I start my day with the Cato Daily Podcast (by the way, if you're not listening to it, you're really missing out. You don't need to be a firebreathing anarchist to appreciate solid public policy research) and they did an episode the other day called Be Charitable to Your Opponents' Views.
In it, Arnold Kling explained how conservatives, liberals and libertarians all judge things on different axes. And this may be elementary to you, but, to me, the axes as he described them were a grand revelation.
Conservatives, he argued, see things on an axis of Civilization versus Barbarism -- order, either from the state or the church, versus the chaos that would come without those things. Kling said the archetypal story for this is Lord of the Flies. In the absence of civilizational constraints, everything descends into barbarism.
Liberals see things on the axis of Oppressors versus the Oppressed. Kling says the story for this would be Exodus, or slavery in the American South.
Libertarians see things on the axis of Coercion versus Free Choice. We've discussed before the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) and that's where this fits in.
The more I turn this over and over in my head, the more sense it makes to me.
Kling's point is that to understand your opponents and their point of view, you need to view things on the axis they use.
And I can see this all the time: when conservatives claim libertarians don't want any rules; when liberals claim pro-lifers just want to control women's bodies; when libertarians claim conservatives want a police state.
This is so valuable because you need to understand the other guy -- you need to see things on his axis -- in order to begin to persuade him. There are a lot of people who claim to understand their opponents' arguments but only parrot straw men arguments. I like to think I do it fairly well, and, to a point, I do. That's why I ask a lot of provocative questions here: I don't always understand things and I need to draw people out to be able to see their views.
But understanding needs to come first. That is the essential first step.