In the era of populism and political polarisation, listening to the other side has become harder than ever. Even agreeing to a common starting point, a set of facts about the world, has come to seem impossible. To many of us it seems that our political and cultural opponents just live in a different world, a different reality from us. Facts have become politicised, and their acceptance or denial a sign of one’s political identity.
On top of that, much of political discourse takes place in an environment not conductive to civil debate and exchange of ideas: social media. Trolling, antagonising memes and conflict entrepreneurs short-circuit any chance of honest and truthful communication.
So, is there a way to talk to the other side? To really engage with the viewpoint of our opponents? To understand their lived experience? And what can philosophy teach us about productive and unproductive ways to argue with each other?
There aren’t many philosophers who get profiled in The New Yorker, but Elizabeth Anderson is one of those rare exceptions. She is the John Dewey Distinguished University Professor and the John Rawls Collegiate Professor, at the University of Michigan, and that is only two of her titles. In 2019 she delivered the Uehiro lectures, at the University of Oxford, under the title: Can We Talk? Communicating Moral Concern in an Era of Polarized Politics
I couldn’t think of a better philosopher to both diagnose the causes of our failure to communicate across the political divide, and provide us with insights into how we can relearn to talk with the other side.
This podcast is created in partnership with The Philosopher, the UK’s longest running public philosophy journal. The winter issue of The Philosopher is out, tackling one of philosophy’s perennial puzzles: the concept of Nothing. If you’d like to order a copy of the latest issue, and subscribe to the journal, go to www.thephilosopher1923.org/subscribe.
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