Do you have friends who seem to have lost their good judgment  lately?

Maybe don’t judge them too harshly – it’s a stressful time, often with too much to take in, and abounding with people (some of them possibly with dubious political leanings) offering solutions to this crisis. Furthermore, because we see each other less and less, we get an even greater part of our information online, and with each of us on different media diets we are consuming different and often opposing material. We also know that the social media algorithms work to show us what they think we want to see in order to drive more media consumption (of the advertising that they rely on), so our existing views and biases get more and more re-enforced until we end up living in an echo chamber.

The problem  then arises that when we do meet or even encounter each other online, reasoned discussion is unlikely. To our minds the research is done, the evidence is clear and the jury is back, but we will have seen different evidence, possibly for years, so inevitably we will profoundly disagree and can’t believe how the other could come to such conclusions.

The court analogy is fitting, as you might notice that this situation is the exact opposite to how a jury trial is supposed to work. A jury should have no vested interest in the case, they see the same evidence, at the same time, the quality of which must pass vigourous testing by the opposing legal team before being admitted. Crucially they are told not to look into the issue privately. In this way people from often different backgrounds and political persuasions will agree on a verdict, albeit with some coaching from the judge.

We won’t get anything like those conditions in normal life but we can make efforts to redress the balance. I think the best way is to take a generous amount of time – at least a couple of hours – to meet in person with a friend or acquaintance that you know or suspect to have different views and biases on the whole virus and restrictions issue and actually listen to each other for a while with as open a mind possible. It is true that if your mind is too open your brain could fall out, but on the other hand if it is too closed then it will be very hard to learn anything new in life.

The Ancient Greeks never missed a chance for a good debate : )

If this is impossible then the next best thing is to ask such a person for one or two relatively concise pieces of the best evidence supporting their current views, be it data, expert opinion and testimony, or publications by recognised authorities on the subject.

I’ve recently tried this approach with such a friend and we are both the better for it, and have agreed to keep meeting up. On the day we spent a few hours discussing it all while sitting by a river. It reminded me of how the Ancient Greeks coveted the chance to debate and would often pick an idyllic natural setting to do so. It helped me to remember that according to Plato, Socrates never ceased to admit that he had no knowledge himself whatsoever, but was always keen to search for the truth with another in the spirit of friendship.

If you like this approach why not give it a go yourself and share this idea like the proverbial plague, as none of us are immune to the effects of The Algorithms!

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