Featuring Abe Singer, Assistant Professor
Description Leveraging his training as a political scientist, Assistant Professor Abraham Singer share his observations on the current state of public discourse and how we engage with it.  
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Season Season 6: Hopes for the Future


Rick Sindt: Abe, I'm very glad to speak with you today because you are a professor of business ethics at Quinlan, but your training is in political science, and so I think that you bring a very interesting lens and critical eye to business and society that perhaps our other faculty do not. So thank you for taking the time today to speak with me. 

 Abe Singer: It's my pleasure. Always. Always. Good to talk to you, Rick. 

 Rick Sindt: So let's start with building up some background. So, what are the past year or two years, 18 months, however you want to, like, create the timeline of this pandemic... what are some of the things you've been paying attention to or watching unfold around us? 

 Abe Singer: Yeah, it's I mean, it's funny we were talking about this beforehand where there's stuff that like a year and a half ago I thought is going to be really important and then now that feels like ancient history. And every day, something new and interesting is happening. But I think I guess like in a very this might be a bit too heady, but like in a very broad way, I'm interested in how people are talking about how we talk with one another in a political society. And again, that sounds sort of, you know, smoking a cigarette at a French cafe, but what I mean is like, there's been a lot of conversation about OK when the CDC communicates new public health guidelines or communicates new findings, how should those be discussed? Should it be? Should we regulate or in some way control how this information is communicated with one another? When people challenge these things, should that be allowed or shouldn't it? So, that's one area, but it's actually happening in a bunch of different areas, right? 

 So it's also been happening... right now, there's this huge controversy about a quote unquote critical race theory. And you know how this gets taught and how we should be talking about race in the public sphere. You know, maybe some seemingly unrelated, but I think related, questions about comedy. As you know, I recently wrote a book about comedy and over the past year and a half two years, we've seen a lot of talk actually about what can comedians joke about, right? And what comedians can we patronize? So, all of these have kind of created a perfect storm for what's actually fascinatingly a really meta-level conversation that's happening all the time in society right now about how we should be talking with one another and what sorts of discourse is in bounds and what's out of bounds, and the value and merits and relevance of free speech and these sorts of things. So that's something that's actually, as a political theorist, you know, who's always been interested in this sort of stuff. It's really cool kind of seeing a lot of people really try to grapple with these things. 

 Rick Sindt: So I have two directions that I would like to consider going with this, maybe. And so one of the things I was thinking about when you were talking about that is how we're communicating. I think about like when the CDC did that first announcement that lifted a lot of mask mandates or said vaccinated people don't want, they don't need to wear masks in these situations. It was very much, I think, grounded in public health science, but maybe not social science because the first thing I thought was like, if this is all the honor system, you just creating a permission structure for people to live their lives as they please. It's not going to incentivize them to go get the vaccine necessarily. But then the other thing I was thinking about, as you were talking is like the tools we're using to having for having this discourse. 

 Abe Singer: Let's talk about both of those. I think, yeah, I mean, I think I mean one of the sort of and again, if you want to get even more meta-level about this. But again, what I think is fascinating is this has been just in the air and people are talking about these things that are normally reserved for, you know. Eggheads sequestered in the ivory tower, but is the question of like disciplinary boundaries and how science should be happening and how science should be communicated? And so, yeah, so I think like so for instance, the CDC throughout has had very much, you know, an epidemiological and public health focus in terms of how it's the types of findings it's announcing and how it's going about announcing them. And that's very important, obviously, epidemiology during an epidemic is obviously a crucial 

 Rick Sindt: It is their role, basically. Yeah. 

 Abe Singer: Except I think, you know, eat a bunch of ways, it also shows the limits of these things. And I don't mean this in terms of like, you know, like a kind of anti-science discourse. But I think, you know, so from an epidemiologist, from an epidemiological perspective. You know, OK, well, social distance, everybody will isolate, blah blah blah, blah blah, right? But if you don't take a sociological insight into either a) how well those sorts of guidelines will actually be followed when given what sorts of things will actually get people to follow those guidelines and then maybe even see what the social and political and economic costs are for even following those guidelines. Right? You kind of see the limits of that sort of discourse, right? So it's not like when those guidelines were given, they did a cost-benefit analysis weighing the mitigating COVID risk with the economic fallout that would happen from it, right? Especially in a country like ours that doesn't have a very strong welfare state or doesn't have robust mechanisms to keep people healthy in such situations, right? So given that there is like this sort of shortcoming in just the very advice that's being given, and then as I think that a point that you're raising is also when this is communicated, it's not taking seriously how people are going to respond to the example that you gave in terms of when you say, OK, well, the vaccinated don't need to wear masks, the unvaccinated should still wear masks. Now, anybody who's ever, I don't know met a person ever in their lives will know what's going to happen after that is the unvaccinated will also stop wearing masks, right? Like, that's 

 Rick Sindt: Because of the political climate we're in. 

