John Nerst, in some sort of bizarre ascetic practice, enjoys studying people disagreeing online.

While online discourse is a cesspool of bad intentions, bad faith, and, of course, bad arguments, John is able to divine some deep insights about the fundamental nature of human disagreement.

In this interview, we discuss how the abstractions we use let us down when we are trying to be precise in moral arguments, how the “decoupling vs contextualizing” axis explains how smart people with good intentions can endlessly talk past each other, and why the “tilted political compass” gives many folks who are alienated by contemporary political discourse a home.

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Show Notes:

  • [01:38] The anxiety associated with the overwhelming amount of interesting things there are out there to learn—and how John focuses on things outside of his comfort zone in order to keep learning.
  • [06:44] John’s mental model for piecing together arguments that he doesn’t agree with. And, a primer on postmodern philosophy and contextualization.
  • [14:01] Many arguments result from a disagreement on the definitions of abstractions. It’s easy to pick apart the vagaries of arguments that aren’t on “our side,” while simultaneously giving the benefit of the doubt to conclusions that we like.
  • [25:55] Abstractions are “leaky,” and are often the root of disagreements.
  • [37:50] An argument intended to correct for a worldview that has “swung too far” can seem totally out of touch to someone who doesn’t have the same shared context.
  • [44:17] Contextualizers vs decouplers: should information be interpreted in abstractions and toy problems, or should the social context in which arguments exist always be paramount?
  • [53:28] Certain arguments and pieces of information are mimetically fit and can jump outside of their original context—sometimes to the chagrin of the original author
  • [01:03:39] How contextualizing vs decoupling helps create the tilted political compass—and how the tilted political compass helps several people alienated by contemporary political discourse find their home
  • [01:13:01] The dopamine hit from finding a validation of your identity online
  • [01:16:38] Where to get started with John’s blog Everything Studies

Links and Resources Mentioned