Talking Across Political Divides (with Arnold Kling)

Arnold Kling is welcomed back to the show to talk about the new edition of his book, The Three Languages of Politics, and how it is even more relevant in the Trump era. 

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We welcome Arnold Kling back on to the show to talk about the new edition of Three Languages of Politics. He hits on how many people talk about politics within certain axes. Progressives operate on a oppressed vs. oppressor axis, conservatives on a barbarism vs. civilization axis, and libertarians on a coercion vs. liberty axis. These axis bind us to a frame of mind that is not conducive to talking to individuals of an opposing viewpoint. If we are aware of our own frame of mind and those of others, we could be better communicators of our ideas.

How do we talk about politics? How should we talk about politics? Why do Trump supporters believe they are being oppressed by the elite? What is pluralism?

Further Reading:

Dunbar’s Number: A Key To Networking, written by Ken Makovsky

Book Forum on the Three Languages of Politics Held at the Cato Institute

Media Bias and Asymmetric Insight, written by Arnold Kling

Related Content:

[The Three Languages of Politics](The Three Languages of Politics, Free Thoughts Podcast), Free Thoughts Podcast

The Three Languages of Politics, Third Edition, written by Arnold Kling

How We Polarize Ourselves, written by Arnold Kling


00:07 Aaron Ross Powell: Welcome to Free Thoughts. I’m Aaron Powell.

00:09 Trevor Burrus: And I’m Trevor Burrus.

00:10 Aaron Ross Powell: Joining us today is Arnold Kling. He’s adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and author of The Three Languages of Politics, the third edition of which was just released by Press. Welcome back to the show, Arnold.

00:21 Arnold Kling: Oh, thanks, Aaron.

00:22 Aaron Ross Powell: Your book is about how we talk about politics, but maybe we can start with how we don’t talk about politics. There’s a… It’s kind of a folk theory of what political conversation looks like in this country that your book is, to a great extent, a pushing back on, a reaction against. So what is that idealized view, before we get to what you think it actually looks like?

00:48 Arnold Kling: Well, we might think of it as persuasion, that is, people… Imagine playing by the rules of a high school debate team where of course you have to respect the people on the other side. There’s nothing personal involved. You’re just assembling facts and logic to try to make the most persuasive case for your point of view that you can. That would be idealized. I don’t think anyone believes that that’s really ever been the case in politics, but I think it’s… There certainly… I think there have been times in the past where certain contexts or certain institutions could be counted on to follow that kind of model or attempt to follow it, and I think that’s what’s gone away in the 21st century, that the alternative, which I call demonization, of just trying to… Imagine you… Someone just cut you off on the highway and you just want the whole world to know what an awful human being that person is. Well, that trying to define your opponents as awful human beings is what I call demonization, and that’s spread beyond where it used to be 50, a hundred years ago.

02:07 Aaron Ross Powell: Turning to your book then and your thesis, I have seen you summarize this book in a literal song and dance.

02:16 Arnold Kling: That is true. Well, how did you see that?

02:20 Aaron Ross Powell: At a conference here at Cato.

02:20 Arnold Kling: Was that live?

02:21 Aaron Ross Powell: It was live, and unfortunately…

02:23 Arnold Kling: Oh, I’m hoping it wasn’t taped, that’s all. As long as it wasn’t taped, I’m okay.

02:27 Trevor Burrus: Well, we’re taping now.


02:28 Aaron Ross Powell: We’re taping now, so what I was… Unfortunately, this is an audio-only medium, so our audience can’t necessarily get the full experience, but can you give us the song version of the pitch?

02:40 Arnold Kling: I could, but my voice is my weakest part of it, of the song and dance routine. So let’s pass on that.


02:45 Trevor Burrus: Sure. So if we’re not gonna do the musical version, summarize the non-musical version.

02:51 Arnold Kling: Okay, the non-musical version, start with three words that describe bad things: Oppression, barbarism, and coercion. So oppression is when one class of people really mistreats another class of people very consistently and makes them suffer. So historical examples of the Holocaust, slavery, things like that, that’s oppression. Barbarism is when people revert to more primitive sorts of behavior, where they’re not, you know, where they may be more violent. They’re violating what we would view as acceptable norms. And coercion is when you’re forced to do something because someone is threatening to do violence to you if you don’t do it and for libertarians, that’s usually a government official that you don’t pay taxes because you wanna pay taxes, you pay taxes because of the implicit threat that you’ll go to prison if you don’t.

04:04 Arnold Kling: So those are these three bad things. We all agree that they’re bad, but it seems that we have separated into political tribes that differ into where they focus on what bad is. And so Progressives seem to focus particularly on the oppression issue. And so if, when a progressive encounter is someone who disagrees with them and they get really upset, they’ll accuse them of being in an oppressor class. So we hear people talking about Progressives accusing people of being racists, white supremacists, misogynists, and so on. So they’re accused of being oppressors. Conservatives particularly focus on the civilization/barbarism axis. So if they really are against somebody, they’ll accuse them of really trying to bring down civilization and make us revert to barbarism. And libertarians will attack people as being statists, that oh, you just really wanna use the power of the state to coerce people to get your way.