 Abe Singer: Well, because of the political climate they're in. But also like, you know, it's not an enforceable thing. It's fundamentally... And so you're always going to have people who are going to, you know, play fast and loose with the rules, especially when the costs to them are very low and the benefit is relatively high, right? So, so, you know, it's predictable that you're going to get people not going by those guidelines when that advice is given. And yeah, so so you have this interesting thing where. So even when you take something as straightforward as a public health authority issuing advice based on scientific research regarding public health, there's a whole bunch of limitations and problems with just the way that thing is going to be communicated. You know, both in terms of like what they're coming up with and then how it's going to be communicated. All of those things are going to be limited and we see those limits every day, right? In plain view. And then there's the question of OK. The CDC, you know, says its thing, Fauci goes on air and says this thing, and then this gets disseminated into civil society. How do we as a citizenry talk about it? And what's interesting is when we talk about talking about it, none of us are actually or very few of us are actually talking with our mouths about it. What we're all doing is we're talking, we're typing on Twitter about it or typing on Facebook about it, or we're watching videos on YouTube, about it. And then we're, you know, writing snarky comments in the comment feed on YouTube, right? That's a huge part of where our discourse is happening around these things. Which is really interesting for a bunch of in a bunch of ways. First of all, the sort of everyday ethics that are built into conversation generally don't apply on social media. So you're more anonymous, you're not looking people in the eye. You're not, you know, as a result, like discourse disintegrates into name-calling much quicker, right? And just, yeah, 

 Rick Sindt: I think also like the value of being pithy is higher, 

 Abe Singer: Right? It's not about being right. It's about being tweetable, right, retweetable or being getting upvotes or whatever, right? And so, yeah, the incentives. You know, that's a long way of saying the incentives in the way you know, the way we're sort of brought into the conversation, what we contribute changes. So that's one thing that happens and then another thing, because all of this communication and discourse is happening over social media, is it actually creates nodes of power and over how this is happening, right? So the algorithms that show us which tweets right or which Facebook posts or whatever, or which YouTube videos, we see, whether or not these things are allowed to be posted or not. Right. So, our public discourse, because it's all happening on social media, obviously this isn't new this has been happening for about a decade now or over a decade. But over the past two years, because of both COVID and what's being what's often referred to as the racial reckoning, the fallout of the murder of George Floyd. You know, the the the importance and significance of this discourse over social media has increased manifold in many, you know, exponentially. 

And so what we see is both the consequences of the power that people have over this discourse and the really poor incentives for us to engage in this discourse show up, right? And so when you put all of those things together, you have authorities that are issuing, say, public health advice in a way that is inherently limited, some of which is their fault, some of which isn't. And then incentives to process that information and to portray it that aren't very good, right? Poor incentives to do it, and then you have people who are in positions of power to control this discourse in various direct and indirect ways. You get sort of a powder keg of really confusing questions about how we should be engaging with one another and what this effect is on both the health of us, you know, in terms of physical like public health sorts of questions but then also maybe in a political sense in terms of the health of our democracy and the health of our public deliberation. 

 Rick Sindt: Yeah, I what I was thinking about with the last thing you were saying, especially about people who the nodes of power in people who control for, lack of a better term, the algorithm, let's say, I remember seeing a report recently, leading up to the 2020 election Facebook chose to alter their algorithm in a way so that it created a less polarizing environment and more information was more equally distributed to a variety of people. And then there was this like internal thing where afterwards, like engineers were like, "this was a good idea, perhaps we should keep this right." And the response was, "well, no, let's go back to the way that it was before." So then we like those nodes of, that node of power chose to revert back to a more polarizing way that affects how discourse happens amongst all of us. 

