Testing the disagreement template

If you're in a gnarly disagreement and you feel like the conversation keeps going in circles, here's one way out: tease apart the questions that get raised in the disagreement into FACTS, VALUES, and PROPOSALS. Each category represents a realm of disagreement that get resolved in different ways. You resolve a disagreement about facts by looking them up and doing scientific research. You resolve a disagreement about values by examining core beliefs and sharing experiences that formed your beliefs. And you resolve a disagreement about proposals by making a prediction and then seeing how the world unfolds.

I think of these categories as the realms of the 🧠 HEAD (facts), ❤️ HEART (values), and ✋HANDS (proposals). You can also think of them as the realms of WHAT, WHY, and HOW. This trifecta keeps popping up everywhere I look.

Last weekend there was an argument on Twitter about whether or not Facebook employees should feel proud of their work despite the harm that the company is potentially causing in the world. Some said they should quit unless they wanted to be complicit in these problems. Others said that should be a personal decision, and that staying at the company would put them in the best position to help the company correct itself. My friend Vicki Tan and I mapped this to the 3 categories and collected as many perspectives as we could, to see what would happen.

Here’s a link to the full doc if you want to dive deeper.

A couple hours after we posted this, Twitter announced that it was going to ban political ads, which is a step beyond anything else that I had seen proposed in the conversation, and evidence that people at these companies can make a difference internally:

I’m interested in using this template with a couple more disagreements in the coming weeks. It’s a lot easier for me to talk about specific disagreements like this than just constantly ask people to buy my book (pssst it comes out in less than 3 weeks). Have you seen any disagreements online or in the news that you think would be interesting to dissect in this way? Let me know!

An alternative to zingers

I’ve noticed a new interesting trend in online discourse that gives me a lot of hope. I’ve already mentioned Change A View a couple times here, which I continue to think is a direction with a ton of promise when it comes to increasing the productivity of disagreements online.

I also recently learned about the Adversarial Collaborations, which are described like this:

An adversarial collaboration is an effort by two people with opposing opinions on a topic to collaborate on a summary of the evidence. Just as we hope that a trial with both prosecutor and defense will give the jury a balanced view of the evidence for and against a suspect, so we hope an adversarial collaboration will give readers a balanced view of evidence for and against some thesis. It’s typically done for scientific papers, but I’m excited about the possibility of people applying the concept to to less formal writeups as well.

For example, a pro-gun activist might collaborate with an anti-gun activist to write a joint article on the evidence for whether gun control saves lives. We trust each person to make sure the best evidence for their respective side is included. We also trust that they’ll fact-check each other and make sure there aren’t any errors or falsehoods in the final document. There might be a lot of debating, but it will happen on high-bandwidth informal channels behind the scenes and nobody will feel like they have tailor their debating to sounding good for an audience.

I LOVE this idea, obviously. And have found someone willing to collaborate with me on an article about gun violence and gun policy. We were beginning to work on this in private when we discovered yet another super interesting campaign for Impossible Conversations.

Impossible Conversations is a competition to encourage difficult conversations in good faith. Winners receive a share of $2,500 in prize money, publication to Areo Magazine, and invitations to appear as a guest on several podcasts.​

To enter, simply have a written conversation on Letter before 3rd Nov 2019.

Letter.wiki is a new product that basically functions as a public pen pal site, where two people can have a conversation in public about any topic. It’s really well-suited for long-form, thoughtful disagreements, and I encourage everyone to sign up.

BJ Campbell is the fellow I’ve been planning this adversarial collaboration with, and we thought it would be interesting to have our conversation about it publicly. You can read it in full here. BJ is pretty well-versed in all the gun data and definitely comes from a different perspective from me, but there are already a couple examples of times where it’s become clear to me that we’re not battling each other, but rather working together towards collective understanding.

One was in letter #5 when he voluntarily corrected his own earlier statement about comparisons between violence in the UK and in the US:

I need to make some corrections to my prior letter. I've been digging into those violent crime rate numbers, which I admit I found unbelievable, and I think I sourced some of them sloppily. It appears that the UK number was based on…

Another was in letter #7 where he pointed out a flaw in my own calculations (where I referenced how the duct tape holding my argument together was beginning to thin) but then offered:

In the interest of offering solutions to the actual primary problem, which is male suicide, I want to hand you some extra duct tape to use, and we're going to find this duct tape from the other analysis perspective…

In my view, these are golden nuggets worth much more than points I might achieve by delivering zingers. A zinger is a pointed witty remark or retort meant to score some points with your own side. They’re less about increasing understanding across divides, and more about making the other side look bad. On the path towards learning how to have more productive disagreements, part of the challenge is finding these small rewards in a conversation that can feed us as we go along. There’s no denying that delivering zingers and gotchas is a powerful emotional motivator, because it feels good even as you push people further and further away from agreement. They’re funny. But they’re not helpful.

For those interested in trying to re-wire some conversational habits towards productive disagreement, I highly recommend testing the waters with an adversarial collaboration or impossible conversation with someone you respect but disagree with. If you do one, let me know about it!


Is this rhetorical?

8 things we found worth sharing this month.


It’s been a while since my last post, but summer is now over, kids are back in school, and spontaneous vacations are much less likely to happen. Here are some things related to biases, disagreement, and related topics that were shared in my Discord channel during the last month or so.

  1. WHAT IS MEANINGFUL? This is a great example of how arguments flare up when you mix up an argument about what is true with an argument about what is important/meaningful:

    People who consider themselves rational thinkers (myself included) often get stuck in this trap of getting too attached to undisputed facts, and missing the fact that the real disagreement being voiced is about urgency, priority, and creating a process for grieving/solidarity.

