Conversation Culture

The Philosophy

Conversation Culture is the firm conviction that we can make progress through our speech. That through exchanging words and ideas, we can come to an understanding.

There is a deep cynicism in our culture that most people tend to miss: when we resolve to fight the other side, we have tacitly presumed that words do not work, that we cannot come to reason, that we must engage in force.

That we have completely given up on the idea that we can make progress in conversation. We imagine that the other side is truly unreachable.

Even worse, when we prohibit certain views from even being expressed, we have no means of criticising them. When we make views immune to criticism, we have no way of updating them.

The only way to really change a person's mind for the better is to explain why they were mistaken, to simply tell them that they are not allowed to hold a view only leaves them confused.

It forces them to conceal their views, rather than change them.

To make things crystal clear:

  1. Explanation: This is the case because of X, Y or Z
  2. Coercion: If you don’t believe this there is something wrong with you

How can a person honestly believe a proposition if they don’t understand it?

A problem is we all-too-often identify with our beliefs — that is; view them as a part of who we are — and when these beliefs are criticised, we feel like we are personally attacked. People can indeed attack our views as a proxy for attacking us — they can have the intention of making us look bad, or insulting us — but it doesn’t follow that this is always the case. Mere disagreement should not bring out defensiveness.

There are two ways we tend to go about this:

  1. To fight back and confirm the other person's view of us as the enemy
  2. To bite our tongues and "agree-to-disagree" and thereby halt the conversation

Both ways leave us stuck and bar away any progress. Both ways are needlessly cynical about the possibility of people changing their minds. Both ways assume that we simply have to live with a chip on our shoulder, that this is the way life is.

To engage in a fight or to not engage at all, is a false dichotomy.

Not only can we can enter controversial territory in our discussion, we must. What's the alternative? To live on forever biting our tongue, to never improve our ideas? Or worse to resolve our disagreements through violence?

"The conversation must go on..."

Conversation culture is the antidote to this cynicism that has plagued our society. We believe that we can learn more about the world and each other through conversation and may even come to a genuine understanding.

Read more about our philosophy in The Promise of Conversation

The Group (see also Who are we?)

"We just want to have better conversations."

We are a group of curious and playful thinkers eager to learn and have productive conversations.

We are currently based in Sydney, Australia where we engage in physical face-to-face conversations on a myriad of topics spanning culture, politics, philsophy, science and spirituality. Everyone is welcome regardless of political persuasion or educational background.

We also engage in weekly discussions over Zoom, these are open to everyone irrespective of geography. We welcomte anyone from around the world interested in having these conversations to join us.

Key Principles

1. Conversation is tractable

It is possible to have a productive conversation. People change their minds all of the time. The cultural progress we have seen up until now is a direct result of people being willing to listen to others and change their attitudes in the face of good reasons.

2. Idea Labs > Echo Chambers (What's this?)

In an echo chamber, how decent you are towards a person is based on how much you agree. Here the same ideas echo over and over. In an idea lab, decency has nothing to do with agreement so ideas can interact with each other and new ones can form.

3. The Norms of Charity and Honesty

In conversation the principle of charity means giving the other party the benefit of the doubt, to presume good intentions in the exchange. Lies are the enemy of co-operation, if a we give false reasons for why we believe what we do, we make ourselves unreachable.

4. Conversation is a skill we can all improve in

The reason we keep getting stuck, the reason we keep getting frustrated isn't because these conversations are impossible but because we don't know how to have them. We are all still developing in this field and we can develop even more.

5. We are not our ideas (read more)

Ideas are at their bottom impersonal. How the world is, is not how we are. Our beliefs are just our ideas of how the world is, if they are incorrect it doesn't need to mean we are bad, only mistaken. Not identifying with our ideas makes us more open to change, as it means that we do not need to feel attacked when our ideas are.

About the Author
Sashin I write as a means of debugging the world, at the heart of my thinking I believe that all of the world's problems are solvable and we can enjoy our lives solving them.
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