The Bookclub Theory

I recently heard the following, and I’ve been spreading it around since it seems to resonate with my acquaintances:

“I find myself jealous of my mother-in-law’s book club. Every week everybody reads the same book, and they can get right to discussing it without having to argue about which plot was in the book.
We don’t have that in politics today. Instead, whenever there’s a discussion of politics we have to spend an hour debating over points of fact before we can even touch any point of policy or values. Everyone shows up having read a different book”

I used to call this my multi-world theory, the recognition that so often today people disagree not because of opinions and values but because they are actually working on completely conflicting sets of facts. We may live alongside each other, but we effectively live in different worlds.

Unfortunately, this divergence of factual belief — this honest disagreement — is so often misperceived as either expressions of truly repulsive values or at least morally unacceptable, willful ignorance. Instead of realizing there’s a disagreement that might be surmountable through research, we attack each other personally, making the divergence that much wider.

Every time I see someone saying, “I just can’t understand how he can believe _______,” I want to suggest that the speaker start by wondering if maybe there’s a different set of factual premises that make the belief completely reasonable.

It’d be nice if we could all show up having read the same book, especially in this political season, but the first step to getting there is recognizing when different books really are in play.