05:08 Trevor Burrus: Now, obviously, this isn’t… I mean, there’s overlaps. As you said, we all think these things are bad. So is it really just signaling going on, essentially? Or is it… Does it say something about the underlying belief structure?

05:21 Arnold Kling: I’m not… I wouldn’t press too hard that it says something about the underlying belief structure. I think it… I use the term “languages,” and I like to use the term “demonization.” So what you can predict with most accuracy I think, using this three-axis model, is that when one of the tribes demonizes those who disagree, it will often be on these axes. So you can pretty much count on when Progressives really got their back to the wall and they’re just angry and trying to denounce somebody, they will accuse them of being in this oppressor class and similarly on the other axes.

06:03 Aaron Ross Powell: Does this mean then that these are languages that typically are spoken to other members of one’s own tribe? So like that if I am a progressive and I want to signal to other people that I’m a progressive, I talk about oppressors and oppressed versus if I am a progressive trying to talk to a libertarian or conservative and convince them of my viewpoint, I will frame issues in oppressor/oppressed language.

06:32 Arnold Kling: I think you’ll do. If you’re a progressive, you’ll tend to do both. But when you’re talking to people who are not fellow Progressives, they won’t hear it. They won’t hear it properly. So let’s just take a specific example. Let’s take the NFL football players who were kneeling during the national anthem. A progressive can talk all day about the historical injustices that African-Americans have faced and a conservative will still not hear that as a justification for kneeling during the national anthem. By the same token, a conservative can talk all day about the flag and the national anthem being symbols of American tradition and American civilization and you can’t disrespect those, and Progressives won’t hear that.

07:33 Arnold Kling: So in practice, and this is really was the original insight I had back in 2013 that made me write this book, in practice, most political commentary does not serve to open the minds of the other side. It isn’t intended to open the minds of your own side. So it ends up, by default, serving the purpose of closing the minds on your own side, sort of reinforcing their prejudices and ways of looking at things and sort of, and their tribal loyalty. And then going back to your point about signaling, yeah, it’s a great way to very quickly signal to people in your tribe that you are on their same wavelength.

08:19 Trevor Burrus: And you were predicting Donald Trump, I assume, when you wrote this book in 2013, like no one was.

08:26 Arnold Kling: No, I was not. And I think he changed things in a lot of ways. I don’t think he sort of banged the conservative drum consistently. He did somewhat. There were some notable examples. He gave a speech… This is after he was President. He gave a speech in Warsaw in which he talked about how great Western values were and how they were under threat, which went over really well with the Conservatives. It was a great civilization versus barbarism speech.

08:54 Trevor Burrus: But his inaugural address was also about the American carnage speech where things are sort of dissolving into barbarism and I am the only one who can fix it.

09:03 Aaron Ross Powell: Well, and he launched his campaign with warnings about Mexico sending rapists across the border too, which is a form of this, the barbarians are coming.

09:14 Arnold Kling: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. But I think a lot of the Trump phenomenon is best captured and I call it the bobos versus anti-bobos, which goes back to David Brooks’ bourgeois bohemian, sort of the people who are very cultured and very cosmopolitan versus people who, the populists who resent the cosmopolitan groups. I mean another great terminology is the anywheres versus the somewheres, people who’re comfortable anywhere. They’d be happy in Prague, they’d be happy in other countries versus somewheres, people who are very rooted in a particular location. Anyway, Trump, I think tapped into that, at least at the margin, and that’s how he kind of stole the key states from the Democrats. So he’s sort of a different phenomenon. I think what, relative to the book, I think, first of all his… Demonization is what he’s all about, and I think that’s actually a new thing for the presidency. So when I’m talking about the institution…

10:31 Trevor Burrus: At least in public.


10:33 Arnold Kling: Yeah.

10:33 Trevor Burrus: I’m sure in back rooms they demonizing all the time.

10:34 Arnold Kling: Yeah. Well, yeah, Richard Nixon certainly was demonizing in private.

10:38 Trevor Burrus: I often say that Trump is just Nixon with a Twitter account.


10:41 Trevor Burrus: I mean the stuff that Nixon actually said is very similar.

10:43 Arnold Kling: Yes.

10:44 Trevor Burrus: But that makes a difference. It’s an important distinction.

10:46 Arnold Kling: Yeah.

10:46 Trevor Burrus: Yeah.

