On February 1, 2017, The Atlantic ran an article titled "The Simple Psychological Trick to Political Persuasion" by Olga Khazan.
It's a valuable intro to a strategy developed from the moral foundations theory of Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues.
That said -- a simple trick? Not so fast!
To review the theory, as I understand it: we humans have evolved psychologically through adaptive group behavior, and in the process developed at least six foundations for morals in much the same way that our tastebuds evolved to detect sweet from bitter, savory from bland, salt from acidic, sour from fresh, etc.
Our "moral tastebuds" detect:
When it comes to politics, it turns out that liberals and conservatives gravitate to different sets of morals from this list. While it may be tempting for one side to call the other's argument immoral, it is very likely that there is simply a competing moral value set at stake.
The "simple" trick to political persuasion, says Khazan, is re-framing our argument with the moral set of our opponent.
I can't imagine anything harder! But please do read the article, and see if what follows makes sense to you.
I agree with Khazan that we've got to try to think through the moral suppositions of our opponents and use the language of their tribe if we are to persuade them (and I thought her examples were modestly helpful).
However, we can't leave our morals behind. Perhaps a very clever person can uncouple heart and head -- I can't.
But even if I could, trying out the moral language of the other side is like learning to speak Cockney when you're Cajun, or vice versa. There's going to be a tell-tale dialect when you first try it.
Then you need to practice, practice, practice until your Pygmalion is just right. And once it is -- don't you become Eliza Doolittle?
In other words, I suspect the effort to understand the other side's argument, and then re-frame one's own in order to persuade, opens a door -- whether by neuro-linguistic programming or empathy -- to transformation.
I suspect most of us intuit this possibility and won't let ourselves go there -- because we're afraid of leaving our morals behind!
But isn't this where the action is?
Our culture is more divided now than in recent memory, in part because we've hunkered down in our respective groups, each around our own unassailable values, locked in a win-lose debate.
It seems to me the only way out is to tune-in to each other, work to develop understanding, and experiment with re-framing our arguments using the language of the opposing tribe.
So, chin up! And repeat after me: "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the..."