"He who knows only his own side of an argument knows nothing of that." -John Stuart Mill
My aim is to create stronger civic cultures in the US and globally. I believe many initiatives that support this have critical blindspots (beyond echo-chambers), and that more progress can come from building initiatives that resonate with practical realities about the nature of humans and societies. I’ve previously worked on this from many different angles, and am now evaluating the best way to tackle this issue directly.
STRONG CIVIC CULTURE depends on empowered and principled individuals, and also on respected societal institutions and norms
Democracy depends on collective wisdom, which depends on reasoning and independent individuals
Individuals must learn to think and care about others, as we all exist in the context of our groups and survive and thrive together
Protected liberty of thought and expression is the only way to get informed and honest participation
These institutions provide most of the opportunities for engagement and change; between indivdiuals and the state, they hold society together
Radical tolerance, humility to discard your ideas for better ones, and welcoming dissent turn heterogeneity from threat to strength
A degree of unity is essential for a society to enable respectful disagreement, persevere through challenge, and operate smoothly
HUMANS ARE TRIBAL: this is evolutionary, innate and universal. Starting with any other assumption is like trying to combat ingrained historical racism by ignoring race completely. If we want a world where all lives and groups are valued more equally, we need to thoughtfully design around our natural tendencies; if we ignore this out of principle we too often end up fighting against our own instincts, which dooms us to echo-chambers and failure.
INDIVIDUALISM IS NOT INFINITELY GOOD: the steady march towards more individual liberties has been unequivocally good, but there are downsides. We have become more self-centered, with less ability or inclination to value communities and group institutions. Problematic on its own, this also makes us more prone to tearing down the (imperfect) structures that hold society together. This destroys the tendency for civic engagement, and can be catastrophic: the historical route to dictatorship is not gradual restriction of freedoms, but unchecked liberty that leads to chaos and authoritarian takeover.
REASONING IS VERY LIMITED: most of our action is driven by instinct. If we care more about impact than ideology, we need to orient around how people will react, not how they should. Emotional messages resonate powerfully, while logical argument drives people further into a corner. Even when we get past instinct, true reasoning and debate being far more rare than we realize, even (especially) in ourselves - more often we are justifying our own positions, ignoring other legit perspectives in favor of strawmans, or mistaking logically sound argument for irrefutable truth. True reasoning needs to be turned on itself to recognize its own faults.
DEEPER APPRECIATION FOR UNPLEASANT REALITIES about human nature can make progressive initiatives more practical, successful and broadly appealing.
THE RIGHT TOOLS AND PROGRAMS can build foundations of civic culture, enabling traditional institutions and progressive initiatives to thrive in parallel
Our massive investment in education has not been well-focused (or effective) on helping each student learn to reason for themselves; we need a society of individuals who can independently reason from first principles (Working on it: Zearn, schools, etc.)
This combination of reason and cognitive empathy can unlock in each of us more wisdom, compassion, productivity, happiness and true openness. It directly combats tribalism and individualism, breaking down echo chambers and strengthening our ability to reason and debate with nuance rather than simplified good/evil dichotomies (Working on it: Danish curriculum, me)
Novel experiences, like travel, challenge assumptions and build openness (Global Nomads, Social Innovation Project)
Reasoning forums lift us out of reactionary, 'myth of pure evil' argument to productive deliberation (Heterdox Academy, Rationalist movement, NCDD)
Technology, while not a cause, enables us to follow our nature to more silo'd, confirmatory bubbles. New tech can acknowledge and mitigate this, or combat it where possible (Facebook? Brigade?)
Shared learning of citizenship, history and philosophy, and morality can form the backbone of a society-wide desire and ability to move beyond self-interest and care for the communities we are a part of. This has been largely eliminated from education in the past century (Working on social: C3 Framework)
Across many fields, the common thread to my roles and pursuits has been to seek pathways and build skills that can help construct a stronger civic culture.