10:47 Arnold Kling: Yeah, I think it used to be. It was, you know, you protected the Oval Office from this kind of demonization. You sent the Vice President out, you sent various surrogates out, but you protect the Oval office, and that’s one institution. And while we’re at it, I’ll say the other institution… This is obviously changes since I first wrote the book and since the second edition it came out. What’s new is things have gotten worse in this sort of persuasion versus demonization. When I write the book, I’m upset that persuasion seems to be leaking out of the media op-ed world and it’s turning to demonization, and now we see it in two places: One is the presidency and the other is, I think, the college campus where it seems like demonization has really made an upsurge and persuasion, which you used to assume would be 100% of the discourse on a college campus is now kind of in trouble.

11:53 Trevor Burrus: Now you, the other fact of Trump, which comes in there afterward, which I think maybe we could draw a connection, ‘cause one thing you get from demonization, they’re not exactly… Tribalism and demonization are not exactly the same thing. They come together. So you have these signaling languages of politics, the sort of way they were talking about the in-crowd and the out-crowd, and then you could increase tribalism, and then tribalism, and I think you quote Andrew Sullivan as sort of the way that the Republican Party when it’s a tribe now led by Donald Trump will switch on free trade and immigration, never that positive on immigration, but just follow him and overnight it seems like it just switched him because tribes do that rather than nations or other types of groups.

12:41 Arnold Kling: Yeah, I think that’s an important point, and one of the things in this new edition… A big difference between this new edition and previous editions is that political psychology has just blossomed. I mean if there’s one thing that the Trump phenomenon has…

13:02 Trevor Burrus: Created a cottage industry.

13:03 Arnold Kling: Created… Yeah.

13:04 Trevor Burrus: Yeah.

13:04 Arnold Kling: And there was an interesting book by Lilliana Mason of University of Maryland, and she just noted that the big increase in sort of hostility between Democrats and Republicans is on sort of what’s called the temperature indicator of how much they hate the other party. On the issues, there’s actually not been nearly as much divergence, and that gets to your point, that people even switched on the issues and that it’s… It just doesn’t seem that the increased polarization is very much issue-driven.

13:48 Aaron Ross Powell: Why is that? And it gets to another question that I had, which was, if we’re distinguishing… So we’ve got tribes and which are sets. In politics, we would think of those tribes as ideological clusters. But if we’ve got those, why is the way that we’re, or an important way that we’re distinguishing each other in how we talk versus simply the content of our ideas? That like if you and I were to sit down and start having a debate, it would become very clear where we disagreed with each other and it would become clear that maybe I agree more with this person over here, but we wouldn’t necessarily have to resort to talking about the world entirely differently.

14:29 Arnold Kling: Yeah, I guess my first thought is that I think a lot of people don’t really fit the ideological cluster model and I think maybe one thing about these three axes, oppressor-oppressed, civilization-barbarism, liberty-coercion, is that maybe makes it sound like, “Oh yeah, we’ve got some… I’ve nailed down some ideological clusters.” But I think Trevor has it right that a lot of this tribalism seems to be people just decide, “This is my identity,” and then they, that in turn determines which signals that are most important to them. And then, they often align their positions on particular issues to their tribes, but then sometimes they don’t and sometimes they seem to be able to live with a different position on an issue than their tribe or spouses. But as long as they still, for whatever reason, feel that tribal identity, they stick with it.

15:40 Trevor Burrus: Do you think this was these, at least these three values… I mean it’s not the only political values, but they’re very common and… But have things been realigned a little bit more than, say, they were in 1950s? In 1950, people talked about oppression and liberty and barbarism, but has it, has it maybe as a percentage of constituency changed?

16:00 Arnold Kling: Yeah. Oh, yeah, I think it’s quite different. I was thinking about this recently that if you had asked sort of what does politics revolve around in 1950, it was probably a lot of it was communism and anti-communism.

16:15 Trevor Burrus: Of course, yeah.

16:15 Arnold Kling: And I don’t think that this model… And this is actually somewhat encouraging, I hope, is that I don’t think this model is a durable model. So, it could change. What I fear is durable is this psychology of opposition of black and white, good and bad, that kind of outlook, and I think that’s sort of… Even if Mr. Trump is realigning politics in some ways, and again, I don’t think it’s permanent, but it’s certainly temporarily this sort of bobo, anti-bobo alignment… I mean what’s… That may not be consistent with those three axes, but it is consistent with this stark opposition, “We’re good, they’re bad,” and that’s true on all sides. I mean the bobos hate Trump, and in fact, in David Brooks’ original book, Bobos in Paradise, he listed a bunch of things that the bobos don’t like, and the very first one on the list, this is in 1999, is Donald Trump.


17:30 Arnold Kling: And so, there’s just a visceral hatred there and there’s clearly a visceral hatred on the part of Trump supporters for the elites, the deep state, whatever you would call them.

