Jane Austen’s book    Persuasion – unrelated to the post, but a good book

Jane Austen’s book Persuasionunrelated to the post, but a good book

I had a wide-ranging question and answer session with the Ann Arbor Science and Skeptics group yesterday about this blog. The one theme I emphasized throughout the Q&A was how good it feels to be unabashedly normative in the sense of making recommendations and making moral arguments as well as technical arguments. Even the concept of a moral argument is interesting. How can one get beyond solipsistic relativism such as the following? 

You have your opinions and I have mine, and all opinions are equally worthy, so we can’t really have a discussion.

Coming to that question as a math guy, I have always thought that persuasion needs to start with the axioms of the person I am trying to persuade. As a blogger, I have to guess the axioms–core beliefs that are fundamental in the sense that they cannot be deduced from other beliefs–of a large number of people all at once. And to the extent that people come from different places, I have to write posts that alternately work from the axioms of different parts of my audience. In order to do my job as a blogger better, I would love to hear about your axioms in the comments.  

Postscript: In the Q&A session at Ann Arbor Science and Skeptics, I realized that there are two areas of nonpartisan activism I would like to recommend:

  1. If you agree with what I said in my post “When the Government Says ‘You May Not Have a Job,’” resisting the creep of excessive licensing restrictions on jobs is an area where a little activist effort could go a long way. I suspect that at many of the state-house hearings behind decisions to impose additional licensing restrictions, only the politicians and paid lobbyists are in attendance. Having groups of public-spirited Supply-Side Liberals, Conservatives, Libertarians and Progressives who see what is at stake for the poor and for freedom send representatives to these hearings could make a big difference.
  2. Many people may not realize the extent to which political polarization in the House of Representatives arises from partisan and pro-incumbent redistricting. When electoral districts are designed to be either safe Republican or safe Democratic districts, then the main fear for a politician seeking reelection is losing in the primary. That typically pulls members of the House of Representatives toward the extremes. Nonpartisan redistricting is a way to have more districts be competitive in the general election and so make those running for Congress worry more about the general election relative to how much they worry about the primary. I believe this would pull politicians toward to center and toward a greater willingness to work with those in the other party. Getting change to happen in this area will be hard, but there are groups already working on this. I believe the long-run value to our Republic of nonpartisan redistricting would be substantial.

Postpostscript: I wanted to thank the large number of people who sent birthday congratulations for me. I tried not to tell anyone online my birthday, but Facebook did it for me. I turned 52 on August 17. It is amazing to think there are as many years behind me as there are weeks in a year. I really appreciate hearing so many kind wishes and kind words from you all.  

Update, 2013: On August 17, 2013, I turned 53. I was born in 1960. 1960 was a high birth-rate year, but it was one of the last high-birth-rate years in the baby boom. I have always felt younger than the baby boomers described in popular culture.