Eli Yarhi on Keeping an Open Mind

Recently at a party I was caught up in a conversation about politics and economics. Someone disparagingly commented about a colleague: “AND he reads the National Post!” An assenting chorus of agreement spilled through the room, as though even periodically perusing Canada’s right-wing rag was worthy of judgement.

I felt ashamed. I’m not an avid Post reader myself, and I’ve made similar remarks. But this incident made me think how hollow it is to resign your reading to party lines. We should challenge our assumptions on a regular basis. While you may not agree with (in my opinion) the distasteful views of columnist Margaret Wente, instead of rushing to say why the other side is wrong, it’s important to at least listen to the other side’s version of the story.

Eli Yarhi (E-lie Yar-hee) is a Toronto-based writer and editor. He’s written about books, bicycling, car crashes and sports for MEN’S Fashion, Torontolife.com and The Globe & Mail. He drinks in a dive and rents in the Annex. Witness his interests at http://eliyarhi.tumblr.com/.

1. The Political Compass

Party politics try to force us into left vs. right dichotomies. But how many opinions exist on the political spectrum? More than a simple left-right choice, The Political Compass replots the map by including social ideology. The compass morphs deep-seated categories of left and right into something more robust. Take the Political Spectrum test (linked at the bottom of the page), to find out where you truly fall politically.

2. On the Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives

Everyone thinks they’re right. People form clubs to affirm how right they are. In this Ted talk, psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests everyone is wrong. He remarks, “once you engage in the psychology of teams, it shuts down open-minded thinking.” Blending Eastern thought with moral psychology, Haidt offers a way to step outside this “moral matrix.”

3. I Was Wrong, and So Are You

“Discourse affords some opportunity to challenge the judgements of others and to revise our own,” writes Daniel B. Klein, a libertarian professor of economics. Klein published the results of a study he conducted that marked liberals as economic ignorami. Called out by a broad range of critics for “myside bias” (in this case, questions slanted towards the right), Klein conceded, and reevaluated his study. Though he remains magnanimous throughout the article, I like that he offers his bias as a topic for discussion.

4. Q&A: Joseph Heath

Joseph Heath, philosophy prof and author of Filthy Lucre: Economics for People Who Hate Capitalism, wants to bring “the left” up the speed, kicking and screaming. While his book is neither Freakonomics faff nor Economics-101 pedantic, he argues that grandfathered objections to economic issues are held for too long. These matters change and so does The System. Heath doesn’t aim to dismantle a flawed economic model, so much as our way of thinking about economics, so that can open a closed channel in constructive communication.

5. Right Is Not Center, But 2010 Resembles 1984

Witnessing the American media’s political coverage from the (close) distance of Canada is like watching a circus fire-staff spinner from the back row. You observe the show without worrying—as they do in the front—that a faulty spin could set your pants on fire. But thinking about the divisive, values-based politicking sallying forth in Canadian politics, and Rob Ford mismanaging Toronto like a bad football coach–bearing frightening resemblance to the mayor mentioned in this piece–well, I start to worry about my pants.