17:42 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, that was one of the things that struck me when I was going back and prepping for this, is it seems like Trump has caused some of the tribes to talk more in the emphasis of some of the other tribes. So, I’m thinking Progressives seem much more concerned with barbarism than they used to be, but they see barbarism as assaults on institutions and Trump supporters representing this.

18:10 Arnold Kling: Right. Right.

18:12 Aaron Ross Powell: And the oppression, the Trump supporters, we’re being oppressed by the elites.

18:18 Trevor Burrus: College… Conservatives on college campuses are being oppressed by…

18:23 Arnold Kling: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, although that doesn’t… I think it doesn’t truly fit the oppressor-oppressed narrative, ‘cause they’re really not an ethnic class or whatever. But no, I think what you said is absolutely right. I was watching a ridiculously long podcast with Eric Weinstein and Timur Kuran. They go on many things, but one of which is that as Trump sort of crashes through the guard rails of politics… The example that Kuran reminded me of, I had forgotten, is he insulted John McCain’s patriotism, and you cannot get more violation of conservative guard rails than that. And Kuran’s wise [19:10] ____ that actually helped him with his supporters, ‘cause his supporters said, “He’s one to do anything. When he goes to Washington, he’s not gonna go native.”

19:20 Arnold Kling: That was a positive thing. And so that goes back to your point. So, progressive is saying wait a minute, guard rails. I thought conservatives like guard rails, they believed that guard rails are what would keep you from smashing into the telephone poles of life. We’re for that. What happened, what happened to that.

19:38 Aaron Ross Powell: Is a little bit of that to say that confusion because what Trump has done is exposed fault lines and political coalitions that is not that conservatives used to say that they were in favor of guard rails, and now they’re not, but that a particular part of the Conservative Coalition, which wasn’t really having its voice heard, now is, but the same people who have been in favor of guard rails still are, they’re just now, the Never Trumpers or whatever else.

20:08 Arnold Kling: Or some of them are working coming up with ways to rationalize supporting Trump. He didn’t lose in the end. I think one of the smallest slivers in political life is Republicans abandoning Trump. There were some, but they’re mostly within a 10-mile radius of where we sit and their votes don’t count for very much at least if they live in Maryland or DC.

20:37 Trevor Burrus: Do you see the… So we mentioned the 50s before. Clearly, we’ve had a wholesale shift in a pretty short amount of time and how we get news and where we getting news from. And where were you… What sources form our opinions? And you could start it, even with let’s say Fox News is advent but then with the internet and everything else and that’s not Walter Cronkite anymore, it’s not Tom brooko it’s wild west out there. And it seems to be that when people want to consume news and they have a choice and they don’t just have ABC, CBS, and NBC and they have a choice for, I wanna go to the place that just tells me I’m really good, and they’re really bad, and that makes me feel really good that that’s actually what people want to want to choose. And so we’re seeing this play out in most market and now rhetoric and everything else too.

21:37 Arnold Kling: Yeah, I think that the change in media environment is a big reason for sort of the increased tribalism. You had your days of the three networks. They necessarily were competing for a mass audience, and so they wanted to be careful not to be too much on one side because they would lose more people than they would gain. But is the environment splinters then you have people going after niches like you say, and then people respond to that as an aside, I would say our political environment looks just way more splintered if we had a parliamentary system, proportional representation. Can you imagine how many more parties we would have now than just the two? It’s a sort of, I think there’s a real tension between this two-party system and the kind of splintered nature of the electorate that’s just another feature, but you can see the splintering all over the place in the media and in people who are subscribing to different YouTube channels or listening to a different podcast and so on.

23:00 Trevor Burrus: So what… This is the question I for myself, asking where we’re not putting that genie back in the bottle. Actually, the weird time was post-war America, for media compared to the rest of American history. And so, we have boomers being like, Man, Walter Cronkite those are the days the most trusted man in America told you what you need to have we’re gonna use in the war in Vietnam and all that stuff and now it’s very different, but it’s not going away. And in that sense in terms of schismatic stuff we thought that Facebook was this one thing but Facebook is concerned, about tick-talk because if you’re 15, you’re doing something that’s even more decentralized than Facebook and it’s gonna get crazier. And we had to figure out how to govern country with this is as the input which I think is a really interesting question.

23:51 Arnold Kling: Yeah, I do think that… But there’s a one… There are various reasons, one can be hopeful and one reason be hopeful. Is that we just haven’t had time to adapt to the media environment, and maybe there will be some kind of cultural adaptation whereas now current the immediate cultural response is just to everyone to get very outraged very easily. One way I describe it is that this environment has created a collision between what used to be two separate worlds, the… I like to call on the sub-Dunbar world of the family. Your neighborhood, your immediate colleagues at work. Less than the Dunbar number of 150 people.

24:44 Trevor Burrus: Ah okay the Dunbar number obviously, Dunbar. [chuckle] The Dunbar number yes.

