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Improving rationality / scout mindset on a debate group

by Aryeh Englander1 min read4th Sep 2021No comments



(Cross-posted from my Facebook wall.)

I help run a decent-sized debate group on Facebook focused on arguments for / against religion in general and Orthodox Judaism in particular (I grew up Orthodox but stopped believing around 7 years ago). I think my fellow moderators and I have done a relatively decent job of ensuring that the discussion stays (mostly, usually) respectful. But beyond respectful dialogue, I'd like to also encourage members to use better epistemic standards. Especially, I would love to get people from both sides to do adversarial collaborations, try to more often play "devil's advocate", steelman the other side's position, attempt to pass Ideological Turing Tests, etc. - basically, to try to adopt more of a "scout mindset" rather than a "soldier mindset".

I've tried directly asking people to try practicing these techniques more frequently, but with very limited success. I suppose it doesn't help that the group is explicitly a debate group - but on the other hand, I'm pretty sure that's part of what attracts people to the group in the first place so I'm reluctant to change it. It also doesn't help that many people in the group (on all sides) really don't think that the people they're arguing against have anything going for their positions. We do at least have a few people in the group who really are great at scout mindset though. Better than I am, in fact - I will admit that I myself often have a lot of difficulty applying these techniques.

What are some ideas or suggestions for how I might be able to encourage better epistemic standards in this kind of group?

Group audience, if it's relevant (although probably some members of the group will disagree with these characterizations):

  • Most members are at least interested in reasonable, respectful intellectual discussion.
  • I think most but not all members are at least somewhat interested in improving their own rational thinking. Some are very interested, but even for those people I often have a hard time encouraging more of a scout mindset.
  • Many members are quite knowledgeable about philosophy, rational thinking, science, history, etc.; others are much less knowledgeable in many or all of those areas. (Part of this is because many members come from relatively insular Orthodox Jewish communities that strongly discourage going to college and often provide sub-par education in lower grades.)


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