 Abe Singer: Yeah, right. So so I mean, I think what you're bringing up is this really important point because when you think about, say, Facebook and Twitter and YouTube just to YouTube, and let's throw Reddit in there as examples of places where the "digital public sphere." And here I have to give credit, my friend and colleague Jennifer Forrestal in the political science department has done a lot of fascinating work on this, and we actually co-authored a short piece that was in the Business Ethics Journal Review last year on the politics of information in social media. But she studies the digital architecture of social media and its effects on democracy. So a lot of this I've learned from her. But when we're talking about the way power is manifested in terms of the types of content that happens in these, in these media, we can think of it in two ways, right? So one is sort of straightforward, blunt gatekeeping. This will be allowed. This won't be allowed right. And that happens a lot. And there's big questions about that. And I think. Yeah, I think a lot of people are overly sanguine about Facebook and YouTube and all of these companies' ability to do this well. So I'm much more skeptical about that. So I, I tend to fall more on the let more people post that I'd, I'd rather people post more than have a Zuckerberg decide who posts. That being said, the other point, and this is the more important point, and this is the one that you're getting at that I think is a really subtle point is that there is no neutral displaying or communication of this information, right? So, you could sort of say, look, look, there's a gatekeeper effect, right? So just to give an example. A couple of months ago, I was so I spent a lot of the past year and a half in Texas for various reasons, and I saw somebody had printed out a sheet of paper that they posted on the back of their car that said, like, "if you're vaccinated, you're a walking time bomb. You're like danger," you know, it was this hardcore anti-vax thing. And but the thing that really got my attention was it was like it wasn't in the default font, right? It was like they had chosen a good font for it. And they'd, you know, they'd they'd made it the right size and they center adjusted it and then they taped it really kept. So I was like, "Wow, they put in a lot of time and effort." And so I posted this on Facebook as a joke being like, "Look, this guy, this citizen cares like he say what you will but this guy really, you know, he really put time and effort into it." And of course, that was removed and flagged. And I got like, you know, dinged by the Facebook police for that, right? Because they were like, "Oh, you're spreading anti-vax information," which of course I wasn't I was making fun of anti-vax information. Right? So that's like a gatekeeper. So we could talk about gatekeeper power, right? And that I'm generally we can have a conversation about this, but I'm generally skeptical of companies exercising that power, you know, with some, with some exceptions to that. But generally, I'm like, I'm less keen on that. 

 But then the question of once there is communication within these social media, how it gets displayed to us, there is no neutral way, right? That's going to be mediated by an algorithm an algorithm is going to be created by people who make certain valued decisions to create that algorithm, right? And so then the question is what? What ought to inform that? And so your point is saying like, OK, let's say we have all of the speech, we have all of this communication. We can choose to have an algorithm that clusters these things, so, you know, blue state people are only seeing blue state and red state people are only seeing red state information. Or we can try to make sure that when people see one thing, they see an opposing viewpoint. Right. And that's like separate from the gatekeeper power, right? That's just, you know, there's going to be topography so we get to decide how that's being done and that I think businesses have a very strong ethical responsibility to do in a way that that supports the health of our democracy and democratic discourse. 

 Rick Sindt: Yeah. And we're seeing a lot of this in the discourse around how these how speech is regulated on these platforms, right? Like, I'm thinking about even you just said it a few minutes ago, you called it the "digital public square" and people view it as that and it does fill that role. But along with that comes maybe the assumption that, like the thing we're experiencing is purely organic and not a curated feed, or that it falls under certain laws that perhaps it doesn't because like, I mean, this is a thing right now, but like Facebook is not a place where you have First Amendment rights, you have your terms of service. And I think that is impacting a lot of how we talk and discourse happens. 

 Abe Singer: So this is right, so but so this is so. Let me let me let me let me air some grievances about this because because the way people talk about this, always, no matter who's talking it, always, it almost always annoys me. So so I think what's important... You're absolutely right that and it's important to reemphasize this so that we always are clear on this like free speech as a constitutional issue, free speech as like the, you know, in terms of the First Amendment is a protection against interference of your speech from a very specific body, namely the government, right? So that says the legislator cannot pass laws and sort of government can't interfere with your speech. That doesn't apply against, say, Facebook or the NFL or Loyola University Chicago or whatever all of those places can regulate. You know, if you are an employee of those places or a customer, they can say, Oh no, this is what this is how we talk here. So that's absolutely right. 

