By Danielarapava – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45320273
There’s been a lot of talk recently about how we need to get out of our bubbles of people who think like we do politically. I’ve just seen very little specific and detailed advice on how to do that beyond, “Talk to your neighbors.” or “Stop unfriending people on Facebook.”
And this only slightly helpful online quiz from PBS makes it clear that to really break out of our political bubbles means breaking out of our cultural bubble as well. Not that everyone in a given cultural setting votes the same way, but there’s clearly a correlation between our upbringing and our current cultural situation and the choices we’re more likely to make politically.
While the most effective way to break our bubbles would be to live in several different places in the U.S. for several years, experiencing different economic conditions, social expectations, religious values, and party affiliations, most of us probably can’t afford to do a tour of the country for a decade to fully perforate those bubbles.
So what are some more practical things we can do to break out of the bubble?
- Make a list of your political positions on various issues: taxation, the use of military force, the use of spying, public vs. private education, social welfare programs, public health care programs, environmental regulations, et cetera. Then, one by one, go find magazine and newspaper articles that disagree with your position on these issues. List the arguments they make against your position and for their positions. Choose the ones you find most difficult to argue against, the ones that prompt you to think, “That’s ridiculous!” without really having a good answer as to why it’s ridiculous. Then write an article (citing your sources) responding to the ones that are most difficult to argue against. And write a detailed article arguing FOR the position you thought was most ridiculous, because that’s the one you probably understand least well. When I find something absolutely ridiculous, I know there’s a distinct possibility that I’m failing to be charitable, empathetic, or to understand their perspective.
- Which brings me to how we get better at being more charitable, empathetic, and understanding of the perspectives of others. The thing that’s helped me the most is consistently reading the best (and worst) intellectual content from various political perspectives that’s publicly available. I read The Nation, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, and a variety of others to get a progressive perspective. I read National Review, The Federalist, The Daily Caller, and a variety of others for a conservative perspective. I read Reason for a right-libertarian perspective, and Jacobin for a general leftist/socialist perspective. Jezebel is a fun way to get a feminist perspective on things. I haven’t read much anarchist literature lately, but there was a time when that was on my plate as well. Lately, I’ve been putting more effort into understanding the views under the alt-right umbrella. On the whole, consistently reading the work of people who disagree with me politically from all sorts of angles has been vital to keeping me from being oblivious to other perspectives.
- Getting opinions from various sources isn’t enough, though. We also need to get data from multiple sources, especially because those sources are likely to have strong incentives to find the weaknesses in their respective research methods and analytical approaches. That’s why I follow the more progressive Brookings Institution, the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, and that infamous conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation. There’s also data journalists like 538. Fortunately, social media makes it really easy to expose ourselves to all these different opinions and different research groups. So use your Facebook and Twitter accounts to break out of your bubble!
- Engage! There are lots of Facebook groups, subreddits on Reddit, and thousands of other forums for political engagement online. Pick a Facebook group or a subreddit that has views opposed to your political views. Just read the posts in them for a while. Don’t respond to every crazy one or every bad argument. Look for the good arguments, the clever rhetorical devices, the questions they pose about your views that are actually really good questions that you want to have an effective answer to. And once you’ve done that for a few weeks, start responding to the good arguments. Maybe Like or upvote the clever rhetorical devices. Take the time to write an effective answer for the honest questions that deserve an effective answer. Treat people’s views as if they’re worth responding to when they make good arguments or ask tough questions.
- Once you’ve developed the habits of engaging charitably with other views, looking at data from multiple sources, getting your news and opinion pieces from a wide variety of perspectives, and finding the good arguments and questions, then it’s time to take a hard look at your own political views again. For example, does your position on taxation make sense in light of what you want your state government to do with public healthcare? Does your position on gay marriage make sense in light of your position on marriage in general (or polygamy)? Does your position on abortion make sense in light of your position on the death penalty, war, and euthanasia, and environmental regulations?
These tactics will definitely keep you from existing in a bubble, but only so long as you keep adapting what you’re doing to the shifting political and social landscape. New political philosophies will arise, old ones will become unpopular, and you need to keep up in order to avoid ending up in another bubble. This is a profoundly uncomfortable process, I’ll admit.
But I have also found it to be worth the trouble. Not only have I made new friends, but I’ve deepened my understanding of old friends. And I’ve even prompted a few people to rethink their positions on various things, though only occasionally.
We human beings are mightily resistant to changing our minds, but a disciplined exposure to other views keeps our minds open enough to be changed. Mine certainly has changed many times as a result, despite my best efforts. And I hope yours does too.
Life is harder outside of a nice comfortable bubble frozen in the shape of our own political views, but my experience has been that life is also more fun and interesting outside that bubble.