Today I discovered how to trick one’s self into applying the Principle of Charity when reading things that are wrong and dumb!

  1. Find somebody whose writings you find almost pathologically reasonable, level-headed, and intellectually respectable. (I chose Scott Alexander, of Slate Star Codex.)
  2. Read their stuff, until you find yourself in a mindlessly agreeable haze. Get to the point where even when they say something that sounds outrageous, you take it for granted that an excellent justification is forthcoming.
  3. Switch to a different browser tab, one that contains an opinion you find repulsive.
  4. Think, “Oh– that doesn’t sound right– well, no, I suppose I can see– I’m sure there’s good support for that position…”

As with many great discoveries, this happened by accident: while reading a Slate Star Codex article where Scott quoted somebody who was wrong and dumb, my brain glitched and forgot to transition from Yes-Man Mode into This Guy Is Wrong And Dumb Mode. I got a couple paragraphs into the quote before enough logical deficiencies piled up to break the spell; but for those few paragraphs, I accepted the Enemy’s position more thoroughly than I think I ever could have had I known the provenance.