24:47 Arnold Kling: And the collision between that world and the larger world of organizations and politics. So those used to be kind of separate in most people’s lives, but now people I think experience like on Facebook and so on, they experience what used to be them out there running the world as in my face. And a real… Maybe even a bigger sense not just the people running the world, but the crazies on the other side. So and it used to be… You didn’t… The classic 1977 Skokie, Illinois Nazis march through Skokie, Illinois, that march. It was very controversial at the time, but it lasts one day, they’re never heard from again nowadays Charlottesville is still very high in people’s mind.

25:52 Arnold Kling: And all these incidents just go right in your face, and I think in part that explains why free speech is not as popular as it used to be. Because when these people… When the… I call it bad people saying bad things disappear, 99% of the time…

26:13 Trevor Burrus: Or you just don’t run into them.

26:14 Arnold Kling: Yeah. You don’t run into them; they’re not in the media 99% of the time that’s fine. But when you know that they’re out there and you’re being constantly reminded that they’re out there, then you feel like, “I’ve got to do something about it”, and maybe the thing you most want to do is take away their free speech. Which I don’t think is the right answer, but that gets back to the issue of how does the culture adapt to this new environment? And I think we’re struggling with that.

26:42 Aaron Ross Powell: Well, it seems like this new environment, as far as our relationship to it and what’s new about it and where this tribalism might come from, that on the one hand we talked about the pluralism of it, that suddenly there’s far more views represented, that there’s far more outlets representing different perspectives. And you as an individual, so you have the choice to find ones that are more narrowly tailored to you interests. But because so much of our online life, which is increasingly so much of our lives, is in the form of aggregators that are pulling from multiple sources; it’s not like in the days of blogs where I had five blogs I visited every day, but if there were all sorts of other blogs out there I’d probably never see them unless someone happened to write about it. But now life is lived in Twitter or Facebook; there are aggregators that are just pulling. So I can find the things that I’m interested in, but I’m also constantly exposed to stuff way outside of my bubble. So that’s kind of the pluralism side, but then we also have, it seems like a shift in the way that we approach…

27:50 Arnold Kling: Can I just interrupt one second?

27:52 Aaron Ross Powell: Sure.

27:53 Arnold Kling: I think unfortunately for now, the way we’re exposed to things outside our bubble is we’re given the most outrageous picture of them, so I think… So people on the left are convinced that the alt-right is three-quarters of Donald Trump’s support, and people on the right are convinced that the most extreme… That AOC represents the mainstream Democrats. And there is a lot of dynamic at work. Evolutionarily, a good way to call attention to yourself is to be able to tell people about immediate threats, because immediate threats in the pre-historic period were very important to know about, and so it’s easy to call attention to yourself as a conservative by talking about how threatening the extreme progressives are, and the same with the other tribes. So we’re not being exposed to other points of view as “Oh, we here’s another way to think about things”, it’s more like we’re being exposed to a negative caricature of other tribes.

29:19 Aaron Ross Powell: Right. And so I think that’s exactly right, and I think that’s that second part of… So there’s kind of the baseline assumption of, like, there’s pluralism in sources and exposure to things, and that’s probably not going to change. I don’t see us consolidating back to ABC, NBC and CBS only. But we also have is, what you just pointed out, which is the way that we interact with that. And so yes, on the supply side, I suppose, we are getting served things that are tuned to be outrageous, because that’s what’s gonna get us to click and share and comment and so on. But we also, it seems like we are seeking that stuff out; like, we’ve decided that the best way to immerse ourselves in a pluralistic news environment is to find all the stuff that upsets us because it’s fun and it’s engaging and so on. And that seems like the thing that maybe is the most likely to change as we gain more exposure to this media environment.

30:27 Aaron Ross Powell: In the same way like… So we had phones are incredibly addictive and there’s lots of stuff going off and people become buried in them, and then what we have seen over the last several years is people figuring out kind of a degree of attention hygiene, where I’m gonna turn off my notifications, or I’m gonna install software that blocks this stuff out, and we’re becoming more mindful in our approach as we get used to this new environment, and so I wonder if we could see something similar where people start to say, “Yes there’s lots of sources, but it’s maybe not good for me”, and kind of the constant self-improvement mindset that seems to dominate among millennials. Just like I’m gonna fast every two weeks, I’m gonna go on, like, a news fast every two weeks and so on. That that part of the culture might shift so we’re better interacting with the pluralistic sources.