 However, what's also important to note is that free speech isn't just a legal or constitutional principle, it's also a social and ethical principle. And so if you go back to John Stuart Mill's famous On Liberty, which is one of the if not the canonical defense of free speech, it's still, you know, thought it was written in the mid-19th century, still probably the most important and best defense of free speech. 

 What's clear in that is he makes this point that, of course, you know, legal protections of free speech are really important. But actually, the more important aspect of free speech is that we don't try to use social power and the power of social coercion to silence people. And you know, like you can go back to Victorian England or you can just go to small communities where people don't get to express what they want to express because they're worried of being ostracized and these sorts of things. And the point is that like if we're committed to free speech because we think it's good for the health of our society, or whatever, we have to recognize that there's more than one way that speech can be suppressed. One is legal and political, but another very powerful way is through social effect and peer pressure. So that so the fact that we don't have First Amendment rights against Facebook doesn't mean that Facebook doesn't answer the question because there's or doesn't definitively answer the question, because we still might think Facebook has an ethical responsibility to promote free speech in various ways. 

 Now, to get back to what we were just talking about, that's going to mean a couple of different things. So it might mean, you know, being less heavy-handed in terms of restricting what people can post, but it would also definitely mean how you structure the digital environment. Right? So again, if all we're ever, you know, if the only things we see are things that confirm our priors, that's not necessarily a good environment for free speech because we're not actually hearing, we're not free to hear the speech that we need to maybe be confronted with. So, so that would be so the ethical questions get a little trickier there, but I think that's actually where the action is. The constitutional question is important sometimes, and it's important in terms of like what role the government can play in regulating Facebook, for example. But in terms of what Facebook ought to do, it's again, I think there is a moral question that's grounded in political commitments that isn't that is separate from the First Amendment question. Does that make sense? 

 Rick Sindt: It does and I wonder... I'm wondering if you've been following how Facebook is addressing this in their creation of this oversight board. 

 Abe Singer: Yes, so my understanding, and you can correct me if I get this wrong, but essentially they've not to make it sound, but they've essentially created like a sort of mini judicial process for overseeing these sorts of controversies, right? So that example I just gave where I said, like, you know, I got posted on, you know, I got my post removed unfairly. Like, potentially people can raise these questions in these challenges to this review board that would then function as kind of like a Facebook Supreme Court deciding on whether, you know, these things ought to be allowed or not and then deciding on the policy of Facebook in that regard, is that am I? Am I getting that right, Rick? 

 Rick Sindt: You are. And the idea is that it's like... There's So much government-speak... Like it's an independent oversight body because it's made up of people who are not a part of Facebook themselves and they were largely made to, their first big thing that they've decided on is like what to do about former President Donald Trump's Facebook account. 

 Abe Singer: Right. So, yeah, so I think there's something so independent of whatever decisions they make, which we might agree or disagree with in terms of what they'll allow or disallow. The fact that they felt the need to make this body as, I think really fascinating because what this does is regularize what the expectations are. Because again, as you were pointing out, you know, it's not a government body, right? Facebook is a private organization and there's no reason they can't just kind of on a whim, decide what they're going to do. Like in theory, right? Like, well, we're Facebook we're going to what Facebook wants to do today it'll do today and tomorrow, we'll do it tomorrow. But of course, that customers don't want that. People want some expectation. And so they've had to create these kind of not just a set of, you know, sort of a policy set about how these things would be governed, but a procedure in an institution that will facilitate this. And what I think is good about that and I could be cynical in all sorts of ways about it. But what I think is good is it then holds those things up to debate, right? We then know what the procedures are, what the decisions are, what all the what the criteria are, how these decisions are being made, which allows people to assess it and agree or disagree with it. And that, I think is good just in and of itself. I think one of the biggest problems with social media and questions about speech and public discourse is just how opaque a lot of this stuff is to us, right? So anything that brings these things out to sunlight at all, regardless of whether it's done well, right, like it could be, and I'm not saying it is, but it could be a board packed with cronies and whatever and render really crappy decisions. The fact that those decisions are being made public and that we are seeing how these decisions are made is in and of itself a good thing. I will say one, of the–so I generally identify with the progressive left and have for a long time. And that's one thing I've been a little disappointed with is how. And I don't think this is true of like, you know, I guess, the more hardcore left, but something like the center-left or in this... How comfortable people seem to be with asking for the regulation of speech like by social media companies, by social media platforms like a lot of you know, I've seen a lot of people who are like, No, yeah, this and I understand why, right? You don't want to see bald-faced lies on Facebook or on Twitter or something like that, I get it, but I just generally don't think that the Left should have any should be in any, should ever be like "we want our public discourse managed by corporations." That just seems like fundamentally anti-left to me. Like, that's not what we should be doing. Like, we shouldn't be, we shouldn't be asking Zuckerberg to solve these problems. So, in some ways, what's interesting about these questions about free speech and discourse is the way that the political alignment behind them has been very odd. I think to me, because people who I normally wouldn't think would be interested in these things are, for some things that I would think of as censorship in some ways by people who I wouldn't think they would trust with that power. 

