Making the other side better

So many political strategies are centered around “beating” the other side(s), and claiming victory over their defeat.  For evolutionary reasons, it is easy to see why these attitudes might have won out.  Yet in general those approaches are a sign of a narrow vision.  Beating the other side is a possible strategy, but it should hardly be the only strategy you attempt, even if we forget about the “you might be the one who is wrong!” worry.

Quite simply, a lot of the time you never beat the other side, though over time the terms of the debate do shift ground.

An alternative strategy is to try to make the other side better, even if you do not agree with the other side.  You might try to make the other side saner and more open, and I do not mean by telling them how wrong they are.  You do this, believe it or not, by supporting them in some ways, or at least supporting the best parts of the other side.

It is remarkable how few people pursue this strategy.  I do know two prominent people, both on the Left, who do this and I think they do it fairly effectively.  It is sad that I am reluctant to name them, for fear of getting them into trouble with their compatriots.

If the ongoing equilibrium is “the terms of the debate will be shifted,” why should “improving the other side” be any less important than “improving your own side”?  On average it should be symmetric, no?

Yet the unpopularity of this strategy once again suggests that politics isn’t about policy, in this matter it is more often about internal norms of group solidarity and intra-group status.

Learning to see that, and to internalize that knowledge emotionally, is often a better strategy — if only for your sanity — than trying to defeat the other side all the time.


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