31:16 Arnold Kling: I think that’s one possible channel, but I would caution you that a lot of the book, the Three Languages book, delves into sort of the psychological attraction of doing demonization versus persuasion; it’s less work, it’s more emotionally satisfying, and it just seems to be a habit people have. There’s this… One of my favorite sort of little topics in the book is called The Law of Asymmetric Insight, which is when you find that somebody disagrees with you, you try to find… It’s difficult… That there’s some cognitive dissonance there -“Oh, Aaron who I respect disagrees with me.” That’s a problem. But if I don’t respect Aaron, if I say “Oh, well he’s just doing that because he’s a bloody so-and-so”, then that makes it easier; it gets rid of the cognitive dissonance. And so what you have is people who say…

32:29 Arnold Kling: “You’re not… I don’t have to listen to… ” Or, they tell other people on the same tribe, “You don’t have to listen to those people, because they’re just bad… “

32:36 Trevor Burrus: “They’re shills, they’re hacks. They’re shills, they’re hacks, they’re bad people, they’re… ” you name it.

32:40 Arnold Kling: Yeah, “They’re just doing it because… They’re just saying it because… They’re not giving you the real reason for their beliefs.” And that is really what a lot of political commentary degenerated into, and that’s what, when I first started writing the book and first noticing that. But what that gets to, in answer your question, is I think there’s a lot of psychology that encourages people to use these simple heuristics of demonization, rather than engage in the more challenging task of persuasion. And I think that’s a much tougher cultural shift to make. And in fact, I think that’s where the cultural shift has been going in reverse. And again, I go back to the college campuses, where you’re supposed to be taught to be able to put yourself in the mind of people with different points of view. And now, there’s just this trend to shut down people with different points of view.

33:55 Trevor Burrus: It reminds me of a colleague, Alex Nowrasteh, who likes to go and poke people on Fox News every now and then. I believe he was being interviewed by Laura Ingraham, who at one time probably would have said many nice things about Cato, or at least some nice things about Cato. But she accused him of… She said, “Why is the Cato Institute want more immigration? Do your corporate backers just want cheaper workers?”

34:19 Arnold Kling: Yeah, right. Exactly.

34:21 Trevor Burrus: And it completely switched. Weird out the other to her… 10 years ago, she would have been… And now, our motives are suspect for why we would want more of an immigration.

34:33 Arnold Kling: Yeah, that’s a classic asymmetric insight. Yeah, you say… You’re giving me all these overt reasons why immigration’s okay, but really, it’s just your… I’ll tell you why you really are saying that, yeah.

34:46 Trevor Burrus: So, how much does this tie into another factor that has been, you mentioned the bobo thing, and a lot of people, I feel like increasingly, even over the last couple years, people have noticed Charles Murray’s book, Coming Apart, from 2012 is more and more relevant. And you do see this cultural divide, and it could follow the media, I think we’ve been talking about that what you do in rural America is very different than what you do when you have somewheres and anywheres, or anywheres in this place, cosmopolitan’s globalist kind of thing. Guns is the one that really gets me on this, where it’s not even a debate anymore. It’s a cultural signal. And you have some people in the northeast who have never seen… Maybe been around a gun. And their reaction to them is disgust, I would say, that you can’t really have a coherent conversation about what gun policy should look like when someone’s emotional response to guns… If you held out a gun to them, they would recoil like you were holding a cobra or some sort of fetted rotting. [36:00] ____ yeah yeah exactly. So, of course, they’re not gonna have a conversation. And that’s not true about all political subjects. Taxes is not exactly the same way. And a few of these have become more signaling devices than… And indications, the kind of things that you have bumper stickers for. It’s much more common to have guns, pro or anti, than, like, “I’m for raising the top marginal tax rate to 44%.”

36:30 Arnold Kling: Maybe there’s… For social security reform.

36:30 Trevor Burrus: Or a bumper sticker, for social security reform, exactly. And then, that also seems to be cultural and regional and maybe tied to some of these things you already mentioned.

36:39 Arnold Kling: Yeah, no, there’s definitely a cultural divide. A friend of mine came up with an interesting point of, compare college educated women with non-college educated men, and just that cultural divide. That’s become one of the most sharpest political divides out there.

37:02 Aaron Ross Powell: When people are using these languages, when they’re looking at the world from within one of these tribes, one of these perspectives, just to clarify how this plays out, is it a difference in, I call it world view versus emphasis? So, if I’m a libertarian, do I, on the one hand, just kind of naturally latch on to those issues out in the world that best fit a coercion axis, like a freedom versus coercion, and those are the issues that I just happen to talk about? Or, do I tend to try to figure out how every issue fits into that? And the reason I ask is because it seems like if it’s the more the latter and we’re talking about demonization, if it makes it seem more likely that I can say, “Well, these people, if they’re… Everything around me is a matter of freedom and coercion. But these people aren’t talking about that. So, therefore, they must not care about freedom and coercion, which then makes them… ” Anyone who’s like, “Well, I’m pro-coercion,” is probably a bad person. And so, it makes it easier. Whereas if it’s just like, “We’re all just placing the emphasis on different issues,” then that seems like an easier thing to rectify that like, “Well, I just happen to care… This is… ” The same way as in this building there are… The housing policy people are like, “Boy, housing policy is the most important thing in the world.”