 Rick Sindt: Yeah, it doesn't feel very aligned to leftist politics to me, but it does feel very neoliberal. 

 Abe Singer: I think that's exactly right, right? I think that's in some ways. What's interesting is that the the left has been, you know, and I'm a liberal in certain ways, but has been liberalized in ways that I find problematic, right? In terms of, you know, these kind of very sort of technocratic and corporate ways of solving these problems. 

 Rick Sindt: So, ideally, we're talking about the future in this series. And so I'm wondering if you like read the tea leaves, take out your crystal ball, what are some things that you think might spring out of this context that we've just been talking about? 

 Abe Singer: Yeah, I mean, I think in some ways, the point that you raised before about the algorithms, right, is I think I'm hoping a good development is that that opacity won't be acceptable anymore, right, when we're talking about speech with regards to these things. That, you know, that we're that like we expect even if these companies act poorly that we expect certain things to be made public in some ways, right? That I think is good. I think, you know, it could be much more negative. I mean, when we're talking about like conversations about public health and the way in which either the CDC gives guidance in the way we as a polity react and discuss that guidance, I mean, one thing that's been sort of upsetting is seeing reference to science being bandied about like religion and dogma itself. You know, so I've just sort of seen a lot of people just kind of like "the science1" and just sort of like kind of follow it blindly and just sort of use it as a cudgel against people who are being anti-scientific without recognizing that that very disposition is pretty anti-scientific itself. That, you know, if we're following the science, what that should mean is recognizing that, you know, the scientific method is an imperfect way of proving things to be untrue. Hopefully, in a process to get to something that looks closer to things that are true for a while before we discover that they are untrue themselves, right? So like, you know, in other words, I tend to think that what science really demands is humility and modesty in terms of what we can claim to know, which doesn't mean that we can't claim to know things and act according to them, but that we also have to recognize that, you know, our footing is never on, you know, sure ground, right? And it sort of disheartens me to see these things being, you know, science being and obviously isn't new, but it's become heightened in the past year or two, science being sort of turned into religion in certain ways. 

 Rick Sindt: Yeah. I think that's an interesting thread. I've been thinking a lot about it too. Particularly, I–you helped us do a Q talks event with your colleague Hayley Clatterbuck, about a year just under a year ago now, and it was so lovely–But one of the things Hayley said that has been rolling through my mind recently as I watched people do what you're just saying is, she said, like "our job as scientists is to assume that we're wrong and to, like, prove ourselves wrong continually." But instead, you're right, science has almost been weaponized, for lack of a better term, into like...it's being used as a way to call other people idiots. 

 Abe Singer: Right? Yeah. I mean, and in some ways, it's because we're treating, you know, science as a noun instead of, as you know, instead of like as an adjective for a verb, right? Which is like, it's about doing things scientifically. And so we should be resistant to people who are just like knee-jerk, you know, not listening to what, say, the CDC or public health officials are saying just because, you know, on baseless grounds, because they are being unscientific, not in the thing they're promoting, but in how they're promoting it and how they're coming about it. But equally, we should be scientific when disputing them, right? And that's in terms of recognizing humility, recognizing modesty, and recognizing, you know, precisely as what you're saying and what Hayley said at that time that science is about proving ourselves wrong. 

 Rick Sindt: So, if someone's listening to our conversation and find themselves in agreement but don't necessarily know how to change their behavior, what are some mindsets, stances, behaviors that you try to exercise yourself to live into these, these values that we've been talking about? 

