of friends (or to a group of people they hope to befriend) rather than engage in a battle of ideas.
I’d like to propose a third archetype to consider when approaching contentious conversations - The Diplomat. Diplomats seek to overcome cultural, language, and worldview differences to resolve conflicts. Social media networks, while great at connecting us, amplifies a lot of these differences which naturally leads to conflicts.
Even though no one likes to be called evil, if we think about what we've seen or heard disparaging our worldview as evil*** as more about the signaling behaviors of the poster, perhaps we can cut out a lot of the noise that pushes us apart.
Often times, diplomats find themselves in countries whose prevailing norms contradict their own beliefs. Keeping effective relations between the host and home countries requires diplomats to navigate these differences.
The ability to navigate differences is crucial for longterm peace and the embrace of pluralism.
*I will want to explore how the vast majority of people aren’t evil in future posts and the negative aspects of the wholesale labeling of things as evil.
**If you don’t have time to read the book, check out Robin Hanson’s TED Talk.
***Every ideology has valid criticisms of it, reducing it to evil is usually just a sign of laziness.
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