38:37 Aaron Ross Powell: And the healthcare guy’s like, “Well, healthcare’s the most important thing in the world.”

38:40 Trevor Burrus: But it’s actually monetary.

38:41 Aaron Ross Powell: But it’s actually monetary policy. But they can talk to each other, because they’re not saying, like, “Well, the only thing that matters is housing policy, and if you can’t see that, you’re an evil person.”

38:51 Arnold Kling: Yeah. Well, I think what’s interesting is that it seems to be that there are many issues, and I think the media selects these issues. We talk about the media environment, and I think it selects for the issues that each side has a strong view on. So, again, the football players. Why was that such a big story? Who cares if a few football players are kneeling during the national anthem? What makes it a compelling story is that the Progressives and the Conservatives just see it with such different frames, and they view it so strongly within their own axis.

39:36 Trevor Burrus: How much are people pushing each other to use the languages and even more starkly? ‘Cause I find that to be an interesting thing where it’s, in some social situations, in some debates, in just some tribal situations, the more tribal that they’re being, the more it might push you to be more tribal too. So you can have a situation of college football where if the Ohio state is gonna deck themselves out and do all this stuff then the Michigan people have gotta answer basically. And so, if it’s gonna say, “If we’re gonna have this policy, then we need to have… ” So it’s… Whether it’s policies, and then rhetoric. So, restrict immigration, now the Democrats are open borders. Who knew? Ten years ago that would have been wonderful to know, but, no, who knew? They’re open borders now. How should we see that do you think?

40:21 Arnold Kling: Yeah. Well, I think that’s probably a result of what’s called sorting of people. So people are gonna have more nuanced views and less tribal views if they encounter on a day-to-day basis people with… From different tribes. But what’s happened over the past few decades is that people really have separated geographically by social class and so on, so that there are a lot of… I assume that there are a lot of people who’ve voted for Hillary Clinton who never met a Trump supporter personally, who never have had more than a 10-second encounter with a Trump supporter, and probably vice versa. So that is bound to increase tribalism, ‘cause if you only talk to your own side, all… You just… The natural… In fact, there is some psychological research that shows this, and I was just reading it in Cass Sunstein’s book on conformity that if you put like-minded people together, they become more extreme, and we’ve seen that play out.

41:38 Trevor Burrus: So what can Libertarians do in this? We have the languages of politics, we have all this. I remember a couple of years ago, our friend, Katherine Mangu-Ward has been on the shows and Reason magazine contributed to a Washington Post Magazine piece about how to fix our divided politics, and her suggestion was befriend the Libertarian, which I actually kind of appreciated. It’s like, maybe it’s a little bit self-aggrandizing, but it’s like, we kind of are orphans in this possibly?

42:05 Arnold Kling: Yeah, my line is the college students, left-wing college students cried after the last election, we cry after every election, but…


42:17 Trevor Burrus: Does someone have to win?

42:18 Arnold Kling: It’s really odd that… If you think about how do Libertarians end up being the people who wanna see civility. And I’m not sure I have the answer to that, but I think it’s true. I think in the last few years, a lot of the please for civility in politics have come from the Libertarian side, and that’s… If you think of some of the historical Libertarians… Yeah, no, I don’t think of them as being not combative.

42:47 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, Lysander Spooner is usually not the first civility person I…

42:50 Arnold Kling: Yeah, Ayn Rand is not…

42:51 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, Ayn Rand…

42:51 Arnold Kling: Was not a not… She was combative, Rothbard’s combative. Why is it that we’re trying to hold up a white flag? What’s gonna…

43:03 Aaron Ross Powell: Could it have something to do with our commitment to freedom of expression, that incivility to some extent is an attempt to shut down other people and other sides of conversations to just, like if you’re uncivil to someone, you’re just saying like, “I don’t respect you. I’m not gonna listen to you. I’m gonna shout over you”? And all of those are against this crux of freedom of speech and freedom of expression which is so important to the Libertarian position. It’s like the… To some extent, like the kind of cornerstone of the whole thing is that we need to be able to have these conversations and hash stuff out.

43:43 Arnold Kling: Yeah, that could be an explanation, yeah.

43:45 Trevor Burrus: I think it’s related, but I also think, personally, that especially in my… In our little world which is a very small world, but wait, Libertarian world, let’s be honest, but doing my job, you’re building up these barriers to any sort of partisan allegiance whatsoever. We have an understanding that even if the Republicans did something good this time, those are not our people and they will disappoint you tomorrow if they may do something good today. And so if you really feel an aversion to identifying with any actual party or group or a group, then you’re not gonna get sucked into those disputes, you’re gonna be able to see it… It’s like if Ohio State, Michigan fans, and I’m an Oklahoma fan and I can watch that thing and be like, “You know, look, I… Michigan, sorry, every call did not go against you in that game,” and I can see that ‘cause I’m an Oklahoma fan. But when I watch Texas, that makes it a little bit more difficult but when I’m involved in the battle.