 Abe Singer: That's a great question. I'm not sure how... So, so one thing is like, and this ties back to what we were saying before is like just generally speaking, social media isn't your friend for thinking scientifically like because of the incentives that we were talking about, right? Like, you get lulled into these arguments and then before you know it you're, you know, for lack of a better word, kind of being an asshole, right? Likeyou're engaging with people in these ways that are just sort of knee-jerk and not, you know, ways in which, you know, better to do. So, one is to just like limit your consumption of that sort of media in general and recognize that when you're talking and discussing with people on there both you and your interlocutor are positioned poorly for for for good discourse. So, that's like one place to start. But I generally like to–one thing I tried to do is recognize where my biases are. And by biases I don't mean in the sort of, you know, like, say, like social prejudices, but just like epistemic biases like, what I'm inclined to believe and what I'm not what I'm inclined to disbelieve. And I tried to, when I see something that I'm inclined to agree with, I tried to start with the assumption that it's wrong in some ways when I'm reading it or what, I'm engaging with it. And similarly, when I'm encountering someone I disagree with–and again, who's, you know, this isn't to say I do this with random schmucks on Facebook or Twitter who are just spouting off–but like, if I'm reading a piece, you know, a clearly a thing that somebody who clearly is trying to make like an argument and one that I really that I'm just like, I read the headline, I'm like, Well, this is going to be a crock. I try to start with the assumption that they're right about something and I read it in that way. 

 And then the other thing you know, again, just in terms of recognizing incentives, recognizing like when you're reading, you know? News reports of things that journalists have incentives too. Journalists, and this isn't to diss the journalism profession at all, but it is to recognize–and good journalists will do this is recognize that they have incentives too–to sell more papers, to have that to get more clicks. Sell more papers? It's like so antiquated at this point, right? Let's get more clicks. And, you know, to so, you know, this happened a week or two ago with CDC findings about the Delta variant that, you know, the New York Times just kind of like drastically in my reading of the CDC report that it was reporting on drastically overstated certain aspects of the report in terms of, you know, underplayed certain things that, you know, there's actually very positive aspects of the CDC report and it was also deeply unscientific and a bunch of...it was preliminary. It's not a diss on the CDC there, but like instead of reporting all of these nuances, it was just sort of like, you know, the Delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox, like, you know, everything. And it sort of missed a lot of nuance, right? Because we all read it, right? We all looked at it when we got that alert. 

 So, just being mindful of these sorts of things, but at the same time, not letting that become just a knee-jerk skepticism. Right. So so sort of trying to assess these things in a healthy way. It requires humility and questioning, but also, you know, just a pure skepticism where you just doubt everything is as unfounded and as unreliable as accepting everything and believing everything, right? So you should be skeptical of things to a degree based on certain reasons for skepticism. And then, you know, diversify your content, right? In all of the different ways, but especially, I think, you know, a lot of when people talk about diversifying the content that you read or, you know, various things people talk about in terms of, you know, racial or gender or sexual background–and that's obviously extremely important–but a lot of times people don't do that ideologically. So they'll, you know, it's like, you know, I read stuff from every sort of from both, you know, cis and trans folks and from black and white folks and all these things but they all sort of agree with, you know, or they're all saying, you know, roughly the political ideology I agree with. And that it's also important to try and find voices with which you disagree to engage with. And voices that with which you disagree, but that you recognize have substance, have meat on the bones, that you can engage with I think is really, really important. 

 Rick Sindt: So I've been seeing in a lot of conversations in public discourse, amongst myself that I'm having, or with friends, that if we are talking to someone of a different ideology, perhaps the argument ends up in a place of false binaries or bad faith where the thing that is suggested by the opposite party is actually not possible or tenable. And I wonder if you have suggestions on how to engage in that sort of political discourse when it happens? 

