Sam Harris versus Ezra Klein, aka, high versus low decoupling


Dialogue is difficult.

Exhibit A would be the recent exchanges between the neuroscientist Sam Harris (of the Waking Up podcast) and Vox-founder Ezra Klein (of the Ezra Klein Show). Actually, Exhibit A is their email exchange and Exhibit B is their podcast together. It’s a continuing series.

The whole thing started when Harris had Charles Murray — author of The Bell Curve — on his podcast. Klein posted an article in response to the interview. This led to an email exchange between Harris and Klein. Harris chose to publish this exchange, whereupon all hell broke loose.

And then they attempted to hash it out together in a podcast (published on both Harris and Klein‘s podcasts). The key word being “attempted.” It doesn’t seem like they ended up understanding one another more deeply.

Why not?

Here’s one theory. John Nerst over at Everything Studies has broken down the Harris/Klein battle – both the email exchanges and the podcast conversation – in painful detail. To illuminate the causes of the disconnect, he introduces the distinction between high cognitive decoupling and low cognitive decoupling cultures.

Cognitive decoupling consists of stripping out context to work with a simplified set of constructs, propositions or models with greater rigor and precision. This is a practice that is second nature to scientists, analytical philosophers, economists, and so forth. They live in “high decoupling” cultures.

Journalists, literary intellectuals, and almost everyone else lives within a “low decoupling” culture, where context is king, even if there is some loss in rigor and precision.

When a high-decoupler and a low-decoupler meet, much is lost in translation.

To a low-decoupler, high-decouplers’ ability to fence off any threatening implications looks like a lack of empathy for those threatened, while to a high-decoupler the low-decouplers insistence that this isn’t possible looks like naked bias and an inability to think straight. 

Read the whole thing here.



Shabbat with a white supremacist


College campuses can be hot spots for ideological conflict. They can also be places of dialogue, openness and friendship.

This episode of the On Being podcast tells the story of the unlikely – and transformative – friendship between Matthew Stevenson, an Orthodox Jew, and Derek Black, a white nationalist and son of the founder of Stormfront.


Bridging the divide: a new series from CNN politics

CNN has a new series on bridging the partisan divide in the United States called “Bridging the Divide.”

One of the first installments is about two activists, Abigail Disney and Rob Schenck, who come from opposing political tribes: Disney from the left and Schenck from the right. The two met while Disney was making Armor of Light,  a documentary on gun control.

“We’re both like Columbus: We crossed the ocean expecting to find monsters on the other side, and it turned out there weren’t any.”

Read the whole thing.

Are you capable of adversarial collaboration?

That is the question. The answer is “maybe not.”

But let’s not jump to conclusions. First you may want to know what adversarial collaboration is, and second why you would want to be capable of it. So let’s start there.

1. What is adversarial collaboration?

Adversarial collaboration is when two or more people seek to resolve disagreements about an issue X by defining a mutually satisfactory way to learn more about X together, and then documenting what they’ve learned. Those people are often professional academics or scientists, but there’s no reason why they couldn’t be you and your mad Uncle Angus. The issue X is often a matter of some controversy in the scientific literature, but again there’s no reason why it couldn’t be something like the birthplace of the 44th president of the United States, or recent changes to the rate of monthly job creation in your state. The beauty of the thing is that it is available to us all, princes and paupers alike, for our mountains and our molehills. All it takes is two willing people.

The crux of adversarial collaboration is an openness to learning from your adversary. That may be asking too much. I am typically unwilling to learn from my friends. To learn from my adversaries? That is two bridges too far. But maybe you are better. Even if you are not open to your mad Uncle Angus, could you be open to your cousin, your mother, or your significant other?

Don’t answer that.

Fortunately, you do not need the mindset of openness to get started. You can take the first steps inflated by the conviction that your adversary will be the one doing the heavy learning. They have so much to learn, they just don’t know it yet.

Of course, they are welcome to hold the same conviction about you.

The first part of the collaboration is agreeing up front how you might learn more about the matter in question (e.g. looking up the definition of “spy” on Wikipedia; or designing a randomized controlled trial that tests an treatment against a control group). The second part of the collaboration is going and doing what was agreed upon. The third part is documenting what each side learned from the shared experience so that it can be offered as a testimony to others.

2. Why would you want to be capable of adversarial collaboration?

Because it will help to kill your ego, which is causing you and those around you so much pain and frustration. The enemy of your ego is your friend.  Continue reading “Are you capable of adversarial collaboration?”

Welcome to the blog of the Noble Partners Institute

One purpose of this blog is to provide a place to gather stories and perspectives, theories and facts that can help us understand five things:

  1. how, why and when political systems break down in general,
  2. how and why our political system in the United States is breaking down today,
  3. what consequences this has on our lives, and the lives of family, friends, and neighbors,
  4. what role we have to play in this, for better or worse, in our families and communities
  5. what strategies, norms or rules would make our political system more resilient, more adaptive, more effective, and more fair, not only for ourselves but for the benefit of generations to come.

Another purpose of this blog is to do this in a way that engages a broader range of voices in the conversation, to support or challenge what we have here. Challenging, we believe, is just another way of supporting. To do this right, we will need to evolve some strategies, norms and rules to keep the discussion civil and productive. For now, we simply set that as our intention. Going forward, we will seek to learn from other blogs that do this well.

It’s never been easier to begin a conversation with so many thoughtful, passionate people. We are grateful for that opportunity, and hope to make the most of it.