44:44 Arnold Kling: Yeah, that’s true, but it’s still… I think it still leaves the question of why is it now we’re especially… ‘Cause we’ve always been sort of neutral between Republicans and Democrats, but why is it now that there’s this big concern? I think, maybe your point about free speech, Aaron’s point about free speech speaks to that. I wonder if there are just some other things going on in the current environment that make Libertarian… Again, Libertarians would not… You just don’t think of Libertarians as wanting to create kumbaya. It just isn’t…

45:27 Trevor Burrus: Anything that’s peaceful. Are we optimistic? That’s what is the question, even for Aaron I know and Arnold. Does it get better?

45:40 Arnold Kling: Well, I think there are a few reasons why it might… First of all, I think, just the pace of which it got worse is so fast that on the one hand, it makes it very depressing, it makes it very… I can’t talk to anybody of a sort of a Libertarian/Conservative outlook who isn’t very depressed about the current situation, but it did change very fast. And that means maybe the pace of change is fast and somehow there wil be another change. There’s this issue of cultural adaptation that you’ve raised, that we’re… We’ve had very little time to adapt to this cell phone, internet, always on environment. The other thing is… And this goes back a little bit to my listening to that podcast with Weinstein and Kuran. A lot of people may be pretending to put up with stuff that they don’t really like. And I’m thinking, again, it’s on college campuses putting up with this shut down culture. I think the typical college administrator, the simplest path for them is to just cave in.

46:54 Trevor Burrus: Or also, how about other students who aren’t at the front line of the protest, but maybe don’t really like the cancel culture, but they don’t really wanna speak up about it too?

47:04 Arnold Kling: Right, right. All sorts of people don’t wanna speak up about it. And the easiest one for the administrator to respond to is the people who are shouting or who might shout. And I think, also, every administrator regardless of sort of that I think they come at… Most of them come at it with a genuine concern of, are we really doing enough for African-Americans and women on campus there? I think it isn’t like they’re just being intimidated into it, but I think they are perhaps being intimidated into putting up with demonization methods rather than letting the campus be persuasion-oriented. So, one possibility, you can have sort of a… You can imagine that fantasy petition that went out there that said, “We don’t think college campuses should be about demonization, we think that they should be about persuasion,” and all of a sudden 95% of the key constituents in colleges universities would sign that fantasy petition and that would change… At least change the environment there, which I think is pretty important in terms of… I think there’s a… I think that might then seep back into maybe media, so maybe some of the better op-ed writers would say, “Okay, maybe we should be engaged in persuasion and you could sort of get a gradual improvement in the climate that way.”

48:47 Trevor Burrus: One that I’m always concerned with is, Are we just too culturally different to especially the urban-rural divide? That is what this was actually about. The red states and blue states are not really what it’s about, ‘cause every urban area in a deeply red state is blue.

49:05 Arnold Kling: Austin, Texas.

49:07 Trevor Burrus: Exactly. So in that way, are we just too culturally different to not fight over this in the way that we do and use the language that we do and that we view every presidential election as an existential threat to our way of life because the other people who too take power are so different and speak in an entirely different language than we do, and so this is the actual problem every four years.

49:34 Arnold Kling: Well, but that… In that case, for one thing, the urbanization trend is just, is going on. So that… With that… The result there will be one side is just gonna lose, and that will be the rural side. And that’ll be how that gets resolved. That won’t necessarily be pleasant. A more pleasant thing would be somehow if these… If we developed more of what the political scientists call cross-cutting identities where people from rural and urban Michigan both became Michigan fans, University of Michigan fans and that identity mattered to them enough that it overcame the political differences.

50:26 Aaron Ross Powell: For someone listening who wants to take this insightful framework that you have offered that you articulate in the book and use it in their own lives and their own political discourse, what’s the takeaway, like once you’re aware of these three tribes and the three languages that they speak, how should that change the way that we as individuals do politics?

50:54 Arnold Kling: What I would hope is that you would sort of say, “Alright, what tribe am I in? What… ” And then say, “From now on, when somebody speaks the language that resonates with that tribe, I’ll be really careful not to over-react and say, “Oh yes, you’ve successfully demonized the other side,” or, “Oh yes, I really support you.” So just to sort of slow down and question your own reaction based on that.


51:37 Aaron Ross Powell: Thank you for listening. If you enjoy Free Thoughts, you can find our Free Thoughts discussion group on Facebook or on Reddit at r/FreeThoughtsPodcast you can follow us on Twitter @FreeThoughtsPod. As always, please rate and subscribe to us on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or whereever you get your podcasts. Free Thoughts is produced by Tess Terrible and Landry Ayres. To learn more, visit us on the web at