Anatol Rapoport and Charlie Munger -- The Golden Rule of Arguments

Elections in the largest democracy in the world, Brexit, the Mueller Report, climate change, free speech, and so much more are being battled about in social media, TV channels, colleges, homes, offices -- pretty much everywhere in society.

Discourse and debate are as vital to social well-being as blood-flow is to the body. When views collide, we are provoked to ponder, society is forced to confront challenges that perhaps are not given attention, and we have opportunities to see with fresh eyes.

However, what i am seeing (in debates) is a growing tendency to prove points of view rather than seek the truth. i am also seeing most sides wanting to quickly "shut down" others by subjecting them to abuse rather than engage in thoughtful arguments and deliberation.

In a 1978 paper titled "Three Modes of Conflict", Anatol Rapoport (who has made significant contributions in  mathematics, biology, systems thinking, game theory and many other disciplines) suggests a rule for people engaged in disagreements and debates.

"The rule I have in mind is the following. Before each opponent is permitted to present his own case, he must state the case of the opponent to the opponent's satisfaction. This means that when one side has presented the other side's case, the other side must be asked, "Has your side been presented well?" If the answer is no, another attempt must be made and another until the opponent says, "Yes, now you have presented my case fairly."“

This is the Golden Rule of Arguments. Understand the other’s view before starting to criticise.

If some of us feel that this is being too nice and impractical, it is enlightening to watch Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger respond to a question on the anchoring effect (during the 2016 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting ). Anchoring effect is a cognitive tendency to latch on to a particular piece of information (often the initial one we get) and, base our further thinking and decisions on this. The worst anchoring effect, Charlie Munger says, is “our previous ideas” !

As the conversation progresses (4:32:42 in the video), Warren Buffett comments --  "Charlie says that if you disagree with somebody, you want to be able to state their case better than they can.”

If we practise this Golden Rule, the world will be a better place. We are likely to see that though many differ from us, all of us bleed the same way. We likely to be less angry; we are likely to hate less; compassion will dominate. The real facts of life rather than the whims of a few will shape society.