Our favorite litterbox-liner, the New York Times, must be run by some of the smartest, unbiased, even-tempered, and totally not insularly-clueless people in our great nation. With Thanksgiving in mind—that glorious time of year the whole family gets together to have a good home-cooked meal—they released an interactive quiz-guide on how to deal with that weird, red-hat wearing, conservative uncle that’s ostracized himself from the rest of the family because he’s just too rough around the edges.
This turned into a slightly longer post than I had intended, but the audaciousness of its writer needs a decent expansion in order to fully enjoy.
Take its little interactive test a couple different times and play around with both Uncle Conservabot as well as Uncle Libbot. As always, the nature of the quiz and its answers reveals a lot more about the people who designed it than it did about the people it’s supposedly tempering you for.
Let’s take Uncle Conservabot first. For the purposes of simplicity, we’ll call him Uncle Ted. Uncle Ted’s a firebrand #MAGA Trump supporter, eagerly waiting for any opportunity to slander Hillary Clinton and proclaim the greatness of Donald Trump’s administration—a character that, clearly, all of us probably know in real life. Except, apparently, me, or anyone that I know. In fact, Uncle Ted seems more like something out of a poorly-thought out political cartoon (but I repeat myself) than a character in any way pertaining to someone that might exist outside of the imaginations of liberals.
Our friends at the NYT have a very simple, foolproof, and clearly enlightened method of dealing with Uncle Ted’s rampant political extremism: pointed and direct questions about his personal life, and in particular, his lousy finances and how the economy has left him destitute. But uh, hey there… what’s her name, Dr. Karin (with an “I”) Tamerius, founder of SMART POLITICS and a FORMER PSYCHOLOGIST, what if our buddy Uncle Ted isn’t having significant financial troubles and isn’t as easy to distract with personal questions as you make him out to be?
The founder of Smart Politics made this quiz. Shit man, I didn’t realize I was dealing with a professional. Smart Politics. Just saying it loud makes you feel like your IQ has increased a few points.
Okay, well, we get the gist of Uncle Ted. The solution when dealing with a mad Trump supporter is to 1) expect them to be financially insecure, like most of America is, 2) commiserate about the economy, and 3) avoid talking about politics or engaging in any sort of debate.
So let’s look at his equally robotic liberal counterpart, Uncle Greg, from the perspective of a conservative nephew. Right out the gate, Uncle Greg is convinced—unprompted—that Medicare for all is an unalienable right. Like the atheist at the table, the implied “DEBATE ME” imperative goes unsaid. This is where the quiz gets amusing.
Predictably, the line of questioning goes more or less the same: completely passive questions, noncommittal responses, and a distinct unwillingness to engage in any particular form of debate. Amusingly, however, the entire form of the conversation is different. The guide asks us to humor Uncle Greg, and listen to him make poorly thought-out remarks about universal healthcare, and we aren’t even given the option to ask about Uncle Greg himself. So I guess the initial takeaway here is to ask Trump supporters personal questions but to humor liberal relatives when they’re speaking nonsense.
And it gets better. When selecting a particular wrongthink response to Uncle Greg’s position on healthcare, our helpful big-brained founder of Smart Politics gives us this helpful tip:
Rebuttals reinforce the sense that you are on opposite teams. If you want people to listen to what you have to say, create an alliance by finding something to agree on before sharing your perspective.
Don’t engage! Abort, abort! Pull up!
All of Dr. Karin’s helpful tips are oriented around the same socially frail method of interaction. “Do X to SHOW the other person that you understand!” “Do Y to make the other person FEEL SAFE!” The whole point of a piece like this is to enforce this idea that all dialogue must be conducted as though everyone is standing on eggshells. Mindfulness of words is one thing; hypersensitivity to disagreement is something else entirely. After all, you might find out what their opinions are! You might start to learn about who they are! You might even end up unable to generalize them into some kind of stereotype!
At the end of each segment we reach this doctor’s conclusive method of talking across the aisle:
1. Ask open-ended, genuinely curious, nonjudgmental questions.
2. Listen to what people you disagree with say and deepen your understanding with follow-up inquiries.
3. Reflect back their perspective by summarizing their answers and noting underlying emotions.
4. Agree before disagreeing by naming ways in which you agree with their point of view.
5. Share your perspective by telling a story about a personal experience.
Remember being in grade school and having large, brightly-colored posters on the wall about how to follow rules or how to write a paragraph? This is what that is—it’s even worded the same way—but the difference is that it’s targeted at people older than seven. You shouldn’t feel informed by reading this. You should feel patronized and condescended. The NYT really does believe you’re dumber than a seven-year-old.
But the real diamond in the rough is after this. I have to quote it directly because if I didn’t, no one would believe that the staff of the NYT, to say nothing of the FOUNDER of SMART POLITICS, would be so bold as to make this admission:
People cannot communicate effectively about politics when they feel threatened. Direct attacks – whether in the form of logical argument, evidence, or name-calling – trigger the sympathetic nervous system, limiting our capacity for reason, empathy, and self-reflection.
That’s right, folks. Logical argumentation and evidence limit our capacity for reason and self-reflection. Reasonable debate is a form of personal attack. Rebuttals, counter-evidential claims, and arguments from rationality are all bullying tactics that just make people feel really gosh-darn sad!
This says a lot more about the writer of the article than it does about anything contained with in it. Debates trigger the sympathetic nervous system? Evidence of a claim puts you on the defensive and limits your ability to assess your own perspective? Maybe if you’re functionally retarded–or, apparently, an ex-psychologist and the FOUNDER of SMART POLITICS. No wonder she’s an ex-psychologist.
Who is offended by a sound argument? Who fears being proven wrong, except those that might have something to lose?
Who fears the truth?
Well, I think we know the answer to that one, at least.