In his book The Three Languages of Politics, economist Arnold Kling argues that there are three fundamental dimensions which tribes use to understand and conceptualize politics. The primary way that conservative-minded people analyze politics is through a civilization juxtaposed to barbarism lens. Progressives see society slightly differently, in terms of oppressor versus oppressed lens. Finally, libertarian-minded people view politics primarily through a liberty-coercion axis when evaluating ideas, proposals, etc. If a rich array of metrics exists within politics, many exist outside it as well. Accepting and using other frames in one’s own writing will expands one’s range and can make you a better writer.
Different associations of concepts, cruelty, and cleverness have stained each and every one of our looking glasses a different shade. As humans, we don’t all like the same things. Some of the literature that we hold dearly, others see as mediocre. Acknowledging that others have different tastes and thoughts is an essential part to better being able to empathize and persuade.
Our conception of ‘comfortable’ does not always correspond with others’ views. In order to convince, we need to be willing to try new methods rather than digging our heels into a style that fails to change minds. A fifteenth rationalist blog will not win any new converts. Similarly, Insta-activism won’t attract many not already obsessed with social media. Exploring new styles of composition will expose you to more audiences, plus the challenge of trying something new will improve one’s writing capabilities.
One experimental strategy to engage people is what I dub the ‘foil’. This happens when a fictional character is created to argue for a position that a writer may not entirely endorse. For instance, an evil twin Isaac arguing for the disenfranchisement of the elderly is able to viewed as a little more tongue-in-cheek than someone using their column to directly argue something. The ‘foil’ creates a dynamic of ambiguity where someone is able to “test out” a position or construct an adversarial relationship where a perspective is able to be raised and discussed. Personifying an argument is a good way to make those more interested in people and less on ideas more interested in your topic and thoughts.
Another reason why the ‘foil’ can be an important writing tool is because it can insulate people from social desirability bias. Some ideas have negative connotations and having some plausible deniability for an argument is a good way to not worry about risking your reputation to make an argument. Furthermore, debating an idea’s merits with another perspective allows for conversational synthesis, and can allow you to flesh out multiple angles in your writing. Characters in novels are commonly used to express different perspectives and adopting this technique from another writing form can lead to some interesting intertextual work. The ‘foil’ need not be portrayed in a positive light either. Showing the implications of a certain ideology can call attention to moral or intellectual poverty.
The use of satire is similarly helpful at conveying information. Satire is an effective tool, especially because of its strategic ambiguity. Effective satire teases ideas that are dominant, demonstrating an understanding of the other perspective and subverts it. The use of ad-absurdum for instance can be used to demonstrate the limitations of a conceptual framework, while demonstrating that you understand it. Satire also requires the ability to show without directly explaining why something is wrong, and necessarily encourages subtlety and charm. Furthermore, satire can be helpful because it avoids object-level disputes and instead critiques the underlying logic of an idea.
Another compositional oddity is extended metaphors and direct storytelling. Creating imagery and an imaginary person to project one’s ideas onto is a way of helping people to connect to the concepts in ways that they would otherwise struggle to. Stories play an important part in the psyche, and by interspersing comparisons and visualization, one is able to understand ideas in more familiar contexts. Think of how much fables have imparted upon your thoughts. Cleverness, kindness, and cooperation have been etched into us since childhood. Drawing from the same tools may be just what’s needed to convince someone of your ideas.
Overall, people should be more willing to experiment with their writing. There’s no harm in trying a new approach out, and tapping into other medium’s tools may change a few hearts as well as a few minds.