    Even in his apology he's refusing to acknowledge the fact that words are not just pure information, they also carry feelings, judgments, and power dynamics in them. And usually it's those in power who claim ignorance of this dimension of language.

    I've found that separating "what is true?" from "what is meaningful?" and sometimes "what is useful?" will almost always show you how an unproductive disagreement is due to mistaking one realm for another.

    The 3 realms of disagreement:
    🧠 what is true?

    ❤️ what is meaningful?

    ✋ what is useful?

    Once you notice start noticing these, you'll see them everywhere.

  2. WHO ARE WE? I have a feeling that Wait But Why’s answer will be weird, in the best possible way. I must be in a self-reflective mood because this article, How Aging Shapes Our Narrative Identity, about how we use the symbols generated in our early lives to tell the story of our later lives, also resonated with me strongly. And this older article on Solitude and Leadership was worth a re-read.

  3. IS AMBIGUITY MEANINGFUL? In this lovely essay by @sarahdoingnothing, I began to appreciate the many different ways we translate the ambiguous wilderness of the universe into something legible, but by doing this we also make it less profound.

  4. WHAT REFLECTS YOUR BEST SELF? A lovely short post about Ani DiFranco (a recurring topic in the Discord) and the surprising joy of being seen, even briefly.

  5. DO YOU LIKE POPPING BALLOONS? Probably not as much as this guy.

  6. WHAT IS WORLDING? Worlding is basically imagining a new reality that you can believe in. This is a new obsession that has gripped a few people. Starting with this Ribbonfarm guest post by Ian Cheng, author of Emissaries Guide to Worlding, and this really beautiful post, The Form of Formats, by @dschorno.

  7. CAN ADVERSARIES COLLABORATE? I believe they can. I’ve signed up to write an essay about guns with an adversary as part of Slate Star Codex’s Adversary Collaboration Contest. Speaking of experimental disagreement spaces, if you are interested in this idea and haven’t checked out Change A View yet, you should definitely sign up immediately. I have 2 Δ so far.

  8. WHAT TIME IS IT? 10 ways to answer.

Thanks for reading. If this list of things isn’t interesting to you, you can unsubscribe here. If it is interesting, I’m always open to feedback and suggestions for improvement. If you’d like to join the Rickshaw Discord community where all these links were originally shared, just reply to this email and I’ll send you an invite.

Last question. HOW ARE YOU?


Your Rickshaw Weeklinks: Flip it, shorten it, question it, critique it, minimize it, continue it, notice it, and get it.

8 things we found worth sharing this week.

  1. FLIP IT. Another way to look at the world, shared by Vicki, originally Tweeted by @MapScaping. All maps are flawed, but some are useful.

  2. SHORTEN IT. Daryl Chen wrote a haiku every day for a week and wrote an article about it. It might seem silly, but that’s sort of the point.

    cat ate my haiku 
    he licked his chops and said, it 
    could have been much verse
    — Daryl

  1. QUESTION IT. Based on this article about a idea of planting so many trees that the climate can’t help but recover, I asked on Twitter:

    And got a bunch of great replies, including this informative article from Betony:

    Lesson learned: especially when something fits right into your confirmation bias sweet spot, instead of assuming it’s true ask “what’s the best case against this?”

  2. CRITIQUE IT. This much-debated blog post by Mike Davidson criticizing Superhuman was a really great example (in my view) of how to provide direct feedback to a company without demonizing them. I annotated it with thoughts about the exact techniques he used, and why I thought they were so effective. One of those things is to not only criticise, but to also point super clearly to a path of repair, which, to their credit, Rahul and the Superhuman team seemed to be at least partially receptive to.

  3. MINIMIZE IT. Who wants to buy a plot of land and order a bunch of micro pre-fab houses and found a new city? You can apparently get a house for $20,000 on Amazon with Free Shipping. If you prefer to pay closer to the cost of a real home, there are plenty of ways to do that too.

  4. CONTINUE IT. There’s been a lot of discussion about this trend of life re-examination, and this story about Brian May (guitarist for Queen) finishing his PhD 37 years after he began it, is inspiring (hat tip to Nadja). One of the most active channels in the Rickshaw Discord community this week (reply if you want an invite!) has been in a new channel called #be-good-with-money. A few of us shared our work histories with salary numbers and have been comparing cost of living, mortgages, and all kinds of other weird numbers you normally wouldn’t share with strangers on the internet, except we’re all just having a mini-life-crisis/life-reevaluation together and it’s sorta fun. Here’s the first half of my career:

  5. NOTICE IT. If you haven’t seen this amazing infographic, now you have (click to see the animation):

  6. GET IT. Paul shared a link to this episode of Song Exploder, which is a really great podcast where musicians dissect songs they’ve written, letting people into the process that lead to their creation. The lovely episode with Big Thief’s song Cattails was relevant to a discussion because, in Paul’s words:

    Starting around six minutes in, one of the band members, Adrianne, describes a moment in the recording process when she and the band barely knew the song well enough to get through it and they were still performing it with the emotion that comes with creating something new. And that take got recorded and released. And this all reminded me of the first time I heard someone describe this—Brandi Carlile was interviewed by Elisabeth Moss at SxSW and called this "the rock n roll moment... when you know the song just well enough to get through it, but not so well that you know how cool it is. It only happens once.”

Thanks for reading. If this list of things isn’t interesting to you, you can unsubscribe here. If it is interesting, I’m always open to feedback and suggestions for improvement. If you’d like to join the Rickshaw Discord community where all these links were originally shared, just reply to this email and I’ll send you an invite.

Have a great week!


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