SEARCHING FOR CONSENSUS?

Try widening the frame

NOTE: this is an expanded version of an earlier article. A third section has been added (and then reworked).


I.

Believe it or not, consensus is easy to find. The trick is knowing where, or rather how, to look.

The winning strategy is this: when faced with a disagreement, simply zoom out, widening the frame, until everything fits. For example:

Everyone agrees that human beings routinely get emotionally invested in dumb ideas; we just don’t all agree which (or whose!) ideas are dumb.

Any disagreement, any disagreement, can be restated as a form of consensus, simply by jointly acknowledging that the dispute exists.

[The limit case “we agree that we’re not sure whether we disagree” is only slightly more complex, but in real life it amounts to the same thing.]

Call this the Law of Radical Consensus.


II.

As a strategy, “widening the frame” offers several practical benefits:

  • It is fun and easy to learn. With only a little practice, anyone can play this game, or help teach it to others.
  • It limits collateral damage. Framing a disagreement within consensus decreases social polarization, defines the scope of conflict downward, and refocuses the attention on finding shared solutions.
  • It offers a welcome escape hatch from existential conflict. “Agreeing to disagree” is useless if our respective frames can’t survive each other. “Agreeing that we disagree,” on the other hand, shifts the focus from determining who is right to figuring out together what is going on.
  • It filters unserious behavior. Anyone who is unwilling to frame a disagreement within consensus is looking for a fight, not an argument, and should be reevaluated accordingly.
  • It uncovers deeper, more fundamental questions. “Why do humans so persistently disagree over which (or whose) emotionally invested ideas are dumb?” is a penetrating new question that gets closer to the heart of things, hinting at the hidden presence of undiscovered human universals.

And that is where true solutions are likely to be found.


III.

As you play with the Law of Radical Consensus, pondering its implications, I encourage you to remember these pieces of advice:

An honest search for consensus, like truth, requires that you surrender control over wherever the search may lead. Don’t become the one who is looking for a fight, rather than an argument! You won’t like what happens at the end of that movie.

The single most useful application of the Law of Radical Consensus isn’t solving problems, it’s properly identifying their hidden, true shape. When even your cleverest solutions keep running afoul of persistent foot-dragging, sabotage, entropy, or existential conflicts, take it as evidence that you are trying to solve the wrong problem. Widen the frame and try again.

Once established, a universal consensus (real-world, not mathematical)provides you with an unassailable platform from which to reason, working inwards toward comprehensive solutions to thornier issues. A startling number of supposedly “unsolvable” problems turn out to be just tricks of illusion, brought about by the intersection of differently incomplete perspectives. The rewards can be rich.

Above all, remember to stay positive! “People are stupid/crazy/awful” may initially be a tempting place to seek consensus, but it is a non-starter because of the many human achievements it cannot explain. For related reasons, “us/them” solutions (Those people are…) must also fail in the long run. Indeed, us/them approaches are a fine example of “solving the wrong problem.”

Stay positive. Something deeper is afoot. Something more complex, more elegant, more simple, and far more beautiful.

Stay tuned for updates.


MJP