Today I discovered how to trick one’s self into applying the Principle of Charity when reading things that are wrong and dumb!
- Find somebody whose writings you find almost pathologically reasonable, level-headed, and intellectually respectable. (I chose Scott Alexander, of Slate Star Codex.)
- 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.
- Switch to a different browser tab, one that contains an opinion you find repulsive.
- 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.