 Abe Singer: Right? Yeah. So like, you know, you're criticizing something, you know, some subset of American of, you know, policies. And someone is like, "oh, so like if you hate America so much, why don't you, you know, why don't you go to Canada?" Or something like that, right? It's like, well there's space in between me being critical of this and me needing to like flee and exile from the place in which I was born, right? Yeah. So these sorts of like. Yes, when you're trying to have a conversation and somebody just sort of resorts to rhetoric and sort of rhetorical traps to get you. I mean, so there's a lot of different factors, right? So if this is a person, you know, that's going to be different than if it's just some random stranger that you're talking to online. You know, my view is if it's some random stranger you're talking to online, once they start doing that, that should always just be a reminder of like, "Oh right, I can always just close Twitter." Like, there's nothing that requires me to keep talking to this person. This person is engaging in this sort of like rhetorical nonsense then like they're demonstrating they're not worth my time and maybe I'll just go like eat an apple or something like that. You know, I'll go do like anything else right. Now, if it's like a friend, a family member or, you know, a colleague, someone you know, then obviously there's other things at stake there. You don't want to just necessarily–sometimes the right move is to walk away still–but you know, there you need to like, figure out, "Well, are they doing this on purpose?" Right, that is, are they actually arguing in bad faith? Are they, you know, falling back on rhetorical ploys because they're not actually interested in arguing with you or having a discussion they're just interested in winning? In which case you can call them out on that. You can say, "Hey, look, I'm not trying to score points here. I'm actually trying to understand you better. And this isn't helping." You know, and sometimes you know, in a way that sort of communicates like, Oh, I'm actually interested in what you're saying and what you're doing now isn't what I'm trying, you know, it gets in the way of that, right? But a lot of times people do that, and they're doing that in good faith, right, they're making that that is they're sort of making they're presenting false equivalencies or presenting false binaries, or they're moving goal posts or doing all sorts of things in an argument and they think they're making sense and in those instances, it's just you can just say like, "Oh, I actually disagree with the way you structured that, like I actually think I can disagree with... I can think that there is, I don't know, structural racism or whatever, or that our welfare state is anemic or immigration policy, whatever. I can think of those things and not need to move to Saskatchewan" Right? Like, like I actually disagree with what you've just presented me with and here's why and sort of shift the conversation in that way. So, you know, it's let me see if I can sum that up in a process, right? 

 First is like, do I need to keep engaging? If no, then leave and do anything else. Oh, I do need to engage. Ok. First, let me figure out, how is this person engaging with me? Are they engaging with me as a game? Ok. Am I interested in playing that game right? Because the other way of doing it is to go to rhetoric yourself and be like, "Well, you know, if you're going to play lawyer, I'm going to play lawyer too" You know, that's I love an Aaron Sorkin film as much as anybody, right? So that's, you know, there's nothing wrong with doing that. But if you're not interested in doing what they're doing, you can say that. Or they are trying to engage with you, honestly, but you disagree with the means in which and the method and how they're going about doing it, and then it's just making the conversation about why you think what they've just said is wrong, right? Yeah, that would be maybe a way of thinking about it. But again, like I think really importantly, just because so many of these things are happening with just strangers on like comment threads on YouTube and it's just you can close your computer, you can put your phone away. But that's a totally acceptable and sometimes advisable thing to do. 

 Rick Sindt: Yeah, absolutely. I think, as we talked today, you've–I really enjoyed our conversation–and I think you've provided like a really nice tool kit for observing and seeing what's going on in our political discourse or just public discourse, in general. And I'm wondering if in closing, do you have any like parting thoughts or summaries that you would like to leave our audience with? 

 Abe Singer: Yeah, I think if one thing we've probably learned over the past two years is that even if there are objective truths in some way, there's no neutral way of communicating them or no neutral way of kind of understanding these things. These things very quickly descend into political biases and and politics, very quickly, right. So, how we communicate these things, why we communicate them, with whom we're engaging, how we're engaging, how we're communicating and just being mindful of how these political forces, whether it's in the form of your own ideological biases based on your political commitments, or whether it's based on the type of power that is wielded by a platform through which you're communicating, or whether it's the very facts and information that you're given or structured by political forces and incentives that them ourselves, structured by institutions and larger social processes, and trying to be aware and mindful of how these things are playing out, both in terms of your own beliefs, but then especially how we're engaging with others and, you know, ways that you can try and shield against. I think it's crucial whether we're talking about comedy, whether we're talking about public health, whether we're talking about social media, whether we are talking about race, whether we're talking about whatever; we need to be mindful of how these at almost every stage in the process, the political structure of our society and the institutions through which we're governed affect these things. 

 Rick Sindt: Abe, thank you so much for joining the podcast again. 

 Abe Singer: My pleasure, Rick.